I met Uday Prakash last November in his home New Delhi with journalist friend Parshuram Kaphle and Ramesh Bhagat, student of Indian Institute of Mass Communication. I had already been his fan specially his writing style and subject matter. Its reason, may be, I also from same family background and political background like his homeland and my homeland Rolpa. We talked with him for 3 hours including politics and personal things, too. Again I read this interview which was read before discussion with the Kunal Singh, Indian youth fiction writer who has done his M.Phil. research about the Udaya Prakash. Now, he is doing Ph.D. in JNU.
Kaphle wrote conversation in his blog and also I had courtesy. And, also he had written in Naya Patrika. But I didnot. Just courtesy those write-up in my blog. I'll do one day.
After long time, again I read this interview in the anothersubcontinent and courtesy just for you.
About Uday Prakash
Uday Prakash (b. 1952) is one of the very best among contemporary writers, though not as well-known outside the world of Hindi literature as he should be; or more accurately, not as well-known to English language readers as he should be. This latter situation, however, is changing: English translations of his short stories and novels have begun to appear, joining translations of his work into other European and South Asian languages. He is a poet, a master of the short (sometimes the very short, and sometimes the not so short) story, and a novelist. He is also a painter and an accomplished journalist and film-maker. It is Another Subcontinent's very great pleasure to play a small role in his ongoing introduction to English language readers.
Uday Prakash has won a number of literary awards and honours, including the Bharat Bhusan Agrawal Puraskar, the Pahal Samman, the Sahityakaar Samman and the Shrikant Verma Award (for Tirichha, Vani Prakashan, 2001). Awards notwithstanding, as Robert Hueckstedt points out in his introduction to Short Shorts and Long Shots (Katha, 2003), Prakash is not an uncontroversial figure in the world of Hindi literature. He has been attacked from all parts of the political spectrum for his very individual approaches to the contradictory manifestations of modernity in contemporary Indian society. In the conversation that follows Prakash mentions as well the challenges posed by the Hindi literary establishment to younger writers who wish to do new things with language and form. Despite this heated political and critical reception, Uday Prakash is thriving as a writer as never before.
In my conversation with him at his home outside Delhi I was struck by his commitment not just to the craft of writing but also to an ethical vision of the writer as a member of civil society; by his engagement not just with a much wider world of literature and art, but also with his readers: he is both a passionate writer and a passionate reader, and his respect for his own readers is palpable. As if to underline this, our conversation was punctuated by the appearance of emails and sms messages from readers responding to his latest short story publication in a Hindi magazine. His stories, even in translation, challenge, invigorate and inspire. We hope this conversation will inspire a few more people to discover the reasons for themselves. And that those who are already familiar with his work will also find something here to enrich their sense of the writer.As with all interviews featured on Another Subcontinent, the transcript of the recorded conversation has been cosmetically edited to make it a more "readerly" text, but is presented as it happened: a free-flowing conversation that did not follow an agenda. That said, I would like to thank Moazzam Sheikh who first suggested that I try to meet and interview Uday Prakash while in Delhi, and who provided a number of questions that I could ask in order to appear as though I had read more of his work than I had at the time. I would also like to thank Ravi Singh of Penguin India for the introduction to Uday Prakash, and, of course, Uday Prakash himself for making time in his busy schedule, on very short notice, for this conversation.
About this Conversation
About this Conversation
The careful reader may notice a seeming temporal anomaly in the text, where things seem to be both anticipated and later noted as having happened. This is because this conversation was conducted on September 1, 2005 (at the writer's residence outside Delhi) but not fully transcribed until very recently. The notice of Penguin's publication of a number of his books was added by Mr. Prakash when he checked the transcript for errors (at the time at which the conversation took place he had not yet signed the contract)--this later addition has accordingly been placed in brackets. The reasons for the delay in presenting the interview on the site are embarrasingly trivial, and entirely the fault of the very lazy transcriptionist (who may or may not be identical with the interviewer...). But we are glad to be able to finally bring this conversation to our readers. And we are also very glad that Uday Prakash will continue the conversation with our members in our literature forum.
Arnab Chakladar: If I may begin a little abruptly, you were mentioning just now that Khari Boli Hindi is a bit of an acquired language for you--so let me begin by asking you about where you are from.
in my mind the author's job is to remain on the sidelines of mainstream society, with the people, and to write from this side and he has to be honest
Uday Prakash: I am basically from the border of MP and Chattisgarh, from a very small village called Sitapur. It is located in a district called Shahdol (now it is in a newly formed district called - Anuppur)--a very small, backward area. 52% of the population is tribal and poverty is very high. It is a single crop area, only paddy is grown and we all depend totally on the rain. In 1970 I saw electricity first come to my village--at the time I was quite grown up. Before that we lived in a situation where modernity had no meaning. In other places people were talking about development, big dams, public-sector, private-sector, but for us life was very different--like a R.K Narayan village, Malgudi or something like that. For example, in our own house we had an elephant. It was there till 1962. You know...let me say in Hindi, "hamne sher ke bachche paale hain"--and we had two cubs and one was quite grown up...so you can imagine that kind of life. After school we used to just roam around the forest and try to find out which bird has put its eggs in which tree. Till my twenties I lived that kind of life. But there was one turning point in 1964, when I was 12 years old--my mother died of cancer. After her death my father became an alcoholic--he was very attached to her and he just kept drinking. And after a few years he died as well in 1969, and that too shockingly from the same disease – Cancer...Carcinoma on cheek.
So after my mother died I had to leave my village and move elsewhere in the district. Fortunately, I found a very good teacher. He knew that I was a good painter and also that I wrote poems--he was very kind to me and helped me with my education. After my father died I shifted to Saugar University. I had already started working for the student’s wing of Communist Party since the age of 16 and I formally joined it later. Those were the days when we were convinced that ideology was going to change the society, and we were really working very honestly. And we were working with people who were very poor, very backward--and you know, even now I feel that there are people who are very pure in some ways, you know people who still have faith and belief in a different kind of ideology and politics--and people would come from the urban areas and tell them, "you must do this to improve your situation" and they would just follow....Anyway, I did my post-graduation with distinction in Hindi literature and again I was involved in this movement. And so during the Emergency I had to flee the area and I came to Delhi. So since 1975 onwards I am here in Delhi.
with the kind of thing I was doing with literature it was difficult for me to make enough money from writing for my survival
Arnab Chakladar: Are you based all the time in Delhi?
Uday Prakash: No, I go and come. I still go to my village 2 or 3 times a year--I still have some land and I have to take care of the agriculture. For the last 17 years I am totally a freelance writer. Since 1990 I have not joined any organization and I solely depend on writing--whether writing for films or television. Occasionally I make documentaries. Recently I made 10 short films for Jaipur Doordarshan based on the short stories of Vijaydan Detha. He is a very eminent Rajasthani writer, very well-known filmmaker--Mani Kaul made a film from one of his stories, Duvidha and it won awards in France in a festival. Recently Shahrukh Khan (laughs) has produced and acted as a lead character in a film made from same story, Paheli--anyway, I am not Shahrukh Khan. I have made 10 films from his stories--and he feels that these films from his stories are much better creatively than these commercial ones. And the total cost of these 10 short films must have been lower than the bills the Shahrukh Khan production had paid for bottled ‘mineral water’...
Arnab Chakladar: When did you start getting involved in films?
Uday Prakash: Initially, I was in print media--the last job I did I was an assistant editor in Sunday Mail. And before that I worked for around 10+ years for a Times of India news-magazine. Around 1982 onwards when the multiplication of media came in, and television came in...it was the beginning of the collapse of socialism, and the beginning of globalization, and we witnessed a colossal collapse of vernacular magazines in terms of capital. For at least 3-4-5 years it looked like they had no future. Those were some unpredictable and incomprehensible changes that were taking place. But then later after the early 1990s these newspapers and magazines started coming back, and now if you look at recent surveys the top 3 in terms of circulation and readers are these vernacular publicatons--I fail sometimes to understand these kinds of changes. My short story "Paul Gomra ka Scooter" tells about the comic, dismal ironies of this time.
Anyway, in 1990 I joined this television group, ITV and then PTI (Television). It was the Press Trust of India television section--we did one cultural magazine, it was very successful--the title was Taana Baana and it ran for almost a year.It was very popular--that time there were no private channels, only Doordarshan. So that was the first thing I did and I felt very comfortable. Secondly, with the kind of thing I was doing with literature it was difficult for me to make enough money from writing for my survival--so media provided me a way to make more money, and it was a more open area. I could make one documentary and save money for 3-4-5 months. And so I continued like this, and to this day I hardly earn anything from literature...I can tell you that it was about three years ago, with Peeli Chhatri Waali Ladki that I first earned a good amount of royalty. That was a turning point--and now I am a little hopeful and Penguin has approached me for three books. So, now I feel there is a positive change.
Arnab Chakladar: Are you still involved with the Communist movement?
Uday Prakash: No, I am now completely apolitical. I look very skeptically towards any kind of combination of politics and power. But in my mind the author's job is to remain on the sidelines of mainstream society, with the people, and to write from this side and he has to be honest. And that I am still trying to do.
writing is a solo kind of a process--you have to be alone, left with one pen, one piece of paper, you don't know if anyone will read it
Arnab Chakladar: This reminds me of the American writer Don DeLillo's comments about the marginal position of the writer in a world where visual media has taken over...
Uday Prakash: V.S Naipaul has also said something like this--it is not an original statement--about the end of fiction or the novel and the author and so on. It has been pronounced many a time. But I really believe very strongly that there is a difference between writing and film-making and things like that. You see, mass media, television or cinema is viewed by millions collectively; it is sort of a collective viewership, and its production also--at the moment you start making a film, you know it is kind of a collective art form, so you have to be aware of a large number of people who are taking part in making and there are more going to watch the product. But writing is a solo kind of a process--you have to be alone, left with one pen, one piece of paper, you don't know if anyone will read it. And reading also is a private thing, you read privately--you can't read a novel collectively, in a crowded place. Reading like writing is a private... a personal act. So, I think it is going to last--because no matter what changes happen, people need to be alone, they need solitude…need their own space. This is the reason that a true writer is doomed to be a loner and marginalized. Marginalization is another thing-- possibly it tells more about a social status. Now a writer is no more a celebrity, does not have a defined place in a society, he lives in absolute powerlessness...not in the way that writers in the past could have talked with a Nehru or a Gandhi.
Arnab Chakladar: What effect do you think this changed status has on the writer and writing?
Uday Prakash: Creatively, I think it is a better position. Because now you are forced to, compelled to become a common person, become part of the real civil society. In the past when print media was the dominant media, many writers perhaps were outside and above the society. Now even a cameraman in television has more power, more glamour, more money than someone like me (laughs). Let me tell you one very interesting anecdote that a Hindi publisher told me. He had published the autobiography of a film director, and it made a lot of money, and there was a Rs. 25,000 royalty, which is a lot for writers. So he went to Bombay and he gave the check to the director. The director laughed and told his secretary to deposit it. The secretary asked, which account should I put it in? Dog's Fund, the director said. The publisher asked, what is this Dog's Fund? The director replied, it is the account from which we pay the writers! (laughs). So, that is the writer's condition today.
Uday Prakash: But really I think this is a good thing. Writers should be in this position--it makes them more authentic, more reliable.
Arnab Chakladar: You mentioned Rs. 25,000 being a large royalty--does this reflect on the state of Hindi readership? Has the readership shrunk dramatically?
Uday Prakash: No, no, it is not that--readership has indeed widened. Last month I published one short story, "Mohan Das"...and I can show you the bunch of emails and sms, and letters from all corners that readers sent me. But we have to look at other things also. Like reading habits have also changed. It is very hard for me even to now read something like Pariksha Guru or Devrani-Jethani, which happen to be the first Hindi novels. I may read it carefully for that reason but it is hard for me to relate my life and experiences to that kind of writing. So, we should similarly accept that after the 1980s and 1990s, with the multiplication of media, readers with their reading habits also have similarly changed--the structure of memories and narrative has also changed. I think this is what Naipaul says, that the novel's form of narration cannot take you anywhere any longer. This is why he is now doing other kinds of writing. But here again I think the good writer has to be on par with other people who are watching cinema or television, communicating through sms and cellular mobiles or other kinds of things, and then the entirely new oddities of daily life, which all together is part of the collective mind of our time. Any form of narrative which is closer to this, I think it will survive. Perhaps this is why a person like me, who has no high place in culture, I have no dearth of readers.
I think the good writer has to be on par with other people who are watching cinema or television, communicating through sms and cellular mobiles or other kinds of things, and then the entirely new oddities of daily life, which all together is part of the collective mind of our time
Arnab Chakladar: That is very interesting, and goes against what you often hear from English language readers and critics that literature in Hindi and other languages is losing readers. But other than your own writing, what would you say is the condition of Hindi writing generally today?
Uday Prakash: It is a very difficult question. I think the problem is not so much with readership as with the establishment. You see, we are all part of this new Indian middle-class now--everybody is the same now, and it has its own cosmopolitan character. But in Hindi unfortunately, if you look at the origins of the Hindi speaking middle class, you find casteism and those kinds of things. Whereas in Bengali you had a strong cosmopolitanism among elites because of a renaissance at the beginning, in the Hindi establishment unfortunately there is still a lot of problems. It is very disturbing, perturbing--for example, look at the Sahitya Akademi and who they have given awards to--unfortunately, regional, casteist, political, those kinds of problems still exist and they play a very decisive role. And for a writer like me, who is not concerned with such things...I don't feel like I belong to any caste or anything like that...it is difficult to know how to exist in this milieu. Take criticism, for instance. As Susan Sontag said, criticism is an interference from a site of power into the field of creativity; almost like the police is interfering with life. So criticism is very close to power politics, is a tool … an act of politics, and especially in Hindi...and I have to tell you I am not able to find much respect for Hindi critics (laughs).
I have written in Peeli Chhatri Waali Ladki about the Buddha, who was perhaps the first liberal thinker who did not believe in segregating, separating types of people. And he had to choose a language, other than Sanskrit for his sermons and lectures--it was Pali or Prakrit, that was the language of the commoners. So here today what we have happening is that Hindi, I mean literary Hindi, is almost like Sanskrit was in Buddha's days. And if you look at it, it is difficult now to write about many things in this Hindi, it has so many limitations, it is prohibitive. My feeling is like that of Nazim Hikmat, the Turkish poet, who faced the same problem with the Turkish language: when he wanted to write the word "revolution" the only thing he could find was something like "jehad" (laughs). I have the same problem with literary Hindi. So either I opt for my regional dialect or for a mass language that is neither Hindi nor Urdu, and these people have a problem with that.
Arnab Chakladar: For someone like me who works and reads mostly in English this is interesting to hear, because you usually in my world we hear about how English is the language of cultural power etc. and here you are talking about literary Hindi as a kind of imperial language that does not allow other kinds of dialects or certain forms of expression to prosper.
in my view new Hindi writing now is confronting these people, the language of Hindi departments, the academics. And I think this is why I am not accepted sometimes, because my language is different.
Uday Prakash: Yes, you see it is a frozen form of language which is not permitting another kind of language, which is closer to life and is spoken by all, to come up. For example, if you look at the Hindi of any teacher in a university Hindi department--and you have to recognize that these people are taken as the authorities, they decide the awards and jobs...in my view new Hindi writing now is confronting these people, the language of Hindi departments, the academics. And I think this is why I am not accepted sometimes, because my language is different.
Arnab Chakladar: Do you feel alone in this?
Uday Prakash: No, there are many other writers in this situation, particularly young writers. Because they know they have no future existing only in university libraries. Every writer wants a large readership. The pleasure of having a readership, I tell you, is very strong--the pleasure I get from reading letters from my readers, the joy is very strong.
Arnab Chakladar: Do you think Penguin entering the world of Hindi publishing will have a strong impact on how Hindi publishers work and on the landscape of Hindi literature?
Uday Prakash: I think it will have a good effect. With Hindi publishers, they are largely dependent on government purchase or institutional purchase. So it is a funny situation. Say a government bureaucrat comes out with a book, and there will be a big celebration, a book release will be organized. And you will find everyone from the Vice President to ministers there. Because the purchase of certain number of copies is assured--to libraries and academies and institutions. So these are very safe "writers", and so many Hindi publishers don't want to enter into the real market where people spend money to buy books of their choice. This is one thing that has really affected badly the quality of writing, and growth of a free market of books--that’s why we don't have a Premchand now, writers who made their reading public through their writing.
This is how it happens here--you ask anybody--some government figure may come and start playing the flute and he will be hailed by the music critics as a greater flute player than Chaurasia or Pannalal Ghosh! One fellow was writing about law, and his writing was recognized as the finest writing in Hindi prose; another fellow was writing about religious problems--he was again awarded a major prize and his writing was judged the best. If you remember, the same thing was happening in Russia--like Brezhnev at one time, his book on collectivization was given the highest literary award! It has to change, it will change, but it is taking its toll. It is very ironic, really: people now say that culture will be at the heart of civilization, and it is true that there is a lot of money these days for culture, if you look at the budgets. And here in Delhi or other political centers there is a lot of money for festivals and book releases.
Sometimes I think it is criminal--there are so many talented, brilliant writers who are lost.
But at the same time the state of real writers....for example, recently a very prominent Hindi short story writer, Shailesh Matiyani, died in pain in Shahdara in a mental hospital--he was penniless. They don't have any fellowships for writers, they don't give any support for writers who are surviving on their writing--but I tell you they can spend millions on halwais for sweets and samosa, on tenthouse-wallahs, for ticketing for all these celebrations of culture! Sometimes I think it is criminal--there are so many talented, brilliant writers who are lost. In my mind, any organized, systematic program for promoting culture should consider these problems also. You cannnot think of a culture factory running without the workers--who are the workers? We authors and writers we are like labourers or farmers--like Premchand used to say, "Main bhaasha ka mazdoor hoon, aur mazdooron ka dost hoon".
Arnab Chakladar: Related to these questions of writing in a common language, about people on the margins (and people have described as someone who is following in the steps of Premchand) is this a conscious decision you made early on?
Uday Prakash: No, and let me tell you at first I was accused more of violating Premchand's legacy, and by most critics I have been put almost as a counterpoint to Premchand as though I am opposing his tradition. But it was not conscious. What I certainly do sometimes is write about a kind of subaltern reality. I see flyovers and metro rail being made, but I also see my village. So it is not conscious, but a natural choice of material. Big dams are made and 5 crore people are displaced. If you come into Delhi early in the morning and look at the people shitting on the railway tracks--but you'll also see that 3 out of 10 of these who don’t have sanitation facilities will have a mobile. So this kind of technological changes, they really don't mean much to me. These are the ironies, anomalies--the paradoxes of my time which I write about in my fiction and poetry. And in some ways it is not so different from Premchand. I no longer see sahukars and mahajans in my village, like Premchand did, but there are rural banks, which give money on very liberal terms to villagers--but the same banks act as ruthless sahukars: when crops fail, they go and auction their lands and sell their houses. You know, few things have changed, but the suffering of many people in India has not changed much. For anyone who is sensitive...I don't belong to any politics now, I don't have any ideology, but definitely one thing I have is the love of human life--I share people's joys, their sorrows, and it is something I write about.
Arnab Chakladar: If I may change directions a little: as you know, Aaj in Karachi has widely published you in Pakistan, and made your work very accessible to Urdu readers. Are you aware of the response to your writing from Pakistani readers?.
Uday Prakash: Yes, I am aware, and I am very touched by it. And I think it shows that if a writer is not influenced by an artificial and politically designed structure of intellect, if he is writing honestly about what he sees around him, he will be read--not just in the subcontinent, but anywhere. You know, Jason [Grunebaum], who is here right now from America, he is translating some of my stories. He has already translated Peeli Chhatri Wali Ladki in English and was awarded a PEN grant, that’s why he is here. Anyway, he did a separate translation of "Paul Gomra ka Scooter" and when he was going to read it for an audience in California, I had some doubts. I told him, this is a story about changes in 1990s India, so I think people in California will find it difficult to relate to it. But he disagreed, and after he did the reading he was so happy, he said the audience could understand what I was trying to say. And similar things happened with his readings of A Girl With Golden Parasol in New York, Chicago and other cities. So this privilege I have. When I was writing Peeli Chhatri Wali Ladki I had no idea it would ever be read in Pakistan. It came out in serialized form, and after three sections had been published I heard from Ajmal Kamal at Aaj and they published it in Pakistan. And do you know, in Pakistan and in India there are three separate Urdu translations of Peeli Chhatri Wali Ladki!
now when we talk about secularism and globalization and all that, these two languages have fallen apart!
Arnab Chakladar: Whether in India or Pakistan, is there any sort of dialog between Hindi and Urdu writers these days?
Uday Prakash: No, it doesn't exist. The most recent example I can give you: the Dean of the Faculty of Arts of Multan University wrote to me, and he wanted to know about the work and the life of the writer Surendra Prakash. He is a Sahitya Akademi winning Urdu writer. And I had a problem because I had not read his short stories. So I called many of the Hindi writers and said, tell me about Surendra Prakash--nobody could give me any information. Then I contacted some Urdu writers, and finally I got the information--he was a poor fellow, living in Bombay, writing for films like I also do, and he was a wonderful short story writer. So I got the information and then I read two of his short stories, and they were wonderful.
You see a big change has happened. Till at least the fifties, every Hindi writer was a part of Urdu tradition as well and vice versa--whether it is Manto or Krishan Chander or Rajinder Bedi--they were reading each other. But now when we talk about secularism and globalization and all that, these two languages have fallen apart!
Arnab Chakladar: Whereas with someone like Premchand it was difficult to say whether he was a Hindi writer or an Urdu writer...
Uday Prakash: Yes, and the same thing was true of many--Krishan Chander, Rajinder Singh Bedi, even Joginder Pal these days, it is very hard to say whether he is a Hindi writer or an Urdu writer. Because the language is the same. It is only the problem of some Persianized words that are deliberately used by some Urdu critics mostly, and some Sanskritized words that are used by Hindi critics and academics--it is used to keep people out. But if you go for the popular language, it is the same language. See, if I ask you about Bollywood cinema, which language is it in? (laughs).... Let me quote you some wonderful lines of a poem by Bhavani Prashad Mishra--he was a Gandhian, a Hindi poet...he wrote: "Jis tarah sab bolte hain/Uss tarah tu likh/Aur isske baad bhi humse bada tu dikh". So, you have to make a distinct identity writing in a very common language. Just by writing in a very difficult, high language it does not mean that you become a great writer--it is not like that. We should use the living language.
Just by writing in a very difficult, high language it does not mean that you become a great writer--it is not like that. We should use the living language
Arnab Chakladar: Speaking of languages, you have been translated into other languages as well. And now with the Penguin project and the translation from Katha you are increasingly going to be available to English language readers as well. How do you respond to that?
Uday Prakash: I am very happy, very happy--I cannot hide it. It is not something I ever dreamed of.
Arnab Chakladar: But with Penguin, they are not just going to publish English translations...
Uday Prakash: The deal I am signing with Penguin, it is for three books. One is an anthology of my short stories, one is a collection I am editing of Indian love stories, not simple, romantic stories, but complex ones, and the third is a novel on a subject that I have been wanting to write on for almost 15-20 years. I have already bought a laptop, and I am going to go to my village and there I am going to sit by the banks of the river and I will have the time to write. It is the first time it is happening to me that I am being given something in advance to make me feel comfortable for 2-3 months at least to go and work completely without distraction and then come back.
[Penguin India has already come out with two books of collections of my short stories, Areba Pareba and Mangosil. Areba Pareba is also published in Marathi translation. Penguin has also signed for A Girl With Golden Parasol to be published soon]...and this all is a dream-like situation for an author like me who was reprimanded, criticized, lampooned by Hindi power centres...who was kept away from getting his daal-roti through his degrees and writings--unfortunately both in Hindi. I feel emotional and have a feeling of deep gratitude for the readers and my translators in other languages and for the people like Namita Gokhale and Ravi Singh and Neeta Gupta....They are great people with larger hearts and fair mind....
Arnab Chakladar: Speaking of translations, some people make the argument that English is the one Indian language that is the furthest from all other Indian languages, that it is not the best language to translate Hindi literature into--what is your view of that?
I don't know how to solve this problem. Because the way bilingualism is progressing, the second language of any Tamil or Malayalam or Hindi writer if he becomes bilingual will be English.
Uday Prakash: I absolutely disagree. Where I think there is a problem with English is that it is too dominating in terms of readers' awareness. All readers know the names of Arundhati Roy, Jhumpa Lahiri and Salman Rushdie--even Hindi readers--but if I ask you if you know Milorad Pavic or or Elias Khoury or someone like that, they are still not well-known to Indian readers, especially in other languages. Here I feel little perturbed. For instance, the novel I am translating into Hindi for Katha, Pavic's Landscape Painted with Tea--it is a wonderful novel, I tell you, every sentence is loaded with poetry and magic. He is a Serbian writer and you ask any creative writer and they will tell you they would be proud to translate him...though it is a bit difficult. But not so many people know about him.
Arnab Chakladar: How much of a dialog do you think there is directly between writers in Hindi and what is happening in literature at a more global level?
Uday Prakash: It was the individual effort of a few writers. For instance, there was Nirmal Verma--he went to Prague and was there for many years as a translator. And he translated some very good Czech writers.
Arnab Chakladar: And Krishna Baldev Vaid...
Uday Prakash: Yes, Krishna Baldev Vaid also. But those were some individual accomplishments. But there has not been a large phenomenon of interaction. Even among Indian writers in different languages. You ask any Hindi writer--Tamil or Malayalam is more foreign to Hindi writers than English. So Hindi has more interactions with English than say, with Tamil. I don't know how to solve this problem. Because the way bilingualism is progressing, the second language of any Tamil or Malayalam or Hindi writer if he becomes bilingual will be English.
Arnab Chakladar: So, English becomes the vehicle for literary communication...
Uday Prakash: It is unavoidable. Paul Zacharia is a friend of mine, but I cannot read Malayalam, so I have read him in English. Same with UR Ananthamurthy, Ramanujan, or Subramanyam Bharati and so on.
Arnab Chakladar: Do you think there needs to be a stronger translation program directly between other Indian languages, or do you think it is not a problem to be going through the intermediary of English?
Sometimes I worry that I may be uprooted from my language roots.
Uday Prakash: That would be a very nice development. If you want to create a class of bilinguals who can read in one language and translate into another, it can be done. They have done it with Hindi, which is the RajBhasha--so in banks everywhere they have Hindi words for everything, and those are some funny words...(laughs). So, I think it should be a natural social process. But you know it used to be that people would learn a language to be able to read the original. The days of Sarat Chandra or even Tagore or Bankim, people were learning Bangla. Even in my part of Chhatisgarh or Madhya Pradesh people were learning Bangla to read the originals. Even I can read Bangla script and read a bit. And do you know, the people who translated these writers into Hindi were not professionals or recruited translators--they were regular readers! Small grocery shopkeepers from small cities and towns...and primary school teachers...and such people. The grassroots Hindi belongs to these kinds of people. Sometimes I worry that I may be uprooted from my language roots.
Arnab Chakladar: Can you say more about that? Why would you worry you might be uprooted from your language roots?
Uday Prakash: The reason is it has happened to many authors--later on in their careers if their memories are exhausted and they no longer have a connection...the same thing is happening with V.S Naipaul, I tell you. At first with novels like A House for Mr. Biswas he wrote about his father, and then later about his sense of identity in England. But now I think he has stopped having any different experiences there, and I think this is possibly the reason he is running out of themes and subjects and experiences to write something new...and so he thinks the problem is with the genre, the novel, but I don't think it is that.
Arnab Chakladar: Are you suggesting that a writer has to have a sense of location, of connection to a place to write authentically?
Uday Prakash: Possibly, or even the rootlessness has to be expressed properly. Rootlessness is there here in India as well. For instance, I was born in a small village and now for last 30 years I have been spending a lot of time here in Delhi and other towns and cities...this is the problem of rootlessness...I feel some time myself as an immigrant here...for instance, if I meet my nephew, who is still in the village and lives a rural life it is easy for me to relate to him because I have lived the same life. But for my sons who are born and brought up in Delhi it is not so easy for them to communicate or to be able to stay in the village without electricity or things they are used to here. These are some pragmatic considerations, but it also goes down to a deeper level, to the micro-structures of feelings and experiences, which are different. So uprootedness, I am talking about in these terms. If I am away from that life for a long time it becomes difficult to write about them, and I should honestly depict the kind of experiences I have here now. And that is what I am trying to do.
So uprootedness, I am talking about in these terms. If I am away from that life for a long time it becomes difficult to write about them, and I should honestly depict the kind of experiences I have here now
And recently I have written a story "Mohan Das", which is a story of my village, a man of my village--but I have intercepted this narrative to give a sense of time-difference, to say, "this is the story of a time when the twin towers collapsed" or "this is the story of the time when Munnabhai MBBS became a superhit"--so one can see that these kinds of lives and times are simultaneous.
Arnab Chakladar: Earlier you'd mentioned that our perception of reality has changed, that realities themselves have changed, and that narrative form has to keep pace with these changes. You are not yourself a straightforward realist as a writer. Can you say something about your feelings about form and so on?
Uday Prakash: Basically, I see myself as a poet first. I don't really have a form or style in mind when I write. So when I wrote "Mohan Das" at first I wrote about a man's life. It looked like a man is living in British India, in 1931 or 1932, say...but I wanted it to be clear that this is a life from our time, so I began to intercept the narrative with statements. I didn't realize at the time what I was doing, and when I read the story to a friend he was quite confused. But I quite liked the style. I think form and style are not things that can be external, they evolve from your subject and from your experiences; it comes out of that. And every different subject or experience discovers its own form. I think if you read my different stories you will see that difference. I think it is monotony to write only in a particular narrative style--it hampers and hinders.
Actually, for India now I think this is a very fertile time for narrative, post-90s and now--because every day you can see some new structures of reality are coming out and my argument is your narrative form should be all-inclusive, should include everything around you, if you can capture them.
Arnab Chakladar: And scholars of the novel form will say that this is what the novel has always been about: about absorbing all kinds of subjects and structures into itself and changing--so in a sense to talk about the death of the novel in the face of new kinds of realities or forms of narration is a contradiction.
Uday Prakash: Definitely, definitely--I am in full agreement. I think the author should have a child-like eye, an essential innocence. If you are already indoctrinated or biased with some sort of political structures or thought systems, you really cannot see--you have a corrupt soul, an adulterated eye or something.
language in my view is not a tool ... possibly for politicians etc. it is, but for us it is a means of existence.
Arnab Chakladar: If I may change directions again: who are some of the writers who have influenced you or who you think of as literary models?
Uday Prakash: There are many. There is the Polish writer, Bruno Schulz. When I read his book, The Street of Crocodiles I could identify with it because of my own family history. Later on I discovered he was a very unfortunate man, and I read his other books--I thought he was better than Kafka, and closer to me. I felt the same way about Crime and Punishment.
Arnab Chakladar: I remember the first time I read Crime and Punishment--I developed a high fever, which went away soon after I finished the book. It is the single most powerful literary experience I have ever had...
Uday Prakash: But I could not feel the same way about Tolstoy's War and Peace--it is a great epic but it could not touch me in the way of Dostoevsky's writing. People say Dostoevsky was the writer of darkness, he wrote about things that are in shadows, the inner world of man; whereas Tolstoy wrote about bigger, grander themes. So writers like these, like Dostoevsky, like Bruno Schulz, Lorca sometimes, Cavafy's poems...
Arnab Chakladar: One of your books is dedicated to Nirmal Verma...
Uday Prakash: He also influenced me a lot--I should admit it. He influenced me a lot especially when I was young--I first read his translations..."Romeo, Juliet aur Andhera", his translation of "Romeo, Juliet and Darkness" by, I think, Jan Otcenasek. I read it twice or thrice and each time I thought I was that 18 year old boy. His language has a melody, he knows how to write...language in my view is not a tool...possibly for politicians etc. it is, but for us it is a means of existence.
Arnab Chakladar: I also wanted to ask you about your painting. Can you talk a little about the relationship you see between yourself as a writer and as someone working in visual media?
It is not about how many readers and speakers there are for a language--it is also about how good a writer someone is. People should not say Hindi literature must be read because Hindi is a big language. It is not about that, but about how good the writing is.
Uday Prakash: I think these kinds of things don't come from separate places. I don't think this is a valid question--because I don't think writers who have no visual sense or who have a bad ear for music or sounds, who think just because they have command over language, can be good writers. In my opinion, some of the best writers are people who are not known as writers--many film directors, like Ritwik Ghatak and Luis Bunuel or Ingmar Bergman. First of all, I think a good movie is as good as a good novel or poem. But also many directors like Bunuel or like the artist J. Swaminathan, who wrote autobiographies or memoirs--in my mind they are much bigger writers than many people who are known as writers. If you are successful in expressing your life, your experience, your inner world in language, it does not matter if you are exclusively a painter or a writer or even a doctor (I say that because today I read a piece by a doctor in Granta that mesmerized me, and he is not even officially a writer).
Arnab Chakladar: I have taken up a lot of your time, so let me ask you one last question: this interview will be going up on a site that, quite frankly, is read primarily by English language readers who have very little knowledge of Indian literature in languages other than English (and I will include myself in this list), and many who have never read any kind of Hindi literature. What would you say to them to convince them to take an interest?
Uday Prakash: For any author like me, it is something dream-like to discover new readers, to find that people in other countries, from other languages, in places like Germany are reading me. I think people will come to know soon that in other Indian languages, not just in Hindi, that something significant is being done, especially in the fields of poetry and narrative--many new things are being done. People should try to read some of it. Just as for me someone like Bruno Schulz or Milorad Pavic was a discovery, for them also it may be a discovery to find new writers, and not just minor figures like me. See, for example, Vijaydan Detha--he is a Rajasthani writer, Rajasthani is a very small language, it is considered a dialect of Hindi, and the total number of Rajasthani speaking people is hardly 2-3-4 crores. But he has a place today among Indian writers that is at the very top. Major playwrights and filmmakers have made plays and films on his short-stories. He has become like a sacred stone, where most Indian creative figures want to go and touch him. One day more people will come to know him.
It is not about how many readers and speakers there are for a language--it is also about how good a writer someone is. People should not say Hindi literature must be read because Hindi is a big language. It is not about that, but about how good the writing is.
Arnab Chakladar: Thank you very much for your time.