Agyeya (1911-1987), a dominant figure in fashionable Hindi literature, was once a multifaceted character. Born Sachchidananda, he received his nickname Premchand which imprinted his story while the creator was in prison for his involvement in progressive actions. Her lifestyles were characterized by a nomadic, yet deeply reflective exploration of bodily areas, sketchy concepts, feelings, and inventive subject matter. He rightly wondered “how many boats he had boarded and how many times” ( Kitni Navon Mein Kitni Baar – the name of his Jnanpith-awarded poetry assortment). He has lived many lives and known many loves. Clandestine progressive and prisoner, member of Congress, keen supporter of MN Roy, briefly keen within the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), he has become closer to right-wing cultural policies in recent years, no longer because of a extreme denigration of minorities. “nationalism”, but with genuine problems for the character of tradition, faith and “Indianness”.
Despite his growing hobby in Hindu delusion and formality, Agyeya was always “caustic about those who wielded them for power”, Akshaya Mukul remarks in his biography, Writer, rebel, soldier, loverevoking the poem ‘Pandijji’: “Brother, the Sage has closed his book / The Sage has taken off his glasses / The Sage has closed his eyes / The Sage has fallen into silence.”
Professionally, too, his profession was once varied – trainer, radio specialist, editor of major literary and political journals, captain in the British Indian Army. Due to his inventions and provocations, Agyeya left an inedible mark on Hindi poetry, fiction, lament and travelogue, spawning a number of bouquets and brickbats in direction.
His ways of life represent a microcosm of the hopes, anxieties and despairs of 20th century Indian scholars. Born into a circle of Beauty Central parents more often than not, he came to be praised and criticized for freeing himself from most Beauty Central standards and execrations.
Appropriately titled, Mukul highlights a biographer’s problem when he writes, “Making a life out of inert materials in boxes and searching for the truth about a person’s life without imagining the facts can be an arduous exercise. Agyeya’s silences, especially in matters of love, only made things more difficult. As Leon Edel, the biographer of Henry James wrote, “A constant struggle is waged between a biographer and his subject, a struggle between the hidden self and the revealed self, the public self and the private self”.
Mukul comes out of this fight with flying colors. The reader involves discovering Agyeya’s private and literary ways of life, his circle of relatives, his loves and his friendships in a rich (sometimes tedious) element. Ingenious milestones (including a few like the unconventional, Shekhar: Ek Jeevani, made into landmarks in fashionable Indian literature) and their private and political contexts were treated with empathy and elaboration. Describing controversies and debates, rifts and building bridges with pals, Mukul is neither elusive nor partial to his “subject”. Detailing Agyeya’s courtship with his first wife Santosh, the biographer’s sympathy is with her, not him, as she was the helpless victim of her superstar husband’s elusive withdrawals and callous silences.
Not Santosh’s simplest, Mukul’s treatment of other women in Agyeya’s lifestyles – Indumati, Kripa, Kapila and Ila – is equally delicate and nuanced, but being in the enduring grip of ‘Shekhar… ‘Since my childhood, I have asked myself questions. , once Agyeya no longer obsessively sought validation from ladies? Was this search no longer linked to the simple “absence” of his mother in his emotional universe (duly famous via Mukul)? This facet deserves better examination.
Mukul assessed in a balanced approach Agyeya’s “short, intense and checkered relationship” with the CIA-funded Congress for Cultural Freedom, noting correctly, “while Agyeya’s critics tend to ignore the milieu international politics of the time, dismissing the multitude of Indian writers, politicians, artists and journalists who benefited from the CCF, its supporters and biographers tended to paper during this period.
The biographer can be quite touchy about the nuances of literary debates. In 1937, Agyeya defended veteran Hindi poet Maithilisharan Gupt (who was once heavily criticized via Shivdan Singh Chauhan, the Marxist critic, in a provocative but thoughtful critique of literary traits), and described him as a “voice of faith in “an age of denial”. As a matter of reality, this might well be an apt description of Agyeya’s personal work. Commenting on this debate, Mukul perceptibly notes, “Yet many of his (Chauhan’s) observations were not far from the direction in which Agyeya’s own thinking was heading.”
Nuanced and informative
What makes this uniquely educational (safe, educational) biography interesting for those who are no longer fully familiar with the cultural contours of the freedom movement is its exploration of the connection between intellectuals and political management. Jainendra Kumar, another towering figure, personally referred to Gandhi and other top Congress leaders; but in an interview, Jainendra “said that there was no place for patriotic nationalism in literature, and that ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Inquilab zindabad’ could be used dishonestly”. Indian nationalists today. When Nehru “apologizing for the delay” finally sent his foreword to Prison Days and Other Poemsa choice of English poems by Agyeya, “it was worth the wait”, being a delicate mirror image of the poems and no longer an ideological pontification.
Mukul concludes with these sentences: “With his eclectic talents and his broad interest, his cosmopolitanism and his rootedness, his closeness to power and his rejection of it, Agyeya is a complicated icon. By highlighting the recesses of her individual history, I hope that the India of her time, and ours too, will appear a little less monolithic. Citing Agyeya’s poem ‘Kal Ki Gada’ (The Hammer of Time), he states, “Agyeya would no doubt fatalistically dismiss concerns about his continuing legacy, ‘The hammer of time / Will fall on me one day / I will never won’t like the hammer / But will time? savor/ The too small noise/ Of his fall?
Surely, this must-read biography sheds light not only on the nooks and crannies of Agyeya’s personal history, but also several facets of the cultural history of 20th-century India.
Writer. Rebel. Soldier. Lover: The Many Lives of Agyeya; Akshaya Mukul, Ancient Books, ₹999.
The Critic is a number one critic, creator, public intellectual and student of Kabir, Hinduism, Mahabharata and Nehru.