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Celebrating the spirit of the legendary Krishna Sobti around Delhi!

Updated: Mar 2, 2020

An author for whom the act of writing was nothing less than the act of engaging with history, with language…with life itself, every word enunciated by Krishna Sobti fought with the stereotypes, the hypocrisy and the evil corroding the fabric of the Indian society.

With her exemplary pieces of work like Baadlon ke Ghere, Suraj Mukhi Andhere ke, Mitro Marjani, Gujarat Pakistan se Gujarat Hindustan, Aye Ladki to name just a few, Indian Hindi-language fiction writer and essayist who wrote extensively on the Partition of India, Krishna Sobti became a renowned name in the world of Indian Literature right from the onset of her writing career. Sobti, born in 1925 in Gujrat (in Pakistan) won the Sahitya Academy Award in 1980 for her larger than life novel ‘Zindaginama’ and was awarded the Sahitya Academy Fellowship in 1996, the highest award of the Academy.

A special program was organized by Raza Foundation in memory of this legend on her first birth day (on the 18th of February), after her demise. Ashok Vajpayee, a well-known literary-cultural critic opened the talk with the extraordinary enthusiasm that only befitted the generosity and the zest for life lived on its own terms by Sobti.

Three very eminent personalities who had the privilege of working very closely with Sobti were invited to present her works and her world to us. The first speaker was Vasudha Dalmia - Professor Emerita of Hindi and Modern South Asian Studies at the University of California at Berkeley who translated Krishna Sobti’s famous novel Samay Sargam in English under the title Music of Solitude. Dalmia read out extracts from Samay Sargam. It was as though mid-20th century memories came to life again with this novel that very fluidly shifts to and fro from the new to the old times. Sobti shares her own experience of life and everyday living, social changes which came in existence with time; she talks about streets, walks, gatherings, the charm and beauty of Lodhi Garden, Connaught Place, the Indian Coffeehouse, the restaurants frequented often, days of youth and spring - all this while constantly constructing – deconstructing- reconstructing the common place notions of time and space.

She makes us witness very vividly the geographical and social transformations of Delhi, Old Delhi to New Delhi, with an entirely different and novel perspective.

This unparalleled simultaneity of the aging of a being and the growth of a city was followed by an extremely intriguing experience shared by Anuradha Kapur, an Indian theatre director and professor of drama who directed a durational dramatic reading of Sobti’s celebrated novel Dil-O-Danish, and hence had a close encounter with Sobti and her writings.

Kapur spoke about the impossibility of staging correctly the nostalgia and emotion that underlines Dil-O-Danish. What mode of theatrical representation could do justice to all the tastes… sweet, salt, sour, spicy… interlaced beautifully with each other to set the chord right in this chef-d’oeuvre that involved life, memories, nostalgia, history, remembering, forgetting, willful omission, involuntary recollection...? After much deliberation, durational reading seemed more appropriate than dramatization of the novel. The act of listening of Krishna Sobti’s writing gave a vocal universe of Delhi.

Incontestably, Sobti’s genius resides in the complexity and plurality that she could create with the simplest looking linguistic and literary tools.

Githa Hariharan, the final speaker - an Indian writer based out of New Delhi, and a very close friend of Krishna Sobti and a critic of her selected works, shared her special take on Sobti’s collection and her personal life in general. She spoke about the three facets of her life that defined her best- Sobti, the writer, Sobti-the woman and Sobti – the citizen. According to Hariharan, Sobti did not fall in league of writers whose works did not identify with their lives. Sobti, on the contrary, lived her works. She was unforgiving, uncompromising and truly tenacious when it came to standing by her values and beliefs. She vehemently refused to be boxed in definitions and categories that limit the reach and capacity of writers. She wrote about womanhood, tried to redefine what it meant to be a woman e but did not accept the often-imposed tag of a ‘feminist’ writer; she stood up for the rights of the poor and the oppressed but never showed a false appurtenance. She was a woman, courageous to the core.

Hariharan recalls with a smile on her face, “in various discussions over a cup of tea, Krishnaji used to joke a lot. Keeping the atmosphere light and happy. She often used to say - Hindi is an epic but vegetarian language.”

Sobti was a woman of many colours; she used to crack witty jokes in regular conversations, talk about British rule, the struggle of the people before, during and after the Partition of India in 1947, the Indian Freedom struggle, freedom fighters who fought proudly for their nation with their heads held high.

Sobti was in love with Delhi, the city that became her home after the partition of India and after her travails in some other Indian cities. She wrote extensively about Delhi and its life, detailing every aspect of Delhi, be it a local street side Chai wala, a Paan wala, a popular park…she knew every or nook and corner of Delhi. Sobti once said, “I will continue to breath and stall in Delhi streets, Jama masjid…, gardens, streets of Delhi, its fragrance even when I am gone.” “Oh god. Let this Delhi always flourish”.

Sobti’s style was often recursive and symbolic, enabling her to articulate the idea to be conveyed very precisely and effectively. She was capable of expressing very fierce and strong opinions in a very subtle way, giving the readers much to delve upon. Love – passion - grace and possession…self-discoursing practice of spirituality marked almost all her works.

She had an elephant’s memory. She used to remember even the tiniest details related to people and places close to her, sent them gifts on their birthdays, made regular contributions to promote art, literature and culture...It was exhilarating to know the life and works of an author so hard-working, determined and witty that her writings could not only challenge the socio-cultural norms of the conservative Indian society but defy the clutches of the monolithic and closed linguistic mindset as well. Sobti’s force was such that she forged a style of her own…second to none! Eccentric and progressive in her thoughts and her being, she used to put her foot down for righteousness and right to speech.

Krishna Sobti, a great personality with immense intellectual and humane qualities was and will always be an inspiration to millions of readers and writers and will undoubtedly stay alive in our memories forever.


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