A Conversation between Kinshuk Gupta and Rohini Agarwal

    Kahani Ka Stree Samay: Kinshuk Gupta talks to Rohini Agarwal

    No, being the wife of Premchand is not seen as a great hindrance to Shivrani Devi’s literary personality, which is evident in her creative works. Usually, when couples live together, they influence each other with their thoughts and habits, and eventually become like each other. In the same way, both Shivrani Devi and Premchand have given a new dimension to each other’s personalities in their interactions.

    While the bold and decisive heroines in Premchand’s works are inspired by Shivrani Devi’s personality, the weaknesses in Premchand’s characters are connected to the general weaknesses of a patriarchal society in Shivrani Devi’s stories. Therefore, Shivrani Devi’s stories arouse some pertinent questions such as : (1) How can a woman’s human dignity be protected in society ? (2) Why can’t a woman be seen as an autonomous and equally important human being like man? (3) How can a woman fight for her rights against gender biases?

    These questions demonstrate Shivrani Devi’s deep concern for the plight of women and her efforts to promote their rights through her literary works.

    Shivrani Devi’s honesty and fearlessness in her writing are a testament to her unique personality. Society never approves of a woman stepping outside of her defined boundaries. But the defiant Shivrani Devi exactly did the same. That’s why the then Hindi literary world found it difficult to recognise the role, talent and revolt of Shivrani Devi. Keep in mind that prior to Shivrani Devi, the revolutionary work “Seemantini Updesh” written by an anonymous Hindu woman (Agyat Hindu Mahila) in 1882 challenged patriarchal lineage. On the other hand, Bang Mahila who began writing in the early years of 20th century was not only admired by critics like Acharya Ramchandra Shukla, but also established as a revolutionary female voice.

    The fundamental difference between Premchand and Shivrani Devi’s perspectives is that while Shivrani Devi did not hesitate to challenge patriarchal lineage up to a certain point, Premchand depicts the human values of compassion by portraying the plight of the oppressed and exploited class. Shivrani Devi possessed an immense strength to fight for women’s rights, while Premchand expresses his compassion by telling stories of individuals who are victims of oppression and exploitation, hoping to preserve human values.

    Shivani Devi became a victim of preconceived notions and prejudices of the patriarchal thinkers and intellectuals of her time. This is the same fate that is shared by 21st century female writers along with her.

    2) Criticism makes creative literature relevant, new and timeless. However a wonderful work of literature, it loses its quality, value and eminence if it does not become a topic of debate in the public domain. Thoughtful criticism highlights its internal value and beauty and connects it with contemporary concerns. Therefore, if creative literature is to be accepted as a torch that moves ahead with time, it must be recognized that the critic’s visionary perspective not only illuminates the flame of that torch but also pulls it beyond the limitations of its intellectual trajectory. Hence, the role of critics becomes quite important in providing a perspective on literature. The critic who dreams of seeing the ‘unfragmented complete’ Human being , first has to become a complete human himself. However, this process of transformation is not so simple. It is essential for a person to overcome prejudices, misconceptions, conflicts, intellectual limitations, and pettiness to see Humanity beyond all kinds of divisions and prejudices. Unfortunately, Hindi criticism has been plagued by a patriarchal mindset from the beginning. Therefore, not only is there injustice in the evaluation of female authors, but also there seems to be an unnecessary game of throwing female critics out of the “male intellectual domain.”

    We are still firmly convinced that male writing is associated with the grand and greater concerns of life; that it contains diversity, revolutionary consciousness, and represents the interests of the multi-dimensional society. In contrast, female writing is restricted, confined to the family sphere; and moreover it is repetitive. In this attempt, society and the family are made opposite binaries, the family is made narrow and inferior, while the active social, cultural, economic, political powers and systems structure society. Yes, the internal divisive elements of society can also be seen in the family in capsule form. Feminist criticism highlights this fear complex of male critics. Secondly, it urges to read both female and male writing from a comparative perspective, keeping the tradition of female writing on par with male writing. Thirdly, it creates its own cannons for writing, and fourthly, it is not the imitator, but the doer, who comes to the center and acquires the skill of reading and creating time with her own vision. Feministic Criticism not only questions the sanctity and validity of Patriarchy but also study her male counterpart as ‘other’. The situation of being analyzed as the “other” by the woman perturbs and infuriates the Man who has always considered woman as inferior.This is the very point where the intellectual patriarch of literature becomes anxious with the increasing strength of feminist criticism in society.

    One significant reason for the absence of women in the realm of intellectual literature, compared to creative literature, is that the patriarchal structure of Literature begins to neglect the harsh critique of women under the guise of a grand strategy. Due to the dominance of men in the literary purview, including editorial boards, publishing houses, and award committees, feminist criticism can easily be crushed under the “Nip the Evil in the Bud” strategy. It should also be noted that in order to appear more progressive and liberal, society often compels male-dominated communities to don the mask of being sensitive towards women. In doing so, feminist questions are sidelined by promoting averagely minded and conformist female critics. The situation is unfortunate and lamentable.

    I never advocate the celebration of sexuality, and always emphasize on the idea of women’s liberation from sexual organs. The biggest conspiracy of patriarchy has been to first reduce the woman’s complete vibrancy in sexuality; then, by compressing the meaning of chastity in sexuality, they have made it necessary for her to remain loyal to her husband. From here, the relationship of Rati has turned one-sided and women have started to become an object of male pleasure. Then, by making the organs of sexual stimulation of the female body a matter of shame and fear, women were taught to despise their own bodies. The biggest suffering of a woman for centuries has been the self-loathing and self-pity that comes from being disgusted with her own body. I support the idea of physical liberation along with all the female writers, including Maitreyi Pushpa, who have been able to free themselves from the diseased thinking that cripples them mentally and intellectually. It is just as obscene to achieve your goals by making physicality the basis and then mocking the helplessness of men as it is for men to desire rape of women. My intention for physical liberation is a hard-working process to elevate the mind that resides within the body, where there is compassion, rationality, dynamism, and economic self-reliance, along with generosity to save the “other” human dignity. The body is not just a basis for pleasure.

    Both perspectives are extreme and one-sided. Feminism has flourished in a keen desire to challenge the imperialistic patriarchal mindset that seeks to dominate others’ land and expand its own empire. If a woman desires to taste power by becoming a “masculine woman” and exploiting a man in the pursuit of freedom, it is not a matter of attaining true autonomy but rather an unfortunate situation of role reversal. The dream of creating a healthy society, free from gender biases, is not a reality yet. In my opinion, the extreme struggle for gender equality is the creation of a human society that is gender-neutral, where a woman’s existence and concept of coexistence are recognized. This could be considered a utopian situation, but it must be acknowledged that the first step towards improvement is to gradually overcome the failures and frustrations of our times with intellectual sensitivity and patience. The centuries-old tradition of the human evolutionary process is still in the process of realizing the concept of “human”.

    5) In terms of the nature of criticism, our society harbors many misconceptions. Some of them arise from the fact that in today’s thoughtless era, our understanding of criticism with its autonomy and relevance has deteriorated. Some of it is because, due to our convenience-seeking ignorance, we have reduced criticism to book reviews and praise-songs. It is acknowledged that criticism does not inherently possess creativity. It is merely a tool to analyze the creations of others. As a literary discipline, criticism is also creative, like other disciplines, where the author (referred to as a critic instead of an author, stripping them of their authority) emerges in the role of facilitating better critical rejuvenation by engaging with contemporary society through their work. The traditional framework of modern Hindi criticism viewed the critic as a teacher/mentor. The tradition of the preceptors limited the evaluation of works or to the construction of ideologies based on the tendencies of works. Therefore, contemporary criticism reveals attempts to suppress the personal autonomy and perspective of the critic. In my criticism, I have not only seen the evaluation of the work and Time from an evaluative perspective, but I have also attempted to provide a subjective viewpoint on specific issues. Literature is, after all, a confluence of eager and diverse perspectives for examining and creating Time. When the critic embarks on a journey within themselves during the reading of a work/time, the pre-established structures and canonical pressures start to crumble on their own. It is evident that criticism not only breaks established moulds but also creates new canons. Nowadays, in criticism (or it would be better to say in book reviews), the enthusiasm for creativity has emerged as a new fashion, meaning an injection of emotions into analysis, play of words, self-expression, and so on. However, ultimately, criticism is primarily a refined form of analysis that aims to enhance intellectualism by contemplating the entirety of Time and society; it is not meant to serve as an excuse for sentimentality. Therefore, the analysis of criticism should not only be strict, but it should also be viewed as an integral art work, and it should be capable of extracting healthy values and perspectives from among the diverse and degenerating manifestations that thrive on the chest of Time.

    The creative aspect within criticism is the integral personality of the critic.

    As far as your question whether Criticism has developed its tools to evaluate short stories, science fiction, and murder mysteries is concerned , I would like to say that I do not consider popular literature as part of serious dedicated literature. Serious literature is not written for thrills. It is an ambitious endeavor to grapple with life. Popular literature is written to satisfy ‘consumer’ readers, not to analyze and disseminate their human emotions. As for the relationship between However Hindi Criticism is keen to understand the peculiarities, complexities and new diction of LGBT writing. But it is pertinent to say here that sympathy and concesdions cannot be the tools of criticism. The fundamental canon of criticism is one and the same – the expansion of the dignity of the indivisible human being, which values the individual beyond societal divisions such as gender, religion, caste, class, and sect, in their entirety.

    No, Feministic writing is not an expression of hard hitting egoism; rather, it is a chorus of suppressed and marginalised voices of society. Once when I was sharing stage with Dr. Namvar Singh, he called Feministic writing as egocentric and narrow expression of personality. I think such a comment is essentially a manifestation of misogynistic disdain.

    I never intended to enumerate the elements of a good story in a simplified manner and create an unnecessary long list. In fact, when I consider “sociability” and ” intensity” as the elements of a good story, all other interrelated qualifications naturally become included. Sociability refers to the portrayal of the internal and external struggles of humans, which are influenced or corroborated by tradition, literature, and contemporaneity, which make Time conflict-ridden and potential. If the literary work is deeply connected to the complexities of society and the individual human being, it like a social scientist, analyzes Time dispassionately and weave its own dreams into it, attaining a quality to transcend the constraints of Time while remaining anchored in the present.

    A good story always stands true on all the changing parameters. Society is both adaptable and rooted in its structure. Both aspects coexist. A good story, since it triumphs over the clash of these two spheres, captures the changing times, thereby expressing the author’s or society’s priorities through carefully chosen silences. Criticism is the intellectual and creative responsibility of capturing these elusive silences.

    As far as the element ‘ intensity’ in a story is concerned, my intention is to create a composition that goes against all forms of intellectual and emotional superficiality, where neither Tradition nor intellectual conformity comes as a sweeping statement. Rather, by first shaping humans and time into characters, and then, by reading their psychology and struggles in relation to each other, when the writer establishes his own beliefs and perspectives in the context of human dignity, the narrative automatically becomes intense and compact through intellectual and emotional resonance. Intensity is the antithesis of singularity, isolation, and superficiality. You may disagree with the writer, but it is through this intensity that characters face profound and turbulent situations, evolve from individuals, and ultimately become symbols whose journey transcends the story and spreads throughout time, much like Timeless literature influenced by the analysis of society and the human mind.

    Another element that I repeatedly emphasize is the integral unity of a composition, akin to the wholeness of a Human being . It cannot be divided into fragments as per convenience, neither while writing nor while reading and evaluating. Literature is a journey of struggle to discover new dimensions of human dignity in opposition to the perspective and mentality of convenience-seeking. As you mentioned in your introduction regarding the perspective of women, I firmly believe that literature and criticism must necessarily serve as instruments for exploring new dimensions of human dignity, where equality, harmony, and compatibility prevail, along with vigilance towards one’s rights and respect for the rights of others. Additionally, I want to emphasize that just as a good story/critique cannot exist without a broad perspective, the composition of a good individual/society/time is also impossible without the concepts of inclusiveness, coexistence, and democratic consciousness.

    Kinshuk Gupta is a doctor, bilingual writer, poet and columnist who works at the intersection of gender, health and sexuality. His debut book of short fiction, Yeh Dil Hai Ki Chordarwaja, modern Hindi’s first LGBT short story collection, was published to great critical acclaim in 2023. He is the winner of prestigious awards and fellowships including the India Today-Aaj Tak Sahitya Jagriti Udayiman Lekhak Samman (2023); Akhil Bhartiya Yuva Kathakar Alankaran (2022); Dr. Anamika Poetry Prize (2021). He has been shortlisted for the Toto Awards for Creative Writing (2023); The Bridport Prize (2022); Srinivas Rayparol Poetry Prize (2021); All India Poetry Competition (2018). He edits poetry for Jaggery Lit and Mithila Review. He has been awarded the prestigious South Asia Speaks 2023 Fellowship to work on his poetry manuscript with Tishani Doshi.

    Rohini Agarwal, a luminary critic, storyteller, poet, and thinker, adorns the realm of Hindi with her literary prowess. She is revered for the creativity in her critiques and the intellectual integrity she possesses. With a profound grasp on Hindi literary fiction and a visionary gaze upon women’s discourse, she stands apart in the arena of contemporaries.

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