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Better late than never, a tribute to ‘Agyeya'

Rana Siddiqui Zaman



Agyeya's mood picture by O.P. Sharma mounted at Sahitya Akademi as part of the Centenary Celebration.

NEW DELHI: Without fanfare or publicity, the three-day centenary celebration of one of the foremost figures of Hindi literature, Sacchidanand Hiranand Vatsyayan or ‘Agyeya', as he is popularly known, concluded at Sahitya Akademi here earlier this week.

That the celebration was received with lukewarm interest would prompt many to lay the blame at the media's doorstep, but Indranath Chaudhury, former secretary of the Sahitya Akademi, differs. “It is not the media or readers who are to be blamed for failing to support Agyeya,” he says, “but the world of Hindi critics that fought tooth and nail to mar his literary credibility. They labelled him a ‘Formalist', bracketing him with Russian writers like Viktor Shklovsky and Vladimir Propp. They saw him as an anarchist who would coin new words and disperse them in his writings, and called him Roopvadi and Kathyavadi. Unlike Tagore, who was made an international icon, Agyeya was not accepted by critics in the first place. They wrote him off and that coloured literary, public and media opinion. Even his landmark novel, ‘Shekhar Aik Jeevni (1941) was marked as taboo.”

A perseverant Agyeya, however, made critics re-assess him subsequently. Renowned Hindi scholar Namwar Singh, who went to the extent of calling Agyeya a “chimpanzee” in one of his writings, admitted at a conference in Patna recently that his assessment of the writer was wrong and that the world of Hindi literature had failed to recognise his brilliance. Similarly Ashok Vajpeyi, a noted Hindi writer who had been extremely critical of Agyeya's works, has now accepted that he too was wrong in his assessment of the latter. He even apologised through a column in a national Hindi daily.

In fact, Mr. Vajpeyi was actively involved in the centenary celebration, which was organised jointly by the Vatsal Nidhi Trust and the Raza Foundation. Vatsal Nidhi was started by Agyeya in 1982 with the prize money he received for his Jnanpith Award in 1976. “He added an equal amount from his own pocket to run this trust that promotes promising young writers,” said Mr. Vajpeyi who brought in the Raza Foundation to partly sponsor the festivity.

The centenary seminar witnessed the presence of stalwarts from the literary world like Kapila Vatsyayan (also Agyeya's wife), Krishna Sobti, Keshav Malik, Uday Prakash, Anant Murty and Ashok Paliwal. Agyeya's complete works in 18 volumes have been brought out by Bharatiya Jnanpith and Rupa Publications has also printed English translations of his famous poems and prose.

In addition, two volumes of Agyeya's memoirs were released by renowned poet Kedar Nath and critic Purushottam Agarwal. Edited by author Om Thanvi, they contain reminiscences by 100 writers who knew Agyeya personally.

A photo exhibition on him mounted at the Akademi by O. P Sharma, Agyeya's friend, was also part of the celebration.

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