The book presented here is the first work of Western literary criticism to examine the Hindi Laghukatha-a modern Indian prose genre that has been published since the 1970s in Hindi newspapers and magazines and is characterized by its concise form (500 words on average) and socio-political agenda. The importance of the genre within the Hindi literary scene lies in the fact that the Laghukatha is based on indigenous genres which have been modernized, whereas the Hindi short story and the novel are Western genres that have been appropriated and Indianised.
A thorough investigation of around 280 primary texts accompanied by an evaluation of the relevant Hindi criticism gives a comprehensive literary analysis of this genre and its historical development. This allows, in conclusion, to delineate an “ideal type” of Laghukatha, suggesting a range of compulsory, desirable and optional features. English translations of almost fifty representative Hindi texts complete the picture and thus provide an insight into this genre so far unknown to a Western audience.
I wish to thank all the people who helped me make this project come true. First of all my supervisor Rupert Snell for his encouragement, his subtle but persistent criticism and his help through all the stages of research and writing. The help of my parents was also invaluable. I am grateful for their love and unconditional support. I than my mother in particular for always being there in times of crisis.
Very special thanks go to Angela Atkins for reading and re-reading different drafts; her suggestions and her friendship are very important to me. Heartfelt thanks also to my flatmate Sutharin Koonphol for sharing with me the PhD-related adventures (hers as well as mine), countless bottles of wine and Cassis, and her internet-connection. I am further grateful to all my friends in Germany, London and India who remained my friends in spite of the long periods of my absence or silence; thanks are due to Ludwig Rast and particularly Subine Herder. Petra Wehmeyer kindly read the final draft and was a patient listener during the last weeks of finishing the manuscript.
It would have been impossible to conduct this research without the laghukatha authors whose stories kept me good company. Balram’s anthology Bharatiya laghukatha kos caught my attention years ago and inspired me to find out what was behind this title. The suggestions he made and the material he gave me when I met him in Delhi in 1995 motivated me to do further research on the laghukatha. Many thanks to him and to all the authors and critics I had the chance to meet personally during my fieldwork in 1999 which took me to Bareilly, Bokaro, Delhi, Ghaziabad, Gurgaon, Indore, Meerut, Poona, Sirsa and Ujjain: Balram Agraval, Amarnath Caudhari ‘Abz’, Kamal Copra, Rup Devgun, Satis Dube, Rames Candra Goyal, Kamal Kisor Goyanka, Mukes Jain ‘Paras’, Sadasiv Kautuk, Jagdis Kasyap, Damodar Kharse, Narendra Kumar, Madhudip, Suryakant Nagar, Raj Kumar Nijat, Satisraj Puskarana, Visnu Prabhakar, Satis Rathi, Sukes Sahni, Mukes Sarma, Sures Sarma, Ram Narayan Upadhyay, Asok Varma, and Surendra Varma. I am truly grateful for their help, generosity and hospitality, for lunches, dinners, mithai and cay, for taking time to talk to me, and arrange ever more meetings; they dug up material that has long been out of print and provided answers to many questions. I am also thankful to Sures Jangir ‘Uday’, Ramesvar Kamboj ‘Himamsu’, Puran Mudgal and Ram Nivas ‘Manav’ who sent me interesting texts of various kinds. In Calcutta I owe thanks to my aunt, uncle and cousins for providing a warm and welcoming home whenever I needed a place of rest during my fieldwork.
Last but not least I want to thank my partner Dorian Korupp for putting up with almost five years of commuting between Cologne and London and for going through several ups and downs with me without ever complaining.
The laghukatha is a contemporary Hindi prose genre which has been published primarily in journalistic print media since approximately 1970. Although it is generally characterised by radical conciseness of form and an interest in socio-political themes, we find-not least due to the large number of writers contributing to the genre – an abundance of different thematical, formal and stylistic variation: texts published as laghukathas may vary in length between two lines and three pages; the scope of themes extends from poetic descriptions of nature to highly committed political statements, and as to their structure and style, resemblances to almost all major genres of Hindi literature can be discerned.
The determination of a common denominator for the laghukatha has so far been hampered by the fact that the main body of laghukatha criticism in Hindi has been undertaken by the writers themselves, who tend to promote their own approaches rather than present the genre in objective terms. Pointing to such pitfalls of genre criticism, Hernadi notes that generic classification should attempt to be ‘descriptive rather than prescriptive’ and ‘tentative rather than dogmatic’. Therefore, in order to come to a comprehensively applicable generic definition of the laghukatha, the following analysis will avoid the double process of setting the apparent average as an absolute standard while censuring the exceptional, since such a procedure banishes works bearing the individual stamp of a particular writer or time. Instead of pigeonholing texts according to rigidly fixed standards, the investigation will aim at identifying an ‘ideal type’ of laghukatha which may encompass individually or historically marked variants. A suggestion to this effect is also made by the laghukatha critic S. Punatambekar who states that a fixed definition of genres is not appropriate, since only motion can be the standard for something which is constantly moving (jo pravahmay hai, uska mandand matra pravahmayta hai). Like Hernadi, Punatambekar wants to see the rigidly categorizing scheme replaced by a flexible and adaptable theoretical framework.
In order to avoid dogmatism we have to ensure that an investigation does not remain restricted to one theoretical area while losing sight of others. A classification of texts into generic categories relies, above all, on the determination of similarities between the various examples, which can be found with respect to the author, the reader, the verbal medium or the evoked world-each, respectively, possibly inducing the critic to be preoccupied with the intention, effect, form or subject matter of a text. Naturally, it is difficult to set limits of assignability and to determine to what extent similarities should be genre-inclusive. Especially in the laghukatha context which has, so far, not seen a groundbreaking comprehensive analysis, it is therefore important to deal with all the above-mentioned issues in order to determine an ‘ideal type’.
The following analysis will, in chapter 2, first of all give the historical framework for the genre, therein evaluating the various approaches by Indian laghukatha critics (section 2.1), assessing Indian and non-Indian influences, and showing the significance of Indian journalism for the emergence of the laghukatha. The historical development of Indian literature leading to the laghukatha has been divided into three periods: the earliest period includes possible predecessors of the laghukatha from ancient times up to 1900 (section 2.2); phase two deals with the transition of such predecessors into a modern prose genre from 1900 – 1970 (section 2.3), and the final phase shows us the emergence of the laghukatha in the early 1970s and its subsequent establishment as an independent genre during the 1980s and 90s (section 2.4).
In a second step, in chapter 3 the author-reader relationship will be explored. In section 3.1 the laghukatha writers’ intention as prounounced in various articles and essays will be presented and the question of a committed versus a non-committed authorial approach to the laghukatha will be discussed. In the course of this section the significance of a committed socio-political attitude as a distinguishing characteristic of the genre will be explored, an idea which will be followed up throughout the literary analysis of the laghukatha. In order to illustrate the importance assigned by the writers to the actual communication of a message to an audience, the means of publication of the laghukatha are discussed in section 3.2.
The main part of the book consists of the literary analysis of a representative number of primary texts (chapter 4). After a short overview of the main critical approaches to the topic in the Hindi literary scene (section 4.1), the methodological section (section 4.2) describes how a sample of representative texts has been drawn in such a way as to circumvent the dilemma of the generic critic, namely having to define something has not yet been sufficiently delineated in order to provide standards on which an attempted definition might draw. The literary analysis itself is divided into three parts, dealing with several aspects in the areas of content (section 4.3) – comprising themes, protagonists and space – form (section 4.3) – comprising themes, protagonists and space –form (section 4.4) dealing with the outer and inner form as well as the title and the narrative viewpoints –and style (section 4.5), covering the areas of diction and syntax, narrative modes and, finally, rhetorical devices. The detailed literary investigation serves to establish an ‘ideal’ laghukatha, delineating its basic principles without limiting the flexibility of the genre.
Based on the historical, writer-related and literary analysis, this ‘ideal type’ of the laghukatha is finally outlined in the conclusion (chapter 5) which will also delineate the laghukatha’s position within the modern Hindi literary scene.
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