Dialogue  July-September,  2010, Volume 12 No.1

Agyeya’s Legacy: Literary Genius in the Role of a Journalist

Ramesh Chandra Shah

“A lonely intellect communing with the Ultimate Reality; … but also a being full of ‘the emotion of multitude” – if this is what constitutes an artist, then the writer as the verbal artist comes closer to social existence by virtue of the very medium he employs; for language belongs to everybody in a much more vulnerable way. It is never a pure and incorruptible medium like lines and colours or musical notes.

      “The writer as writer has to accept an additional private responsibility as well as an additional social responsibility” – says Agyeya, and goes on to clarify his meaning thus:

                While I give prime importance to the creative solitude of an artist, I have always emphasized the necessity of speaking one’s mind on urgent social issues. Simultaneously, he has to safeguard himself against the trap that lies in allowing such a social use of his literary self: he must keep free from party-politics & factionalism. He would be failing in his unique responsibility if he fails to protect his own freedom.

     It sounds simple and obvious; but it isn’t. Our Hindi literary milieu itself presents a sorry spectacle of writers not only falling into such a trap, but also of inviting it and glorifying it. On the other extreme, there are writers who never open their mouths on the most urgent socio-political issues. Agyeya steers clear of both these extremes and becomes a living example of real solidarity as well as real detachment. As he once said to the present writer, - “I have been more exacting, more demanding from my literary personality then the average Hindi writer, because of a greater and more persistent sense of responsibility that I carry within myself by virtue of being a writer.”

     The journalistic work of Agyeya comprises literary as well as non-literary aspects. What join the two aspects most fruitfully is a rare sense of linguistic precision and purity. Nirmal Verma, himself a great writer, evaluates this aspect of Agyeya’s achievement thus:-

                If ever a writer distinguished himself by making Hindi language the most powerful and precise vehicle of thoughts, Agyeya was the pioneer in that endeavour. Whether it was the search for an adequate & suitable language for Radio, or the use of precise political terminology in Hindi journalism, Agyeya did his utmost to utilise the maximum possible use of expressive potential of words. On the one hand he wanted to free the language from pedantic heaviness and, on the other hand, from the aggressive imperialistic dominance of English. It was by no means an easy task. To achieve such freedom it was necessary to struggle on all fronts where the dominant powers pollute the very means of communicating truth and pursue their agenda of corrupting the language and thereby, culture itself.

     About the progress of pure journalism in Hindi, Agyeya was, more or less satisfied; but the state of literary journalism, he felt, was far from satisfactory. Agyeya devoted a lot of his youthful energy to literary as well as non-literary journalism. One can isolate and recognize his contributions to ‘Sainik’ as well as ‘Vishâl Bhârat’, though most of them were unsigned. Prabhakar Machwe, his colleague in the former journal bears testimony to the rich resourcefulness and innovative brilliance of Agyeya as a young journalist. Inspite of the obvious progress made by Hindi journalism, Agyeya, even in those days, never felt happy about its relationship with English. In an interview given to Trilok Deep, he is very frank and forthright on this issue.

                The real challenge is yet to be faced: Hindi journalism can acquire its unique voice and status only when it severs its links with English. It’s a fact that all these big and powerful organisations are abjectly dependent on English news channels for their sustenance. The independent value of Hindi newspapers is never appreciated: they take it for granted that Hindi papers are merely meek followers or pale shadows of English papers. No matter, however original and independent you are in your work, they will never recognise it. The owners also have a vested interest in perpetuating this blatant lie, in giving prominence to their English newspapers – even if the Hindi papers too are published by their own organisations.

     Agyeya has called Rashtrakavi Maithilisharan Gupta his literary mentor. Was there anyone amongst the journalists as well, to whom he bore allegiance? He does not mention anyone in particular; but the one man he admired and looked upto for ispiration was Makhanlal Chaturvedi – the well known nationalist poet and famous editor of ‘Karmabhumi.’ We find him talking about this ‘mentor’ in the course of a speech given in Bhopal thus:

                “I knew and recognised Pt. Makhanlal Chaturvedi as ‘Ek Bhâratiya Atma’ – the pseudonym adopted by himself in his journalistic writings. But he was something more than what this name conveys. He was … ‘Ek Swadhin Bharatiya Atma’. This distinction, this ‘loneliness’ of a free Indian spirit in a colonial milieu is by no mean the solitude of an aristocrat. This is the loneliness of a man, who has an unshakable faith in the common people. His ‘people’ is not an abstraction or a class. ‘People’ here means those who really represent and one worthy of the values, the spiritual culture created by their ancient land. In other words, this is not the loneliness of a populist or ‘Janvadi’, but the loneliness of a genuine humanist.

   Pt. Mahavirprasad Dwivedi – the all-time great of Hindi literary journalism used to say that the first and foremost qualification of a good editor is ‘fearlessness’. Agyeya was a living example of this fearlessness. Whether it was ‘Sainik’ or ‘Vishal Bharat’ or ‘Dinman’ (the incomparable weakly, which was his own creation) or ‘Navbharat Times’, he never compromised with his ideals and principles regarding ‘freedom of expression’ and editorial self-respect. All his life he cherished and maintained the highest standards because of his lofty notion of a writer’s vocation. He had an unfailing eye for new talent in every field. As editor of ‘Pratik’ – a truly avant–garde journal, he discovered new talents not only in poetry, fiction and essay, but also in the fields of science, philosophy and archaeology. Simultaneously he encouraged and inspired those who were accustomed to write only in English, to write in Hindi. The issues of ‘Pratik’ (1948-54) and ‘Naya Pratik’ (1973 - 1979) bear ample testimony to the high standards as well as innovative resourcefulness of Agyeya as a literary editor.

   It was during his ‘Vishal Bharat’ days that Agyeya had a direct experience of the tragic gap between acclaimed ideals and actual practice. But even this bitter experience could not diminish his enthusiasm for journalistic work. Here, we must mention a very special and characteristic virtue, which Agyeya emphasized as an editor, because he himself had shown the way. “Whenever I have worked as editor’, - he tells us “ – “I have thought it my duty to prepare my successor. It is not only a duty, but a part of my freedom as well. I don’t want to remain tied to a post merely because there is no one else to carry on my work. It’s a great defect in our milieu that the man at the top instead of training and preparing worthy successors, tends to create a vacuum around himself so that he may feel secure. That’s why, he relegates even the best amongst his staff to low positions and merely exploits them – treating  them like bonded labour.”

    Here, we can only deal briefly with his non-literary journalism. The rest is part of literary history and comparatively better known to people, who are actively or passively associated with that history. No full discussion even of ‘Dinman’ is possible here: we can attempt only brief glimpses into this brightest and most fruitful period of Agyeya as the editor of a full-fledged, non-literary socio-political weakly journal.

     ‘Invocation of nation in its own language’ – this is the motto you find inscribed at the very entrance of the first issue of ‘Dinman’, dated 21st Feb’ 1965. It carries the ‘messages’ of the national poet – M.S. Gupta, as well as those of Indira Gandhi – the then minister of information and broadcasting and of education minister. Mohd. Karim Chhagla.

    The title seems to have been borrowed from the Kumaoni dialect, where it means ‘all the day’. A reader raises an objection to this name: “This name can suit a daily paper; but how can it apply to a weekly?” To this, the editor ‘S.H. Vatsyayan, ‘Agyeya’, responds thus: “Dinman is synonym for Sun. hence it is the measure of all durations – day, week, month & year. That’s why it is the measure of an epoch as well?”

    ‘Dinman’ established its distinctive character as the most comprehensive journal of its time at once. It incorporates columns like ‘Patrakâr Sansad’, ‘Rashtriya Samâchar’, ‘political parties’, ‘Vishwa-Samachar’, ‘Provincial News’, ‘Industry & Commerce’, ‘Food & Agriculture’. At the same time, it came to include columns on the latest trends in ‘Modern life’, ‘Theatre’, ‘Art’, ‘’Dharma-Darshan’, ‘Literature’ and ‘Sports & sportsmen’. Yograj Thani, in-charge of ‘the sports column’ records a most poignant occasion, when Agyeya, instructing him in the secrets of sports journalism exhorts him thus: “Thani: “always remember, that the word is a form of God; never; never be frivolous with ‘Sabda-Brahma’. Learn the art of saying the maximum in the minimum of words.”

     ‘Dinman’ introduced Narlikar long before he won global renown as an astronomer. It starts discussion on feminist issues much before feminist movements had come into vogue here. The column called ‘chitthi-patri’ ensures the live participation of readers. But the most attractive and far-reaching contribution of ‘Dinman’ as acknowledged by readers themselves, is its “creation of a most expressive and adequate medium – that is, its standard Hindi, which resists urduization as much as so-called sanskritisation; it is pure without becoming puritan, and natural without bastardization.”

     It was Agyeya of all Hindi writers, who had emphasized the need – at the very threshold of independence – for creating ‘a nation of critics’ (‘Alochak Rashtra’ – in his own words). This critical intelligence and spirit can be seen operating in the pages of Dinman. To cite just one instance: Agyeya was an admirer of Dr. Lohia. But he does not hesitate to ‘criticize’ the occasional negationist tendencies in Lohia’s political methods and procedures. Here is an example of Agyeya’s critical commonsense vis-à-vis Lohiaite politics:

    Inspite of his deep knowledge of history, inspite of his rare original thought, Lohia often allows himself to be trapped in situations, which compel him to found his policies on a totally negative and dismissive stance (Hatâo-vâd). That’s why the most valuable campaign for national language came to be reduced to his ‘Angrezi hatao’ andolan. To-day, this reductionist negativism has assumed another shape. Now the establishment of socialism has been equated by him with ‘Remove Congress’ slogan – even at the cost of reaping support from communalized groups.

      I’ll cite just one another instance of Agyeya’s editorial courage and commonsense before I conclude this short note. Here is the tone and temper of his editorial dated 30th July 1965. It began with quoting the words of Sardar Patel ‘If you long to make Hindi the official language of your country, be sincerer whole-hearted about it. No half-hearted measures will do.”  The whole editorial is a resounding explication of this statement and reminds us of Agyeya’s well-known essays on ‘the historical role and dynamic possibility of Hindi’ as the key to the heart of India and as ‘the vehicle, the most representative medium, of our true identity as Indians? (‘Samagra bhâratiya asmitâ ka pratik’ & ‘bhârat ke hridaya ki kunji’ – to quote his own terminology).

    Let me conclude this article with a quotation from the very next editorial which continues this topic in a startingly fresh context. Its caption is ‘The road-blocks of Hindi’; and it criticizes a statement made by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Could any other journalist speak in such a frank and forthright manner? 

   “A good leader is frugal in his speech; but most of the leaders of Indian democracy tend to talk too much. That’s why most of what they say goes unheard. But occasionally they blurt out things which may have dangerous consequences: dangerous, because the mentality behind then is vitiated. When the prime minister compares Krishan Chander to Ghalib, nobody will take it seriously: it will be treated like a joke, because the remark reflects the ignorance of a politician about contemporary literature and we are familiar with this kind of ignorance of such people.”

     ‘Dinman’ was wholly the creation of Agyeya. But the experience of editing the daily ‘Navbharat Times’ was totally different. When Agyeya took charge of NBT in August, 1971, there was no scope for experiment and innovation. He had inherited a predetermined structure – resisting all attempts at change. Nevertheless, if one studies the editorial pages and weakly supplements of this newspaper during his editorship, one can easily recognise and appreciate the unmistakable imprint of his genius and skill. Achyutanandji, his colleague during these days of NBT, has put on record distinctive and most characteristic quality of Agyeya’s editorial work thus: “It is through literature that we get the first and the most urgent intimations of crisis in the cultural field; it is in journalism that we recognise the first indications of political crisis. But Agyeya had an intuitive and immediate capacity for understanding and articulating both.”


Dialogue A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati

Astha Bharati