Francesca Orsini

Published On


Page Range

pp. 99-136

Print Length

37 pages

3. Literary Activism

Hindi Magazines, the Short Story and the World

Already a tradition several decades old, in the first decade after independence (in 1947) the short story emerged as the primary genre in Hindi, but also in other Indian literatures, to grapple with contemporary experiences and to learn about other Indian and world literatures. The short story was so popular that magazines solely devoted to the genre were launched, primary among them Kahānī (Short Story, 1954), established by Shripat Rai, one of the two sons of the hallowed Hindi-Urdu writer Premchand. Already since the 1940s, the Hindi literary field had been deeply polarised between the Progressive Writers’ Association, controlled in the early 1950s by a hardcore group of critics and writers, and those who protested the Progressives’ ideological emphasis. In the 1950s, this polarization became strengthened by Cold-War literary interventions and translated into two different visions of world literature: one clearly oriented towards China, the USSR, and Eastern Europe and a canon of communist or leftist writers from western countries (Howard Fast, Upton Sinclair, etc.); and another vision more open to and interested in writers from other countries. But the 1950s were also the first decade of Indian independence, and they saw magazines like Kahānī undertake literary activism in other ways, too, namely: (a) by emphasizing translations of contemporary writing in other Indian languages, which formed more than half of the magazine’s content; (b) by having at least one foreign short story in every issue; (c) by democratizing access to reading and encouraging “democratic” discussions of literature through the establishment of a “Kahani Club” and inviting readers to participate. This chapter explores and evaluates Kahānī’s literary activism in the context of the political polarization of Hindi and world literature in the early Cold War, of the relationship between Hindi and other Indian language literatures, and between them and English, and in relation to the work that the short story as a genre was called upon to perform.