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Getting to Know Agyeya




HINDI MODERNISM: RETHINKING AGYEYA AND HIS TIMES
By Vasudha Dalmia
Centre for South Asia Studies, University of California, Berkeley, 2012, pp. 218, price not stated.

VOLUME XXXVII NUMBER 7 July 2013

Let me start with a confession of the envy that the book under review aroused in me. 2011 was the centenary year of Agyeya and many universities and literary academies across India held seminars, symposia and lectures to mark that occasion. None of them could produce a book documenting the deliberations that happened and here is a university in a far away land reaching out to us with a well edited volume containing the proceedings of a symposium held there to celebrate the cosmopolitan Agyeya. I had to fight with myself to overcome the reluctance to talk about this book as it might reveal the weakness and carelessness with which we pursue our task of intellection in Indian academic institutions, especially in the departments of Hindi. But that is a lamentation I must postpone for some other occasion. This collection of twelve papers and presentations on different aspects of Agyeya gives us a glimpse of the emerging scholarship on Agyeya and modern Hindi literature, especially in universities outside India.   There is rarely another example of a writer like Agyeya ( Satchidanand Hiranand Vatsyayana), not only in Hindi but in other Indian languages as well, whose persona so dominated his work in his lifetime that it took nearly two decades of his absence (after his demise) from the literary scene for the possibility of a sober assessment of his writings to emerge. His majestic shadow, which had hidden his works from his readers seems to have receded to allow us to have a better, dispassionate view of what he really was. A true renaissance man, Agyeya performed multiple roles. He was a revolutionary political activist, a poet, fiction writer, travel-writer, essayist, editor, cultural organizer and educator. He also worked in universities outside India, collaborating with Hindi scholars on several teaching and translation projects, which helped Hindi to be placed firmly on the international academic scene. It was only appropriate that in this centenary year of his birth Agyeya was remembered in Berkeley, where he had taught. Vasudha Dalmia, editor of the volume, who says that one of the objectives of holding the symposium and bringing out its proceedings in the form of a book is to make ‘him better known in the non-Hindi literary world as a major Hindi modernist.’ Ironically, despite his dazzling visibility, the Hindi world cannot claim that it knows him sufficiently well. As Sanjeev Kumar tells us in his ...


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