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Quaint Tellings

Aditya Nigam

By Gajanan Madhav 'Muktibodh'
Rajkamal Prakashan, New Delhi, 2009, pp. 320, Rs 400.00


The volume under review is a kind of arapid reader in Indian history that the towering Hindi poet of the 1940s and 1950s, Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh (hereafter, Muktibodh) wrote in 1962. An odd volume in itself, and in the authors own words, probably the only text he ever wrote that had nothing original in itafter all, it was supposed to be a rapid reader for middle school and matriculation students. It is a volume that covers Indias history from the stone-age and iron-age right up to the anticolonial nationalist movement. A volume that covers such a huge range in just about 300 pages is likely to become something like an aphoristic historya history in sutras, as it were. And that is precisely what it is for the most part. Its sutras, its take on different and complex questions of our really long and painful history, make for a reading that sounds a trifle quaint today. As history, as a narrative of history, it does not present any surprises and is really quite dated, drawing as it did on available historical knowledge almost fifty years ago. However, what makes for interesting reading in this book is not that there is something original and new in it but, rather, the fact that it is a work of synthesiseven if for school childrenof a vast range of available historical scholarship by one of the most important figures of the Hindi literary scene. And in terms of the synthesis he offers us, Muktibodh remains clearly one of the most fascinating minds of his time. Readers who have read other prose writings by him, especially his Ek Sahityik ki Dairy will readily concede this. For, there is a certain restlessness with which he tackles questions of aesthetics and the moment of artistic creation, in that slim collection. In the same way, this current work is important in terms of according us a peep into the Hindi intellectual world of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, and the way in which it understood issues and episodes of our extremely tortured history. It is worth mentioning here that Muktibodh was a Marxist and was associated with the Communist Party of India and the Progressive Writers movement. What he reveals, therefore, of his intellectual world, is not simply that of the Hindi intelligentsia but of the Marxist intelligentsia of the Hindi world as well. And we can see the space of ...

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