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Science Fiction in Hindi – A Critic’s View

by Arvind Mishra and Manish Mohan Gore

The Beginning

Although the roots of Hindi science fiction (SF) could be traced in the mythical mists of ancient times especially in Sanskrit scriptures, the genre in its true sense only emerged with the serial publication of ‚Aascharya Vrittant‘ (A Strange Tale!), by the veteran mainstream Hindi writer, Ambika Datt Vyas in ‚Piyush Pravah‘ – a Hindi literary magazine, during 1884-88. (Mishra, 2000; Singh, 2002; Prasad, 2004). This landmark of early Hindi SF publication seems to be inspired by Jules Verne’s „Voyages Extraordinaries“ and narrates the breathtaking story of Gopinath – main protagonist of the novelette, who undertakes an adventurous journey underneath the Earth. The novelette has a happy ending as Gopinath and his two accomplices somehow emerge from beneath the Earth unharmed. There are many mind-boggling scenes interwoven with mystery and suspense in the novelette. This was a kind of writing unknown to the contemporary Hindi audience. Almost fifteen years later came another adventure story ‚Chandra Lok Ki Yatra‘ (A Journey To The Moon). This too was markedly influenced by Jules Verne’s writings. The story was written by Babu Keshav Prasad Singh and was published in a renowned Hindi literary magazine, ‚Saraswati‘ (Vol 1, part 6, June 1900). The twin stories initiated writing of an unconventional kind of fiction in Hindi which was later identified as genre SF. Many critics however consider the twin stories merely the reflection of a Western literary trend and not the outcome of our own mainstream literary movement.

Proto Science Fiction

The penultimate and last decade of the 19th century also witnessed the profound impact of yet another kind of hitherto unfamiliar style of writing in Hindi termed as ‚Tilism Sahitya‘ (Talisman!) and a proponent of this kind of literature was the veteran mainstream Hindi writer Devakinandan Khatri. His novels ‚Chandra Kanta‘ (1888) and ‚Chandra Kanta Santati’ (1896) were very popular in Hindi and people from other regions and languages learned Hindi to enjoy these classics of Hindi literature.

It could be argued that these novels contained certain elements of SF and therefore might be regarded as Proto-Science Fiction (Mishra, 1984) but opinions differ (Mishra, 1989; Mewadi, 1984; Singh, 2002; Goyal, 2004). Such ‚Tilism“ stories did contain a sense of wonder and certain gadgetry descriptions often encountered in genre SF but lacked the sound scientific themes essential to SF stories. Although there were other mainstream SF writers like Swami Satyadev Parivrajak, whose ‚Aascharya Janak Ghanti‘ was published in ‚Saraswati‘ in 1908, only a few other mainstream authors could be credited as SF specialists. Among them, the most illustrious was the famous mainstream Hindi writer Rahul Sankrityayan. He is credited for his magnum opus SF ‚Baisavee Sadi‘ (The 22nd century) – a novel written in 1924. ‚Baisavee Sadi‘ is excellent example of a utopia set in the 22nd century A.D. in which the author beautifully describes a future society which embodied the political and social reforms of 2124AD caused by technological advancements.

It appears that Hindi SF writing before the 1930s was mostly mainstream writing as SF published in the magazines was not labelled as SF. But it was certainly a period in which Hindi SF was beginning to take shape as an identifiably distinct genre though many favourite SF themes were produced as non-genre SF. After 1930, Yamuna Datt Vaisnav ‚Ashok‘ had a profound influence on ‚genre SF‘ writing and wrote far and away the most interesting and readable real SF ever published. It was in fact due to his contributions that Hindi SF began to establish its identity amongst mainstream fiction writers.

Prominent Writers

The prominent writings of Yamuna Datt Vaisnav ‚Ashok‘ include, ‚Asthi Pinjar‘ (1947), ‚Apsara Ka Sammoohan‘ (1967), ‚Chakshudan‘ (1948), Himsundari (1971) etc, all anthologies containing beautiful SF stories. It is evident that he wrote genre SF in a continuous and sustained way and on a variety of themes from technological inventions and associated impacts on the political and social systems of predicted human societies. Before the 1960s thus there existed sporadic and isolated works of an interrupted tradition of SF writing, with the only exception being the contributions made by Yamuna Datt Vaisnav ‚Ashoka‘. He is also credited to have inculcated a sort of “Indianness” in his stories.

Dr. Naval Bihari Mishra’s noteworthy contributions to enrich the genre of SF in the 1960s also demand a special mention. Inspired heavily by Western SF writing movements he accepted the challenge of enriching Hindi literature further with this relatively new kind of fiction. His many original contributions and translated versions of Jules Verne’s voyage stories appeared in ‚Vigyan Jagat‘ (Indian Press, Allahabad) and ‚Vigyan Lok‘ (Mehra Newspapers, Agra) during the 1960s.

Other welcome incursions of SF into Hindi writing were also made by a few well-known Hindi litterateurs who usually worked outside the genre, notably Dr. Sampurnanand (Prithvi Se Saptarshi Mandal, 1953), Aacharya Chatursen Shastri (Khagras, 1960). They also persuaded other contemporary Hindi litterateurs to enrich this emerging genre in Hindi, but to no avail for a long time.

First Boom

The first boom in genre SF writing in Hindi took place in the 1970s with the appearance on the scene of prolific writers like Kailash Sah, Maya Prasad Tripathi, Shukdev Prasad, Rajeshwar Gangavar and Devendra Mawadi who among others regularly contributed to the enrichment of Hindi genre SF writing. Devendra Mewadi’s contributions inspired many younger writers, including the authors of this write-up, to the wonderful world of Hindi SF writing. His two anthologies ‚Bhavisya‘ (1994) and Kokh (1998) are immensely popular among Hindi readers.

The SF writers of the 1970s set the stage of genre SF writing and the trend now became almost a mainstay in Hindi literature. But SF writing by and large still did not enjoy due consideration by the literary Hindi circles. The scenario called for an organized effort to popularize Hindi SF writing amongst not only the limited readers of the genre but also amongst Hindi literati and a campaign to this effect was initiated by the first author in the late 1980s, culminating in the establishment of a fully fledged SF writers‘ organization – Indian Science Fiction Writers‘ Association (ISFWA) in 1995 as an autonomous body registered under the societies registration act, 1860. ISFWA brings out ‚Vigyan Katha‘, a quarterly which has been fully devoted to SF since 2002 under the main editorship of Dr. R.R. Upadhyaya.

The Second Boom

A second boom in SF writing in Hindi began in the late 1980s with the publication of ‚EK Aur Kraunch Vadh‘ in the renowned Hindi literary magazine, ‚Dharmyug‘ by Arvind Mishra. Many more new authors appeared afterwards, most of them being the members of ISFWA . The prominent ones among them were Dr. Rajiv Ranjan Upadhyaya (President of ISFWA), Harish Goyal (Vice President of ISFWA), Kalpana Kulshrestha, Zakir Ali ‚ Rajnish‘, Zeeshan Haider Zaidi, Manish Mohan Gore, Swapnil Bhartiya, Visnu Prasad Chaturvedi, Ajai Kumar etc.

The most gifted Hindi woman SF writer is Kalpana Kulshrestha, the first woman to publish a Hindi SF anthology of her own selected SF stories, named ‚Beesavi Sadi Ki Bat’ (2005). Her stories are usually concerned with social aspects of human society and she herself coined the term, ‚Socifi‘ for that kind of story. Lately, Yugal Kumar has also joined the bandwagon.

In 2000 a major Hindi SF writing workshop was organized in Varanasi, U.P. under the aegis of ISFWA and was sponsored by the National Council of Science and Technology Communication (NCSTC), New Delhi. The event brought together some of above popular names of as delegate participants. Many issues pertaining to Hindi SF writing were discussed at length in the workshop and the proceedings are now available in published form (Upadhyaya, et.al., 2002)

Fiction and Fantasy

Both these forms of SF writing i.e. ‚ fiction‘ and ‚fantasy‘ (Asimov, 1981; Hollinger; 1999 ) are popular in Hindi (Mishra, 1984; 2000), but the majority of writing is skewed in favour of ‚fantasy‘, a kind of SF writing which encourages Hindi SF writers to express freely and more imaginatively. Hindi writers usually prefer imaginary sciences primarily to develop the plots of their stories on themes such as alternate worlds, antigravity, faster than light (FTL communication), invisibility and of course time-travel etc. This growing trend of ‚fantasy‘ elements in Hindi SF writing is often a matter of debate among Hindi SF writers and fandom (Mishra, 1990, 1992; Prasad, 2004).

The definition

Another debatable point of Hindi SF relates to its methods of classification and treatment of stories accordingly. As SF giant Isaac Asimov has stated earlier „…it is a measure of the richness of the field that no two of its practitioners are liable to agree on even something as fundamental as its definition…“ (Asimov, 1981). Hindi SF writers genuinely seem to be widely divided over the issues and the scope of the nature of SF writing. A largely accepted world-wide definition of SF reveals that it is deliberately anachronous and deals with phenomena, gadgetry and accomplishments far off (possibly) in the future.

Some critics discourage this form of SF writing in Hindi (Prasad, 2004; Rajnish, 2000; Dubey, 2006) and emphasize that contemporary social backgrounds should also be dealt with in Hindi SF along with scientific details, as per requirements of the story, while others do not seem prepared to compromise with the predominant Western outlook that SF should necessarily depict only those events and social backgrounds that neither existed in past or present but only in the future. Notwithstanding such debates the future of Hindi SF seems bright.

References :

1. Asimov, Issac. (1981). My own view; ‚Asimov on Science Fiction‘. Panther Books, Great Britain.

2. Dubey, Arvind. (2006). Personal Communication.

3. Goyal, Harish. (2004). ‚Hindi Me Vigyan Kathaon Ka Samridh Hota Itihas‘. Madhumati, Dec., 2004 : 26-37.

4. Hollinger, Veronica. (1999). Contemporary trends in scifi critisism, 1980-1999, SF studies, 78, 26, 2.

5. Mewadi, Devendra. (1984). ‚Vigyan Katha Sahitya‘, Bhavisya, National Publishing House, New Delhi.

6. Mishra, Arvind. (1984). ‚Saras Lok Vigyan‘, Lalit Kathayen, Fantasi aur Bhavisya Puran‘, Vigyan, 71, 11-12: 4-8.

7. Mishra, Arvind. (1989). ‚Hamari Vigyan Kathaon me Vaigyanikata‘. Bhartiya Bhashaon Me Vigyan Lekhan. Proceedings of National Symposium, Vigyan Parishad, Prayag : 223-228.

8. Mishra, Arvind. (1990). „Hindi Kahani Ki Ek Vismrit Hoti Parampara“. Navbharat Times, Lucknow, 22 Feb : 7.

9. Mishra, Arvind. (1992) ‚ Mahaj Manoranjan Nahin Hain Vigyan Kathayen‘ Avishkar, Aug., 92: 322-325.

10. Mishra, Shivgopal. (1984). ‚Hindi Upanyas, Tilism Tatha Kathayen‘ Vigyan, 71, 11-12 : 1-4,

11. Mishra, Shivgopal. (2000) ‚Aascharya Vrittant‘. Vigyan, 80, 2: 31-33.

12. Prasad, Shukdev. (2004). ‚ Vigyan Kathaon ‚Ke Uts Ki Khoj‘ Bhartiya Vigyan Kathayen, (Edited). Kitab Ghar Prakashan, New Delhi : 8-31.

13. Prasad, Shukdev. (2005). Vigyan Kathaon Ke Yaksh Prasn, Indian Journal of Science Communication, Vol 4, (2) July-Dec. 2005 : 13-22.

14. Rajnish, Zakir Ali., (2006). Personal Communication.

15. Singh, Ajay. (2002). Hindi Sahitya Me Vigyan Katha, Ph.D. Thesis, Gorakhpur University.

16. Upadhyaya, R.R., Mishra, Arvind. (2000). Sanchar Madhyamo Ke Liye Vigyan Katha, Indian Science Fiction Writers‘ Association, Publi. Faizabad.

Copyright ©  2011 by Arvind Mishra and Manish Mohan Gore

Arvind Mishra has studied Fisheries Science at Deemed University in Mumbai. He hosted numerous radio talks and TV programmes broadcast on Agricultural and popular science. He published nearly 1.000 popular science articles, essays and SF stories in magzines and newspapers of nationwide circulation in India. His stories have been translated into Czech, French and German. He is member of the Indian Science Writers Association and the Indian Science Fiction Writers Association.

Manish Mohan Gore has degrees in Botany, Education and Mass Communication. He currently works as a Scientific Officer in the National Institute of Science Communication Vigyan Prasar. He has published popular science articles and since 1997 science fiction stories, many in Hindi. Some of his stories have been broadcast by the All India Radio.

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