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State of regional literature: haryanvi

Till new beginnings are made...

Even during the British colonial era, Haryanvi literature attracted the attention of the European Orientalists.

Till new beginnings are made...

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Jai Singh

Even during the British colonial era, Haryanvi literature attracted the attention of the European Orientalists. Like Major J. Abbott collected Ballads and Legends of the Punjab in the journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (1854). Haryana was a part of Punjab at that time and many of the tales collected belonged to this region. William Crooke was instrumental in collecting A Version of the Guga Legend, published in Indian Antiquary (1895). Flora Annie Steel collected around 42 tales in her Tales of the Punjab (1894), Charles Swynnerton collected and published 97 tales from this region in his Romantic Tales from the Panjab (1908). Many of these literary works are part of  the Haryanvi folk-lore. 

Richard Carnac Temple’s The Legends of the Panjab (1884) includes four complete Svang texts, three of them on Nath themes. Many of the stories collected in this work such as The Legend of Raja Gopi Chand, Raja Nal, Puran Bhagat, The Marriage of Hir and Ranjha are part of Haryanvi Sang and folk. 

All the translations and collections published by the Orientalists are an authentic source of information for a contemporary scholar. This is because most Indian resources for these texts are preserved through the oral tradition, and are thus contaminated by the immediate needs of people, who have been preserving these for the past 200 years. 

Literary scene of Haryana is characterised by a broad comprehension of complexities it represents. Contemporary Haryanvi writers have a long heritage of first Sang and then Ragini, starting from the first-recorded Sangi, Kisan Lal Bhat, in the 18th century, succeeded by Bansi Lal, translated and recorded by Richard Carnac Temple. Unlike Sanskrit writers, Sangis belonged to all castes and religious communities. For instance, Ali Baksh was a Muslim, Pt Deep Chand, Pt Lakhmi Chand and some others were Brahmins. Baje Bhagat, Daya Chand Mayana and some others were from lower and middle castes. 

Most of the Sangis took their themes from scriptures and some produced secular Sangs, but they were least interested in colonialism, economic exploitation, wars at international level, etc. Slowly, one more genre i.e. Ragini, which was initially part of Sangs, emerged as a prominent medium of expression. Just like Sangis, Ragini singers also belonged to all castes and most of the Sangis are Ragini singers as well; however, some are exclusively Ragini writers and singers.

Due to economic and many other concerns, erotic, communal and vulgar themes creeped into contemporary Ragini and writers and singers of such Raginis made a good deal of money, but garnered no respect. However, this contamination could not affect the entire genre and, under the influence of progressive movement, a new sub-genre of Janawadi Ragini emerged.

 Unlike earlier times, contemporary Ragini faces the contemporary world. Most of the contemporary writers try to understand the global issues of neo-colonialism, capitalism, communalism, terrorism, etc. and their impact on local life. Contemporary writer gives voice to subaltern groups like women, transgenders, dalits, minorities, economically and culturally marginalised sections. Through their Raginis, they try to inculcate scientific temperament and also deal with the problems of unemployment and under-employment. Contemporary Janawadi Ragini dominated by Mangatram Shastri, Ramphal Jakhmi, Mukesh Yadav, Ranbir Singh, Satyabir Nahadia, Habib Bharti, Balbir Rathi and many others.

Slowly Sangs and Ragini are vacating space for other genres — like poetry, ghazal, short story and novel. Prof AbhayMourya, Sahi Ram, Vinod Sahi, Arvind Jain, Seva Singh and Urvashi Butalia are some of the writers popularising other genres.

A writer can become a canonical writer at the state, national or international level without getting any literary award but awards play a very important role in establishing a writer. Haryana Sahitya Akademi gives literary awards to writers, but no Haryanvi writer has been able to win a national or international level award and, therefore, remain little-known outside Haryana. However, it has not become a handicap for Haryanvi writers who keep interrogating literary canons, modes of representation, aesthetics, feminist positions and the question of readership. Pradeep Kasani, Ramkumar Atrey, Jaipal, Dr Subash, Omprakash Karunesh, Om Singh Ashfaque, Rajkisan Nain, Rajbir Deswal, Ramphal Chahal, Satyavir Nahariya, Jagbeer Rathi and a good deal of women writers like Sakuntala Brijmohan, Kamlesh Malik, Usha Agrawal, Sudershan Ratnakar, Kamala Chamola, Kashmiri Devi, Gyani Devi, Sharda Yadav, Sangeeta Beniwal, Susheel Bhabalpur, Suman and Urmila Kaushik are expanding the canon of Haryanvi literature.

Along with creative writers, there are scholars who collect Raginis, narratives of marginalised sections and produce literary criticism in the field of Haryanvi literature such as Subhash, OP Grewal, BS Dahiya, Puranchand Sharma, Ramphal Chahal, Desh Nirmohi, Rajender Badgujar, Suresh Jangid, Devendra Kumar and many others. Haryana has a good deal of magazines that give space to Haryanvi literature, both creative and critical; Des Haryana and before it Jatan and Anayatha are such magazines. Organisations such as Haryana Gyanvigyan Samiti, Jan Natya Manch and Janwadi Lekhak Sangh play an important role in shaping the contemporary Haryanvi literature.

Many authors cite publishing and marketing as challenges, but various works, especially on dalits, women and gender, from other vernacular languages have been getting readership at the national and international level. A work in vernacular languages can attain international repute if the authors put in more hard work and develop a better understanding of the complexities of the life and world. Translations help us take our works to the world and Haryanvi authors must wake up to this reality. Otherwise, for a work in Haryanvi, there is very limited readership even within Haryana. When we try to locate Haryanvi writers on the international map, they stand nowhere because most of their tools are outdated. 

And why is that so? Because they want to take the society along with them, which is yet to reach modern-age intellectually, while the First World is in post-modern period.

— The writer is assistant professor, Department of Indian and World Literatures, The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad

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