Sarala Jag Mohan. Handbook of Twentieth-Century Literatures of India. Editor: Nalini Natarajan, Greenwood Press, 1996.
Gujarati is one of the major languages of India, spoken by about 41.3 million people of Gujarat in western India. Originating in the sixth century, it passed through various stages of development, acquiring literary expression by the twelfth century. Since then, literary creation in Gujarati has been an ongoing process.
Gujarati literature has been traditionally divided into (1) an ancient phase up to 1450, (2) a middle phase up to 1800, and (3) the modern phase from 1800 onward. It is customary to trace the roots of modern Gujarati literature to the middle phase.
The renowned saint-poets Narasingh Mehta and Meerabai, a princess turned poet (fifteenth and sixteenth centuries), were the powerful forces behind the Bhakti movement. Both sang of their love for the god Krishna, but Narasingh Mehta also wrote poetry on the philosophy of the Upanishads. Meerabai, who also wrote in Rajasthani and Braj Bhasha, was lyrical and emotional. Her songs reflected enlightened thinking, though not necessarily profound philosophy. Both used familiar, colloquial language. Narasingh’s all-embracing humanism is relevant even today. His famous composition “Vaishnava Jana to tene kahiye” (One Who Feels the Pain of Others Is a True Vaishnav), full of warm compassion, was adopted by Gandhiji and routinely sung during his prayers. Narasingh Mehta has been rightly called the Adi Kavi (the First Poet) of Gujarat. Similarly, Meerabai’s devotional songs have remained alive over the centuries. She is ranked with Narasingh as a major poet and is the first woman poet of Gujarat.
Another saint-poet was Akho (1591–1659), a Vedantist and a radical. He chastised false gurus and advocated monistic doctrine. His Akhegita and Anubhavbindu reveal his deep knowledge of philosophy. The biting satire of his poetry had an underlying humanism. Bhojo Bhagat (1785–1850), Dhiro (1753–1825), and other devotional poets were popular in their time.
The Jain monks also contributed to Gujarati literature through their writings in prose and verse, narrating the life incidents of their Tirthankaras, and also adapted stories from the epics to suit the Jain concepts of life and religion.
Other Poets of the Middle Phase
Gujarati literature of this period was largely religious, but there were exceptions, like Padmanabh’s Kanhadadeprabandh (1456), a heroic poem. There were also occasional spurts of erotic and romantic poetry. Bhalan (c.1426–1500) adapted Puranic themes to suit his time.
But Premanand (1640–1700) is considered a major nonreligious poet of the middle period because of excellence and abundance of his poetic creations. He first wrote poetry in Hindi, but, on being reprimanded by his guru, he vowed to develop the Gujarati language as a vehicle of fine literary expression and succeeded. His akhyanas (long narrative poems), based on epics and plays, had fantastically rich vocabulary and a variety of themes and style. Then came Shamal (1699–1769), who wrote long poems like Padmavati, Nandbatrisi, and Madanamohana, drawing on tales of wondrous romance.
Dayaram (1767–1852), the last eminent poet of the middle period, was a born lover, uninhibited by conventions. He sang of Krishna as lover in all his poems. He had a special genius for writing garbis (lyrical poems with rhythm).
Those were turbulent times in Gujarat. The East India Company had occupied the Surat Fort (1759), and there were frequent Maratha invasions. By 1818, the British were in firm political control in Gujarat. Dayaram’s passing away was the end of an era.
Coming of the British: A Turning Point
The arrival of the British marked the beginning of far-reaching political, economic, social, and cultural changes all over India, including Gujarat. A new educational system reached wider sections of the people and encouraged the native languages called “vernaculars.” Christian missionaries also played a crucial role in propagating education. However, in Gujarat, the missionaries could mostly influence the deprived and exploited sections of society. With the spread of English education, the educated sections in Gujarat became acquainted and fascinated by English literature and social and political thought of the West. A reaffirmation of Hindu culture took place simultaneously.
Educational Institution and Social Reform
The new currents led to the opening of new schools and establishment of institutions like the Royal Asiatic Society of Bombay, the Elphinstone School and the Elphinstone Institute of Bombay (1835), Gujarat Vernacular Society (1844), which later became the Gujarat Vidya Sabha, the Buddhivardhak Sabha, Bombay (1851), and Manavdharma Sabha, Surat (1844). This brought social, religious, and cultural regeneration, with unmistakable impact on Gujarati literature. With the establishment of the University of Bombay (1857), people with university education became interested in English literature and culture. Some of them felt inspired to try new literary forms in Gujarati and to translate and adapt some literary works from English.
Printing Presses, Newspapers, Periodicals, and Libraries
The coming of printing presses and newspapers like the Mumabai Samachar Weekly, later daily (1822), Amadavad Varatman (1849) of the Gujarat Vernacular Society, Amadavad Samachar Weekly (1860), Gujarat Mitra, Surat (1863), and so on, promoted literary activities. More books were written, published, and serialized. Periodicals like the Buddhiprakash and Gujarat Shalapatra, provided further impetus. With more and more libraries opening up, popular interest in literature steadily grew.
As everywhere in the country, British rule aroused a mixed reaction in Gujarat. To some, it was a blessing, because it had apparently brought stability and introduced modern means of transport and communication and the benefits of scientific and industrial development. Others, though happy to have contact with the West through English education, were dissatisfied with alien rule and started thinking in terms of individual and national freedom. Gujarati literature of the first half of the nineteenth century reflected both these trends. It was the beginning of modern Gujarati literature, and the foundation was laid for all literary developments in the latter half of the nineteenth century and all through the twentieth century.
Dalpatram and Narmad
These diverse approaches were reflected in the poets Dalpatram (1820–98) and Narmad (1834–86). Though products of the same age, they were poles apart in their attitudes to British rule. Dalpatram, who knew no English, was encouraged in his literary efforts by an Englishman, Alexander Kinlock Forbes, the magistrate in Ahmedabad, who was interested in the development of the Gujarati language. The Gujarat Vernacular Society was his brainchild. To Dalpatram, British rule was a blessing. But Narmad, who had the advantage of English education, was possessed with ideas of freedom.
Both shared an awareness of the need for social reforms like opposition to child marriages, encouraging widow remarriages, protecting Indian industries and culture, and education. But even in these matters, Dalpatram favored slow change, while Narmad was more radical.
Further, they were the first to introduce into Gujarati poetry subjects related to common life—a far cry from the predominantly religious and occasionally romantic and narrative poetry of the earlier period. Dalpatram’s poetry had commonplace subjects like “trees in a college compound,” English law, or even how to write an essay and was replete with his typical sense of humor.
But Narmad’s poetry, written in a serious strain, had subjects of direct social relevance, reflecting his impatience and impetuosity. Influenced by English poetry, he also wrote poems about personal love, patriotism, freedom, nature, and so on.
Prose Writing of Dalpatram and Narmad
Dalpatram, an authority on meters, wrote a treatise called Pingal (Prosody) a sourcebook for scholars for many decades. Narmad’s prose writings included essays, history, autobiography (Mari Hakikat 1866), and even a play. Single-handedly, he prepared a Gujarati dictionary (Narmakosh). He wrote copiously on education and social reform in the weekly Dandiyo, published at his own expense, to propagate his reformist ideas. He was completely devoted to the pen, facing hardships and penury with the courage of a warrior.
Dalpatram and Narmad, in their own different ways, pioneered new literary trends in Gujarat. Poets and writers of the later period did not necessarily imitate them but picked up their threads, to which they added their own strands.
A striking feature of post-British Gujarati literature is the phenomenon of one author’s writing in more than one genre.
Development of Gujarati Prose
In the next few years, a number of writers particularly cultivated prose, setting the stage for its further development. The growing influence of the English language, far from subduing the Gujarati language, added new dimensions to it. Efforts were made to evolve appropriate expressions to effectively convey thoughts and human emotions appropriate to Gujarati sensibility.
A notable attempt was the first Gujarati historical novel, Karanghelo (1866) by Nandshankar Tuljashankar Mehta (1835–1905). Gujarati prose had not yet developed to suit that genre, but the novel is important as a first step.
His contemporary, Navalram Pandya (1836–88), an educationist and social reformer who edited the then-prestigious journal Shalapatra, wrote, in more cultivated prose, Narmad’s biography, translated Kalidasa’s Meghdoot, Molière’s play The Mock Doctor as Bhatnun Bhopalun (1867), and wrote an original play, Virmati Natak (1869). He molded Gujarati prose as a vehicle for creative writing and criticism.
Several writers of that period and succeeding decades further developed Gujarati prose with their novels, essays, travelogues, biographies, autobiographies, and journalistic writings. Periodicals like the Buddhiprakash Satyaprakash, Rastgoftar also promoted such writing in Gujarati. Durgaram Manchharam (1809–76), a renowned teacher and social reformer, kept a record of his public activities and also wrote his autobiography.
Some time later, Nanilal Nabhubhai Dwivedi, a social reformer and an upholder of women’s education, started the monthly Priyamvada (1864), later changed into Sudharshan (1890), to propagate his ideas about women’s education. He recorded his personal experiences in Atmanimajjan (1895). But Kanta Natak (1882), as the first attempt of a well-structured play, is said to be his most important contribution. He also found the essay form a convenient medium to express his views about education and social reform. His effortless prose bears the mark of his vast scholarship.
Further Strides in Poetry
Gujarati poetry made further strides during this period. Balashankar (1858–99), a bohemian by nature, wrote erotic poetry, combining the Shakta and Persian influences. Balashankar’s brief and tempestuous career has remained a subject of curiosity and criticism. His freer diction stands apart from the general tenor of Gujarati poetry of his time.
Balashankar’s contemporary Kant (1867–1923) was also an innovative poet, but in a different way. He wrote khandakavyas (narrative poems) depicting with intensity sentiments of love and friendship in a picturesque and fluent style. Whenever he glimpsed beauty, he captured it in his words. He also wrote highly subjective lyrics. Purvalap (1923), the collection of his poems, was published on the day he died.
Kant, who experienced a long period of religious conflict, remained a Christian at heart. He is remembered most for his metrically perfect and emotionally rich khandkavyas and lyrics.
A highly sensitive and romantic poet of this time was Kalapi (1874–1900), who died young but left behind a fairly large number of poems collected as Kalapino Kekarav (1931). He started under the influence of Dalpatram and Narmad but was later fascinated by English romantic poets, Narasinghrao’s nature poems and lyrics, Balashankar’s ghazals (verse) and Kant’s khandakavyas. His highly subjective poetry, full of delicate emotions, reflects anguish of love in his own life. He wrote some ghazals, too, combining Sufism and Advita philosophy. His Kashmirno Pravas (1912) is the first “creative travelogue” in Gujarati, a specimen of good prose.
A Literary Giant
A new era of creative writing dawned with the coming of Govardhanram N. Tripathi (1855–1907), well known for his novel Saraswatichandra, in four parts (1887–1901). He was the “presiding genius” of the age and an “apostle of synthesis” of East and West. His creative writing drew from the Hindu view of life. He was well versed in Sanskrit literature, preceding and contemporary Gujarati literature, and English literature and was guided by patriotism and catholicity of mind. Philosophically inclined, he lived in the thick of worldly responsibilities, albeit suffering from inner tensions.
Drawing inspiration from ancient philosophical heritage, Saraswatichandra creates a vivid tapestry of two whose hearts burned with love but were destined to remain unfulfilled. This first truly social novel is considered a modern classic.
Govardhanram’s Snehamudra (1889) is a long, reflective poem in memory of his first wife, and Lilavatijivankala (1905) is a tribute to his dead daughter. In Saksharajivan, he propounds his ideals of literary criticism, and Kavi Dayramno Aksharadeh (1906) is an appraisal of that poet’s works. Whereas Navalram Lakshmishankaranun Jivanvrittant is a biography of Nalvalram Pandya, Govardhanram’s Scrap-Book (1956) is an honest account of his inner experiences, expressing his pet ideal of “practical renunciation.” With his profound vision of life and literary creations embodying that vision, Govardhanram became a legend and a precursor of what came to be called the Age of Scholars (Pandit Yug) in Gujarati literature.
Pandit Yug: The Age of Scholars
The Age of Scholars, the period covering the next two and a half decades or so, was characterized by a heaviness of Sanskritized style and thought content in creative critical writings. But what was written in that period has immense value in the development of Gujarati literature, despite the scathing criticism by the latter-day writers.
Among the writers of this period was Ramanbhai Nilkanth (1868–1928), a public figure connected with several social and literary organizations and remembered for his creative and other serious writing. Bhadrambhandra (1900), a satirical novel about orthodox social attitudes, Hasyamandir (1926), a collection of humorous writing, and the play Raeno Parvat (1895) bring out the essence of his thinking in his creative writings. In Kavita ane Sahitya (1904), he advocates the view that literary criticism (including khandakavyas, lyrics, and devotional songs) leads to an increased interest in quality books.
Another notable writer and critic of the period was Anandshankar Dhruv (1869–1942), a towering figure in Gujarati literature even today. He wrote copiously on religious, philosophical, and literary topics. Dhruv regarded literature as an art and eschewed extremes in his critical writings. He was guided by an enlightened attitude, and his prose was marked by scholarship and a sense of appreciation. He set new standards of criticism in works such as Kavyatattvavichar (1939) and Sahityavichar (1941). His religious writings include Hindudharmani Balpothi and Apano Dharma (1916). Though dense reading, his writings have an inherent charm and immense value. His prestigious magazine, Vasant, was founded in 1906, and writers considered it an honor to be published in it.
Literary Stalwarts: Narasinghrao and Thakore
Gujarat was invigorated by the emergence of Narasinghrao (1859–1937), a versatile writer of that period. He took Gujarati poetry a step further in the new phase started by Dalpatram and Narmad. His poetic diction was influenced by Sanskrit literature and romantic English poets such as Wordsworth, Keats, and Shelley, relating nature to human emotions. These well-assimilated influences were manifested as his own creative genius, whether his poems were original, translations, or adaptations. In addition to poems of nature, he also wrote khandakavyas, lyrics, elegies, and other forms.
Kusumamala (1887), his first collection of poems, is considered a definite advance in modern Gujarati poetry because of its novel use of poetic diction. It was followed by Hridayaveena (1896), with khandakavyas, garbis, and poems about nature/women, and Nupurjhankar (1914), as well as Smaranasamhita (1915), an elegy to his son, which contains a sublime expression of emotions. Buddhacharit (1934) contains nine poems about incidents in Buddha’s life, three original and the rest translations from Edwin Arnold’s The Light of Asia. Narasinghrao’s Smaranamukur reveals how the essay may be developed as a literary genre. Manomukur, volumes 1–3 (1924, 1936, 1938) contains his appraisals of the works of contemporary and emerging writers. Published posthumously, Rojnishi (1954) is a noteworthy work of autobiographical writing, and Narasinghraono Kavyavichar (1969) explains his concept of poetry. He made a significant contribution to philology as well. With his multidimensional writings, Narasinghrao greatly enriched Gujarati literature.
Narasinghrao’s contemporary, Balawantrai Thakore (1869–1952), was more controversial. He introduced into Gujarati poetry sonnets and the prithvi meter, which is closest to English blank verse, and he was the first imagist and formalist poet in the language. Thakore’s collections of poems, Bhanakar (1917) and Mharan Sonnet (1935), demonstrate compositions with his strong sense of individuality and novelty of style, form, and content. He is often criticized for lack of musicality in his poetry, but he had evolved a style suited to his own poetry and became a voice to be reckoned with.
Kavitashikshan (1924), Apani Kavita Samrioohi (1931), and Vividh Vykhyno (1942–56) in three volumes reveal him as a fearless critic. His prose writings include a collection of short stories, two plays, and his two-volume diary, Dinky. Thakore’s position as an innovative poet and bold critic is unassailable.
Few Gujarati writers have written literary history. Krishnala M. Jhaveri (1868–1957) wrote Milestones in Gujarati Literature (1914) and Further Milestones in Gujarati Literature (1926) in English, both translated into Gujarati. Jhaveri also wrote historical works such as Aurangazeb ane Rajputs (1896), Dayaram ane Hafez (1895), and others. But his important contribution is as a literary historian. His works in the field are historically important but of specialized interest to students studying Gujarati literature of ancient and middle periods.
A Shift in Emphasis
At the turn of the century, old influences persisted to a certain extent, but there were indications of a shift in emphasis. New literary expressions, free from the influences of Sanskrit or English literature, came into vogue. This trend was encouraged by organizations such as the Gujarat Vernacular Society, Forbes Sabha, Bhikhsu Akhandanand Publishing House, and Gujarati Sahitya Parishad, as well as by the emergence of periodicals such as the Gujarati, Samalochak, Viami Sadi, Sahitya, Buddhiprakash, Vasant, and Sudarshan. This prepared the ground for developing the Gujarati language to suit the requirements of the age, which rejected heavy scholastic diction. Newspapers also favored simple language. This trend brought some Parsi writers into the field who differed from the mainstream in that they were closer to the public because of their use of daily conversational language.
Among other factors responsible for this change in creative writing in Gujarat and elsewhere in India was the fact that the country was no longer ideologically complaisant to British rule. Organizations such as the Brahmo Samaj, Prarthana Samaj, Arya Samaj, and the Theosophical Society had redirected the attention of the educated classes to Indian culture. There was a tendency to strike a balance between Eastern and the Western thought. The establishment of the Indian National Congress (1885) led to a new awakening in India. Religion-oriented literature did not cease to be written, but poets and writers now did not hesitate to turn their attention from God to man. It was not exactly the end of the Age of Scholars, but literature in Gujarat had entered a new phase.
Arrival of Mahatma Gandhi
The new trend that started at the turn of the century received a further thrust with Gandhi’s return from South Africa in 1914. There was change in the air. With the launching of the Satyagraha movement in 1923, there was a surging tide of nationalism in Gujarat, along with the rest of India. Gujarati literature acquired new dimensions. It was the beginning of a literature infused with the spirit of nationalism, concern for the downtrodden, and humanism.
Younger writers were also fascinated by the socialist thought of the West and the success of the Russian revolution. That influence grew stronger during the next two decades, with the formation of the Progressive Writers’ Association. In Gujarat, too, there was a group of progressive writers. Much was written about the downtrodden in quite a revolutionary spirit.
Yet another factor was the writers’ interest in Freudian psychology and the stream-of-consciousness technique of James Joyce, then dominating the West. Young Gujarati writers no longer imitated the earlier writers of their own language or even prominent writers like Tagore. Those who started writing in the 1930s strove to bring more psychological content into their creations and themes, with greater emphasis on human relationships. They were more concerned with the inner world of their characters. Even when the freedom struggle figured in their writings, as it often did, they tended to break loose from the inhibitions of the earlier writers. Although not completely free from prevalent moral considerations, they were more considerate toward human beings when their actions did not appear to conform to the accepted social norms. This resulted in a strikingly divergent trend in Gujarati creative writing. But it was not quite the end of the earlier phase of Gujarati literature. Old-time writers continued to write, and there were new entrants who had started writing in the last decade of the nineteenth century but had attracted attention only in the first decade of the twentieth century and were active for the next three or four decades.
Among them was Dalpatram’s son Kavi Nanalal (1877–1946). He earned a reputation with his first collection of poems, Katlank Kavyo (1903), although he had begun writing more than a decade earlier. Since then, he wrote without interruption almost until he died. His earlier poems were not much different from those of Narasinghrao, Kalapi, and so on, though there was an indication of his own poetic talent. He adopted a distinct diction, with swaying rhythm (dolanshaili), and made ingenious use of meter. His poetry had a touch of novelty. His other poetry collections include Vasantotsav (1905) and Harisamhita (1960) and carry the same level of creativity. His poetry was romantic and classical at the same time, marked with brevity and freshness of expression, lyrics being his most important contribution.
Nanalal wrote several social plays, such as Indukumar, volumes 1–3 (1909, 1927, 1942); an imaginary play with an ancient theme called Jayajayant; a mythological play, Vishvagita (1927); historical plays such as Jehangir-Noorjahan (1928); Sanghamitra (1931), the novel Sarathi (1938), which conveys his message of peace among nations; and Apanan Sakshararatno (1943), containing his introductions and prefaces to books by several writers. Nanalal infused everything he wrote with a streak of poetry and came to be regarded as an outstanding poet of his era.
In contrast, Botadkar’s (1870–1924) poetry was about the family life of his days, known for his popular garba (folk) songs. His collections included Shaivalini and Srotasvini. Not a poet par excellence, he was adept at the use of words to suit his medium, and the sentimentalism of his poetry appealed to his readers. Some later poets even imitate him, which lends his reputation certain importance.
The Parsis, after their migration from Iran, had accepted Gujarati as their language. Some of them had taken to writing in the language right from the seventeenth century. However, the Parsis came into prominence in the literary field in the third decade of the nineteenth century, essentially through journalism, after the launching of the Bombay Sanmachar (1822). That paper published stories in Gujarati, based on Persian themes. Behramji Murzban translated Gulbankavali and other works from Persian in the 1850s.
From 1860, Parsis showed interest in plays and theater. They set up the Parsi Natak Mandali (1852), which staged the first play, Sohrab ane Rustom, in Bombay that year. Subsequently, the Victoria Natak Mandali, Persian Natak Mandali, and other drama companies were formed. The Parsi plays were mostly translations of Persian or English plays. Kekhushru Kabraji (1842–1904), social reformer of the Parsi society of his time, contributed to the development of the Parsi theater and to the Gujarati novel. Theaters like Victoria Natak Manadi staged translations of Shakespeare’s plays, but later the plays were based on Persian history and also Hindu mythology. Khurshadji Maherwanji Baliwala (1852–1913) of the Baliwala Grand Theatre also played a leading role in the development of the Parsi theater, which aimed at entertainment and orienting the Parsi community toward social reform.
But as a creative Parsi writer, Beheramji Malabari stands out, with his Gujarati poems expressing nationalist sentiment. His style was the continuation of the poetic style of Narmad and the Pandit Yug. Itihasni Aarasi is his famous patriotic composition. Malabari was the predecessor of the Parsi poet Ardoshir Faramji Khabardar (1881–1953). A Parsi poet of considerable merit, Khabardar published several collections, including Kavyarasika (1901) and Vilasika (1905), with the influences of Dalpatram and Kant. Bharatno Tankar (1919) and Sandeshika (1925) contained patriotic poems. He also wrote garba songs and a eulogy of Gandhiji. While imbibing earlier influences, Khabardar evolved his own musical expression.
Prose Writing in Post-Pandit Yug
The most notable features of prose writing during this period can be found in the works of powerful storytellers like K. M. Munshi (1887–1971), Ramanlal V. Desai (1890–1954), and Dhoomketu (1892–1965).
Munshi wrote five social novels, such as Verni Vasulat (1913) and Swapnadrishta (1924); seven historical novels, including Patanani Prabhuta (1916), Gujaratno Nath (1917), Rajadhiraj (1918), and Prithvivallabh (1920); and four mythological novels, such as Lopamudra (1930) and Bhagwan Parashuram (1926). His last work, Krishnavatar (1963–74), in eight parts, was left incomplete. Munshi’s social novels, with their romantic atmosphere and autobiographical touches, were quite popular. But his historical novels, said to have been inspired by Alexander Dumas and Sir Walter Scott, took Gujarat by storm. When charged with distorting history to suit his creative purpose, his defense was that he was writing novels, not history.
Munshi also wrote social plays, including Brahmacharyashram (1931) and Dr. Madhurika (1936), and mythological plays, Pausanik Natako, Dhruvaswanuni Devi and Lopamudra (1930). Munshi’s other prose writings included biographies of Narasingh Mehta and Narmad, autobiographical works like Adadhe Raste (1943), Swapanasiddihini, Shodhman (1953), and critical writing such as Ketlak Lekho (1926). Not comfortable relegated to narrow precincts in life or literature, he covered a vast canvas, including considerable original writing in English, and came to be considered a literary giant.
Ramanlal Desai, equally popular, was admired for his social and political novels, such as Jayant (1925) and Bharelo Agni (1935), his monumental novel Gramalakshmi, in four parts, which deals with the theme of rural resurgence, and Pralay (1950), a pessimistic, futuristic novel about the impending annihilation of humankind. Desai’s play Samyukta (1915) was successfully staged. He aspired to transform the amateur Gujarati stage but felt compelled to write novels, although he did write some more plays. Jhakal (1932) and Pankaj (1935) are Desai’s short story collections. Some of his stories are quite striking, but his novels are more appreciated. Apsara (1933–49) in five parts is a study of the life of prostitutes. He published some autobiographical and critical writing and a couple of poetry collections, too. With his copious and variegated writings attractively styled, though subdued and restrained in contrast to Munshi’s turbulent style, Desai’s romantic depiction of middle-class life in Gujarat held the attention of his readers for a long time.
If Munshi and Desai were at their best in novels, Dhoomketu’s forte was the short story. Dhansukhlal Mehta, Malayanil, and Munshi did write short stories before him, but the Gujarati short story is believed to have come into its own with Dhoomketu. His short stories appeared in four successive volumes, Tanakhamandal (1926, 1928, 1932, 1934). Dhoomketu enlarged the canvas of the Gujarati short story, depicting characters in their natural habitat, speaking their native language. Dhoomketu also wrote social novels like Rajmugut and Jivananan Khander (1963) and historical novels such as Chauladevi (1940) and Amrapali (1954), and a couple of autobiographical works as well. But short stories overshadowed all his other writings.
Another short story writer of this period was Dhansukhlal Mehta (1890– 1974). Apparently written in a lighter vein, his short stories in collections like Hum, Sarala, ane Biji Vato (1924) and Ame Bedhan (1936) have a refined aesthetic sense, deep thinking, and subtle expressions. He regaled his readers and also provided them with an enjoyable literary experience.
Playwriting in Gujarati
Gujarat is rather poor in this particular genre. After Ramanbhai Nilkanth’s play Raeno Parvat, there were hardly any plays worth mentioning until Rand chodbhai Udayram Dave (1837–1923), who reacted against the vulgarities of the folk theater Bhawai and published his Jekumarno Je (1866), Jaikumari Vijaynatak (1865), and Nindyashringar Nishedh Rupak (1920). He formed a drama troupe to eliminate the faulty Gujarati language of the Parsi theater, which was dominating particularly the stage in Bombay. His Lalita Dukhadarshekk Natak, dealing with child marriage, is the first tragedy in Gujarati. He also wrote other original plays, like Nala-Damayanti Natak and Harishchandra Natak. Though not of high artistic quality, Dave attempted to make the theater an instrument of public education.
The next notable playwright, Batubhai Umarawadia (1899–1956), published collections of one-act plays like Matsyagandha ane Bijar Natako (1925) and Maladevi ane Bijan Natako (1927) and a couple of full-length plays. He added to the Gujarati drama literature but may not particularly impress today’s readers.
Chandravadan Mehta (1901–91) was truly a man of drama. His plays, like Aagagadi, were a thrill to watch on stage and are a pleasure to read even now. There is an element of satire in his plays. Awarded scholarships by the Sangest Natak Akademi (New Delhi), he spent the best part of his life in studying the theater movements in India and the world and worked hard to infuse life into the Gujarati theater. He published collections of poems, including Yamal (1926) and Ila Kavyo (1933). However, his poems are not considered on a par with his plays. He has shown himself as a master prose writer in his nine-part autobiography, Gathariyan (1954–76).
Jyotindra Dave (1901–80) is synonymous with wit and humor in Gujarat, not because of a paucity of humor writers but because of the uniquely healthy and innocent fun one gets from his humorous pieces. Rantarang, in six parts (1931– 39), is one of the works that have sent the entire Gujarat community into peels of laughter for many decades, and his humor has survived him. He was awarded the prestigious Ranjitram Gold Medal. There have been some other humor writers, such as Mastfakir, but Jyotindra Dave is in a class by himself. However, why Gujarat does not have many humor writers today may well be a subject worth researching.
Gandhiji as a Writer
Gandhiji (1869–1948) wrote abundantly in the course of his historic public life. The bulk of his writing was journalistic, yet he had a literary, at times even poetic touch. Gandhiji began writing with his Gujarati and English columns in the Indian Opinion (1830–1914) published in South Africa. In his small tract Hind Swaraj (1910), he expounded the idea of Satyagraha and explained the meaning of swaraj. Bearing no imprint of any literary tradition, he set a tradition of natural, refined, and direct style with charming simplicity.
Dakshin Africano Satyagrahano Itihas and his autobiography, which he called Satyana Prayago, Athav Atmakalha (1926), and Hind Swaraj are considered his most significant works in Gujarati. The history of satyagraha in South Africa is a truthful account of his first experiment in nonviolent resistance. His Anasaktiyoga (1930), the translation of the twelfth chapter of the Gita, and Dharmananthan are his other significant works in Gujarati.
One hundred volumes of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, published by the government of India, give proof of the staggering amount of his writings in Gujarati, Hindustani, and extremely chaste English. Apart from his articles and speeches, these volumes contain an incredible number of letters addressed to the highest dignitaries down to the most modest persons and even children, reflecting his transparent and affectionate heart. Gandhiji’s Gujarati writings form an important part of Gujarati prose literature.
Some Gandhian Writers
A number of writers closely associated with Gandhiji soon appeared on the scene with their newfound philosophy and literary expressions. One of them was Kaka Saheb Kalelkar (1885–1980), who entered the field of Gujarati literature with a tremendous flourish. His writings are significant because he wrote abundantly in Gujarati, although his language was Marathi, and also because his prose was well cultivated to convey the profoundest thought as well as to rise to poetic heights.
An eternal traveler, Kaka Saheb has encapsulated in his travelogues, such as Himalayano Pravas (1924) and Purva Africaman (1959), his experiences during his innumerable sojourns in India and abroad, revealing his profound knowledge of history and culture, apart from giving vivid descriptions. A sense of joy was Kaka Saheb’s second nature. Rakhadvano Anand (1953) is about joy of wandering, and Smaranayatra (1934) contains delightful reminiscences of his childhood and adolescent days.
Kaka Saheb’s serious writings include Jivan Sanskriti (1939), Jivanbharati, and Jivanvyavastha (1964). The Sahitya Akademi presented an award to Jivanvyavastha as an outstanding work of reflective writing (1964). Even when he wrote heavy prose to suit philosophical subjects, he kept his style free from pedantry. With him, Gujarati prose acquired greater maturity, revealing immense possibilities and inner strength of the language.
Mahadev Desai (1892–1942), Gandhiji’s private secretary for many years and described as “Bapu’s Boswell,” was an outstanding writer, at ease with Gujarati, English, and Bengali. He wrote biographies such as Vir Vallabhbhai (1928), Sant Francis (1934), and Be Khudsi Khidmatgar, about Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and his brother Khan Saheb. His most important work is Mahadevbhaini Diary, in 15 parts, a record of the contemporary events as well as his inner growth during his years with Gandhiji. Mahadevbhai’s translations of Sarat-chandra’s stories (1923) and the little novel Virajvahu (1924) from original Bengali and some of Tagore’s poems are excellent. He also translated Jawaharlal Nehru’s autobiography (1936). As a writer and translator, he is placed highly in Gujarati literature.
Many other Gandhian writers, like Swami Anand Jugatram Dave and others, have also contributed to Gujarati literature through their biographical and other serious writings. However, a tall figure among them is Indulal Yajnik (1892– 1982), originally influenced by Mazzini and Garibaldi but subsequently drawn toward Gandhiji. He started the Young India and Navjivan weeklies (1915), which he handed over to Ganhiji (1917), and then started the monthly Yugadharma and edited the daily Hindustan. As a writer, he is known more for Ganhijina Sahavasman, in two parts, describing his experiences with Gandhiji. However, his most important work is his autobiography, Atmakatha, in five parts (1935–56), an extremely frank account of his life at various stages and a fine human document.
Advances in Creative and Critical Writing
A number of notable writers further enriched Gujarati literature through their abundant output in different fields. Ramanayan Pathak (1887–1955), the founder-editor of the prestigious magazine Prarathan (1926), was one of them. Among Pathak’s critical works are Arvachin Kavya Sahityanan Vaheno (1935) and Sahityavimarsh (1939). His Brihat Pingal (1956) earned him the Sahitya Akademi Award. A thorough scholar of Indian prosody, Pathak considered criticism an act of social responsibility. Continuing the tradition of Govardhanm, Anandashankar Dhruv, and others, he gave literary criticism during the Gandhian era a solid foundation.
His poems collected in Sheshnan Kavyo (1938) reflect his calm and generous bent of mind and sense of humor, combining compassion, seriousness, and playfulness, and display a mature diction and a radiant quality. Pathak’s short stories, published as Dwirefni Vato 1, 2, 3, (1928, 1935, 1942), have a masterly touch and are emotionally linked with life. Swairavihar 1, 2 (1931, 1937) and Manovihar (1958) contain his serious essays. Though a product of the Gandhian era, Pathak did not mechanically recite Gandhian principles. The whole body of his writings demonstrates Pathak as an eminent literary figure.
After him came Vijayrai K. Vaidya (1897–1974), vigorously protesting the literary criticism during the Pandit Yug, which he felt was unsympathetic. He edited the quarterly Kaumudi (1924), which was later turned into a monthly (1930–37) and reemerged as Manasi, which continued breathing life into the contemporary literary scene and encouraging rebel writers until 1960. He advocated creative literary criticism in his critical works like Sahityadarshan (1935) and Sahityani Rooprekha. His other prose writings include satirical articles. In whatever literary capacity, Vijayrai is a name to be counted.
An appreciative reader with an enlightened and refined taste cultivated by the study of great literary works was the critic Vishnuprasad Trivedi (1899–1991). His works, like Vivechana (1939), Parisheelan (1941), and Drumparna (1963), convey his mature aesthetic sense, catholicity of mind, and original thinking.
As a creative writer, Jhaverchand Meghani (1896–1947) was a rage in his lifetime. His poetry collections, such as Veninan Phool (1923) and Yugavandana (1935), reflect his vibrant, all-embracing personality. His short stories, following the model of Dhoomketu, are collected in Vilopan ane Biji Vato (1944) and others. Among his original novels are Sorath Taran Vahetan Pani (1937) and Tulsikyano (1940). He also adapted Upton Sinclair’s novels Samuel the Speaker and Love’s Pilgrimage. Meghani’s Manasaina Dive (1946) is based on the experiences of the Gandhian worker Ravishankar Maharaj among the tribals. Saurashtrani Hasdhar, in five parts (1923–27), with its stories of valor, sacrifice, and love, Radhiyali Reat, in four parts (1925–42), and Chundadi, in two parts (1928–29), compilations of Gujarati folksongs and marriage songs, respectively, are the fruit of Meghani’s lifetime devotion to Gujarati’s folk literature. Meghani still fascinates the reader with his vigorous and passionate writings.
Further Momentum to Nationalist Trend
The nationalist and humanistic trends in Gujarati literature continued during the next two decades or so, because the established writers maintained continuity, and younger writers inspired by Ganhiji entered the field. Many of them were active in the freedom struggle, and, like their immediate predecessors, their writings, fresh with expressions, idioms, and language texture, also embodied a dream of free India and a better world. They can be called the precursors of new Gujarati writing.
One of them was Umashankar Joshi (1911–88), who was instantly recognized as a promising poet with his Vishwashanti (1931) and longish Khandakavya, followed by several poetry collections, such as Nishith (1939) and Abhijna (1967), all bearing the stamp of poetic excellence, at times showing social awareness. He is also known as a great poet of nature and love. His dialogue-poems Prachina (1944) and Mahaprasthan (1965) show his eagerness to seek new modes of expression.
Umashankar’s prolific prose writings include short story collections such as Shravani Melo (1937) and Tran Andhun Be (1938), one-act plays such as Sapna Bhara (1936), and the novel Parkan Janyan (1940)—all giving intimate portraits of rural life. Akho: Ek Adhyayan (1941) and Klanta Kavi are in-depth studies of the poets Ako and Balashankar. His critical works, reflecting an appreciative and imaginative approach to literary criticism, include Samasamvedan (1948), Shaili ane Swaroop (1960), Nireeksha (1960), and the Sahitya Akademi winner, Kavini Shraddha (1978). Umashankar Joshi brought a fresh approach to all genres in which he wrote and came to be regarded as a literary stalwart who loved all mankind. His monthly magazine, Sanskirti, published writings of established and talented young writers. He remained a live force in Gujarati literature and maintained a spirit of the era until his death. His translations of Abhjnana Shakuntalam and Anttararamacharikam, the Sanskrit plays, are also greatly admired.
Umashankar’s contemporary Sundaram (1909–90) also started writing under Gandhian and socialist influences, as can be seen in his poetry collections Koya Bhagatni Kadvi Vani (1933), Kavyamangala (1933), Yatra (1951), and others. His poetry also showed concern for the poor and warm sympathy for humankind in general. However, he later turned to the spiritualism of Sri Aurobindo. Kholki ane Nagarika (1940), Piyasi (1940), Hirakani and Biji Vatu, and others are Sundaram’s short story collections, marking a point of departure from Dhoomketu. Kholki ane Nagarika was considered very bold and controversial. Sundaram also authored Dakshinayan (1942), as well as a travelogue and a biography of Sri Aurobindo. Sundaram’s critical works include Arvachin Kavita (1946) and the Sahitya Akademi winner Avalokana (1962), among others. He is considered an eminent writer of the Gandhian era.
Another poet in the line was Sneharashmi (1903–90), who was also a freedom fighter. Lyricism, delicate sentiment, captivating rhythm, and concern for the poor marked his poems collected in Arghya, Panghat, and so on. He was the pioneer of the Japanese haiku poetry in Gujarati. His prose writings include the short story collections Tutela Taar and Gata Saopalav, Hiranan Latkavian, the novel Antarpat, and his autobiography, Safalyatanun. Sneharashmi’s poetry, marked by a warm, all-embracing quality, is highly regarded.
Belonging to the same period was the poet Sundarji Betai (1905–89). He did not participate in the freedom struggle, but Gandhian vision is the hallmark of his poetry, which is generally serious and gentle in tone, having the touches of his teacher Narasinghrao’s diction and mastery of Sanskrit meters. His poetry collections include Jyoti-Rekha, Shangali, Shravani Jharmar, and others, his main contributions being sonnets, khandakavyas, and songs. His Sadgat Chandrasheelane is regarded as a notable elegy to his wife. Betai’s critical works, based on Sanskrit poetics, include Amod. His translations include Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, four cantos of the Mahabharata, and the verse rendering of the Gita.
A Betai contemporary, poet Badarayan (1905–63), was also Narasinghrao’s student and influenced by him. But both regarded Narasinghrao as their source of inspiration and developed their own styles, distinct from one another. Badarayan’s output, collected in Kedi (1944), was meager, but his sonnets and songs of subjective nature and rare sensibility place him among the important poets of the period.
Mansukhlal Jhaveri (1907–81), deeply rooted in classical Sanskrit poetry, was a Gandhian poet of that era. Phooldol (1935), Anubhuti (1959), and others are poetry collections containing rhythmic poems about love, nature, and God, with rhythm and master over his medium. He attempted contemporary themes and forms in Anubhuti but felt more comfortable in his well-trodden path.
Jhaveri had solid understanding of Eastern and Western concepts of literary criticism, as can be seen in his critical works, Thoda Vivechanlekhe (1944), Paryeshana (1953), Kavyavimarsh (1962), and so on. He wrote a history of Gujarati literature for the Sahitya Akademi, and his translated works are Abhijnana Shakuntalam, Hamlet, and Othello. Jhaveri’s creative and critical works, bearing the mark of his individuality and scholarship, place him high among Gujarati writers.
In contrast to most of the writers of this period writing both in prose and in verse, Darshak confined himself to prose. His fiction and nonfiction writings reflect the Gandhian spirit throughout. His most famous novels are Bandhan ane Mukti (1939), Deepnirvan (1944), Jher to Peedhan Chhe Jani Jani (1952), and others, which show his concern for humanity, history, and philosophical thinking and give full expression to his life’s ideals of love, peace, and harmony imbibed from Gandhiji, but without sacrificing the structural aspects of the novel as a literary form. Darshak is an exponent of the idea novel in Gujarati. His critical writings are contained in Wagishwarinan Karnaphoolo (1985). He is a particular favorite among readers looking for higher life values.
Progressive Writers’ Association
About this time, many writers had come under the stronger influence of socialist ideas. Irrespective of being card-carrying communists, some of them were drawn toward the Progressive Writers’ Association. Of course, revolutionary idealism had somewhat limited appeal in Gujarat. Still, some younger writers did write in that strain with a fervent desire for a new social order, going beyond the Gandhian concern for the poor.
Swapnastha was one such writer, whose poetry collections, Achala and Vinashna Ansho and, most of all, Ajampani Madhuri, are said to convey his creative imagination with originality. He could weave anything around the sentiment of love with elegant diction. Though belonging to another camp, he was adopted and admired by Gujarati writers. There were also a few others, such as Khaki Praveenchandra Ruparel and Bhogilal Gandhi, in that group who wrote poetry and prose.
Jayanti Dalal (1909–70) was not a camp follower but had socialist leanings. He never used the creative word to propagate his strong convictions, but they were nonetheless the underlying force in his writings. He wrote innovative and excellent one-act plays collected in Javanka (1941) and other books that dealt with middle-class intelligentsia with a satirical touch. Dalal wrote striking short stories, as well, collected in Pagdiviani Pachitethi, and gripping novels such as Dhimu ane Vibha (1947) and Padarnan Tirath, with remarkable psychological insight and understanding. He also translated Tolstoy’s War and Peace thoroughly. Dalal’s high-quality writing qualifies him as among the eminent Gujarati writers.
While these writers were active in their respective fields, Gulabdas Broker (1917) entered with a bang with his first short story collection, Ane Bigi Vato (1950), followed by several others, including Ubhi Vate. He started writing in 1932 in jail during the freedom struggle. He says that he had been inclined from childhood to probe and understand people’s inner world and has followed that track all through six decades of writing. He finds the seed of an idea anywhere, not hesitating to treat even the taboo subjects concerning male–female relationships. His stories, depicting mostly middle-class life realistically, are not altogether free from considerations of prevalent social mores. Broker has written some one-act plays, too, but it is the short story with which he forged a new face and meaning.
A writer of totally different ilk was the semieducated, self-taught Pannalal Patel (1914–89). He depicted in his works the rural life of Gujarat artistically, with its good and bad traits. Occasionally, he also wrote against an urban setting, but he was at his creative best in his rural novels. Pannalal’s numerous publications include more than 20 short story collections, such as Sukhdukhnan Sathi (1940) and Vatrakne Kanteh (1952), more than 20 social novels, such as Malela Jiv (1941), the Jnanpeeth Award-winner Manvini Bhavai (1947), and Bhangyna Bheru (1957). The story element in his novels and short stories grows naturally like crops in the field, and the characters fully belong to their social contexts. The most outstanding among his several mythological novels is Parthene Kaho Chadhave Baan, based on the Mahabharata.
Pannalal has grown with every new book and has delighted Gujarati readers with his gripping power of words. The regional touches and the colloquial expressions made a beautiful blend in his novels and short stories. The novels Malela Jiv and Manvini Bhavai and the short story Kanku have been made into widely acclaimed films. He is “a miracle” in contemporary Gujarati literature, having lost none of his original power to attract readers with the passage of time.
Next came Chunilal Madia (1922–68), who also powerfully depicted rural society in his creative works. Indhan Ghehhan Padyan (1951) contains an assortment of short stories. Vyahno Varas (1946), Liludi Dharti (1960), and others are his novels with rural settings. In view of the critics, he would have put the material at his disposal to a better creative use. While Pannalal wrote about rural life as an insider, Madia is said to have acquired a certain sophistication that does not exactly lead to spontaneity. Nonetheless, he had a powerful pen, and it is a delight to read his works. Madia also wrote well-knit and equally charming novels, such as Kumjum ane Ashaka (1962) and Indradhanushno Althmo Rang (1967), depicting the psychological conflicts of city life.
Ishwar Patlikar also wrote works with rural settings. His novels, like Kajal-kotdi and Janamteep, written quite effectively, have been fairly popular. But the social reformer in him appeared too prominently in his creations, which was not in keeping with the current style of fiction writing.
Post-Independence Literary Output
Gujarati literature during the two decades before independence was inspired writing, on the whole. But the ravages of World War II, though not directly experienced in India, and the communal holocaust before and after the vivisection of the country had a shattering effect on Gujarati writers. The entire value system seemed irrelevant. The excitement of fighting for freedom was replaced by a mood of despair, further intensified by disenchantment with national leadership. Anguish and even cynicism crept into the creations of the new and established writers. Umashankar Joshi came out with a poem expressing his shattered feeling, and this trend was picked up.
Surprisingly, there was also a fresh trend of lyrical poetry and songs. One such poet is Rajendra Shah (1913), who has established himself as a major lyric poet with the collections Andolan (1951), Dhvani, Prasang-Spatak (1982), and others, which excel in depicting universal love and tender but intense emotions. Seeking beauty and singing of beauty are his main pursuit. He is certainly disturbed by the conditions around him but has responded to society as an artist.
Similarly, Niranjan Bhagat (1926), with poetry collections, compositions, songs, and sonnets, has revealed his concern for human existence. In Adhunik Kavina Ketlak Prashno (1972) and Yantravijnan ane Mentrakavita (1974), Bhagat has discussed his views on modern poetry with an analytical approach. His acquaintance with world literature has helped his creative process and critical writings.
As a prose writer of this period, Shivkumar Joshi, noted for his one-act plays like Sonani Hansdi ane Rupani Hansdi (1958), full-length plays Andharan Ulecho (1955) and Suvarna Rekha, novels like Kanchukibandh (1956) and Aabh Rune Ehi Navlakh Dhare (1964), and some short story collections, became popular. In his creative writings, Shivkumar deals with conflicts in contemporary middle-class life without professing to present any profound vision. But he earned a reputation as a creative writer by his mastery of the medium, emotional content, and ability to build up atmosphere.
New Voices, New Forms
While postindependence writing by the older and younger writers continued along these lines, unprecedented changes began taking place in the mid-1950s, with a growing tendency to decry earlier writers for infusing their creations with false idealism. The emphasis was on “pure literature,” giving priority to form and freeing the literary word from its traditional meaning. The new writer was overburdened with a sense of the despair, alienation, death, and darkness then prevalent among the Western writers. Interestingly, Western literary influences prevailed during the next two decades or so as in the latter half of the nineteenth century—only the names changed from Wordsworth, Keats, and Shelley to Baudelaire, Camus, and Sartre. In fact, Western writers seemed to have a stronger hold than in the nineteenth century.
The strongest upholder of this new literary trend in Gujarati was the irrepressible Suresh Joshi (1921–86), an unrelenting opponent of the romantic attitude in literature. He was a tireless experimentalist, formalist, and effective prose writer. He was a leading figure to influence the up-and-coming writers of the 1960s and 1970s. He ushered in a new phase in Gujarati literature. Joshi entered the field with short story collections like Grihapravesh (1957) and others, exposing Gujarati readers to his newly conceived conception of literary creation with the form as the primary concern, more evident in his novels Chhin-napatra, with the theme of “metaphysics of love,” and Maranottar (1973), depicting existential angst of his characters.
Joshi’s personal essays in Janantike, demonstrating perfect blending of thought, feeling, and language, are said to have introduced a new prose style in Gujarati. His poetry, too, inspired by Kalidasa and Tagore, on one hand, and Rilke, Baudelaire, and others, on the other, was a departure from the poetry of his immediate predecessors and contemporaries. His poems in collections like the Upjati (1956), Pratyancha (1975), and others have “suggestive imagery,” reflecting his concept of pure poetry, expressed in his critical works Kindhit (1960) and Gujarati Kavitano Aswad (1962) and about modern fiction in Shrin-vantu (1972). His Chintayami Manasa (1982), for which he declined the Sahitya Akademi Award, also contains his ideas. Existentialism and phenomenology were his primary interests. He promoted small magazines like Kshilij and Manisha and translated considerably from world poetry and fiction.
Many offbeat rebel poets like Adil Mansoori, Labhashankar Thankar (also a playwright), Ravji Patal, and others formed a group and wrote avant-garde poetry. Painter-poet Gulam Mohammad Sheikh introduced picturesque images in his poetry. Similarly, fiction writers like Prabodh Choksi, Kishore Jadav, and Jyotish Jani completely transformed that genre by resorting to unconventional style, with unconventional symbolism and corresponding approaches to nature, love, and other subjects.
Those Who Did Not Swim with the Current
While the Suresh Joshi wave was still dominating, some writers did not swim with the current. They wrote with modern sensibility and in their own new style, not preoccupied with form as such. They had an unfettered view of reality. Their creations, whether poetry or prose, built into a recognizable whole in spite of their unconventional and impressionistic technique. Their inspiration came straight from the human situation, of which they felt an inseparable part. Free from extraneous influences, there was spontaneity in the depiction of reality, if it acquired varying shades from time to time.
Suresh Dalal (1932), in his several poetry collections, such as Ekant (1966) and Skyscraper (1980), and his collections of essays, including Mari Bariethi (1975), Chaheraona (1978), and Vanman (1979), with typical symbolism reflecting urban life, shows the creativity with reference to none but himself. He is fully conversant with literary trends in India and abroad, as his critical works like Apeksha (1958) and Prakriya (1981), guided by a positive approach, indicate. His well-studied and balanced prose writings and poetry, with little sophistication and an inner harmony, placed him among the leading literary figures of the postindependence period.
Dalal’s contemporary Harindra Dave (1930) has a quiet charm in lyrical poetry collected in Asava (1968), containing ghazals, while Suryopanishad (1975) has his prose poems, an innovation in poetic diction. The poet Harindra prevails over his novels Mubhuatu (1985), Palnan Pratibimb (1987), and others. In poetry and prose, Dave has a delicate rhythm, modern and refined sensitivity, controlled expression of intense emotion, and an inner musicality.
Not impressed by the formalist traditions, many writers of this period have sensitively reacted to the human predicament in contemporary society in their well-structured novels and short stories, although their styles and even approaches are dissimilar.
One example is Rahuvir Chaudhari (1938), whose novels, like Amrita (1965) and the trilogy Uparvas, Sahavas, and Antarvas (1975), are reflective and alive to the social and political changes in Gujarat after independence. His short story collections, like Bahar Koi Chhe (1972), also give the same impression. His poems in Tamasa (1977) have a serious tone, with a fine rhythm in words, absolutely matching the thought and the sentiment.
Then, there is Chandrakant Bakshi (1932), also concerned with humankind in today’s world. His view of life is more earthy, and his style is like a river in spate. His social novels, like Padgha Dubi Gaya (1958) and Paralysis (1978), and historical novels, like Ayanavritta (1967), are gripping with the atmosphere he builds up with vivid narration of events, effective dialogues, and forceful language, having a generous sprinkling of Hindu/Urdu words. Bakshi’s short stories in Pyar (1958) and other collections are marked by brevity. He creates on a limited canvas tiny worlds giving glimpses of real life. He is eminent as a lively and vibrant creative writer.
Bakshi’s contemporary Mohammad Mankad (1928) is also a prolific and perceptive writer of fiction. He deals with the urban and rural life of the Saurashtra region as an insider. His novels Ajanyan Be Jan (1970), Bandh Nagar (1987), Ashwadod (1993), and others, with their varied themes and characterizations, show the many sides to his creative urge. Authenticity, appropriate use of colloquial expressions, and convincing depiction of emotions by his characters are the hallmarks of his novels. Their power was further enhanced by the force and fluency of his language. Mankad’s short stories, collected in Tap, Chot (1970) and elsewhere, also bear his characteristic stamp, equally at ease with urban and rural characters and situations.
In the same category is Bhagwati Kumar Sharma (1938). He has greatly benefited from his longtime journalistic experience but has kept his creative writing amazingly free from its influence. The gentle intensity of diction and well-knit structure with undulating flow of language to suit the situations and characters of his several novels, such as Urdhvamool, Asooryalok (winning an award by the Sahitya Akademi), leave a deep impression. This also applies to his short stories collected in Chhinnabhinna, Adabeed (1985) and elsewhere. Sharma is equally comfortable in nonfiction writings, including essays, criticism, and poetry.
Among the critics of this period, Ramanlal Joshi (1932) attracted attention with the publication of Govardhanram: Ek Adhyayan (1963), which is considered a major research work on the author of Saraswatichandra. His views on literary criticism in Vivechanani Prakriya (1978) and Shabdalokna Yafrio (1983) are based on an appreciative approach and a desire to fully grasp the purpose of the works under consideration. They also show his acquaintance with Western trends, which have impressed but not overwhelmed him.
Other critics, like Bholabhai Patel, Aniruddh Brahmabhatt, and Bhupendra Trivedi, have contributed to the understanding of Gujarati literature by their perceptive approach and attitude to discover merit. Their works have positive and encouraging impact on creative writers, for the function of literary criticism is not so much to criticize as to elicit merit.
The poet who brought innovation by deviating from tradition in collections like Ughadti Divalo (1974) is Chandrakant Sheth. His poems have a calm surface, suppressing violent inner processes. Sheth shows his talent as a creative prose writer in his Sahitya Akademi-winner, Dhoolmani Paglie (1984), and in a collection of plays, Swapnapinjar.
Post–Suresh Joshi Period
The modernist movement of the sixth decade, leading to extremist literary attitudes and experimental writing, gradually lost its force during the next few years. Not that the circumstances were more congenial for the writers. Actually, the social tensions and revolt against the contemporary situation were stronger in the eighth decade. This revolt manifested itself in literature in the form of dehumanization, shattered feelings, intellectualism, ultrarealism, and a resorting to print gimmickry.
At the same time, some kind of romanticism could also be seen. Ghasals and songs and nonmetrical, short poems also became the order of the day among the new generation of writers. During this period, changes in Gujarati literature were frequent and fast, and humor writers, some of whom added fascinating touches with unconventional treatment of unconventional subjects, ended up with intriguing and attractive creations.
One writer, originally charged with incomprehensibility but later admired for his novelty, is Sitanshu Yakeshchandra (1941). Said to be a “pioneer of the surrealist style in Gujarati,” he said at the beginning of his career, “I want not a pearl but the whole sea.” Like a diver plunging into the depths of the sea, the reader is required to go deep to understand Sitanshu’s poetry in Odeseusnun Halesun (1974) and the Sahitya Akademi-winner, Jatayu (1987).
The poet Sitanshu has also written greatly admired plays, like As Manas Madrasi Lage Chhe and Grahan. His critical works Seemakan and Ramaniyatano Vagvikalp (1979) show “penetrating insight in aesthetics,” propounding his concepts of literary criticism in the light of fresh understanding of literature. In poetry, drama, and criticism, Sitanshu is the representative of his generation.
Chandrakant Topiwala’s critical work and poetry collections, such as Black Forest, and Pravin Daryi’s poetry in Pashat have also nurtured new trends.
A writer of this generation to have completely broken loose from the orthodox family background is Madhu Rye (1942). He rose to quick fame with his short story collections like Banshi Ramni Ek Chhokri (1964) and novels like Kalasarpa (1973) and Kimbles Ravenswood (1981), the latter achieving uniqueness by depicting characters with ultra-American mannerisms, feeling uncomfortable to speak in Gujarati. His plays Koi Pan Ek Phoolnun Naam Bolo To (1974) and Kumarni Agashi (1975) have been highly acclaimed.
Around this time, many writers came forward with their experimental creative writing and works of criticism. Radheshyam Sharma’s apparently incomprehensible short stories in collections like Vartavaran (1987) are characterized by brevity and seemingly unfamiliar subjects. His novels Phero (1977) and Swapnateerth (1979) established him as a competent fiction writer of his generation who dramatically brought to the fore the innermost layers of the human mind.
In Aansu ane Chandaranun (1983), Sanchetana, and other works, Radheshyam emerges as an unusual poet. In his critical works like Samprat (1987), he is guided by what are called the contemporary principles of modern criticism. As a creative and critical writer with an urban approach, he has carried forward the modernist trend in literature.
Yaswant Trivedi and Suman Shah, are two of the well-known critics of this period, whose frank interpretations of the works of the writers of previous and present generations are significant.
Parallel to this experimental trend, this period has seen the emergence of another type of creative writing, represented by Hemant Desai, Vinesh Antani, Chinu Mody, and others, who have followed more or less the direct technique whereby the intended patterns of their creations automatically emerge in clear focus as one proceeds from page to page. Poetry, fiction, and plays, though by no means traditional in form or content and technique, follow a straight road connecting themselves with the reader.
A new entrant in the field of the short story, Utpal Bhayani, falls in this category. He has brought charming freshness with his collections Nimajjan (1978) and Hallo (1983), containing intensely told stories that are really short, having straightforward simplicity.
His style has unfrilled modernity absolutely suited to the subjects, drawn from all social levels and having varied cultural backgrounds. He is a creative writer with his feet firmly planted on the solid ground of contemporary reality.
Authentic Regional Element
A welcome development in recent times is the introduction of an authentic regional element in Gujarati novels and short stories of this period, represented by Ujamshi Parmar, Kirit Rhatt, Kanji Patel, and others. Regional touch is not an altogether new feature to Gujarati literature, but it is some kind of “return,” since many young writers had been quite preoccupied with the urban life fairly well portrayed in their writings. These new writers who have turned to the village are adopting the forms and techniques of their contemporaries, in the field to depict the changing patterns of the rural life of Gujarat, often inviting the charge of being incomprehensible. However, their writings bear a genuine creative stamp. Yet, some of them could probably do well to be judicious about the use of colloquial expressions without sacrificing authenticity. Its overdose has the danger of defeating its own purpose by creating difficulty in putting their works across to the reader, who is not necessarily familiar with rural dialects. The writers concerned can make a counterargument, but this is a point to consider.
Literature of the Oppressed (Dalit Literature)
The contemporary scene in Gujarati literature also includes Dalit literature, although its tradition is not very strong in Gujarat. But some writers belonging to that section of society have contributed works of good literary standard. Among these few writers, a striking example is Joseph Macwan, who has depicted the anguish and agony in the life of that community. His Sahitya Akademi-winning novel Angaliat (1988), based on the life of “untouchables,” is remarkable for the faithful re-creation of their life, in which he has successfully kept out his observations as a social reformer.
Then, there are also writers like Anupam Singh Parmar who have effectively written stories and other works about the tribal life of Gujarat.
The Contribution of Women Writers
Strictly speaking, creativity has no gender. Women writers are considered separately not out of feminist consideration but because literary historians tend to treat women’s writing casually and, at best, grudgingly appreciate its merit. Putting women’s writing together would give a better idea of its bulk and quality.
Women’s writing in Gujarat mostly comprises poetry, fiction, and, to a lesser extent, plays and criticism. Its content and expression have a “typical feminine touch,” largely due to women’s limited world of experience, since they are usually homebound. Still, some women writers are slowly overcoming their constraints, trying to embrace the total human existence in their creative works, although they have still a long way to go.
The first Gujarati woman poet was Meera Bai, unequaled in poetic excellence and popularity over the ages. She was followed by some devotional poets who, within the confines of their social existence, tried to spontaneously express themselves.
Some women poets of the nineteenth century reflected the spirit of the age of social reform that prevailed after the coming of the British. Among them was Narmad’s disciple Savitagauri Pandya (1850–1925). Some Parsi and Christian poets like Alibai Palankat and Bai Astor, respectively, also joined their voices.
Diwaliben Nathalal wrote an 18-page poem about injustices to women. Deepakba Desai (1881–1955) wrote some khandakavyas, and Munshi’s mother, Tapigauri, narrated her lifelong experiences in Anubhav Tarang and also wrote devotional songs. Sumatiben Mehta (1890–1911) conveyed her anguish during prolonged illness in Hridayjharnan (1912).
Women Poets during Gandhi Era
Concern for the downtrodden, the spirit of nationalism, and the spread of women’s education, which had led to the emergence of new Gujarati poetry, were conveyed in women’s poetry in the Gandhian era, as in Jyotsna Shukla’s (1892–1976) poetry collections Akashnan Phool (1941), Azadinan Geeto (1947), and others. But a didactic approach marred the aesthetic quality of her poems. Her contemporary Jaimangauri Pathakji (1901–84) showed a gentle quality and realistic and emotional touch in her collections like Tejacchaya and Sonalan. She also wrote sonnets and khandakavyas and attempted verse-dialogues. Poets like Pushpa Vakil (1908–85) wrote few but sensitive poems.
Post-Independence Women’s Poetry
Women’s poetry after independence took a new direction, though some women poets stuck to the conventional type with a somewhat changed diction. Chaitanya Divatia (1919) published her khandakavyas, sonnets, and other works in Nivapanjali. Anniben Saraiya (1917–83), essentially a children’s poet, published 17 poetry collections, like Noopur (1958), Sonalnun Swapna (1979), and Culbanki (1982). Her poetry, on the whole, is of moderate quality, with conventional devotion to Lord Krishna.
A major woman poet of the modern era truly soaked in literature is Heeraben Pathak. With only one collection, Paraloke Patra (1976), addressed to her deceased husband, Ramnarayan Pathak, she is ranked among the leading Gujarati poets. In this work, she has objectively narrated the intimate experiences of her married life, which was also a literary companionship. Heeraben is also one of the women to have written highly appreciated critical works, like Apanun Vivechansahita and Kavyabhavan.
Next is Gita Parikh (1929), whose collections Purvi (1966) and Bhinash (1979) give full expression to married existence and sentiments of love and philosophical thought. Her strong point is depiction of nature, and she attempted almost all poetic forms.
In subsequent years, some women poets have come out of the proverbially enclosed feminine emotional world. Among them is Jaya Mehta (1929), with her collections like Venetian Blind (1978) and Akashman Tarao Chup Chhe (1985), which show her concern for the human predicament. Guided more by social awareness and logic than by emotion, she often contemplates life and death without making her poetry heavy with philosophical content. She describes her creative process as a desperate attempt to discover a healthy expression, and she has a sensitivity born out of inner conflict.
Panna Nayak (Philadelphia  and Nisbat ) has tried to arrive at a meeting point of Indian and American cultures with a modern sensitivity. She considers America responsible for her becoming a poet. She is eager to informally relate herself to the reader. For her, “poetry is the supreme relationship of an individual to another individual” (Pravesh 1987). She pointedly brings out the loneliness of modern people. Her poems are soaked in the agony of the individual and the world.
Panna has effectively used a nonmetrical style of poetry, in which she has expressed the anguish of her unfulfilled motherhood, along with the anguish of contemporary life—for she is always conscious of being a woman. Like Jaya, she is not just a woman poet but a poet in the general sense.
The most modern experimental poet is Saroop Dhruv (1948), with her collection Mara Halthni Vaat (1982). She believes that the sex of the creative person is irrelevant. Disturbed by the human situation in today’s world, she has reacted to it as an individual and honestly tried to express her anguish. Despondency is the prominent note in her poetry. Here is an angry voice against the disharmonies in the world. Saroop is a fresh young voice in Gujarati poetry.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it does indicate the creative world of women poets, which has changed and kept pace with the times. Poets, in any case, tend to be few, and unfortunately there are fewer women poets than men. Moreover, the contemporary idiom of poetry is comparatively new for them, and they are taking their first steps but are sure to go far in the future.
Women Prose Writers
Women entered the field of modern poetry comparatively late, but they started writing prose in the early years of the twentieth century. The humorous articles of Vidyagauri Nilkanth (1896–1958), wife of Ramanbhai Nilkant, were included in his Hasyamandir. She also wrote articles pertaining to women, collected in Grihadeepika (1931) and elsewhere. She also wrote a biography of Dhondo Keshav Karve. She was an early woman prose writer to have developed a refined style.
Her contemporary Sharda Mehta (1882–1970) wrote a biography of Florence Nightingale and her autobiography, Jivansamharanan (1938), regarded as her most significant work.
Around the same time, Hansa Mehta (1897–), a prominent member of the All-India Women’s Conference and educationist, entered the field as a competent translator with the Gujarati versions of eight cantos of the Sanskrit Ramayana, Shakespeare’s play Merchant of Venice, plays of Molière, and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. She also wrote a couple of original plays.
An eminent prose writer of the following generation was K. M. Munshi’s wife, Lilavati Munshi (1899–1978). Rekhachitro ane Bija Lekho (1925) instantly established her as a writer in her own right. After a lapse of five decades appeared her collections of short stories and one-act plays in Jivanani Vatetii (1977) and collection of articles in Sanchay (1975). She wrote little, but her name counts as a leading Gujarati prose writer.
Subsequently, there were not many women prose writers until they began writing novels and short stories. It was a somewhat late beginning, but once the process started, it continued, and today there are a number of women novelists and short story writers of eminence, belonging mostly to the postindependence period—although some, like Labhuben Mehta, wrote novels, reminiscences, interviews with eminent musicians and other works earlier.
One of the important fiction writers of the postindependence period is Kundanika Kapadia (1927), who won first prize for her very first short story, “Premnan Ansu,” in the short story competition organized by the New York Herald Tribune, and, sometime afterward, her first collection appeared under the same title, followed by the collections Kagalni Hodi (1981) and Java Daishum Tamne (1983). She subsequently published her novels, Agan-Pipasa (1972) and the Sahitya Akademi-winner, Saat Paglan Akashman (1984).
Kundanika has a delicate style, often verging on the ornamental. She effectively expresses women’s innermost thoughts and feelings, pointing an accusing finger at male domination in family and society. Right from the beginning, she has written against injustices to women and their exploitation. But her anguish becomes anger in Saat Paglan Akashman, a totally feminist novel, translated into Hindi and English. Even in her expression of anger, there is her typical linguistic flourish. Despite the suffering woman’s being her subject, she is much more than just a woman writer.
Then, there is Dhiruben Patel (1926) with her short story collections like Vishrambhkatha (1966). Her novels Vadvanal (1963), Vansno Ankur (1967), Andhali Gali, and others have been widely acclaimed. Dhiruben has also written plays, like Pahelun Inam (1957) and Namani Nagarvel (1961). She has written a delightful, full-length children’s play, children’s songs, and limericks.
In her writings, Dhiruben reveals her understanding of the human mind and builds up the characters and situations, forming a natural pattern. She writes with ease and a sense of humor, encompassing in her works the life of men and women at various levels.
Striking an absolutely new note as a fiction writer came Saroj Pathak (1929– 88). With her unusual choice of subjects, dealing mainly with disharmony in married life, and inner conflicts with her thrust and irrepressible force of expression, she stands quite apart from other women writers.
Saroj’s short stories collected in Ghata Zuk Aayi and Virat Tapakun (1966) have a tremendous power to hold one’s attention, as do her novels Nihshesh (1978) and Priya Punam (1980), reflecting conflicts and complexities in women’s lives. Saroj, with her intense creative upsurge and artistic expression, deserves greater recognition than she has received so far.
Then, there are two sisters, Varsha Adalja and Ila Arab Mehta, who have written fiction without the slightest trace of similarity. Varsha’s Pachhan Faratan (1979), Khari Padelo Tahuko (1988), Retpankhi (1985), and other novels deal mainly with middle-class life, with an emphasis on contemporary women. She is not a feminist writer but describes in her fiction women’s situation in the best artistic manner possible, with a fairly well-developed idiom.
Ila, on the other hand, has a wider canvas. Even the titles of her novels, like Shabne ne Naam Nathi Hotun, Ek Cigarette ane Dhoopsali, and Ane Mrityu suggest that her writing is not the usual feminine kind and that a great deal of reflections on life and death have gone into it. Her action-packed, gripping novels and short stories live in the reader’s mind.
There are many more fiction writers, like Vasuben Bhatt, Meenal Dikshit, Anjali Khandwala, and Himanshi Shelak, whose works have added to women’s creative writing in Gujarati.
The only other woman playwright, apart from Dhiruben Patel, is Rambhaben Gandhi, who held the field for many years with her one-act plays like Aarati and Insaaf, about contemporary themes dealing with middle-class life in a lively manner, with a touch of humor and satire and easy flow of language.
Women’s contribution to critical writing is really meager. Susmita Medh and Tarulala Mehta are the only names that can be mentioned, apart from Heeraben Pathak, who have done critical writing. It is time more women entered this field.
Women’s writing in Gujarati, with the exception of a few writers like Savita Ranpura, concentrates mostly on the life and conflicts of the urban middle class, with wealthy characters as and when they form part of that life. It would be a welcome development if rural life also becomes part of women’s creative writing.
Similarly, a further dimension would be added to women’s prose writings if they venture into experimental writing like some women poets. However, the picture is not very bleak as it is, and there is hope for the future.
Thus, looking at the various stages of development of Gujarati literature of the twentieth century in relation to its earlier phases, it is clear that the writers in all genres have responded to the changing times by extending the horizons of their vision of life. They have shown readiness to adopt new themes, new concepts, techniques, and expressions, following their own creative inclinations. Not all that is written is of lasting value, but much of it is the result of genuine responses to the human situation and intense feelings. It has a richness reflecting the typical Gujarati ethos and psyche, enfolding within itself the life of urban, rural, and tribal societies. Of course, Gujarati writers have still to achieve a lot more to reach the higher realms of creativity. But what is done so far is by no means negligible. It is certainly a matter to feel proud about. But rather than feeling complacent, Gujarati writers should take it as a matter of responsibility to create more and better in days to come.