Many years ago I asked my wife to suggest me a few Hindi writers. Till then the only Hindi writer I’d read, outside of my course books, was Munshi Premchand.
Though he is a giant in his own realm, the constant depiction of a rural India reeling under an interminable misery sort of put me off. I associated him with the typical rona-dhona literature Indians feel proud of.
She bought me two books: Abhyuday by Narendra Kohli and Karvat by Amritlal Nagar. Reading these books made me feel ashamed of myself that I was ignorant of such great writers.
Anyway, although my major reading consists of English books because things that I need to read are not easily accessible in Hindi books, whenever I need to have some good literary experience, I turn to these two writers.
A couple of weeks ago I started reading Abhigyan by Narendra Kohli.
Abhigyan means realization, sudden acquisition of a knowledge. Or an awakening.
In his various books Narendra Kohli picks up mythological characters and tells their stories as normal human stories, devoid of godly superpowers and miracles.
In Abhyuday he rewrites Ramayana from a human angle… Ram is a human prince who has to deal with a vile person (not a demon).
You may read my review of Matsyagandha by Narendra Kohli here.
In Abhigyan he narrates the famous incident when Sudama, a poor but scholarly Brahmin, goes to meet Krishna.
The story begins with an itinerant “baba” who stays in Sudama’s hut for a night. He recognizes Sudama’s intellectual ability but also observes in how dire a condition he and his family live.
Whereas Sudama is constantly working on his magnum opus and acquiring deeper knowledge into his field, his family — his wife and two teenage sons — live like beggars.
Sudama realizes that he doesn’t have connections. He doesn’t have the means to get multiple copies of his treatises and research work distributed among scholarly circles so that his work is recognized and doors to some opportunities can open. He doesn’t have the right connections and he doesn’t believe in establishing connections and then growing his influence due to those connections. He believes his work should speak for itself.
The “baba” suggests to him that his scholarly pursuits are fine, but he also owes to his family, now that he has one. He shouldn’t have married if scholarship was his only goal. His wife also goads him that why doesn’t he visit the influential people of the town like other Brahmins do and gets alms which are readily given to Brahmins?
Sudama considers it beneath him to pursue others for monetary benefits because he thinks that it would be demeaning for his cause…if ever wealth and recognition come to him, they should come due to his work, not due to the fact that he is poor and he should be pitied. He considers his poverty as a matter of lifestyle choice. His family of course differs.
Abhigyan is less a story and more reflection and contemplation. More than 60% of the novel is deliberation over various ways of life and how the society must function.
Sudama is constantly troubled by the state of affairs in the society. He is confused why Krishna says focus on your work and don’t worry about the outcome. He cannot understand why people are poor even when they work hard and why some people are rich and seem happy simply by sucking up to influential people or by adopting unfair means. Why hard-work doesn’t pay? Why should he praise landlords, big businessmen and princes just so that they would throw a few coins at him or get him a job in a gurukul. Why isn’t his hard-work enough?
While moving on, the “baba” suggests to his wife, Susheela, in Sudama’s absence, that if her husband isn’t ready, or isn’t capable of earning enough for the family, there is nothing wrong in her getting a job.
When Sudama finds out that his wife is ready to work as a maid, something inside him breaks, and he decides to go meet his old friend, Krishna, in Dwarika.
He is in two minds. He strongly believes that one shouldn’t use his connection to further his career. He knows that Krishna is known for his sense of fairness and hence, he doesn’t want to put his friend in a difficult position of having to help him.
But he decides to go anyway. He thinks he would just go, meet his friend, and come back. Almost a beggar, he isn’t even sure if the strongest Yadav chieftain of the subcontinent will even deem it fit to meet the poor Brahmin or not.
Reading Abhigyan is a marvelously cerebral experience. Through conversations between different characters, especially Sudama’s cogitations with himself and then his discourses with Krishna about Karma, Narendra Kohli tries to dispel the confusion about Karm (your act, your way of life, the efforts you make) and Phal (fruition).
Hard-work, he explains, doesn’t always mean prosperity or happiness. You get in life what you strive for. This is why even swindlers seems to live lives of effluence and great influence…because they have performed actions that result in such outcomes.
Sudama pursues knowledge, Krishna says to Sudama, and Sudama gets plenty of it. Sudama doesn’t pursue riches and wealth. Even though he lives in penury, he doesn’t perform the necessary actions to attract wealth and prosperity. People who get wealthy perform actions that attract wealth, whether those actions are right or wrong. This is how nature works.
Krishna also gives a beautiful example of the concept of doing your Karm without worrying about the Phal and benefiting from it, but for that, you must read the book.
Highly recommend it.
I’m planning to promote Hindi books because I feel there are some great Hindi writers who don’t get their due. I’m brainstorming on it.
In case you decide to buy this book, use this link.