Nirala’s Singular Satire and India’s Independence Literature: A New Vision

One of the most significant works of the renowned Hindi writer gets a maiden Urdu translation.

5 min read
Hindi Female

Suryakant Tripathi 'Nirala' (1897-1961), who died 62 years ago in October, achieved fame in the form of a great poet of Chhayavad, the era of Neo-romanticism in Hindi literature (1922–1938); but also expanded the new modes of reality by deviating from Chhayavad, whose glimpse is found in the poems of Kukurmutta and Naye Patte and prose works like Kullibhat, Chhaturi Chamar and Billesur Bakriha (Billesur the Goat-Owner).

The four decades of the 20th century which span Nirala’s creative period, are connected to the harsh experiences of the national struggle for independence.

One of the most significant works of the renowned Hindi writer gets a maiden Urdu translation.

The deep effects of the poet's consciousness of freedom can be seen in his entire creative evolution. He had raised the question of the freedom of poetry in the preface of Parimal (Fragrance) in 1929. In the novels Kullibhat and Billesur Bakriha, etc, Nirala has raised the question of freethinking.

This novel is a meaningful example of searching for a new shape of the story different from the mode of tradition and is especially notable for an engaging combination of humour and satire and agonising realities.

'A Sketch-Like Novel'

Billesur Bakriha is a unique prose creation in the form of a pure Indian novel which Nirala has labeled an amusing sketch in the preface to the first edition.

Not surprisingly due to this very indication, Billesur Bakriha was very much labeled as a 'sketch' or a 'sketch-like novel' for long. The truth is that this creation from the end of the fourth decade or the fifth decade gives the sense of a new freedom in the shape of the novel.

This novel giving a glimpse of native humour and creative play has the tragic secrets of the main character Billesur Bakriha’s life struggle hidden within.

Its conclusion maybe like a folktale and comic but in its entirety, it is the epic account of the struggle of life and sustenance of the hero of the story.

Billesur Bakriha was published in 1942. That same year Nirala’s long poem Kukurmutta was published which was labeled as a 'significant explosion’ against poetic Platonism. The same year two installments of Billesur Bakriha had been published in the Rupabh of 1939. The second edition of this important novel was published in 1945 and Nirala had termed it a model of progressive literature in its preface. In connection with the innovation of its structure and skeleton, Nirala had said:

"The inner portrayal can very much be seen within the outer portrayal, which is the first station of progressive literature. The art is such that three short, long stories have been joined to keep them alongside each other. The end is suspended even after the point of climax which gives a sort of shock to the reader but strengthens the heart."


A Literary Milestone Among Hindi Novels

There is no doubt that Nirala not only had complete awareness in connection with the content of the novel but also its form and he had labelled Billesur Bakriha an amusing sketch not with reference to its form but in view of its narrative style, technique of the story and the splendor of saying.

Nirala realised that ‘Until a novel does not portray the new constructive aspects by being founded upon some truth against the common conduct, till that time neither does it obtain literary strength nor the society attains a dynamic life.’ From this point of view, Billesur Bakriha can easily be called a milestone among Hindi novels.

So this novel which Nirala called 'an amusing sketch’, has become very famous for its realist views and progressive angle of life. Billesur is a poor Brahmin but entirely free of Brahmanical fundamentalism – he goes to the city for the sake of obtaining salvation from poverty and rears goats upon his return and does not care for the pressure put on him by the displeasure and atonement of the community in retribution. Rather, he has the guts to marry as well. He knows that racial distinction (caste) is merely a social deception which is established along with economic inequality.

This is the very reason that when Billesur becomes a ‘rich person’, his social boycott ends. In short, this novel is the tale of the defeat and helplessness of feudal (Hindu) fundamentalism within changing economic relations.

Closer To Life Characters

Before Billesur Bakriha, Nirala’s novel, Kullibhat had been published in 1939. The native form of humour is present uniformly in both the novels. Nirala found characters like Billesur and Kulli in the rustic village settlements of Oudh with whom Nirala was well-acquainted.

Billesur is the corrupted form of Bileshwar and the word Bakriha joined with it points to the fact that when he could not manage to earn his bread by employment or farming then Billesur, who is a Brahmin and a sukul – a sub-caste of Brahmins – belonging to Tari did the work of rearing a goat and then immediately found a suitable justification for his failure. He consoled his heart, 'When Brahmins have had the need to grasp the handle of the plough, open a shoe shop, then how come rearing a goat is a vice.’

Billesur Bakriha is neither a biography nor the characters of Nirala’s story. A few such sketches of Billesur’s life have been raised which Nirala calls the joining of three long and short stories. But the most important in Billesur Bakriha is the portrayal of the hero’s deep attachment to life and the expression of the strength of human nature within the structure of democratic temperament and atmosphere.

This prose form of the individualistic mood of pure Hindi namely Billesur Bakriha is important, which digests forms like essays, sketches, memoirs, and biographies within it.

Billesur Bakriha is such a novel of Nirala which makes the idealism and reformism of a whole era of Hindi novels suspect. In Nirala’s view, this easy idealism is an obstacle to the progress of time.

While searching for the form of the new novel, Nirala was also giving importance to vehemence. In his own words, ‘Like rebellion is necessary for great battles in the field of politics, in the same manner, in the field of literature too, and since the scenes of this battle cannot be seen anywhere in our literature at the moment, so such is the predicament of the special reflective novels of literature.’ (Editorial Monthly Sudhaar, Lucknow, August 1930.)

Nirala spent approximately a decade in the expression of this new vision in his novels. In Billesur’s seemingly ordinary struggle of life, however hidden it may be, this vision is present. The loss of faith despite deep devotion to the idol of Mahabir and attacking it is no ordinary incident. Today, the implications of this incident seem deeper, more meaningful, and more symbolic. Billesur Bakriha is a novel which searches for the form of the new novel by breaking the average form and carries a pure individualistic quality. From this point of view, it can also be termed as the precursor of the new Hindi novel.

(The author is a Lahore-based, award-winning translator and researcher. He was the first Pakistani reviewer of Nanak Singh’s ‘Khooni Vaisakhi’. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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