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Renu's Regionalism: Language and Form

  • Kathryn Hansen


The modern Hindi writer Phanishwarnath Renu developed a distinctive “regional” style in his fiction, which Hindi critics have defined in terms of his focus on the way of life of a particular area, the Purnea region of northeastern Bihar. However, Renu's regionalism cannot be separated from his innovations in the language and form of fiction. He employed a variety of dialects and deviated from conventional spelling and grammar, to draw the reader into the rural universe of sound. He included indigenous genres, such as the folk song, folktale, and rural drama, within the frame of the modern novel, thereby creating a new structure for the regional novel.



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1 Renu's, major works include five novels: Mailā Ānchal (Delhi: Rājkamal Prakāshan, 1954), Partī Parikathā (Delhi: Rājkamal Prakāshan, 1957), Julūs (Varanasi: Bhārtīya Jnānpīṭh, 1961), Dīrghtapā (Patna: Bihār Granth Kuṭīr, 1963), and Kitane Chaurāhe (Patna: Anupam Prakāshan, 1966), and three short story collections: Ṭhumrī (Delhi: Rājkamal Prakāshan, 1959), Āḏim Rātri kī Mahak (Delhi: Rādhākṛiṣṇa Prakāshan, 1967), and Aginkhor (Hapur, U.P.: Sambhāvnā Prakāshan, 1973).

The following references illustrate the major viewpoints on Renu's language and form: Chaturvedī, Mahendra, Hindī Upanyās: Ek Sarvekshaṇ (Delhi: National Publishing House, 1962); pp. 188–96, 210–13; Gangādhar, Madhukar, “Hindī mē Ānchalik Upanyās,” Ālochanā Visheṣank, 35 (Jan. 1966): 7386; Jain, Nagīnā, Ānchaliktā aur Hindī Upanyās (Delhi: Akshar Prakāshan, 1976); Jain, Nemīchandra, “Hindī Upanyās kī Ek Nayī Dishā: Mailā Ānchal,” in Avasthī, Devīshankar, ed., Vivek ke Rang (Varanasi: Bhārtīya Jnānpītḥ, 1965), pp. 207–19; Mishra, Rāmdarash, Hindī Upanyās: Ek Antaryātrā (Delhi: Rājkamal Prakāshan, 1968), pp. 187–93, 196–203; Pandey, Indu Prakash, Regionalism in Hindi Novels (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1974), pp. 82109; Pūrṇadev, , Reṇu kā Ānchalik Kathā-Sāhitya (New Delhi: Āshā Prakāshan Grah, 1973); Rainā, Rāj, Kahānīkr Phanīshvarnāth Reṇu (Delhi: Sīmānt Prakāshan, 1978); Saksenā, Adarsh, Hindī ke Ānchalik Upanyās aur Unkī Shilpvidhi (Bikaner: Sūrya Prakāshan Mandir, 1971); Singh, Shivprasād, Ādhunik Parivesh aur Navlekhan (Allahabad: Lokbhārtī Prakāshan, 1970), pp. 114–28; Sophaṭ, Kusum, Phaṇīshvarnāth Reṇu kī Upanyās Kalā (Allahabad: Vasumati Press, 1968); Vājpeyī, Prakāsh, Hindī ke Ānchalik Upanyās (Varanasi: Nandkishor and Sons, 1964).

2 Upādhyāy, Devrāj, “Recent Tendencies in Hindi Fiction,” Hindi Review Magazine, May 1956, p. 27, quoted in Saksenā, Hindī ke Ānchalik Upanyās, p. 57.

3 Ānchalik novels are compared to and contrasted with sāmājik (social), manovaijnānik (psychological) and aitihāsik (historical) novels by Sinhal, Shaṣhibhūṣaṇ, Hindī Upanyās kī Pravṛittiyā (Agra: Vinod Pustak Mandir, 1970), and Rāngrā, Ranvīr, “Upanyās,” in Bacchan, Harivanshrāy et al. , Samsāmayik Hindī Sāhitya (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1967), pp. 143224. The regional novel is specifically termed a vidhā (genre) by Mishra, Rāmdarash, “Mailā Ānchal,” in Madān, Indranāth, ed., Hindī Upanyās: Pahachān aur Parakh (Delhi: Lipi Prakāshan, 1973), p. 190; Sophaṭ, Phaṇīshvarnāth Reṇu kī Upanyās Kalā, pp. 17, 19; Saksenā, Hindī ke Ānchalik Upanyās, pp. 11–12, 37.

4 Varmā, Nirmal, “Sanskṛiti, Samay aur Bhārtīya Upanyās,” Pūrvāgrah 5 (Jan. 1975): 611. The relevant passages are: “A writer's morality [naitiktā] is not inherent in his ideas or in the various styles of their expression, his morality is inherent in his attitude to his own genre and language” (p. 6). “This choice of the word is not whimsical, mysterious, or supernatural. The writer's whole moral struggle is hidden behind this choice. Rather one should say that if there is any such thing as the writer's commitment, it can only be echoed in the relationship between the writer and the word” (pp. 6–7).

5 Renu himself provided the label “regional” for his first novel in the now famous introduction: “This is Mailā Ānchal, a regional novel [ek ānchalik upanyās]. The setting is Purnea. Purnea is a district of Bihar state; to one side is Nepal, to the other Pakistan and West Bengal. Its outline becomes complete when we draw the boundaries of Santhal Parganas to the south and Mithila to the west. I have made a single village of this area the field of action of the novel—considering it a symbol of the backward village.” Reṇu, Phaṇīshvarnāth, Mailā Ānchal, 7th printing (Delhi: Rājkamal Prakāshan, 1973), p. 5.

6 Mishra, Jayakanta, “Maithili,” in Iyengar, K. R. Srinivasa, ed., Indian Literature since Independence, (Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1973), p. 128.

7 Reṇu, Phaṇīshvarnāth, Partī Parikathā, 3rd printing (Delhi: Rājkamal Prakāshan, 1972), p. 9. See Appendix A. 1 for the original Hindi passage with an English translation.

8 Urdu words in the passage include vīrān (deserted), zamīn (lānd), lāsh (corpse), kafan (shroud), and nakshā (map). Sanskrit words mentioned are dhartī (earth), pankti (row), dakshiṇ (south), asam (unequal), bhāg (part), vibhakt (divided), vishāl (vast), bhūbhāg (territory), kshaṇik (momentary) and āshā (hope).

9 I wish to thank Professor Ashok Aklujkar for confirmation of the Sanskrit derivations and reference to the Atharva Veda, 12:1, bhūme mātarni dhehi mā bhadrayā supratiṣtḥitam.

10 The metaphor appears in the Viṣṇu Purāṇa, 6:3, in a passage describing the earth burned by the fires of dissolution at the end of a cosmic cycle. See Dimmitt, Cornelia and van Buitenen, J. A. B., eds. and trans., Classical Hindu Mythology: A Reader in the Sanskrit Puranas (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1978), pp. 22, 42.

11 See Reṇu, Mailā Ānchal, pp. 52–55, 146–48, 153–55, 160–63; Reṇu, Partī Parikathā, pp. 19–20, 41–46, 84–88.

12 Reṇu, Mailā Ānchal, p. 33.

13 Reṇu, Mailā Ānchal, p. 31. See Appendix A. 2 for the original Hindi passage and an English translation.

14 Arddh tatsam words are not to be confused with tadbhav words, which are “all corrupted Sanskrit words, which, by the addition, loss, or change of certain letters, have come to appear in Hindi in a form more or less modified, and often greatly disguised.” Kellogg, S. H., A Grammar of the Hindi Language, 3rd ed. (first Indian ed.) (Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint Corporation, 1972), p. 42. Examples of common Hindi tadbhavs are hāth (Skt.hasta), bahin (Skt. bhaginī), pyās (Skt. pipāsā). According to S. K. Chatterji, arddh tatsams differ from tadbhavs in the feature of svarabhakti or anaptyxis rather than assimilation. Chatterji, Suniti Kumar, Indo-Aryan and Hindi, 2nd ed. (Calcutta: Firma K. L. Mukhopadhyay, 1969), p. 97.

15 We find bidamān for vidvān (scholar), purān for purāṇ (Purana), mahatamā for mahātmā (great soul, i.e., Mahatma Gandhi), partāp for pratāp (glory).

16 The words are listed in their original forms in the Devanagari script in Appendix A. 3.

17 Indeed the spoken forms of many words in the dialects of Middle and New Indo-Aryan are such arddh tatsams, as S. K. Chatterji has shown in Indo-Aryan and Hindi, p. 97.

18 “Renu has not been successful at maintaining a balance. Going beyond artistic necessity, he has reached the level of sheer display. He breaks down words in imitation of the local speech which he could have saved without any artistic loss.” R. Mishra, Hindī Upanyās, p. 203.

19 The text reads koṭhārin sāheb bāt bolī, for shuddh Hindi koṭhārin sāheb ne bāt bolī (the Koṭhārin Sāheb said); ham sāstar purān nahī paṛhe haĩ for ham ne sāstar purān nahī paṛhe haĩ (I haven't read the scriptures); and ham sevak kā bānā le liyā for ham ne sevak kā bānā le liyā (I donned the garb of a servant).

20 Thus we find jitanā bāt for jitanī bāt or jitanī bātē (whatever things). Similarly, sab se baṛd dokhī ham haī should be sab se baṛe dokhī ham haī (I am the most to blame), making the adjective dokhī agree with the plural subject and verb, ham haī. Also note ham to sabō kā sevak haī (I am everybody's servant), where again ham and haī, both plural forms, require the predicate sevak to be in the plural and take ke instead of preceding it.

21 Chatterji, Indo-Aryan and Hindi, p. 219. Chatterji discusses the grammar of simplified Hindi on pp. 259–61.

22 “Unrestricted freedom with language corrupts the standard of literature. It is my opinion that fiction should first be tested by the criterion of language. Ruining the form of the Hindi language by mixing it up with various regional languages is a very dangerous business.” Shivpūjan Sahāy, “Ānchaliktā kī Dhūm,” Sāhitya, Feb. 1961, p. 101, quoted in Singh, Tribhuvan, Hindī Upanyās: Shilp aur Prayog (Varanasi: Hindī Prachārak Sansthān, 1973), p. 398.

23 Chatterji, Indo-Aryan and Hindi, pp. 170, 218–19.

24 Reṇu, Phaṇīshvarnāth, Ṭhumrī, 4th printing (Delhi: Rājkamal Prakāshan, 1973), p. 117.

25 Several examples of proverbs used in conversation are given in Appendix B.

26 Note the quarrel of the Tatmāṭolī women, quoted in Appendix B.3. Reṇu, Mailā Ānchal, pp. 62–63.

27 For salutations, see examples in Appendix B.1 and B.2: parnām jotkhī kākā (salutations, Uncle Jotkhī); jai ho sarkār kī (may you be victorious, Governor!). An abuse (gālī) is illustrated in Appendix B.3: nẽgṛī (slut).

28 Reṇu, Mailā Ānchal, pp. 96–101.

29 Ibid., p. 11; example quoted in Appendix B.2.

30 Reṇu, Partī Parikathā, p. 172.

31 Reṇu, Mailā Ānchal, p. 95.

32 Reṇu, Partī Parikathā, p. 158.

33 Reṇu, Mailā Ānchal, pp. 164, 184.

34 Reṇu, Partī Parikathā, pp. 45, 60–63.

35 Reṇu, Phaṇīshvarnāth, Julūs, 2nd ed. (Varanasi: Bhārtīya Jnānpīṭh, 1970), pp. 32, 42, 46, 70–71.

36 For example, the sounds of a tractor: bhaṭ-ṭa-ṭa-ṭabhaṛbhaṛ-bharr-r (Reṇu, Partī Parikathā, p. 46); of rain and thunder: jhar-jhar-jhahar-jhar-r-r, guṛ-guṛ-guḍum (ibid.); of insects and frogs: tarr.menk-tarrarara … menkū. jhijhichi, kir, kirr, si, kitir (Reṇu, Mailā Ānchal, p. 194).

37 Reṇu, Ṭhumrī, pp. 118–19.

38 Some examples are listed in Appendix C.

39 These examples are found in Appendix C.6, C.4, and C.2, respectively.

40 Reṇu, Ṭhumrī, pp. 118, 116.

41 Shāstrī, Tejnārāyaṇ Lāl, Maithilī Lokgītō Rām Iqbāl “Rākesh” Singh, Maithilī Lokgīt kā Adhyayan (Agra: Vinod Pustak Mandir, 1962); (Allahabad: Hindī Sāhitya Sammelan, samvat 2012).

42 Reṇu, Mailā Ānchal, pp. 60–64. For an English translation of the chapter, see Hansen, Kathryn, “Phanishwarnath Renu: The Integration of Rural and Urban Consciousness in the Modern Hindi Novel” (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1978), Appendix B, pp. 254–59.

43 Reṇu, Mailā Ānchal, pp. 130–36. Trans, in Hansen, “Phanishwarnath Renu,” Appendix B. pp. 260–67.

44 Prashānt also recalls the precursor of Holi, the madanamahotsava (great festival of Madana, god love) from Bhavabhūti's Mādhavamālatī and identifies himself as Mādhava. Reṇu, Mailā Ānchal, of p. 135.

45 A number of contributors to the memorial volume, Singh, Rām Bujhāvan and Rāy, Rāmvachan, eds., Reṇu: Sansmaraṇ aur Shraddhānjali (Patna: Navnītā Prakāshan, 1978), have mentioned Renu's fondness for relating anecdotes and his skill as a storyteller. Kumār Vimal calls him a “storyteller [qissāgo] of the highest rank” (p. 54). Vijendra Nārāyaṇ Singh says he was a “natural-born storyteller [galpkār]” (p. 65). See also Madan Mohan Upendra (p. 80) and Rāmvachan Rāy (p. 240) who use the term qissāgoī in reference to Renu's storytelling craft. Kathā and qissā are the Sanskrit and Arabic words, respectively, for “story, tale” and are used in modern Hindi to refer to tales of a traditional type, in contrast to kahānī which refers to the modern short story. By calling Renu a qissāgo instead of a kahānīkār, these writers suggest his traditional narrative style and indigenous sources of inspiration.

46 “This fallow land must have its own story too. …” Reṇu, Partī Parikathā, p. 9.

47 Ibid., pp. 10–11.

48 Ibid., pp. 11–16.

49 Ibid., p. 18.

50 Ibid., pp. 24–25.

51 Ibid., pp. 25–28.

52 Examples are the histories of Dilbahādur (ibid., pp. 60–64), Tājmanī (pp. 66–67), Bhimmal Māmā (pp. 70–73), and Maqbūl (pp. 122–26).

53 Ibid., pp. 63–64, 69, 84–85, 227–30, 301, 327–31.

54 In Sanskrit tale literature, narrative digressions frequently occur within a framing story. See Kirk, James A., Stories of the Hindus (New York: Macmillan Company, 1972), pp. 42, 58; van Buitenen, J. A. B., Tales of Ancient India (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973), p. 2; Ryder, Arthur W., The Panchatantra (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972), p. 11.

55 The improvised character of oral narrative has been described in the classic study by Lord, Albert B., The Singer of Tales (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964). Referring to the epic tradition of the bards of Yugoslavia, Lord notes the importance of audience interest and its effect on the length of a recitation; see p. 17. Although the basic story of a given song is preserved from singer to singer and performance to performance, the text actually sung may be changed to include fewer or more lines, expansion of ornamentation and description, changes of order in a sequence, addition of material from other singers, omission of material, and substitution of one “theme” or episode for another; see p. 123.

56 Excellent accounts of the concept of time in India are found in Zimmer, Heinrich, Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization (New York: Harper and Row, 1962), pp. 1222; Dimmitt and van Buitenen, Classical Hindu Mythology, pp. 19–24, 36–43.

57 The emboxed tale also reproduces the visual configuration of space in Indian thought. Space is conceived in the form of a “cosmic egg of seven concentric spheres” with earth and India at the center. Dimmitt and van Buitenen, Classical Hindu Mythology, pp. 24–29.

58 Richard Lannoy considers the cyclical time concept to be one of the four significant thought patterns of traditional India essential to an understanding of the modern Indian mind. See Lannoy, Richard, The Speaking Tree: A Study of Indian Culture and Society (London: Oxford University Press, 1975), pp. 271 ff. Betty Heimann also expresses the contrast between Indian and Western thought in terms of circularity and linearity: “… the West thinks in straight lines … Hinduism thinks in a circle or a spiral of continuously developing potentialities, and not on the straight line of progressive stages.” Heimann, Betty, Facets of Indian Thought (New York: Schocken Books, 1964), pp. 6869.

59 The possibilities for expansion in oral narrative and the framing structures used by the performer for such expansions are documented with respect to the Xhosa culture of Southern Africa by Harold Scheub. His analyses provide remarkable parallels to the tale traditions of South Asia. See Scheub, Harold, “Performance of Oral Narrative,” in Frontiers of Folklore, ed. Bascom, William R., AAAS Selected Symposium 5 (Boulder: Westview Press, 1977), pp. 62, 69.

60 The opening passage of Mailā Ānchal (p. 9) provides an example of movement from an omniscient, depersonalized narrator at the beginning to a personal, conversational voice who relates village gossip and rumors at the end. Public opinion is frequently expressed in judgments about character, such as the following from Mailā Ānchal: sachmuch giyānī ādmī haī bāldevjī (Bāldevjī was really a wise man, p. 22), mahanth sāheb siddh purukh the (Mahanth Sāheb was a realized soul, p. 47), ḍākṭār ādmī nahī, devtā haī, devtā (the doctor was not a man, he was a god, p. 151).

61 A similar idea is often encountered in Hindi criticism, where it is said in a regional novel “the region itself becomes the hero” (anchal svayam ek nāyak ban jātād hai). Purṇadev, Reṇu kā Ānchalik Kathā-Sāhitya, p. 12.

Renu's Regionalism: Language and Form

  • Kathryn Hansen


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