शीर्षक "पहल" पर हिन्दू अखबार में प्रकाशित कुलदीप कुमार का लेख
प्रकाशन 18-04-2016

Against all odds

As "Pahal" comes out with its 102nd issue, let’s rewind to the tumultuous journey of the literary journal which stood against ideological colonisation and for pluralism of thought 

When a literary journal with an uncertain periodicity comes up with its 102 issue, it’s an occasion to rejoice and celebrate. More so when the journal had embarked on this long and arduous journey with minimal resources and had to close shop several times – fortunately, only to open again – when continuing on a shoestring budget became simply impossible. However, the fact that it has managed to come so far is a testimony to the commitment, strength of character, perseverance and dedication of its editor and well-wishers. 

When Gyanranjan decided to launch a progressive literary journal “Pahal” (Initiative) from Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh in the latter half of 1973, he had already established himself as one of the top short story writers in Hindi. Gyanranjan’s short stories like “Ghanta” (The Bell) and “Bahirgaman” (Exit) had attained a near-iconic status and the Hindi literary world was eagerly awaiting his future offerings. Sensitive critics like Vijay Mohan Singh had discerned a “complex accuracy” as well as a “tender poetic sense” in the way Gyanranjan portrayed human relations with a rare “ironic sympathy”. As a creative writer, sky was the limit for him. 

Yet, he decided to throw himself into a fierce ideological-political struggle in the realm of literature by starting a little magazine. Those were the days when the Little Magazine movement in Hindi was really strong and was giving the Establishment, represented by publications like “Saptahik Hindustan”, “Dharmyug”, “Sarika” and “Kadambini”, a run for its money. Those were also the days when the Cold War was raging and the literary world was divided into progressive and anti-progressive camps. Only six years earlier in 1967, a United Front government was formed in West Bengal and the Naxalbari movement had begun in the form of an armed peasant revolt. It had electrified the literary world and a number of unusually talented poets had emerged who were emotionally influenced by the revolutionary movement. Despite the 1971 victory, the Congress regime of Indira Gandhi was facing stiff opposition and the JP movement as well as a nationwide railway strike were about to erupt. Change was in the air and the youth was restless.

Around the same time, Ashok Vajpeyi, a poet-critic who had joined the Indian Administrative Service in Madhya Pradesh a few years earlier, launched a government-funded literary journal “Poorvagrah”. While it was Agyeya who had led the anti-Left camp in the 1950s and 1960s, the 1970s witnessed the emergence of Ashok Vajpeyi as his literary successor in this regard. He and the journal argued for “autonomy” of literature, “pluralism” and “liberation from ideological colonisation” – all of which were the values that were cherished and enthusiastically propagated by the Cold Warriors in the preceding decades. “Pahal” started its journey against all odds in this unfavourable environment but very soon made its presence felt. While it got the support of stalwarts like Harishankar Parsai, it had to face stiff opposition from a local Congress woman MP who tried her best to nip this journal in the bud after the Emergency was imposed in 1975. Dharmvir Bharati’s “Dharmyug” and Rajendra Awasthi’s “Kadambini” launched a frontal attack on “Pahal” because of its opposition to the Emergency but David could not be defeated by Goliath. It was a remarkable achievement when one recalls that a number of excellent literary magazines had folded up and they included the likes of “Kalpana”, “Lahar”, “Vikalp”, “Madhya”, “Nayee Kavita”, “Vasudha”, “Kriti” and “Nikash”.

As Gyanranjan tells us in the editorial to the 100 issue, “Pahal” was printed at various places including Satna, Allahabad, Delhi and Panchkula besides Jabalpur. It was primarily the support of his friends and his own unwavering resolve that kept the journal going. It was perhaps the first literary magazine who brought out a special number on the revolutionary Punjabi poet Avtar Singh “Pash” who was assassinated soon after by Khalistanis. Many other Punjabi poets like Amarjit Singh Chandan and Surjit Pattar were published by “Pahal” which became a platform for pan-Indian poetry and fiction. Dalit poets of Maharashtra found a pride of place in its issues and so did progressive writers of other Indian and foreign languages. “Pahal” brought out a large number of special issues focusing on Rimbaud, Red Indian poetry, Walter Benjamin, Edward Saeed, African folk songs and literatures of China, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It published a number of booklets on various ideological-political issues and also organised lectures by the likes of Asghar Ali Engineer, Varvara Rao and Shamim Hanafi. 

However, there also came a time when the slow moving train had to make a halt. But, before long, it resumed its journey with the active help and support of well-known journalist and writer Rajkumar Keswani. Gyanranjan’s initiative has proved really historic.