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Your first question needs lot of recollections from the past, but I will try to be brief and cover as much as I can do. Actually, I come from a non-literary background. It was a Zamidar family of Muzaffarnagar, western UP. After independence Zamidari was abolished and all zamidars were grounded. However, I did not like the aristocracy and tyranny nurturing the system, but it gave me a good experience in a way and I wrote three novels in that background—Log, Jugalbandi and Dhaighar (awarded by Sahitya Akademi in1992, translated probably in 6 or 7 languages including English). I studied up to my graduation in Muzaffarnagar. Thereafter, I passed my MSW from Indian Institute of Social sciences, Agra in 1960.After MSW, I went to Allahabad which was the citadel of Hindi literature and all renowned poets and writers like Sumitranandan pant, Suryakant Tripathi Nirala, kkMahadevi Verma, Upendranath AShk, Naresh Mehta,Amarkant etc were living there. I was fortunate, that I learnt lot from them. I wrote my first novel ‘Log’ in Allahabad and along with it, my two collections were also published there. In 1960 I joined as employment Officer and probation officer thereafter and served for nearly two and half years, then I resigned to take up free lancing as a writer. Most of the writers, there, were free lancers except few of them who were teaching in Allahabad University. I also wrote Jugalbandi while living in Allahabad.After 6 years I left my beloved city Allahabad to join as first assistant registrar in the newly established Kanpur University, in a hope to go back to Allahabad and live like a free lance writer, which could not be possible and I am still here. In 1967 I was married to Mira ji and in 1975 I joined IIT Kanpur, as the Registrar. I started the Center of Creative Writing and Publication, and was appointed as first head of the Centre in 1981.I accepted the city of ‘chimnees’ and dust as abode of my literary activity. I wrote most of my short stories, novels, plays and essays etc while living there. IIT was not a bed of roses for me I had to struggle a lot for the sake of my language and independence, as a writer. I retired in July 1997 and devoted myself whole heartedly to writing. Here I wrote Pehla Girmitia, a novel based on the struggle of Gandhi in South Africa where he emancipated all Girmitias from the black laws imposed on them by the British Govt. Recently, My novel on Kasturba has come out with the title BAA. It was a difficult exercise for me to collect material for the novel. My novel Pehla Girmitia has been translated in five languages say, English, Marathi, Gujarati, Oria and Kannad. So is the case with BAA , it has been translated in Marathi, Gujarati,Oria nd Kannad. Translators, in Konkani and Urdu, are at work. I was awarded Padmashri for Literature and Education by the President of India in 2007. I was also member of Ex. Council of Sahitya Akademi.I had been a fellow in the Institute of Advance Studies, Shimla for around three years and worked on my book Dalit vimarsh- Sandarbh Gandhi, Ambedkar and it has been published by them. Earlier I was senior fellow, Ministry for Culture, Govt. Of India. I was awarded national award- Mahakavi Upendra , by Berahampur University, Orisa.
2. Since you write short stories, novels, plays and essays, which form do you enjoy writing the most and why?
As a writer, I am creator of all my writings. It is difficult to distinguish between one and the other; all writings are very close to my heart. However, process of writing in itself is very engrossing. It is a kind of meditation. You live with it all the time. Once I was listening Osho, he was telling about process of meditation, concentrate on your breathing, inhaling and exhaling, both. When you are accustomed it becomes joy for you. Similarly the process of writing is a joy for you. Anyway, Probably I digressed from the main question. Your question which of the forms I enjoy as a writer. When I started writing short stories in 1959-60, sometime I used to write two to three stories in a day, it was like a child’s enthusiasm. When a child gets a new toy he wants to play with the same untiringly. Slowly, I understood the seriousness and difficulties involved in process of identifying yourself with the subject of your story. Afterwards it was a pleasure and a way of relaxation to me, as if talking to a bosom friend. By and by I introduced myself to other forms of Literature like plays, essays novels and memoirs etc. Plays are many folds. When you write play you are alone with your ideas and experiences, after wards director, actors, and audience have their role to play in different ways. Essays were devoted to criticism, social and political problems. Novels are the expression for larger experiences of life. For example, when I thought of writing a novel on Gandhi’s life, firstly I had to study a lot. I prepared a bibliography of about 2000 books, though it was not possible to get and study all those books. Then I prepared a map of those places where he went, lived and worked. I had to follow Gandhi, where ever he went and lived. I went to South Africa, Mauritius and London. I interviewed knowledgeable people, visited places and examined records in libraries like Colonial library in London. It took eight years to write Pehala Girmitia. It was not a easy thing for me financially also. I had to spend my provident fund. But it gave me fulfillment to a large extent. Writing novel has never been a drawing room activity for me. Now I write short stories and novel, and essays too. Creative writing is like Sanjeevni to me.
3.What is the role of literature festivals?
Third question equally put me in a fix, since generally people are leaving reading habits. After independence, Prime minister Nehru wanted to have a library at every block headquarter, funds were provided. But funds were misused and the movement of library died down slowly. I developed habit of reading from my childhood. In our part of country, small shop keepers use to issue books on one Anna per day. I use to hire books from those shops. I could read latest books of my time from those shops. I am afraid that reading habit disappearing fast. Public Libraries, where ever they exist, keep on waiting for their readers. I want to donate my books to such libraries where they may be used in a better way. Alas, except university libraries, none of the public library seems is interested in keeping books with them. They have no funds to maintain, government grants are feeble or not even available in some of the states. I wish that future generation has to be creative and knowledgeable, for this library movement need to be strengthen all through the country.