Mannu Bhandari Often Surprised Her Readers by Reaching Out for New Heights

Mannu Bhandari

Mannu Bhandari, the eminent and popular Hindi writer is no more. She passed away on Monday November 15 at Gurugram, near Delhi, at the age of 90. Apart from her countless readers, she will be missed by many teachers and students, particularly those at Miranda House, Delhi University where she taught Hindi literature for a long time.

She won early recognition for her portrayal of women of changing India, influenced by and drawn to modern influences,  yet not quite free from traditional thinking and values. These women  caught between modernity and tradition are not left free to resolve their dilemmas on the basis of their own learnings and experiences. Instead, more often than not, they find themselves burdened by various unjust and adverse situations, which often reflect gender based injustice and bias.

This latter aspect was later captured even more vividly in her own biography Ek Kahani Yeh Bhi (This too is quite a story). Stories like Nai Naukri ( New Job) also reflect this trend in her writing, while Trishanku is more about parents, particularly mothers, struggling to choose between tradition and modernity while bringing up children. Yahi Sach Hai ( This is the truth) is her famous story of a girl living alone being very sincere to the man she loves now, but unable at the same time to get out of the sweet-sour memories of her first love affair. This story also is remarkable in terms of her strength of a very reader-friendly way of writing. Her stories are almost always interesting to read, all the more Yahi Sach Hai, which was made into a loveable low-budget hit film Rajnigandha ( 1974) by Basu Chatterjee.

However at times she gave her readers stories which were very different from her normal work and sometimes these stories turned out to be exceptionally brilliant. One such story I will like to make a special mention of is Akeli ( Lonely), a very poignant story of a woman  who revels in enjoying together in groups but is increasingly left alone and neglected as she gets old and poorer. Yet another remarkable story of a different kind is Teesra Hissa ( Third Portion), a portarayal of a potentially fiery columnist and editor who is forced by circumstances to live a stifled existence of  ordinary clerical work, daily waiting for his dream opportunites to arrive one day.

However where Mannu scaled really great heights was with her two unforgettable novels—Aap Ka Bunty and Mahabhoj. Aap Ka Bunty portrays the disrupted world of a small child troubled by  broken marriage of his parents and even more by the remarriage of his mother. This is one of the best novels on child psychology in Indian literature, its story told from the viewpoint of a child.

This novel which was serialized in Dharamyug weekly magazine got tremendous feedback from readers who worried constantly about the fate of the troubled child.It was also adapted into a play. Unfortunately its film version Samay Ki Dhara ran into problems and the matter even went to court. This novel has been translated into Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali, Odiya, Kannada, Tamil, English and Japanese.

Even those who had become prepared for some surprises from Mannu Bhandari could not have reckoned for her to deliver a political thriller, but she did—in the form of her widely discussed novel Mahabhoj. A young man who sincerely struggles for the poorest people in a village dies in mysterious circumstances. As a by-election is approaching, this murder takes strong political overtones. What happens subsequently exposes the many-sided corruptions of the entire political system.

Mahabhoj too was reworked into a play which was performed again and again by several theatre groups. This novel has been translated into English, French,Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali and Kannada. A film version of this great novel is still awaited. Certainly a very fine  film can result from this  great book.

Mannu Bhandari will always be remembered for her great contribution to literature and for her fine qualities as a gentle human being.

Bharat Dogra is a public-spirited journalist who also writes fiction and poetry in Hindi and English.


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