Book Review | An insightful biography of a Hindi thought pioneer

The Asian Age.

The book is both an inner quest and a critical history.

Cover photo of 'Here and Hereafter: Nirmal Verma’s Life in Literature' by Vineet Gill. (Photo by arrangement)

Vineet Gill’s Here and Hereafter: Nirmal Verma’s Life in Literature (Penguin Random House India 2022) is an intellectual brew of personalised interpretation and the literary biography of the illustrious Hindi writer-thinker, Nirmal Verma. It is interspersed with provocative moments of inventive luminosity where readers are drawn into the animated immersion of Vineet’s reading. The book raises pertinent questions in furthering what Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak calls ‘pluridiscursive’ to initiate compelling debates on truth, culture, appropriation, intertextuality and the ethos of cosmopolitan ethics.

The book is both an inner quest and a critical history. If the former can be attributed to Vineet’s retrospective devotion to the towering figure of modern Hindi literature Nirmal Verma, the latter brings out the complex changes in the landscape of Hindi/global writing. To seasoned readers who are well-versed in literary trends, the work is an illuminating delight. Those who are less initiated into the world of literary criticism but love Nirmal Verma might find the work rather heavy going in deciphering the merit of multiple allusions to a cosmopolitan literary world and the consequent propositions Vineet arrives at in his close reading of myriad associations that take on deep symbolic resonances. Its textual crafting communicates what lies at the core of Vermaesque musings. Verma’s worldview is born of the conviction of human goodness that lies at the core of human civilisation. Vermaesque is also a graceful way of thinking that plunges into an unfettered world of entanglement and elevation. If the former contests the notions of literary discourse, the latter seeks philosophical refuge in deeper questions about life and the human condition.

Informed by Vineet’s scholarship, the book crafts an active dimension of the intellectual leaps its passages make to unravel an aesthetics of reading. His tapestried narrative unlatches the doors of perception in the pursuit of artistic truths and gives readers leads into the nuances of Nirmal Verma’s spellbinding world of dusk-veiled, nostalgia-dripping contemplation where the intellectual space is defined through the persistence of two qualities: transcendental homelessness and restless wanderings. These qualities are absorbed into a universal inwardness alongside the striving for global culture recalling the French anthropologist Jean-Loup Amselle’s ‘Connection Theory’.

Silence is an aesthetic contemplation in Nirmal Verma. It functions as an archetype in Verma’s oeuvre. To me, his canon is an aesthetic pageant of brooding silence into which I always love to tiptoe.  Everyone loves, I believe! Verma’s aestheticised loneliness is the tip of the iceberg of a more encompassing source of change and renewal. Vineet attempts to access it by opening new critical perspectives. To find out what floats beneath the interpretative surface, the book is a must-read.

Everyone has his or her share of Nirmal Verma. Reading this book amounts to salvaging a kite string that got snarled up in one's experiential immediacy. In other words, it is a compelling call to a personal commitment to incisive reading in exploring subterranean dimensions around ontological dilemmas that fracture the enduring spirit of epistemological enterprise. Dilip Chitre calls Nirmal Verma the ‘Brahma’ (creator of the universe). No wonder, Verma is the creator of our inner universes.

Vineet’s generous borrowing from Western writers and theorists is a meticulous way to navigate the multi-hued shades of Verma’s character. The concrete references to telling situations by alluding to Krishna Sobti, Ramkumar, Mangalesh Dabral, U.R. Ananthamurthy, Krishna Baldev Vaid, and Dilip Chitre create an absolute verisimilitude with clinical precision. The book is ground-breaking in designing a paradigm where literary insights and personalised reading intersect creating a robust configuration through the interweaving of history and individual life, meaning and truth. No wonder, it opens new avenues for biography studies.

Here and Hereafter: Nirmal Verma’s Life in Literature

By Vineet Gill

Penguin Vintage

pp. 168, Rs.499