Krishna Sobti, born on 18 Febrauary 1925, was a Hindi language language fiction writer, essayist, and personality profiler. Often called the grande dame of Hindi literature, writing to her was a conversation with oneself, taking place in language, which captured both the sound of one’s soul and the outside noises. Finding creativity in the mysterious silence of the dark night, it helped her suddenly to find words, revealing themselves to her in new ragas, rhythms, beats and meanings.
Sobti made the readers themselves reach for the truth, and understand it, through a plethora of issues ranging from partition, relationships between man and woman, changing dynamics of Indian society, and slow deterioration of human values, and bold themes like female identity dysphoria and sexuality.
Her amalgamating idiomatic Punjabi, Urdu and Rajasthani, while writing in Hindi, enhanced her language. Though translated into multiple Indian and foreign languages, her works attracted criticism, because of excessive profanity, and sex-obsession. Colloquial words, made it difficult for the Hindi purists to swallow.
Her short stories included Lama (about a Tibetan Buddhist priest), and Nafisa in 1944, and Sikka Badal Gaya, her famous story about the Partition of India, and Badalon ke Ghere. A selection of her major works are published in Sobti Eka Sohabata.
Mitro Marjani (1966), was a novel set in rural Punjab that concerned a young married woman’s unapologetic exploration and assertion of her sexuality. Her other novels include Zindaginama, Daar Se Bichchuri, Dar Se Bichhadi (1958),
Surajmukhi Andhere Ke (1972), Ai Ladki, Tin Pahar and Yaaron Ke Yaar, a fictionalised autobiography, titled Gujarat Pakistan Se Gujarat Hindustan Taq, Dil-o-Danish and Channa.
Subscribing to the Indian concept of ardhanarishwara, occupying both masculine and feminine traits, as a writer, in the 1960s, under a masculine pseudonym Hashmat, she sketched vivid profiles of her contemporary writers in three volumes, written over 15 years, and it was published as Hum Hashmat in 1977.
Somewhat of a maverick, she loved to wade into controversies. After she submitted the 500 page manuscript of her first novel, titled Channa, the story of a woman born into a farming family in pre-Partition India in 1952, to the Leader Press in Allahabad, she found it had made textual linguistic alterations that altered her use of Punjabi and Urdu words, to Sanskrit words.
She withdrew the book from publication, and paid to have the printed copies destroyed. She kept the novel in cold storage, before it was finally republished in 2017, just as she had drafted it 65 years ago, as Channa.
Her epic magnum opus 1979 Zindaginama composed in unique Hindi, offered a realistic portrayal of the culture, customs, mutual jealousies, envy and animosity of Punjab’s countryside, as well as the Sikh community’s history of valour.
Soon after, Sobti filed a suit against the poet, novelist and essayist Amrita Pritam, claiming that her book titled Hardatt Ka Zindaginama violated her copyright title. Litigated for 26 years, it ultimately was decided in favour of Pritam, six years after her death, in 2011.
She declined the offer of the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 2010, stating that, “As a writer, I have to keep a distance from the establishment.” She returned her 1980 Sahitya Akademi award (one of only three women to win the award for Hindi literature), which she received for Zindaginama, and also relinquished her much-esteemed 1996 Sahitya Akademi Fellowship in 2015, citing governmental inaction following the Dadri riots.
In 2017, she received the Jnanpith Award, only the second woman writer in Hindi, after Mahadevi Varma, but gave away the prize money of Rs 11 lakh, as also one crore of her personal money to the Raza Foundation, for the development of language and literature.
At the ripe age of 70 years, she married Dogri writer Shivnath who, by a remarkable coincidence, shared her birth date and year, but after his passing away lived alone in her east Delhi apartment, till her death on 25 January 2019, at 93 years.