The residents of the Jhuggi Jhopri Resettlement Colony in Delhi’s Savda Ghevra are not residents by choice. They have been pushed to the outskirts of the city after waves of evictions, most recently in the run-up to the 2010 Commonwealth Games. On 2 November, I visited the colony to meet a 16-year-old girl whose words had managed to find their way to central Delhi. Aanchal, an eleventh-standard student, had had her first story published, in the October issue of Hans, India’s most prestigious Hindi literary magazine.
Aanchal’s short story, titled “Saikal ke Sapne”—Dreams of a Bicycle—is about a young girl’s yearning for a bicycle, with an intensely detailed account of her thoughts as she waits for her parents to come home with it. “Like Premchand, I want to write to expose the truth,” she told me.
The story was published in a column called “Ghuspaithiye”—intruders—which features stories by authors below the age of 20 who come from the margins of society. “Their childhood,” the column declares, “is made not from books as much as from the struggles of their environment. These struggles are found preserved in their stories.” Writers like Aanchal do not belong to any literary circle, and in recognising that, their stories are published as intruders within the carefully guarded walls of literature.
The writer Munshi Premchand founded Hans—with MK Gandhi on its editorial board—in 1930, to promote writers of Hindi literature. In his first editorial for the magazine, Premchand wrote, “Hans will play a major role in inspiring the countrymen to mobilise themselves against British rule.” Sustaining the magazine, however, proved to be a struggle in itself, amidst financial woes and political pressure from colonial authorities. After Premchand’s death, in 1936, his son tried to run the magazine for a few years but, worn out from all the financial troubles, shut it down in 1956. Thirty years later, when the writer Rajendra Yadav wanted to run a monthly magazine, Hans, with Premchand’s vigour in its veins, proved to be the perfect fit.
Ever since its revitalisation in 1986, finding emerging writers was built into the ethos of the magazine; Yadav made sure of that. “It was like his passion to push everyone to write,” Yadav’s daughter Rachana told me. “On days in which he could catch hold of the newspaper boy, he would sit and teach him the elements of a good story.” Under Yadav, the magazine promoted a generation of female and Dalit writers. Maitreyi Pushpa, a writer and former chairperson of the Delhi Commission for Women, argues that Yadav’s work towards promoting women’s issues was a learning curve for her. “Before I got involved with Hans, I didn’t know what feminist thought was,” Pushpa said in a media interview.