Towards Hind Svaraj_: An Interpretation of the Rise of Prose in Nineteenth-century Gujarati Literature
In his memoirs Smaran Mukur,Narasimharao Divatia (1859-1937), oneoftheearly masters of Gujarati prose, a polyglot and a pioneer in Gujarati linguistics, narrates an anecdote he had heard from his father. The anecdote is about two clerks and a newspaper. The author's father, Bholanath Sarabhai, a native officer in the British administration in Khede district of central Gujarat, himself a writer and social reformer, had two junior clerks working in his office. Publication of Gujarati newspapers had just begun in the region and working as they were in a government office where such things were subtly encouraged, the clerks had subscribed for their own copies of the newspaper. The author tells us how, upon receiving the weekly newspaper on a Wednesday afternoon, the two clerks had retired to the potable-water-room of the office, each with his own copy of the newspaper in hand. One of the two read aloud from his own newspaper, while the other compared it with the printed words in his copy. When, fmally, they discovered that the two copies tallied, paragraph by paragraph, word by word, their amazement was boundless. '"Wonderful! Word for word they tally! Not even the slightest error! Your copy is exactly the same as my copy!' Thus expressing their feeling of amazement and respect, they go back [to their tables]," concludes the author (Divatia 1926:18-19).
Today, more than a hundred years after the event and seven decades after the publication of the account, we may not be so sure whether we prefer to smile with the knowledgeable officer oUodiare the amazement of the incredulous clerks. If we restore the clerks from the position of caricature in the anecdote to the status of characters in a social history, we may also ask ourselves whether the open admiration of the clerks was not linked with a concealed skepticism, simultaneously felt.
Seen in the context of several other events in the cultural life of Gujarat in the nineteenth century, including the rise of several new prose-genres in Gujarati language (newspaper accounts of socio-political reality being among them), and the simultaneous decline of many long-standing genres of narrative and lyrical verse,
Department of Gujarati, M.S. University, Baroda.
Social Scientist, Vol. 23 Nos. 10-12, October-December 1995