A panel discussion at Women Writer’s Fest Lucknow edition explored the neglect that regional literature is experiencing in Indian. Aptly titled after the autobiography of famed Hindi and Punjabi writer Amrita Pritam, the panel, Raseedi Ticket, featured speakers such as Naresh Saxena, Naseem Nikhat and Preeti Chaudhary, and was moderated by Kanak Rekha Chauhan. In an era where English literature has more seekers, despite not being a native language, the regional authors today are struggling to match the paychecks and fame that their counterparts writing in English earn. The panellists shed light on what kept them going, despite a readership that had gone down considerable in last fifty or so years.

On thinning readership of Hindi and Urdu Literature

As our literacy rate has gone up, along with our purchasing power, the sale of Hindi books and magazines has gone down. This is because not many are reading Hindi today and thus its readership has shrunk. – Naresh Saxena

Poet Naseem Nikhat revealed that she only got introduced to Urdu in her high school, and then went on to do PhD and write several books of shayari in the language. She said that she got to travel far and wide in the world because of her shayari. She said, “Every person needs to be economic to get ahead in life.”

Speaking on the thinning readership of Hindi Literature and the demand to write books more like the ones written in English, author Naresh Saxena said “We are talking about how women are writing good literature in Hindi, but the question should be, how much of it is being read? Very few people are reading (these) books. A strange thing has happened, as our literacy rate has gone up, along with our purchasing power, the sale of Hindi books and magazines has gone down. This is because not many are reading Hindi today and thus its readership has shrunk. Urdu readership has suffered even more.”

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Saxena further touched upon the fixation with English literature among Indian readers, despite their limited understanding of the language. “It is next to impossible for us to learn English by heart. We cannot. We just can cram it up. But then how much can one cram it? We aren’t computers after all. Eventually, we will forget it, just like we most of the stuff that we cram. So the more important question than how much is being written is why aren’t we reading more. Why will those educated in English medium read it, as they simply don’t know how to.”

Could the indifference be due to a lack of sharpness in regional literature, for which it was famous, a few decades ago? Weighing in on this Preeti Chaudhary said that it didn’t make much sense to wonder if regional writing had that flair today or not. “The flow of literature, like time and river always moves forward. Stagnation or stillness doesn’t occur, either in time or literature.”

On women writing their stories

Be it constitution, history or literature, it was written by men so far. However, every woman now needs to pick up a pen to write what she has been enduring and give her perspective. – Preeti Chaudhary

While Hindi and Urdu literature has celebrated the writing of stellar women authors such as Pritam, Mahadevi Verma, Shivani and Ismat Chughtai, the story is different today altogether. The space of literature is dominated by male writers across languages and genres. Saxena said women will have to rise up to the challenge of having their voices heard. “Men have dominated this country and its constitution, this market. Our constitution says that we are all equal, but women aren’t given equality.” Nikhat strongly agreed with him further adding that indeed women weren’t given equal rights. “Women are pressurised to bend down and adjust for the sake of their children and relationships,” she added

Chaudhary, on the other hand, said that today’s women writers have made their presence felt very strongly and while they were continuously producing fabulous pieces of work, every woman needs to pick up a pen. Said she, “We will have to take the rights given to us by the constitution. Speaking of women, us picking up a pen to write is in itself a big political movement and it is the kind that should indeed happen. Be it constitution, history or literature, it was written by men so far. However, every woman now needs to pick up a pen to write what she has been enduring and give her perspective.”

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