Writer, Rebel, Soldier, Lover - The Many Lives of Agyeya

The biography of Agyeya – ‘Writer, Rebel, Soldier, Lover: The Many Lives of Agyeya’ by author Akshaya Mukul, which was released in July 2022, chronicles his transformation from “a revolutionary youth to a very controversial patron-saint of Hindi writing.”

In 2015, Akshaya Mukul wrote the multi-award-winning book “Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India.”

Author Akshaya Mukul successfully presented Agyeya’s public, private, and secret lives in the book with no holds barred. It also covers Hindi literature from colonial times to Nehruvian India and beyond. What Akshaya Mukul has done is read and investigate the clues to his life that Agyeya has left behind in his works, giving us a truly unique perspective on a man who contributed tremendously to the world of words and ideas.

Along the way, we get a rare peek into the factionalism and pettiness of the Hindi literary world of the twentieth century, and the wondrous and grand debates which characterized that milieu. The factional battles in the Hindi society and Agyeya’s quest into civilisation are equally as exciting as the era he lived in.

Sachchidananda Hirananda Vatsyayan (March 7, 1911 – April 4, 1987), popularly known by his pen name ‘Agyeya’ was a remarkable Indian writer, poet, novelist, literary critic, journalist, translator and revolutionary in Hindi language. His monumental novel ‘Shekhar: Ek Jeevani’, widely regarded as his masterpiece, was drawn from his own experiences in prison.  He also pioneered modern trends in Hindi poetry, as well as in fiction, criticism, and journalism. With his unwavering contribution for Hindi, he is regarded as the pioneer of the Prayogavaad (experimentalism) movement in modern Hindi literature.

Son of a renowned archaeologist Hiranand Sastri, Agyeya was born in Kasia, a small town near Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh. He took active part in the Indian freedom struggle and spent several years in prison for his revolutionary activities against British colonial rule.

Agyeya, a pioneer of modern Hindi literature, developed a brand-new narrative language that articulated a remarkable poetics of exaggeration, transgression, and sarcasm. How Agyeya edited remarkable the Saptak series which gave rise a new trend in Hindi poetry, known as Nayi Kavita. He also edited several literary journals, and launched his own Hindi language weekly Dinaman, which set new standard and trends in Hindi journalism. Agyeya translated some of his own works, as well as works of some other Indian authors to English along with translated some books of world literature into Hindi. Akshaya Mukul narrated extremely well about the life and work of Agyeya in the book.

‘Shekhar: Ek Jivani’ is an unfinished Hindi-language novel by Agyeya. Published in two parts, with a third part that has yet to see the light of day, ‘Shekhar: Ek Jivani’ is semi-biographical in nature and is considered to be Agyeya’s magnum opus and also considered a unique and landmark work in Hindi literature. The experimental nature of the novel gave it attention, and many critics recognized it as the first psychoanalytical novel of Hindi literature due to its focus on thematising the gap between the external world and internal states.

It is essential to know that Agyeya started writing ‘Shekhar: Ek Jivani’ when he was imprisoned for his rebellious activities against the British colonial government, in particular, for his participation in the attempt to help Bhagat Singh, a leader of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army, to escape from jail in 1929. He wrote the first draft of the novel after being arrested, where he contemplated writing about his life before he would be executed. The first part was published after four redrafts, and the second was released in 1944. The third part, which Agyeya said he had written, never appeared.

Akshaya Mukul gave clear and lucid account in the book that Agyeya, had a wonderful understanding of the civilisational roots of the country and was the modern voice of the genius of India. Agyeya had no predecessors in Hindi, and he decided to depart the dominant mode of realism and explore reality in non-realistic, sometimes surrealistic ways. From his revolutionary youth to acquiring the mantle of a (highly controversial) patron saint of Hindi literature, Agyeya’s turbulent life also tells a history of the Hindi literary world and of a new nation-spanning as it does two world wars, Independence and Partition, and the building and fraying of the Nehruvian state. Agyeya firmly believed that language in literature does not merely reflect reality but also, more significantly, creates it. A tireless experimentalist, in fiction, poetry and editing, Agyeya created a larger geography of empathy.

The book ‘Writer, Rebel, Soldier, Lover: The Many Lives of Agyeya’ also features a formidable cast of characters: from writers like Premchand, Phanishwarnath Renu, Raja Rao, Mulk Raj Anand and Josephine Miles to prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, revolutionary Chandra Shekhar Azad, and actor Balraj Sahni. And its landscapes stretch from British jails, an intellectually robust Allahabad and modern-day Delhi to monasteries in Europe, the homes of Agyeya’s friends in the Himalayas and universities in the US. This book is a magnificent examination of Agyeya’s civilizational enterprise.

Author Akashaya Mukul looks at the scattered elements of Agyeya’s life as ingredients that went into the making of the writer the book observes and records the influence of Agyeya’s lived experiences, the places he habited, the people he associated with, and the books he read in his stories, poems, and novels.

Based on never-seen-before archival material-including a mammoth trove of private papers, documents of the CIA-funded Congress for Cultural Freedom and colonial records of his years in jail-the book delves deep into the life of the nonconformist poet-novelist. Akshaya Mukul’s comprehensive and unflinching biography is a journey into Agyeya’s public, private and secret lives.

Mukul also reveals Agyeya’s revolutionary life and bomb-making skills, his CIA connection, a secret lover, his intense relationship with a first cousin, the trajectory of his political positions, from following MN Roy to exploring issues dear to the Hindu right, and much more. Agyeya’s journey from a young revolutionary to a patron saint of Hindi literature is extensively explored in the book.

This is a work of intense analysis and considered excavation a contemplation on Agyeya’s oeuvre and its place in world literature. Through this book, readers will get an insider’s look into the life of an eminent writer. Ambitious and scholarly, Writer, Rebel, Soldier, Lover is also an unputdownable, whirlwind of a read.

Book Name: Writer, Rebel, Soldier, Lover: The Many Lives of Agyeya by Akshaya Mukul
Published by: Penguin Vintage Book
MRP: ₹999.00

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About Ashutosh Kumar Thakur


Ashutosh Kumar Thakur is a Bangalore-based management professional, literary critic, and codirector with Kalinga Literary Festival. He can be reached at [email protected]


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