A lone window opened wide allows the evening light into the Hans magazine’s Daryaganj office. It alights momentarily on the octogenarian editor, Rajendra Yadav, as he squirms in a chair while posing for photographs. “Only little children and photographers can make anyone dance to their tunes,” he laughs.
For 25 years, Hans, one of India’s premier Hindi literary magazines, has brought out a sea of stories and polemic from this fusty office. It currently commands a readership of over 13,000, according to Yadav. “A significant number for a literary magazine,” he says.
Since the inaugural August 1986 issue, the price has risen from Rs6 to Rs30 and the printing has shifted to the Dainik Bhaskar press in Noida. But Yadav’s unflinching devotion to artistic freedom has remained the same, spilling over into his immensely popular editorials and the many novelettes, stories and poems that make their way into the magazine.
Rajendra Yadav, editor, Hans. Photo by Priyanka Parashar/ Mint.
“With Hans, I wanted to associate myself with a tradition which was committed to communal harmony and lending a voice to the underprivileged,” he says.
Yadav drew inspiration for both the nomenclature and the uncompromising intellectual vim of his magazine from another Hans, a literary magazine started by Munshi Premchand, the great Hindi novelist, in the 1930s. “We even brought out the first issue of Hans on the birth anniversary of Munshi Premchand, 31 July 1986,” he remembers.
Premchand’s magazine was published from Benaras (now Varanasi). It had Mahatma Gandhi on its editorial board, and Mahadevi Verma and Ajneya among other stalwarts as contributors, and was fiercely independent; it closed down temporarily in 1932 when Gandhi refused to toe the British line on an article that censured the imperialist regime. In a bid to keep the magazine afloat, Premchand even tried to write for films in Bombay (now Mumbai), but failing, returned, and kept the Hans boat from capsizing till his death in 1936.
“After that, Premchand’s wife took over briefly, followed by his son, Amrit Rai, who became editor,” remembers Yadav. But in 1956, after years of financial wrangling, Rai, with a little help from influential friends, published one final copious issue, 600 pages-long, and closed down the magazine.
Yadav, having now shifted to his small office beside the main working room where he posed for the camera, pauses to light a cigar, and plunges into tales of his own association with the first Hans. “I had been reading it during my days as a student. It published one of my first stories in 1948,” he recalls. A few years later, around 1955, Yadav, along with Kamleshwar, Mohan Rakesh and a few others, cannonaded the Hindi literary establishment with a radical approach to the short story that came to be known as the Nai Kahani (New Story) movement. A string of novels burst through Yadav’s pen—Sara Akash, one of the best-selling novels in Hindi, among them.
Sanjeev, Hans’ executive editor, remembers reading Yadav’s influential short stories, Tootna (Breaking) and Singh Vahini (Invocation) prominent among them. “I remember Nai Kahani as a noun instead of an adjective,” he says. “These writers were affected by the upheavals in the Western cultural landscape and the disappointment that followed India’s independence. The Nai Kahani talked of all this.”
Yadav’s approach towards literature and the writerly life influenced the content of the Hans that sprang to life in 1986. “I have always thought that the writer should be a free person,” he says. “I never worked, and was always anti-establishment.” And so was Hans, starting with works by writers like Giriraj Kiradoo, Bhisham Sahni and Sanjeev, among others. “The months leading up to Hans’ establishment saw many magazines shutting down. There was turmoil in the publishing world, a lull, and Hans filled the gap,” recalls Sanjeev, whose short story, featured in the inaugural issue, was quite aptly called Vaapsi (Return) .
Quite like Premchand’s Hans, Yadav had to seek help from friends to keep the magazine running. Activist Gautam Navlakha pitched in with the money to start Hans, with Yadav’s tenacity helping the magazine survive the birth pangs that afflict an independent enterprise. But in 1990 a difference with Navlakha on the vision for the magazine saw Yadav leaving for the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur to occupy the writer in residence chair at the institute. One day a few months later, Hari Narayan, the magazine’s assistant editor, came to Yadav.
“He told me that Hans had accumulated too much debt, and since Gautam’s father had refused to offer any more financial aid, the chances of Hans surviving were very slim,” recalls Yadav.
Yadav returned, casting around for help, which finally arrived in the person of Prabha Khaitan, a friend, entrepreneur, and Sartre-enthusiast. The six-month negotiation between Navlakha and Yadav for a separation might have derailed the magazine had it not been for Prem Sodhi, a binder, who funded the publication of Hans.
“We only ever missed one issue in 1991,” says Yadav, drawing deeply on his cigar. “And we made up for it with a double issue the next month.”
Yadav never looked back. Issues flew out of the press, to be lapped up by a steadily increasing readership. They included landmark issues devoted to Dalit literature and discourse, the media, and Ram Katha. Lively debates wrestled for space with essays on topics both contemporaneous and controversial, in addition to the best poetry and short stories written by some of the most intuitive writers of the generation. The late Shrilal Shukla, who would go on to win the Jnanpith Award, Ajay Navaria, Uday Prakash, Bhisham Sahni and the prodigious and enigmatic Snova Burns, all contributed.
Back in the main working room, crammed with shelves where dust and books jostle for space, Veena Uniyal, Hans’ compositor-cum-accountant for over 20 years, hunches over a keyboard, punching away. Casting a glance around the room, she removes her wired spectacles before saying: “This place has remained the same since I first came here to work as a stenographer. It’s just that my daughter now goes to college, and that I travel to the office in the Metro instead of a bus.”
Assistant editors and designers have come and gone; some writers stood by Hans, others moved on to more lucrative opportunities, or simply languished, but Rajendra Yadav still walks in through the wooden doors every day at 3pm to sit on the editor’s chair and plunge into a sea of submissions. “I’m here only because of Yadavji,” says Uniyal with affection.
Leafing through a new submission by a writer who’s been a regular contributor, Yadav concludes, “Whoever walked with me, walked well.” As soon as the clock strikes 7, Rajendra Yadav slips his hand into the crutch he now needs to move around, throws an arm around the peon, and walks out of the office doors into the dying evening light.