Marathi Sahitya Prerana va Swarup, 1950-1975 (“Marathi Literature: Dynamics and Forms”) is a collection put together by renowned critics in Marathi. Other stalwarts in the field have contributed to it by way of discussions. And yet the whole work bears the long shadow of the tall personality of Bhalchandra Nemade. It is learnt from the reports of the participants in the Seminar held at Shivaji University Kolhapur, and which gave birth to this work, that Bhalchandra Nemade’s influence was felt throughout the Seminar. It is interesting and instructive to see that the writer-critic who celebrated his role as ‘anti-hero’ in Marathi literary world twenty years ago metamorphosed into a hero now. (Of course, this sort of flip-flop is not unknown in literary history). A large section of people stand by amazed, watching wide-eyed with admiration the Maratha warrior launching on an expedition with his select band of musketeers riding his piebald stallion of Nativism, his sword of Realism held high in one hand, and the shield of New Morality in the other.

It is not my intention here to critically examine in detail Nemade’s long essay on the genre of the novel or his overall views on literature. Nemade’s ability to think originally is reflected in this essay in a number of places, without doubt, many of his observations and evaluative remarks in this essay are valuable. I have some serious doubts about Nemade’s overall stand point which I intend to analyse here.

First, let us consider Deshivad (Nativism). Nemade seems to popularize this new concept in Marathi Criticism. He tells us that Deshivad is a translation of the English term Nativism. Which means that while alleging that Marathi criticism is overly dependent on English, Nemade himself is borrowing from English. Be that as it may, what is more important, according to him, is that the term Nativism is used in Anthropology. I have not come across that this concept was ever widely used or in use today in Western literary discourse. Which means that Nemade is trying to make Marathi criticism swallow an Anthropological point of view of criticism. In the course of the essay, Nemade refers to ‘genes,’ Darwin, and also cites the example of giraffe’s long neck. Which means Nemade views literature through the glasses of Anthropology, Genetics and Zoology. This is not a new point of view, for analyzing literature, and by now its limitations have also been exposed. Exactly the same kind of inspiration was behind Emile Zola’s concept of Naturalism. Secondly, anthropologists probably study the ‘sensibility’ of Nativism as a matter of curiosity. (But I doubt if they endorse it as an evaluative tool.) Nemade seems to be taking a quantum jump by applying this concept to literature, more so by endorsing it as a literary value. But he cannot justify this jump just by pointing his finger at Anthropology; for this purpose, it is necessary to scrutinize the concept in the context of what constitutes greatness in literature and literary values. It is disputable whether any literature benefits simply by the application of the concept of Nativism, and I don’t think Nemade can claim to know any decisive answer. For that purpose, it would be necessary to study literary histories of different countries from a comparative point of view. More often, it is found that when a literary tradition abandoned its parochial Nativism and narrow nationalism and adopted the attitude of the honeybee, it flourished vibrantly.

Incidentally, one more point needs to be noted. The concept of Nativism is closer to nationalism. Nemade should be alerted that his concept of Nativism is likely to be covertly misappropriated by those organizations who raise high the flag of aggressive nationalism in our country.

Narrow complacency 

The thoughts expressed by a senior personality like G.B. Sardar in the Seminar at Kolhapur are worth our consideration. In his inaugural speech itself, Sardar has effectively refuted Nemade’s concept of Nativism which Nemade put forth later in the Seminar. While noting that “we rarely welcome new streams of ideas openly from beyond our immediate circle”, Sardar adds:

Because of this, the influence of Marathi literature is severely circumscribed. From this point of view, our chauvinism is the result of our rigid caste system and our attitude of narrow complacency. As yet, our social identity has not transcended to include even “I am Maharashtrian”, or “I am Indian”. Instead, the feeling of belonging to a particular caste, or sub-caste, or a tradition, is stronger than a wider social consciousness.

If it is difficult for Maharashtrians to reach out even to the limited concept of being “Maharashtrian” or “Indian”, how much more would it be difficult for us to embrace the concept of “Man”? But instead of moving in that direction, Nemade’s Nativism is nurturing narrow-mindedness, Sardar has unmistakably put his finger on our caste system to trace the origin of our chauvinism. Nemade’s Deshivad is only a different, attractive face of the same caste system. The inner impulse is common to both. That Nemade who countered casteism in his writing should end by reverting to casteism is a strange instance of inner contradiction.

While refuting Sardar’s standpoint, Nemade argues in the course of discussion: “Meaning is not possible regardless of the elements of time and place”; “There is no such thing as ‘international meaning’.” Well, if ‘meaning’ is not possible irrespective of time and place, literary works like Iliad, Don Quixote, Hamlet, Crime and Punishment would be meaningless for us from this point of view. The truth of the matter is that just as there are some elements in a literary work which transcend time and place, there are also elements with regard to time and place in it. Nemade is unnecessarily taking an extreme position. He considers Sardar’s elucidation of “international man” dispensable. If so, may one ask Nemade if he accepts the concept of “man” at least? Perhaps not, because he firmly believes that an Indian man is like Indian, and a Englishman is like Englishman. But how far can you stretch this argument? After ‘Indian man’, sub categories like ‘Marathi man’, ‘Marathi Brahmin’, ‘Deshastha Brahmin’ etc. have to be reckoned with.

Nemade finds himself in a quandary since a senior person of G. B. Sardar’s stature happens to be a Marathi man and whose erudition of Marathi tradition is beyond doubt, and yet takes ‘an internationalist stance.’ From this point of view, his statement on page 67 of Marathi Sahitya : Prerana va Swarup (1950-1975) is worth considering. While splitting hairs on this point, Nemade takes recourse to his personal likes and dislikes. “I don’t like “internationalism” he says. And why is internationalism dispensable? Because Nemade doesn’t like it!

Internal contradictions

Now let us turn to Nemade’s idea of Realism. Which actually means a glaring internal contradition in his position. Because Nemade who peddles deshivad is the same man who insists on Realism also, and Realism as a literary concept is indisputably Western. It originated in the Western civilization and the Western philosophical background. It is new even in Western literature. It was an outcome of the development of scientific and industrial civilization of 17th-18th centuries. Shakespeare was not a realist. The stories which Nemade abhors as fantastic and artificially ‘formalistic’ are in abundance in Shakespeare. In general, Realism is foreign to non-secular Indian tradition, its mindset and its philosophical background. In its modern sense, it never existed in the Indian literary tradition. On the other hand, The Mahabharata is full of the fantastic in a number of places. There is free play of what we call in the modern sense surrealism and fantasy in TheMahabharata. Today’s Marathi writer has absolutely no need to borrow such techniques as surrealism or fantasy from Western literature or from writers like Kafka. He can internalize such techniques from TheMahabharata. But Nemade doesn’t pay any attention to surrealism at all in all his essay and is contemptuous of fantasy. Which means that Nemade completely ignores such things which are, in fact, germane to the Indian tradition and the Indian imagination, and propagates, on the other hand, the western concept of Realism.

In the same context, let us consider Nemade’s thoughts on the genre of the novel. Although Nemade insists that we have to go as far back as Panchtantra to search for the roots of the novel, it is certain that as a literary form the novel is a ‘new’ form of literature. Like Realism, it was the product of urban, industrial civilization. The editors of Marathi Sahitya : Prerana va Swarup (1950-1975) say in their Foreword:

Nemade’s elucidation can be described as new and provocative. The concept of the novel as implied by Nemade is a serious ‘cultural act’. It can be an important yardstick to judge the quality of a novel (Foreword, page 11).

The suggestion that Nemade has ‘invented’ something new in respect of the novel is out of place and irrelevant. Nemade emphasizes social reality in his discussion here. But there is nothing new in it since this was the raison de tre of the novel of the 17th-18th and 19th centuries. There is social realism in Defoe’s Moli Flanders and in his Robinson Cruzoe; there is plenty of ‘activism’ which is Nemade’s favourite.

In point of fact, Nemade is following the western mindset in this respect too. At the end of his essay, Nemade has given a quotation from Albert Camus’ The Rebel : “The novel is born simultaneously with the spirit of rebellion and expresses, on the aesthetic plane the same ambition.” V.S.Naipaul too gives the quotation in his An Area of Darkness in respect of the novel and rebellion in the context of Hindu culture, which, however, Nemade omits in his quotation. In his book, Camus has given the examples of the societies which do not have rebellion in their blood. One is the Hindu civilization and the other is South American Inca civilization. It is noteworthy that Camus too, like Naipaul, characterizes Hindu society in this way. Even if we say that Naipaul is biased about India, the same can hardly be said about Camus. The opinion of Camus and Naipaul are significant; it is generally agreed that Hindu civilization lays stress on the acceptance of the status quo, reconciliation rather than rebellion or conflict, and resignation with its theistic and fatalistic attitude. Naipaul says quite succinctly in his book India : A Wounded Civilization: “The novel as a literary form analyses the status of a society and as such it is foreign to the Indian tradition.” Some people may not like this opinion; but cannot deny it either.

Roots of individualism

Now in this context, let us consider two of Nemade’s other concepts. About the concept of Morality, he has this to say: “This concept has been used in the sense of individual values. It does not imply social, static meaning irrespective of individual morality.” Here also Nemade seems to reject the Indian tradition and adopts Western ideology. Actually, social, static and non-individualistic morality is the distinctive attribute of Hindu civilization. It is the individualistic Western philosophy which spawned the habit of thinking in terms of independent and personal morality. So on this important point, Nemade who criticizes individualism in his essay actually accepts the very principle which is at the root of individualism.

The same is true about Nemade’s concept of ‘action.’ What he means by the term ‘rebellious action’ is also borrowed from modern Western tradition. Nemade has not really elaborated the concept of ‘action’ from a theoretical point of view. But his use of the phrase ‘linguistic action’ pointedly reminds us of Sartre. Even in Western literature, it is Sartre, more than any other writer, who has forcefully put forth the theory of ‘linguistic action.’ It seems that Nemade has obfuscated this reference to Sartre to stall any blemish to his being Deshi.

Thus, Nemade’s Deshivad seems to be embedded basically in Western thought process. There is nothing wrong in this. I have discussed elsewhere that there is no need to make a fuss of Western influence and that we should borrow whatever we need from the Western and other civilizations with the instinct of a honeybee. What is intended here is to analyse the basic nature of Nemade’s ideology. It is not proper to hide the bowl while begging.

Nemade’s idea of New Morality too is not as new and dazzling as is made out to be. He has merely given another attractive name to an already well-established ideology here.

Let us turn once again to Nemade’s position with regard to the novel form in the context of realism. The truth of the matter is that Nemade’s concept of the novel is quite old-fashioned, what is called in English ‘old hat.’ It is not at all new as it is thought by the editors of Marathi Sahitya : Prerana va Swarup (1950-1975). It is applicable mainly to the 19th century Western novel, and Nemade seem to have fashioned his concept on that model. As a matter of fact, a considerable number of innovations have taken place in the novel form in the last ninety or hundred years. Chandrasekhar Jahagirdar who supports Nemade’s essay while refuting the innovative trends in the novel actually cites the example of Moby Dick, a novel published in 1851. Jahagirdar does not show an awareness of the fact that much water has flowed down the bridges of different countries in the last hundred years. New trends which keep aside the emphasis on social inquiry as the function of the novel have firmly established themselves in the 20th century and the novel bypassing conventional Realism and following paths such as Symbolism, Surrealism etc. has become extremely individualistic and inward-looking. Western writers like Samuel Becket, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Robert Pinget, and our own writers like Kiran Nagarkar can be mentioned in this context. Even in a writer like Hemingway, we find that the elements of time and place are of secondary importance. Chandrashekhar Jahagirdar can of course show that since the novel is a lengthy form, any novel, like Moby Dick, has at least in some degree ‘social realism’ in respect of the elements of time and place. But certainly for many modern novelists the central focus of the novel has changed. It is inevitable that many changes should have taken place in the novel form just as they have in the ancient forms of poetry and drama. It seems that Nemade and his supporters are under the impression that the ‘essence’ of the novel is permanently fixed. That is illogical, and it is a kind of Idealism.

Let us turn from Nemade’s theory to his practice. The Realism which Nemade has employed in all his novels after Kosla is of a monotonous character. It seems that Nemade understands Realism as simply factual reality. Consciously or unconsciously, Nemade encourages his readers to identify a particular character as representing a particular publisher or a particular writer, and that the hero of the story is the writer himself. The reader of the novel is persuaded to look at the event of the novel from this point of view. Besides, there is juicy gossip about casteism too. It is convenient for the reader to forget that he is reading a novel and he is encouraged to do so. One does not come across much of imagination or a sense of form. Nemade while repeatedly chanting the mantra of Realism puts forth before us straight ‘facts.’ I don’t see any difference between such novels and works like Manas written by Anil Avachat. Avachat attempts ‘social inquiry’, and so does Nemade without reckoning that he writing a novel. Avachat’s writing becomes quite gripping, and so does Nemade’s quite often. Nemade has spawned a new kind of ‘entertainment’ while himself attacking it more often than not. There is a kind of entertainment and attractiveness in non-fiction. Entertainment of this kind is provided in Nemade’s novels.

Three types of sensibilities

Once again, let us turn to Nemade’s theory. Nemade has identified three types of sensibilities. He calls them: ‘Yamunaparyatan sensibility,’ ‘Muktamala sensibility,’ and ‘Mochangad sensibility.’ If one studies the elucidation of these sensibilities, one finds that the second and third types are closer to the Indian roots. The one that Nemade endorses as ‘Yamunaparyatan sensibility originates in the Western individualistic tradition and ‘progressive social inquiry.’ Which means here too Nemade dispenses with the sensibilities which are more indigenous and adopts the one of foreign origin. Secondly, there is not much of a difference between‘Muktamala sensibility’ and ‘Mochangad sensibility.’ Both are ‘entertaining’, formalistic and, therefore, elitist etc. Nemade seems to have devised three types of sensibilities thinking probably that putting up only one ‘Yamunaparyatan sensibility’ would appear to be too simplistic, too obvious! Two should have sufficed, really speaking. Similarly, he need not have designated the names of old novels which nobody reads. We should henceforth use only two types: ‘Nemade sensibility’ and ‘anti-Nemade sensibility.’ Because that exactly is the true nature of Nemade’s elucidation.

In order to map out his canvas of the novel form, Nemade contemplates ‘real’ and ‘non-real’ as two opposite poles. This use of the terms ‘real’ and ‘non-real’ is naïve and childish. This type of binary mapping won’t stand a chance of even a modest philosophical inquiry. Nemade’s idea of reality itself is simplistic.

Nemade launches a hard-hitting attack on not only ordinary entertaining novels, but also on the so-called ‘arty,’ ‘formalistic,’ ‘individualistic,’ ‘abnormal’ novels. But one fails to come up with any evaluative rationale out of this. Just as the so-called ‘arty’ novels can be ordinary and trashy; similarly, the ‘realistic,’ ‘action-oriented’ novels of Nemade’s type of sensibility can be trashy and ordinary. The period of the so-called ‘action-oriented’ novels in their crude form had their heyday in Western literature too some decades ago. A writer like the American, Upton Sinclair, placed before his reader in his novel The Jungle, the filth and squalor in the society. The ‘action-oriented’ novel is reduced to the level of muck-raking. Many times, after changes in the circumstances and the resolution of certain problems, such ‘action-oriented’ novels become irrelevant. In order to point out such hazards, I would like to take an example from Nemade’s Kosla. There is an excellent example in this novel, which deals with the death of Mani, the little sister of Sangwikar. After dealing with Sangwikar’s father’s heartless attitude and the mean-mindedness of the society in general, Nemade has definitely shown remarkable restraint with regard to ‘activism’ in the novel. But suppose Nemade wanted to make the element of ‘social inquiry’ louder. Mani dies of smallpox. By making Mani’s death by smallpox as an example, Nemade would have peddled a message by strongly advocating the importance of vaccination against the disease of smallpox in society. Fortunately, Nemade did not do anything like that, because it would have had no relevance today at all. Since the epidemic of smallpox has been completely eradicated, any message of ‘social action’ would have been out of date and had no use at all. The episode of Mani’s death is indeed very meaningful even today; that the cause of smallpox (with regard to its social situation) is of no value here. The greatness of this episode from the literary angle is that it transcends the temporal circumstances and acquires an all-time universal meaning. Finally, it must also be said that ‘activism’ is present in all the novels in a broad but limited sense. Nemade seems to be unduly fussy about the tendentious nature of the element of ‘social action.’ It is well to remember that Sartre, in the pursuit of ‘social action’ and commitment, virtually abandoned literature.

Some parts of Nemade’s essay are excellent. (For example, Section 2, ‘Language’). Some of his remarks on certain novelists are extremely perceptive (For example, Ranjit Desai, Gangadhar Gadgil). But, in some places, his preconceptions and personal likes and dislikes seem highhanded. His disgust of sex, especially abnormal sex, is so extreme that his criticism of C. T. Khanolkar seems patently obdurate. One can only say, in this respect, that just as C.T. Khanolkar’s obsession with sex is seemingly perverse, Nemade’s puritanical attitude towards sex and his dogmatic disgust of sex is also indicative of some kind of abnormality.

Nemade has put forth some thoughts on the short story and the novel from a comparative point of view in his essay. He has also expressed his opinions about the genre of story in literature. Let us examine them in the second part of this article.


Poetry, drama and fiction are the three main genres of creative writing drawing chiefly upon imagination. Historically, these genres have undergone many changes from time to time. For example, the forms of poetry and drama have undergone changes in the Western as well as Indian traditions. Once upon a time, a story was narrated in verse; in recent times, it is mostly done in prose.

The new literary forms of the short story and the novel came into being in the tradition of narrative poetry and old prose. In order to designate the short story and the novel, which are narratives of stories in prose, the English Language has a handy term, ‘fiction’; unfortunately, there is no such term in Marathi.

Broadly speaking, the length of the novel and the brevity of the short story are supposed to be the markers of the respective forms. From a practical point of view, a novel is normally published as a separate book form while a single short story is scarcely published so. (It is necessary to remember that there are valid practical, economic reasons for this). Length and brevity are deceptive terms, and we should understand them with discretion. It would be an elementary mistake to confuse ‘greatness’ with ‘length’ and ‘smallness’ with ‘brevity’ in the sense of literary value, connecting the one with ‘high rank’ and the other with ‘low rank.’ There is no doubt that the element of length or long duration is of some importance in literature. But generally the character of the major literary forms has become so mixed, complex and multi-layered that these are not the days of the critic pushing forward with a measuring yardstick eager to exercise his role, or a pedant armed with the same yardstick as a flogging cane.

It would be instructive to analyse the notions of length and brevity. In poetry, length has mostly become obsolete. It is true that long poems or the so-called epics too are written even today, but generally, this is a rare and exceptional occurrence. A poem of ten to fifty lines is generally the accepted norm. It is to be noted that brevity in poetry is not regarded to be awkward. A poet can become ‘great’ even by writing small poems. The fact that in poetry, brevity still enjoys prestige is noteworthy and satisfying, because in that case, there is no scope to think that brevity is naturally flawed. On the contrary, one can go to the other extreme and argue that, since length has vanished from such a foremost form as poetry, ‘length’ itself is flawed! But let us show the wisdom of not taking that extreme step.

Challenges of drama

If we glance at the world of drama, we find that drama has retained its hold on length. But here length observes certain limitations. The epic and the novel can afford to be over-lengthy, but drama cannot afford to do so. For practical reasons, of course. But a playlet or a one-act play does not seem to acquire the same position as a full-length drama. Can we think of any names of short plays instantly as we do the names of some of the great ‘classic’ short stories from world literature? If so, they must be exceptional. One reason, possibly, why brevity in drama did not acquire the same scope or the same distinction is that, unlike in the case of the short story and the novel, especially the short story, the ‘story’, plot and character were easily dispensed with; the short play could not do without any of them. (The reasons could be practical: the need for staging the play, the requirement of an adequate number of spectators etc.) We expect in a short play the same plot structure and characterization of a full-length play. Just as the short story effortlessly adopted the characteristics of poetry, the short play could not do it. Therefore the short play has always remained marginal in comparison with the full-length play.

One more point about the short play: The short story has, like poetry, a tradition of the past. Short stories have been narrated since ancient times. The short play is a literary form of recent times. Because of this historical background, probably, the short play has remained a weak form.

Now let us turn to the short story and the novel. Here we are stepping over a somewhat controversial ground. Can we say that in the world of narrative prose or fiction, length and brevity have the same status and the same weight? In the opinion of some well-known critics, the answer is in the negative. In their opinion, the short story cannot claim the same distinction as the novel.

While taking into account this consideration, first it must be remembered that in the context of literature in a particular language, different literary forms temporarily enjoyed dominance at different times; there are ups and downs in the status of different literary forms. In Marathi literature, the short story enjoyed supremacy during the period of about two decades after 1950. The adverse criticism that is leveled against the short story today is a reaction against the earlier situation. It is regrettable that today’s reaction is extreme and illogical. Bhalchandra Nemade’s opinions about the form of the short story are of this nature. Let me quote some of his statements regarding the novel form.

The form of the short story, nourished vibrantly on the astonishingly commercial attitude towards literature, has invaded the province of the novel, and this undesirable process has continued from 1950 up to the present day….The short story is a form which is short in length, narrow in linguistic space, and which gives through a monotonous thread of meaning and limited scale of time and place, and therefore intense, experience of sensation. In a ‘long’ story, the length stretches and its space increases; and yet the meaning remains monotonous. There are optimum limitations on the short story as well as the ‘long’ story.

Layers of meaning

In a novella, not only the space expands more than the two elements mentioned above, but also the layers of meaning increase. Therefore the dimensions of time and place too increase. In the novel, there are many threads as well as their layers of meaning, and, therefore, its space becomes proportionately extensive and broad. Unlike the short story, and the ‘long’ story, there are minimum limitations on the length of the novel. Owing to its complexity of meaning, the space of the novel envelopes not only the elements of time and place, but points out to a reality beyond them. Due to its strength of suggestiveness of timelessness, its space too can be as much expansive as it can be.

To sum up, the proportion of the linguistic space in terms of every aspect of its meaning is its distinctive feature. While considering the differences between the forms of these four kinds, it would be difficult to understand their interrelationships without the discipline of comparative study.

The novel is a literary creation which contains extensive linguistic space, having multiple layers of meaning, and, therefore, which expands a conceptual structure dealing with a number of characters and incidents requiring complete rather than cursory treatment…..Many writers in Marathi known as novelists would pass for short story writers; the short story writers would pass for novelists.

We can comment on the above statements one by one:

What does one make of this report? “The short story has invaded the novel in Marathi”? It has been stated earlier that literary forms have their ups and downs. But to think that there is some kind of war between literary forms is childish. Nemade’s prejudicial attitude is revealed in the very first statement mentioned above. Is it only the short story that is “nourished vibrantly on an astonishingly commercial literary attitude?” The novel too grew on the same kind of attitude, and if one glances at the advertisements in magazines like Lalit, one finds that it is still growing on the same attitude. Even drama too is nourished on the same attitude if one witnesses the advertisements appearing in the daily Loksatta.

Caste system of literature

It is really not necessary to make an ‘absolute’ difference between the short story and the novel. But the Indian mind is so infected with caste system that Nemade imposes a complete structure of caste system in literature also. The corollary of time is: The novel represents Brahmins, novella represents kshatriyas, ‘long’ story represents vaishyas and short story represents shudras. In this manner, Nemade has created a new chaturvarna system in prose literature.

In point of fact, the very existence of the ‘long’ story / novella as a ‘medial’ form joining the ends of the two forms shows that the division between the short story and the novella is superficial. For one, the yardsticks he employs are hackneyed and out of date. All the literary forms have now become extremely flexible. In addition, whether a literary creation is a ‘long’ story or a novella would always be disputable since literary forms are not in the habit of being formalized in definitions. All this is absolutely unnecessary.

Nemade further says: “The short story and the ‘long’ story have optimum limitations of length”; and “On the contrary the novel has minimum limitations of length.” What are these optimum and minimum limitations? Of how many words? If Nemade answers these questions, ten people would instantly express ten different opinions.

This is not as much a matter of philosophical nature or of fixing ‘ideals’ as Nemade supposes. It involves a good deal of practical considerations also. Till some years back, publishers in English thought that a novel of 80,000 words could be treated as a ‘full-length novel,’ according to the convenience of the printing technology. A writer of Graham Greene’s stature has described how he used to deliberately lengthen the narration of his novels in those days. Later when publishers started accepting shorter novels, Graham Greene too gave up lengthening his novels artificially. One more point: there is a difference in length between the English and Marathi novels. A novel of 80,000 words in English becomes a novel of 60-65 thousand words in Marathi. Therefore, Nemade had better think of ‘material’ rather than ‘ideal’ considerations.

Nemade’s point that the novel is suggestive of a “reality which transcends the elements of time and place”, and which is ‘timeless’ is simply amazing. According to Nemade himself, the novel is an absolutely ‘realistic’ form of literature; where does this ‘transcendentalism’ come from? All this is astounding. Actually, it is the short story which has more power of ‘suggestivity,’ not the novel.

Literary values

‘Incompleteness-completeness’ are also words which are inappropriate and suggestive of values in literature. There is no ‘incompleteness’ in the short story, but greater pointed ‘selectiveness.’ Basically, this is a question of selection of details, incidents; in other words, a question of selection of the material, and not of ‘completeness’ or ‘incompleteness’ in the metaphysical sense. Nemade’s confusion of thinking reaches its extreme in the following statement: “Many novelists would pass for short story writers, and some short story writers would pass for novelists.” What does this mean? This confusion is definitely evident in the next statement again: “Ms Kamal Desai and other ‘short story’ writers have, in truth, broken the narrow structure of the short story and have turned to the novel.” ‘In truth,’ Really?

Poor Ms Kamal Desai too is perturbed by this statement. She asks helplessly in her essay in Marathi Sahitya : Prerana va Swarup (1950-1975), “Nemade has also made such a casual statement as “Some short story writers would pass for novelists”, what is the meaning of this?”

The meaning of that is very clear; and that is: Nemade harbours certain preconceptions about the short story and the novel. Philosophical ‘Idealism’ and ‘essentialism’ in his thinking emerge prominently here. What in reality is the nature of the short story or the novel is less important from Nemade’s point of view. He has already decided as to what the novel is or what the short story is. When he finds that a certain short story does not conform to his preconceived formula, then he very generously grants it the rank of the novel. When he finds that a certain novel does not conform to his preconceived idea of the novel, then he accommodates it in the shudra caste of the short story.

The ‘platonic forms’ of the novel and the short story seem to have ‘revealed’ themselves to Nemade; and he expects these ‘forms’ to reflect themselves in actuality in the novels and the short stories. When the novels and the short stories do not obey the diktat of the ‘platonic forms’ as they are in Nemade’s mind, Nemade does not like them. Nemade beats the drum of ‘realism’ in his essay, but ‘realism’ is ‘materialistic.’ It is surprising that a realist like Nemade should take a bird’s eye-view of literature from the point of view of an Idealist. Nemade’s thinking process is not inductive, but deductive. This is inconsistent with much of his vaunted position.

It is regrettable that some people submit to Nemade’s opinions under his influence. The editors of Marathi Sahitya : Prerana va Swarup (1950-1975) (while distorting slightly Ms Kamal Desai’s argument) say:

G. A. (Kulkarni) wrote a kind of short story which has a complex social meaning, and yet possesses the weight and solemnity of the novel, albeit persuading us to forget that the short story is a lesser form.

How effortlessly it is assumed that the short story is a lesser form of literature ! The short story, like poetry, drama and the novel is a highly creative literary form, and hence of first rate order of literature, and not of a minor order; unlike biography, autobiography, literary essay, travelogue etc. which are not fully creative.

Divided attitude

In the aforesaid statement, Nemade’s divided attitude itself is reflected. G.A.Kulkarni’s short stories are great, but the short story is a ‘lesser’ literary form. What’s the way out? Well, G.A. gave the short story ‘the weight of the novel’! Actually, would it not be reasonable to say that G.A.’s short story has the weight of ‘the short story’? Where is the need to nurse the prejudice that the short story has no ‘weight’ (or less ‘weight’)?

Graham Greene’s words are worth our consideration: “The difference between the novel and the short story is certainly not one of evaluative nature. Actually, the difference is between two different ways of life.” The brevity of the short story is not a matter of its being inherently of a lesser order. The modern short story has grown out of the conventional frame of ‘story’ and characterization. It has internalized many aspects of poetry. (As a matter of fact, the modern novel too has internalized them.) If ‘brevity’ sports proudly in poetry, why should it accept a lesser position as a narrative story in prose?

It is necessary to follow up this line of argument to show that the difference between the novel and the short story is not really of an ‘absolute’ nature. A single poem can be great, but it seems that in the case of a great poet, all his poems together or a collection of his poems achieve a deep and pervasive impact. Instead of reckoning a single poem separately, all poems together occupying a pervasive space tend to a wider and completer meaning. The poet W.B.Yeats had a total vision of a collection of his poems before he gave it a concrete shape. This is also true of a short story collection that achieves a far greater impact from the sum of its parts. Short stories in a collection do not exist apart, but all together achieve a unified impact. More often, they are written too with this intention in mind. A great short story writer has a distinctive vision of life. The vision of life is reflected in his different stories in different ways. His vision lends his stories a unity and pervasiveness.

A collection of short stories may have a different and simpler kind of unity. The American writer Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg Ohio revolves around the village Winesburg; the collection acquires a unity according to its subject matter. Similarly, a deeper unity is achieved in James Joyce’s Dubliners and Hemingway’s In Our Time.

Unity of vision

The unity of vision of life referred to above is found conspicuously in the short stories of Kafka, Borges. In Marathi too, this sort of unity is found in the short stories of Shyam Manohar and Sania. Such collections of short stories achieve the effect of the novel. After all, what kind of unity is found in a novel? Generally, the unity is of the continuity of the story and its characters. A number of short story collections reflect a deeper unity and wider complexity than this sort of superficial unity; Nemade too thinks that the idea of unity is ‘narrow’ and so dispenses with it.

The fact that the line separating the short story and the novel is vague can be explained in another way. The short stories which revolve around one particular central character achieve the same effect as a novel. For example, Samuel Beckett wrote his short story collection More Pricks Than Kicks primarily as a novel; but when he did not get a publisher to publish it as novel, he produced short stories out of it for monthly publication! On the contrary, William Faulkner wrote short stories many times and later incorporated them in the novels. Faulkner submitted the manuscript of his book Go Down, Moses as a novel to his publisher, but was shocked to see that the publisher published it under the title Go Down, Moses and Other Stories! He asked the publisher to publish the next edition under the title Go Down, Moses only.

In the case of the individual writers who attempt the genre of narrative prose, the short story and the novel are complementary to each other. In a novel, a writer can map out a wider canvas; but he is often obliged to sacrifice structural compactness or architectural qualities. For that purpose, he turns to the short story to achieve suggestiveness, economy of words and density of meaning. It is childish to think that a writer turns to the short story to fill up the time-gap between two novels. A majority of great novelists have written great short stories also. These short stories occupy an important place in their creations. Take the example of Tolstoy himself. Do you find Tolstoy’s image is complete without his stories like, The Death of Evan Ilyich, How Much Land Does A Man Need? Can we think of Hemingway without stories like The Killers, The Snows of Kilimanjaro?Of Joyce without The Dead? Of Conrad without The Secret Sharer? Of Lawrence without The Man Who Died? Of Camus without Exile and Kingdom? Or Sartre without The Wall?

Many great novelists have established their literary greatness beyond doubt by writing great short stories. To say that a writer should write novels only, and should not even touch the short story is also a kind of abnormality. That Nemade has written four novels, but has not penned even a single short story is indeed a shortcoming on his part.

Translated from Marathi by Dr VV Badve. This article was originally published on Muse India Archive.