“Creation, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally in some blessed moment knocks at the inner being of the writer…A writer’s insight searches immortality for human existence in the eternity of this world...”

— Krishna Sobti

Deeply rooted in each of the many universes of her diverse novels, Krishna Sobti soared high in her metaphysics. Today her spirit has soared even higher to merge into “creation” in the final chapter of the astoundingly narrative of life and death. The inevitable has happened. Krishna Sobti is no more with us, physically. But she lies throbbing in Ay Ladki, in Mitro Marjani, Dilo Danish, Dar Se Bichdi, in Zindaginama and other fictional worlds she created with a keen eye on detail, as well as in the specific vision encapsulated within each of her novels.

Ironically, her last published novel, Channa, which came out just a few weeks ago, was in fact her first novel, written more than six decades ago, which she had withdrawn from the publisher on discovering that they had tried to change her language here and there. Sobti put away the novel, locking it in a trunk for decades while publishing her other works over the years. But she had always wanted to get back to Channa for a fresh look before giving it to a new publisher – she was clearly a perfectionist as also an extremely patient reader and editor of her own work. No one, absolutely no one, could challenge her writerly decisions, not even her own self when not in the creative mode.

Relationship with self

Dressed in her self-designed and self-tailored ghararas and usually behind dark glasses, Krishna Sobti guarded her self and identity, mentally and psychologically, from disconcerting words or scenes, and exercised her choices of personal relationships carefully and sharply. The respect and love that she commanded speak for her tenacious grip over the values and standards that she nourished, so rare in today’s day and age.

As Sobti said somewhere: “How a writer accepts her ancients by not merely focussing their vision on her own self, how she forms relationships with her contemporaries and how she casts and moulds the old and new in this thoughts – all these literary behaviours limit and control a writer’s own relationship with her own self.”

This is what Sobti believed in as a writer. Her relationship with her own self was always under trial by her own witnessing self. How could she then allow anybody to disturb that self of hers? I have had an unlimited number of conversations with her, at home as well as during several of her stays in the hospital. She recalled, bit by bit, her past experiences, not so much those recorded in her novels as those from her life which informed her insights and narration. Sometimes her brother Jagdish – “Mamaji” to us – joined her in recalling childhood incidents they had shared. The naughty child-like twinkle in her eyes stayed till the end – the spark that triggered a fire in others.

Sobti grieved intensely and suffered moral anger during the past few years over the gradual loss of compassion and the growth of the spirit of intolerance in society. In her magnum opus, a novel of epic stature, Zindaginama, Krishna Sobti wove a past with a futuristic vision, one that meticulously and artfully demonstrated the wholesome life of an integrated, composite society with many characters who are individually distinctive and yet cohere together despite the occasional conflict and skirmish amongst themselves.

She often remarked that this novel was dated and would not be acceptable now, but she also knew that it has tremendous relevance today. Thanks to translators, Zindaginama is also available in English and some other languages now. Sobti fought a famous legal battle against Amrita Pritam over this title for more than two decades with characteristic grit and perseverance. Indeed, she held on to her well-thought out beliefs and concerns against all odds, irrespective of material or any other kind of loss.

Working by night

Krishna Sobiti, you were indeed an entire bundle of creative contradictions! Never wishing to be clubbed in the category of “women writers”, questioning feminists on many stances, she has in fact been the most effective feminist in deed and thought. In several volumes of Hum Hashmat, a series of portrait-essays, she wrote in the male voice, defying the shackles of gender. She laboured to work out her autonomy in her own way with utmost courage and great art. That is why her oeuvre is distinctive and rare.

Her Mitro had to have her own desires and life…The mother and the daughter in Ay Ladki – even though in dialogue with each other – had to each have their own distinctive voice. Sobti’s inner voice mattered, and this she could hear most clearly in the darkness of the night. Sleeping through the daytime and fully awake at night, totally receptive to the knock of “creation” on the inner being, Krishna Sobti spent her nights at her desk, the desk that remained sacred to her.

And now, as a poet at my own desk, I shall always intently wait to hear her “shabaash”, without which, for years now, I have not sent a single poem of mine for publication. The flame of Krishna Sobti’s creativity will stay alive for generations, to keep us aflame as writers, poets and sensitive readers, and members of our beautifully diverse society.