“DHUMKETU”–PRINCE OF GUJARATI
A great master of the Gujarati short story and novel, and a versatile creative genius who successfully wielded the pen in all branches of literature except poetry–that is how we may describe Shri Gaurishankar Govardhanram Joshi alias ‘Dhumketu.’ His passiing away on March 11 last year at Ahmedabad at the age of 72 has created a void in Gujarati literature which it is indeed hard to fill.
Born on December 12, 1892 at Veerpur, a remote little village in Saurashtra, Gaurishankar had to struggle hard for his secondary education. Facing still heavier odds, he took his B. A. in 1918 from the Bahauddin College, Junagadh.
In his childhood, he used to wander about on the outskirts of his village or in the hills nearby. He had a great attraction for streams, rivulets, valleys and ravines where he spent a great deal of his time, drinking deep in the beauty of nature around him. His intense love of nature, which caught him in its grip, was enriched in his later life by his visits to the Himalayas, to Simla, Nainital, Kashmir and other beauty spots in the country.
As a student, he came into close contact with Shriman Natturam Sharma of Bilkha Anandashram in Saurashtra. The well known Vedantist exercised a profound influence on the young, boy. Inspired by him, he attempted poetry, but finding it immature and unsatisfying, gave it up. The creative urge in him, however, would not let him alone. Struggling to discover a suitable medium for the expression of his ideas, he made himself familiar with European fiction and found it eminently to his liking. Daksha-yajna-bhanga, his first short story, attracted the attention of a large number of readers and of literary critics in particular. Encouraged by the response, he wrote stories in quick succession and soon secured a place as an original writer.
His creative activity received an impetus never known before. With the publication in 1926 of his first collection of short stories, Tanakha Part-I, a new star appeared in the firmament of Gujarati literature. The short story remained Dhumketu’s passion, and forte, all his life. He has, to his credit, over a dozen collections of short stories, chief among them being Tanakha (Parts I, II, III and IV), Pradeep, Tribheto, Akashdeep, Meghbindu and Vankunj. Some of his stories have been translated into several Indian and foreign languages.
Before Dhumketu, Ranjitram Mehta, Dhansukhlal Mehta ‘Malayanil’ and Kanaiyalal Munshi had, to a degree, cultivated the field of the short story, modelled on the English pattern. To Dhumketu, however, goes the credit of giving the Gujarati short story a beauty of form and content, possessing varied and rich experience of life, and full of creative urge and power of imagination. Dhumketu broke new ground in the field of the short story both in content and form. Before him, the life of the well-to-do and the higher middle class was, as it were, the subject-matter of Gujarati short story. Dhumketu extended its horizons. He depicted life of all strata of society. He drew for his stories incidents and characters from history and mythology. Life of the artists, who were martyrs to their intense love of art, was also his favourite theme, which recurred in his stories with an added charm. But he represented, in the main, the life of the illiterate, innocent people belonging to the so-called lowest strata of society, their joys and sorrows, their emotions and passions, their loves and their longings, their magnanimity, faith and idealism, their innate humanity and the spiritual beauty of their life. Marked by a new sensibility a new vision of life, deep sympathy and rare art, his stories won him a permanent place in the hearts of the people. ‘Bhaiys Dada’ depicting the tragic pathos of the life of an old signalman, ‘Post Office’ portraying the life of the grief-stricken Ali Dosa, a hunter, separated from his daughter, whose long-awaited letter he never receives and, who dies in agony, and Govind-nun-Khetar’ representing village life, have become milestones in Gujarati literature. One ascends in them high pinnacles of art never attained before.
Dhumketu portrayed the reality of life by his lively imagination invested it with emotion, and touched it with a romantic idealism. His stories cast an irresistible spell by the freshness of their theme, style and technique, a rich variety of incident, plot and situation, and their motely world of distinctly individual characters, brilliant and idealistic. Dhumketu is in a class by himself as far as the ability to create atmosphere by a few deft touches, racy style and varied rhythm, and, above all, the beautiful poetry that pervades his stories are concerned.
Although Dhumketu excels in the short story, his achievement as a novelist can be ranked only as second to his success as a short story writer. His contribution to the novel has been substantial both in quality and quantity. His first novels, Prithvish and Rajmugat, depict life in the native states. In Ajit and Parajay, he has worked out his concept of village reconstruction which is at once romantic and idealistic.
Dhumketu has published nearly thirty novels based on the Chalukya and the Gupta periods of Indian History. Chief among the novels of the Chalukya period are Vachinidevi, Ajit Bhimdev, Chauladevi, Rajsanyasi, Karnavati, and Jaisinh Siddharaj, in which this romantic artist has tried to revive the past glory of Gujarat. Chauladevi is, by common consent, regarded as his masterpiece. His novels of the ancient Indian period include Amrapali, Vaisali, Samrat Chandragupta and Samrat Asoka.
These novels are historical in the sense that history provides the background to them. In this respect, he carries forward the tradition Kanaiyalal Munshi set up in his historical novels. Artistic weaving of the plot, lively characterization, vivid representation of incidents, scintillating dialogue, charming language and romantic idealism are some of the features of his novels.
After Kanaiyalal Munshi and Ramanlal Desai, Dhumketu occupies a notable place in the history of the Gujarati novel.
His other notable works include Jeevanpanth and Jeevanrang, an autobiography in two volumes; Pagadandi, a travelogue; Thandi Krurata ane Bijan Natako and Padagha, plays; and Pangosthi, Sarjan ane Chintan, light and familiar essays.
Dhumketu blazed a new trail in the field of the Gujarati short story and will forever be enshrined in our memory as a master story-teller.