Abhimanyu Unnuth: A Great Writer for a Small Country

Abhimanyu gave pride to Girmitiya literature, as the major part of his writings reflect this underlying current of redressing of social, political and economic domination

Mauritius Times paid a glowing tribute to Abhimanyu Unnuth last week through the pen of Nita Chicooree-Mercier, following his sad demise on Tuesday 5 June. It is often said that it is after death has taken away a person that one realises what a deep void he leaves behind.

Abhimanyu Unnuth belonged not only to Mauritius but to the larger world of thinkers, litterateurs, doers and achievers who transcend barriers of all sorts – geographical, social or ethnic. He was a man with an intrepid pen. He was a revolutionary writer and his huge collection of over 70 literary works reflect thoroughly that restless energy that he was imbibed with.

Abhimanyu chose to write in Hindi. And he started experimenting with his pen since the tender age of fourteen, while working at odd jobs such as labourer, bus conductor and later primary school teacher. But this modest beginning in life which placed immense hurdles to his social mobility and deprived him of a good formal education, did not deter him from plodding along in life with rock-like determination which took him to still higher professional échelons.

After his 18 years as Primary School Teacher he was appointed as Adviser and Drama Resource Person in the Ministry of Youth & Sports and later as Lecturer and Head of Department of Creative Writing and Publications at MGI. But also as the First Officer-in-Charge of Rabindranath Tagore Institute at Ilot. As Head of Department of Creative Writing he put up two literary magazines, Rimjhim for children and Vasant. So much for an academic distinction for a man who did not really sit on a school bench or enter the portals of secondary school or the university.

Abhimanyu Unnuth was first noticed in India through his regular articles and short stories serialised in Indian literary magazines such as Dharmayug, Sarika, Aaj Kal and Indian newspapers such as Nawbharat Times, Saptahik Hindustan and Hindustan Times. With Dharamavir Bharati, Editor-in-Chief of Dharmayug, he forged a profound and lasting friendship. He wrote profusely.

Dr Kamal Kishore Goenka, a scholar, academician and writer himself, publisher and specialist on Munshi Premchand, India’s renowned Hindi writer, has aptly said that Unnuth is the Premchand of Mauritius. He was consecrated the Emperor of Mauritius Hindi novels with the acclaim of his Trilogy “Lal Pasina – Aur Gandhi ji Bole The, Aur Pasina Behta Raha.”

Abhimanyu Unnuth produced a number of radio plays and stage plays, the most famous of which is GoongaItihas which was staged not only in Mauritius but in India during the 150thAnniversary Celebration of Indian Indentured Arrival in Mauritius. Moreover, he was also a good actor. At the age of 17 he set up the Ajanta Arts and staged his first social play Parivartan at Maheswarnath Mandir in Triolet. It would be interesting to note that during the Centenary Celebrations of Rabindranath Tagore in 1961 he staged Tagore’s plays such as Chitra, Malini, Vardan, Post-Office all over Mauritius.

Creative Writings

Unnuth was a passport in Mauritius for thousands of Indians in remotest villages. Readers of all walks of life could see and feel the waves of the sea, rivers and the heartbeats of the cane workers. After Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, Unnuth was probably the most well-known Mauritian. He also tried his hand at TV serials (Naya Ayam) as photographer and earlier at painting. His emotions found expressions through poetry too. He also wrote biographies, travelogues and had a stint with journalism (A Slice of Life).

Abhimanyu Unnuth is studied in countless universities in India and in the world and his works are prescribed texts. What about Mauritius? Some Mauritian students have studied him, but the vast majority of Mauritian students are unfamiliar with his works – is it not time that he be made more known here in Mauritius? Kessan Budhoo, Rajrani Gobin and Kumari Issur have made some remarkable bold pioneering efforts in translating his works into French – such as Sueur de Sang (Lal Pasina), Arrête cette guerre Krishna (Rok do Kanha).

 We would welcome more Mauritian scholars to dare to read and translate Abhimanyu Unnuth to acquaint the larger public with Mauritian history and its intricate socio-cultural and economic realities.

At the age of 12-13 he accompanied his mother to cut sugarcane with other children too and under the “jamoun tree” he witnessed the ill-treatment meted out to them by the estate management. Thus he was impregnated with immense anger which found expression in his voluminous works. The 1960s were the experimental years for him. But as from the 70s with the publication of “Aur Nadi Behti Rahi” in 1970 by Rajkamal Prakashan (New Delhi), Unnuth wrote at the rate of almost two works annually and reached the zenith when he shot to fame with Lal Pasina.

The many prestigious awards that he received such as the Vishwa Hindi Sammaan (1996), the Dr George Grierson Award (1998), Sahitya Bhushan Award (2000), Rajiv Gandhi Memorial Award (1997), the National Award 2018 Mauritius (2018) and Sahitya Academy Fellowship (2014) from Sahitya Academy India where he was made Honorary Fellow of the Academy, testify to his brilliant achievements as an international writer of repute.

Abhimanyu Unnuth developed a succinct style. His choice of words, sentence and paragraph structuring maintained the consistency and potency of tone, gave the fluidity of style that endeared and kept readers hooked, waiting with great eagerness for his next pieces. Thus he projected the Mauritian way of life, its multiculturalism and intrigues and oppression on sugar estates, as well as gave a vivid picture of the deterioration of changing lifestyles with the setting up of factories in the rural areas. The Independence of Mauritius is visibly manifested but he warns of the neo-colonialism that got established afterwards to quote Jacques Duclos’s famous statement – “Blanc bonnet, bonnet blanc”.

He gave pride to Girmitiya literature, as the major part of his writings reflect this underlying current of redressing of social, political and economic domination.


* Published in print edition on 14 June 2018

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