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Kusum and Kedar Narain

Kusum Narain wrote under the name Narayani. She was born on November 3, 1931 in Bhadohi, a town in the Northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, and her early years were spent in New Delhi. Her stories, which are short and simply narrated, are spread in time from her childhood in the capital to her travels and travails throughout the country as the trailing spouse of Kedar Narain, a geologist hailing from a conservative family in Benares. She was married at a young age, and despite her fervent desire for higher studies, never managed to continue her education after school. 

Kedar Narain's work caused him to move cities and their home every two-three years, and he often spent months on end in far off campsites in the heart of deep forests, high mountains and remote locations. She often accompanied him on these long absences from human habitat, and sometimes she stayed on her own bringing up her children in a nearby city. This work enforced isolation and periodic separation was a life changing experience for this city girl who had grown up in a large family, and possibly contributed to the crystallization of her inherent creativity as she sought to reconcile the many contradictions she observed in social attitudes reflected in the interactions in her large extended families. She began writing regularly when she was more settled with less frequent moves, and when her children were firmly in school, although the initial impetus to put pen to paper came following her mother's unexpected death.  

"I wrote my first story while dealing with the anguish and pain of personal loss after my mother’s sudden death in 1965, when I felt that everything around me had changed for ever and that I had somehow been transported from the coolness of life’s shade to its blazing heat. I never sent the story for publication although my first published story “Sukh Ke Birwe’ which was published in Navneet was based on my memory of my times with her. I started writing regularly in 1969 after three of my stories were accepted for publication, giving me the confidence that all new writers need”. 


Since she began her writing career, she lived for various periods in Chandigarh, Pune, Jaipur, and Nagpur. The most productive period of her writings came after 1981 when she moved to Lucknow following Kedar Narain’s retirement. Here, she was invited to join a writer’s forum (Abhivyakti) and in subsequent years she drew inspiration from the members of the forum, particularly its President, Dr. Shanti Dev Bala. However, the sudden and early death in 1992 of her eldest daughter and closest confidant, Shailaja Mohan, who was herself an established writer, shook her to the core and disrupted the rhythm of her writings. She picked up the pen once again after a few years, drawing much needed support from her husband and her writer friends. The biggest loss was yet to come - her partner for fifty seven years, Kedar Narain, passed away on December 22, 2005. He had always been her strongest supporter in her creative endeavors. She spent the next few years consolidating her writings, and organized and published most of her compilations of short stories. In 2009, she was honoured with the first "Lopamudra Samman" for her contributions to Hindi Literature. However, Kedar  Narain's demise had created a void which was never filled, and she passed away on January 14, 2015 in the city of her childhood, New Delhi. 


Her characters reflect the trials and tribulations of family life in a newly independent India, still struggling to free itself from centuries of prejudices. Her stories  aimed to present a balanced view of the debate on modernity versus tradition, while highlighting the fault lines that have been exposed by the march of social progress, and the need for their resolution. 


Some of her earlier stories were written under her maiden name of Kusum Sinha, and then under her married name of Kusum Narain but a "mistake" by a publisher gave her the pen name of Narayani, which she kept and treasured for the rest of her writing career. Her work has been lauded by her peers for the examination of complex social attitudes viewed from the lens of the family structure, in a very simple, every day manner. She never thought of her talent as extraordinary or herself as an intellectual but just as someone who was privileged to reach out to the common reader in India and report on what was happening around her and how relationships were changing in the family to mirror the changes in society.


"So much keeps happening around us, good and bad, beautiful and ugly, reflecting compassion and love or violence and hate, …I had always felt the desire to express these life experiences in words. I’ve also believed that the if these experiences could be narrated in the simplest of ways, then these stories can become the heart beat of our lives.

My stories are my attempt at giving life to my own experiences and feelings, and not the outcome of any serious philosophical contemplation. Writing has helped me understand my own context much better and given me the strength to live my own life by imbibing the resolve of my characters in dealing with these situations. And that to me is literature. When their challenges given rise to our determination or resolve, or lead us to view our surroundings with compassion, or even exposes the ugliness that lurks beneath our external veneer of sophistication, or the sorrow that lies beneath the emphatic pronouncements of ideals - that for me is literature". 

And she made this fervent appeal to her readers. “I don't want my writings to be viewed through a subaltern, gender, socialist, or even progressive lens. Literature evolves as a collective experience of all these perspectives…and many more. My stories are not pure fiction, but a reflection of what I have seen and felt around me. There is no dressing up, no attempt to use literary craft, no poetic license. What ever touched my heart has flowed out of my pen”. 

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