NEW DELHI: Hindi litterateur Mannu Bhandari, who penned wildly popular short stories and novels without sacrificing literary merit and who constructed a new and aware modern woman in her works, passed away in a Gurgaon hospital on Monday. She was 90.
“She had suffered a series of strokes over the last few years. She was frail but never bedridden. This time she was hospitalized for an infection which turned fatal” her daughter Rachana Yadav, a kathak dancer, told TOI.
Notable Hindi film director Basu Chatterjee, with whom she shared a fond and durable association, transformed Bhandari’s long short story, Yehi Sach Hai, into a feature, Rajnigandha (1974). The film was both a critical and a commercial success. Basu da’s Jeena Yahan (1979) was also based on her work, Ekhane Aakash Neyee. Bhandari also wrote the dialogues for Swami (1977), another box-office winner. Her novel, Aap Ka Bunty was made as Samay Ki Dhara (1986), which veered away from the original story and ran into legal trouble. Mahabhoj, a hard-hitting political novel, was numerously staged as a play.
Born in Bhanpur, Madhya Pradesh, Bhandari earned her masters at Banaras Hindu University. She also taught at Delhi University and was married to eminent writer-editor Rajendra Yadav who passed away in 2013. Both were pillars of the Nayee Kahani (New Story) movement.
Noted writer Mridula Garg said that along with Krishna Sobti and Usha Priyamvada, Bhandari was regarded as the three best and most-talked about Hindi women writers of the 1960s and 70s. “She wrote with spontaneity and great empathy for her characters. Her style was easy going and direct. People identified with her characters,” Garg said
One such character was Bunty, the tormented son of a divorced couple, from the novel, Aap Ka Bunty. Writer Pushya Mitra wrote on Facebook how his mother read the novel during her days of pregnancy and gave him his pet name, Bunty. Others shared similar experiences on social media. As Garg added, “She provided the finest example of literary writing which could be popular with common people.”
Satyanand Nirupam, editorial director, Rajkamal Prakashan, recalled how he was deeply disturbed by Bhandari’s short story, Sazaa, the story of a man fighting for justice. “Another story, Do Kalakaar, has taken on a fresh meaning in these intolerant times. And after reading the story, Yehi Sach Hai, I started looking at rajnigandha (tuberose) flowers in a different light,” he said. Bhandari’s women are real, plucked from life. They are characters with agency like Deepa, played by Vidya Sinha in Rajnigandha. The story walks the reader through the corridor of her mind as she struggles to choose between two men. But the final decision is her own.
There was a tough side to Bhandari as well. Garg narrates an anecdote. “At a seminar once, a member of the audience asked me a vulgar question about my novel, Chitkobra. Mannu-ji, who was on the stage, turned to the man and said, “Please apologise to her. If you haven’t understood the book, please keep quiet, don’t ask such questions…Writers often don’t stand for each other in such situations. But she did.”

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