Gaura Pant (17 October 1923 – 21 March 2003), better known as Shivani, was one of the popular Hindi magazine story writers of the 20th century and a pioneer in writing Indian women based fiction. She was awarded the Padma Shri for her contribution to Hindi literature in 1982. Almost all of her works are in print today and widely available across India.
She garnered a massive following in the pre-television 1960s and 1970s, as her literary works (like her most famous novel, ‘Krishnakali’), were serialised in Hindi magazines like Dharmayug and Saptahik Hindustan, leading to her cult status as a Hindi magazine novelist. Through her writings, she also made the culture of Kumaon, somewhat known to Hindi-speaking Indians across the country. Her novel ‘Kariye Chima’ was made into a film, while her other novels including ‘Surangma’, ‘Rativilaap’, ‘Mera Beta’, and ‘Teesra Beta’ have been turned into Television serialsUpon her death in 2003, Government of India described her contributions to Hindi literature as, “…in the death of Shivani the Hindi literature world has lost a popular and eminent novelist and the void is difficult to fill”.
Gaura Pant ‘Shivani’ was born on 17 October 1924, the Vijaya Dasami day in Rajkot, Gujarat, where her father, Ashwini Kumar Pande was a teacher with the princely state of Rajkot. He was a Kumaoni Brahmin. Her mother was a Sanskrit scholar, and the first student of Lucknow Mahila Vidyalaya. Later her father became the Diwan with the Nawab of Rampur and the member of Viceroy’s Bar Council, thereafter the family moved to the princely state of Orchha, where her father held an important position. Thus Shivani’s childhood had influences of these varied places, and an insight into women of privilege, which reflected in much of her work. At Lucknow, she became the first student of the local, ‘Lucknow Mahila Vidyalaya’.
As she grew older, she along with her brother and a sister, went to live with her grandfather, a Sanskrit scholar and a founding member of Banaras Hindu University.
In 1935, Shivani’s first story was published in the Hindi Children’s magazine ‘Natkhat’, at age twelve. That was also when the three siblings were sent to study at Rabindranath Tagore’s Visva-Bharati University at Shantiniketan. Rabindranath Tagore even visited their ancestral home in Almora several times.
Shivani remained at Shantiniketan for another 9 years, leaving as a graduate in 1943. It was this period that she took to writing whole-heartedly and had the most profound influence in her writing sensibilities, a period she recounts vividly in her book, ‘Amader Shantiniketan’.
In 1951, her short story, ‘Main Murga Hun’ (I am a Chicken) was published in Dharmayug, and she became Shivani, from Gaura Pant.
Her first novel, Lal Haveli, established her reputation in the early sixties, and in the next ten years she produced several major works which were serialised in the Hindi magazine, Dharmayug. Proficient in many other languages including Sanskrit, Gujarati, Bengali, Urdu, and English, Shivani received the Padma Shri for her contribution to Hindi literature in 1982.
She was a prolific writer, her oeuvre consists of over 40 novels, many short stories and hundreds of articles and essays. Her most famous works include Chaudah Phere, Krishnakali, Lal Haveli, Smashan Champa, Bharavi, Rati Vilap, Vishkanya, Apradhini (a collection of interviews with women lifers); travelogues: ‘Yatriki’, based on her London travels and ‘Chareivati’, based on her travels to Russia.
Towards the end of her life, Shivani took to autobiographical writings, first sighted in her book, ‘Shivani ki Shreshth Kahaniyan’, followed by her two-part memoir, ‘Smriti Kalash’ and ‘Sone De’, whose title she borrowed from the epitaph of a 15th Century Urdu Poet:
Thak Gaya Hoon Neend Aa Rahi Hai Sone De Bahut Hai Zindagi Mene Diya Hai Saath Tere
(I am tired, sleep overtakes me, let me rest I have been long enough with you in the journey of life)
Shivani continued to write till her last days, and died on 21 March 2003 in New Delhi.
In 2005, Her daughter, Hindi writer Ira Pande, published a memoir based on Shivani’s life, titled ‘Diddi’ My Mother’s Voice. ‘Diddi’ in Kumaoni means elder sister, and that’s what her children used to address her, as she really was a friend to them.
“Shivani’s fiction proclaims a quiet, warm humanism. Characters who might seem pale and uninteresting in real life– an undistinguished, very orthodox Brahmin priest in a village up in the foothills of the Himalayas, his traditional wife, the village idiot, the widowed mother– take on a human glow and their lives an unexpected resonance. It is the small events, little gestures, nondescript people, that suffuse the world of Shivani’s fiction with hope, and the future is something one enters with courage. Shivani’s feminism is like a gentle humanism that does not stop short when it meets the female. Within the world-view of her fiction, there are few contradictions or problems that cannot be transcended with a little sympathy and a belief in the goodness of humankind.”
Her creations are literary masterpieces. The stories and novels contain usage of very good Hindi language and Shlokas in Sanskrit that can satisfy the literary urge of any book lover.
The vivid imagery of the hills of Kumaon in her novels are a real treat for the readers. – ‘Women Writing in India’, Vol II, by Susie Tharu & K. Lalitha.
Many, if not most, of her stories were romances wherein the main protagonist was a beautiful and strong Kumaoni Brahmin woman who was also proficient in speaking the Bangla language, perhaps Shivani’s own imaginary alter ego.
Shivani was married to Shuk Deo Pant (S. D. Pant), a teacher who worked in the Education Department of Uttar Pradesh, which led to the family travelling to various places including Allahabad, Nainital (1958–1964 and 1966–1968)(29°14′N 79°16′E / 29.23°N 79.26°E Priory Lodge at Nainital, where Shivani stayed, 1958–1964 and 1966–1968), before settling in Lucknow, where she stayed till her last days. She had four children, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Her husband died at an early age, leaving her to take care of the four children, but a resilient Shivani chose to live independently at 66, Gulistan, Lucknow, for over three decades – her home became a gathering place for budding writers and literary researchers. Her two daughters, Mrinal Pande and Ira Pande, are established writers, and Mrinal is former Chairman of Prasar Bharati, the apex body of Indian broadcasting. Shivani’s other two children are Veena Joshi, and Muktesh (Micky) Pant, who now lives in Dallas, Texas.