Steppenwolf is a famous novel penned by Swiss author Hermann Hesse who wrote in German. His three novels became very famous - Siddhartha, Steppenwolf and The Glass Bead Game (Magister Ludi). To prepare himself for this novel Hesse spent few months in isolation and as one becomes aware while reading this novel how realistically he has described the feelings of isolation and solitude. The title of the book is a reference to the lonely wolf of German steppes - that’s how the protagonist of the novel refers to himself as he thinks that he has two personalities, one of a person who socializes with his landlady and his ex-wife and the other of a lonely wolf wandering on his own.

Steppenwolf' by Hermann HesseThe protagonist Harry Haller of this novel lives alone and has his own world cut-off from the outside world. He comes in contact with Hermine, whom he meets in a bar. Their characters are built in such a way so that the contrast can be shown in their life. Strangely enough, they like the company of each other. Other characters such as the Pablo serve the purpose to show the Haller’s dislike of a world where everyone is keen on talking and meeting warmly with a person. Haller thinks that it is a way of life where a person does not think much and it is a superficial way to live. Still, Pablo makes Haller learn the important lesson of the life towards the climax.

The main themes explored in this novel are isolation, a conflict between given and wanted life, bourgeois life, and purpose of the life. Many events of the book are kept ambiguous and there had been different interpretations of those events for decades now. Of many ambiguities is that whether the character of Hermine was real or Haller's figment of the imagination. The way he deduces her name in the bar may induce one to think that he was hallucinating. In a later edition of the book, Hesse comments in the foreword that it is not the job of an author to comment on the interpretations of his book, but even then he was surprised by what people have thought about this work. He did not think that too many people got it right.

As suggested by the title itself of the book, one of the main themes is solitude and isolation. Haller lives alone and in this isolation, he becomes disenchanted with the world. He sees the world from a wolf’s eye and then nothing makes sense to him. Then he goes in the pursuit of finding satisfaction in his life on his own. He thinks that when a person thinks and acts on his own, only then can something fruitful and long-lasting can be achieved. Giving an example of Bourgeois society he says that too many people live identical life. If everybody thinks in the same way then society cannot progress. Somewhere someone while living in the skin of bourgeois has to act on his own to start something which society can follow. Then comes the conflict - how to become that person.

Haller is fed up of the normal life that he is living. He thinks that he is destined to be someone big and important but languishing as the not-so-important person. In the end, his favorite musician, Mozart explains to him that life is full of compromises. If one sets out to be ideal, finds faults in what everyone and deems only what he himself does is correct, then life would become very difficult. In the climax of the novel, Haller is reconciled with this reality.

एक मामूली वक़्त था और एक मामूली सी रात थी
जब तक नहीं आया था चाँद मुंडेर पर इस रात को।

एक रंग चाँद का और एक लहज़ा तुम्हारा किसी शब
हम ले आये हैं खींचकर फिर उसी मोड़ पर रात को।

एक हवा सर्द चली और एक हर्फ़ मेरे मन में लिखा
ये तन्हाइयों के मशविरे भी अब होने हैं इस रात को।

एक दुनिया कागज़ी पुरानी और एक छुआ जा चुका चाँद
दो सफ़ेद स्याह जैसी फ़र्क़ वाली बातें घुली हैं रात को।

एक साथ चराग़ का और एक बात कशिश-ए-महताब की
हमारी हसरतें भी सिमटकर रह गई हैं देखो इस रात को ।

'Guns, Germs and Steel' is a book of history or popular science, depending on the way you look at it. It tries to answer few questions on human evolution. The author of this book Jared Diamond is a professor of geography and his first-hand experience of different societies across the world enabled him to look into the questions of evolution broad-mindedly. The motivation behind this book was to answer the question asked to him by one of his friends in New Guinea. The question was why the West European nations colonized the New Guinea and not the vice versa. A narrow-minded approach might give superiority to some races and might conclude that these races were better in using their brains and manipulating the nature but Jared Diamond says that races have nothing to do with differences in evolution. Instead, it was the geography and biogeography which made the things the way they stand today.

'Guns, Germs and Steel' by Jared Diamond
In determining that which societies will be comparatively technologically advanced and which will remain hunter-gatherer, the development of food production has a crucial role to play. The Fertile Crescent of Eurasian landmass and some areas in China had an advantage - the availability of grasses with large seeds which were the potential candidates for domestication. Americas, Australia, and Sub-Saharan Africa have few domesticable plant species compared to Eurasia. The same can be argued for the animals. In addition, the east-west major axis of the Eurasia helped in the adoption of domesticated species in new societies, as weather/climate conditions at same altitude do not vary much. Hence, a crop can be easily grown in different societies having similar climate, for example, subtropical climate. Once crops were grown on a large scale, humans started to settle in villages and leave hunting-gathering lifestyle. Once that happened, large centers of human population led to the possibility of having humans whose primary occupation was not farming. This happened because of availability of food surplus. That, in turn, led to the development of technology and centralized decision-making system. 

Jared Diamond also explains the reason behind the movement of the people in a certain direction and not in the other direction. To determine the direction of the movement linguistic evidence plays a major role, followed by archaeological artifacts such as pottery. If in an area a language family shows more variation than an area where subfamilies of a language group show greater similarities, then it is clear that former has got more time to develop differences and that area can be considered to be the origin of the people speaking languages of that family. Also, if in a language family root words are same for an object then it means that that object existed when the language was evolving . If there is an entirely different word for that object not found in parent languages then that object was independently developed or acquired from neighboring civilizations. 

The author gives examples of states which prohibited the use of certain technologies such as shipbuilding and seafaring in China in medieval times and use of guns in Japan in later medieval times. The author argues that these decisions could have been potential game-changers. Organization of the state matters in the eventual fate of the people. As China was unified when colonial exploration begun in medieval times, a decision by a monarch to not build ships was the end of the road for prospective explorers. At the same time, Europe was organized into many small states. When Columbus was denied the permission by one state, he approached another and after many unsuccessful attempts, he got the permission from Spanish State. 

In the concluding chapter, Jared Diamond discusses the future of history as a science. As said in the opening paragraph, this book can be considered to be a book of history if we see history as the description of something which happened in the past or to be a book of popular science if the methodology involves logical deduction and evidence-based reasoning. Compared to physical sciences such as physics, chemistry and molecular biology, history and its sister streams such as evolutionary biology, archaeology etc. face the problem that in these streams the past matters. In physics, the history of atoms does not matter when they collide. Also, in history, we cannot conduct controlled experiments. The other problem is that the results are probabilistic in nature which means that for a large sample results can be predicted with a reasonable accuracy but we cannot predict the individual events.

वैसे तो 'राग दरबारी' का प्रकाशन 1968 में हुआ था। यानी आज से लगभग 50 साल पहले। लेकिन इस किताब को पढ़ने के बाद आपको कहीं से भी यह नहीं लग सकता कि इसमें इतने पुराने दिनों की बात हो रही है। शिवपालगंज को कहीं अलग से खोजने जाने की जरुरत नहीं है। अगर ध्यान से देखिएगा तो हमारे आपके बीच छोटे-बड़े कितने शिवपालगंज, कितने वैद्यजी, कितने रामाधीन भीखमखेड़वी मौज़ूद हैं। यह एक लेखक के लिए गर्व की बात हो सकती है कि उसकी लिखी रचना लिखे जाने के बाद और ज्यादा प्रासंगिक होती जा रही है। इसमें से कुछ बातें अगर उस समय को पाठकों को काल्पनिक लग गयी हों तो आज तो सर्वथा उचित ही लगती हैं। यहाँ एक बात आश्चर्य करने वाली यह है कि यह सब आज़ादी के दो दशकों के भीतर हो गया था। जिस आज़ादी के लिए इतने लोगों ने अपनी जान की कुर्बानी लगा दी थी उसका विकृत स्वरुप बहुत जल्दी ही बेपर्दा हो गया था।

श्रीलाल शुक्ल द्वारा रचित 'राग दरबारी'
इस उपन्यास की कहानी किन्हीं मुख्य किरदारों के इर्द-गिर्द नहीं घूमती है। उपन्यास में अनेक पात्र हैं और लगभग सभी किरदारों को समान अहमियत दी गई है। गाँव की राजनीति के दो मुख्य ध्रुव हैं - वैद्यजी और रामाधीन भीखमखेड़वी। वैद्यजी अपरोक्ष रूप से गाँव का कॉलेज, कोआपरेटिव सोसाइटी चलाते हैं। इस बार प्रधान पद भी वैद्यजी के गुट में आ गया था। रामाधीन के पास अवैध धंधों का एकाधिकार था। वैद्यजी के दो बेटे थे - एक अखाड़े में पहलवानी करते थे और दूसरे कॉलेज में राजनीति और गुण्डागर्दी। रंगनाथ शहर का पढ़ा हुआ एक लड़का है जो कि कुछ दिनों की छुट्टी के लिए शिवपालगंज में अपने मामा वैद्यजी के पास जाता है। ये सभी पात्र शिवपालगंज के रहने वाले हैं। कहानी के स्थानों के वर्णन से यह लखनऊ के पास किसी स्थान की कहानी लगती है, जहाँ अवधी भाषा बोली जाती है।

कहानी में हास्य है लेकिन हास्य केन्द्रित कहानी कह देना अनुचित होगा। कहानी का केन्द्र व्यवस्था में जड़ जमा चुकी अनैतिकता है। अंत में हर एक पात्र का उद्द्येश्य सिर्फ यह रह जाता है कि कोई चीज उसके अनुसार हो रही है कि नहीं। व्यवस्था को सुधारने से किसी का कोई उद्द्येश्य नहीं रह जाता। सरकारी तंत्र के जिन अंगों का यहाँ पर ज़िक्र हुआ है उनका बहुत ही पतित रूप दिखाया गया है चाहे वह पुलिस हो, न्यायालय हो, सरकारी विद्यालय निरीक्षक हों या गाँव के प्रधान ही क्यों न हों। हर एक व्यवस्था को अपने अनुसार ढाल लेना यह कोई इस उपन्यास के पात्रों से सीखे। यह करते समय भी ऊपर से आदर्शवाद का दिखावा बनाये रखा जाता है और भाषणों में आदर्शवाद की कोई कमी नहीं दिखाई पड़ेगी। सामान्य जनता में भी शायद इस बात का भरोसा हो गया है कि जिसके पास शक्ति है वही सब कुछ कर सकता है, अन्यथा व्यवस्था से लड़ने का कोई फायदा नहीं है। उपन्यास में यह भी दिखाया गया है कि किस प्रकार से रबर-स्टाम्प लोगों के माध्यम से सत्ता को परदे के पीछे से संचालित किया जाता है।

इस उपन्यास में आदर्शवाद और यथार्थवाद के बीच की खींचतान को दिखाया गया है। शहर का पढ़ा हुआ नौजवान जब किताबी आदर्शों को लेकर गाँव पहुँचता है तो उसे हर एक संस्था भ्रष्ट लगती है। वह हर समय यही कोशिश करता रहता है कि कैसे इस व्यवस्था को सुधार जाये। उसने जब देखा कि अन्याय के खिलाफ लड़ने वालों का पलड़ा कमजोर हो रहा है तो उसने उन लोगों की तरफ से आवाज उठाने की कोशिश भी की और उनको अप्रत्यक्ष रूप से बेईमानी के विरुद्ध लड़ते रहने के लिए उकसाया भी। इतना सब करने के बाद भी जब उसकी कोशिशों का कोई परिणाम नहीं निकला तो उसने हार मान ली। और गाँव छोड़कर जाने का फैसला कर लिया। लेकिन तब कहानी के अन्य पात्र ने उससे कहा कि जाओगे कहाँ। हर जगह तो बेईमानी और भ्रष्टाचार व्याप्त है। उसने इस बात पर सोचा भी कि छोटे बड़े रूप में हर जगह शासन ऐसे ही चलता है। यही इस उपन्यास का मूल तत्त्व कहा जा सकता है कि अनेक बार जब आदर्शवाद और यथार्थवाद टकराते हैं तो बहुधा पहले हार मानने वाला आदर्शवाद ही होता है।

उपन्यास की भाषा में आँचलिकता के तत्व हैं। उत्तर प्रदेश के अवध प्रान्त में बोले जाने वाले बहुत से शब्द इस्तेमाल किये गए हैं। कई जगह सीधे सीधे अवधी भाषा में किये गए वार्तालाप को उद्धृत किया गया है। पूरी पुस्तक के हर एक पैराग्राफ में शासन-व्यवस्था पर प्रत्यक्ष रूप से कटाक्ष किया गया है। इस तरह से कहीं भी रूचि कम नहीं होती है। कहानी का अंत थोड़ा अलग है। यह लग सकता है कि अंत अचानक से हो गया है। साथ ही साथ कॉफ़ीहाउस में चलने वाली वैचारिक चर्चाओं पर भी व्यंग कसा गया है जिनका कोई परिणाम निकलकर नहीं आता है लेकिन उसमें भाग लेने वाले अपने कर्तव्यों की इतिश्री समझ लेते हैं। श्रीलाल शुक्ल को इस कृति के लिए 1969 में साहित्य अकादमी पुरस्कार से नवाज़ा गया था। कटाक्ष का एक उदाहरण देखिये-

".. फिर भी लेक्चर इतने ज्यादा होते थे कि दिलचस्पी के बावज़ूद, लोगों को अपच हो सकता था। लेक्चर का मज़ा तो तब है कि जब सुननेवाले वाले भी यह समझें कि यह बकवास कर रहा है और बोलनेवाला भी समझे कि मैं बकवास कर रहा हूँ। पर कुछ लेक्चर देनेवाले इतनी गम्भीरता से चलते कि सुननेवाले को कभी-कभी यह लगता था यह आदमी अपने कथन के प्रति सचमुच ही ईमानदार है। ऐसा संदेह होते ही लेक्चर गाढ़ा और फीका बन जाता था और उसका असर श्रोताओं के हाज़मे के खिलाफ पड़ता है।… ज्यादातर लोग की लेक्चर की सबसे बड़ी मात्रा दिन के तीसरे पहर ऊँघने और शाम को जागने के बीच लेते थे।"

'The hero with a thousand faces' is a book of comparative mythology where the author has tried to show the similarities between the myths prevalent in many parts of the world. One will wonder how strikingly similar are the mythologies of seemingly disconnected communities across the world. Hence, the title of this book seems apt as if it is describing a single hero seen by different communities in many different forms. The author of this book Joseph Campbell has also written a four-volume book on world mythologies titled 'The Masks of God.'

'The Hero With A Thousand Faces' by Joseph Campbell
The book is divided into two parts. The first one is titled - 'The adventure of the Hero.' In this part, the author describes the monomyth - a myth found in most of the mythologies with slight variations. The monomyth describes the life of the hero - who may be a God, a saint or a worrier. The first step is the departure in which the hero gets a call to adventure by supernatural means or by the conditions prevailing around him. This is the first threshold that he has to cross. Then comes the initiation. In this phase, the hero faces many hurdles and has to prove that he is worthy of being the chosen one. When he attains the ultimate boon which can be some knowledge or any other possession, he is ready for the third phase - the return. In this phase, hero initially refuses to return to his previous world but then he is 'rescued' and returns. There he lives as a triumphant person who has mastery over some art or has knowledge of something hitherto secret to an ordinary human being.

The second part of the book is titled - 'The cosmogonic cycle.' It is concerned with metaphysical aspects of mythology such as the creation of the universe. In this part, the author discusses the meaning given to things around us in mythology. An important topic of all the mythologies is creation and destruction - of both unit (microcosm) and universe (macrocosm) itself. In this part, the author also describes many forms given to the hero in mythologies such as lover, warrior, emperor, redeemer and saint.

In this book, the author Joseph Campbell has tried to explain the reason behind the myths by taking recourse to theories put forward by Jung and Freud. It was implied that man invented theories involving heroic figures for the events which could not be explained by existing knowledge or to quell the fear of unknown. This book is somewhat difficult to read without the prior knowledge of mythology and psychology, but once you get the summary of the theories involved, it becomes easy to comprehend. The author has given so many examples of the myths (stories from the communities around the world) that the larger monomyth formed by combining them is so convincing. It could be said that without knowing the examples it would have been so difficult to believe that mythological figures from around the world are so similar. Almost all the major and minor religions are represented in the stories presented in this book.

This book has attained a legendary status and is widely referred by the students of mythology. George Lucas has accepted that this book affected the story of the Star Wars. In a chapter titled 'The hero of today', the author concludes that the symbols which interested ancient societies have lost their force for the individual today. The author says-
"The descent of the occidental sciences from the heavens to the earth (from seventeenth-century astronomy to nineteenth-century biology) and their concentration today, at last, on the man himself (in twentieth-century anthropology and psychology) make the path of a prodigious transfer of the focal point of the human wonder."
The author concludes in the end that it is not the society that is to guide and save the creative hero but precisely reverse.