"...the Black Death felled at least 30 percent of those it inflicted, whereas a modern plague in India that struck Bombay in 1904, before the advent of antibiotics, killed only 3 percent of its victims..." (The NYT, August 29 2011)
I recently read 'Rahat-gaadagan' by C V Joshi (1892-1963) ('रहाट-गाडगं', चिं. वि. जोशी).
Marathiworld.com describes it as a collection of Joshi's humorous articles. It's anything but that.
It's a novel written wryly, perhaps inspired by Laxmibai Tilak's 'Smriti Chitre' (लक्ष्मीबाई टिळक, स्मृतिचित्रे).
R K Narayan almost certainly never read or met C V Joshi.
Or did he? I find a lot of similarity between their humour.
Narayan's first novel, Swami and Friends, was published in 1935. By then, C V Joshi's main character- Chimanrao- was well established in Marathi.
Although, 'Rahat-gaadagan' was first published in 1955, it describes the first decade of 20th century.
It is a story of Bheema Shaligram nee Ainapure (borne c1889, married c1899, motherhood c1902, widowed and head shaved c1904, death ?), a Brahmin woman, who now is running her own mess (dining hall). The story is in her own words.
I really enjoyed the book. It easily is one of the best Marathi books I have read.
It also is a social history of the period- Narmada-river with crocodiles, Gujarat, Mumbai, Pune, trains, trams, the misery of Indian women, Marathi musical theatre...and dreaded plague.
Unlike R K Narayan, C V Joshi shuns sex completely.
An example: Bheema's husband performs roles of female characters in a theatre company. A lot of people, including his close family, make fun of him for that. Bheema herself doesn't like it. She might be even suspicious of his virility, particularly because her family was cheated into this marriage.
And yet Joshi completely omits any reference to consummation of their marriage and makes Bheema pregnant in due course!
The swine-flu epidemic that has visited Pune in the summer of 2009 makes the book even more interesting and eerie.
Below I have given three small passages from the book and their translations.
"Like each year plague epidemic had started in Pune. I had completed five years of my stay in Pune and every year plague began after Diwali and continued until Maha Shivratri. First you heard of a rat dying, and then you came to know -in either Bhavani Peth or Magalwar- some woman or man dying of plague..."
"..an acquaintance contracting plague and then the news of his/her death next day arrived. 'Daily-count' would start with four-five infected and three-four died to gallop to two hundred infected and one seventy-five died. There used to be instances when the entire family would contract plague and, since no one survived it, their valuables would be looted by the neighbours.
Almost all the educated people used to go and stay in the huts built on the grounds of Chaturshringi; but we, from old Tapkeer Galli and Phadke's Bol, were not quitters. Our priest Tamanna Charya used to laugh at the people who got scared of plague and ran into the jungle. He would say: Pune's deity, Kasba's Ganpati, was protector of Kasba, old Tapkeer Galli and Phadke Bol and hence his carriage- rat- would never cause any harm to its owner's favourite children."
"My father-in-law's friend Marutirao came to our house without wearing a headgear. My husband was lying in bed and my brother-in-law was sitting nearby doing accounts of the school and private tuitions. Without taking a seat, Marutirao said: "Vasu-Bandu today I am in deep trouble. My brother-in-law came from Koregaon yesterday carrying plague infection and has just died. It requires minimum of eight people to carry him (to cremation ground); but who will volunteer to carry the one who has died of plague! If you both come, it will be a great help to us."
Just substitute the word 'plague' with 'H1N1'...So much has changed in Pune in last hundred years and yet so much is the same!
Will more vicious H1N1 become annual fixture on Pune winter calendar i.e. from Diwali until Maha Shivratri?
Bheema-aajee Shaligram nee Bheema Ainapure (भीमा-आजी शाळिग्राम, भीमा ऐनापुरे) busy with her job much later in her life (c 1950's).
Artist: S G Joshi सीताराम गंगाधर जोशी
(Vasant Sarwate has done a moving appreciation of unsung S G Joshi's art in his book "Parakee Chalan", 1989. The picture above is from the same essay.)