G C Lichtenberg: “It is as if our languages were confounded: when we want a thought, they bring us a word; when we ask for a word, they give us a dash; and when we expect a dash, there comes a piece of bawdy.”

W H Auden: "But in my arms till break of day / Let the living creature lie. / Mortal, guilty, but to me/ The entirely beautiful."

Will Self: “To attempt to write seriously is always, I feel, to fail – the disjunction between my beautifully sonorous, accurate and painfully affecting mental content, and the leaden, halting sentences on the page always seems a dreadful falling short. It is this failure – a ceaseless threnody keening through the writing mind – that dominates my working life, just as an overweening sense of not having loved with enough depth or recklessness or tenderness dominates my personal one.”

John Gray: "Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter. What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi’s insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness."

Art Spiegelman: "You know words in a way are hitting you on the left side of your brain, music and visual arts hit on the right side of the brain, so the idea is to pummel you, to send you from left brain to right brain and back until you're as unbalanced as I am."

विलास सारंग: "संदर्भ कुठलेही असोत, संस्कृत, इंग्रजी, बुद्धिवादी, तांत्रिक, इतिहासाचे, खगोलशास्त्राचे, आधुनिक पदार्थविज्ञानाचे, शिवकालीन व पेशवाईतील बखरीचे, अगणित ज्ञानक्षेत्रांचे, अशा वैविध्यपूर्ण ज्ञानावर लेखन- विशेषत: कवितालेखन- उभं राहत."

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Kusumagraj, My Family, is Now 100!

Tomorrow Feb 27 2012 is 100th Birth Anniversary of Kusumagraj (कुसुमाग्रज) aka Vishnu Vāman Shirwādkar (विष्णु वामन शिरवाडकर)

William Shakespeare 'King Lear':

The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most: we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.

Paul Feyerabend:

“My life has been the result of accidents, not of goals and principles. My intellectual wok forms only an insignificant part of it. Love and personal understanding are much more important. Leading intellectuals with their zeal for objectivity kill those personal elements. They are criminals, not the liberators of mankind”


Woody Allen:

"Look at these people jogging...trying to stave off the inevitable decay of the body. It's so sad what people go through...with their stationary bike and their exercise...Oh, look at this one. Poor thing. She has to tote all that fat around. She should pull it on a dolly. Maybe the poets are right. Maybe love is the answer..."

('Hannah and Her Sisters', 1986)


Kusumagraj was and still is like my family. I can't put distance between him and me.

Arguably there are better Marathi poets than him in 20th century: Arun Kolatkar, Sadanand Rege, B S Mardhekar, Dilip Chitre, Balkavi, Keshavsut, Namdeo Dhasal (अरुण कोलटकर, सदानंद रेगे, बा. सी. मर्ढेकर, दिलीप चित्रे, बालकवी, केशवसुत, नामदेव ढसाळ), but as a poet-playwright combo he remains unsurpassed.

My father left Sangli (सांगली) to take up a job in Nashik (नाशिक) c1974. Soon after, he was acquainted with Kusumagraj. Since then, not a week went by, whenever I lived with my parents, Kusumagraj- whom we called Tatyasaheb (तात्यासाहेब)- didn't come up in a discussion.

Often not as a littérateur but a great human being who lived his own life- to paraphrase Henry David Thoreau- someone who marched to his own different drummer.

My father has written probably the first biography of Mother Teresa in Marathi, titled 'प्रेम सेवा शरण' ('Love, Service, Surrender'). Before its publication, he wrote to P L Deshpande (पु ल देशपांडे) requesting him to write the foreword. However, he also mentioned in the letter that if Pu La were to decline the request, Tatyasaheb would write one anyway!

There was no need for that 'threat'. Pu La promptly turned down the request! (I have read that letter.) As foretold, Tatyasaheb wrote a sweet foreword!

My father used to write leaders for Marathi daily 'Gavkari' (गावकरी) for a number of years. Often he received impromptu appreciation of many of them from Tatyasaheb. And it was more than that...it was affection. (an aside: As mentioned earlier on this blog, Jaywant Dalvi had pilloried my father for his first social novel but when, for Gavkari, my father reviewed Dalvi's book- a collection of his such critical and humorous articles-in glowing terms, Dalvi wrote back in appreciation.)

Like my father, there were countless others from many walks of life who too were constantly appreciated and encouraged by Tatyasaheb.

I first met him on Seemant Poojan (सीमान्त पूजन) day of my sister's wedding- evening of Aug 20 1990. As soon as he arrived, almost everyone in the hall, including my sister's would-be in-laws, gathered around him and started touching his feet. Me too. Since early childhood, I had always loved his transcendental song :"सर्वात्मका सर्वेश्वरा, गंगाधरा शिवसुंदरा जे जे जगी जगते तया, माझे म्हणा करुणाकरा ॥" sung by Jitendra Abhisheki (जितेंद्र अभिषेकी). That song kind of started playing in my head.

I can never know how Sant Eknath (संत एकनाथ) looked in person but after that day I could imagine better.

Tatyasaheb looked cool. And so was he. He lived simple life. He never did self-promotion. Never conducted commercial programmes of his poetry-singing (काव्य-गायन).

He was constantly gheraoed by his devotees and fans, from late morning to late night but he never stopped being himself. He was never lonely but always alone. Never patronising.

Sadanand Rege (सदानंद रेगे) writes: (as of September 1981) Kusumagraj had not accepted any government award. (btw- He was never really welloff.)

We just celebrated 200th birth anniversary of Charles Dickens. Quite a bit of what George Orwell has said about Dickens can be said about Kusumagraj.

"...In every page of his work one can see a consciousness that society is wrong somewhere at the root. It is when one asks ‘Which root?’ that one begins to grasp his position. The truth is that Dickens's criticism of society is almost exclusively moral. Hence the utter lack of any constructive suggestion anywhere in his work...There is no clear sign that he wants the existing order to be overthrown, or that he believes it would make very much difference if it were overthrown. For in reality his target is not so much society as ‘human nature’..."

Hailing Kusumagraj as 'poet of humanism', V S Khandekar (वि स खांडेकर), who like Tatyasaheb received the Jnanpith award, wrote in 1942:

"...विषमता, पिळवणूक, गांजणूक आणि अन्याय यांच्याविषयीची बहुजनसमाजाची चीड कुसुमाग्रजांनी अत्यंत उत्कट आणि सुंदर स्वरूपात आपल्या काव्यातून व्यक्त केली आहे..."

(...Anger of the larger society against inequality, exploitation and injuctice has been expressed poignantly and elegantly by Kusumgraj in his poems...)

Of course, this was done in Marathi by saint-poets centuries ago but it was Dickensian alright when one considers average urban Indian life since the start of industrialisation, urbanisation and colonisation.

However, David Waller writes of the tragic story of Dickens’ final years:

"...during the year 1858...Dickens, like a grotesque figure in one of his novels, was at this time consumed with unrequited desire for the fair-haired, blue-eyed 19-year-old actress Nelly Ternan. Driven by uncontrollable passions, he walled his wife out of his bedroom and ultimately his life. He became the consummate Dickensian hypocrite, deploying lies, anger and emotional blackmail to get his way, while insisting on his righteousness.

‘The spectacle of a man famous for his goodness and his attachment to domestic virtues suddenly losing his moral compass is dismaying,’ notes Tomalin, with understatement. She deftly chronicles Dickens’ moral and physical decline as he abandoned his wife, home and many family members and friends to pursue and ultimately seduce Nelly..."

('Charles Dickens: A Life', History Today, Nov 15 2011)

As far as I know, Tatyasaheb could not be anything like this even in one's nightmare.

I first came across Kusumagraj's poem in 4th standard 1968-69. I think it was "Kranteecha jayjaykar" (क्रांतीचा-जयजयकार), 1939. (I think it was accompanied by a colour plate, so rare in textbooks then). After that, I remember him from 9th standard. We had a passage- "Konihi konach nasat" ("कोणीही कोणाच नसत") from his play "Natasamrat" ("नटसम्राट") and his poem "Pruthveeche Premgeet" ("पृथ्वीचे प्रेमगीत"). The poem from 'Vishakha' has following lines:

"गमे की तुझ्या रुद्र रूपात जावे
मिळोनी गळा घालुनीया गळा
तुझ्या लाल ओठातली आग प्यावी.
मीठीने तुझ्या तीव्र व्हाव्या कळा."

("Feel like in your fierce beauty
I should merge by necking
I feel like drinking fire off you red lips.
Let your embrace bring acute ache.")

Now these lines used to be very awkward for a teacher in a coed class full of 13-year olds!

Artist: Dinanath Dalal (दीनानाथ दलाल), cover of Kusumagraj's 'Vishakha', 1942, The Jnanpith Award winning book in 1987

I often try read Shakespeare but I get frustrated soon because I don't seem to understand him. Reading Shirwadkar's play 'Natsamrat'- inspired by medley of Shakespeare's plays- is closest I have come to understand the bard a little bit. Natasamrat in fact is a very ambitious project. Shirwadkar has tried to project tragic lives of some of the greats of first half of 20th century Marathi stage onto 'King Lear'. (For example, you can truly begin to understand Balgandharva (बालगंधर्व) only through a great stage tragedy and not some costume drama).

Othello, Act 3, Scene 4:

"OTHELLO: I have a salt and sorry rheum offends me; Lend me thy handkerchief.
DESDEMONA: Here, my lord.
OTHELLO: That which I gave you.
DESDEMONA: I have it not about me.
OTHELLO: Not?
DESDEMONA: No, faith, my lord.
OTHELLO: That's a fault. That handkerchief
Did an Egyptian to my mother give;
That's a fault. That handkerchief
She was a charmer, and could almost read
The thoughts of people. She told her, while she kept it,
'Twould make her amiable and subdue my father
Entirely to her love, but if she lost it
Or made gift of it, my father's eye
Should hold her loathed and his spirits should hunt
After new fancies. She, dying, gave it me;
And bid me..."

Natasamrat, Act I:

"अप्पा: (ओरडतो) हातरूमाल! सरकार! साधासुधा हातरूमाल नाही तो मिसर देशातील एका मंत्रिकाने तयार केला होता तो स्वतःच्या हातानं, माझ्या आईने मरतेवेळी तो मला दिला आणि सांगितलं -"

When I saw Dr. Shreeram Lagoo's (श्रीराम लागू) Othello 'jump' enacting the above at Sahitya Sangh Mandir, Girgaon (साहित्यसंघ मंदिर, गिरगाव) in 1980's, I missed my heartbeat.

"All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players." or "All the world's a tent. And all the men and women merely clowns"?

Artist: Robert Kraus (1925–2001), The New Yorker, July 20 1963

But the best of Kusumagraj for me had already come, once again in text books, in second half of 1970's: his poem "Swapnachee Samaptee" (स्वप्नाची समाप्ती).

"ध्येय, प्रेम, आशा यांची
होतसे का कधी पूर्ती
वेड्यापरी पूजातो या
आम्ही भंगणाऱ्या मूर्ती !...

Ideals, love, hope
Are they ever achieved
But we still worship these
brittle idols !...

...काढ सखे, गळ्यातील
तुझे चांदण्याचे हात
क्षितिजाच्या पलीकडे
उभे दिवसाचे दूत....

...girl-friend remove your star-laden hands
from around my neck
emissaries of the day
are standing beyond horizon....

...होते म्हणून स्वप्न एक
एक रात्र पाहिलेले
होते म्हणून वेड एक
एक रात्र राहिलेले....

...there was a dream
Dreamt for a night
there was a folly
that lasted for a night...

...ओततील आग जगी
दूत त्याचे लक्षावधी
उजेडात दिसू वेडे
आणि ठरू अपराधी.

...His million emissaries
will pour fire over the world
Will be seen crazy in daylight
and judged guilty."

(from 'विशाखा' 'Vishakha', 1942).

He wrote this poem in 1936 when he was just 24. World had seen one world war and was on the brink of another.

Reminds me of following words of W H Auden's poem titled 'SEPTEMBER 1, 1939':

"I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night"

[The poem ends with this line: "We must love one another or die.”. In a brilliant essay titled 'Does Love Survive Loss?' on May 28 2012, Ron Rosenbaum writes: "Auden rethought his line—“We must love one another or die”—almost immediately. Indeed he turned violently against it, tried to ban, or vanish it. Called the poem in which it appeared “trash.” Said he “loathed” it.

Now compare Auden's closing with that of Kusumagraj. I think it still sounds as great as it did in 1936.]

Was young Kusumagraj already dismayed by the world? Had he lost his faith in love, ideals and hope?

I don't know but when he became our family above all he gave us affection and courtesy. And as for the poem, I find it one of the most moving poems of 20th century Marathi.