Ode to the known and unknown.

Or, staying true to yourself.

Vijay Tendulkar passed away on 19 May 2008. He was (is) an icon/pillar of modern Marathi literature and theatre. Every Maharashtrian I know has spoken about him or his work only in awestruck tones. Even the Sainiks (Shiv Sena members/followers of the Thakerays). Growing up in hardcore, conservative, Marathi-speaking Girgaum, Mumbai in a family that loves its culture, with a grandfather who enjoyed movies, a grandmother who had memories about watching sangeet natak (musical plays) shows during British Raj and parents who not only attended Marathi theatre performances but also took the kids along the influence of these arts was unavoidable. I am not sure how much I have learnt/know 🙂 but every time I go back to Bombay I make it a point to see a play or watch a Marathi movie. It is like a proud and silent acknowledgement of the continuum of my language and roots that Maharashtrians patronise in spite of varying political ideologies and the North Indian/Punjabi hegemony on all popular Indian culture. But I digress.

I saw Vijay Tendulkar’s Ghashiram Kotwal in a rare season, with a lot of its original cast (Mohan Agashe as Nana Phadnavis!), many years after it had been first performed amidst controversy and Bal Thakeray’s usual windbag threats about riots because he deemed the play insulting to brahmins/upper castes. I was enthralled. This was much more than mere storytelling, rather, this was superb storytelling. Mainstream Hindi cinema and Indian films in general use songs and dances to advance a narrative, based as they are on traditional folk theatre but in Ghashiram Kotwal the style was so unique, so multi layered, so ancient and yet so modern, just like the Mahabharat and Ramayan were intended to be, that my little brain, my subconscious, decided that this is what I want to do, to be. A storyteller. When Tendulkar wrote Kamla and Kanyadaan he pissed off a lot of his communist colleagues, those fighters for democracy, equality and against all things capitalist. It was not kosher to call investigative journalists and Dalits anything else but saviours of the world and victims. Then in Sakharam Binder he took a swipe at power structure amongst liberals and how women can be enslaved in the name of liberalism . Unfortunately I have not yet watched a performance of this play. Many of his other works continue to haunt me. I remember feeling uncomfortable, not understanding how my mind had been moulded to fit the workings of a patriarchal society or that do-gooders get attached to their do-gooding which negates all the good intentions they had or that ‘victims’ seek equality but often don’t know how to deal with it or that one can become accustomed to being secondary.


A couple of weeks ago I heard a radio documentary on Chico Mendes. He did what he did before green-ism and environmentalism were fashionable middle class consumerist statements. So you drink chai latte at Starbucks and vote Green dahling! Anyway, I sat in my car parked on my street, reluctant to go into my warm flat because I was riveted. Chico was a leader who fought for his people, for their right to tap rubber and to save the Amazon rainforest yet he was also superstitious and completely human. He knew the enormity of what he was doing yet remained true to his roots. He was trying to save the world without the haute couture and cosmetic endorsements. Without economists with World Bank agendas.


I sort of knew Vijay Tendulkar through his work but did not know about Chico Mendes until I heard the radio documentary. They both had one quality on common. They were FEARLESS. Tendulkar had the ability to make both sides of the political spectrum uncomfortable. He spoke the truth, he analysed human behaviour and society, that no one was infallible and no one completely right. And who knows what Chico might have done or become. More than a song by Paul McCartney?

This probably reads really soppy but I feel small when I look at the work and the qualities of Vijay Tendulkar and Chico Mendes. The only thing I can manage is to be true to myself,. I think. At the cost of and risk of making The Man and The Saviour mad at me and thrive in the discomfort of it all. That then would be my ode to these great humans.

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