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Vinda Karandikar

The poet, Vinda Karandikar, who was recently awarded the Jnanpith, has never been afraid of speaking up against the forces of parochialism and fascism. Moreover, in an age of all-pervasive cynicism, he still retains a touching faith in Marx and Gandhi.

Vinda Karandikar

Deserving the Jnanpith

The poet, Vinda Karandikar, who was recently awarded the Jnanpith, has never been afraid of speaking up against the forces of parochialism and fascism. Moreover, in an age of all-pervasive cynicism, he still retains a touching faith in Marx and Gandhi.


t the Marathi Sahitya Sammelan held in Satara immediately after the Babri masjid demolition and the communal riots in Mumbai (December 1992-January 1993), poet Vinda Karandikar was the only one to raise his voice against communalism. The silence of the others was pathetic. It was as if the conference was of the deaf and mute, said poet Suresh Bhat later. At the conference 17 resolutions were passed but none on the riots, as if literature has nothing to do with life. The trend has remained unchanged over the years. Each year, however, the conference religiously passes a resolution on the state border issue, seeking the merger of Marathi-speaking areas in Karnataka with Maharashtra.

Karandikar said we have wrecked the legacy of poet Kabir who stood for communal amity, truth and justice. We have become more communal, superstitious, selfish and divided, insensitive to the riot victims amidst the singing of ‘mahaartis’ (religious invocations on the road ) and the call for prayer.

Maruti Chitampalli, current president of the Marathi Sahitya Sammelan, specialises in writing about forests and wildlife, based on his work experience in the state forest department. But he has seldom turned his gaze towards the problems, exploitation of tribals.

It is in this context that one welcomes the announcement that Karandikar has won the 39th Jnanpith award for 2003. He lives in Sahitya Sahawas , a housing colony of writers, in Mumbai not far from Kala Nagar, a colony of artistes in which Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray too resides in his posh bungalow. The area is full of artistes, writers, journalists, musicians. But seldom does one hear voices raised against fascist forces. The influence of the Sena and the RSS is partly to blame but then creative people are expected to rise above these forces.

Karandikar is different. He still retains faith in Karl Marx and Mahatma Gandhi. When some of his well-educated and successful friends tell him with glee to accept that Marx and Gandhi are now dated, Karandikar disagrees. The disintegration of the Soviet Union is not a defeat of Marxism. It is a defeat of forces who deviated from Marx’s path. Marx will not become irrelevant so long as landless labourers and their families are shot, multinationals systematically loot the people and the benefits of progress do not reach the poor, he says.

The same is the case with Gandhi. Karandikar is not a dogmatist, is not a member of any party but he is known for his quiet optimism and plain speaking. Playwright Vijay Tendulkar is another major Marathi writer who speaks out against the establishment but is somewhat pessimistic and has no faith in any particular philosophy. Tendulkar has taken on the establishment more provocatively as his medium, the theatre, has a greater social impact.

One felt a bit uneasy seeing a picture on the front page of The Times of India, January 11, showing Shiv Sena leaders Udhhav Thackeray and Manohar Joshi presenting a bouquet to Karandikar after he was awarded the Jnanpith award. Perhaps there was no way to stop someone coming to greet him. A few years ago Vijay Tendulkar had refused to accept a literary award from Manohar Joshi in view of his communal utterances. Tendulkar has been coming under attack from the right wing for more than 30 years and he has been resisting them consistently. He has the experience and he has also been a journalist, is an activist and is not afraid of a fight.

Many writers and journalists are thrilled when a top politician pats them on the back or felicitates them. They think the politician is their friend. Nothing could be more misleading. The politician is merely using them for his self-promotion. It is not an accident that politicians in Maharashtra insist on inaugurating and sponsoring sahitya sammelans and other cultural events.

Karandikar is irreverent but not provocative. But a big controversy arose overhis poem on the god, Ganapati published in the reputed, but now defunct literary journal Satyakatha in 1973. It was a parody titled ‘Vakratund Mahakaya’ pertaining to a woman who recognises the phallic symbol in Ganapati’s trunk and desires it. Immediately there were charges of obscenity and meetings were held to condemn Karandikar.

One of his most celebrated and early work is the anthology interestingly called Swed Ganga, a Ganga of sweat in which he extols the contribution of sweat and the labour of workers. This was to have a major influence on Narayan Surve, a true proletarian poet, a street orphan and textile worker, now widely recognised for his writing.

The Poet as Emblem

Vinda Karandikar’s name became inseparable from two other progressive poets, Vasant Bapat and Mangesh Padgaonkar, and the trio thrilled gatherings of thousands of poetry lovers for decades with their readings. Since long, poetry has always been a public phenomenon and all attempts to confine poetry to academics and narrow confines must be resisted.

Like Tendulkar Karandikar has refused to make compromises, refused to run for presidentship of the Marathi Sahitya Sammelan, a hotly contested annual event in which reputed writers go canvassing for votes. He has also refused to work on government committees or curry favours with ministers.

Currently, a major controversy is raging in Maharashtra’s cultural scene over the appointment of Vijaya Waad, a woman writer of no distinction, as chairperson of the prestigious Maharashtra Sahitya Sanskriti Mandal which publishes a multivolume general encyclopaedia in Marathi. It is true that she is not the best choice and is a political appointee. But the political affiliations of previous stalwarts have never remained concealed. Tarkateertha Laxman Shastri Joshi, a secular scholar, was very close to Y B Chavan and Sharad Pawar. Another worthy chose to defend the vocabulary used by Bal Thackeray saying this was part of an old tradition of political and cultural debate in Maharashtra.

Karandikar has remained above such considerations. He is a no-nonsense figure.

Economic and Political Weekly January 28, 2006

Now, 87, he grew up amidst much poverty, taught English literature in college, and remains remarkably simple, scholarly and even a bit eccentric. He gave up his traditional professorial dress long ago, revels in his simple white kurta and pyjama and is equally at ease doing carpentry and even cobbler work at home. The sturdily built poet has all the instruments required for such work in his home. Much of the furniture in the house has the stamp of his workmanship. Quite something for one born into a brahmin farmer family in coastal Konkan and who has done excellent translations into Marathi of Aristotle’s Poetics, Goethe’s Faust and Shakespeare’s King Lear.

He is known to be tight-fisted but has given away lakhs of cash awards for charity. Karandikar’s first name is a bit misleading, an abbreviation of Govinda. But it sounds peculiarly feminine because of its resemblance to the name Vrinda.

His poems are available in English .One of the anthologies Poems of Vinda is dedicated to A K Ramanujam with whom he spent weeks going over the translations during his stay in Chicago. He is greatly impressd by Ramanujam’s poetry as well as his translations of old Tamil and Kannada poetry.



Economic and Political Weekly January 28, 2006

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