Anandowari Revisited


- G. P. Deshpande


                            G. P. Deshpande, Marathi playwright, was born in 1938 in Nasik, Maharashtra. He received the Maharashtra State Award for his collective work in 1977, and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for playwriting in 1996. Prof. Deshpande is known for advocating strong,  progressive  values  not only through  

his academic writings but also through his creative work. His plays especially reflect upon the decline of progressive values in contemporary life.


        Having specialized in Chinese studies, he was head of the the Centre of East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. The  Library of  Congress has  acquired twelve

of his books including a few on Chinese foreign policy. Some of his works have been translated into English.


Anandowari Revisited


       In a remarkable piece of polemic Maharshi Viththal Ramji Shinde (1873-1944), an early twentieth century   thinker and political and social activist, summed up the state of Marathi letters thus : Marathi language (and literature) was alive (and prosperous) from Jnandadev (1275-1296) to Tukaram (1609-1650). (From the 13th to the 17th century that is). He then went on to list the people responsible for its decline that followed. He has actually held them responsible for ‘strangling’ the Marathi language! His detailed list of culprits responsible for such a heinous act against the genuine creative urges of Marathi and of course, innocents among the Marathi authors is not important for our argument. The fact is that there was something that the colonial period did to our creativity which resulted into a crisis of the arts especially of literature. I do not think that it is in the main due to our moving away from nativism. More likely it was due to the general colonial tendency to trace the cultural crisis to our image of ourselves. The colonial logic generates an image of the conquered acceptable to the colonizers.

           It is accepted wisdom that writing in Indian languages begins with poetry. Strangely Marathi is perhaps the only Indian language which can boast an antiquity for its prose writing that is as old as that of its poetry. The Mahanubhava prose writing dates back to the thirteenth century. Considered to be the first work in Marathi - Vivekasindhu (An ocean of thoughts) by Mukundaraj. But Mahanubhava writing is comparably ancient.

           It is therefore not strange that Shinde, well versed in the literary tradition of Marathi took umbrage at the scant regard that the “modern” writing showed to this tradition or to its elegance and achievements.  Small wonder then that Shinde rather ruthlessly attacked the literary mavericks as also the serious writers and nearly dismissed them from the hall of fame of the Marathi belle letters.

        The pale romanticism that dominated the Marathi literature during the colonial period was made worse with the rise of a rather lifeless “new and standard” language during the colonial period. It was really in the post-independence period that the Marathi literature especially prose seemed to acquire a new life-line. The fifties through seventies of the last century suddenly saw a rise of newer and fresher forms of writing. Fiction came into its own. The famous and much celebrated authors of the new fiction were Gangadhar Gadgil (1923-2008), Arvind Gokhale (1919-1992) and others. At the same time traditional narrative forms also acquired a new strength and life. Vyankatesh Madgulkar (1927-2001) and Digamber Balkrishna Mokashi (1915-1981) were the principal exponents of the latter school. It is not modern or new in the sense Gadgil’s fiction was. It was in many ways an expression of modernized tradition. Its main thrust was to demonstrate that a simplified version of a movement from the dated and pre- industrial oriental tradition to a modernity of industrial and material world was the modern impulse. What authors like Mokashi and Madgulkar achieved was to rid the literary history of the linearity that the nineteenth century seemed to have straitjacketed it into.

        Mokashi thus is a writer who along with Madgulkar gave a new lease of life to the world of Marathi letters. As quite often happens, Mokashi never got his due recognition. He remained an unsung hero of Marathi fiction His work Anand Owari is in many ways the statement of modernized tradition. This rendering of that work in dramatic mode is a tribute to Mokashi that has been due for a while. It is to be welcomed that the dramatic rendering is now available in a film. Vijay Tendulkar (1928-2008), easily the most celebrated of modern playwrights of India. He was also an admirer of Mokashi’s work. But that is not all. He has edited Mokashi’s work with a sensitivity that is new to Marathi literature.

        The story that Mokashi narrates in this work is the quintessentially central point of debate in modern Marathi. What does one make of the Bhakti tradition of medieval literatures of India? Of course it has posed different problems in different language areas of India. In Marathi the debate has centred on the contradiction between Pravritti (initiative and action) and Nivritti (resignation and withdrawal)  Mokashi in a sense relives that debate through Kanhoba, the younger brother of Tukaram, easily one of the greatest poets of Marathi ever. Kanhoba poses the  tension between the mundane world of crass materiality and the spiritual or mystic renunciation of that world. Kanhoba emerges in this narrative Tukaram’s alter ego of sorts. In a sense this narrative rejects the modern day versions of the debate like the one of  nationalist historian Vishwanath Kashinath Rajwade (1863-1926) or a protagonist of the mystic (Mumukshu in  Marathi) tradition like Laxman Ramchandra Pangarkar (1872 - 1941). This story establishes the dialectical nature of that engagement. Understandably the nationalist zeal of that debate can be easily dehistoricised and misunderstood today. Indeed that is happening today. But it appears that Mokashi’s Kanhoba is asking the same question more pointedly and poignantly.


Kishor Kadam as Kanhoba in the play Anand Owari

      Like the questions of political power and its renunciation that Rajwade found relevant in his discussion of the Sant Kavis (the Bhakti poets of Marathi) Kanhoba in his grand soliloquy  is posing the question if the materiality of the world and its mundane compulsion can be wished away at all. Kanhoba is caught in a trap of that mundane world and his beloved brother losing himself in his Bhakti and his Vithoba, the Lord standing akimbo at Pandharpur aptly described by Guy Deleury in his introduction to the French translation of selected poems of Tukaram ( Tukārāma: Psaumes du pèlerin [French] (UNESCO Collection of Representative Works) / Guy Deleury / Paris: Gallimard [France], 1956.), as  the Jerusalem of the Marathas.  Mokashi celebrates that.

        Kanhoba lends poignancy to Mokashi’s work which sums up the dilemma that paradoxically has made Tukaram the most loved poet of Marathi. In the end there is no answer to Kanhoba’s  predicament or the entanglement in the mundane world and the spiritual quest. He cannot resolve it the way his brother did or could. At times in Mokashi’s work, he seems to be uncertain if his brother really ever solved the dilemma. For Mokashi’s Kanhoba, the quest is not over nor is it ever likely to be over. His Parabrahma (supreme reality) is distinct and different from Tukaram’s.

      Well, in short this is a major work  and it should indeed be celebrated that at least an edited version is now available in English. For far too long has our discussion and appreciation of the Bhakti literature has got stuck in clichés. Kanhoba, Tukaram and Mokashi would  get us out of the clichés. May be we shall discover the points of strength of modernized tradition and its literature. Let Anand Owari be a voyage of discovery of Kanhoba, and no less Mokashi.