D.K. Bedekar* and Ashok R. Kelkar



Marathi Literature (1870-1970)


The Indian Context


            It was around 1870 that Marathi literature ‘graduated’ from the pre-modern phase (1840-70) and became in the full sense a vehicle of the Indian Enlightenment as it was realized in Maharashtra.  A proper understanding of this body of  literature, therefore, calls not only for linking it with the foregoing period but for establishing a general perspective for the process of ‘modernization’ imposed on the Marathi-speaking people after the coming of the British rule to this part of India in 1818 with the fall of Poona, the hub of the Maratha Confederacy led by the Peshwas, the hereditary prime ministers to the line of Shivaji.


            The establishment of the Pax Britanica in the land troubled by the misrule and anarchy of the last days of the Peshwa rule under the enlightened rule of Mountstuart Elphinstone the then Governor of Bombay ushered in a process of rapid economic, political, and social transformation.  We must bear in mind, however, that this was not organic, inner-motivated growth with its characteristic vigour.  Moreover, the agency of change, capitalist imperialism of the west in the practical minded, gradualist, Benthamite liberal English version, was something utterly new to the Indian Society.  It brought Indian society in touch with another which differed from it in every conceivable way.


            How did the leading sections of Maharashtra society react to the new colonial economic and administrative set-up?  While some sections (some castes and communities, to be precise) tried to retire into a shell of faded glory, others were quick to grasp the advantages of the new culture and life-style and adapt themselves to the changed set-up.  The Indian Awakening (sometimes uncritically billed as an Indian Renaissance) has thus an aspect of self-criticism and selective glorification of the Indian tradition.  What set serious limits to the enlightenment and prevented it from flowering into a true Renaissance was that it was far from all-sided.  It was confined to the literate élite who took to the new education (the University of Bombay was founded in 1857).  It was almost wholly literary, humanistic, and religious in character.  The new elite were inadequately aware of the ruthlessly exploitative nature of the new regime and little understood or cared for the longer implications of the growth of Indian business and industry at the hands of the mercantile communities and the immigrant labour of Bombay.  This couldn’t have been otherwise.  The Indian response to the British regime and the Industrial Revolution was essentially a fractured one.  Marathi literature was thus both an outgrowth and an instrument of change.


Formative Influence


            In studying the influence of tradition we must clearly distinguish between the surviving past: the past as resuscitated by modern philological, archaeological, and folkloristic research; and the “past” as re-embellished to serve specific modern urges.  Under the first, we think of the Indian heritage as shaped in the six centuries or more of the history of Maharashtra as a distinct entity – the doctrine of Karma and of advaita as interpreted by Marathi “saintly” traditions which though dominantly Vaishnavite underemphasized sects and cults and underlined the worth of the devotee is an example of what we call the surviving past. The vigorous tradition of Sanskrit learning is another aspect of the same.  Under the second heading, we can think of the discovery of Asokan edicts or Ajanta caves as a part of the Buddhist heritage; or of the pastoral golden age of the Vedic Aryans whose special mission was to civilize the barbarian pre-Aryan India (at least such was the available simplistic picture, which suited the new élite perfectly).  Under the third heading falls idealization of Maratha history as a glorious struggle against the onslaught of Islam picking up where the Rajput warriors had left.  The Vaishnavite saints were held up as our Protestant Reformers making Hinduism more democratic, more personal and therefore more worthy of being saved by the brave Maratha soldiery.


            The modern urges that demanded such selective treatment of the past were various.  Politically, there was the new-fond sense of past history and future destiny of India as a nation struggling for freedom after centuries of Islamic and now British domination.  This vision of an emergent India was informed by a critique of the inegalitarian aspects of the existing Hindu society with its segregation of untouchables and women, its fragmentation through caste barriers, its confining of knowledge to the few.  What stimulated this critique was the new sense of national unity, liberalism with the faith in the individual and in progress, and contact with evangelical Christianity.  The scientific account of the world, modern technology, and the new detached history – conscious way of examining one’s heritage of beliefs and practices impressed the new élite who saw that knowledge was power and that education was a lever of social change.  The Romantic idealization of love and of genius was slowly accepted.  The new literary models before the Marathi writers were provided by the Golden Treasury view of English poetry from the pre-Romantics like Gray to the post-Romantics like Tennyson, by the essay from Addison to Carlyle, by the historical novel of social portrayal, and, last but not least, by the tragedies of Shakespeare and the comedies of Molière.  We also owe to the English the recognition of humour as a value in life and literature; and the recognition of the theatre as art and as a social force.  There was hardly an Indian theatre to speak of after the death of the classical Sanskrit theatre.  Even now the theatre has still to come into its own in India outside Calcutta (Bangla), Bombay (Urdu, Marathi, Gujarati, and now Hindi, English), Poona (Marathi) and, very recently, Delhi (Hindi, English). This meant a new attention to Sanskrit plays as against narrative poetry and prose and gnomic poetry.


            A third formative influence after tradition and modern urges was the Indian Enlightenment itself as anticipated in Bengal three decades earlier – which was associated with the Brahmo Samaj movement and which saw its literary flowering in the works of Bankim Chandra, Sharad Chandra, and Rabindra Nath Thakur.  The Bengali influence on Maharashtra was confined largely to the period from 1880 to 1920.  Its gift was Hindu reformism of the Brahmos and, quite differently, of Vivekananda, the habilitation of mysticism and bhakti in a modern context, the idealiztion of womanhood, the emphasis on universalism and the cosmopolitan perspective, and the habilitation of visual arts as something more than craftsmanship fit for the artisan castes. (The corresponding habilitation of Hindustani Classical music was of course Maharashtra’s contribution to the Enlightenment.)


            It is noteworthy that the surviving past has no further literary history except as assimilated and transformed in the modern context.  There are no significant successors of Medieval Marathi hi poets – whether the erudito pandits, or the popular bhakti poets, or the bards singing of love and heroism. Sadhudas, Dasganu, Patthe Bapurao are the only exceptions that come to mind (all in the early part of the 20th century).  The leadership once enjoyed by the landlords and the Sanskrit pandits has passed into the hands of the English-knowing professionals and government officials.


The Transition Period (1870-90)


            The new literate public dependent on the printed world-in the form of books and periodicals-drew its literary and intellectual nourishment in the previous period from the serious discursive essays, the medieval Marathi poetry of the pandits and the saintly bhaktas, and English and Sanskrit writings in the original or in translation.  The prince-meets-princess prose narratives and plays and the farcical plays which occasionally descend to a spoofing of the newfangled ways of educated men and women were little better than puerile entertainment.  Indeed the new literates had no real taste for serious secular reading – the pioneers had to create such a taste first.


            The abortive 1857 uprising in North India elicited only cautiously sympathetic sighs inMaharashtra (in spite of the fact that three of its leaders were Marathi-speaking). Vasudeo Balvant’s uprising in the 1860s was a peasant affair led by an isolated Brahman.  The new élite  was more concerned with education in the broadest sense of the word as a weapon of freedom – the use of prose for informing, enlightening, coaxing, and, if need be, scolding the people.  They wanted to secure for Marathi its due position free eventually from the tutelage of Sanskrit, and, later, of English. The prose of the major figures is free from affectation and embellishments, faithful to its chosen purpose, catholic in its choice of vocabulary, and close to the spoken idio.  Pioneers like Jambhekar, Hari Keshavji, Gopalrao Deshmukh, Krishnashastri Chiplunkar of the pre-modern period fashioned a vigorous and plastic medium adequate for scholarship and committed journalism.


            When the first generation of university graduates takes over around the 1870s, certain noteworthy shifts occur.  The messianic  fervour and the schoolmasterly didacticism is gradually replaced by a more mature and philosophically informed assessment of problems and weighing of ideas within the newly historical perspective.  Correspondingly, there is a loss of certain enviable directness and freedom from sophistry.  In the prose there is a now a conscious cultivation of graces, imaginative literature without a devotional or didactic justification is for the first time being considered a pursuit worthy of an enlightened person.


            Finally, the beginnings of a new kind of freedom struggle were made – not based on local dreams of a simple reversion to the pre-British feudal past, but based on dreams of a more just, more enlightened pan-Indian society.  Education was now seen to be a means to that end- and not merely a means for getting a comfortable government job in the lower echelons, or a means of self-advancement and self-improvement.  The notion of dharma as the guiding urge of life was broadened to include nationalism (r¡Àhradharma) and humanism (m¡navadharma).  Maharashtrians developed a new self-image – tough fighters who believed in brains as well as brawn not wishy-washy or arty, capable of idealism and self-respect, capable of laughing at themselves, too unworldly to make good traders or businessmen.


            In one respect there was a setback during this transition period from which the Marathi language and literature would not recover till after the Independence.  In the pre-modern period there was a steady flow of introductory and translated works on natural sciences and technology, informative and descriptive books, and works on human sciences and their applications to current problems.  Rather than raise the level of such writing in Marathi, the university-educated gradually switched on wholly to English.  M.G. Ranade wrote his account of the rise of Maratha power, or of the economic developments or even of the new Marathi literature in English alone – with no translations forthcoming.  The same goes for G.K. Gokhale, and later academics like G.S. Ghurye and D.R. Gadgil.  The average Marathi reader and writer came to have a lop-sided consciousness of the world around him.  The growth of the language as a conceptual and analytic instrument and as a repository of the scientific knowledge and philosophical wisdom suffered.  Indirectly this hampered the growth of a truly poetic language too.


            The major achievements of the transition are in the prose of ideas and the founding of the theatre.  The use of pamphleteering and, later, of periodicals and newspapers as a vehicle of the essay of ideas and social comment was well established by 1870, but the monthly one-man-show, Nibandham¡l¡ (1874) by the nationalist Vishnushastri Chiplunkar gave it a new stature.  Jyotiba Phule, who was of the gardener caste and had received no university education, gave it a new breadth through his serious questioning of the wisdom and legitimacy of the new English-educated, upper caste leadership.  But both share with M.M. Kunte.  G.G. Agarkar, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and M.S. Gole the distinction of presenting a reasoned view of our past and our destiny in their diverse ways.  With the exception of Phule, however, who was not given his due till being discovered in the 1930s, this new prose shows a better sense of structure, a more conscious sense of its effect on the reader, and a more selective manipulation of spoken language.


            The modest beginnings of the Marathi stage in 1843 by Vishnudas Bhave were followed by the presentation of Sanskrit and English plays in translation and of insignificant romances, farces, and spoofs.  The beginning of serious original playwriting can be dated with Kirtane’s Thorle Madhavar¡va Peshve (1861), which is probably also the first serious use of Maratha history for imaginative literature.  But the credit of making the stage-play popular undoubtedly goes to Kirloskar who adapted mythological themes in original, song-and-music-loaded plays and staged them himself.  In spite of the continued stigma attached to the stage as the haunt of vagabonds, the educated were quick to take an interest in the writing, staging, and seeing of good plays-they found in it an instrument of popular education and social change and were also inbued with the desire that Marathi, like Sanskrit and English, should have a dramatic tradition.


            The prose tale graduated to the novel or romance during this period.  While the stage play drew largely upon known mythology or history, prose fiction felt free from the beginning to invent its story.  The beginnings of the historical and the ‘social’ novel were made in this period.  (It is interesting to note that the mythological novel never really took root).  The poetry of Lembhe, Mogre, and others is still groping its way-alternating between didactism and inward musing.  The prose essayist andinward musing.  The prose essayist Kunte tried his hand at writing a modern epic on Shivaji which has brief passages that are fresh in diction and vision.


            But, for the clear emergence of imaginative literature and for the first modern classics, we have to wait till the next period (1890-1920) which saw the spread of schooling among upper class woman, the stabilization of the literary reviews and publishing houses, and the rise of the cities in the modern sense of the term.  (the first labour strike of India took place in Bombay in the 1980s).  Phule’s broader vision soured into a narrow anti-Brahman movement which had no use for Phule’s radical program for the untouchables and the women.


The Initial Urge (1890-1920)


            In 1890 a young writer, Haribhau Apte, published the first mature novel in Marathi, Pa¸ laksh¡t ko¸ gheto?, in which a child-widow tells her story.  It evoked an enthusiastic response.  His unexpected success as a novelist is a pointer.  For much more successfully than any other form of literature the novel presents the form and pressure of modern life.  In the same year Keshavasut (K.K. Damle) wrote some of his earliest lyrics, the first truly modern lyrics.  Full recognition came to this new poet rather late.  This is but to be expected, poetry being a medium that is more abstract, and at the same time more intense and subtle.


            New artists and new audience ushered in a revolution in the forms and contents of Marathi literature.


            The variety of ways in which the literature of this period evolved its motifs can be illustrated from the poetry of this period.  There is not one single school of Keshavasut, but we have to recognize individually the spirit of revolt against society and of devotion to nature that we find in Keshavasut; the blend of Wordsworthian and Christian strains in Reverend N.V. Tilak with his Hindu background; the Byronic rebellious spirit and the yearning for the glory of Maratha history in the patriotic lyrics of Vinayak; the mystical note in Bee (M.G. Gupte); the echoes of Rabindranath Thakur’s religion of man and worship of the child in Datta Kavi.  W.B. Patwardhan will be remembered as the first modern literary theorist.


            The elegant irony of S.M. Paranjape, the urbane prose of N.C. Kelkar, the satire against Brahmanic orthodoxy of S.K. Kolhatkar, the ruthless polemic of V.K. Rajwade, and the skilful infusion of modern content and contemporary spoken language in a Sanskrit dramatic framework seen in G.B. Deval’s Shāradā (1899) are also among the highlights of this period, which in a way closes with B.G. Tilak’s Gitārahasya (1915) which brings out in all its grandeur the subtlety, flexibility, richnes, and sturdiness of our spoken languages.


            The closing years of the period ending in 1920 witness an attenuation of the initial impulse, as can be seen, for example,  in much of the later work of Apte, the later plays of Khadilkar, the vulgarization of the pride in Maratha history, and the emergence of “popular” literature (Tivari’s patriotic songs and the novels spun out by Natha Madhav, N.H. Apte, and V.V. Hadap being some of the pioneering efforts in this field).  Apart from the consciously popular literature, there is the occasional “primitive” like Lakshmibai Tilak (Sm¤itichitre 1934-36 recapturing her long life span) or Bahinabai Chaudhari who wrote poems in her dialect.


            The versatile artist R.G. Gadkari created an exuberant diction which dangerously invited imitation, wrote what is probably the only Marathi play which approaches a true tragedy, and exhibited a boisterous sense of the comic.  But we have to turn to poetry for the true voice of feeling.


            In the few good poems out of Gadkari’s output in verse, he expresses a keen sense of this “sin-tainted earth” (p¡paspriÀhta vasundhar¡). Note must also be taken here of H.N. Apte’s Vajr¡gh¡t (1913-15) and C.V. Vaidya’s Durdaiv¢ Ra´g£ (1914), two novels of pathos and tragedy from writers of the 1890 generation B¡lakavi in his lyrics unfolded new potentialities of the language for the delicate and subtle rendering of moods, of a whole sensing of life.  Modern poetry till then was never free from the rhetorical.  Divakar (S.K. Garge), though he wrote his only play and a handful of dramatic monologues in prose, cannot be passed over here.  He exhibits the ironies and brutalities of life with a unique restraint and depth of sympathy.


            The first flush of national resurgence had been brought to a halt against the stone wall of repression.  The crusade for the liberation of the individual fizzled out in manifestoes of petty reforms.  The educated class failed to carry the original message to the people.


            All of this provides a rather uninspiring backdrop for the literature of the next period.  The middle-class educated élite could not move up to positions of initiative and power- the British steel frame was in firm control and the initiative in trade and industry had already passed into the hands of traditionally mercantile communities in Bombay.  Nor could they fully make their own the plight of the landless agricultural labour and the industrial working class.  The next phase of the freedom movement was Mahatma Gandhi’s broad-based movement – not calculated to confirm middle-class leadership.  Unfortunately, with the few honourable exceptions that we shall refer to presently, there was no agonizing intellectual reappraisal of the Enlightenment but rather a self-indulgent romanticization of the ongoing freedom struggle and working-class struggle or an equally self-indulgent refuge from these to the legends of Shivaji and Tilak.


            More positively, the next period could be called one of expansion.


The Expansion Phase (1920-45)


            The reading public was fast becoming coterminous with the literate population.  Public recital of poetry came into Vogue.  Drama become a staple of entertainment and a feast of songs and/or jokes puctuated by dialogues.  Journalism in the hands of A.B. Kolhatkar ceased to be vehicle of serious though--in other words was ‘popularized’.  The Marathi Literary Conference stabilized itself during this period.  The short story and the personal essay were added to the repertory of literary forms.


            Socially, the spread of education and urbanization loosened the bonds of a joint family and lessened the rigour of tradition.  Women started entering colleges and the professions including authorship and the labour market.  Politically, Gandhiji drew the urban and rural masses into a vast national awakening.  The labour movement and the leftist ideologies emerged as factors to be reckoned with.  The anti-Brahman movement was never completely dead in this period.


            Whatever one may say about explaining any work of literature wholly in terms of its milieu and age, it cannot be denied that some works tend to resist such explanation, while others peculiarly lend themselves to it.  Much of the literature of this period falls in this latter category.  The flamboyant title Bandhan¡chy¡ pal¢kae (Beyond the Bounds) of the novel (1925) by P.Y. Deshpande is, therefore, an oddly ironic symbol of the drift – for a drift it is.  Even our sense of opportunities lost cannot bring us to call it tragic. The combination of ardour and sturdiness, the hard core of artistic integrity which characterize the best achievements of the earlier period are lacking here.  The college girl becomes the focus of much poetry and more fiction.  The love of the young man for her is often combined with his zeal for the cause of his country or of the downtrodden.  (Add the father in the inevitable dressing gown and take away whatever authenticity still clings and you almost get the skeleton of a present-day Indian movie!)


            The ‘Ravikiran’ group and B.R. Tambe represent the main poetical trends of this period.  Tambe’s lonely pursuit of Beauty in far-off Gwalior produced a poetry of many moods; but it was his musically trained ear that influenced his songs and poems which brought him followers.  The ‘Ravikiran’ group (formed in 1923) contributed notably to the diversification of imagery, themes, diction, and verse-forms; and could strike an authentic note, as in some of the poems of Madhav Julian (M.T. Patwardhan, the scholar-poet).  But on the whole the pugnacious parodies of P.K. Atre remain a valid contemporary criticism of the sapless romanticism of the staple verse of this period.  Unfortunately the public was merely amused by these parodies.


            N.S. Phadke, V.S. Khandekar, G.T. Madkholkar, Mama Varerkar, and P.K. Atre did their important work in the novel, the short-story, the essay and drama in this period.  D.V. Potdar, S.M. Mate, V.D. Savarkar, S.D. Javdekar and other essayists, Y.G. Joshi the story-writer, and C.V. Joshi the humourist speak in the idiom of a vanishing generation, but with the exception of Savarkar, who is also a considerable poet, represent the contemporary society in its pragmatic moorings.


            In a way this period of expansion and all that goes with it has continued beyond 1940 to date.  The actual character of this spill-over has been determined by the phenomenal increase in the demand for entertainment, instruction, and propaganda (mixed in various proportions). Nevertheless, one can discern in the closing years of this period the slow building up of a hard core within and against the spongy overgrowth.


Disturbed Reappraisal


            The publication of the novel R¡g¢ni (1915-6) by V.M. Joshi was immediately hailed as the next important event in the history of the Marathi novel since the coming of Apte.  This novel of discussion gives the impression that the educated middle-class is starting a sober reassessment of its social and philosophical ideas as they impelled real men and women.  Actually, however, the cue was not taken up, and Joshi’s subsequent career was one of dreary isolation.


            Another important figure is S.V. Ketkar, whose early dictoral thesis offering a rationale for caste and other writings also belong to the second decade of the twentieth century.  He is known for his monumental Marathi Encyclopaedia (1920-29) and novels (1926-1938).  (The Mah¡¤¡ÀŶra Dny¡nkosh was a stimulus for quite a few distinguished works of reference in Marathi.)


            The brusque, cock-sure, and whimsical mode of Ketkar’s expression and evaluations stands in sharp contrast to the modest and undogmatic rationalism of V.M. Joshi.  But both, in spite of their isolation, succeeded in passing on to the generation of 1935 the spirit of the early pioneers.  For themselves, they remained disturbed and isolated souls.


            The signal for the change was given in manifold directions in the years preceding the Second World War.  We may mention here the inward sufferings of the young woman in the stories of Vibharavi Shirurkar (Malati Bedekar), the renovation of the moribund theatre by ‘Natya Manvantar’ (founded in 1933), the new humanist urge in the Poet-essayist Anant Kanekar and the sense of dedication and renewed strength seen in ‘Kusum¡graja’, the musicality and sensuous imagery of the Romantic B.B. Borkar, the probing of deep-seated conflicts in human personality in the novel Ra¸¡nga¸  (Battlefield), written by Vishram Bedekar, and the importing of value considerations in literary criticism by B.S. Mardhekar and S.K. Kshirsagar.


            In these new sproutings, one discerns both a concern for aesthetic form and a seriousness of purpose.  In this striving after the unity of form and content, the new trend already parts company with the earlier one-sided slogans – ‘art for art’s sake’ and ‘art for life’s sake’.  Beyond this, it had no rallying point- indeed a disinclination to form schools characterizes the Marathi literary scene from now onwards, the various “Progressive” and “people’s” fronts being largely ineffectual.


            We have to wait, however, till the years 1945-47 before we can say that a whole new set of writers has been brought into existence. The writers of the ferment have either become silent (Kanekar, Vishram Bedekar) or continued in their vein (Borkar) or taken new departures (‘Anil’, Mrs. Malati Bedekar, Kusumagraja), some of the writers of the still oolder generation have tried to adjust themselves to the new demands; while a few have risen to the occasion (S.M. Mate’s stories). 


The ‘New’ Phase (1945-70)


            Before we proceed to characterize the “new” element and the immediate “influence” that have gone into it, it will be helpful to see the new audience in its setting.


            The Second World War, the 1942 ‘Quit India’ movement, Independence and Partition, the Cold War together with the accompanying economic and social changes gave severe jolts to the general consciousness and conscience.  The educated middle-class sat up and took notice, as it had never done before—not even during the Depression of the 1930s.


            The fervour of the 1942 movement did not prove enduring; the political changes of 1947 could not re-inject it.  Marxism made its first general impact on the generation of the 1940s and threw up some ‘proletarian’ writers like the bard Amar Shaikh and the storyteller Annabhau Sathe and some analysts of life and letters.  Though it left no lasting impact at this point on literature, it certainly affected the sensibility.  The last opportunity, as it were, for the educated middleclass to remain in its isolation was gone.  Indeed the situation with reference to the world, to India, and to Maharashtra as a whole are disturbing men’s consciousness in a far more direct fashion than ever before.  But this being shaken up does not necessarily call forth awakeful, active, and original response.


            Does literature represent such a response today?  At this point we can only examine the conditions governing success or failure.  First, there is the diffusion of the reading habit (and the writing habit too!) in the various sections of society.  Secondly, the regions outside the orbit of Bombay and Poona are coming into their own.  More urban centers are coming up in Maharashtra.  Thirdly, the tradition of serious literary and general reviews – many of them shortlived – which has been the back-bone of our literary and intellectual life is seriously threatened; even if it survives, it may become largely ineffectual.  Fourthly, the publisher, even for “popular” literature and periodicals has to compete with the cinema, the commercial radio and the picture magazines.  Lastly, what is happening (and not happening) in our school, colleges, and circulating libraries needs to be watched.  Bad money is driving out good at each level of culture.  The sway of Gresham’s law is, however, not complete.


            But before we characterize the literature of this period, we shall touch upon the immediate influences, about which one can speak more confidently.  What immediately strikes the eye is the desire to leave no stone unturned.  The choice of unfamiliar background in fiction is proving popular.  English, European, and other Indian languages are being tapped for translation; and the non-standard dialects of Marathi are being tried out for their expressive potentialities.  The isolation of the fine arts from one another and from literature and the total absence of art criticism are being remedied.  There is greater curiosity about the “latest developments” in the West – in mental and moral sciences, philosophy, literary trends, science.  In many cases we are picking up the thread from where we left it in the last century!  On the whole there is greater honesty about acknowledging collective debts and the effort to understand new modes of thought and sensibility.


            Indeed the desire to see things as they are is partly responsible for the extensive revaluations that are going on in the assessment of our literary and intellectual heritage.  (The discovery of Agarkar and Phule is a case in point.)  A related development is the halting assertion of far grater rigour of method and objectivity in approach than we have ever known in the field of scholarship.  At many points, these tendencies suggest a silent a but nonetheless harsh judgement on the Expansion Phase.


            Along with this widening of horizon there are tendencies with an opposite effect.  The welcome diffusion of literary culture tends to make the gaps between “highbrow”, popular, and “footpath” (lowbrow) literature more and more pronounced.  The professional stage has been allowed to preserve its unity at the price of a rather limited audience.  There are even signs of casteism and regional separatism within the Marathi literary scene, which could be sympathetically interpreted as a deserved rebuke to the “Poona” middle-class leadership of the past.


            A convenient signpost is the publication of B.S. Mardhekar’s book on literary criticism.  Va´gmayÌn Mah¡tmat¡ (1945 which appropriately carried V.M. Joshi’s foreword) and the second collection of Mardhekar’s poems, K¡hÌ Kavit¡ (1947),  which marked a turn in his poetic style and evoked charges of indecency, obscurity, derivative character, and negation of values.  His aloofness and silence about himself and the distance echoes of the bhakti poets of medieval Marathi served only to puzzle the readers.  P.S. Rege’s best poetry belongs to this period – the sensuous evocation of love and its compressed expression reminiscent of the Prakrit erotic stanza was something new.  The short story came into its own-  P.B. Bhave, Gangadhar Gadgil, Arvind Gokhale, and Vyankatesh Madgulkar among others showed its paces.  While Gadgil shared Mardhekar’s new sensibility and emphasis on forging a new medium adequate for it, the others extended the reader’s awareness of the social milieu in different directions.  Some of the authors of the pre-war and war years continued (as has been noted) to write with destination – the poets Anil, Borkar, Kant, and Kusumagraja (Shirwadkar) notably, the last also entering the field of the Novel and Drama. The novelist Vibhavari Shirurkar broke new ground with her Ba½t.


            S.M. Mate, Irawati Karve, and Durga Bhagwat known chiefly as scholars so far opened up new veins in prose – Mate in his sketches and stories of the “neglected”, Karve in her lighter essays and highly personal interpretations of the Mah¡bharata characters, and Bhagwat in her richly allusive prose poems.


            The accelerated pace of life and of social change, the larger number of writers representing a broader regional, social and cultural spectrum, and the new found desire to give a distinctive expression to the subtlest shifts in sensibility – all these have contributed to the shortening of the lifespan of a literary generation (almost one and half to a decade) and the multiplication of trends and groups of the whole range of ‘brows’.  The technical level of the ‘average’ poet, fiction-writer, essayist has improved (one would have fain said the same about the average playwright but cannot).  Given the limited objective of this bird’s-eye-view, one can only name a few names and offer a few comments on each of the three post-Mardhekar generations.


            The generation of Sharatchchandra Muktibodh (not to be confused with his brother the Hindi poet), Nana Jog, Vinda Karandikar, Sadanand Rege, Mangesh Padgaokar, Indira Sant, P.L. Deshpande, and S.N. Pendse saw a new conscious ranging over and mingling of forms, a renewed literary expression of a tempered and chastened Marxism, a revival of the personal essay, and an extension of the new sensibility beyond the lyric and the short story to the novel and the play.


            Dilip Chitre, Bhalchandra Nemade, Arun Kolatkar, G.A. Kulkarni, C.T. Khanolkar, Narayan Surve, Ranjit Desai, Vijay Tendulkar, Jaywant Dalvi, E.V. Joshi, Pundalik, Shankar Patil and of course many others represent the next generation.  The linguistic experimentation was renewed; the historical novel and play received a new lease of life in a new-found psychological depth; the Marathi theatre burgeoned; the story which is essentially a tale retold to an audience arrived; more insistent, more anxious and disturbed search for meaning, a keener awareness of bleakness of life, and a bolder use of irreality in expression is seen in some of the best work of this generation.


            ‘Grace’ (Manik Godghate), Vasant Abaji Dahake, Anand Yadav, Chandrakant Khot, R.R. Borade, Mahesh Elkunchwar are some of the more recent names. The rise of the self-styled ‘Dalit’ (oppressed)movement is an event of some note : associated with the rejection of the younger militants from the untouchables (especially from among those who followed Ambedkar in embracing Buddhism) not only of their earlier leadership and its methods but also of the whole heritage of Marathi literature written by and for the “touchables”, especially the Brahmans.  (This also involves a sense of affinity with the militant Negroes of the United States).


            One must of course keep in mind that these are literary generations – not only do their active periods overlap, but chronological discrepancies arise.  Sadanand Rege, for instance, has been writing for a much longer time than his inclusion in the second post-Mardhekar generation would indicate.


            The crystallizing of a new audience is making it possible not only that new authors become publishable commercially and that experimental little magazines and little theatre groups keep following each other, but also that the innovative artist derive strength from a sense of being listened to.  But this also means a certain fragmentation of the older relatively more unified audience and a special responsibility for the literary critic in ‘placing’ the genuinety creative elements in ‘popular’ writers and the merely fashionable chaff in the self-consciously avant garde writing.  Marathi criticism – in spite of Mardhekar’s valiant efforts to offer a new aesthetic and a new critical touchstone and in spite of the achievements of W.L. Kulkarni, G.B. Sardar, Narahar Kurundkar, G.G. Gadgil of this period – has not quite come of age, however.  The way literature is taught and discussed in schools, colleges, and research institutions and chronicled in literary histories leaves much to be Marathi literature of the Medieval Period is yet to be undertaken on a large scale.  Theatre criticism as distinct from literary criticism of the play is practically absent.  Terms like ‘existentialist’ and ‘surrealist’ are bandied about and applied to Marathi writing without any real understanding.  Literary bodies and literary gatherings lack a sense of relevance and responsibility, intellectual rigour and venture someness.


            The single most encouraging development of recent times is that many sections of the Marathi-speaking community are finding their voices for the first time in history and that many of these voices are authentic despite the strong temptation to continue in the urban middle-class literary modes from which even the protest writers of the Dalit movement are not always free.





            This was published in: Maharashtra – A Profile : Vishnu Sakharam Khandekar Felicitation Volume, V.S. Khandekar Amrit Mahotsava Samiti, 1977, p. 228-50.




 *  D.K. Bedekar was responsible for the first draft, A.R. Kelkar for the present version.  In between and earlier there were discussions and revisions.  Unfortunately, DKB was not able to see the present version before his death in April 1973. (ARK)