The Indian Context
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.
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
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.
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.
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.)
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
The Transition Period (1870-90)
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.
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.
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.
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¡Àh¶radharma) 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.
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.
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.
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
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
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¸
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
the next period could be called one of expansion.
The Expansion Phase (1920-45)
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
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.
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¢ka∙e (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
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.
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.
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.
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¡¤¡ÀÅ¶ra Dny¡nkosh was a stimulus
for quite a few distinguished works of reference in Marathi.)
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.
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.
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
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)
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
signpost is the publication of B.S. Mardhekar’s book on literary criticism.
Mah¡tmat¡ (1945 which appropriately carried V.M.
Joshi’s foreword) and the second collection of Mardhekar’s poems,
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.
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.
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
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.
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
(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).
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.
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.
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.
published in: Maharashtra – A Profile : Vishnu Sakharam Khandekar
Felicitation Volume, V.S. Khandekar Amrit Mahotsava Samiti, 1977,
* 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