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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Mythology of NRI Gujarati writer Madhu Rye

--Tushar Bhatt
The noted writer Madhu Rye, a pioneer in the New Gujarati writing,who lives in the U.S.A. personifies the dilemma of Non-Resident Indians. A modern man of letters, with the twentyfive-odd books, Madhu(68) is an author streets ahead of the contemporary Gujarati writers and more in tune with the West. Madhu knows it and has been making home in New Jersey for more than 25 years now.

The transformation began four decades ago when in 1970 he attended a 2-semester programme in stagecraft techniques at the East West Center at University of Hawaii, Honolulu, USA.It preached minimalist style and Madhu led a movement against the absurdist Gujarati playwriting of that time, for which he is regarded as an alien by Gujarati literati.
Yet, he is perpetually pining for Gujarat,comes home almost every year to soak his inner being with the air of the native land. And, most of his original,creative writing is in Gujarati.
Physically, he loves the comforts and life style of the Yankee land. Mentally, he is at home in the dusty environment of the Desh.Madhu Rye’s homesickness highlighed the common factor among different strata of the first generation NRIs. Educated and aware , like the author or otherwise, all of them are haunted by nostalgia because they grew up in cities,towns and villages of India. Gen Next does not have it.
In Gujarat recently for a month, Madhu Rye deflected questions on why does not he decide to settle down in one place or the other.
Most of us are more generous or sometimes careless when in comes to airing opinions on the affairs of the world, Living in competitive environment of the USA, Madhu still feels financially insecure,and is keen to avoid offending anyone.
Born in Jamkhambhalia, Jamnagar in 1942, he grew up in Kolkata, where his father taught. Renowned Gujarati literary figures in Calcutta such as playwright and novelist Shiv Kumar Joshi and the flamboyant literary figure Chandrakant Bakshi helped him get noticed in Gujarat and Mumbai literary circles where his works promptly won prizes in competitions and state awards thereafter; and his short stories became a fad in the late 1960s.
Moving to Ahmadabad in 1967, he completed his first full-length play, ‘Koipan Ek Phulnu-nu Naam Bolo To’ or `Tell Me the Name of a Flower` . This play used stagecraft to tell a meta-theatrical murder mystery revolving around a young woman caught in her own imaginary myth Radio.
His novel ‘Kimble Ravenswood’ got made into a mini series on the national TV by Ketan Mehta. Rye adapted the same novel into a play in Gujarati ‘Yogesh Patel-nu Vevishal’ and English, ‘Engaging Mr. Patel’).
He got the much-coveted Ranjitram medal for his lifetime achievement in 2000. He has written seven novels, four collections of short stories, eight plays and four collections of one act plays. Based on Madhu Rye’s novel Kimble Ravenswood, director Ashutosh Gowarikar is filming “What’s Your Rashee?’ in Hindi.
Ability to write well is a gift of Nature which has to be nursed meticulously. Good writers not only care for spellings but the exact meaning of the word. Even in that elite league, Madhu who migrated to the USA in 1974, is a tough customer.He writes and rewirtes his copy at least half-a-dozen or more times.
This carefulness has transformed him into an author whose insistence for pristine glory of the langauge is on a par with late Swami Anand. Swami would not agree to publish a book if he found proof-reading less than perfect. It also made him distrust the spoken word, since it cannot be replaced.
Most people become bold when it comes to airing their opinion on the affairs of the world.A stickler for accuracy and meaning of the words, Madhu appears to leads an intellectually miserable existence in the Dollar Land where Gujarati is on the wane.He has become an introvert.
Madhu tries to steer clear of controversies which chase him because he has strong beliefs and opinions. In Surat,he confessed he did not like poetry, especially ghazals and all hell broke lose. It is perhaps the arrogance of a thinking man that leads him to say what he has to say. His detractors are infuriated further when he refuses to enter into a discussion.
Madhu has imbibed Intellectual arrogance of the West.He hides it behind a wooden expression on the face. To a question, who are you,he says he is Madhusudan Vallabhdas Thaker.When told that is name only, he simply says:” I don’t understand your question. Please reply as if I had asked you the same thing.” You feel as frustrated as Rambo might as he tries invain to interrrogate a robot.
How do you discuss the concepts of Brahma ,Brahmanand and Brahmand with him? A smug smile makes him even more enigmatic as if he is whiling away time, waiting for the last train to India.(ENDS)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

An Eloquent Tribute To A Silent Man,Jitubhai

By Tushar Bhatt

A late evening in February’s closing days, Jitendra T. Desai, Managing Trustee, Navjivan Trust, and a world authority on every word written by Mahatma Gandhi, walked in slowly into the house for our customary occasional dinner of khichdi. If he walked more languidly than normal, nobody noticed. But, we felt alarmed when he could not eat.
In four weeks, on March 21,2011, Jitubhai, as he was known, was gone. A silent type of cancer had taken its toll. Ironically, he was a silent public worker in the true Gandhian tradition. His family, handful of fast friends, a vast number of acquaitances and students were too stunned to believe without cross-checking twice.
Devoting his entire working life of more than 50 years, looking after treasury of writing by Gandhiji, he had never taken a vacation. Yet, every single day, he would leave bed at 4 a m, make a cup of tea and begin work reading, writing or editing huge cache of written words Bapu left behind. His day would end at 10 pm during which he would run Navjivan, teach at Gujarat Vidyapith and participate in dozens of Gandhian activities ranging from Ashram Shala to University.
Yet, he was so unmindful of his own image that his official bio-data available with his family is 10 years out of date. It does not contain his Vice Chancellorship, membership a number of national committees of education, rural development, journalism and public affairs. He wrote nearly 25 books finding time in his overcrowded scheduled. He was born in Navsari in South Gujarat on Novermber 26, 1938. He renovated Gandhiji’s Navjivan Trust, taking it from primitive treadle press to modern printing facility. He was so meticulous that hardly any mistake will escape his hawk’s eye.
In many ways, despite having a famous father, Thakorbhai Desai a long term freedom fighter and staunch follower of Gandhiji and Mr. Morarji Desai, Jitubhai never took any advantage of it. This son never rose on borrowed light. Jitendrabhai preferred the path of anonymity. He was born in Dhan Rashi according to Indian astrology but the wealth of knowledge and goodwill were his only claims to prosperity. He was so careful about public fund that he would not tolerate tiniest of irregularity. This earned him many critics and opponents.
He joine Navjivan Trust on a pittance of salary, refusing an offer from a major English newspaper for an Editiorial Job. He realized early in his life that a man should keep his knowledge ever expanding. He went to the UK for a two year course in printing technology, publishing and management at London college of printing. Among his books are practical volumes useful to printing professional as also on journalism. Still he excelled as a translator and brought into Gujarati many celebrated books including short stories by Leo Tolstoy.
But his creative activities remain a spare time activity only because he had to steer Navjivan on modernization trail. Wayback in 1940, the Mahatma decreed that Navjivan shall be a no profit no loss publication Mandir (Temple). Modernization demanded new investment, new skills and new machinery, building and other infrastructure. All this would make labour demand for better salary. Jitubhai could not ignore Gandhiji’s wish that his writing should be available to the people as low price as possible. Desai managed the tight-rope walking admirably. However, it left behind a plethora of court cases launched by the union. Desai’s equanimity of temper and his reticence helped him come through but it apparently to a toll on his creative side. He could have given Gujarati language many more original writings and authentic translations.
It is to the credit of the man that he wrote 25 books. The last one is a compilation of tributes to his late mother Subhdra, wife Tara and sister Kilbil. The interesting point is Desai’s mother never accepted his choice of Tara who came from Kheda District and was a disciple of saint Mota. Subhdraben lived alone. He had waited for seven long years to tie nupitals after that love affair had begun life from their school days. Yet, the sketch of his mother was without any bitterness or complaint. He and his wife both products of Gujarat Vidyapith kept making efforts all their lives to mend their relations with the mother but in vain. Thakorbhai as a father suffered the most because he could see justice in Jitubhai marrying Tara. Nevertheless, he could not ignore the fact that Subhdraben, an Arya Samajist and a student of Tagore’s Shantiniketan had stood by him through good and bad days of life. He could not ditch her. Yet ,he encouraged his son to leave house, marry Taraben and make his own life. The son and his wife followed his advice. Desai’s sister has some differences of opinion and kept away till the last but even about her, Jitubhai had no hard words.A highly developed sense of seeing the other side in a fair manner is a hallmark of spiritual evolution.
Personal life apart,Desai was neck-deep in journalism education at the Vidyapith and worked ceaselessly since 1982 on giving a rural orientation to the college education. Till he attained retirement age. He also rose to become vice Chancellor of his alma matar Gujarat Vidyapith and served the post for three years. Though he could have continued for another term he chose to step down. During the three years he brought about many changes in the administration of the Vidyapith. He had made a unique proposal for an institute to train Gram Sevak, Talaties, cooperative workers and village level functionaries basic skills of reporting so that a better flow of information could in emanate from the grass roots to the top. Many people think this is one of the major weaknesses of the Indian Planning. But before much could happen to the proposal, Desai retired and the idea was lost in the corridors of power.
Despite being a man whose many dreams had not even been articulated. Desai retained his sweet temple. A turning point came when his wife Taraben was snatched away the cancer 5 years ago, delivering a terrible blow to him. From that day on close friends felt that his desire to live started diminishing. Yet, when the full stop came, it came so unexpectedly that his departure has not yet sunk in the psyche of his acquaintances. Desai’s departure reduces the Gandhian content in the modern consumerist Gujarat.
===================THE END

Saturday, November 27, 2010


>( The heart-warming story of an innovative educational effort worth
> lending a helping hand)

--Reports Tushar Bhatt from Bhekhadia triban village in Gujarat

> It perhaps is the irony of our modern development,not only in the
> developing countries,but even in the developed countries throughout
> the length and breadth of the world,some remote pockets of human
> settlement remain deprived of the rudimentary fruits of growth. The
> instruments of normally adequate for most regions are not enough to
> break the stranglehold of backwardness.
> There is no exception, and despite million claims of
> vibrancy,Gujarat too, now turning 50 years of its separate, is not
> free from this syndrome. Remote areas in the State continue to lag
> behind,so far on the hazy horizon that they are hardly noticed from
> the dizzying heights of Gandhinagar. They lack in every aspect of
> infrastrcture—literacy,health care,power,water or road,name any
> catalyst of growth,it is not there in the remote regions. Their
> feeble voice becomes so weak that the ruling deities of democracy in
> the State Capital,so busy loudly congratulating itself on its own
> vibrancy, cannot catch it.
> It is a stark reality that even Gujarat has large pockets of
> penury.There are small settlements,largish villages and bigger remote
> areas of which the babudom guiding political novices does not know of.
> This is not a new phenomenon.It has been known since the days of the
> British Raj that large mountainous tracts of land on the banks of the
> Narmada still lived in another time,ages away from rest of Gujarat.One
> of the numerous names of the Narmada is Rewa and the British called it
> Rewa banks and set up a Rewa Banks Agency.
> It is not just ironical; it tantamount to the down right arrogance to
> put off consideration of seemingly impossible looking situation on the
> back burner for the future generations to handle. In the process,the
> plight of the hapless population in these areas worsen at will.They
> are the children of lesser development Gods.
> It still registers as a shock and surprise to outsiders when they
> learn that as many as a\ lakh acres of land will get irrigation from
> the Narmada.The people of the far-flung Kutch too will have some
> drinking water supply.All this beckons for what the rulers
> euphemistically hail as Swarnim Gujarat. But the neglected children of
> Rewa Kantha will remain deprived of all education.
> Included among these areas of darkness are two tribal talukas, Naswadi
> and Kwant in otherwise industry hub,Vadodara district. It is
> tokenism,but the government itself had certified Kwant as thee most
> backward area economically and the media reported the taluka had been
> named an adopted area for development.But,tokenism still dominate in
> practice. A survey was made to size up educational facilities . A
> scheme launched in the wake of the survey by the Government of India
> had provision for model schools for far-off places. Of six approved
> schools,three each were allotted to the two talukas, Naswadi and
> Kwant.Those in Kwant area were at Mogra,Chaparia and Redi Vasan.Some
> schools were formally inaugrated even.
> But, soon,inexplicably the shifting of the six schools in 2 talukas
> was announced. The two taluka panchayat’s elected representative
> , political and social workers and others,forgetting their internal
> differences and joined hands to fight out the proposal for
> shifting.They went up to the tribal welfare minister to lodge a
> protest. But the complaint fell on deaf ears.The tribal belt lost the
> six schools to Naswasi and Kwant townships and their number came down
> to two schools from the earlier six.
> In short, the hapless villages were back to s square one,having been
> generously sanctioned the schools which then were taken back to the
> taluka town.Urban children benefited at the cost of village
> children.Bureaucratic pen has always been mightier than political
> will.
> Against the backdrop of all this, Shramik Vikas Sansthan, a
> non-government organisation,run under the leadership of Octogenarian
> social worker,Mr.Sanat Mehta, a former MP and a former finance
> minister in Gujarat, set up a centre in the remote Bhekhadia village
> in Kwant taluka,came into being some seven years ago in an endeavour
> to bridge the gap between remote areas and educational facilities.The
> cente,named after Late Mrs Thavliben Rathwa, a tribal worker,was
> locally spearheaded by a tribal leader, Ratan Bhagat.A living
> accommodation to house 40 village children was opened and the children
> were enrolled in the Bhekhadia primary school run by the State
> Government.The Rathwa Samaj,the tribals’agrred to foot the schooling
> and boarding and lodging expenses of the hostelites.The Samaj banked
> on support by member individuals.
> The idea caught on like a wild fire among the tribals and more and
> more guardians were eager to leave their children at the hostel.Indu,
> a tribal young woman, accepted to be their guardian God
> mother.However, the temporary arrangement fell short of
> requirements,especially school rooms. Mr Mehta’s organisation offered
> to bear the cost of two additional school roomswere the Rathwa Samaj
> ready to pick up food bill for a hundred pupils.
> Around this time, manging director of the Gujarat Narmada Valley
> Fertilisers Co(GNFC),Mrs Sudha Achaliya, a senior IAS officer in the
> State,came to Bhekhadia.She got interested in this micro-experiment.
> Not only was a top official a mother’s tender heart throbbed in her.
> She offered that if the Shramik Vikas Sansthan shelled out 25 per cent
> cost for building two halls accommodating a hundred resiential pupils,
> the GNFC would provide the remainder. On June 13,2008, the foundation
> for the halls was laid.The construction was supervised by a young
> tribal worker, Mr Madhu Rathwa.On completion, the halls were
> inaugurated on February 10,2010, by the chairperson of the Khadi and
> Village Industries Commission, Ms Kumudben Joshi.
> One hall with 50 girls and the other with as many boys were opened,but
> soon the accommodation ran short.The number of admission seekers
> touched 150.Said Mr Sanat Mehta:” It was difficult to say No because
> in a radius of as many as 45 km there were no other schools.Of these
> 25 students each had come from only two villages on the Narmada
> banks,Harkhod and Kuda,some 36 km away.From Sanoli,45 km away,six
> pupils had come.
> Currently, 153 students live in the hostels- 46 girls and 107
> boys.Mr.Mehta said the Rathwa clan organisation collected grains as
> donation to provide food.More pupils wish to come,but we just can
> accommodate them. It is a regret that nags me at the age of 86, as
> only a few other things in life did.” His clear voice became heavy
> with sorrow.
> He continued,outlining the dimensions of the problem:” We admit
> children from four talukas.As many as 82 came from Kwant taluka’s 24
> villages.There are 62 coming from villages in Naswadi taluka. Mostly,
> Rathwa tribal clan donated foodgrains,although there are children from
> among Bhil, Dungari Bhil and Nayak clans. Nearly 100 children were in
> 5th,6th , 7th and 8th standards.
> Parents of most children are compelled by poverty and joblessness
> locally to go to distant places in search of manual work. Their low
> wages and perpetual need for extra income result in heavy drop-outs of
> children without completing primary education. Their option is not to
> set foot in a school and go with the parents wherever they go.
> Of the 43 villages in the area,only five km away from a school; the
> rest are between 15 and 43 km away.
> All these logistics mean that two more rooms are need to take the
> number of hostelites from 150 to 200. The programme does not get any
> subsidy or even loan from either the Gujarat or the Union Governments.
> In a sense, tribals themselves bear the economic burden of the
> project. Some well-to-do tribals give personal money,others get
> donations. As he said this the sorrow in his voice lifted and Mr
> Sanat Mehta’s face acquired a glow of pride.
> He said: “ Imagine in the far-flung,remote povery-ridden tribal
> villages , most government schemes had failed despite spending lot of
> money and deplying government machinery. In such a milliue , this
> effort at self-reliance by tribals themselved had borne fruits. As
> many as 150 tribal children will lead a better life.”
> In an open letter to the citizens, Mr Sanat Mehta declared: “ All my life, I have never sought
> anything.But, I feel honoured to put out my hand to seek your mite. I
> am seeking just Rs.10 lakhs from all of you. Please give whatever you
> can,so that at least 200 souls can enlighten their being,so that they
> may have a better chance in tomorrow’s world. I ask you NOT to send
> more than Rs.10,000 per donor so that others too can join us in this
> noble endeavour. I have no doubt you all will respond. At 86 years of
> my life already covered I know I do not have time or energy. Before it
> is sunset for me,I wish to see a smile on happiness on the most
> deprived face of our tomorrow.”
> Education is not the sole programme at Bhekhadia.Tribal women here
> sale masalas worth Rs.20,000 per month.Another 100 women work on
> eight-spindke ambar charkha perfected at Udyog Bharati in
> Gondal,earning more than those who workon a government scheme for 100
> days a year guarantees.Tribal young men are undergoing
> diamond-polishing.
> The Bhekhadia project has been named Aaj ,an abbreviationof Adivasi
> Jan Utthan Samaj. Aaj is a significant name. It serves notice on all
> of us that tribal youth is no longer ready to wait indefinitely for
> the civil society and its government to act.Whatever is needed should
> be doe AAJ (Today), now.The tribals pack their masalas as Aaj masala
> and are prearing to launch a soap, Aaj sabun.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Rohit Mehta; A forgotten Gujarati philosopher of high calibre

By Tushar Bhatt
Rohit Mehta,who died at the age of 86 at Varanasi on March 20,1995,is remembered differently by different people.Some recall his cogently thought and delivered lectures on philosophy.Some talk of him as a man with legendary memory who could quote flawlessly from Sri Aurobindo,Upanishad,Gita as also Marx, a teacher with a vast repertoire and a subtle sense of humour and a prolific writer,and a man of unfailing kindliness.Still some other others think of him as a charismatic personality,donned most of the time in spotlessly white dhoti and yellowish khadi-silk kurta,slightly stocky in build,and wearing a black-framed pair of spectaclesover deep penetrating eyes.He was brilliant,but never flamboyant,solid but never seeking recognition,an original thinker who could easily and without showing any burden mix with the most ordinary.An unusual man who was extra-ordinary in many respects,and yet strove to conceal all this under modesty and non-chalance
Remembered late Prof.P G Mavalankar, former M.P. and a well-read man himself: “Rohitbhai was a five-in-one personality - a thinker,philosopher,interpreter, writer and speaker,clear in thought and precise in language and eloquent in delivery.All these took him to the top.” He was all this,and much more.A many spleandoured man,Rohitbhai as he was universally known was not just a run-of-the-mill freedom-fighter,a socialist-turned-spiritualist.He was in the world class,a thing about which he never had to seek certificates nor to boast.Yet, he was so self-effacing that one would have to hunt for a photograph of his.
How tall was he could be measured from the fact that he was one of the pioneers of the Social-ist Forum within the Congress in the early thirties.He went to prison repeatedly,starting from student days and would have gone far had he stuck to politics.It was Rohitbhai who introduced a then young Morarji Desai to the youths during the freedom struggle.He quit it in 1935,and was never to regret it.
He penned more than 25 books on philosophy,delivered thousands of lectures all over the world and sought to interpret the coming world far ahead of his time to his contemporaries.He was an able interpreter of his friend and philosopher,J.Krishnamurti,of Gita,of Upnishads and Yoga.
Yet,he was no parochial a preaccher.His vision could embrace technology and spell out its im-pact on society and mankind far ahead of his fellow human beings.
What he diagnosed in 1950 in one of his early volumes,The Intuitive Philophy,rings so prophetic after 45 years today,as if it has been foreseen in minute detail by him.He said: “Ever since the industrial revolution of the early 19th century, there have appeared such factors in our society as have led to rapid and revolutionary changes in the socio-economic structure of the world.This tendency towards rapid changes has been considerably intensified by the scientific advance in the course of the last 100 years and more. Large-scale economic production and the breaking down of the barriers of space have been the two most outstanding features of the social and economic revolution which began in the 19th century and which still continues its ownard march.”
“The new means of transport and communications, moving at terrifically increasing speeds,have eliminated distances between countries and have thus brought the peoples of all nations suddenly together.Along with this advance there has been an enormous increase in the scientific and mechanical skill as applied to economic production. This scientific technique is becoming more and more perfect so that there is today production of economic goods on a colossal scale.These goods must be sold and one country is too small an economic unit for the absorption of commodities produced on a mass basis.This factor of large-scale economic production,coupled with the elimination of distances,has tended to break down national barriers. Economic life has become international, for economic trends during the last years have moved in the direction of world unity.”
He perceptively observed: “But this economic currents have been obstructed in their progress by political forces. While the world is becoming one on the economic plane,it is kept divided on the political level.The idea of complete national sovereignty does not leave its hold on the minds of the people.”
He said:” One of the major contradictions of our age is this: the trend towards unity in the eco-nomic sphere and the maintenance of national sovereignty on the political plane. ... This is one of the paradoxes of our civilisation that while we desire,we work for war !”
“Man’s psychological inability or refusal to adjust himself to the requirements of technological revolution has created an immense problem for our human civilisation...We cannot stop the ad-vance of science producing continual changes in the material conditions of life, nor can we stop the activity of the mind which makes every change in the objective conditions too dangerous for the very existence of human civilisation.It may sound strange to say our generation is mentally tired while it has reached new heights of mental development through scientific advance.”
He thought specialisation and over-specialisation was the craze of the modern age,which had enabled us to create a wall between the real problem of life and ourselves,the real problem be-ing the increasing mental tension in the life of the individual.The problem of the individ-ual,according to Rohitbhai, was to discover the fundamental value of life.Today the subjective life of man has been rendered extremely poor while the objective conditions are changing at a terrific pace.Man is trying to cover up his inner poverty by erecting huge mansions for social, political and economic activities.But these activities, instead of providing relief, gradually create greater and greater pyshological tension in the life of the individual.Probably at no time in hu-man history was the gulf between the subjective and objective factors so great as it is to-day.Unless harmony is established anew between these two factors,the human crisis is likely to move towards a deepening horror,the result of which will be complete destruction of our civilisa-tion.We must discover a philosophical approach that would enrich the subjective life of man.” Prophetic words,coming from a man then in his early forties,and that was ages before Alvin Toffler had dreamt of his Future Shock.
Rohitbhai was born on August 3,1908 at Surat in the family of Hasmanram,who used to be a professor in physics at the Elphinstone college,Bombay.The bright child was destine to do un-usual things from the early age. At the age of 18,he led a student strike in the Gujarat college in Ahmedabad against the dictatorial behaviour of its principal F.Shiraz.His two other associates were Jayanti Dalal, writer and Nirubhai Desai,who later became a famous journalist and au-thor.Shiraz had ordered that no student shall participate in any political activity.The strike con-tinued for three months at the end of which the young Rohitbhai was rusticated from the college and the Bombay university, according to Dr Bhaskar Vyas of Baroda. Bteween 1926 and 1934,the young man was sent to jail five times for his activities in the freedom struggle,making him a blue-eyed boy of Mahatma Gandhi. He had already been an avid socialist by then,a core member of the group believing in socialism within the Congress in those days.During the floods in 1927-28,Rohitbhai did a lot of work for the poor.He went to jail during the salt satyagraha too and in 1934,Rohitbhai was handed a two-year term of hard labour,and sent to Ahmednagar.The heat and hard work in breaking stones there led to a terrible illness.He suffered a sun-stroke and then was partly paralysed.The alarmed authorities rushed him to the KEM Hospital in Bombay under the care of Dr Jivraj Mehta, who was to later become the first chief minister of Gujarat.Rohitbhai had refused even to go on parole but the Mahatma intervened. According to Prof Bababhai Patel, a Congress worker,Jamnadas Dwarkadas took J.Krishnamurti to see the ailing Rohitbhai. Krishnamurti kept his hand on the parts of the sick man’s body wherever it was paining.The therapeutic touch is said to have cured Rohitbhai completely.He walked next day, and was discharged from the hospital soon.
Rohitbhai who was in the freedom struggle along with Jaya Prakash Narayan ,was a sort of maverick.He invited Subhaschandra Bose to Gujarat,ignoring Vallabhbhai Patel’s orders.
But the spiritual bent of his mind had already started asserting over his rebelllious political mind. He had begun to realise the “soullessness” of politics and plunged into studying the works of theosophy and Krishnamurti.Leaving “the dunghill of politics”,he took to spiritualism and phi-losophy for life.He explained in 1937 his transformation in a volume called, A new world of the-osophical socialsim,predicting the eventual downfall of the Soviet Union.
In 1941,Rohitbhai went to Adyar in Tamil Nadu to act as recording secretary of the theosophical society,and soon became the international secretary.He explored the ideas propounded by many and yet did not subscribe to any one idea completely.This however was not out of an in-tellectual arrogance but out of modesty.He was to be later given a doctorate in philosophy by the Swiss University at Lugeno.Among the books he wrote were many notable ones such as Yoga-the Art of Integration, The Nameless Experience, From Mind to Super-Mind,The Call of the Upanishads,the Intuitive Philosophy,the Play of the Infinite, the Dialogue with Death,the Be-ing and the becoming, the Eternal Light,the Creative silence,Seek Out the Way,the Search for Freedom,the New World of Socialism, the Science of Meditation,and the Journey with Death.
in 1936,Rohitbhai was married to Shrideviben,a decade younger to him.She used to sing very melodiously.At his lectures,recalls Prof P.G.Mavalankar, Shrideviben would sing bhajans and hymns appropriate to the theme of his talk.”People would appreciate these after listening to Ro-hitbhai since the talk would make them understand the bhajans and hymns and their meaning all the better”, Mavalankar says. Prof.Mavalankar and his wife used to know the Mehta couple well and fondly remember Rohitbhai’s request at his talks (he would call them talks,rather than lectures): “You cannot leave while Shridevi is singing the bhajan. However,you can leave when I am talking.” Hardly anybody would go.
He used to live in Varanasi,when not travelling or lecturing around the world and the country.But he used to come to Ahmedabad for a series of lectures,which would start at 6.30 p m in the lawns of the late Rambhai Amin’s house in Gulbai Tekra,on the Labh Pancham day every year.Prof.Mavalankar remembers having seen around 2,000 people listening to Rohitbhai in rapt attention.When his health started giving in, he used to come every alternate year.
Remembered Mavalankar:” Rohitbhai had good diction,and he would speak neither fast nor slow,quoting with ease from a variety of works.His sense of humour would peep through in sub-tle manner every now and then.He was an optimist and knew the future lay in re-discovering In-dia.This could be done by reviving its great culture which has been showing strands of deca-dence.”
Rohitbhai was a widely travelled man,having lectured at various places in Europe,the U.S.,Africa and Asia.He could talk fluently in English,Hindi and Gujarati.”
Dr Bhaskar Vyas of Baroda, who knew him for more than two decades remembers of an at-tempt by himself and Dr D V Nene at doing a biography of Rohitbhai. He read some chapters Vyas had written and recommended: “Tear them up”. Apparently,to Rohitbhai ideas were more important and lasting than the man who thought them,even if it was Rohit Mehta.
Despite his tall stature in the world of philosophy,Rohitbhai always preferred to remain the shadows,shunning the limelight. In 1993,a greeting card he sent to his friends said:”The mind that is constantly renewing itself never grows old.It is constantly on a voyage of discovery.It never arrives.It moves on towards an endless journey.And the secret of life is found not by one who has arrived,but by one whose journey never ends.”
In January,1994,he had come for the last time to Ahmedabad.Shrivediben’s younger brother,Devendra Oza, a veteran journalist and humour writer,Vanmali Vanko in Guajrati of yesteryear,had lined up an interview for this reporter.Hours before the meeting,Rohitbhai devel-oped fever and the meeting was put off to a future date.That date would now never come.He has moved on to an endless journey of no return.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Rajnikumar Pandya: A Trail-Blazing Author who shows the story instead of telling

Tushar Bhatt
More than a quarter-century ago, a banker-turned writer,Rajnikumar Pandya, hit upon an innovation in Gujarati literature—showing the story rather than telling it. Not being either a student or a pundit of literature, the 73-year-old Rajnikumar is diffident—and full of deference too-- while talking about it even today..
This is despite the fact that he has come out with more than 50 books, numerous monographs, biographies,tv serials, books on Hindi filmdom. He commands a huge fan-following and ironically,there is no major award in Gujarati that has not been bagged by the author.The literati may dislike his physical presence but the power of words could not be overlooked.The honours included the award for best rural reporting in all langauges in India,given annually by The Kolkata daily, The Statesman.
All this is sought to be played down by labelling him as a commercial writer because he earns his bread-and-butter by accepting writing assignments.
It is the same story as in the case of advertisement copy writers. Partly, this is owing to an inability among the literati to do what professional writers are doing. Most readers, attracted to a well-done advertisement, are impressed by its pithy,bright and brief copy plus visualisation. This is not everybody’s cup of tea. Jealousy comes in. The successful professionals are sought to be cut to size by calling them commercial. Rajnikumar is a trail-blazer in this area; he is highly organised,able to abide by the brief, can work smoothly with cameramen,singers,composers and even the rich who want to show to the world.Yet, he carefully keeps distinct the two original writing and assignments
To the literati everywhere, a typical man of letters means someone with unkempt hair,unshaven face,eyes red, mind full of ideas but wallet empty. Injustice is the common tag. Those writers who did not photo-fit this image are somehow viewed as intruders in the paradise.
By vocation a man who dealt with numbers at work as a bankman, Rajnikumar does not fit the shoddy image. He belives in meticulously remain a presentable personality.He was convinced in his heart that he was a man of letters, a natural story spinner, no matter what others thought.Launching himself as a columnist in an Ahmedabad daily,hearted penning what journalism called human interest stories.He thought he had arrived.
Around that time, the writing world in the West was also in a turmoil. Novels were being discarded and tv watching was eating into reading time. Newspapers and magazines too were feeling the heat of tv news channels because many marginal readers stopped buying news journals , depending on tv news. New Journalism came into vogue with journalists applying techniques of fiction writing to non-fiction. These included reconstruction of the story not in chronological order but by highlighting the most dramatic scenes by what the film makers call jump-cutting . It involves shifting from one scene to another.In doing this, dialogue of the main players was brought in. How was this done? Simple. By lnterviewing people.
Unaware of this, Rajnikumar began experimenting and the resulting stories ran under the logo,Zabkar,caught the attention of readers from all strata of society. Now, the literary establishment in many Indian languages, including Gujarati,is populated by professors,teachers,linguistic experts ,grammarians and assorted educators whose last contact with ordinary life was when they were jobless.
The establishment was bewildered. It has yet to come to terms with reality because it knew the reality via notions of literature which it passes off as principles.The literati could not credit it that the new comers were being read by a large number of people.
Oscar Wilde it was who put it tersely: Newspapers are not worth reading,but are read by a large body of people. In Gujarati,Rajnikumar showed that newspapers too can have literary writing.
But, the establishment continues to feel bad. Many writers who are popular among people are unpopular in the literati.
Rajnikumar knows he is persona non-grata in the establishment but cannot make out why. The Gujarati literati also does not know because being self-reliant not many read modern world literature. A few innocents seem to assume that the world outside Gujarat was a permissive space to be avoided. Some are so busy writing they have no time to read.
Yet, authors like Rajnikumar , Ashwinee Bhatt, Madhu Rye,Labhshankar Thacker and Chinu Modi themselves keep low profile.The basic Gujarati mentality to avoid a clash as far as possible plays a major role in this attitude.
When you find Rajnikumar walking,his gait seems to be so deliberate that you would think he is measuring the land. Actually, he is watching his tread to ensure he does not step on a literati’s toes.Generally, he behaves placatorily, verging on public relations. The Gurus think his diffidence underlines a sense of inferiority, proving he is an intruder. At the best, he may be a journalist who has used literary devices to pep-up his reports.
This tug-of-war goes on, taking an invisible tall. Crows feet are laying a siege around his eyes, his hairs are fighting to retain their black colour, face and the body betray a plumpness. His mind is full of anguish, making him think something is yet to be done.
Not many will detect a veil of somnolence wrapping the author’s persona. He commands a huge fan following but has been dreaming about something else.Only the closest of his friends know that Rajnikumar yearns to be a music-maker, wants to sing, and direct movies. These are his childhood dreams.
Late Vasudev Mehta, a veteran journalist, was the first to notice the graphic quality of Rajnikumar’s writing. He noted that among the contemporary writers, he was perhaps the lone one whose writing can be visualised and picturised.
His widely-acclaimed novel, Kunti,was a highly popular tv serial on national scale. Some years ago, he wrote a novel on an Non-Resident-Indian family,based on a true story,Pushpadaah. It was the first major Indo-US literary work in Gujarati. Rajnikumar is a meticulous writer. To know the local ambience,colours,society he travels to far-off places,to acquire realism he listens to dialogue; he not only reports,he tries to enter the mind of his character,pile up details. He always ends up with more material than he needs.But,this gives him scope to prune so that a controlled flow of the story emerges.

Rajnikumar’s innate sense of insecurity rivals with film artists like Amitabh Bachchan or cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar; all three know that to survive and win the rat race,they cannot rest on their laurels.They have to excel by being restless.
The author’s quest led him to put together a rare venture in literature; an album on Meghdut, the mammoth lyrical classic of 11th century by Kalidas. An unabashed celebration of life, the Sanskrit volume is a proof of India’s vibrant richness. Kalidas has outdone himself in compositionof verses,called samshloki ( verses written in such a way that they can rhyme and be recited musically,creating an ambience).
Meghdut followed an earlier digital documentation of the pioneering Gujarati popular journal,Visami Sadi,and its fearless secular-minded editor
In 1913,an ardent fan of Meghdut, Kilabhai Ghashyam Bhatt, himself a scholar translated the verses into Gujarati, in a manner that they too could be recited musically. Till todate, numerous translations of Meghdut were done but few could rival with Kilabhai’s work.
Then, in 1940-41,in Palitana, a pupil named Navnitlal Shah got interested in learning Sanskrit and heard Meghdut. Later,he moved to Mumbai and spotted Kilabhai’s translaton,priced at Rs.5 or 6.Now a wealthy old man,Shah still has the copy.He did not need to refer to it since he knew the entire volume,verse by verse,by heart.
Navnitlal is a lover of literature and had earlier joined hands with Rajnikumar to bring out a volume commemorating poet Ruswa Mazlumi who wrote ghazals.Other documentation followed.Eventually, he told the author to attempt something to take Meghdut and Kalidas into Gujarati homes with Kilabhai’s easy translation as the centre-piece.
The volume was accompanied by musical recital of the verse in two CDs by noted folk singer,Prafull Dave.The music direction was done by Asit Desai, another household name.
Rajnikumar said he knew precious little about Meghdut beyond the words Ashadhasya Pratham Divase. He set about learning more and everything he found he put into the book.So the album has articles on related matters by pundits.Its richness has been augmented by sketches and paintings of scenes and people in the epic done by renowned artists like Late Kumar Mangalsinhji, late Vasudeo Smart,late Kanu Desai and a host of others,all rare.
The album has been offered to public at cost price of Rs.595,and of Rs.295 for the book only.
For the restless author, a new quest begins.
(The End)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Chronicles of extra-ordinary tales of the ordinary

Tushar Bhatt

Usha Shukla, a young school teacher in Ahmedabad, stood stunned. In her 30s, she was already a principal, a position that pupils regard as next only to the Almighty.
Less than an hour earlier,she had slapped an 8th Standard girl soundly on the face for not doing home work in the mathematics in a proper notebook. Mota Ben, as lady principals are respectfully called in Gujarat , are often stricter than the male of the species.
The teacher had felt pleased with herself in punishing the erring student who had not uttered a single word in self-defence. Usha was petrified. There was something missing and she felt inadequate to pinpoint it.It made her task all the more tough.
The frail pupil was clad in simple clothes,probably bought from a second-hand clothes vendor on a city foothpath . Middle class young teachers like Usha often realise it belatedly that keeping quiet in such situations did not mean that the student had nothing to say. It could mean more often that the pupil was helpless.
Usha finished the class and made her way to principal’s office,feeling euphoric and believing she has instilled fear of God in pupils Yet,an explicable uneasiness underlined the experience.
As she settled in her swivel chair, the school throne of power, the erring girl asked from the door way meekly :”May I have a word with you, Motaben?”
Curtly,the teahcer replied: “ Yes, what is it ? What the tiny girl had to stay left Usha contrite with remorse.
God has forgotten to give many things to teachers, but He has supplied them in abundance with the ability to empathise with the pupil .
The girl began softly, meekly and yet with a dignity the Almight gave the down-trodden to survive in the cruel world. However bad tempered they are, eventually teachers are also children of the Muse of Knowledge. The dictator in the teacher gave way to Saraswati as words rolled out of the distraught pupil.
“Ben, I have not prepared notebook for home work in not only the mathematics but no subject at all. I got second-hand books from a friend,but I cannot get notebooks. My parents are labourers who go out in the morning for work. The kitchen has nothing to cook so we come to study without food.There will be no food in the night too if the parents did not get any work.”Till I get a scholarship, there is no way to obtain notebooks.I know this is bad.”
She said in even tone that exploded on Usha like at atomic device. ” You can beat me every day, in every period and I will neither cry in the class nor stop coming to school.”
Despite brave words,tear rolled down her emaciated cheeks.
Usha Shukla was devastated by the impact. “Oh, my God. How could I be such an idiot? What kind of a taecher am I ? Am I a teacher? What a shame that I did not know about her plight? “
Instead of slapping the young student,she should have slapped herself, Usha thought furiouslylf. Who would think of her as anything but a snob?
As she remonstrated with herself, the pricipalalmost choked on her tears.Then,she decided to act.
She later told a jury of eminent citizens,led by retired chief justice of Gujarat High Court, B J Diwan who adjudged her best suited for an excellence award by the Eklavya Foundation: ” I decided to educate myself.I was nothing but a romantic dreamer.My colleagues said that there were a number of children in our school itself in similar predicament.”
Usha told them:” Come what may, we will make a beginning. “ The girl who was a victim of Usha’s wrath, was provided with not only notebooks, but everything a pupil needed. Usha and her colleagues got extra lunch boxes from their homes which will be left in a room so that the needy could quietly go and eat,without anyone knowing and hurting their self-esteem.
For the middle class teachers this was not an easy effort. In the days of steady income and spiralling prices, it requires a Herculean effort to meet both the end meet.
If God had created everthing , He should also be accountable for everything. The Brave Motherly Hearts decided never to donate money hereafter to temples, mosques, gurudwaras,churches..every placewhere a cash box for His acolytes ‘ sustenace is found. Not happy with the way He performed his job, the teachers replaced Him with school children.In the entire existence there was nothing holier that children.
Sceptics may argue that despite such kodiyan(earthen lamps) burning themselves out the darkness in our education system continued.It was as if there was darkness at noon.But,there are some Good Samaritans contnue to furrow their lone plough, and support innovative Gurus. Every year since 1997, Eklavya gives several awards for excellence in education.For more two decades, teachers from Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar districts in Gujarat have been given these awards. Usha got it in 1998.
Said Sunil Handa,chairman of the trust,”we are trying to identify the finest,most hard-working and steadfast teachers who have made a significant diference in the lives of their pupils.” It was the jury’s job to find such teachers.
The battle-hardened jury was deeply moved by the extra- ordinariness of the ordinary, when Usha narrated the simple tale.She and her colleagues were without power ot means to bring about a massive change in India.However,they were honest teachers. Everything they attempted did not mean necessarily a success. They had not been able to prevent young girls dropping out when they reached marriageable age.The parents would not want their daughter to have a lot of education so that there would be out-qualidied their spouses.For years now, girls have been forging ahead while the boys fared poorly in ssc and other competitive exqminations.
Handa was aware that piecemeal efforts were not enough. " We need a large number of grassroot level teachers who make a difference. “
Since 1997, 13 annual awards have been given on September 5, Teachers Day. Every year award winning Gurus narrate their life story and experiences.Then,in 2009, a journalist,Neerja Choudhary, was the chief guest at the award ceremony. She heard a veteran teacher,Perin Lalkaka describe her life . The story-teller in the scribe sprang into action. In her speech, Neerja,suggested experiences of the award winners should be brought out in an anthology.
Handa and his colleagues took to the suggestion and a bilingual book, in Gujarati and English, Aviram Athak ( Joyful Path,Tireless Walk) comprising of life stories in 36 walks down the memory lane is the end-result. The 168-page volume ,priced at Rs.100 a copy. was released in 2010.Its charm lies in togetherness of daily-life experiences, tunring into an extra-ordinary boquet of tributes to the mission of teaching. Alone or together, they would not bag a Nobel prize for literature.
It will ,however, bring home what ordinary citizens can do if they are are committed to a cause.A concerned and impressed parent neatly summed up: “No literary masterpiece has changed the world. But education has and will do so forever. Needed are committed teachers and a sensitive society.” We need good primary and secondary teachers. A Nobel prize can wait. A Gujarati idom says it all neatly:” Tipe Tipe Sarovar Bharay.” What is a lake of water but joining together of a vast number of drops of water?