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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Chandrakant Bakshi’s Journey through literary jungle

Tushar Bhatt

With 126 books already to his credit, the 64-year-old Gujarati writer,Chandrakant Bakshi,did not look like a spent-force,either physically or mentally. It was our first one-to-one chat.There were several surprises.
He smiled easily,laughed heartily,even at a joke at his own ex-pense,behaved what the British gentry would have described as correctly,and generally comes across as an amiable person. He might forget and forgive a physical attack,but never an insult.
Which profile,many of his detractors-- and they are in a legion --would testify,did not sit easily with his profile as an author.If his tongue was witty,his pen was generally barbed,and prone to drip-ping vitriol more often than not, or so it would seem to the detrac-tors.
That made Bakshi a highly controversial writer,and he positively loved controversies.Some say he chased a few if none came his way naturally.A man who took life as it came,and like to take it at a flood,Bakshi was a meticulous craftsman of words.
But,he was not a man with the gift of the gab and nothing to say.He backed up his skill as a wordsmith with an equally meticu-lous research,meshed with ideas designed to create an agita-tion.Simply put, he was a writer who hated to be ignored and did his damn best not to go unnoticed.
Bakshi divided his writing into two compartments,journalistic writ-ing,aimed at specific target audiences of the young,of women, of people in far-flung areas,striving to learn more, know more.It is studded with information and writing in a lively fashion-- a definite infortainment.His other writings,such as novels,short stories are what he said brought him into his element.But,in both types the backbone was a mix of research and experience.
He began writing for publication at the age of 18 and had never stopped,producing during the years 25 novels,12 collections of short stories,two collections of plays,seven travelogues,14 on his-tory and culture,41 anthologies of articles,two biographies,three containing excerpts,10 of translations and 41 anthologies of arti-cles in addition to three volumes of autobiography.Even his autobi-ography,begun in 1987,was an on-going work; more volumes were yet to come,till his last breath.The only branch he left alone is po-etry-writing."I did write some 20 poems but early on in my life, I re-alised poetry was not my forte."
A rebel,who was often at odds with the establishment,he was twice awarded first prizes by the Gujarat Sahitya Academy and the Gujarat government,but did not accept,contending these should go to younger writers.By temperament,he appears to be more at home in combat than in agreement with the powers that be.Many ridi-culed him as a one-man army,always itching for a fight; others think of him as a Don Quixote of Gujarati literature, forever tilting at real or imaginary windmills-- or windbags.
In reality,Bakshi was a warm-hearted person,with a strong sense of personal loyalty and a community sense of rebellion.He loved Calcutta dearly,although he left it many years. He disregarded the criticism of the eastern India megapolis as a dying city:"I spent the best years of my life in Calcutta.I have rich memories.Your friends may not happen to be the most beautiful people in the world,but they are “ your friends",he said, explaining his loyalty to Calcutta.
His growth as a writer was some kind of anti-thesis to the envi-ronment in which he was brought up.He hailed from a family that was not poor.
Born on August 20,1932,at Palanpur in north Guja-rat,Chandrakant did his matriculation from Bombay university in 1948,taking the first class.He did his B.A. from St.Xavier's col-lege,Calcutta with distinction in 1952,took his degree in Law in 1956 and finished his post-graduation from Calcutta university in History and Political Science in 1963.In 1970,he moved to Bombay as a college teacher,joining the Mithibai College of Arts,taking un-der-graduate classes in history and political science for a dec-ade.For five years between 1975 and 1980,he also taught the post-graduate students at the Bombay university in the same sub-jects.For two years he worked as the principal of L.S.Raheja Col-lege of Arts and Commerce in Bombay,till 1982.
But what made him take to writing? Chandrakant had no clear-cut answer,save the memory that he started writing very early.His first short story,in Gujarati,Makanna Bhoot,was written in 1950,when he was 18,and was published the next year in the pres-tigious Kumar magazine.
What prompted him to write in Gujarati was the location of his stores in an area in Calcutta,where no Gujarati was spoken all day."As it was my Gujarati was bad, it was atrocious,and I began to fear I will forget it altogether if did not write."
Remembered Bakshi of his olden days:"I did not know a soul in Gujarati literature,did not even know the language very well. But there was no looking back after I made a breakthrough in 1951. My writing contained the real raw experience of the river-side,of life in a decaying city, of murders and may-hem in day-to-day life, of fish.This somehow made an impact.Bachubhai Rawat told me in those days that for the first time a short story has come where there is real life,you feel the throb of it, feel it breathing.I think that was it.I feel art for me comes from real life.I believe the story con-tent has to be there in whatever you are writing,it should pertain to real life."
He did not think that he was avidly read because he loved to shock people,by being outrageously different."That is a misconcep-tion about me.Actually, earlier there never was any tradition of hard work in Gujarati writing,of marshalling facts, mounting meticulous research,doing a lot of home-work. I have fortunately had the disci-pline of history and law in my training,and I tend to do a lot of work before I put words on to the paper.I read up,move around,talk to people,look at landscape.Nothing gets out of my hands, my control in my writing.I am outcast in literature,am never called for anything, am not on any committee, no official accolade comes my way.The Soviet Union called me,but not in our state.That rankles me some-times,but only momentarily.There has been a conspiracy of si-lence".
"I have only one ambition; I want to be able to live as long as I do in the same way as I am doing now.I ask God to grant me that.I also do not want to die an invalid.I have no mandate to improve the world."He was full of joie de vivre and wished to be that way till the very last breath."I am I,and I want to be so till I am there".It requires superb arrogance or self-confidence to wish that,or perhaps both.
His wish was fulfilled and then one day in the dawn as the night hastily departed, it snatched Bakshi; he became He.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Niranjan Bhagat: A poet and a one-man university

Tushar Bhatt

The fingers of both his hands are dancing, as if making - or backing - the point that he is putting across; the eyes, with dis-cernible dark pouches underneath, are sparkling. The voice is loud enough not to need a microphone even in an auditorium, although full of warmth and friendship. The forehead displays the furrows time has made on a face that is otherwise noteworthy because of a largish nose.
But, the owner of these features,Prof.Niranjan Bhagat,poet and teacher,and a human being par excellence, seems to be hardly aware of all the visual impression he is making on his listeners. In fact, it would appear that rest of his body is merely a functional at-tachment to the extremely lively --and invisible feature -- that ticks under the greying hair combed straight, his mind
Prof.Bhagat has not written more than two or three poems in the past 35 years, and even in the preceding 15 years, his work could perhaps fill 200 pages.Yet, it is the profoundness of his poetry, and not his prolificity, that has made Bhagatsaheb, as he is known to countless students of literature in Gujarat, a pillar of post-Independence Gujarati poetry.
For some five years, he had been speaking for an hour-and-a half every Tuesday at the Gujarati Sahitya Parishad on poetry; in Gujarati on poetry in many a language ranging from Gujarati to French. Said a regular listener, one of the 30 odd-people who col-lected at the Parishad to relish the pleasure of his erudition, expo-sition, explanation and critique: "You could listen to him for five hours without ever feeling bored. It is like listening to the roar of the Niagra, ever enchanting. Mark his mannerism of closing his hands to his chest and outstretching them to his listeners, as if he giving them something from the depth of his heart. It is unlike so many others, notably politicians, whose far-flung arms close towards their chest, as if taking away something from those who came in touch with them."
That alone would make Prof Bhagat a unique teacher, a rare bird even in these days of proliferation of educational institutions, with all the Tom, Dick and Harry taking a tutorial tempted to call himself a professor. He is more than a mere teacher. Although he formally retired from teaching in college years ago, he has never tired of delving into the world literature, and meticulously preparing himself to give what he has excavated to others.
Niranjan has been hailed as a poet of restraint and conscious-ness, whose poetic creativity took place mostly between 1943 and 1958.Born in 1926, he calls himself "a child of the city, an industrial city”. At the time of his birth,Ahmedabad still lived mostly was a walled city; the western suburbs were still villages and Gandhiji had been in town with an ashram for a decade or so. The Mahatma's Dandi March took place when Niranjan was a child. On the eastern side of the Sabarmati,he recalled once, were the textile mills, spawning eddies of black smoke into the sky and on the west was the Gandhian establishment, with its subdued noise of the indige-nous spinning wheel, the charkha. The struggle for the country's independence, for the growth of its swadeshi industry, for freedom to go its own way of social, political and economic development was the backcloth against which the young Niranjan's childhood was spent, first in the walled city and later in the Ellis bridge area. His Bhagat surname was derived from an active participation in Magan Bhagat's Bhajan group by his grandfather, Harilal.But this was more of an accident, according to the poet.” I do not perform any religious puja at home, nor do I go to temples. I have never advertised my relationship with the Almighty either through thought in private, or through words of action in public. Even in solitude, I never take God's name without any rhyme or reason, either to my-self or others." Eldest of among three children of his par-ents,Narhari and Menaben,the young Niranjan had a taste of free-dom fight when he suffered a fracture on an arm during a police lathi charge near Gujarat college in 1942.He went to college at the L D Arts in 1944,and to Bombay for two years for post-graduation. He regards his childhood as a very happy period- a paradise. “I have tried to re-enter that paradise through my poetry, a failed at-tempt. Maybe I will still try to do it. I am looking for my childhood in poetry". His creative journey appears to have actually begun in 1942 when he wrote the first line of Mari Papan Ne Palkare. It was not a full poem, but the journey took him to the publication of his first collection of poems, Chhandolay, in1949.He was also given the Kumar medal for the best original contribution to the magazine, Kumar in that year. The next year saw the publication of Kinnari, another volume of his poetry. In 1950, he took up teaching English literature at a college in Ahmedabad, and continued to teach for-ever, even though he no longer goes to a college, having formally retired several years ago. After Pravaldwip, which came out some 35 years, Niranjan appears to have stopped writing poetry, partly because he never felt satisfied that his creation could be better than what it had been till 1958.It is not a writer's block in the sense that he does not have anything more to say; it has something to do with his quality consciousness.
Invariably, whether the visitor is a close friend or unknown ad-mirer, the question that comes up more often than not is: Even so, why did he stop writing poetry? "There is no definitive answer. I do not know why I wrote, I do not know why I stopped. I cannot even say that I will never write poetry again." He says: "Is it a matter in the hands of poet that he will or will not now or ever pen a poem? One thing is sure I will never write anything that looked like a dilu-tion of my earlier work, or a reehash, or a watering down." He gives an impression of being a wordsmith who produces when there is an inner call, and when there is no such call would not do a thing in spite of all the world telling him to produce.Art,in the eyes of a true artist, just happens; it can never be ordered about, or mass pro-duced.
His creative process, he frankly admits, is some sort of a mys-tery to himself. ” I wrote poetry for 15 years because I felt like it; it was all bursting out on its own." His work had never been a forced or disciplined output-- a formalised production process so to say. He has to spontaneously feel like writing and then only could he write. He has written some prose, mostly literary criticism; and more often, he has emptied his thoughts to his innumerable stu-dent audiences. He reads a lot, learnt French, has travelled to vari-ous countries and goes regularly to Paris. "I must have walked a thousand miles in cities of London, Athens Rome and Paris since 1982.Everytime I go to a big city, I roam around. I will always con-tinue to do it."
Actually,Niranjan is a loner. “I do not belong to any camp. I like both classical and modern, traditions and experimentation." Paint-ing,music,scupture,architecture do not seem to attract the profes-sor much; nor do the flora and fauna, birds and bees, animals, sky and the sea, the vales or dells, the plains or peaks. “All these are beautiful and I am aware of that fact, but personally these do not enchant me. I am interested in poetry, cities, and the nameless, faceless crowds roaming the roads in the cities." He is a voracious reader, who wants not to enjoy world literature himself, but enable his friends, acquaintances and even strangers to partake the pleasure. He would dearly love to translate the 164 poems of Baudelaire from French into Gujarati.He has lived a full life, and does not have any regrets. He sets a great store by his friends, who are innumerable in number. He sometimes quotes Yeats:" My glory was I had such friends".
He admits to finding some mystique in the crowds of human be-ings, unstable, unknown, formless crowds. Yet, this attraction is not without a curious detachment. “I am in crowd, but not of the crowd. His desire to translate Baudelaire into Gujarati also stems from this. But, he would like to dodge questions that would commit him to anything. When and how will its flight take place, the bird knows not.

A Barber spells out what haunts the Nation

Tushar Bhatt

His prematurely old face showed no signs of hostility. It did not betray any emotions at all. His voice also discloses anything. He spoke as if he was reading news on the Door Darshan.

The village barber had diffidently asked the visitor if he could take two minutes. He needed no permission because he and the visiting journalist sat on the same bench for three years in the village primary school before the barber dropped out.

But, the income divide creates a wide chasm in society and many people deny friends marooned on the have-not side. The journalist could not but acknowledge the friendship for more than one reason.

The barber’s father was horse-carriage man of a buggy owned by his doctor father. The barber’s mother was the Dai (a class of women who assist pregnant women at the time of delivery and then for days to come look after the infant) who was present at the visitor’s birth.

Yet, the fragile man sought permission to speak. The visitor nodded a wordless yes. The people seem to think that the scribes knew more than what they are telling.

The village barber, wearing a shirt with a torn collar and pyjama displaying loose endings of his customers hair-cut, began his quizzing in a matter-of-fact tone.

Was it true that the visitor had done well in his life? The visitor mumbled non-commitally: Cannot complain.

The villager returned the serve rather quickly. He said: Well, better than he had. The scribe essayed an affirmative, puzzled about the drift of the chat.

There came a query like a good length ball that often makes a batsman lose his wicked.

Was it because the barber had dropped out of the school and the visitor had gone ahead? The newsman again nodded yes.

Now a googly came. Was it not because the barber’s father was poor and needed his son to add to the family earnings quickly while the visitor had no such compulsions as his father was a middle class man. The scribe could not but say: Yes.

Why were the poor parents blamed when poverty was responsible for school drop outs? The barber followed up smartly: Do the middle and upper class babus and politicians really know poverty? How can one formulate policies to combat poverty if one didn’t know what it means to be a poor?

Reading the journalist’s mind, the barber said: you are wondering about my questions. Even though he had only a smattering of education, poverty made one think. Better education would have helped him think and understand better, he said.

The poverty in the barber’s house had been a hereditary reality, an empty virasat. The veranda of the mud house had now for three generations served as hair-cutting shop, sometimes half-mockingly called a saloon or still worse men’s beauty parlour. There was a single chair for hair-cut. One of its four legs was broken and had been kept in place by wrapping round pieces of a thin rope. In front of the wobbly chair, the mud wall was adorned with a mirror cracked in several spots. When a customer looked at himself in the mirror, he would see multiple images of his face. The razor and a pair of scissors dating back to the barber’s grandfather were still on active duty.

The razor was used to shave both men and buffaloes.

The journalist was feeling distinctly uneasy now. His barber friend went ahead mercilessly. He could not renovate his shop, buy new razors and scissors, acquire new furniture, and install new mirrors because that needed money. His grandfather, father and he himself had been unable to borrow from any source. Everybody asked for money, something called margin money. Some banks were said to be giving the full amount but you needed touts to get and touts demanded a cut.

In fact, everyone in the world was asking for money. He asked the scribe if there was a way out. Nobody gave money to poor to make them earn more. Again, in the past decade another threat for the poor had come up. Everybody said the government was getting out of education and health, allowing private money to make more money through hefty fees.

The village barber said now it appeared impossible for his grandchildren to make good in life because their parents would not be able to find money. The same situation prevailed in medicine. Even for traveling on some roads one has to pay toll.

Then came a rocket. How and where would the poor find money for all these facilities? His own reading was that the life of the poor had already become more difficult with the recent years’ pro-poor policies.
The barber did not know but he was echoing a question raised many a moon ago by the economist and at one time finance minister of West Bengal, Dr Ashoke Mira who had said that market economy was fine but what about those who were not in the market ?

A missile attack followed. If all the politicians proclaimed from rooftops that they are for the poor, how come the prices of foodgrains, pulses, vegetables and other day-to-day things were not going down and the authorities keep saying: mahengai kam ho rahi hay?

The barber now fired the mother of all the questions. Are the political parties saying something and doing something else?
Or, to put differently, are they using the poor as election winning pawns and after getting into power misusing their mandate to further worsen their plight? Sometimes he wondered if men and women in positions of power were working to eradicate poverty or to eliminate the poor.

The visiting scribe began to feel the burden of guilt and started perspiring.

Then came a nuclear-head salvo. The village barber quietly put in: Are you better-off people in a majority or are the poor larger in numbers? The hapless newsman murmured: the poor are more in number.

Now it was the turn of the barber to be bewildered. His voice trembling, he croaked. So far the haves were reaping the fruits of Independence. If the have-nots are more in numbers, why do they allow this topsy-turvy governance of our Republic?

Why, why, why?

What is the remedy?

The visitor was speechless.

Instead of going on with the chat, he did the only thing he knew to escape from the reality.

He ran away.

----Tushar Bhatt

Thursday, December 10, 2009

An Unlikely Artist: Manilal Mistri

By Tushar Bhatt
On November 3, 1936,a young man stood nervously on the steps at the main entrance of the old Premabhai Hall in Bhadra area of Ahmedabad,clutching a sketch-book in his hand.He had spent the previous evening at a meeting at the Gujarat Vidyapeeth,trying to capture the likeness in a few bold pencil lines of the main speaker,Mahatma Gandhi.
The youth,Manilal Mulchand Mistri, was the next day at the Hall,waiting for Gandhiji.The intention was to get the Mahatma see the sketch and autograph it.
Always a punctual man,Gandhiji came ,walking briskly,almost running.Manilal meekly presented his work.The Mahatma, a man with infinite pragmatism too,turned to Mahadev Desai, as Manilal later remembered,asking him to take Rs.five for the Harijan welfare activities in lieu of the signature.Aware of the Mahatma's practice,Manilal was ready with the cash,no insignificant an amount in those non-inflation days.
Nearly six decades later , Manilal,himself a grand old man,fondly remembered those glorious years of his student days when he was chasing an unusual hobby of instantly drawing pencil sketches of great figures of the independence movement as also of the con-temporary society,and seeking their autograph on the sketches.
Seated comfortably on a sofa at his son, Vijay's house in Ah-medabad,Manilal, a lean,ramrod man in very good state of health for his age,gazed out of the spacious French window,as if trying to piece through the tiny cloud of dust kicked up in the garden outside by a hot June wind.Always a neat and dapper man,he was dressed in a khadi kurta and pyjama,topping the head with a Gandhi cap, a rarity these days even inn Gandhi's home State.
He recalled:"I must have drawn some 400 or so sketches in those years between 1934 and 1943".Most of them were with auto-graphs of the person sketched.
An engineer by training and a contractor building bridges in later days by profession,Manilal Mistri would have left his mark on the sands of time had he not done anything else but do sketches.
His collection of sketches includes those of leaders like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel,Subhash Chandra Bose,Mrs Sarojini Naidu,Frontier Gandhi Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan,Mahdev Desai,Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya,Acharya J.B.Kripalani,Bhulabhai Desai,Jamnalal Bajaj,Indulal Yagnik,Yusuf Maher Ali,Diwans of Bhavnagar,Prabhashankar Pattani, and of Baroda, V.T.Krishnamachari,historian Dharmanand Kosambi, singer Pandit Omkarnath Thakur,artist Nandalal Bose,philosopher J.Krishnamurti,Sadhu Vaswani,K.M.Munshi,Kaka Kalelkar,Sir C.V.Raman,cricketers Vijay Hazare and Hemu Adhikari and many others of different disposition and vocations.Almost all the sketches were done as a student while Manilal was in Ahemdabad,Baroda and Karachi in the pre-partition days.
Critics have hailed these sketches as of immense value,both ar-tistically and historically. And,yet,Manilal Mistri never had any pre-tensions to being an artist; he did not even get any formal training in pencil sketching or drawing,although his being an engineer may have helped him view things in aproper perspective and dimension.
Said Mistri:" I never gave much thought to my sketches as work of art. I was drawing them because the activity gave me pleas-ure,and to add to the sense of achievement and satisfaction, I had hit upon the idea of securing the signature of the person concerned on the sketch."
Born on July 31,1912,at Chanasma in Mehsana district,in north Gujarat Manilal has spent a life-time in Navsari in south Guja-rat,pursuing several hobby horses in addition to sketching,but had never thought of projecting his work in any manner.The family had a timber business and the young Manilal had set his heart on be-coming an engineer." When I was very young, II used to see an engineer,donning a hat,and going about with great swagger,and getting the respect of all and sundry.I had made up my mind to be-come something like him."
Pencil drawing was a kind of innocent hobby Manilal had picked up without much serious thought of either pursing an art career or doing something artistic.It was just one of his several interests."I was doing these things- sketching, writing on archaeology - for my own pleasure, Niajanand,"he said.
This was no false modesty.His sketches had remained in files,stacked away in an attic for years and years,till in 1985,the Gujarati poet,late Hasit Buch,went to see Manilal at his home in Navsari.
Buch had gone to see him for a different reason.Decades ago,the poet had read a book,written by Manilal,on Modhera,the home of a famous sun temple,near Chanasma.It was an 80-page volume,published by the former Baroda state for the young read-ers.The poet had been so impressed by it that a good many years after he had browsed through it,he had remembered it in 1985.
Manilal put two three files in front of Hasit Buch,asking mildly if he could spare some time to glance through them.The poet thought it was a manuscript of something new written by Manilal Mistri.But,when he opened the opened,the files, brilliant pencil sketches caught his eye,"an attractive and impressive array of drawings,leaving a powerful imprint in the mind"
Buch wrote later: "While looking at the sketches, I shifted my eyes to look at Manilal.In front of me,there was this unassuming man in his seventies,smiling affectionately as he he watched me poring over the sketches." The poet called it revelation of two Manilals in that moment.
Why had he hidden them away in the files? Buch suggested:"Let us put them into frames and exhibit them in Baroda." Manilal did not reply for a moment.Then, in a voice,dignified and controlled he asked Hasit Buch : "Is there really much in the sketches? You see, I had done during my college days.And may I say that at this age,neither money nor fame would motivate me. Forget it."
When Buch returned to Baroda, Manilal rang up,saying that since he was not keeping good health,perhaps Buch should drop the idea of holding an exhibition of the sketches.
As luck would have,Hasit Buch himself was unwell when they spoke and so Manilal came over to inquire after his health. Buch wrote later that he told the old man: "Manibhai the holding of this exhibition is not a matter involving you alone. It is not even our matter; it is something in entire Gujarat is involved. My appreciation of visual arts is that of an interested onlooker.Even then, it seems to me that if we put these sketches on public view,the viewers will have something to gain. Do not say no now,please."
Gujarat ,and the world at large, came to know about these excel-lent sketches,which take the viewers on a visual journey down memory lane,nearly 41 years after they had been pencilled.Some more exhibitions have been held of the sketches since,and one more to come will be at the Jehangir Art Gallery in Bombay in Feb-ruary next.
Said Manilal of his own work: "Of all the sketches I have done, I like that of the Mahatma the best. For one thing, he was the tallest human being I am ever likely to encounter. For another thing, in a few economical lines,I ,even at that young age, seemed to have captured the essence of his greatness. I cannot describe it in words;I can only feel it by looking at the sketch.Others tells me they too experience a similar feeling." The Gandhi sketch showed a thin moustache,and a strand of hair,which many have taken to be a tuft.
Similarly,the pencil sketch of Vallabhbhai Patel, done January 6, 1935,in Baroda is also outstanding. It brings out the stern discipli-narian that the Sardar was.It also has Patel having a bush mous-tache.
The sketches of Subhash Bose,Frontier Gandhi,Mahadev Desai and Sarojini Naidu,too are of immense artistic and historic worth for the history buffs and ordinary souls alike.They together tell the viewers how did our national leaders look six decades ago.
Recalled Manilal: "I used to go to the school in Cha-nasma,always wondering at the excellent sketches and pictures done by the renowned painter Ravi Verma,which were on display at a shop in the village. I often felt tempted to copy them and when I became monitor of my class,I tried copying a few of them on the class black board.They turned out to be very good.Then, a teacher suggested that I draw more often ,and, there I was doing just that. In course of time, I developed an ability to draw exact likeness of an individual's face,without wasting too many lines and that too us-ing a soft black pencil. A pencil was then available in six an-nas.One day I got the idea of seeking autographs of the people whose sketches I had done to authenticate them,along with the date.Even than I did not think of it much beyond a hobby that gave me immense pleasure. I would do the sketch, get the signature and put it away-- perhaps for posterity." His hobby blossomed further when he went to Patan for further schooling.He went to Karachi in 1940 to join the engineering college to become a civil engineer.
These sketches were almost always done very quickly. Said Manilal: "I would go to public meetings and hastily draw the sketches, often standing up or sometimes sitting on the ground.Sometimes I would present the sketch to the speaker the same day,or if the person was to stay, the next day.It was some-thing done in some fifteen to 20 minutes."
Was ever any of his sketch rejected as an unlikely caricature by anyone? No,said Manilal. Most people who looked at the work, would be pleased and would put their signature happily. "Only in one instance I remember this did not happen. I had drawn a sketch of the writer-politician K M Munshi and presented it to him for auto-graph.Munshi signed it,but put at question mark near the carica-ture.I drew another sketch of him and took it to him the next day. Munshi signed without demur."
After taking the engineering degree, Manilal worked as an engi-neer in Baroda for a while, and then joined business in a bobbin manufacturing factory at Kosamba in south Gujarat. Some years later,he became a bridge construction contractor,making home at Navsari.Early in 1940s,he gave up doing sketches alto-gether,worldly matters of working, making money and raising a family becoming his major concerns. He took up the pencil just one more time in 1961 to draw the sketch of Nehru,and never touched it again. "I am now too old and not patient enough to do sketching. I do not have the requsitie strength."
The sketch of Nehru was also different from others in one sense.Manilal could not meet the then prime minister personally and had mailed the sketch to him for a signature,if Nehrru found it good enough. Nehru did find it okay,autographed it in April,1961,but forgetting to put the exact date.
Manilal has also been deeply interested in archeaology too,and had brought out a book on Modhera 60 years ago.At the ripe old age, he was busy updating it, and contemplating to bring it out in English too. He was also toying with an idea of amateur excavation near Modhera to test some of his hypothesis.
Said Pranlal Patel, famous photographer: "In addition to every-thing else, Manibhai was a very good pictorialist.Even at his age, he was interested in outings for photography.Whenever we could manage it, we set out for taking pictures,both in black and white and in colour." The photographs taken by Manilal are also of high quality,revealing a quality conscious mind.A few won prizes and awards in competitions.
Manilal,nearing 90,was a very affectionate family man.Why did he not pursue art as a career."You see,one could not live by art comfortably. I had become an engineer by choice and had plans to excel there too.I never even thought of turning into a professional artist." Even in the autumn of his life,Manilal,as head a family that included two sons and four daughters,was simply adored by his friends and family as a lively grand old man.His wife died in 1990, and he himself was not been keeping well occasionally.
But,Manilal never called it a day."If I rest,I rust" was Manilal's life-long motto,something he had picked up from an obituary of Sir Victor Sassoon that appeared in The Times of India when he was young.His friend,cartoonist Chakor said:" Manibhai was always busy with something or other.He was a true karma-yogi." He had always done things whole-heartedly,but also with a clinical de-tachment,and without any airs.
His sketches,which he never called art,pleased him while do-ing.And,so do they please all those who see them;after all,imparting visual pleasure is an essential ingredient of art.Yet Manilal gave up pencil sketching. How many can give up to-tally,doing something they were good at for a while? He has now gone to his Maker; one can only wonder if he ever picked the pen-cil to sketch Him. No third party will ever know.

A Mystic,an Officer and a Gentleman

By Tushar Bhatt

It was a little after 3.30 p m,but it felt as if the sun had been firing the oven called earth for ages,not hours.The winding road in the sprawling housing colony in Bopal was totally bereft of anything moving,and so are the trees. Beyond the Club House,a small hand-painted board catches attention:C\19 and an arrow,in the spartan military style. As one opened the small iron gate to the compound,a camel bell attached to it clangs.The door-frame revealed a man in dark glasses,attired in pale blue, loose-fitting kurta and pyjama.He did not look much beyond 60,although Lt.Col.C C Bakshi was then 82,if a day.His face did not have the pallor of the aged.Nor had his walk-ing gait the burden of his years.It would be difficult to imagine that the man had three heart attacks; he did not look cowed down a wee bit,even by the fierce heat.Chandudada,as Bakshi was almost universally knowns,gave an impression of a man in a different mould. And, he was.Not because,barely a matriculate,he rose to become the deputy director of the cipher bureau,the store-house of secret information,in the Indian Army,nor because as a lieutenant,Bakshi was adviser at the time of the liberation of the former princely state of Junagadh in his native Saurashtra whose Nawab had foolishly tried to join Pakistan.Not even because later even as he was slowly rising in rank,Bakshi was picked up and seconded to International Commission in Indo-China. There was something beyond all this in the personality of this grand old man that made him stand taller than the sum total of all the things he had accomplished.A soft-spoken,unassuming man,who would love to merge in a crowd and still would stand out.He had not only been a model of physical fitness but he had also excelled in exploring the mind,becoming something of a secular ascetic. If Chandrashanker Bakshi had just written Jeevan-Na Rang,a small book,he would have left behind a glittering memorial to him-self.The 120-page book is actually a bunch of letters to a young girl on the art of living, the culmination of a life-long journey in search of something that enables the human being to rise above himself. Says a reader: "Mind you,Bakshi does not write like a literary genius not even like a pundit.He writes as if a grand father is talk-ing to his favourite child,passing on nuggets of wisdom on how to live even as one evolves as a good human being." Books on self-improvement,whether of body or mind,have a tremendous following the world over.Many advocate therapies and methods that are good as advice,but hardly ever followed by the preachers them-selves.They invariably are good prescription,very lucrative to pre-scribe but damn difficult to digest and benefit from,the Catch 22 be-ing that it was really the fault of the reader that he or she could not derive much from the devices suggested. Bakshi's letters to the daughter of an acquaintance were not even written with an intention to publish.In the first quarter of 1992,he suffered a heart attack an was bed-ridden.The girl used to visit him and talk about herself,her problems,life around.The kindly old man,feeling as if living on borrowed time,was weak,not able to talk much,and yet eager to help.So he took to putting on paper what he had to say. The girl naturally was delighted;but so were others who came to know of the 26 letters. The upshot of it was Jeevan-Na Rang,brought out in 1993.Within three years now,it has gone into a second edition. Chandudada,say those who have come in contact with him,is a man who was very near realising the Self.This sounds like a mystical statement,but there just is no other explanation for his joi d' vivre at an age when many of his contemporaries are gone,some others may be in bed,losing all interest in the world around.Bakshi,on the other hand,had just learnt how to paint and was engrossed in doing caricatures of birds and beasts,seen from the windows of his son,Nikhil's house in Bopal.He never got bored,nor felt tired of living. What he is talking about in the letters is what he had distilled from a life full of ups and downs,a result of his spiritual bend of mind,something that took away the killer instinct one normally comes to associate with a life of physical activity as in the army.He had a curious detachment about everything.He was disinterested but not uninterested-- which means he would not be curious to gossip-ping for want of anything else to do,but he would be listening with rapt attention if one tells him something.He could empathise and sympathise with his visitor,and yet remained unaffected. Said Mr Narbheram Sadavrati, a veteran journalist who had known Bakshi for years,"He comes across as an eternal student,on a permanent quest, a totally centred man who knows what he wants." Bakshi himself said,rather dismissively,he did not want any-thing. "I have very few worldly possessions,a meagre bank balance and the pension as a retired army officer being two." Half-mockingly,he takes the visitor to an ancient bicycle which nobody can use today :"This is the only thing here I can call my own." In addition to Jeevan-Na Rang, there are 15 other books Bakshi had penned.Among them, Minara is again a small collection of profiles of un-usual people,mostly those who came in his life,such as Bajrangdas Bapu of Bagdana.The other is a volume with pen portraits of Sufi saints,including that of Pagal Baba of Ranchi,who was his Guru.A linguist,who learnt severa languages,Bakshi has made studied the traditions of sufism. The third volume is the biggest, a 435-page treatise on comsic consciousness,called Vaishwik Chetna.It has come out in Gujarati,although Bakshi wrote it first in English,soon to get published soon as Cosmic Contact.It is a bit esoteric for a lay reader since it seeks to explore spirituality and allied world,vibrations,swarodaya system of achieving unity with nature,drawing on work done else-where in the world in allied topics.It took years for the Lt.Col to marshal his material and arguments,and he admits it is only a be-ginning.The subject of cosmic consciousness required a deeper,and more scientific study. Born in 1914,Chandrashankaer had a chequered career, a career none could imagine then,and very few prepared to follow suit even today."I was an indifferent student,never learnt much.He passed matriculation in the third attempt,went to Shamaldas College in Bhavnagar for a month and a half and took a temporary commission in the army at the age of 31 in 1945.His father had been in the service of the former princely state of Jasdan."I cam more in contact with the Kathis,rather than my own community of Nagars.I learnt horse-riding,shooting,swimming,motor driving,but did not excel in routine subjects." His father's sudden illness compelled him to go with him to Bombay for his treatment and while there he learnt typing,short-hand,radio engineering and electrical engineering.He got married to Harshidaben in 1934 at the age of 20 and took up a job with the Jasdan ruler as personal assistant,including looking after the royal stable of some 50 horses and 20 cars besides looking after the correspondence. Nothing very exciting,but even then ups and downs came. He had to give up the royal service and went to Porbandar,working in a cement factory ,earning eight annas (fifty paise today) a day.He had also enrolled for training in the police in Jamnagar and was all set to become a police officer when he fell sick.Later he did a year and a half's course in police in Baroda.He had ambition to join mili-tary right from the age of 15 but the opportunity never came."Despite all these setbacks,I was a voracious reader and had a gift of learning languages quickly. I had a good command over the English language." He went to Ratlam in 1942 ,taking up a police job at Rs.40 a month,but fell sick again.Doctors in Rajkot had washed their hands off his case when by chance he came in contact with Swami Di-gambar at Kaivalyadham who cured his illness through yogic exer-cises and practices.In 1943,Bakshi joined service with another princly state ,Bantwa ,as teacher of the ruler's sons and personal assistant at a salary of Rs.50 a month."I was always ambitious and dreamt of joining the army.I went on trying and eventually in 1944 got selected for training as a commissioned officer at Mahu and was made a commissioned officer in 1945."But he was tenacious,if anything and quickly learnt cryptology and ciphers which took him as officer in Lord Mountbatten's headquarters in Delhi.After Inde-pendence,when the Junagadh problem came up,Bakshi made bold,and went to see Sardar Patel on his morning walk."I had heard the government was raising a Kathiawad Defence Force and wanted to see if I could have some role to play. I was just a Lieu-tenant then but nevertheless saw Patel's secretary,M C Bhatt,who said the best bet was to catch the Sardar's attention at the time of his morning." Armed with a brief note of who he was and what he could do,Bakshi met Patel and got sent to Junagadh as adviser for the army.Bakshi has a detailed diary of those days in Junagadh and its eventual liberation.Later he was posted on the Indo-Pak border in Kashmir, a posting given normally for a year since it was deemed to be a field area and which got stretched to four years. Recalled Bakshi,"I had hoped to be posted after this stint either in Bombay or Pune,nearer my home in Saurashtra but much to my dismay got sent to Ranchi.In retrospect,however,I think it was all for my own good because I met a Bengali sadhu,Pagal Baba,my Guru there.It changed my entire perspective on life,although from the very beginning I had attraction for spiritualism." A year later,he went to Indo-China,a job under International Commission chair-man,Mr M J Desai." I enjoyed the work a lot and had an opportunity to meet people like Ho Chi Minh as also witness the heroic battle for independence the Vietnamese waged." By the time he retired in 1969, Bakshi had risen to Lt.Col's level and had been a deputy di-rector of the cipher bureau, a strategic assignment in those days. Bakshi did not talk much about his spiritual evolution,underlining again and again that he is nothing.But his letters in his book reveal a lot.He counselled against allowing the tongue to talk loosely and endlessly."Learn to control it.Speak in lower tone,softly.Do not react to injustice,humiliation or insults hurled at you personally.Jealousy is common and one should not feel upset by it.Hold your temper and do not react.You cannot order the world to suit you.Nor do you have to get bogged down in argument about anything." Bakshi was a great believer in the power of the human mind and thought that if one learns how to concentrate it,one can do wonders.Anger,he felt,disturbs the mind and so do other tendencies such as craving for attention and praise,fear,greed and envy.He also put a great store by service to humanity."Help others without expecting anything in return and you will be happy,even without seeking after the happiness." He was all praise for the sufi saints whose tolerance of others was legendary and whose affection for others as also willingness to serve and help others were bound-less.He thinks that various religions and their basic practices lead to a common goal of making the human beings realise their own Self."I do not criticise any religion,nor do I say there is only one way.I can pray in a temple,mosque and church.What is needed is a faith in the Supreme Element that pervades everything." He did not make any claims of being a realised soul."All I have learnt is to be able to feel tremendously for everything around me. I see the manifestation of the Supreme Element in nature around us, in birds and bees,in everybody.The same cosmic consciousness manifests itself in all of us.Respect it,adore it,serve it." In so many cases,words like these sound hollow.Bakshi would desist from declaiming these as his original declaration.But he led a life that was a living example of what he believed.He was in a sort of bliss,never losing his temper and cool,never feeling put down or put on a pedestal.In fact, he would forbid anyone from doing a pranam to him,arguing that he was not worth it. His approach to life was to accept life as it was and as it came,both at flood and at low ebb,without preference for either.He rejoiced in both.He was fond of quoting Pagal Baba:"Bhutkal bhut ho gaya" (The past has become the past tense).Why remember it and feel upset.The future is not here yet and nobody knows exactly what it will be like.The future,of course, depends on what one will do today. Bakshi recommended a self-introspection,or monitoring,every night,before going to sleep: "Did I feel angry,jealous,greedy or in-sulted during the day? Why? Try finding an honest answer to these posers about our day to day action,and our entire attitude and be-haviour will change." Do these words go hand in hand with the de-mands of modern day living,where competitiveness is everything and failure is the modern equivalent of sin? They do.Said Bakshi:"The art of living does not change from age to age.In a faster moving world,in truth, one might require a more and more stabi-lised mind.If everything is spinning at a mad rate,you have all the more reason to strive for stilling the mind so that a human being is not overwhelmed by passing fads,desires,notions and emotions." He quoted Dr.S.Radhakrishnan who said in 1962-63:"The greatest valour is in conquering one's mind." The way to do this is through continuous introspection,added Bakshi,rather modestly. The old man suddenly realised he had been talking,"talking too much".In his introspection session in the night,"there will be hell to pay for this.Who am I to teach anybody,anything? I am nobody,do not know anything." Somehow,he speaks with full conviction,a visitor does not want to believe these last words because only those who are aware of their ignorance are the one who are in the know. Bakshi lived happily till 93, which he had been saying for five years coincided with completion of education of his granddaughter, Meghna. In the earlier years, he had said repeatedly about his desire. When that happened, he fell sick.He slipped into coma several times only to recover. Then, as the dawm heralded New Year,2008, he passed away.

A living and CLICKING legend, Pranlal Patel

By Tushar Bhatt

Seldom do we realise that photography uses light and time as its primary raw materials to serve the mankind in more than one ways. It not only captures a frozen moment of life and presents to us a unique authentication of history. The credibility of the written word can be easily suspected but the photograph is trusted as a reflection of truth. This makes photog-raphy more significant than merely a tool of capturing images.
Again, as an art tool, photography presents us with a challenging task of capturing the right moment and freezes it for posterity. There is a terrific thrill in doing this, which is why out of millions of people clicking away everyday around the globe. Yet,only a fraction would emerge as real artists. Photographers are a galore, but photo-artists are rare.
With the invention of photography we acquired a new means of expression more closely associated with memory than any other. A photograph constitutes another way of expres-sion or telling. It just does not depend fully on cinematic effect which helps trigger memory and it has little to do with reportage because it freezes a specific moment in time.
Propounding this line of thought two renowned theorists and thinking photographers, John Berger and Jean Mohr said that “A photograph arrests the flow of time in which the event photographed once existed. Every photograph presents us with two messages, a message concerning the event photographed and another concerning a shock of discontinuity.”
They further argued that “between the moment recorded and the present moment of look-ing, there is an abyss. We are so used to photography that we no longer consciously record the second of these twin messages”- except when the subject shown in the photograph is known to us and evokes memory or in case of unknown subjects, the image has a mys-tique of its own.
This mystique cannot be brought about save by maestros of the art of photography. They have a magic in the coordination of their body and the camera acquired through long years of intense practice. It is a semi-spiritual pursuit, a sadhna.
Even among these true photo-artists, Pranlal Patel, an Ahmedabad (Gujarat)-based lens man is the rarest of the rare. Active in photography for nearly 70 years, Pranlal in 2009 is in the hundredth year of life, and still kicking and CLICKING. He still wields a camera, walks upright, though slowly, and has most of his slightly yellowish teeth intact and in service. He enjoys food more than people half his age, is curious like a child, and again like an inno-cent small boy, gets easily absorbed into the present moment, here and now. Behind his spectacles, eyes sparkle with abundant interest in life. He is equally comfortable with the children, youngsters and oldies.
He is a simple person, though certainly not a simpleton, frugal with words but fluent in thought. What keeps him fit and full of zest for living? “I don’t know. I do nothing special. I eat normal Gujarati vegetarian meal, do padmasan, and eat five pieces of dates with ghee (clarified butter) every morning and drink milk. I regard myself as an eternal student, keen to learn newer things. I have many Gurus; even my grandson Piyush is my Guru because he taught me a lot about harnessing computer as a tool for photography. Among my clos-est friends are two noted young photographers, awards-winner Vivek Desai and Ketan Modi, who runs a highly-acclaimed photography training institution. Vivek is also my dear-est disciple. I am proud of them”.
Pranlal is very popular among young professionals and helps them a lot by patiently pass-ing on insights obtained through decades of photography. His photography has been mostly based on box cameras of the old genre and in black and white, without using the flash. He firmly believes that “the real art of photography does not reside in gadgets, whether a flash light or the modern-day digital cameras. It does not rely solely on composi-tion, light and shade, but on the eyes and fingers. There must be a perfect co-ordination between the eyes and the fingers. In turn the eyes and fingers must harmonise with the camera in such a way that they know simultaneously what unusual feature is there in the subject, compose in a way that highlights that feature and decide in unison when to press the shutter. They must become one with each other and the subject being clicked.”
Alas, there is no device in the market that can achieve this feat for the lesser mortals! Those who have learnt the secret are photo-artists, the Masters. The rest are slaves of technology.
Of course, people like Pranlal can throw some hints. “You should think before you pick up the camera to shoot. Most of us do not contemplate in advance. Before going in for shoot-ing, you should think of some unusual angle, slant, symbolism, colours, light and shadow in the composition. Almost every thing has been previously photographed. You have to bring out something that is different.”
He says “It doe not mean that you should ignore day-to-day life. It means you must learn to concentrate in the present assignment, not just take a fleeting interest in the subject of the assignment but view it as the most important thing in your life, here and now. Your mind should neither wander hither and thither nor waver. You must see what is in front of you at the present moment. Nothing else matters. This cannot be accomplished overnight. You have to practise endlessly. Like a music maker you must never stop doing the riyaz all your life.”
Pranlal quotes an example. Ages ago, he was on an assignment to create a photo portfolio of the new building of a local company. Says he, “I could have done it in two or three weeks. But I took nearly six months. I would go to the building, sit in different places outside and study the light and shade and the time. I wanted to find out the timing and season when there would be best sunlight. I did not even open my camera bag till I had decided that in the forenoon of May there would be ideal light. The portfolio was much appreciated.”
It all began in an innocuous way.
It was a hot day in May in 1940.The world was, for several months, at war for the second time in the 20th century. The Quit India movement was a good two years away in the future and the independence of the country as yet a dream.
Thirty years old then Pranlal, a Rolie-flex camera slung on the shoulder, set out for Kash-mir, long hailed as paradise on the earth, with a return ticket from Ahmedabad to Srinagar via Rawalpindi. Inclusive of the bus-fare from Rawalpindi to Srinagar, the cost per head was a meagre Rs.42.5. But the young man was not from among the rich in search of pleasure.
He was setting out to take photographs, in an era when a camera was a rare thing to pos-sess, more a hobby of the wealthy or the crazy. A Kodak 120 reel cost 14 annas. Like the anna coins, the 120 film too is extinct now.
The photographs taken during that trip continue to fascinate even today, not only because of their excellence but as a collection of historic value. It effectively brings out how much more enchanting was Kashmir just 70 years ago and what damage man has done to it.
The 99-year-old Patel is still in photography. He took it up as a hobby in 1932. In no time it became a supplementary profession and then got transformed into a life-long passion. He may be the oldest photo professional alive and still active in India, if not in the world. A rep-resentative collection of his vintage photographs at Jaipur (Rajsthan), in March,2009, has been dscribed by Pranlal as fulfillment of a long standing desire. “I have desire left unful-filled.Now, I am waiting for one way travel on God’s train.” He brushed aside protests from listeners. “I have had everything in life.”
The photographs are not only technically perfect, underlining the superb sense of composi-tion, and skilful management of light and shade but also are so evocative that they seem to have an enduring life of their own, vibrant, vivacious and memorable.
Another trait that separates Pranlal in the rare category is the habit of preserving and main-taining his thousands of negative, repository of images of over 70 years. Together they are a massive documentation of India’s march of progress and social change.
These images also seem to re-assert the prime position black and white pictures occupied in the art of photography, notwithstanding the rapid advancement of colour photography. There is a stream of defeatism about black and white photography these days and in many cities there are no studios that will wash, develop and print black and white pictures.
Pranlal Patel’s pictures celebrate the glory of black and white, re-inforcing what W.D. Wright, a British professor of Applied Optics at the Imperial College of Science & Technol-ogy, observed years ago. He contended that the black and white photographs may appear to the viewers more real than the colour pictures. Over the years, viewers have learned to supply their own colour information to a black and white photograph.” You may get closer to reality with colour but the closer you get the more obvious it becomes that it is a pic-ture,(and) not the real thing.”
Pranlal is reluctant to take to colour photography. He thinks that the black and white photo-graphs have an immense capacity for subtlety, rich sensitivity of detail and graphic urgency. To him it also is a stimulating mental challenge to transform every colour around us into two shades of black and white only and bring a still photograph to life.
Pranlal has, over the past 70-odd years of photography, earned a reputation as a pictorial-ist, extending far beyond the shores of India, bagging awards and prizes. His work has been published in international media for decades. Pranlal has an innate sense of history. For example, take his photographs of the Sabarmati River in Ahmedabad over the past half a century. They instantly tell you a visual story of the degradation of the ecology. Or take the images of a typical wedding in the Patel farming community over past half century. They highlight subtle changes in customs and attire, attitudes and behaviour over time.
At his age most people would be bed-ridden, if alive. Countless others would have hung up their professional equipment and sunk into senility. Pranlal continues to explore life with the same sense of wonder and romance that first made him give up his job as a teacher in a municipal primary school in Ahmedabad.
Born on January 1,1910, Pranlal has come up the hard way in life, but the harshness has left no trace on his personality. A man with a largish nose, twinkling eyes hidden behind a 25 per cent darkness goggles glasses, he is quick to smile and enthuse. Hailing originally from Jamnagar district, he traces his family home now to Kolki in Upleta taluka of Saurash-tra. He grew up at his maternal uncle’s place, working in Ahmedabad in petty jobs to help family. “I have sold peanuts, soda and lemon soft drinks near Victor cinema hall in Fuvara in olden days, delivered at home newspapers of Ahmedabad, which included at one time Gandhiji’s Navjivan. Remembering his childhood, Pranlal says: “I was, however, a bright boy from the very beginning, who was made to jump several years from Standard I in pri-mary school. I passed my vernacular final (which was not the final year of secondary stage in education but of the primary stage, but in those days, something of a qualification).I be-came a primary school teacher, with an initial salary of Rs.15 supplemented with one or two tuitions”
But,recalls Pranlal, he had an urge to do something different, something so well that people will remember him by.“This yearning brought me in contact with photography in 1932 when I acquired a box camera. In the early years, I learnt a lot from Col.Balwant Bhatt, an ace photographer himself.” He does not make any claims, but Pranlal must have had a gift from birth to identify visuals, compose them automatically and then capture them exactly as he saw them with his mind’s eye. He began to work as a free-lance photographer even while continuing as a primary teacher. A meticulous diary-keeper, Pranlal noted in 1937 that he had made an income Rs.710 in that year from photography. In 1938,the figure jumped to Rs.1,241. Not much by today’s standards, but as Pranlal notes humorously: “The rupee was not so cheap in those days.”
Remembers Pranlal: “I was debating with myself if I should continue as a teacher or do something else that will make me stand out. I had been going to Ravishankar Raval’s school of fine arts,dabbling in painting to see if that was going to be my way of life. I think it was around 1938-39 that I got an opportunity to see an exhibition of photographs of Kash-mir, taken by a famous photographer, Abid Saiyed of Palanpur. My mind was, as if, under a spell. I too wanted to capture in the photo frame the beautiful landscapes, natural scenes, snow-capped mountains, the serene life style and lovely Kashmiri people.”
Abid was a sympathetic listener to the young man and not only gave him all the dope, but also a promise to speak to Kodak people to give him film at the dealers’ rate. Three friends from Mumbai and Ahmedabad agreed to join Pranlal on the safari to Kashmir. Before they undertook the trip, something happened that landed Pranlal full-time into photography.
Recalls Pranlal: “ One day I was taking class III in Madalpur municipal school, teaching Gu-jarati to the pupils, A camera, as usual hung on the back of my chair. An Inspector arrived from the municipal administrative office for his annual inspection, saw my Super Iconta, and asked : ‘What is this?’ I told him politely it was a camera, to which the inspector re-torted loudly,’ If you are so fond of photography and the camera, then open a studio on Gandhi Road. Such things are no good for an ideal teacher.’ I was stunned.”
Pranlal could not sleep that night. The next morning, he went to his principal to tell him he was quitting. “I was rattled by the rude remark. I had the confidence that I would be able to eke out a living from photography, my obsession. Already I was making Rs.200 a month as side income from photography at social and official functions. It was a good enough amount to live on.”
The young man who went to Srinagar in May, 1940, via Rawalpindi, spent a month in the valley. “Among other things, at Srinagar we stayed in a shikara for three days, paying a princely sum Rs.2.50 a day, and then moved on.” The days would be spent photographing the heart-stopping beauty of the Kashmiri landscape and people.
They went to Pahelgam and to remote villages, mountainsides, water-falls and everywhere in the beautiful valley. “One could buy a hundred apricots for six annas. Oh, it was like liv-ing in paradise for a month.”
Says Pranlal :”What all we saw can never be described in words or even in pictures. It was an era of black and white photography, and of mechanical cameras, with no modern tech-nology available to aid a lens man. I took pictures of Kashmir with these limitations, expos-ing fifty rolls of XX film. These rolls were washed locally in Srinagar.On return to Ahmeda-bad, we started enlarging them into prints. Friends and others who saw them exclaimed words like Oh! Wow! Fantastic! Wonderful! Exra-ordinary! Balwant Bhatt helped and guided me into sending these pictures to national and international magazines, earning me a name as a pictorialist.That was a golden period, those days 30 days in Kashmir. I yearn to go Kashmir once more, and capture as it looks today.”
The lucky break into photography via Kashmir made the life for Pranlal. Scores of journals in and outside the country carried his pictures every now and then. He never looked back, becoming more and more famous as a pictorialist with rare sensitivity and dedication, trav-elling widely in the country, capturing events like the wedding in the Mysore Royal family in the fifties and that in the Royal family of Rajkot. He has a huge collection of rare pictures of cities, famines, landscapes and people.
Among the prized possessions are huge albums of photographs of the Iron Man of India, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel whose every visit to Ahmedabad whose mayor he earlier had been captured on his camera. His presence was so routine that when Junagadh princely State was liberated from the Nawab’s rule and merged in the Union, Pranlal was present in the city when Sardar arrived. He hailed Pranlal, saying,” if I come, you too should. Do you keep tracking me? Is it not so?” Pranlal did a lot of photography during the Quit India movement. His pictures were lapped up by photo-hungry newspapers and magazine. His earnings shot up and he filed his Income Tax returns in 1947, to the great surprise of offi-cials. It was hard to imagine so much income from free-lance photography only in those days. Nearly 90 per cent of surplus was used in buying newer equipment.
Along with still photography, he also undertook movie photography. He filmed extensively and in 1947 and 1957, recorded some 16,000 feet of movie of a religious head’s pilgrimage of Vrajbhoomi; it was so massive that the divine personality got tired of merely watching it. But the photographer was indefatigable.
He has dozens of albums and has held numerous exhibitions. His work was not just superb photography but also a social, visual history.
His wife Damayanti, their son, Anand, their two daughters and grand-children all have taken to photography. Damayanti was a self-made darkroom wizard who could rescue very fuzzy photographs by dexterously doing washing, developing and printing. She was a sort of record-keeper too.
Some 40 years ago when Queen Elizabeth came to Ahmedabad, the state government wanted a hundred copies of an old photograph of the Somnath temple. Pranlal was not at home when Manubhai Trivedi, an information official, came to their studio-cum-residence. Damayanti requested the officer to wait for five minutes during which she spotted the me-ticulously preserved negative. Within ten more minutes she came out of the darkroom with a perfect print of the old picture. The government got a hundred copies before morning. She passed away a few years ago, leaving a big void in Pranlal’s life. His grandson looks after the library work now
Today,Pranlal looks back with great satisfaction that he will leave behind foot-prints in the form of photographic prints to remember him by. But he has by no means called it a day. Tell him of a topic and his eyes shine. A routine day, till recently, began at 5.30 in the morn-ing when he would wake up. After breakfast at 9 a m he would set out on foot from his home for his studio, a distance of two kilometres. If the son and others were not using the studio, he would get into the darkroom, working up to 1 in the afternoon.
He helps youngsters willingly in learning photography, emphasing the importance of com-position, painstaking care for capturing details, judging light correctly and developing and printing the photographs meticulously.
He advocates working not only with body and mind, but also heart. His own involvement in the work is such that he does not remember time or gets tired or hungry when engrossed in photography. Some years ago the Kankaria lake in Ahmedabad had a huge fish population dying out suddenly and the stench of the dead fish floating in the water was awful. But Pranlal took out a boat, taking his own time in capturing just one memorable picture of the dead fish panned by empty boats on either side of the frame. He never noticed the stink, as he clicked away till he had captured the right composition.
He says “photography is something done with the eye, the mind and the heart. The equip-ment ,though important ,is secondary. With the best equipment in the world, you could turn up with lousy pictures. With primitive equipment but alert mind, you could transform ordi-nary things into photographs of extra-ordinary charm and beauty.”
He generally does not use a flash and none of his memorable pictures has had the use of artificial lights. He believes that the real fruits of good photography cannot be reaped unless one takes an equal amount of care in washing, developing and printing. His one-liner to aspiring photographers is “Do not compromise, either in quality, costs or time de-voted in getting a good picture. Quality always remains in the vogue, whatever the era, whatever the state of technological development. It was so yesterday, it is so today, and will be so tomorrow and the day after too.”
It is all pure Zen of photography.

A prodigal who will never return; Adil Mansuri

By Tushar Bhatt
He had been a rebel,but did not look to be one even an inch.In his younger days,he had heaped ridicule on anybody and every-body connected with the literary establishment.But his mellifluent talking,carried on in a low key voice, did not betray an iota of the fire that remained buried,and yet smouldering in the depths of his heart.
Poet and playwright Adil Mansuri, even in his 60s,remained as enigmatic as ever.It did not matter if he had been living for many years as an NRI (Non-resident Indian).
On a brief visit to Ahmedabad ,which he adored for all its dust,its dirt and discomforts,Adil never came across as a man who went away to the El Dorado of all Gujaratis,the United States of America.
He had ,in spirit,always been here,and Gujarat and Gujarati lit-erature had always dwelled his mind.It is as if,he was on a leave of absence; he had never gone away, cannot go away,and will not go away even on the day of salvation.
Time,meanwhile,had been whitewashing his beard,his hair,making him even more look like a Gujarati Ghalib.He himself was not unaware of the comparison;years ago he wrote some lines about it:
Apna Ghar bhi Milata Jhulta hai Ghalib ke ghar se,
Do ghanta barasat jo barse, chhe ghanta chhat barse.
As he walked in,there was nothing NRI-ish about Adil.Clad in sherwani,zabbha and a jacket,he appeared exactly the way he dressed when he was working in an advertising firm in Ahmeda-bad.He smiled easily,chatted amiably and spoke effortlessly about life abroad.
Said Adil:"I went to the U.S.A. a little late. I was already 48 when I left India.The prime thought behind the move was to ensure a bet-ter life for my children, especially my three daughters. I did not want them to have a life of domestic drudgery,without exercising any personal choice in their lifestyle,something that I had no oppor-tunity to get when I was young."
It was a difficult choice because for a quarter century Adil had taken deep roots in Ahmedabad and Gujarat,and suddenly he was transplanting his life in an alien environment. "In the beginning it was very tough.My writing came to an almost full stop. Nobody knew me there and I did not know anyone. I had to do odd jobs in the initial stages before I landed a good job at an insurance firm.You see, in a way, I was not equipped for the demands of the life there. I had in Ahmedabad my friends, my poetry,mushairas,the familiar situation all around,the bitter-sweetness of a culturally sat-isfying life which was otherwise not very satisfying for my children's future. So, I took an adventurous decision to go to the U.S.A. I am satisfied that things have panned out all right. My two daughters are happily married and settled there.My literary output has also been increasing.”
After a blockage of some time, Adil began to write in magazines brought out by Gujaratis in America and Europe. He wrote ghazals and plays about his American experience."In the course of time, my literary output really went up. I must have written some 60 po-ems in 60 days once.” A collection of his work abroad was in the pipeline,expected to be published in two or three months,called New York Name Ek Gaam(A village called New York). He said dur-ing a visit when we met
Adil warmly spoke of a tiny organisation of Gujarati-speaking people with a literary bent of mind,named 60 Din (Sixty Days). We are about 25 couples, who meet once every two months to ex-change notes, read new writings by members together,to enjoy and make merry."
The only change visible in him was the addition of countless thank yous to his courteous mannerism. He will thank you for tele-phoning him, for inviting him, for offering him a chair,a cup of tea,a handshake,anything.
It was so much of politeness,of exaggerated formality,that after a while one began to wonder if it should be Adil who should thanking us. Or should it we who should thank him for remembering home, for returning ever so briefly,for continuing to pen poetry in Gujarati even as he battled with the key-board of a computer at an Ameri-can firm in New York.
In his long literary journey Adil had written a lot of ghazals,but can now that those creations left unpublished would be brought out as a tribute to his memory. Five publications to his credit—earlier --Wank,Pagrav and Satat,all collections of poetry,and two collections of plays, had stamped Gujarati literary register with his name force-fully.
Born on May 18, 1936,in Ahmedabad Adil came from a family of traders of Ahmedabad.Dr Chinu Modi,another rebel in Gujarati lit-erature,who prodded Adil to write in Gujarati,remembered that the poet,then writing mainly in Urdu, had first come in his contact nearly half-a-century ago."I think he was working in a cloth shop at that time,but later shifted to advertising."

Adil was a self-made man; he had mastered computers later, but at one point of time,his friends recalled,he used to describe his edu-cational background as something more than an M.A. -- M.A.B.F.,an arbitrary abbreviation of Matric Appeared But Failed. That was not strrictly true,but Adil just did not care about append-ages to establish his own credentials as a man of letters,or even as a human being.
Said Dr Modi:"Adil read a lot,not just in Gujarati or Urdu,but also in English.He wrote spontaneously and exceedingly well,a man capable of expressing his feelings in the most appropriate words and a man who was able to feel intensely." In fact, he seemed to have written only when he felt intensely about something.
Add to that intensity,an endless,never-to-be-satiated curiosity about everything around him,most of all people.This led him to a very successful career as an advertising copy writing in Guja-rati.Many remember Adil as a copy writer at a national advertising agency located in Ahmedabad some three decades ago.For years,the custom at such agencies had been to translate into Guja-rati advertising copy created originally in English or Hindi.Adil changed the rules.Remembered a friend:"His original copy in Guja-rati used to be so good that often copy writers in English would be asked to take a look at it and translate it into English,if possible."
But,it was as a poet that the rebelliousness of Adil,along with Dr Modi and Manhar Modi,earned him a reputation-- some would say a dubious reputation.The trio was all for experimentation,a lot of which they did in company of Labhsankar Thaker,another noted poet.They scoffed at the literati of the day,campaigned against them,and started an organisation,and a magazine,called "Re Math”,whose address deliberately,with the intent of causing out-rage,carried the mention it was situated opposite a public uri-nal.What did it mean,nobody knows for sure.Even the English spelling of the now-defunct set-up is unsual.According to Dr Chinu Modi, Re was spelt in English as Zreyagh.It did a lot of good to the development of literature in Gujarati;to begin with,by declaring that the only rule worth following was that there was no rule worth fol-lowing.They would heap ridicule on the leading literary figures of the day,resort to pranks and gimmicks,and made themselves and their work taken notice of.
Though the mists of time have covered many things,Adil re-membered vividly those days,which again revealed the complexity of his personality. In literature,he had been known as a rebel,a man who did a lot of experiments of form in penning his output, a sort of iconoclast.But that appeared to be only one facet of his personality as was underlined by his career in copy writing; in advertising one needs to abide by what the client wants and still add flashes of imagination and colour of concept to make it all attractive to look at and read.Adil did that effortlessly,his literary image of a rebel not-withstanding.And what was more, he did not seem to consider his days in advertising as a by-product of the necessity to make a liv-ing.As he talked fondly about "those days", Adil spoke of warmly colleagues such as Sharad Suchde, who died later.
Dr.Modi said that Adil had always been a complex personality; a rebel in letters,a traditionalist in person.There was no frenzy in his dissent;there was fire."He was like an ocean,outwardly so calm and yet running so deep.He was like a dormant volcano.He wore a shy smile,spok in a sweet manner,was meticulously dressed,and was polite to the limit of making others feel uneasy."
Adil once described himself succinctly in one of his ghazals thus:" dharm,dhandho,janm ne jati:Ghazal"(By relig-ion,profession,birth and community,he is of ghazal).About his po-etry,said Dr.Modi, one could easily do a doctoral thesis."If you do not submit the thesis for a Ph.D. any university would bestow an honorary D.Lit.on you for the work.Such is the sweep,depth and appeal of his poetry." His language could be deceptively sim-ple,and still full of depth, a depth that can be perceived by readers easily.He had done ghazals in the traditional style, and then had-broken the mould and ventured out in different directions."Before going against the traditions, Adil mastered the naunces of the tradi-tions,tried his hand, and when found them inadequate to be his proper vehicle,struck out in newer areas",Dr.Modi said.
About ghazal,he sang:
Jyare pranayni jagman sharuat thai hashe,
Tyare pratham ghazalni rajuat thai hashe.
When love first made its appearance in the world,the first ghazal was presented.
And,then, he could switch easily to modern ways:
Ena patanne billina kudakaman joine,
Maro vikas thay chhe sherina shwanman.
Seeing his downfall in the cat's jump,my own growth takes the form of the street dog.
Or, he could cry out thus:
Makanoman loko purai gaya chhe,
ke manasne manasno dar hoy jane.
People have shut themselves up in houses, as if man was afraid of man.
The same Adil could be sentimental about his city,Ahmedabad.He himself had rated his piece on the city as the one liked the best.Why? "I find that it creates echoes in the heart of the readers and listeners exactly in the same way as it did in mine when it was first created", said Adil.

Wherever,away from home, it has been rendered,it has been known to bring tears to innumerable eyes.Reflecting the yearning of a man going away from his home town, Adil said in the piece:
Nadini retman ramatun nagar male na male,
fari aa drashya smrutipat upar male na male.
Bhari lo shwasman eni sugandhno dariyo,
pachhi aa matini bhini asar male na male.
Parichitone dharaine joi leva do,
aa hasta chehra,aa mithi najar male na male.
Bhari lo aankhman rastao,baario,bhinto,
pachhi aa shaher,aa galio,aa ghar male na male.
Radi lo aaj sambadhone vintalai ahin,
pachhi koi ne koini kabar male na male.
Valava aavya chhe e chehara farashe aankhoman,
bhale safarman koi hamsafar male na male.
Vatanni dhulthi mathun bhari laun Adil,
Arey aa dhul pachhi umrabhar male na male.
[ Maybe this city,playing in the sands,will not be seen again by these eyes,
Fill the nostrils with the ocean of its smells,maybe it will not be available to smell again.
Drink in the sights of the acquaintances to the content of the heart,maybe these smiling face will not be seen again.
Fill the eyes with the images of these roads,these win-dows,these walls,maybe this city, these bylanes,this house may not be available again.
Cry,embracing the kins of the place,maybe some one or other's even grave will not be seen again.
Faces saying goodbye will live for ever in the eyes as perma-ment companions, maybe in the life's journey hereafter not even one companion will be there.
Adil, put the dust of the city on the head,maybe this dust will not grace the hair in this lifetime again.]
Although successful in America too,Adil yearned to be back home again. "I had gone for the good of my children.I will come back once that objective is accomplished." Already,he had decided that he should come to Ahmedabad more often.If in the past ten years he came twice only,he now planned to come for four months every two years."Those will be the months when I will spend time nursing my roots, deriving sustenance for myself,enhancing my joy of living.My roots are here."
The experience in every brief sojourn had been invigorating for Adil. He would go to a gathering of poets and recite some of his latest. The crowd would be so happy with what he had to say that the programme which began at 10.30 p m may end around 3.30 a m."People just would not leave",recalled Dr Modi.Adil found that there now was better appreciation of arts and culture,and men and women of letters in Gujarat than was there earlier. He found Guja-rat more prosperous,but also more crowded,and with apalling pub-lic health conditions.But,more important than everything else,he found that Ahmedabad and Gujarat responded to him,and he re-sponded to them magnificently.No one is more welcome anywhere in the world than in his own home,and even if one has been a prodigal son.
This son was not a prodigal in with bagful of grievance.He was so intense sentimental that he would treat stay elsewhere as tem-porary. Adil’s birthday slipped by unnoticed in his beloved city on May 18.Not many remembered this literary badshah who wanted as his crown nothing but the dust of Ahmedabad. No city can hope for a better tribute. But then, Adil was Adil was Adil.
On the day of kyamat, the city will owe him much and he will owe nothing. Yet, charactistically he will offer to pay up on behalf of his beloved Ahmedabad.

A Sudama called Kanaiyalal

By Tushar Bhatt

His name, Kanaiyalal, was the same as one of the innumerable names of the legendary Krishna; his surname too was that of the clan from which Dwarkadhish came, Yadav. Both, though not born in Gujarat, made it their home. Yet, Kanaiyalal R. Yadav, a painter par excellence of portraits and landscapes in oil and water colour, spent most of his career _ and life _ in a hut in penury, like a mod-ern-day Sudama.
His works are prized posses sions in several private collections, galleries and temples. Nobody knows exactly where these all are. Yadav was not just a master artist; he was a superb teacher as well, exploding the myth that those who can paint cannot teach. Among his friends and contemporaries such as Piraji Sagra, Nag-jibhai Chau han and others he stood apart, a proud man who could shower great affection and show greater considerations for others. He had been a teacher at the C.N. College of Fine Arts in Ahmed-abad for long years, moulding several of the young talents on the art scene to day.
His countless friends and stu dents tried as much as they could to help Yadav while he was alive. But the proud artist himself never sought any assistance. Nor could he ever learn how to realise a prop er commercial value of the master pieces he was creating. Recalls Madhav Ramanuj, a poet and close friend of the artist: ``Once we sent someone very wealthy to buy one of his paintings and told him to charge as much as he could think of, hinting at a sum of about Rs 7,000 or 8,000. Yadav did not put such a price tag on his work, shrug ging away with an unbelievable ex planation that how could he think that the buyer would be able to af ford a high price.'' Perhaps it was the innate unwillingness of the man to put a price label on his art _ he would not name a price and would part with whatever the buy er thought fit to pay, assuming the buyer could not afford to pay more.
His creative life was full of su perb works of art; his personal life full of miseries. It was spent eking out just enough for an existence but dogged by suffering. When things you do not like happen or you suffer, you have two choices _ you get bitter or better. Yadav never got bitter, though he was never better-off in the day-to-day sense.
Kanaiyalal was born on April 10, 1932, a Sunday, in Ratlam, Madhya Pradesh, where his fa ther, Ramachandra, and mother, Maniben, then lived. Ramachan dra, an overseer in the Public Works Department, hailed from Agra, but Maniben was a native of Patan in Gujarat. The young Ka naiya, as he was known, began his school in Ratlam, catching the at tention of his teachers because of his beautiful handwriting. A Eur opean woman teacher in drawing was the one to put a painting brush in the child's hand, setting him on a life-long course.
After a few years, the Yadav fa mily came to Ahmedabad as the world was in the grip of the Second World War. His studies at a Hindi school in Saraspur were rather in different, though he was becoming more proficient in the use of the brush. However, a ca-reer in paint ing was far from Kanaiyalal's mind then; he was charmed by the lure of the filmdom after seeing the film Andaz, leaving for the tinsel town of Bombay to shine on the silver screen. It remained a dream that was never fulfilled; the young man, after running from pillar to post, worked for a while even as a peon be-fore returning home. His stay in Bombay, otherwise un lucky, was a boon in one respect; he went to see the J.J. School of Art, and was inspired to study painting and drawing. Back home, he took up studies and passed an examination to become a drawing teacher. He started learning fur ther from the late Rasiklal Parikh, a stalwart painter, and sat in sever al examinations in art, for which one had then to go to Bombay. Yadav would put up with a distant relative in a hutment colony near Lalbag, often sleeping on the pa vement. But he stood first in the entire former state of Bombay for diploma in painting, an examina tion in which many other noted painters of today also sat. He also bagged the first prize for a creative paint-ing, `Bullock Sellers', and came first in the Art Master test.
But these successes were not en ough to make any change in the life-style of the young man; his ex istence was as wretched as ever, sometimes getting work as a tem porary drawing teacher in a school, other times as a substitute worker in a textile mill. He was married to Ram Dulari from Vrin davan, and the couple used to live in the slum opposite a textile mill in Saraspur, an eastern suburb of Ahmedabad. It was as rundown an area as ever. His friend Ra-manuj says that often he would hang a painting over a gap in the mud wall of the hut to stop wind from blow ing in. Innumerable hardships never ruffled Ram Dulari who, de spite terrible poverty, never com plained, allowing her talented hus band to devote what-ever time and money on painting. Ramanuj says Kanaiya's love for colours and brush was so great that he would spend recklessly on these as also on books at the cost of basic neces sities of life. This became a life- long pattern. Yadav's wife caught tuberculosis and died a few years later. Although perpetually short of money, the painter tried as much as humanly possible to com fort her during the ailment.
Suffering dogged him at every turn worse than like a shadow; shadow at least leaves you when it is dark. Yadav's 14-year-old daughter died, leaving him in a deep grief, which he never showed even to his closest friends. Around this time, he had to leave his job at the C.N. College of Fine Arts. The job had been the only break in his career. Students and friends still recall an unkempt, emaciated fig ure, with a beard, cycling 15 kilo metres from his home in Amrai wadi to the college in Ambawadi, be the weather fair or foul. He went into a mental depression, de stroying many in-valuable paint ings, sketches and portraits. Friends would send medicines, some money, but nothing seemed to help. For a while, Kanaiyalal had to be sent to a mental hospital; he drew portraits and did colour paintings there, earning praise and release as a normal person. He re turned to his slum dwelling. That was around 1964-65. He would roam around on his bicycle throughout the day, subsisting on a cup of tea at a roadside stall, do ing sketches and landscape draw ings. The information department of the Gujarat government asked him to do a sketch on the Nal Saro var bird sanctuary; Yadav had not enough money for the bus fare both ways. He walked to the sanc tuary to complete the assignment.
His was an artistically fierce re lationship with the world around him, and living in the slum areas of Amraiwadi he was never dampe ned in spirits. In art, more than anywhere else, forms result from existence and performance. Whe ther it is a lowly craftsman or an ac complished artist like Yadav, the making of the work of art gradual ly becomes a ritual of heart, see mingly unaffected by the sur rounding environment of his phy sical life. The landscape of heart matters rather than the landscape around. This was what had happe ned to Yadav too. If one were to look at his art only, one would never realise the trials and tribula tions Yadav suffered. With open eyes he saw the world around with a curious detachment. With eyes closed, as if, he saw the world within him, a world of beauty, of hazel-eyed lovely faces, of serene wood lots, so keen that his por traits would capture the likeness of the person and yet impart a mystic quality that would lift that work from the stream of routine output. A prime example of this is the landscape in water colour he had done of a wooded lot in the college compound. An-other was a portrait of the Swaminarayan monk, Yogi ji Maharaj. His vision was direct and still two-fold; he would, through immedi-ate intuition, re veal the image, and seeing aware ness clothe it with lineament which had the shape of man or landscape but with a recognisable spirit of man and place.
In 1976, friends persuaded Ya dav to rejoin the C.N. College, where he worked till the time of re tirement. The grateful authorities extended his tenure by a year. He would still come on the bicycle only from Amraiwadi. The only difference was that he had shifted to a modest flat under the Indira Awas Yojana from the hut. Still, it was as deprived a living as any; he would be painting on the first floor landing of the staircase, unmindful of the squalor, noise and stark poverty. The richness of his soul would reflect in his art. Come win ter, he would don a navy-blue long coat on top of his usual meagre at tire. Around this time, another break came; a cou-ple of monks from the Bochasanwasi Sanstha of the Swaminara-yan sect had been his art students. The Sanstha com missioned Yadav to do paintings and portraits, which today adore temples in Shahibaug, Ahmeda bad, and at Gondal.
But other difficulties persisted. He could never fulfil his wish to educate his three sons well. Disap pointments of life, however, never cast a shadow on his creations; they became, if anything, more powerfully evocative, with strong colour schemes, meticu-lously ob served details displayed in magni ficent proportions, su-perb in com position and pleasing to even a lay eye. Not for Yadav were the mod ern abstract styles which would need pundits to ex-plain and bring joy only to the initiated. His were works that brought visual plea sures, and were yet so different from photographs. Pho-tography captures the exterior beauty; Ya dav's brush could not only show the exterior loveliness vividly, it could bring out some-thing of an in ner mood as well. There is a magic in the active form, performance and transformation, all simulta neously. The net effect is the same as one looks at a snow-capped mountain peak or a wooded valley of flower, and say, how beautiful.
Yadav had retained an inner tranquillity all his life, made many friends and no foes in spite of his mercurial behaviour. He was do ing a painting of Laxmi and Vishu one June day, when a heart at-tack made him collapse with the brush in his hand.
More than a year and a quarter after Yadav's death, something sa tisfying about his memory is hap pening. His friends have chipped in to bring out a portfolio of repro ductions of 11 of his paintings as also a set of greetings cards. The money from these will go to his fa mily. Private collectors have will ingly allowed the paintings with them to be used; the Bochasanwa si Swaminarayan Sanstha has prin ted it and the Sahitya Mudranalay has given pa-per free for this effort. It sends a good signal to artists and others engaged in pusuits other than that of share markets. We may be a forgetful people; but we are not ungrateful.

His creative life was full of su perb works of art; his personal life so full of miseries of eking out en ough for an existence dogged by anything but suffering. When things you do not like happen or you suffer, you have two choices; you get bitter or better. Yadav never got bitter, though he was never better-off in the day-to-day sense.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Jhaverchand Meghani; Everybody's darling, poet of the nation.

By Tushar Bhatt

Time: Summer, 1930. Place: Dhandhuka. Scene: The courtroom, with nearly two thousand people milling around outside.
A big-eyed, moustachioed man in his thirties, impressively dressed in typical Kathia-wadi attire, complete with a turban, had just heard Judge Isani hand him down a sentence for two years, for trying to undermine the British Empire. It was for a speech he had never made in the nearby Barwala. But, the police wanted to im-prison him badly in those days of the salt satyagrah.
In his rich voice, the man started singing a self-composed nationalist song, so poig-nantly that it seemed to carry the burden of the sufferings of millions of his enslaved countrymen:
Nathi Janyun Amare Panth Shi Afat Khadi Chhe,
Khabar Chhe Etli Ke Maatni Hakal Padi Chhe.
(What obstacles are on the way, I do not know,
All I know is that the Motherland calls me, and I must go.)
A hush fell over the court premises. When he finished, tears welled up in hundreds of eyes, including the judge's. It was something that depicted the mood of India at that time, when it was impossible to predict when the sun will set on the mighty Em-pire. Nobody knew if the freedom struggle would lead to independence, or when, and yet none was bothered. They seemed responding to the inner call.
Not for nothing Father of the Nation, Gandhiji, had described him as the Poet of the Nation. The Mahatma, whose first name was Mohan, once described Meghani as something like a flute of the freedom struggle, comparing him with the flute of an-other Mohan, Krishna.
Had he been alive, Jhaverchand Meghani, whose birth anniversary falls in August, the month in which India won its independence, would have been nearing the cen-tenary of his life. More than half a century after his death, Meghani still remains the most popular of Gujarati writers and poets, a darling of everybody.
But, to appreciate him only as a poet of deeply-stirring songs of patriotism would be like appreciating only one side of a multi-faceted gem. For a quarter century, Meghani had done yeoman's service in collecting, documenting, researching and bringing on to record Saurashtra's rich folk stories, songs and music. He had also done much to preserve the original style of the folk singing, remembering more than 500 folk songs, bhajans, duhas and what not in every authentic detail possible.
Meghani was more than that too; he was a bridge between the old and the new, was as much at ease with charans, folk musicians, village women and unlettered but highly-cultured people of old Kathiawad, as with the modern day poets, be they Irish or English or even Rabindranath Tagore. Till today, he remains a colossus striding the Gujarati literary scene, unmatched by any single writer's contribution or sensitiv-ity. Meghani did not just master the techniques of putting words on to the paper; he had mastered the magic of capturing the flavour of the soil, the romance of the day-to-day and the music extra-ordinary of the most ordinary.
All these were there since time immemorial, but only rarely did the men like Jhaver-chand Meghani hit the literary scene, possessing an acute ear, a dexterous pen and a literary refinement that was so sophisticated that even the most rustic would feel augmented, rather than over-whelmed by it.
His speciality also lay in his ability to bring into Gujarati something that deeply moved him, whether it happened to be folk song sung by an old kharva woman of Mahuva or a poem about a Santhal woman by Tagore. He could create an entirely new idiom, harness words, impart them newer and deeper shades of meaning and make it all melodiously rhythmical, both in prose and verse.
Gandhiji was a prosaic man, although he too wielded a powerful pen, both in English in Gujarati. Even he could not but bring in an elegant simile when talking of Meghani few months after Jhaverchand died on March 9,1947. When after the Independence, the Junagadh merger tangle came up, Manuben Gandhi quoted the Mahatma in her diary, about his home region, Kathiawad: "One should have special acumen to know Kathiawad.... It is loaded with history, there is an innate strength of the people, there is an art, and there is culture, beauty everything. Meghani was immersed in re-searching the literature of all these. In today's turmoil, a few masters of folk-literature like could change the entire atmosphere in a moment."
Gandhi went on to say that services of people like Meghani could be compared with the role of the flute played by Krishna. Although Krishna played it, the flute it was that lured the gopis, the people and the cattle alike. Gandhi noted with a sense of regret that the real worth of such people was never assessed; they were never prop-erly understood.
Yet, Jhaverchand Meghani himself was always modest about what he did. In a typi-cal self-introspection in Eak Taro, he said: "Do poets, and other creators of literature write everything from their own experience? Do they filter every happening through their own experience? I would reply in the negative. Maybe, there is one group of poets who do bring forth on to the paper, their own emotional experiences. There is another group that mostly tries to play on their own emotional veena or eak tara ex-periences of others. I have done this."
Even though he may not have personally experienced, Meghani, nevertheless was capable of intensely empathising with others; it was this trait that gave an elegiac tone to his writing. A friend of his and poet the late Dula Kag, noted an incident where Meghani found a 70-plus old woman working as a labourer at Mahuva port. Her son had drowned in the sinking of a country vessel owned by a local merchant. Meghani idly asked her as to why had she not asked the owner of the vessel for compensation. The old woman said plaintively: "How could I ask? Maybe, it was be-cause of my son that his vessel sank. On hearing this, recalled Kag, Meghani sat down and wept, asking him: "Dulabhai, who is more civilised, this poor old woman or the rich owner of the ship?"
So sensitive was his heart's seismograph, so powerful was his soul's literary antenna that Meghani did not need personal experience; he could empathise as intensely in other people's experiences of life, filter it and bring forth real gems of folk literature that had appeal beyond the barriers of language. Dula Kag once compared Meghani with a dhuldhoya, some one who washes the ore to separate gold from the dust.
Jhaverchand Meghani was a prolific writer; over a span of a little over a quarter cen-tury, he produced some 75 works of high literary note, including volumes of poetry, novels, novelettes, biography, short stories, folk stories, folk songs, research work on folk literature and other writings. He was one of the most industrious letter writers too. A volume of his 600 letters has been published after his death. Meghani's litera-ture has been translated into several languages, ranging from Assamese to Tamil and English to Sindhi.
Among the more acclaimed of his writings are the five-part Saurashtra Ni Rasdhar, Sorath Tara Vahetan Pani, Mansai Na Diva, Yug Vandana, Prabhu Padharya, three-part Sorath Baharvatia, Halaradan, Sorathi Santo, Sorathi Geetkathao. The list goes on and on, and is only illustrative.
Born in August(there is some uncertainty about the exact date as also the year, please see the next article), at Chotila in Surendranagar district, in the house of Ka-lidas Meghani, who was in the police department of the then Kathiawad Agency, and Dholiibai, a bania couple, Jhaverchand always loved to describe himself as a child of the mountain, a reference to a hill at Chotila. His father had a job that took the family to far-off outposts in different parts of Saurashtra, at Datha, Chamardi, Lakha Padar, Paliyad, Bagasara, Rajkot. He went to a primary school in Rajkot and to a high school in Wadhwan Camp and Amreli, and after matriculation in 1912 went on to join college, first for a term at Junagadh and then at Bhavnagar. In 1916, he took his with English and Sanskrit and became a teacher in Bhavnagar while preparing for his post-graduation. But within a year he gave up studies, and went to Calcutta to join Jivanlal's aluminium company, spending three years, starting on a junior post and climbing to that of a manager. During this period he went with his boss on a visit to England too. The boss was so impressed that he wanted to post Jhaverchand to London permanently, but the young man had different ideas.
Meghani has noted that his childhood memories had firmly imprinted in his psyche the ambience of Saurashtra's more remote places, their silence, the roar of the wind swishing through trees, rivers and rivulets, cutting through hills and jungles, the ech-oes of duhas, songs, stories and joys and sorrows of that blissful life -- all had re-mained forever with him, as if haunting him to return. Without realising their worth, the boy Jhaverchand had relished the culture fervour and flavour of it all, and it left a life-long pining for more of it in him.
His stay in Calcutta, far from his beloved homeland of Kathiawad, became unbear-able, impelling him to write on September 18,1921 a letter home, giving notice of his coming back. Even today, it reads evocatively of his mind-frame, which with the pas-sage of time, became bigger and bigger, encompassing the gamut of literary activi-ties he was to undertaken: I feel like go on writing today. I want to write and re-write the same line in different manners but am afraid, would not be able to explain what I mean to say. For, I seem to speak in the language of another place, and you would not understand. Darkness is falling. It is time for the dusk to depart; cattle are re-turning from their day of grazing, the bells around their necks ringing. The temple zalar is beginning to sound its celestial music. I am returning in a month or two, for-ever. As if I am responding the clarion call of my shepherd, at the time of the dusk, the time when light and darkness fight a battle. I would not stray, would forget the way as I am able to recognise and follow his voice. Let me say I am not alone, with-out friend. What more?" Jhaverchand signed the letter not with his him, but with a cryptic phrase," I am coming".
His action did not please his employers and colleagues; they wondered if it was pos-sible in Gujarat to earn a livelihood by writing. But the inner voice's call was so irre-sistible that he headed back for Bagasara.
Poet Umashankar Joshi, who was a fan and a friend of Meghani, has noted that by that time the young may had hardly any literary achievements to his credit. There were one or two poems, penned perhaps in 1916 or 1918, but these did not show any signs of what his voice was dictating.
Jhaverchand had, however, begun to show literary inclinations from his school days. A brilliant boy who used to stand first in the clas, Meghani had a good voice, nature's gift and would be the first choice for leading students in singing the daily prayer. At 12, what he sang for him a prize for his school friends from a rich man. He had po-etic bend of mind too and would attempt writing poetry, a trait that was re-inforced by his introduction to the poetry of Kalapi. Meghani would sing the songs of sorrow of this heart-broken king-poet, earning a nick-name of Vilapi, one who cries a lot. He took part in a lot of youth activities, as has been noted by Kapil Thakkar, his child-hood chum. An acquaintance of those days put Meghani on the path of folk-literature. He was Hadala Darbar, Vajsur Vala, to attend whose theosophy class Jhaverchand and his friend would walk five miles from Bagasara to Hadala. His in-terest in the work of Gandhiji too was aroused in this period only. He was one of the first to act for abolition of untouchability by accepting an invitation to break bread the untouchables . He also started propagating the swadeshi commodities, such as the bathing soap. Kapil, his brother Ramu Thakkar and Meghani would also have com-petition among each other in instant poetry composition. Meghani's years in Calcutta exposed him to the rich Bengali culture, to the poetry and prose of Tagore, to the Bengali stage, and the Brahmosamaj discourses; all these helped nourish his cul-tural moorings.
It brought him back, but he himself has noted that in 1922, "I was directionless. I did not know what should I do; one idea was to take to farming, while relations were commending me to business. Service in one of the princely states was also possible and there always was the job of a teacher. "Vassar Vala helped in the process of clearing the mist for the young man. He persuaded Samatbhai Gadhvi to recite story after story to Meghani in those days, giving a direction to his creative urge. In 1922 , Meghani got married to Damayantiben.
Around this time, Mr Amrutlal Sheth had started a journal from Ranpur, called Sau-rahstra to which Meghani sent two or three pieces. Sheth recognised the potential in him and invited him to join his paper in the same year. His book publication began with Kurbanini Kathao, and that of his folk-literature with Saurashtra Ni Rasdhar. He wrote almost continuously and got fed up of journalism in 1926, and went away to stay at Bhavnagar. In 1928, he got the prestigious Ranjitram Gold Medal for his reearch work in folk literature. In 1930, his poetry took on nationalist colour in full swing and his poem, addressed to Gandhi as he prepared to leave for the Round Table, Chhello Katoro Jher No Aa Pi Jajo Bapu, earned him the recognition as poet of the Nation. He was arrested and sent to jail for two years, but was released after serving nine months.
In 1933, a mishap caused him a terrible setback; his wife died in a burning incident and Meghani shifted to Bombay. In 1934, he married a Nepali lady, Chitradevi. Meghani was always a loving family man, adored by his relations and worshipped by his six sons and three daughters. He stayed on for sometime in Bombay, working in Janmboomi, but went back to Ranpur to take up the editorship of the journal, Phulchhab. He made a distinctive mark for himself not only in literature but also in journalism. Phulchhab press was seized by the government in 1942 for all its pains. Meghani took retirement from the journal in 1945, devoting time to writing only. He wrote Ravindraveena, providing Gujarati with Tagore's poetry and gave the world-famous Manasai Na Diva, based on the experiences of Ravishankar Maharaj, Sar-voday leader, in reforming the Patanwadia dacoits. He chaired the section of litera-ture in Gujarati Sahitya Parishad conference in 1946 at Rajkot. He was finishing Sorathi Santwani, a research on Sorathi bhajans, when suddenly on March 9,at the age hardly of 50, he suffered a massive heart attack, and breathed his last at Botad.
He had done a lot of research into Saurashtra's folk literature and had set his sights on doing similar work in the rest of Gujarat when the end came, sending a wave of shock across the region and the country.
Jhaverchand Meghani has, after all these years of his departure, continued to be one of the top-draws in Gujarati literature; people read and re-read his books ,which sale as briskly as when they first got published. His songs remain the mainstay of public singing in Gujarati, making him one of the most widely read Gujarati authors.
Meghani never complained about anything, least of all about Gujarat not having done enough for him. But in his lifetime, he was under-recognised by the literary es-tablishment, which seemed to have grudgingly accepted him after his contribution to the nationalist movement in the form of patriotic songs was hailed widely. Although he knew by heart, the content, tunes and raags of hundreds of folk songs, All India Radio could not take advantage of his rich singing. There are no recordings avail-able. But all this never came in the way of the public esteem in which Meghani has been held, underlining that the people always recognise those who are their cultural representatives.
His stature was so tall that not many remember that his Koi No Ladakvayo was based on an old English poem, Somebody's Darling, simply because the Gujarati version is far superior to the original written by Mrs. Mary Lacoste.
In the same vein, what he sang 65 years ago in the Dhandhuka court, a song titled Viday, farewell, was far more evocative and stirring than the original Urdu, Hambhi Ghar Reh Sakate The. It is so hauntingly beautiful, and true sounding, especially on the eve of the Independence Day that one might think it would be made a compul-sory reciting on all such occasions, when we, as a people, tend to under-estimate what all sacrifices were needed in attaining independence. Mournfully, Meghani sang, lest we forget those like him:
Biradar, Naujavan | am rahthi tun dur raheje,
Amone panth bhulela bhale tun mani leje,
Kadi jo hamdili aave, bhale nadan kaheje;
'Bichara' kahish na - lakho bhale dhikkar deje |

O, dosto| dargujar dejo diwana bandhavo ne;
Saburi kyayan didhi chhe kaleje aashako ne?
Dile shun shun jale - dekhadiye dil aah kone ?
Amari bewkufi ye kadi sambharasho ne?

Agar behtar,bhuli jajo amari yaad fani|
Buri yaade dubhavjo na sukhi tam zindgani;
Kadi swadhinata aave -- vinanti,bhai chhani:
Amoney smari lejo jari,pal ek nani|

(Comrade, young man| stay away from taking our path;
Think of us as those who had lost their proper path;
Someday if compassion overwhelms, call us even childish;
But, don't pity as poor things-hate us as people hellish|

O, friends, forgive us, your brothers, as mad;
Did anyone find what patience such hearts ever had ?
What sorrows assail our hearts,-who would hear our cry?
Will you remember our stupidity, even with a sigh?

Better it would be if you forgot us,
we wouldn't ever make any fuss;
Should such a memory sour your happiness, even for a moment?
If ever Independence comes, oh, brother, may I make a request fervent?
Do think of us, even for the briefest of a moment.)
Independence came on August 15,1947; we have honoured Meghan's word by not souring our happiness too much with such remembrance as his.
(Please see the next article too)