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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Mythology of NRI Gujarati writer Madhu Rye

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

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

Saturday, March 26, 2011

An Eloquent Tribute To A Silent Man,Jitubhai

By Tushar Bhatt

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