‘Atmanepadee’- That’s the name of Ratnakar Matkari’s book. The name informs us that it is autobiographical, and it is all about his work. (Google tells us ‘Atmanepadee’ means ‘that form of the verb which implies an action belonging or reverting to self’.)
For those not familiar with Marathi literature, Ratnakar Matkari was a great and prolific author, having 98 works including 33 plays, 8 collections of his one-act play, 18 books of his short stories, 3 novels, a book of poems for children, and 14 plays and three collections of plays for children. And he wrote mysteries. He also produced and directed his plays and movies.
Matkari’s interest in theatre grew as he read text of plays even before he attended school. He wrote and produced his first one-act play while in school, it brought his talent to the fore. There was no looking back. His plays were broadcast on All India Radio while he attended college.
How does one review or look back on one’s career? Artists are smitten with desire to write about their work in the evening of their life. People in the corporate world are no different. Barack Obama’s ‘A Promised land’, and Pranab Mukherjee’s ‘The Presidential Years’ (and his two other books) are recent examples. In the past ‘Iacocca: An Autobiography’ made a popular reading. Their lives show constant interaction with external events and personalities, sometimes benefiting from or adversely affecting their work. Such a pull and push of external influence is experienced by an artist or a writer too, but he enjoys the freedom to respond. He can choose both the time and the form.
But the aim of an artist is to awaken, arouse awareness. (Badal Sarkar was asked, “Do your plays influence the Government?” He responded, “My plays are not written for the brazen Government; they are written for the people and for kindling their conscience.”) Matkari responded to the news of a brutal attack on an Adivasi man – he wrote the play ‘Lok-Katha78’, his magnum opus to my mind. Matkari’s creative genius was on full display.
In ‘Aatmanepadee’ Matkari discusses many of his plays; his contribution to Children’s theater. We get a glimpse of what inspired him, how he got ‘possessed’ by a plot which he had to convert in a play or an idea which he had to write as a story. Such ‘being possessed’ is a sure sign of a great talent. (Ask any HR professional). He was a prolific writer and won several awards. That explains perhaps the unmistakable tone that his work was not adequately appreciated by the critiques, which runs through the book, is puzzling. And it seems deep rooted from his childhood to which he refers often.
Be that as it may, there should be no doubt that he was a great author and playwright. And his ‘Goodh-Katha’ (mystery-stories) also remain popular with readers of all ages. In the last chapter of his book, he mentions that there are three ‘Dharma.’ At the very low end it is the one which, he believes, champions the universal values, although its name (it is irrelevant if it is Hindu, Muslim, Christian) is put against your name. Then comes the dharma of an artist where he must strive for excellence while making his life’s work meaningful. Above the dharma of humanity must guide him. In the field of art, ignore the caste or religion of others, and art must not be allowed to interfere in humanitarian considerations.
That’s Ratnakar Matkari. Thoughtful, sensitive and creative. We lost him to Covid last year! ‘Aatmanepadee’ in my library will always remind me of this genius.
Vivek S Patwardhan
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.
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