My meeting with Vijay Tendulkar was a memorable one – for me obviously, not for him. I met him at his residence along with a friend who is well known editor of Marathi books. I thought we would come out soon with our business done, but we stayed there for almost one and a half hour. Tendulkar was in a mood for loud thinking and he discussed with my friend (I was mostly an ‘interested observer’) the fall of Babri Masjid, communal violence, Medha Patkar’s Narmada Bachao Andolan and many related issues.
These memories flooded my mind because I have just finished reading Tendulkar’s ‘RamPrahar’. RamPrahar indicates time around early morning (because it was a newspaper column) and it is an anthology of Tendulkar’s column in ‘Loksatta’ (Marathi daily of the Indian Express Group). He published it from 30th Nov 1992 to 29th May 1993.
This was a period of turmoil and communal violence. On Dec 6, 1992, the Babri Masjid was demolished. The resultant communal violence and riots saw deaths of 3,000 people. In retaliation came bombings in March 1993 at Bombay (as it was called then), a series of 12 terrorist bombings, resulting in 257 fatalities and 1,400 injuries.
Tendulkar wrote fearlessly against the mindless violence and raised uncomfortable questions in RamPrahar column to a world which took sides in a conflict without seeking understanding; his preface to RamPrahar, the book, discloses his mind: (My amateurish translation):
‘I can studiously comprehend the frenzied laughter and mindset of those whose hands are dipped in the enemy’s blood. I also understand the mindset of those who declare death penalty for crimes true or falsely alleged. Killings and bloody violence were never unknown to ways of mankind. Human culture has been shaped by rivers of blood and scorched towns, so there is nothing new about violence which should numb our sensibilities and surprise us. Rivers of blood and ravaged towns (and that includes temples and masjids) is an unforgettable human truth.
But the thoughts of people which lead to systematically terminate lives of unknown, unconcerned, and uninvolved commoners whose only expectation from life is to earn a living of bare convenience, shock, stun and baffle me again. I crave to see, meet and understand such people. Sitting at their feet, with the mind-set of a learner I wish to ask them, ‘How could you ever manage do it?’
It is true that I get enraged and I will admit that I get carried away. But I have realized that nothing is achieved by rage. It is of no value to learn or know anything. We have to be calm if we wish to understand and learn. We should be able to study events, shunning anger. And yes, we have to make a habit of living…….….’
RamPrahar is not only about the communal violence, though it keeps coming in his writing frequently. That’s natural because such was the time and events then. He explores many other issues and topics. What stands out are his questions and observations – ‘animals do not belong to any religion, but the ‘animals’ in the minds of people to have religion’. He also notes that ‘Every truth has blanks and hazy, blurred spaces. Truth does not appear as clearly as printed editorial of a newspaper. You have to fill up those blanks and hazy, blurred spaces with your imagination to get clarity, and create a bold, comprehensive, and clear truth for yourself.’ Tendulkar’s writing is full of disturbing questions – they force us to rethink our positions. Social scientist Ashis Nandy wrote in Swarajya Magazine, ‘Tendulkar never guarantees a good bedtime read…He never fails to make you feel that you have entered a dentist’s chamber with an undiagnosed abscess in the molars.’
The world today faces communalism, racism (remember ‘Black Lives Matter’?) and resulting violence in ever increasing proportions. The world sees various groups play ‘I am Ok, You Are Not Ok’ games in different forms. Colin Wilson says that murders cause less damage to the society than that caused by destroying people’s confidence and instilling in them a sense of rejection and inferiority. This is why a re-read of Tendulkar’s RamPrahar will help us gain some sanity and understanding.
(Tendulkar’s RamPrahar is written in Marathi. I am not aware if it is translated in other Indian languages or English. Image courtesy Charl Folscher on Unsplash)
Vivek S Patwardhan
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” **** “Aroehan: Creating Dream Villages in Mokhada by 2025: “No Malnutrition Deaths, No Child ‘Out of School’, Reduction in migration by 50%.”