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Multifaceted perspectives

By December 26, 2018No Comments

Source : The New Indian Express

That there are multiple literary cultures in India is a given today. The Marathi cultural scene, for example, is distinct from the Tamil or Bengali scenes.

That there are multiple literary cultures in India is a given today. The Marathi cultural scene, for example, is distinct from the Tamil or Bengali scenes. Marathi fiction, drama, poetry, music and cultural criticism together has its own distinct flavour, drawing from multiple traditions, including English, but creating a new identity. Active followers will notice that creators within the scene don’t restrict themselves to one form of expression: poets today will be critics tomorrow, playwrights the next day, and movie directors after that.

This cross-pollination is what deepens the culture and produces such stellar output. Shanta Gokhale, known to the casual reader as a cultural columnist, is one such chameleon of Marathi culture. In The Engaged Observer, we encounter her columns, of course, but also a broad spectrum of her other writing, showing off her comfort with topics as varied as classical music and the Indian obsession with fair skin.

The book is divided into sections based on theme: Marathi drama, musicians, artists, Mumbai culture, feminism, and a selection of Gokhale’s own fiction and plays. Gokhale brings her incisive, yet inclusive mind to all these varied topics and in so doing, creates a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. She has the rare ability to describe all the multiple angles of a topic, without seeming to take a side, yet wrapping up on a humane note. In her essay on Dalit writing, for example, after listing down the history of the subject, she notes the dilemma of Premanand Gajvi, playwright: “Can I be an artist at all, or must I always be a man who was born into a particular caste?”

Just as engrossing are her tributes to various playwrights, authors, and musicians. Gokhale distils what exactly was special about these people—from Vijay Tendulkar to Bhaskar Chandavarkar—and explains it lucidly in the context of their chosen field. Even when talking about someone relatively unknown, her deft touch brings out what’s special and the person lingers in our memory.

Considering that Gokhale has been writing for over four decades, it’s amazing how fresh and relevant this writing still is. Even the “fluff” pieces, documenting social trends and little nuances of behaviour that slip by, seem to be ageless. One excellent decision taken by Jerry Pinto and by Speaking Tiger, the publishers, is to add references to related material wherever it’s available—English translations of plays, new publications of memoirs and essays, even links to websites of organisations mentioned. This serves to give the reader further reading material on the topic—I found myself looking up several of these books for reference.

A word must be added for Pinto’s excellent editing and translation. Indian-language fiction has begun to get the translation attention it deserves. Pinto’s continuing work is a welcome expansion of our view.

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