Monday, May 6, 2013

Portrait of a poet

This has already been published in the Sunday supplement.
Krishnaji Keshav Damle also known as Keshavsut

Poetry never really appealed to me. And, so it was with great reluctance that I agreed to my husband's plan to visit Keshavsut Smarak – a memorial raised in memory of 'Father of Modern Marathi Poetry', Krishnaji Keshav Damle – in Malgund.
We were in Ganapatipule at that time and decided to go to Malgund, a 10-minute drive (a kilometre) from the popular tourist destination. A sign-post told us to take a left turn and what greeted us, at the end of the lane, was tranquil silence. No security guards, no tourists, just a plaque announcing that Damle, popularly known as Keshavsut, was born in the red-roofed house, surrounded by green shrubbery.
Keshavsut's house in Malgund

A poem by Keshavsut

The house, renovated in the old style, was near-empty, except for Keshavsut's portrait that was hanging from the wall in the front room. In the tiny lettering on the portrait were mentioned Keshavsut's birth date – October 7, 1866 and his death on November 9, 1905.
A second door led us into another smaller room that displayed vessels in use in Keshavsut's time (i.e in 19th century). The utensils didn't belong to the poet's family, but to Limaye's of Malgund that were donated to the Smarak in 2001.
This was a little disappointing; now that we were at the Smarak, I was eager to know more about Keshavsut's life. In fact, some of his poems that I had found tiresome in school and college, were slowly seeping back into my memory. But, sadly, that was all we could find in the house.
The real surprise, we discovered, was in the backyard, in the small garden that had erected marble slabs with Keshavsut's poems etched on them.
One particular poem, titled Ghadyal, caught my eye...

Gadbad ghai, jagaat chale,
Aalas dulkya deto pan,
Gambhirpane ghadyal bole,
Aala kshan-gela kshan.

Ghadyalala ghai nahi,
Visavahi to nahi pan,
Tyache mhanne dhyani ghei,
Aala kshan-gela kshan.

Easy to read and even easier to comprehend, right? It's how most of us speak Marathi today. But, these free-flowing, simple lines, were penned somewhere in 1890s! No wonder than that Keshavsut, who died at an early age of 39, was crowned as the Father of Modern Marathi Poetry.
Another slab caught my husband's attention. It was the poem, Tutari, that's widely acknowledged as Keshavsut's clarion call to throw away the yoke of foreign rule and instilling national pride amongst the people then.
The lines of Keshavsut's most popular work are thus:

Ek tutari dya maj aanuni,
Phunkuni me jya swapranane,
Bheduni taki sagali gagane,
Deergha tichya kinkaline,
Aashi tutari dya majalaguni

June jau dya marnalaguni,
Jaluni kinva puruni taka,
Sadat na aikya thayi thaka,
Savadh! Aika pudhlya haka,
Khandyas chala khanda bhidvuni...

After having read few more of his poems, we were eager to know more about the poet, whose verse were posthumously published by his younger brother, Sitaram. Our curiosity, we thought, would be quenched by the people we saw flitting in and out of the two adjoining halls beyond the garden.
We were right. One hall was a public library, which subscribed to newspapers and magazines. A couple of junior college students made use of the facility, poring deeply over their books. The other hall was a tribute to the litt̩rateurs of Maharashtra - right from Keshavsut, Veer Savarkar, Vinda Karindakar, Indira Sant to Mangesh Padgaonkar Рthat had their enlarged photo frames and excerpts of their work.
An initiative of Konkan Marathi Sahitya Parishad, one could also buy books of these writers, if one so wished. We found a compilation of Keshavsut's poems and came away happy. Rounding off our literary retreat was a peek into a small open air amphitheatre, which hosts plays, book-reading and poetry recital sessions.
On our way back, we realised that the Smarak, was the best tribute one could have paid Keshavsut. An unostentatious memorial for the man whose simple lines enriched the language.

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