Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Tendulkar the Colossus, and me

Vijay Tendulkar had titled Acharya Atre's obituary, Prachand (Colossus), as it appeared in Marathi weekly Monoos in June 1969. It was a tribute to the giant literary figure based on his own experiences in Atre's daily Maratha.

Atre was the employer journalist while Tendulkar was a sub-editor in the daily which he had left on matters of principles. Few would have expected Tendulkar writing the obituary the way he did. It was a rare masterpiece on Atre, written by anybody before and after his death. It brought out the finer qualities of the man who was playwright, poet, filmmaker, satirist, political leader, and educationist, all rolled in one. The article's title Prachand was an allusion also to the giant body that housed the Colossus.

As a student of journalism in Pune, I was fascinated by the contents and the style of Tendulkar's writing. I was not aware till then that he was on the editorial desk of Mumbai's Loksatta. I wrote to him a letter describing how I liked the article, not expecting him to reply. Reply he did, and we continued to exchange letters for sometime.

In one letter, I had wondered how Loksatta could commit blunders in front page stories when it had journalists like him. His response was prompt and so characteristic of him: 'Why do you read Loksatta?. I don't. I do my job of editing the edit page to earn my livelihood and forget about the newspaper until I come back to duty the next day. Do not expect too much if you too are going to work as journalist.'

Like most dreamy-eyed greenhorns entering journalism, I too had plans to transform the society. Interaction with Tendulkar brought me down to the ground. But then, I was overtaken by the ambition to write the way he did. He asked me to be myself. Eventually, I could not become another Tendulkar, but remained only a reporter reporting what the likes of him did or did not do.

I tried to emulate his writing style when I had the occasion to write an obit on Dr N B Parulekar in 1973. As a student of journalism, I had worked as a part-time sub-editor-cum-reporter in Parulekar's Sakal for about a year. I ventured to write the piece only on the basis of this brief stint. The article was titled, Shai Sukun Geli (Ink dried up) and was published in Manoos, then a respected weekly publication.

It has remained my favourite piece of writing in Marathi. That is because Tendulkar had sent me a post card with only four words written in his green ink pen: lekh Changala Zala Ahe (It was a good article).


Vijay Tendulkar and the turbulent 70's

Vijay Tendulkar was a journalist working with Marathi newspapers like Maratha and Loksatta in the late 1960s. Yet he was not known for his contribution as a crusading journalist like some of his peers did. He was more known for his columns and creative writings. He once told me, then a student of journalism, that his journalistic duties were limited to editing features, a job that provided him livelihood. Nothing more, nothing less.

As I recall his words today, it strikes me that he later provided us news reporters working in Pune and Mumbai a lot of fodder so that we earned our livelihood.

That was the beginning of the 1970s. His play 'Shantata Court Chalu Ahe' (Silence Court is in Session) had caused quite a stir in Marathi cultural field when it was first staged in 1967. There were angry debates at meetings and in newspaper columns. Yet, these debates were mostly within the decorum of civilities. His delightful play 'Ashi Pakhare Yeti' was a huge hit and was staged about 1000 times.

At the beginning of the new decade, however, Tendulakar's brand of existentialism was visible in Marathi theatre as he penned Sakharam Binder, Ghashiram Kotwal and Gidhade (Vultures) during this period. That was the beginning of the stormy history of Marathi theatre.

Ghashiram, the musical drama set in 18th century Pune created a prolonged controversy as it was considered to be anti-brahmin. Another reason for the ire from the conservatives in Pune was that the play depicted Nana Phadavnis, the Peshawa, in bad light. Yet another reason was that the theme distorted history.

The play was written and presented at a time when political violence was set in Maharashtra with the rise of Shiv Sena. It depicted how the mighty politicians exploit every situation to their advantage and mercilessly dump those who helped them rise. Years later, Tendulkar fans saw in Ghashiram similarities with the events of Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in 1975.

It was a turbulent period for the Marathi theatre giving the newspapers one opportunity after another to write about. The original company that produced the play, Progressive Dramatic Association, was split because of the Ghashiram after a dozen shows. A new company was formed under the banner of the Theatre Academy with Dr Jabbar Patel at the helm. The play was banned for some time, but after the ban was lifted, Ghashiram bounced back to attain fame outside Maharashtra and beyond India. Opponents again opposed when the troupe was to go abroad for the shows. The opposition was that the play would tarnish the image of the state as it had a completely distorted history of the glorious period of the Maratha rule.

Tendulkar wrote the following lines to be read before Ghashiram was presented to the audience in India or abroad to blunt the opposition:

This is not a historical play. This is a non-historical myth presented with dance and music. Ghashrams are the creations of certain social circumstances. These social circumstances and the Ghashirams go beyond Time and Space. Though the playwright accepts some support from history, he does not intend to express any views on the existence of Peshwai (the rule of Peshwa), Nana Phadanvis and Ghashiram Kotwal as historical personages. If at all, this fable conveys any message, it is completely different.

Gidhade was another play that depicted violence among the greedy members of a family that did not have any traditional values. It shocked the conservatives. Demonstrations were held outside the theatres. A cultural brigade, promoted by established theatre companies, forced the Censor Board to make changes in the script. The Tendulkar supporters championing the cause of freedom of expression countered every such move that left theatregoers amused.

For example, the censorship authorities had objected to the display of a red blood spot on the backside of the female character who had aborted due to the kick flung at her abdomen. The theatre producer agreed not to display the red spot and was allowed to stage the play. The show was advertised in the Marathi press, asking the audience to treat the blue mark on the backside of the female as red blood mark of the abortion! Needless to say, the censor authorities were left red-faced.

Sakharam Binder, played by Nilu Phule, was about a bookbinder who defied the social code of marriage as he gave shelter to young deserted women in his house. Although the play became a landmark in the history of Marathi theatre, it had upset the moralists who raised hue and cry about the theme and the language whenever it was staged. The producers and actors had to face violent reaction everywhere and the play was subjected to a protracted legal battle.

(First published: DNA, Pune edition, May 19, 2008)

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Vijay Tendulkar and Media

Playwright Vijay Tendulkar who died in Pune yesterday (Monday, May 19) was once a journalist. He exploited the other media, mainly film and television, for his creative writing.

Yet, he abhorred the journalists so much that he had told his family and friends to inform the media about his death only after cremation.

However, there was no question about not informing the mediapersons when he breathed his last. Pune journalists had remained vigilant round the clock after he was admitted to a hospital here on April 10. The 80-year old frail author and social commentator was under treatment for myasthenia gravis

Few now remember about Tendulkar's contribution to Marathi journalism even though he worked in Mumbai's newspapers and other periodicals for a considerable length of time.

He was not a crusader journalist championing a cause or getting involved in the contemporary movements of the left or the right. He worked as a sub-editor, not as a reporter who is known in the field outside. He was a sub-editor in Acharya Atre's Marathi daily Maratha and later, in Loksatta belonging to the Express group. He had worked earlier in magazines Navayug, Vasudha and Deepavali. He left the profession some time after 1970-71 when he decided to devote himself full-time to the theatre.

He was a prolific writer. He wrote 35 plays, several one-act plays, two novels, two anthologies of short stories, scripts for 14 Marathi and Hindi films, translations of three Hindi plays in Marathi and had penned regular columns in two newspapers.

Later in his life, he was interviewed on the stage and on television channels. He delivered lecturers. In short, he continued to have a dialogue with the people through the media, yet rarely did he speak about his job as a journalist.

He once told me that he did not get involved in the office routine beyond his assigned duty as a sub-editor. He would not discuss about hits-and-misses in the issue of the day and would leave the office immediately after his duty was over.

'I am there to earn and support my family,' he had said matter-of-factly when asked about his social responsibility as a journalist.

Tendulkar's plays such as Gidhade (Vultures), Sakharam Binder and Ghashiram Kotwal, proved to be path-breaking for Marathi theatre in the early 1970s. Conservative professional theatre companies and a section of Marathi journalists had launched a bitter offensive against him whenever his new play was staged. The soft-spoken mild mannered had stood by whatever he had written, without angry retorts for he believed in freedom expression.

For his creative writings, he drew heavily from the real life incidents; several he had encountered as a middle class individual and many others from the stories published in the media. Kamala was one such play inspired from an Indian Express story about a young woman sold in a village in North India.

Of late, he was planning to write a play on Zahira Shaikh who had lost all the members of her family in the post-Godhra violence. He was intrigued by her testimony that she changed every time she appeared in the court. He took the trouble to visit the Mazgaon court in Mumbai where the Best Bakery massacre case was being heard about 18 months ago. As he came out of the court, he told his friends that he had found out a character for a play after a long time.

That plan did not materialise. His near and dear ones hope that his latest writing on Indian History with socio-cultural perspective was complete, at least nearly complete. He had taken up study of this subject on a two year Bhabha fellowship and was determined to complete by December this year, notwithstanding his age and failing health. He continued to read books for reference and write on his laptop even when he was brought to the hospital in October last. He did not allow anyone to read what he had stored in the hard disc of the laptop till he died.

Tendulkar was among the very writers in Marathi who made friends with the computer and Internet. Until recently, he responded to the scores of e-mails he used to receive.

Post-script: Wikipedia has an excellent profile on Vijay Tendulkar. It shouldn't be a surprise to the users of this collaborative online encyclopaedia. But it did surprise me to notice that the Wikipedia had updated the profile when I accessed the site within just four hours after his death yesterday. This morning, I noticed that at least one newspaper had almost copy-pasted the profile as a large chunk of the front-page obit story.

Please read

First published: regional media May 20, 2008

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Indian National Daily from Pune, Not Delhi

Let me begin my blog with a feature on Sakaal Times, from the stable of Marathi daily Sakal where I started my journalistic career in 1969-70. It is reproduced from

Sakaal Times, the first 'national' English daily from Pune, was launched on Akshay Tritiya on May 7. National, because though it is only available in Pune now, it will be gradually published in Mumbai, Delhi and other states. The new venture of the Sakal Papers Limited also marks the eclipse of the group's English morninger, The Maharashtra Herald.

Interestingly, among those who witnessed the exit of the Herald was veteran journalist Dileep Padgaonkar who had started his journalistic career with this paper, then known as Poona Herald, in the 1960s. Padgaonkar who edited The Times of India for a long time, heads the Delhi-based Asia-Pacific Communication Associates (APCA) that provides the Sakaal Times (ST) almost its entire editorial content except Pune's local coverage. In a signed editorial in the debut issue, Abhijit Pawar, the Managing Director of the Sakaal Media group, said the APCA would provide Editorial, Comment, Nation, World, and some business pages from Delhi.

The new daily comes here after the launch of TOI's stable-mate Pune Mirror appeared on the scene four weeks ago. The Pune Mirror arrived in the city's market after the publishers of Mumbai's DNA (Daily News and Analysis) brought in their Pune edition only 18 weeks ago, on January 15, 2008.

The city has an edition of The Indian Express, which now has fewer journalists as most of them have joined one of these new entrants. There is a talk of The Hindustan Times bringing out its Pune edition in the near future. How near, nobody knows here.

The Sakaal Times has a distinct advantage of a good distribution network in Pune and twin industrial city Pimpri-Chinchwad and the rural Pune district, where the English daily will be circulated before moving on to Mumbai, Delhi and other Indian cities. Sakaal's strategy is to win over subscribers with its offer of an annual subscription of just Rs. 299/- On the day of the ST's launch, the print order was reportedly 100,000 copies. (Though Abhijit Pawar was on record earlier this year saying that he believes people should pay for a good editorial product, he has obviously decided not to risk acting on his belief.)

The DNA had introduced the strategy of Rs. 299 for a year and had met with a good response particularly from younger generation. The Bennett Coleman Company has offered a free complimentary copy of Pune Mirror with The Times of India (circulation of over 225,000).

Some media watchers here are sceptical about the marketing strategy of the Sakaal Times. It did not achieve much in spite of the same good distribution network when it made similar offers for the Maharashtra Herald after it was taken over in 2004 and till it breathed its last yesterday.

They however concede that the response from discerning readers could be different this time as the management and its partners APCA are trying to provide a package that involves bylines of big names like Amartya Sen and Shashi Tharoor. The daily could emerge a winner in the stiff competition because of the collective wisdom of Padgaonkar himself, Editor-in-Chief Anikendra Nath Sen, Editor Sandeep Bamzai, and Executive Editor Amitava Ranjan Sinha Roy who sit in Delhi. They video-confer daily with Resident Editor Dhanajay Sardeshpande and his colleagues in Pune.

Sakaal Media Group's Director Editor Anand Agashe insists that the new daily will not be the English version of the flagship Marathi daily. These two dailies will compete with each other and will also complement each other’s editorial inputs.

The competition to grab the national market is stiffer now because The Times of India has also been spreading its wings in recent times, from Chennai, Jaipur and Goa. DNA published by the Diligent Media Corporation, a joint venture between two industry majors – the Dainik Bhaskar Group and Zee Group, has moved from Mumbai to Ahmedabad, Surat, and Pune and has plans to enter other markets such as Jaipur.

The Sakaal group's flagship Marathi daily Sakal was founded by Dr N B Parulekar on January 01 1932. It emerged as the leading daily of Maharashtra, and continued to remain among the top Marathi newspapers, even after his death in 1973. It was taken over by industrialist Mr. Pratap Pawar, brother of Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar, in 1985.

Mr. Pratap Pawar brought in more professionalism and new business strategies during the subsequent years while his son Abhijit has led the company to emerge as a multi-national, multi-lingual media complex since the dawn of the new millennium. The Rs. 350 crore company has now daily Sakal published from nine centres, two weeklies Saptahik Sakaal and Tanishka, and Agrowon, a 16-page Marathi tabloid newspaper published in six editions in Maharashtra. The group brings out Marathi daily Gomantak and English morninger, Gomantak Times, from the neighbouring tiny state of Goa.

The group's quarterly, India and Global Affairs, targeted mainly at decision makers and knowledgeable readers in the country and abroad, has been well-received after its launch some months ago. Sakal's Internet edition is popular with Marathi readers in and outside India. Now the group also plans is to launch a television channel.

And a footnote: You must have noticed that titles of the flagship daily and its new English sister publication have spelt the name Sakal differently. Marathi title is Sakal (with a single 'a') while the English title has two 'a's between 'k' and 'l'. The name of the company has Sakal as was spelt by Founder Editor Nanasaheb Parulekar in 1932. If you want to refer to the new outfit, it should be written as Sakaal Media Group, as the management calls itself. Finally, if you are to access its Marathi website, try (and not which will take you elsewhere.)

For those who are not familiar with the meaning of word Sakal: It’s a Marathi word derived from Sanskrit, which means Morning, or Dawn. Dr Parulekar has selected this title from entries sent by ordinary people for a 'Suggest a name' contest. The winner was given a cash award of Rs 101.00 which was quite a fortune those days.


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