“Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on earth.”- ― Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment.
Tukaram, alias, Annabhau Sathe is known to us as a Dalit Literati, mass awakener and Working class activist from Mumbai. It was he, who discovered Folk poetry as the most powerful weapons of mass awakening against oppression, repression and exploitation and not as entertainment, of expression of collective Self respect and resistance. Born to the MAANG (Matang) parents, from the repressed community for thousands of years and centuries unfurled revolutionary songs like the Flash of Sunlight in the sky, to represent aspirations of oppressed, the victims of thousands of years of exploitation and repression in span of three and half decades, till his last breath in 1969. It is the Birth Anniversary year 2020 of this Dalit revolutionary Folk Poet, social reformer, talented writer who made unforgettable contributions to social- political History. Unfolding story of his life is novel and astonishing from his Birth! Indian social, political and cultural history will remain incomplete without his remembrance! Astonishing story unfolds from his childhood.
The innocent boy, Tukaram, alas, lovingly named as Anna, was born on August 1, 1920, in Wategaon, Sangli, to a ‘Mang’ -Matang parent, went to school to became the target, on the very first day of his joining school, of abusive and filthy language of the Upper cast Teacher, supposedly the pillar of the Human social order. Even his Classmate Children also boycotted him. It was just a day and a half of his Primary schooling. The heinous and ‘exclusion’ brunt’ behavior of the Upper cast Teacher made him to revolt, threw out his school bag and walk out of the class never to return to school in his life time! The revolt appears to be flare up of the instinctual drive repressed in his Childhood age of Puberty. In single momentous event or incident the child experienced not only his insult but the downgraded position of his entire community’s enslaved and gagged up situation, buried under layers and layers of social repression and unable to grunt in retaliation. His exploration of the social psyche in the course of time made him to discover the deep rooted intensity and brutal load of thousands of years of History of caste repression reinforced by modern Capitalist class structure.
The seeds of Revolt germinated in Tukaram’s psyche! But the revolt precipitated just after one and half day of attending the Primary class and despite not even introduced to DEVNAGARI alphabets, pushed him to flare up against the yoke of Ages old oppression and undertake ‘Self Search’ for ‘Expression’. What a marvel that in course of few decades Annabhau (Tukaram) became a historical story by himself through his emergence as most prolific writer, poet, dramatist and above all as LOKSHAHIR (People’s Poet) and an frontline working class leading activist in India’s working class History!.
We wonder, how this marvel, miracle could happen? If we excavate the Indian social structure we find toiling Tukaram buried under age old slavery of ‘Matang Community, under Indian social Structure engaged in making unending efforts Master Slave Dialectic to overpower the structure and see the end of this fetish. Trajectory of his upswing is remarkable. The period spans from the Struggle against social brutal injustice enshrined in Indian Society, against British Imperialism and passage towards Sanyukta Maharashtra Movement spearheaded by working class masses in Mumbai & Maharashtra. The struggle spans from 1933 to 1969 till Annabhau’s demise! His achievements by all standards are unparallel in Indian History.
It is an attempt to summarize the story of Anna Bhau, an acclaimed Dalit literati and working class activist, its vocal expressionist, with day and a half of primary education and who unfurreled the flag of Rebellion on behalf of the bottom most social layers of the oppressed Indian Society and articulated pains, sorrows of the oppressed Community and Class and their creative aspirations and valor through fury of his literature and poetic verses to awaken them.
ANNABHAU’S INTRODUCTION TO ALPHABETS and GROOMING INTO MARXISM.
At the insistence of mother Balubai, the whole family moved to Mumbai in 1932. Anna got a job in a textile mill in Girangao when he stayed at Matunga Labor Camp! It is important to note that Tukaram’s transformation to Anna Bhau Sathe virtually took place during his stay in Matunga Labor Camp from 1933. In Mumbai he confronted with the grim reality of poverty, inequality and exploitation from the first day. Surroundings taught him innumerable things. He felt intimacy with the men and women around who raised their voice and struggled and fought as his brethren and comrades! He boldly presented it in his ‘Mumbaichi Lavni”. New ‘TUKARAM” was born who translated the fiery Ember to become ‘Lord of Literature”
“At the divine Heights of Mumbai, Malbar Hills shines like ‘Indrapuri’ Lords of Wealth habitat here, Relish, with material pleasure and comfort to its Brink!
Lower Parel Natives, Toiling day and Night, live, sweat and perspire to eat whatever at Hand, Alas, FORAS Road, Tin Batti, Golpitha Corners, Fill their stomach by selling their Bodies!
The historic strike in Mumbai in 1934 under the leadership of ‘Lal Bawta Mill Workers Union’ in which he was a direct participant in the strike was the turning point of his life. He was also a witness to the clashes between the workers and the police in the Shivdi area during the strike. The strike started on April 23, 1934, the day of commemoration of the martyrs of the mill workers’ struggle, ‘Parashuram Jadhav’ of the Dalit community. At that time, the work of uniting the construction workers and forming a union was being carried out by Com. RB More, who led and headed the historic battle of Mahad Chavdar Lake under the leadership of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. Accompanying him were union workers KKM Salvi, who was one of the leading activists of the “Kalaram Mandir Satyagraha” led by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar.
Anna Bhau was the first to come in contact with the leaders and activists who became self-aware through such a social movements. On introduction to Marxism, Annabhau to quickly learnt and understood the scientific bases of roots of social inequality, working class struggles against injustice, the struggle against the exploitation of the working people all over the world, He learnt the lessons about fight against oppression, the ongoing struggle and the Russian Revolution.
It is on records that Annabhau Sathe began attending Study Circles conducted by leaders like Com. RB More, Com. B. T Ranadive and Com. SV Deshpande on Marxist classics and Russian Revolution. KM Salvi, Co. Shankar Narayan Pagare, Co. Kisan Khawale worked like his guides in the labor camp. In the company of the workers in the same labor camp, Anna Bhau Sathe literally learned the alphabet “K” “KH” “G” in Marathi language (because he had to leave school as a child due to untouchability). ) Because of letters and Alphabets, recognition, he initially started reading shop signs, movie posters.
Later, he started reading Lenin’s character, Maxim Gorky’s novel “Mother” by the well-known writer of the Russian Revolution, History of the Russian Revolution, Marx-Engels’s “Communist Manifesto” published in Marathi by the Workers ‘Literary Circle, “Mumbai Kamgar” Weekly of the workers’ movement. From this, Annabhau’s political-social ideological understanding began to grow manifold. At the same time, under the guidance of RB More, in collaboration with KKM Salvi, Co. Anna Bhau Sathe established a youth organization called “Dalit Yuvak Sangh” at Matunga Labor Camp. Annabhau became actively involved in the struggle of the Communist Party, the labor movement. Between 1936-37, with his initiative, the first art troupe of “Dalit Yuvak Sangh” was formed under the influence of communists in the labor camp. At the gate of the mills, meetings in the workers’ ground, Anna Bhau and co-workers started singing songs in the program. At the same time, at the national level, the “Progressive Writers’ Union”, an association of progressive thinkers, was formed in 1936 at the initiative of the Communists. Most of these writers were influenced by the Socialist Revolution in Russia.
Annabhau Sathe came under the influence of ‘Progressive Writer’s Union’ in 1936 which consisted of literati and great writers, poets, Novelists, in Hindi, Urdu, English language from across India. Premchand, Sajjad Zahir, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Krishnachandra Ismat Chugtai, Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, Manto, Makhdoom Moiddin, Rajendra Singh Bedi, Rahul Sankrityayan, Mulkraj Anand, Kaifi Azmi, Sardar Ali Jafri, Majruh Sultanpuri and many others greatly influenced Annabhau. It turned out to be great opportunity for Annabhau to get exposure to works by Gorky, Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Mykowski, etc., which were being published in Marathi.
Annabhau Sathe inspired by the literature, wrote stories, plays, novels. Gripped and thrilled by the international movements, the liberation struggle against capitalism, against Nazism-Fascism and against the exploitation of the working people, Annabhau, once upon a time ‘illiterate’ attained the Global Outlook and exposed to means of Literary and Oratory Articulations. When fascism began to emerge in Spain in 1936, in 1939, Anna Bhau Sathe wrote the first “Spanish Povada” against fascism in Spain.
ANNABHAU’S EMERGENCE AS ‘LOKSHAHIR’
It is interesting to see the social heritage which shaped him. By birth he belonged to ‘MANNG” community, one of the most impoverished communities of the country. The members of community since time immemorial lived as Untouchables without a stable means of livelihood. They lived by beating drums, play trumpets, on festive occasions and in wedding ceremonies. They danced and sang to entertain people. They also wove ropes. Annabhau, well rooted in this culture most innovatively created his Revolutionary Troupe” and Forms of expressions for working classes and the rural poor. He used to sing in mountainous voice and played musical instruments.
In 1943, Annabhau wrote a “Powada” (story of velour) on the Stallingrad Battle which was also translated into Russian. Annabhau’s fame soon reached overseas. This Povada” event was also held on CPI’s Mumbai office terrace. Overwhelmed by the gripping character of the Powada, CPI, invited Shahir Amar Sheikh, Dattatraya N. Gavankar Barshi and Kolhapur respectively to Mumbai. Squad formed in 1944, at the Matunga Labor Camp, a historical art troupe NAMED as the “Lal Bawta Kala Pathak” with three of them being the prominent Shahir. Participants and other working class activists and artists. This Lal Bawta kalapathak’ from January 1945 became instrumental in spreading awareness amongst Workers and Peasants throughout the State. Narayan Surve and Amar Shaikh were also the Poets and their songs which articulated the grief of masses aloud!
The years 1943 to 1946 were emotionally very impactful for Annabhau, which shaped his Artistic activities filled to its core by human emotions, values and their articulations. The severe famine in Bengal and starvation and resultant deaths proved to be intense emotional impact for ANNABHAU in spontaneous creation of ‘Ballard’, ‘Call of Bengal’. It was in 1944 he addressed to bring out the befall of the tragedy and outrage it caused to the people. The trio went to Bengal and performed throughout Bengal.
The disastrous famine that befell Bengal from 1943 to 1946 caused deaths of innumerable poor and innocent people by starvation. Com. Anna Bhau Sathe, Com. Amar Sheikh and Com. Gavhankar went to Bengal along with their comrades from Lal Bawta (RED FLAG CULTURAL TROUPE) Pathak. Through non- stop performances and programs of songs and Powadas stirred up the hearts of millions of Bengali audience emotionally bleeding! Donations for the poor starving population flowed to them and mounted in lacks. This povadas became so popular that the artists of Indian People’s Theatre Association in Bengal translated them into Bengali and performed them to become most popular crowd pullers throughout India! The POWADA (Ballard) is woven into, what he terms as’ Four Squares’ and is of thirty Minutes duration. These Artists from Bengal also performed the ballet “Ballet” at the famous Royal Theater in London. Such was the evocative and gripping Power of these Bollards which moved the masses!
“Who is she bellowing in every square, by holding the child in her arms
She screams and yells with pain, My child is no more! “
Chains of dead Bodies queued in Kolkata
Innumerable people lost their lives on their doorsteps”
1940 top 1950 period during partition, India witnessed worst animosity and riots between Hindus and Muslims. Psychologically wounded Annabhau, Amar Shaikh and Gavhankar presented the Ballards at various locations on mission to extinguish the worst ever communal Fire. His Ballard ‘Panjab Delhi Danga’ steps in with fervor to intervene, Few lines of it—
Throw away the ugly ethnical communalism,
Let us stop bloodshed and the bleeding,
Restrain our Hands, Oh, my brethren Indians,
Our reputation, honor, dignity is at stake,
Pull out the yacht , our Nation- ship has entered into worst storm of its kind!,
Let us pull out the Yacht, country is engulfed by storm.
Unite my brethren to the Delhi ripped up into two halves,
pull it out of this ethnicity.
Stop bleeding. Restrain your hands, Indians,
Your Dignity, prestige is at stake.
Rise to the occasion, O, Proletariat, Digest this communal animosity
Protect the Nation, Repeal this storm
King of Unity, Uphold the red flag at Heights
Pull out this yacht from the Storm!
Then came the storm of ‘United Maharashtra Movement’ spearheaded by working class in Mumbai.
Annabhau’s ‘Mazi Maina Gavakade Rahili’, the Lavni remains one such outstanding creation which the moved the working masses right in their hearts.
My beloved ‘Maina’ is left lonely in the village, My heart & soul Flounders,” did not just impressed the people across Maharashtra, Cities and Villages, it made them obsessed and crazy. The triumvirate Amar Shaikh, Annabhau & Datta Gavankar literally combed the entire Maharshtra. It asserted the Folk musical tradition of Maharashtra by providing cultural expression to the struggle of the exploited resulting into mass awakening. It expresses the most painful process of rupturization of families of the poor working masses from villages, their uprooting through centralization of Capital. The entire process of disintegration of the social structures as a historical process is articulated.
He worked relentlessly with desire to change the world. It only demonstrates that over the years, in close association with Amar Shaikh & Datta Gavankar , his Imagination rooted in Lokashahiri bloomed like Peacock’s plumage. Most significantly the Povada, “Jag Badal Ghaluni Ghav, Sanguni Gele Maj Bhimarao” (Change the world with a hammer stroke, Bhimrao said to me) expresses his dream of welding Union of the oppressed into Hammer, ready to strike a Blow!
Making of a ‘Jewl-Literati”!
We have expressed wonders how could the fully illiterate boy, not even introduced to Marathi Alphabets at Age of Thirteen could amass literal creations of 35 novels, 13 collections of short stories, 3 plays, 1 poetry book, 14 Spectacles, One travelogue of Russia, 10 Ballads, Seven ‘films’ based on 7 novels, and above all the FAKIRA the Novel of the Rebel and his Cinematic Expression. These are the Creative Productions coming from an individual who did not have even Primary Schooling and whose lurking discontent against the socio, economic, political System abandoned schooling for one and half day can be compared with Volcanic eruption.! Nevertheless the Volcano did not erupt to destroy the life.
Fortunately PDF Online Marathi version of Selected literature for Lokshahir Anna Bhau Sathe’, 1254 pages, published in 1959, by Maharashtra State Literature & Cultural Board, ( Arjun Dangle as Editor, Convener Neela Upadhye, Vice President Vasundhara Pendse-Naik Dr. Subhash Savarkar) is available on Net / Web. It covers most of his literature with extremely lucid Editorial by Arjun Dangle. Highlight of the book is lucid evaluation of Annabhau Sathe’s contribution as ‘father of ‘Folk Drama’ by vasubdhara Pende Naik. It is necessary to carry out Translation of this Selective Collected Works into English for the benefit of readers across Nations!
He was poet at his heart and could imaginatively integrate the experience from his Childhood at Wategaon with his portrayals of working class families from his prolonged stay at Matunga labor camp. He could utilize the invested emotional and mental energy in his childhood playsand day dreams into creative writings and phantasy representations! Annabhau Sathe’s masterpiece, Fakira, as the torch bearer of the Rural population, as a Collective Individual revolting against the dominant Rural and British repressive Rule and system to save the entire community from starvation is such creation!. The hero is born in Varana Village -Valley populated by ‘MANG and MAHAR’ community. The Hero and his comrades who experienced and witnessed the unbearable incomparable starvation of the population decide to attack the Granary Stores and carry out the grain distribution amongst starving villagers. This is a story about humanity’s struggle for meaning and purpose. The Rebel is arrested and tortured by British Militarists and mercilessly and brutally hanged. The Novel is Unique illustration and displays coherently how the sublimation of Hunger drive into assertion for Human Liberation! Anna Bhau recreates the hero as incarnation of all Human values and stands for women’s liberation also. The story can be seen as emerging from Annabhau’s Psyche since it is the story of villages in which Annabhau was born and grew up. His identification with FAKIRA stands out as his Dream. In Freudian language it is termed as Catharsis. Annabhau Sathe the hero whose ‘Unconscious’ bleeds from severe wounds! The Book has Introduction by famous Marathi Literati- V.S Khandekar. It received State Reward in 1961. Most importantly K.A. Abbas in 1961 converted the Novel into Hit- Popular Film. Six of his Novels have been Screened as Popular Films.
Annabhau could write 15 Story- Anthologies’ which have been translated into Hindi, Sindhi, Bengali, Malyalam, English, Polish, German, Zek and Russian Languages. His Book ‘Khulwadi’ received valuable Introduction by Pralhad Keshav Atre. Annabhau Sathe’s ‘ Book, My Journey to Russia’ received overwhelming response and was translated into Russian and he was honored in Plush Hotel, ‘ Soviet Sky”. Hotel displays the Annabhau’s Oil Paiting in company of most famous individuals across the Globe.
YELL OF THE OPPRESSED
It is a matter of great astonishment, how Annabhau could have articulated his strategy to find a way out through relentless struggle against integrated and compounded repressive structure and ideological Superstructure of capitalism and Hindu caste system together! Unification of Marxism and Ambedkarism, was a lifelong challenge for him, He steered through struggles against Capitalism and caste system by combating against the caste system as well which remains formidable weapon at the disposal of the Ruling classes.
He had to wedge two fold struggles to make his voice heard by the main stream. Unfortunately who should have been recognized as ‘Organic Intellectual’ of the oppressed masses was marginalized by the mainstream literary circles in due course. He was born in Poverty and died also in Poverty on 18th July 1969 in painful living conditions. His literature and Shahiri possesses the power and capacity of lamentation of the pains and the anger of the oppressed, exploited mass of working men and women has not been recognized by the Activists and Intellectuals. He was a crowd puller and highly popular and huge crowds turn up to hear him speak. He could see the inevitability of the conflict between ‘’Haves’ and ‘havenots’ through the Marxist lens. But when he talks about untouchability and casteism, he used to be vocal as Ambedkarite. In the heart of his heart he was convinced that social justice cannot get realized without a working-class revolution.
Annabhau Sathe and Amar Shaikh, the closest friends who unfurled the flag of revolt through their ‘LOKASHAHIRI’ awakened and inspired the downtrodden, exploited and repressed has become the History! The need for their resurrection under current conditions is the need of the hour.
We can trace the blooming of this literati as replica of the ‘Devotional Song’ from Saint Tukaram, Marathi movie which summarizes the greatest contributions of Sant Tukaram in following Stranza,
“Adhi Beej Ekale, Bij Ankurale, Rop Vadhale,
Eka bija Poti taru Koti, Koti janm Gheti Sumane Phale”
(From the embryo of a single seed, sprouts the seedlings, which grow into Trees, blooming with millions of fruits and flowers).
The spark of the moment in his mind turned into inextinguishable Fire and Blaze! The Blaze the Embryo of the single seed, germinated when he threw away his bag and walked out of the School, did not push him to taking the Arms like the other revolutionaries who took to! In the course of his stay in Matunga Labor camp he discovered his own capacities for sublimation of those instinctual forces to be directed towards Social Revolution, for emancipation of the enslaved masses! To paraphrase Antonio Gramsci’, he worked as ‘Organic Intellectual’ of the masses towards articulation of their sorrows pains, suffocations, and instinctual expression of their ‘innate drives’ for ‘Self Liberation. Annabhau deserves not just the International recognition but needs re- invention of ‘TUKARAM’, the magical source of inspiration and reincarnation of ‘SHAHIRI Tradition’ for mass awakening!
Anil Pundlik Gokhale is an Engineer by profession. As a non regular writer on political literature I have always been attempting to integrate Psychology and Marxism. I have recently published books ‘Condensation And Condescension In Dreams And History: Essay – From Sigmund Freud To E P Thompson’ by Author House London. Psychoanalysis & A- Historical Story of GENGHIS KHAN, Author House- London.