Sudha Bharadwaj’s book and the drama on a revolutionary on death row

The reading  by Ratna Pathak Shah last evening from   Sudha Bharadwaj’s  book about days in the death row in jail, reminded me of  a thrilling  Marathi play Thank You Mr Glaad about a Naxalite revolutionary.   The movement has taken little note of the play written by Anil Barve.It was also a big popular hit and was produced by   Prabhakar Panshikar,  a very popular actor and producer,  in the 1970s.

From Phansi Yard My Year with the Women of Yerawada

Sudha, the lawyer and activist, spent three years and three months in jail following her arrest under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act on August 28, 2018. Her book From Phansi Yard is about her days in Pune’s Yerawada Jail.

 Barve was  a brilliant playwright, novelist, journalist, fired by idealism  who in today’s terms could be called  an organic intellectual. His play is about  Dr Birbhushan Patnaik, a doctor turned  Naxalite, his unflinching commitment. He is pitted against  a harsh Anglo Indian jailor Glaad whose wife had died in  a concentration camp in Germany.  Hours before his hanging he  performs a successful  ceasarian operation on Gladd’s  daughter when no other medical help  is available on  the  rainy night.

 Some thought it was melodramatic, but it was certainly powerful  and is still performed in other languages. Look at the multiple strands woven into the theme from fascism, revolution to humanism and so on.

  Barve’s memory was also revived last week in a touching tribute  by his very talented dancer choreographer daughter  Phulwa Khamkar on his death anniversary. He died  39 years ago  when she was  barely nine year old and he  36. Liquor consumed this  wonderful, pleasant, talented . man. And so prolific and talented. There was a large, warm  response on facebok to her  heartfelt remembrance. His  premature  death was a big blow to her young mind  and she had for some time stopped thinking about him but today as she looks back, she realises what  an important man he was. Talented film maker  Rahi Barve is her brother. Her mother  Prerana  is the daughter of the famed  Amar Shaikh, who roused thousands with his  stirring  revolutionary folk songs.

Coming back to  trade unionist Bharadwaj, she  has seen police heavy-handedness up close, but she did “not envisage the kind of thing” that happened to her as a suspect in the  Bhima Koregaon case.

She wrote  in her book  –   Some prisoners pray, some weep, some just put down their heads and work themselves weary. Sudha Bharadwaj watched through the bars of her cell, and she wrote. This is her remarkably granular account of the world of women prisoners in Yerawada Jail in Pune.Bharadwaj was incarcerated here, in a high-security wing called PhansiYard, from November 2018 to February 2020. She takes us through jail life, her own and the other women’s, from one season to the next, weaving in lively portraits of her fellow prisoners, their children and even their pets, and reflecting on everything from absurd rules, caste hierarchies, food, fistfights and friendships to the dismal absence of legal aid for the most defenceless of women.

While Bharadwaj is an unflinching observer of the harshness of prison life, this is not a bleak book. It is written with warmth, compassion and impish humour. It is Bharadwaj’s tribute to the women around her who showed her ‘every single day ‘, she says, ‘how to survive injustice, how to remain hopeful . . . how to continue to live, love, fight and laugh, even behind bars, as an observer put it.

 The reading from he book last evening was followed by  a talk by journalist  Sukanya Shantha based on her expeience of  covering of  court proceedings in  the trials of political prisoners, followed by   senior journalist  Freny Maneshaw’s  conversation with   Sudha. The programme  oganised by PUCL, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, was ably  compered by  Geeta  Seshu, journalist and feminist, media analyst.  Her partner M.J. Pandey,my former colleague in  TOI, needs to be more visible and heard considering the  work he has done for the cause of journalists  and few have such ideological grasp.

 As for Barve I have another reason to remember him. He edited a lively  weekly Ranangan in which  P.V. Ranade, my history scholar maternal uncle, wrote  an article on  Shivaji in 1974,  the 300th year f the coronation of Shivaji.  It was respectful and analytical but   it created quite a poliial storm in Maharashtra and he lost his job as  a  history  lecturer in  Marathwada university, now named after Dr Ambedkar.  It is a landmark case of the  persecution of an intellectual.

 Barve was jailed for more than a year for suspected Naxalite activities He was a very active, committed journalist and wrote on the Chasnala mining disaster based on his  visit there.   It is necessary to remember writers like Barve, especially as  the  Marathi natya sammelan in its 100th year is being held in several  centres with a substantial  grant of Rs nine core from the Mahaashtra government.  It must be used wisely,  publishing some  meaningful writing on  Marathi as well as  Indian theatre.  Ostentatious expenses on   pandals and   VIP   culure must be curbed.  With Dr Jabbar Patel as  the president of the 100th sammelan ,  truly serious and meaningful approach to various issues  would be in order.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist, culture   critic and  author of a book on public transport

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