Anand Patwardhan’s  film on his family  which fought for freedom but did not seek power

vasudhaiva kutumbakam anand patwardhan

 A key part in Anand Patwardhan’s  recent acclaimed film is his apt observation   that his two uncles Achyutrao Patwardhan and Raosaheb Patwardhan chose to go into  political oblivion  after  independence. They did this, having played a significant part in  the freedom struggle, their prominent role in the formation of the  Congress socialist party.

  This is remarkable considering the  pursuit  for power that was in evidence in the early years  and is  hitting us so hard.

The film  grips  even that section of the audience which is not aware of the nuances of  social and political history.This because of his   portrayal of the human relations, especially  mother Nirmala Patwardhan, a pioneer pottery artiste and father,  very affable  old figure.

   Anand has a formidable family background on both the mother and father’s side. Her father Bhai Pratap  was a prosperous  Sindhi businessman in  Sind before partition whom Mahatma Gandhi knew well because of his support to the freedom struggle.

 One is awestruck by the rare, old  photographs and  film footage.  The film is appropriately titled Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, drawn from a  well known Sanskrit expression, meaning the whole world can be one family, here one  cultured family  stands for the world outside without seeking power.This is  such a refreshing change for the trend of more and more families  holding, acquiring and expanding their political power.

   Art is the beginning point of the film. Anand’s mother  studied in Tagore’s Shanti Niketan in the company of such stalwarts as Shankho Chuahduri, sculptor, and Nandlal Bose, the famous artist, who provided the decoration for the manuscript of the Indian Constitution. Shankho’s   brother was the famous Sachin Chaudhuri, founder of the Economic Weekly, now the EPW.

  A pioneer potter, Nirmala Patwardhan became interested in pottery and glazes while a student at Santiniketan in the 1940s. In 1957, she went to the State Academy of Arts, Stuttgart, Germany, to study ceramics, where Prof. Ulrich Gunther, an expert in glazes fuelled her interest even further. She trained with Bernard Leach and Ray Finch in England in throwing techniques. She has compiled a book, Handbook on Glazes, from her own experiments and formulae of glazes that are based on locally available materials. This was reprinted in 2007 as New Handbook for Potters. She re-created a glaze, now popularly known as Nirmala Chun Glaze, an opalescent stoneware glaze first developed by the Chinese around the 11th century. It is one of the most sought-after glazes. In 1994, she was awarded Senior Fellowship by Government of India to pursue work on old Chinese glazes using Indian clays and minerals. She has been teaching pottery, glazing and Raku techniques in workshops that she has been organizing over the last four decades, at her studio in Pune.

 Nirmala passed away in 2007. she played a crucial role in promoting the technical development of studio pottery and ceramics in India, including publishing a seminal book- ‘Hand Book For Potters’. She trained a generation of Indian studio potters ..

 Martin Karcher, a prominent pottery artiste, was in awe of her work ever since he   met her in her studio in Jor Bagh in  Delhi in 1973 when he was posted there during his stint with the World Bank. It was easy to  cycle in  Delhi  over long distance, he says. He wrote – in not having inherited her passion for glaze making and testing, I’m totally in awe of the prodigious amount of work that she put into it, which resulted in the publication of the Handbook for Potters in 1984, and was followed by the publication of an expanded and updated volume called New Handbook for Potters in 2005.  The latter includes a goldmine of information on materials used, tips and suggestions.  It clearly met a need among Indian potters and, as Anand informs me, the volume ran out of print in no time, and potters had to rely of purloined xerox copies of the book.

 Achyutrao Patwardhan  was taken on the Congress Working Committee by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1936, but he resigned in a few months and thereafter resisted Nehru’s invitations to join it. From 1935 to 1941 he organised Shibirs (education camps for young men), to teach them Socialism and to prepare them for socialistic activities.

He  began his pollical life by joining the  Dandi march  and then took a prominent part in the Quit India movement,  playing a key role in organising the underground movement. S.M. Joshi, the socialist veteran, has   described  this role graphically in his autobiography in Marathi Mee S.M..

 Later, Achyutrao  immersed himself in  the philosophical Theosophy movement and that of his philosopher friend J Krishnamurti.

For this writer  some of the most  interesting scenes  relate to  Anand’s  journey to Pakistan in 2003 as part of  a peace delegation. I was there in that journey, first we  went by bus from  Amritsar to Lahore and then took a train to Karachi where  we got a big reception.

For Anand this gave him  a big opportunity to visit   his grandfather’s father’s  home, a    beautiful   building,   now  known as Maitri Bhavan and to conduct interviews there.

 The screening   at the NCPA , organised by Cinema Collective, saw a full house.  The organisation will screen a film on  poet Kaifi Azmi on  February 22   at the same venue, according to Veena Bakshi, film maker.

Vidydhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book on public transport)

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