Poet Gieve Patel had sympathy for farmers

A scene from a Marathi version of Gieve Patel’s play Mister Behram

 Perhaps a little more nuanced look was needed into the life and work of Gieve Patel than  was offered at  the NCPA recently when   poets, theatre practitioners, painters converged  to celebrate  the  life of the  poet, playwright, painter who passed away two months ago.

   The evening began with  an introduction  by Shanta  Gokhale,  of Gieve’s  play Mister Behram followed by an enactment of a scene first in English and then in Marathi.

   The scene in English focussed on the  relationship between Behram,  the rich Parsi landowner , and  a Warli  young man he has adopted and for whom he has a fondness, almost a  physical one.

      But there was  much more to Gieve  than   psychological probing. In real life he had  great sympathy for  Warli and other Adivasi  workers whom he saw during  visits to his grandfather’s  farm in south Gujarat, not far from Mumbai.

 He told the Hindu  newspaper that  his interest was awakened after reading about Tolstoy’s  great respect for peasants.

Writer-artist Gieve Patel’s lifelong fascination with people of the Warli tribe began in his grandfather’s estate. Warli adivasis worked on the estate, and when Patel, as a young man in his 20s, would try to interact with them, he would be discouraged, because they were from another caste. In an early poem, Grandfather , he attempts to sort out this puzzle – why does his kindly grandfather discourage him to mix with the ‘others’?,..

Patel chose to highlight that in the poem — he refers to the Warlis as ‘peasantry’, not ‘tribals’. This is because he was reading Tolstoy at the time. “This is how literature affects one’s life,” Patel said. “Had I not been reading Tolstoy, I wouldn’t have had such a close connection to the issue. To me, they were Tolstoy’s peasants.”

  Perhaps Shanta could have highlighted this angle. After all, she  is well aware of   the history of  Warli adivasis. She has translated  in the 1960s  Godavari Parulekar’s  Sahitya Akademi award winning book  on Adivasi revolt in Thane district in the 1940s.

   Godavari mentions  Shanta’s name in  the introduction to the Engish edition as Shanta Shahane, the name she got  after  marriage. Godutai, as  Godavari was known, was a Gokhale from an illustrious family, before her own marriage, like Shanta. Shanta’s  mother knew Godutai. 

 Rima Gehi, a writer has said  – My first introduction to Patel was when I was still in college. I met Patel, the playwright, when I played the central character of Dolly from his play, ‘Mister Behram’, for a drama exam.

The play was set in 19th Century south Gujarat where many members of the Parsi community own enormous estates. It’s also home to indigenous tribes including the Warlis, who used to work in the lands of the Parsi landlords.

Patel’s protagonist Mister Behram is a well-known lawyer and reformist. He adopts a young Warli orphan boy – Naval, whom he sends to study law in London, and even marries off his only daughter Dolly to him. As Naval comes into his own, Mister Behram feels threatened. There begins the tragedy of his own creation.

 The reading of Shanta Gokhale’s translation of the play Mr Behram in Marathi was presented by Gajanan Paranjape, Ruta Pandit, Saee Limaye who came from Pune for the event. Aniruddha Khutwad, who directed the play in Marathi, also spoke glowingly about Patel.

   Extensive research is available about the exploitation of  Warlis by landlords of different communities. But we have mainly romanticised the Warlis by  fashionably promoting their  Warli  painting ignoring the long   history of exploitation. This included sexual exploitation.

  Some of this was subtle  and is portrayed in a phenomenally  popular  and acclaimed  Marathi novel   Garambicha Bapu written by S.N. Pendse. A play of the same name also became a big hit with Kashinath Ghanekar’s somewhat  melodramatic acting. Ghanekar was one actor who drew a thunderous applause from the audience with his entry on the stage.

   Bapu, the rebellious , son  of a farm worker, discovers to his horror in a climactic scene that  the exploitative landlord is his real father.

The play was translated into English by Ian Raeside  who was the last person to teach the Marathi language as an academic subject in Great Britain and made an important contribution to knowledge of Marathi texts worldwide. He joined the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) in London in 1954 as an assistant lecturer in linguistics, afterwards becoming lecturer and senior lecturer in Gujarati and Marathi. He was acting head of department for the four years before his retirement in 1991 and also served as senior tutor and dean of undergraduate studies.

He was commissioned by Unesco to translate Shripad Narayan Pendse’s novel into , Wild Bapu of Garambi (1969). His Bibliography of Mahanubhav Works in Marathi was republished in 2003 because of its outstanding usefulness to scholars in the field even 40 years after its initial publication in the Soas Bulletin. His final major work was a translation of Gadyaraja: A Fourteenth Century Marathi Version of the Krsna Legend (1989).

 Our creative class needs to take a more critical look at the  land question.  The NCPA, the venue of so many cultural happenings is itself  embedded in  the issue here though  few are talking, writing about it

  On this land given to it for free by the government for cultural activity, it  has  created a high rise for apartments for  the very wealthy. So it is a free lunch for the very rich. Some of them are not even paying proper dues to the government.

 Godavari Parulekar – a staunch antiimperialist freedom fighter, a militant leader of the historic Warli Adivasi Revolt, was  one of the founders of the Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha, the only woman president of the All India Kisan Sabha in its long history, member of the CPI(M) Central Committee for a quarter century, author of the celebrated work Adivasis Revolt, the first woman law graduate in Maharashtra, a dedicated social worker and a legendary leader of the communist and kisan movement in India. Godavari and her husband Shamrao Parulekar were a unique revolutionary team that became renowned for its pioneering leadership of the Warli Adivasi Revolt which swept parts of Thane district in Maharashtra during 1945-47. This revolt was an integral part of the pre-independence peasant upsurge against landlordism that included glorious struggles like Tebhaga in Bengal, Punnapra Vayalar in Kerala, Surma Valley in Assam, the tribal struggle in Tripura and, above all, the magnificent Telangana armed peasant uprising in Andhra. The Warli Adivasi Revolt was led by the Parulekars under the Red Flag of the Kisan Sabha and the Communist Party. But for a decade and a half before this struggle, Godavari Gokhale and Shamrao Parulekar were participants in India’s struggle for freedom from British imperialist rule. Their ideological transformation from the reformist Servants of India Society to the revolutionary Communist Party of India is a fascinating account that has few parallels among those who became communists in Maharashtra in the pre-independence era. The multi-faceted struggles led by both of them during this period also form a remarkable but little-known record. The lives of both these stalwarts were so intertwined with each other that they must be looked at together. EARLY YEARS Godavari Gokhale was born on August 14, 1907, in a well-to-do family in Pune. Her father was the renowned lawyer Laxmanrao Gokhale, who was a cousin of the great Indian freedom fighter and leader of the Moderates in t

of the great Indian freedom fighter and leader of the Moderates in the Indian National Congress, Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Godavari graduated in economics and politics from Fergusson College, 2 Pune, and among her contemporaries were S.M. Joshi, N.G. Goray and Achyutrao Patwardhan, all of whom would later become leaders of the freedom struggle and of the Socialist Party. She then studied law, gaining the distinction of becoming the first woman law graduate in Maharashtra. Her father wanted her to join his law practice, but it was not to be. Godavari, active in the student movement against British rule, was irresistibly drawn to the freedom struggle and plunged into individualruggle.

Shyamrao Parulekar, her husband, was also a rebel. After a brilliant academic career, he refused to go to England, took his law degree in Mumbai instead, and then became a full-time worker at a small wage in the Servants of India Society in the late 1920s. Here he began his work of selfless social service, which also included organizing the working class. This turn of events could not but infuriate his father, the Dewan of Akkalkot. It is said that when his father angrily threatened to disinherit him, the young Shamrao promptly replied that he had already prepared the legal documents renouncing his claims to family lands and property!

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


Support Countercurrents

Countercurrents is answerable only to our readers. Support honest journalism because we have no PLANET B.
Become a Patron at Patreon

Join Our Newsletter


Join our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Get CounterCurrents updates on our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Related Posts

Join Our Newsletter

Annual Subscription

Join Countercurrents Annual Fund Raising Campaign and help us

Latest News