Friday 19 April 2024

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The Week of Two Books


The third week of March 2010 saw the release of two books in Margao. Both are in Marathi and have a very progressive context. I have the good fortune of being connected with both of them.

Sai Palondikar

The third week of March 2010 saw the release of two books in Margao. Both are in Marathi and have a very progressive context. I have the good fortune of being connected with both of them.

One of the books is authored by my multi-talented friend, Damodar (Saiish) Palondicar. It is a Marathi full-length play titled ‘Y' and is a path-breaker as it tackles the ticklish issue of homosexuality. Saiish has demonstrated a maturity beyond his years in his first Marathi literary attempt. ‘Y' drags the subject of homosexuality out of the closet and encourages frank and open debate.

The play is set in today's Goa and is about an upper middle-class Hindu upper-caste family. The father is a successful businessman; the mother a homemaker and social worker; the daughter a progressive young woman engaged to be married to a young bright boy from a lower caste; and the protagonist, Rahul, the son - a young executive. The protagonist's grandfather is the patriarch of the family.

Rahul's mother is desperate to marry off her son. But Rahul, who is gay and is in a relationship with a regular partner, wishes to make a clean breast of his homosexuality. He first tries to break the news to his grandfather, but is unable to do so. He eventually tells his sister, who is unable to bear the shock and breaks down. Her fiancé convinces her to accept Rahul for what he is. Rahul also shows considerable courage in opening out to his mother and father, who are predictably shattered by the revelation.

Saiish's sharply etched characters and excellently handled dramatic scenes are the highlights of the play. He had researched the subject thoroughly over 5-6 years before beginning the scripting.

The last scene is a masterpiece. The entire family is waiting for Rahul, who is expected home with his partner. All seem to have accepted the inevitable except the father, when the doorbell rings. It is not just Rahul ringing the bell, but a metaphor for a bell ringing in the life of each one of us. It is not just Rahul's father who will have to decide whether to open the door. Each one of us will have to decide whether we accept the changing moralities of today's society. Saiish could well be telling us that we, each one of us, could be compelled to redefine our own morality.

Our theatre group - Gomant Vidya Niketan Kala Vibhag - first performed the play in 2007. We have staged a few, but much-appreciated, performances in Margao, Panaji, Ponda & Mumbai. Efforts are on to stage more shows and to translate the play into English.

Savitribai DalalThe other release was of the second edition of "Sou. Savitribai Dalal - Adarsh Gomantakiya Gruhini" (Model Goan Housewife). This book, again Marathi, is a collection of letters, newspaper reports, essays, etc by relatives, friends and other contemporaries of Savitri Dalal. All essentially tributes to a woman who lived from 1894 to 1964, and left behind a legacy of women's empowerment that seems too fantastic to be true.

The book has a foreword by renowned Marathi playwright Late Vasant Kanetkar, but does not lay claim to any literary eminence. It very simply chronicles the life of an extraordinary woman.

I have dared translate one excerpt from the book. "Extraction and export of coconut oil was one of her most profitable businesses at the time of the Second World War. Other Goan businessmen were also involved in this activity in a big way. But, shipping was now badly affected due to the war. Portugal had remained neutral and so coconut oil export was banned by the Government. This spelt the death knell for all exporters. The then Portuguese Governor of Goa was known to be a strict disciplinarian and all hope seemed lost. But Savitribai did not give up. She felt that the only solution was to meet the Governor personally. Her husband did not object, but her children did. Friends and relatives were aghast. Savitribai had friendly ties with many Christian families. A professor's wife was one of them. She agreed to accompany Savitribai up to the Governor's Palace gates. Even she dared not step further. Savitribai knew only Marathi and Konkani and the Governor understood only Portuguese. So she carried an application in Portuguese drafted by another friend. On the day, she entered the Governor's Palace on her own. Inside, one official dissuaded her by relating the tale of a lady who had met the Governor in the matter of her divorce, and who immediately afterwards had committed suicide. But Savitribai was not discouraged. One Pandurang Pissurlekar, whom Savitribai knew well, happened to be in the Palace. He arranged for the meeting with the Governor and Savitribai put up her case through a translator. The Governor was astonished to learn that a Hindu lady was conducting an export business and had the courage and sense to seek justice before him. He was so impressed that he promptly withdrew the ban."

Another excerpt which was from The Navhind Times of September 3, 1964 goes thus: "It was Mrs Savitri Dalal to whom Prof N R Phatak referred to. He said that 40 years ago he was a guest in a Goan Hindu house, accompanied by Mr K N Athalye who had written a commentary on the Dnyaneshwari. But when Athalye misquoted certain stanzas of the Dnyaneshwari, this lady mustered up courage to enter the hall and correct him. This was contrary to notions of respectability and modesty, but her devotion to the Dnyaneshwari was so great that she overcame all restrictions, duly apologising for doing so."

Savitribai was a true entrepreneur in an era when the Hindu woman rarely stepped out of the confines of "chool ani mool" (hearth and children). She belonged to the last century but had truly empowered herself beyond the wildest imagination of today's generation. My connection? I happen to be her grandson.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Dilip Prabhudesai

An electrical engineer by profession and social activist by compulsion, loves the wild, dabbles in theatre, and is a cine buff.


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