Narayan Athawale : Our ‘Athava Stambh’

By Sandesh Prabhudesai
28 April 2011 21:35 IST

He was known to the newspaper readers as Narayan Athawale. He was known as Aniruddh Punarvasu to the world of Marathi literature. But for us, who worked under him and also those who were close to him, he was ‘Nana’...

Nana is no more. A prolific writer, a vibrant journalist, a sensitive social activist, a political strategist and a real humanist has left this world at the age of 79 years. He was in Goa, as the Editor of Gomantak (then Goa’s leading Marathi daily), for only ten years – 1980 to 1990. But even after 21 years today, every Marathi reader in Goa remembers him. He is one who just cannot be forgotten...

I simply hated him when we saw such an upright journalist bending before Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena supremo, when he had come down to Goa for a rally. Thackeray spotted him in the crowd at a rally held near Bodgeshwar temple in Mapusa. He was called on the dais. It was quite embarrassing for many socialist-minded activists like us to see this hard-core socialist touching feet of ‘Balasaheb.’

He was then offered Shiv Sena ticket for Parliamentary elections from Central Bombay. He won the polls by around 90,000 votes, defeating Sharad Dighe of Congress and Bapu Kamble of RPI. Unfortunately, the Parliament was dissolved before it completed its term. Fortunately, Athawale did not enjoy the political platform. He quit active politics and rededicated himself to his journalism and social activity.

 I simply loved him as a journalist and even as a human being. He was a transparent man. No hang ups. I remember my first public encounter with him, when I was a student of Damodar College in Margao and also a student activist, in 1986. The agitation of official language had reached its peak. Athawale was a strong proponent of also making Marathi the official language, along with Konkani. Our stand was to make Konkani the official language while granting only associate status (not official) to Marathi. The Konkani Porjecho Avaz however wanted only Konkani as the official language, not Marathi. The agitation slowly started taking communal shape. Athawale’s Gomantak had started publishing false news that could spark communal tension.

He was the chief guest at Lilabaee Satpute Kavi Sammelan, the most prestigious poets meet at state level in those days, at our Damodar College. Some of us decided to recite serious poetry in Konkani and poems on Athawale’s communalism in Marathi. My poem was the most hard-hitting, comparing him to a donkey eating communal garbage. My friends Shridhar Kamat and Prashant Naik also recited similar poems. We got prizes for Konkani poems, but the chief guest was totally embarrassed due to our Marathi poems.

Our 10-year long students’ movement then collapsed within couple of years. I entered professional journalism through Sunaparant and then worked for Tarun Bharat from Madgao for almost three years. I was then offered a job as a Chief Reporter of Gomantak Times in Panaji. As was told to me later by my editor Ashwin Tombat later, he went to Chief Editor Athawale with the proposal. It seems he instantly said: “That boy made a poem criticising me. He is good. Take him.” I seldom got such certificates. This was the most precious one...

I then got an opportunity to observe him closely, though for a very little time. I was writing a humorous and sarcastic front page full length single column in Gomantak, called 'Palashitlya Gajali', regarding the Assembly proceedings. I got total freedom to comment on the behaviour of politicians in the House, within the defined parameters. It was stopped after I left Gomantak Times. Once again, after few years, I was told to start the columns. But it was short-lived. There was a simple comment made on then minister Sangeeta Parab. She moved a breach of privilege against it. I refused to apologise. But, unfortunately, without my knowledge, the Editor apologised. My column, obviously, was stopped.

This would have never happened if Nana was there. He once wrote an editorial on the MLAs – Malaee Khanare Boke (The Tomcats who eat the cream). The ruling Congress was furious. Obvious was the breach of privilege motion.  He refused to apologise. The privilege committee submitted its report against Athawale. He was reprimanded to the Assembly hall (in the old Secretariat). Athawale entered the hall, wearing a Gandhi cap. He was warned. Next day, a front page news appeared in Gomantak, with a report of Assembly proceedings and a photo – Athawale walking out of the Secretariat from the front door. The door has a slogan written on it – Satyamev Jayate!

That’s Nana!!!

But he was never obsessed with politics and politicians. We always saw him more concerned about social issues than political. Lokvishwas Pratishthan, a trust for the school of dumb and deaf children, was his baby. He built this school by making emotional appeals through Gomantak to raise funds. Till then, there was not a single school for special children in Goa. Unfortunately, for political reasons, he had to run this school without government grants, for almost a decade, till he left Goa. Then started state-run Sanjay School and many more schools. It was Athawale who showed the light of hope to these special children in Goa, not the Government.

His heart always wept for the underprivileged and a neglected lot. The Madkai canoe mishap was a splendid example of this. The canoe overturned and died many agricultural labourers. Gomantak highlighted the plight of these poor people, who were simply neglected by the authorities. A normal journalist would report once or twice about it and leave it there. But Nana was different. He took initiative and collected funds for them. Money poured from all the corners, responding to his powerful pen.

Similar was the case of freedom fighter Alfred Afonso’s  house, which was in a dilapidated condition in Poinguinim. He made a simple appeal and the house was built by the people. It is the same tradition started by Nana with which the media continues today. We saw it more visibily two years ago, when media helped in raising funds to build hundreds of houses in Canacona which got washed away due to sudden flash floods. Nana showed us the way. We are simply trying to follow his footsteps...

Yes, he was a litterateur. And writers are always oversensitive. We have seen his sensitivity flowing down his pen when he was writing a column – Athava Stambh (Eighth Column). Newspaper had seven columns those days. His eighth column was the most sensitive one, normally not found in the newspapers. We, journalists, sometimes get so much engrossed in political issues that we tend to lose our sensitivity towards the people, the society, the needy, the helpless and the underprivileged. Nana had it alive in his veins throughout his life. With this sensitivity, his pen roared and even acted brutally when the politicians behaved against the society in an inhuman manner. And his pen wept while writing for the society and made us cry...

Media may be considered the fourth pillar of democracy. But it could triumph only if the invisible eighth column of this pillar is kept alive within us. Nana has shown us the way. Let’s march ahead by keeping this column of sensitivity alive throughout our life and build this society to a new height – a real society of humanity!!!

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Sandesh Prabhudesai

Sandesh Prabhudesai is a journalist, presently the Editor of goanews.com, Goa's oldest exclusive news website since 1996. He has earlier worked as the Editor-in-Chief of HCN and Prudent, Goa's TV channels and Editor of Sunaparant, besides working as a reporter for Goan and national dailies & weeklies in English and Marathi since 1987. He also reports for the BBC. He is also actively involved in literary and cultural activities.

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dear sir,

this is the best artical that i have ever read about my grandfather.

- Shubham Athavale, goa | 29 th May 2011 18:24

 

Dear Sandesh,

"Media may be considered the fourth pillar of democracy. But it could triumph only if the invisible eighth column of this pillar is kept alive within us."

You said it all!

Regards,

Shriniwas

- Shriniwas Khalap, New Delhi | 12 th May 2011 12:46

 

good artical youths of today must read it.thanks sandesh bhai

- mangaldas bhat, cancona | 04 th May 2011 16:57

 

Very touching piece :)

- Danto, Mumbai | 03 rd May 2011 18:03

 

i read ur art icle .its buitiful some of the incidence i was witness. he was a great journalist. u have rightly highlighted him i think todays 'paid news' world, everybody has to study what was the athawle & what is journalism. i apreciat u.

- sagar jawdekar, panaji | 29 th April 2011 11:09

 

The Practical and sensitive personality, Nana is no more with us, May his sole rest in peace.

- Purushottam Sandye, Ponda Goa | 29 th April 2011 08:55

 

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