Ravindrabab - neither Left nor Right

By Maria Aurora Couto
04 August 2010 17:40 IST

Goa rejoices on the occasion of the official conferment of the Jnanpith Award on Ravindrabab Kelekar, an honour that was long due. The name of the most  prestigious literary award of the country is taken from the Sanskrit,  jnāna-pīṭha. ‘knowledge-seat'. Indeed Ravindrabab is a fount of knowledge and wisdom. His writing is suffused with deep thought that touches the heart and stimulates the mind. The ancestral house in Priol, a gracious space lined with books, in which the sense of  tradition flows from Goan artefacts both decorative and of daily use, is a joy to every visitor who approaches it through an avenue of trees  with twittering birds in the background. It is  a ‘green mansion' in every way,  a haven of peace - truly a writer's abode, the home of one who combines the local and the global in  a worldview premised on humanism.

 
I  like to look at the literary achievement of Ravindrabab within  a tradition of literature with which I am familiar, for his writing has been shaped as much by the tradition of Indian literature, philosophy and religions, as by elements of the Western literary tradition.  Ravindrabab is a great writer of the philosophic essay, the reflective essay. He is also endowed with the crusading zeal of social  reformers. I think of Ravindrabab's work in the tradition of the 17th Century French essayist Montaigne, and the English rationalist Dr Samuel Johnson like whom he struggled to develop language, his own language Konkani, whose vocabulary he has enriched immeasurably. He also reminds me of  the great political essayists of the Romantic School William Hazlitt and the poet Percy Bysse Shelley both of whom wrote about liberty, equality, justice and revolution. And in later times we have had  the fiery spirit and crusading zeal of Bertrand Russell.

Ravindrabab combines classicism and romanticism, a commitment to rational thought as well as an intuitive understanding of his own tradition which he wished to reform in the spirit of Gandhian thought. However, he was also inspired by Ram Manohar Lohia, the socialist firebrand, the iconoclast.  And I have come to the conclusion that we cannot pigeonhole Ravindrabab. He belongs neither to the right nor the left, he is neither a traditionalist nor a modernist, neither a rabid rationalist nor wedded to romantic idealism. He has read widely and chosen values and ideals that suited the time and his people.  I do wish though that more of us  would listen to his sane voice, a voice that is neither monotonous nor preachy, and is unfailingly logical.  For instance :

Ek khorem. Deshant asprasha assat; dalit assat. Faasar  loku..i  assat. Ii sogli injustis nam zavunk zai. Ti - nam korpacho vaur - Buddha saan suru zal-lo. Santhaani to mukar vel-lo. Gandhin tor - taka khubuch - nhet addun dil-lo. To - adik nhettan - amim kel-lo zalear, e vegle saar samazantle , attam meren - khabar zaat ashil-le. Puun, inglex modem pol-le. Anim, tanem - o prashna swatantra-tayecha , amcha juzak , nuksan korpa khatir, ghuspail-lo.


Forem mullear, o prashna - dharmacha  mollar voi-llo.


Tanim - to razki - mollar - voddun chod-lo.  Dharmacha mollar -voillo, to prashna, goodie suttoth. Puun, razki mollar voil-lo  sutpachi  maath legiin , aasha nam.


Inglez vochun attam 50 vorsan zalim.  Dharmacha molla voillo o prashna amim - aj passun - razki upyanim - chodoupak chodtai.

 
In another essay  he expresses his feelings when the  constituent assembly decided to replace the charka on the national flag with the Ashoka wheel. The tricolour with the charka symbolized the long years of struggle waged by our people against the colonizers. "This tricolour was not merely a tricolour. People who sacrificed to win freedom were written off in a jiffy by this change." However, having made this point, he welcomes the charka and links it to our Buddhist heritage which we, in Goa, would do well to remember : Buddha tso vo sandesh zo Ashok chakran ukto kella, toch aicha kal-lar sarko - mukaar gheun gella.

This passage illustrates Ravindrabab's rational thought. The enlightenment he seeks through reflection and writing is Buddhist in its inspiration although the French philosophers of the 18th Century were also part of his intellectual formation. They were public intellectuals who applied reason to the study of many areas of learning, including philosophy, history, science, politics, economics and social issues. They had a critical eye and looked for weaknesses and failures that needed improvement. In his writing Ravindrabab has always been frank, forthright and fearless like the philosophers of the French Enlightenment  tempered and deepened by Buddhist teaching and above all in the tradition of Gandhiji.

My husband Alban and I first met him in 1962/63, and I recall vividly his quiet but forceful presence, his habit of listening intently before uttering a word himself. In fact when I went to interview him for my book GOA : A Daughter's Story, I did most of the talking. He only listened but the little he said was deep and provoked thought. I have only recently realized that Ravindrabab is an accomplished linguist who has translated from Gujarati,  written in Hindi, a biography of Gandhi that has gone into several editions,  and in Marathi a travelogue on Japan; he could have certainly carried on writing in these languages but he chose to refine his own mother tongue. 

As  a child in Diu he studied Gujarati in school, and then at the Liceu in Goa  he studied European languages, but Konkani was the language of his home. I am reminded of the poet A.K. Ramanujam, a Tamil who grew up in Mysore, who said that in his childhood, Kannada was the language in the street, Tamil was the language in the kitchen (mother/women) and English was the language in the drawing room. He chose to write in English but his great work is translation from Tamil and Kannada.

These, however, were languages which were well established. Ravindrabab aspired to bring his own language on par with the languages he knew and his entire life, it seems to me, has been dedicated to the cause of the Konkani language and the Konkani people . Ravindrab's major contribution to the development of the Konkani language is well known . He has been  with the Konkani movement for over half a century taking over from Shenoy Goembab, Madhav Shanbhag, Joaquim Antonio Fernandes and others of that generation.

He came to Goa with a wide exposure having worked with Gandhiji at Wardha, been under the tutelage of Kaka Saheb Kalelkar, edited the magazine MIRGA along with Vaman Sardessai, whose memory we cherish. Both of them were students of Colegio Jose Almeida in Ponda which was a hub of nationalistic activity and this formation was crucial to the idealism that inspired both Vaman and Ravindrabab.  No wonder they both headed for Wardha. It seems to me that both shared a certain quality of other worldliness, a detachment that comes from deep reflection and gives birth to a vision.

Ravindrab's mission at the time was two fold - freedom for Goa and reform of our society. And he felt that the Gandhian approach was best to settle the Goa question as well as to change our society.   He is not a ritualist and with irrefutable logic he makes his arguments convincing. A profound scholar, I cannot possibly list his many publications in a variety of genres,  and the accolades that have come his way. I do believe, however, that if he had been writing in any of the major languages, national recognition would have come much earlier. It is also the case that Ravindrabab is not one to seek either honours or recognition choosing to commune with his thoughts, his books, his friends and family, and illuminating issues that concern us all.

It is apt therefore that he called his column in the Marathi Nava Prabha - Sugaat - soliloquy. Shakespeare , as we all know, expressed his deepest wisdom in the soliloquies in his plays. And Ravindrabab continues to illumine us in the pages of JAAG which he has edited for many decades, writing on contemporary environmental problems, the role of multinationals, the effects of inorganic fertilizers on agrarian economy, the self defeating results of linguistic controversies, in fact about issues that divide us and prevent the growth of a healthy, and vibrant society. The sheer range of his writing and thinking illustrates an unrivalled scholarship the like of which is truly rare in the Goa of our times.
On this auspicious occasion of receiving the Jnanpith award, we pray that he may continue to inspire and guide us through his visionary writing and idealism.

 

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Maria Aurora Couto

Maria Aurora Couto, recipient of Padma Shri in 2010, is a writer and an educationist. Her book "Goa: A Daughter's Story", a cultural history of Goa, analyses the state of the tiny state from pre-liberation Portuguese regime till date. She has also translated “Etnography of Goa, Daman and Diu”, a classic work in Portuguese by A.B. Braganca Pereira. Both books have been published by Viking, Penguin. Yet another book to her credit is "Graham Greene: On the Frontier, Politics and Religion in the Novels" by Macmillan, London published in 1986. She is also known for fearlessly voicing out her opinions on Goa's social and environmental issues. 

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