The world of Marathi literature and poetry lost its most extra-ordinarily talented person today. I believe that Namdeo Dhasal was the best Marathi poet in the last 40 years; not Dalit poet but Marathi poet. It would not be appropriate to confine him to being a Dalit poet because he had transcended the barrier between Marathi and Dalit literature/poetry.
His poetry and the acclaim it earned eclipsed a less-known facet of his writing: his prose. It would be fitting to see his work in two parts – the first half of his writing life was all about poetry which took the world of letters by storm and the second half of it was mainly devoted to prose. He also indulged in other forms of writing such as a popular column in Saamna.
His writing was generally of a high intellectual quality, it broke some barriers, it brought in a different world into the lives of many of his readers, it pushed them to think differently, and it always had human rights as its chief concern. It questioned norms and status quo, sometimes in very harsh words. I believe that Dhasal was not given due recognition and reward during his lifetime.
Dhasal’s writing, his entire oeuvre, was Left-oriented; he was a proud follower of the Marxist ideology and remained a hard-core Marxist till the very end. I did not, do not, agree with that approach for I chose Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar over the Marxist philosophy. Dr Ambedkar’s last speech was titled ‘Buddha or Marx?’ in which he had talked of how the two had approached pain in the society and tried to alleviate it, and explained why Marx’s way was not consistent with democracy and liberty.
Dhasal was clearly on the other side of this divide. He and I had our basic disagreements on this but I would still acknowledge him as a great Marathi poet and writer. What he believed – manav mukti hi rakt ranjit kranti chya margatun jaate (human liberation comes from a path coloured with bloody revolutions) – informed his writing and his style.
As a person, Dhasal was a simple man. You could even call him a simpleton, bhabhdya would be the right word in Marathi. He was surrounded by books, always and everywhere. He wore his life, especially his early life, with open pride. He was, what one might call, an happy-go-lucky chap with whom one could converse, discuss, argue, fight, and then share food. Dhasal had a certain easy charm with people and many were taken in by it.
There was a long period in between when he was out of the picture. He took seriously ill and needed a great deal of money for treatment. He made compromises. His fall-out with Raja Dhale, with whom he had co-founded the Dalit Panther, was ugly. Dhasal sought to revive the Dalit Panther in recent years but he would put up candidates in every election and then we would hear very little about them – or him. In the end, he had turned reckless and reclusive. But none of this takes away from who Dhasal was for most of his life.
Dr Narendra Jadhav is a member of the Planning Commission and the National Advisory Council. Also a writer, he’s the author of the best-seller “Amcha Baap Ani Amhi” (Our Father And Us), and a former deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of India.
Read: ‘His poetry emerged from Mumbai’s dark underbelly’
Read: Dhasal, the Dalit poet of rage Mumbai forgot