Author Bhalchandra Nemade, whose 1963 novel, Kosala, is considered to be path-breaking in Marathi literature, has been chosen for the 50th Jnanpith Award for the year 2014. Mumbai-based Nemade, 77, who is a recipient of Padma Shri (2011), said, “I am honoured as this award is a public recognition and acceptance of my work. I was surprised, too, as my works are considered anti-establishment. But then, awards are those rare junctions where the critics, establishment and the readers meet. But I am happy because any award is a message to society at large.”
The fourth Marathi author to win the honour after VS Khandekar in 1974, VV Shirwadkar in 1988, and Vinda Karandikar in 2003, Nemade’s last published work is Hindu: Jaganyachi Samruddha, in 2010. Based on extensive 31-year research, the book discussed the evolution of Hindu religion over the centuries and created controversy among some right-wing groups.
The decision to confer him the honour was taken by a board headed by noted scholar, writer, and critic professor Namwar Singh in New Delhi; the award ceremony is likely to take place in April.
Marathi storywriter-playwright and Sahitya Akademi awardee Jayant Pawar said, “Nemade changed the parameters of Marathi novels forever with Kosala, through its basic thought. His protagonist, Pandurang Sangvikar, who moves from rural Maharashtra to the city, instantly struck a chord with the state’s youth.” Pawar said Nemade often highlighted important social issues and has been openly critical of the education system in the state.
Born on May 27, 1938 in Sangavi village in Khandesh, Nemade wrote Kosala when he was only 25. He graduated from Ferguson College in Pune in 1959, and completed his Master’s degree in Linguistics from Deccan College in Pune and in English Literature from Mumbai university. He received his PhD and D Litt degrees from North Maharashtra University, and went on to teach Marathi, English, and comparative literature at Ahmednagar, Dhule and Aurangabad universities. He also taught at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and retired from Mumbai university’s Gurudeo Tagore Chair for comparative literature studies. A critic, poet and novelist, his other famous works include a quartet Hool, Bidar, Zarila and Zhool and two poetry collections, Dekhni and Melody.
Noted author Prafull Shiledar said Nemade is master of a rare skill that weaves both the colloquial and highly literary styles of writing into a single work. “Nemade is also what I would call an alert writer. He is so aware of contemporary issues.”
Nemade, who won the Sahitya Akademi award in 1991, has always propagated education in the native language. “I can’t think of any country that uses a foreign language as a medium for education. At least till primary school, education must be imparted in the mother tongue. It is not just cultural, but also scientific as I know from my linguistic sciences background. In the absence of knowledge of one’s mother tongue, certain sensory parts in the throat and mouth have stunted growth.”