Mhaisalkar is neither an author nor a poet. He is neither a literary critic nor an orator. He is a proud “vangmayin karyakarta” – a literary activist in the words of Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Mahamandal, who is the supreme organ of all Marathi literary organizations in the country.
On Saturday, the Sahitya Mahamandal praised Mhaisalkar for being a dedicated literary activist throughout his life. Mhaisalkar, who has witnessed almost everything and triggered many changes in Vidarbha’s Marathi literary script, spoke to YOU. Contrary to his reluctant nature, Mhaisalkar expressed his thoughts on the past, present and future of the literature, culture and life of the Marathi people.
Excerpts from the interview …
Q. How does it feel to be praised as a “literary activist,” a rare award category?
A. It is rare but it is the only category in which I belong. Never a writer, poet, critic or lecturer, I always find myself associated with theater, music, literature as an activist, and as a worker who stays behind the curtains. I am fortunate that the employers’ organization of all Marathi literary groups congratulates me on being a literary worker. It is a great honor for me. I like reading books as well as reading people. I am not a public figure, but I have good friends in all areas. As I receive this honor, I can remember the whole journey with Vidarbha Sahitya Sangh, all the ups and downs and all the good and bad experiences.
Q. Are you talking about the time when you were criticized a lot for the reconstruction of the VSS building in Nagpur?
A. This was the period when I received the worst reviews of my life. I believe that an organization like VSS with around 100 years of heritage deserves to have a building suited to its status. With this in mind, we started working on the concept of the VSS Complex. The old building had to be demolished for this. The opposition started at that time. Traders and vendors around have formed a union and filed a lawsuit. I was convinced that our plan was perfectly correct, so I continued with our plan. Today you can see a historic complex in Jhansi Rani Square. We have a large auditorium, library, art galleries, state-of-the-art offices and, also, many stores. I can proudly say that no other Marathi literary organization has such a grand complex to its name. The VSS complex has become a monument for Nagpur.
Q. But you never responded to your criticisms all these years. Why?
A. I knew that the situation would have worsened if I had retaliated in the same language. Instead of answering them, I continued to work. Unlike others in the literary arena, I had no desire to stay in the limelight or get publicity, awards, or recognition. My goal was clear. I am a worker and a worker always wants to complete the task. I accomplished most of the tasks for which I was intended. I am 89 years old now and I am happy. No regrets.
Q. Literary activities and controversies go hand in hand. Your opinion ?
A. It is unfortunate that controversies attract media attention. But, there is a lot of constructive work going on in the field of literature. Positive or normal developments hardly make news for people. Controversies have topical value. But, while criticizing an organization like VSS, one should once think why and how such organizations have survived for a period like 100 years. Leading an organization for 100 years is no joke. Constructive criticism is always welcome, but the positive sides should also be given equal attention, which does not happen at all these days.
Q. But, don’t you think that literary summit organizers themselves invite controversy by making mistakes?
A. Here, literary workers have a role to play. Summit organizers must be responsible people. Good planning is essential. This same year, at a literary summit held in Nashik, the selected summit president was not present for health reasons. Organizers have reportedly selected an author in good enough health to attend the entire summit. As the president himself was absent, critics prepared material to condemn him.
Q. Do you think the new generation lacks literary sense?
A. The new generation is sharp. We weren’t that smart when we were young. They have great abilities. But, we have not succeeded in keeping them attached to the mother tongue. It hurts when children speak poorly in Marathi, cannot read passages correctly, and cannot identify numbers in Marathi. It’s really a big challenge in front of literary workers like me. The conservation of language is the need of the hour. For the next 20 years, we must work only on this subject.
Q. What do you think the future of Marathi literature will be in Vidarbha?
A. Believe me, we also have good writers, good poets, and good critics. We need good organizers, workers and literary activists. VSS can do this. We have one of the richest libraries in Vidarbha. We have a state-of-the-art auditorium, art galleries. This organization has all the potential to fuel the thinking of the young generation. During my tenure, VSS has grown from 350 members to 8,000 members. We need more mass involvement in this organization in the future. We have good people. Over the next few years you will see VSS take on these great responsibilities with great skill.