Narhar Kurundkar, who lived a life only 50 years from 1932 to 1982, was one of the greatest intellectuals in Maharashtra. Two decades of his public life and four decades after his death, he has been treated as the hallmark of Maharashtra's intellectual life. Much has been written about him as a writer and an intellectual. However, his daughter Prof. Tejaswini Deo has recently written an amazing long article that tells how he was as a 'human being'. Kurundkar's 40th death anniversary is on 10 February 2022. Considering the importance of the subject and the relationship between Kurundkar and Sadhana, we are publishing original English article on Kartavya and its Marathi translation (by Vishwas Kurundkar) in Sadhana Weekly (29 January 2022).
How do I remember my father? I remember him as a tall, middle-aged pleasant man mostly dressed in white dhoti and kurta, almost always surrounded by some people, talking, joking, always the centre of their attention or busy reading or writing at his desk in our drawing room rather what we called ‘baithak’ those days. There was an easy air of confidence and being around him made one feel very content and secure. He had amazing ability to concentrate despite all household distractions, people dropping by for some errand or other, he could easily go back to the book in hand or the writing. I don’t remember him closing the doors of the room or shutting himself off from everything etc the way we usually do when we wish to do some serious work. I loved his long fingers and what then seemed to me, long hands. I loved to hold his hands in my hand and caress those long fingers and when I did, someone around would invariably tell me how those long fingers indicate artistic/ creative bent of mind. I remember looking at him with awe on such occasions.
One of my earliest memories goes back to the time when I was in primary school! He was already an established man of letters. I remember flowers, garlands and stream of people visiting us to congratulate him on becoming Principal of one of the most prominent colleges in Nanded. Another vivid memory is of the time when he went to Mumbai to address one of the most prestigious literary gatherings along with my mother, I think it was Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh, perhaps because that was the first time I had stayed away from my mother. Mother has maintained a beautiful garden but he rarely had any time or interest to help her in the gardening chores. I remember one beautiful morning he picked a fresh pink rose from the garden and presented it to my mother with a little exaggerated, mischievous politeness, it was their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary I discovered later.
Being his youngest daughter, by the time I became conscious of my whereabouts he was already one of the most famous personalities in Maharashtra’s literary circles. He had received awards and recognition for his books, a widely respected teacher and writer who thousands of students from our under-developed Marathwada region looked up to for guidance, for support and to also to find courage to face their individual struggles, a well-known public intellectual who could elaborate on diverse topics from politics, history, culture to classical music with equal ease and competence and his audience would remember him with gratitude for the enlightening them with his fresh insights. Though I didn’t know and cared about all those details about him then, I definitely knew he was someone special.
It was understood that we were not to disturb baba unless urgent if he was reading or writing something. But if we did, he usually attended to our queries patiently, gave his opinion or told us to remind him later and he would address the issue, which he always did. He never lost temper or shouted at us for disturbing him. He didn’t need to, I think, because my mother strictly monitored that we didn’t hassle him. We were quite disciplined that way, but I somehow loved to seek his attention, ask him doubts, difficult words I encountered while reading (which though minor, seemed tough to me then). What if he’s reading a book or writing, isn’t he always doing that, I used to think and he always indulged me.
I rarely saw him doing any house-hold chores, maybe occasionally bringing a bucket full of water to kitchen to help mother or dutifully opening the jammed lids of dabbas at home. But I remember seeing him patiently sorting out the jumbled bundle of thread occasionally. My mother appreciated his ability (mainly patience) to sort out the complicated mess up. I also remember the gentleness and patience with which he had handled the situation once my brother had met with an accident a bullock cart had crushed his heel while riding on his bicycle somewhere near Shivaji Nager.
Being youngest and slightly unpredictable, my elder sisters and mother always saw to it that I do not hassle him unnecessarily. It was a strict instruction that if he was dictating something to his students or writing or if there are people in the drawing room discussing things, I should either enter the house very quietly or get inside from the backside of the house but I remember quite a few occasions when with complete disregard to instruction I would rush inside noisily from the drawing room, I had my urgent concerns too you see… and immediately on crossing the drawing room found my eldest sister glaring angrily towards me for being that truant sibling who refused to or often forgot to abide.
Baba was very particular about keeping his things in order and in proper place. His lunch, dinner timings were fixed and I think he liked those moments to be relaxed yet orderly. I remember clumsily spilling the water from glass or something like that and my mother chiding me with her eyes and facial expression! There were strict instructions (conveyed to us by mother of course) that we were not to touch his books, papers or any other thing without asking him. I was often tempted to and pinched his shaving blades for sharpening my pencils thus spoiling them. I liked to use his fountain pens to write something and never understood how did it spoil their smoothness… you see, we children were not so organized, pens and pencils never seemed to be in one place never so neatly stacked when required, it was rather easy to go quietly in his room when no one was watching and pick up whatever needed. This was the only thing I remember being reprimanded for by my father… he was indulgent in all other matters. I can still hear the strong irritation in his voice, “how many times I have told you not to touch my things? You never keep them back in their proper place”. Just a sentence, a sharp glance was often enough for me to realize the folly. But again, some days later, I used to feel, oh come on, it’s only a blade, nail cutter or a pen and I will put it back later, his pens really wrote very smoothly… he won’t know, but invariably he did, and I got scolded again.
We never disturbed his books and other papers though, that was instinctively understood. I must mention here that we had free access to any of the book/ books we wanted to read at home, only condition being we must ask him before taking it out and put it back in the proper place after finishing it. I think I literally grew up among books. Reading books seemed to be the most natural thing to do. There were lots of books, many serious and bulky but there were volumes of short stories, poetry and fiction as well. Writers/ publishers often sent him copies of their published work or neatly written manuals for writing forwards or reviews etc. There were monthly / fortnightly periodicals / magazines like Anustubh, Marmik, Sadhna, Kishore, Chandoba even some Russian publications (Marathi versions), in one summer vacation I remember reading 6/7 novels by Sharad Chandra Chatterjee at one go. Remember my sister Shyamal deeply influenced by those novels. I didn’t understand much but was fascinated by the webs of fiction and I had easy access to read any book I wanted. Then there were Diwali specials, he also got children’s books like Sane Guruji’s entire set, Raja Mangalwedhekar’s books, Birbal, Aesop’s fables for me. He was on board of the government committee that decides best books published annually in various fields, that summer vacation we literally had a sack full of new, fresh smelling books poetry, fiction, drama, non-fiction, children’s books everything. I remember lying on the cool floor of our drawing room and reading books all through those long afternoons. One can read whatever one felt interested in as long as the books were handled with care and put back properly. It was a great privilege but that time it seemed a very normal, routine thing to do. All four of us liked to read and I remember how it annoyed my mother sometimes that everyone just had a book in front of their noses, even while eating. She would also exclaim “Don’t show off your bookish knowledge in front of me … practical knowledge, experience is more important in life!”
Sometimes, when we were going home from school around 5:30/ 6 pm, we saw baba walking back home from his college, his Shabnam bag hanging over one shoulder and a book in other hand. He actually read books while walking on the road. My friends used to be quite amused, though they were also aware of his ‘Guruji’ status in Nanded. They would often point out fingers to show me, ‘hey look, look, your father is walking ahead of us’, as if I couldn’t see that myself! But it generally filled me with great pride to see him thus. I did not think that weird at all then. Those were the days in Nanded that one could actually read on the road while walking without any mishap.
I had a happy, secure and comfortable childhood, life revolved around school, books, friends, siblings and though it was mostly my mother who was around for everything, baba was quite involved and aware of everything concerning us. He wanted us all to be home by the time he reached home in the evening and in case either of us stepped inside the home after dark, there would definitely be a question mark in his eyes even though he was among the usual visitors in the drawing room. Life was so simple and beautiful then. An uncomplicated middle-class existence. Because there was a big garden around the house and the entire terrace, I never felt cramped though half portion of our bungalow was rented. Bhagyanager was a quiet and cosy neighbourhood back then. Almost everyone knew everyone else and we could easily cross from one compound to other in order to reach yet another friend’s house and nobody minded it. Ganesh Utsav and Sharda Utsav celebrations gave us complete access to their gardens and for the ten days we could go and pick all the fragrant flowers from any home we wanted. We played every evening so there was strong bonding. I loved to participate in the cultural programs in Ganesh Ustav and Sharda Utsav, one act plays, dances and so on. He made it a point to come and watch me perform on stage. Those days a lot of people from nearby colonies also used to come and watch these cultural evenings. I remember he had once watched my play standing among the last spectators on the road. I thought he didn’t come; I remember my happiness when he quoted my dialogue from the play to assure me that he was there. I also felt bad that he had to stand there and watch. I told him he could have found a nice sitting place had he come earlier, totally ignorant of the busy schedules he had; or maybe I thought that was always so wasn’t it, my play was only for that evening after all!
Postman visited our home daily and many times would joke that he felt lighter after delivering our mail. We also waited for him eagerly when our magazines were expected at the beginning of the month or during the Diwali Anka season. I have actually seen letters delivered without proper address, sometimes name of different colony, sometimes just his name and Nanded written on them. We wondered, felt amused but also felt quite proud of the fact that whatever the address, his letters were delivered to us just like that. Usually, we opened the magazines etc to read but nobody touched the letters, nobody needed to tell you that.
Generally, my mother did all the shopping at home. Occasionally, we got a chance to go out with him, say for buying crackers for Diwali or maybe taking a city bus to Kalamandir bus stand to go to Vasmat (where my grandparents lived and we usually went there in summer breaks or to celebrate Diwali or Mahalaksmi Puja ), or for our annual visits to Janta cold drinks for massive binging on ice-creams. So many people knew him, greeted him with namaste, the shopkeeper bowed in respect before personally taking out the stuff we needed, so I remember feeling intensely happy and proud to hold his hand and walk or go by the city bus. I remember going to watch movies with him on rare occasions. Once a Laurel and Hardy movie in Ganesh Talkies and once I think it was Dharmatma in Sharda or Liberty talkies, I had tagged along with the parents while rest of the siblings have gone to other theatre I think, also remember watching one Dada Kondke movie with him.
My parents rarely got to travel together. Baba travelled a lot, many times for two / three weeks also. All his programs were scheduled in advance. So once his friends in Satara had invited them and finally, they had planned a vacation going to Pandharpur, Kolhapur, Sangli and Satara. Since I was youngest, I also tagged along. We went to Tuljapur, Pandharpur but by the time we reached Sangli and then Satara I had high fever and my mother and our hosts had to look after me instead of doing all things they had planned for. So Mrs. Dandekar (our hosts) kept telling how she had planned this, that but couldn’t do now, couldn’t prepare those sweets she planned because I couldn’t eat those, next time when you come, I will definitely take you to see this fort and that temple she said. There was no next time of course! I did not realize it then but later on understood how much my mother had waited for that vacation and how disappointed they must have been by my abrupt illness (I was quite robust girl otherwise). I have felt guilty for many years.
This watching movie, travelling together to Vasmat for festivals, going to buy crackers for Diwali etc was mostly before my sister Shyamal’s wedding in 1979, after that he got increasingly busy, his responsibilities seemed to have increased manifold. Her wedding was the greatest and happiest get together ever for me. For almost a month after her wedding me and my 3/4 friends daily feasted on the left over bundi laddus. I remember my sister as the most beautiful bride, elegant and graceful in her simplicity. It feels embarrassing now but I am there in almost every wedding picture with Shyamal and Jijaji, almost glued there, tucked in some corner, or on the edge of the chairs if not between them, as if it was somehow about me! Then my sister Reva got married in 1981, by that time my craze for photographs had reduced significantly. These days so many friends post many beautiful pictures, a lot of memories and rich tributes to their father on social media and I invariably feel a tinge of jealousy and envy because I don’t have a single exclusive picture with just two of us in a frame. We lost him too early.
After the wedding our entire family including grandparents, uncle’s family had gone to Kurunda and visited the temples of Amba and Toka chi Aai, Pokharni, part of that journey was in bullock cart as well. I loved every moment of that trip because we had a great time and it was quite rare to find my father so relaxed, laughing, joking, playing cards with us. As I mentioned earlier, Rewa too got married soon and we saw him getting more engrossed in the responsibilities and within a year he passed away suddenly, just like that and nothing was same anymore!
Like any normal family we felt possessive about him and sometimes resented the fact that his students hogged so much of his attention and claimed his time. Usually, his college vacations were booked in advance for traveling to various places in Maharashtra and giving lectures. He seemed most happy explaining things, elaborating on diverse matters, sometimes this would go on for hours and my mother in her anxiety and concern couldn’t stop herself from asking why did he explain so much, was the person putting up the query even interested in knowing those details, my father used to say he would be happy if the student retains even ten percent of it. One can feel a great dedication and deep commitment to help people from our under-developed Marathwada region, our doors were always open. If he was short of time people would walk along with him to college or back home and share their issues and problems.
- Tejaswini Deo