Literary Review

‘I eat, sleep, dream in Marathi’

Mahesh Elkunchwar. Photo: Special arrangement  

Mahesh Elkunchwar, among India’s greatest playwrights, was recently awarded the Mrunmayi award by the Maharashtra government for his contribution to Marathi literature. Excerpts from an interview:

The period in which you began to write was unique in the field of Indian culture and literature. Indian theatre was witnessing a Renaissance of sorts. Mohan Rakesh, Vijay Tendulkar, Arvind Deshpande, Satish Alekar, Badal Sircar, Dharmvir Bharathi, Habib Tanvir, and several others were bringing to the theatre space a contemporary idiom. What shaped you as a writer?

Girish Karnad, Tendulkar, Sircar and Rakesh preceded me. When I started writing, they were already known as the four pillars of modern Indian theatre. Alekar came on the scene a few years after me. Vijaya Mehta had already done quite a few of my one-acts under the banner of ‘Rangayan’ before he started writing. One thing common to all of them was that they lent a kind of vitality and modern sensibility to theatre. So the ground was already prepared when I started writing.

Who were the writers who influenced you the most — both in English and Marathi?

One is influenced by so many things, not writers alone. This includes music, painting, all arts, philosophy; some unknown but wonderful human beings. It is an ongoing and imperceptible process.

You are a professor of English, but you choose to write in your mother tongue, Marathi. In Karnataka, there is this tradition of English professors who write in their mother tongue. The late U.R. Ananthamurthy was one such.

I think, eat, sleep, dream in Marathi. Language is an emotional, intellectual and spiritual bond, and my being is rooted in this particular language. I do not have the same relationship with English.

What do you think of the literary genre ‘drama’ or ‘performative text’, and why did it attract you? I recall you writing about ‘performative texts’ vis-à-vis other literary forms.

I will quote from my own article.

After all these years, I realise today that the division between ‘literature’ and ‘performative text’ is basically flawed. The truth is that if the text is performance-worthy, then it inevitably becomes literature and if it is not performance-worthy, then no matter how beautiful or ‘literary’ the language it is written in, it — forget being dramatic — is not even literature and is full of tedious superfluities. (There are numerous such texts in Hindi.) Dramatic grammar is different from the grammar of fiction and an informed reader keeps this in mind while studying drama; therefore, he can read (only) those texts as literature that reveal their performance worthiness to them. One basic rule in drama is that whatever appears irrelevant and unnecessary vis-à-vis the dramatic intention on stage automatically becomes redundant, unbeautiful and parasitic…. Therefore, if a script is full of unnecessary and unwarranted embellishments, used only to decorate the text due to wrong notions of ‘beauty in drama’, the reader refuses to acknowledge such plays as literature. As opposed to this, there are texts which may not qualify to be called literature in the conventional sense of the word, but still observe the grammar of drama and thus they inevitably acquire literary value and that text is studied as literature. Today we read Waiting for Godot or Chairs as classical literature. The first and last condition for a playscript to acquire literary value is the performance worthiness of that text. These are not two separate issues... They are one and the same.

Tendulkar was one of the most influential Marathi playwrights. Was it difficult being under his shadow?

Tendulkar never cast a long shadow. I had my own mind and my own things to say. And knowing his power, I had firmly decided that I would never write like him. One’s style and content is decided by one’s creative core. If you are any good, you do not have to worry about influences and shadows.

You took an eight-year break from writing. Did you put yourself through some kind of test?

I did not feel like writing during that time. Since nothing was at stake — money, fame or such things — I could happily decide not to write. I did not set any challenges for myself. Writing was and is a continuous process of understanding the medium and through it, oneself. There is only joy in it.

What do you think of contemporary Marathi theatre?

I live in Nagpur, completely cut off from the major theatre centres. I am also more into essays these days. So, I am not qualified to comment.

What is your most cherished compliment?

Karnad translating my plays into Kannada. It is such a wonderful gesture.

How did Tendulkar respond to your plays?

I never asked him, he never told me. Do you ever ask your father if he likes your face?

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2021 5:00:08 PM |

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