Vyankatesh Madgulkar


A gem of Marathi literature (1927-2001)

Vyankatesh Digambar Madgulkar, born on 6 July 1927, was a popular Marathi writer of his time. A man of varied interests, he was lovingly called Tatya (‘grand old man’ in Marathi) by his admirers and friends.

The Madgulkar family probably migrated from Karnataka a few centuries back, and were one of the eight Brahmin families in Madgul, Sangli district, Maharashtra. As the land they held was insufficient to feed the family, his father took a job with the Aundh princely State, which ruled over Madgul and the region known as Maandesh. Vyankatesh thus got to see life at close quarters in various villages and small towns.

Though his orthodox mother believed Brahmins shouldn’t mix with people of `lower’ castes, Vyankatesh freely mixed with children of other castes and communities and learnt how to climb trees, identify birds, trap fish, and hunt. Madgul incidentally had no electricity, bus service or even a shop, but it had a primary school. Vyankatesh left home as a teenager and joined India’s freedom movement, and for two years was a wanted man.

Though the success of his elder brother, the famous poet G.D. Madgulkar (Anna Gajanan), and well-known writer of Marathi film songs and screenplay might have helped Vyankatesh, he had his own personality. As he said often, he had always had the feeling he was “different”.

A keen reader, he taught himself to read English and became familiar with both English as well as Marathi literature. He was greatly influenced by the books of the American novelist John Steinbeck, the famous British writer George Orwell, and the Irish writer Liam O’ Flaherty.

His aptitude for sketching and painting took him to Kolhapur. A prize in a short story competition spurred him to pursue a literary career. In 1948, at 21 years of age, he became a journalist and, two years later, moved to Mumbai to write scripts for a few Marathi movies.

In 1955, Vyankatesh joined the rural programming department of All India Radio, in Pune, where he worked and wrote abundantly for the next 40 years. He officially visited Australia and the island of Tasmania and wrote stories based upon his experiences there. His stories mixed the real world with his own imagination but retained his style of writing – that of a person telling a story to people sitting in front of him.His first book, Maandeshi Manse (People of Maandesh), published in 1949 was a realistic description of different kinds of people he met during his childhood. The most famous of Vyankatesh’s writing is his novella called Bangarwadi (1954), a milestone in Marathi literature, about the experiences of a young schoolteacher in a village of shepherds in Maandesh. It was translated into several languages, including English, German, and Hindi. Reprinted over fifteen times, a film based on it was made under the direction of Amol Palekar.

His novel Wawtal (Winds of Fire) was translated into English, Kannada and also in Russian by Raduga Publishers. His novel Pudcha Paul (Next Step) created from his short story describes the tragic pathos of Maandeshi rural life. His Kowale Diwas presents a graph of happenings in the life of a boy, a criminal who is declared an absconder. Vyankatesh felt that destiny made man change his way of life and it influenced the reader too.

His last novella, Sattantar (1981), about a community of monkeys, won him the central government’s Sahitya Parishad award for best Marathi book published in that year. Sattantar means change in rule, change in leadership. He thus revealed human psychology and existential tendency.

Madgulkar wrote in all, 8 novellas, over 200 short stories, about 40 screenplays for films, and some folk plays, travelogues, and essays on nature. His translation of some English books into Marathi, especially on wild life, he being an avid hunter, earned him the moniker of ‘Colonel Bahadur’. He passed away on 28 August 2001 at the age of 73, of complications from diabetes.

– A.Radhakrishnan is a Pune based freelance journalist, poet, and short story writer who loves to make the world a better place.