Ravindra Kelekar whose ?pioneering work and honored place in the resurgence of Konkani language and literature? has been praised by none less than another distinguished Goan, Maria Aurora Couto, had written a series of essays in Konkani that have largely gone unnoticed by litt?rateurs across the country, primarily because few translations into other languages are available.
Not that Kelekar himself is an unknown figure. He is a Fellow of the Sahitya Akademi, a recepient of the Padma Bhushan Award for his contribution to literature, not to speak of the Bhaasha Bharati Sanman given to him by the Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore. Happily, a translation in English of many of his essays originally written in Konkani is now available and no greater tribute could have been paid to him, for the simple reason that the translation is so delightfully beautiful that one wonders how much more splendid the original work must be.
Credit surely should go to Vidya Pai who accomplished the task. Kelekar comes through as a scholar, a reformist, a man of strong convictions and literary figure of no mean standing, besides being an activist with the courage to stand up for values that he considers unchallengeable. He is a frank admirer of Lin Yu tang, whose book The Importance of Living, Kelekar says, is one of the ?few books that are worth stacking up by one'spillow?.
According to Kelekar, Lin Yu tang ?is unique because he condenses all his wisdom into contemporary language and expresses it in his own words?. The same may be said of Kelekar as well. Wisdom literally pours through every page. Writing to him, he says is ?as normal and easy a process as drawing breath?. How does an essayist compile his thoughts? Kelekar'sreply is simple. As he puts it, ?this entire process?craftsmanship, if it can be called that?begins in the recesses of my mind long before I sit down to write. It continues as I write and sometimes continues after I have finished a particular piece?. All the British essayists, from Addison onwards, would probably agree with him. Writing is an art and like all arts, it calls for immense dedication.
Like any essayist, Kelekar writes on a variety of subjects, always without reservation and in a style that reflects a man of great culture and sensitivity. He insists?though his assertion is questionable?that poets who are always pre-occupied with the cadence and rhythm of words cannot write good prose. Is the reverse true? Can a writer of good prose ever be a poet? Kelekar'swriting?if one accepts the English translation as a faithful guide?sometimes verges on poetry, not in terms of rhythm but of sensitivity. Sitting under a mango tree and watching the Ikeya Saki comet fly away ?after it tryst with the Sun? Kelekar notices white clouds gathering in the sky ?like flowers in a woman'shair?. ?The sky above? he notices, ?is stained with the myriad colours and the hills seems infected by this excitement?.
Kelekar travels endlessly and writes that during his forty or fifty ?ice-bound evenings? he spent in the Himalayas, the mountains to him ?whispered of an existence before birth and after death?. And he adds: ?My mind turns inwards and the eyes begin to flit about the sky within my heart?.. extensive and boundless as the heaven above?. There is wisdom in every page. In an essay on contentment he warns that one must not wait till one is advanced in years to accept old age. ?Like the Buddha? he avers, ?we should be prepared when we are still in the throes of youth, so, when old age arrives, we shall see the ?grandeur? inherent in that state and then our regrets shall be replaced with joy?. An ardent believer in physical labour, Kelekar reminds us that Tolstoy, one of the greatest writers ever, spent forty years as a writer with over five thousand pages of published literature, before he ralised that physical labour should become a part of each man'slife.
Is Kelekar, then, a cynics? A realist? Or just a student of history? No matter what, this bunch of essays is a total delight to read as much for the sharpness of thought as for his understanding of life and the felicity of the language. At one point he wonders why, while Mahavir and Buddha belonged to the same age, and both wielded great influence, only the Buddha has been exalted as a incarnation of Vishnu in the Vedic tradition and not Mahavir. Kelekar'sanswer is astoundingly simple and to the point. Obviously the best way to silence the Buddha was to embrace him into the Vedic fold. Oh those clever Brahmins! But Kelekar says that this country does not need ?a single statue of Gandhi?. He makes sense. In many areas and ways it is hard to argue with Kelekar'soften sharp views. But if they are not sharp and thought-provoking, what is an essayist for? Kelekar fulfils his role as an essayist with style and fervor. That, one suspects, is what makes it unputdownable. And credit should go as much to him as to his translator who knows his mind as much as he fathoms his.
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