There are two important days in February – International Mother Language Day, which is celebrated tomorrow, and Marathi Language Day, celebrated on 27 February. Both are public reminders of the need to celebrate and preserve native expression. While one promotes multilingualism, the other respects the tenth most spoken Indo-Aryan language, which the government has declared as the declared medium of communication in Maharashtra.
Every year, the day is an interesting affirmation of the Marathi identity that is central to the rulers-administrators of political divisions of the state. For litterateurs, it is an occasion to celebrate the power of mother tongue.
Mother tongue engagement was brought to life in an ongoing translation project for this columnist. At first, it was great news that six translator-reviewers, of a certain antiquated value, are running against the deadline for Marathi rendering of select English books by socialist leader Madhu Limaye (1922–1995). Second, Marathi books are going to be published sequentially in the birth centenary year of the eminent scholar-leader, who is mostly remembered for his role in the Janata Party’s 1977 experiment. Third, the project is run under the aegis of two key elements. Organizations upholding the socialist thought- Keshav Gor Memorial Trust and Sadhna Prakashan. These institutions have devoted energy to intellectual rigor, despite the increasing odds of pandemics and existential crises.
His books are being translated as part of a project being run under the aegis of Keshav Gor Smarak Trust and Sadhna Prakashan, two major organizations upholding the socialist ideology.
Limaye wrote in English as a matter of choice. His son Anirudh Limaye, 67, who is part of the translation team, says: “Brother’s [Madhu Limaye’s] There was no arrogance of any kind in his love for English, Hindi, Marathi and Sanskrit languages. He belonged to a league of politicians who wanted to give Indian languages a place of pride in post-independence India. He was a follower of socialist Ram Manohar Lohia, who gave the slogan ‘Remove Angrezi’. But his anti-English stand was not against the display of English books. Leaders like Limaye only wanted to reduce the influence of English in administration, judiciary and education, as the poor Indians who were deprived of it were denied the right to vote.
Limaye garnered a wide national and international readership for his writings, particularly for his analytical arguments based on political, legal and constitutionally sourced texts, usually written in English.
In a matter of 11–12 years (1983–1995), after withdrawing from active politics, he wrote a variety of 25-odd English books such as the Indian National Movement, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru: A Historic Partnership, Prime Movers The role of the individual in history, the problems of India’s foreign policy, parliament, judiciary and parties: an electrocardiogram of politics, and so on.
The five texts selected for Marathi translation have a specific objective – to reintroduce a forgotten socialist to his home state. Though primarily born and brought up in Pune, Limaye, who did his early political work in Khandesh and Mumbai, is best remembered as an intellectual from Delhi. He was also elected to the Lok Sabha from Bihar four times. During the 1957 general election, he was branded as a “traitor” to the Samyukta Maharashtra movement, due to the Socialist Party’s (Lohia faction) go-ahead stance. When the Morarji Desai-led Janata government fell in mid-1979, Limaye was discredited as a party-monoster as he raised the issue of dual membership/loyalty of the party’s far-right members – alluding to the RSS . His books Birth of Non-Congressism and Janata Party Experiment in two volumes are, therefore, worth a look at this interesting juncture in Maharashtra, when a coalition of two far-right and two centrist organizations rules the state. Similarly, the other two books, Religious Bigotry: A Threat to the Ordered State and Contemporary Indian Politics, deal with the development of divisive politics using religion and caste as tools and throw historical light on the many important challenges facing our country. puts.
Born and brought up in Pune, Limaye did his early political work in Khandesh and Mumbai before moving to Delhi. He was elected to the Lok Sabha from Bihar four times.
Art critic Amarendra Dhaneshwar, 70, who has been instrumental in curating the translation showcase, believes the books could not have come at a more opportune time. Dhaneshwar is proud to have been Limaye’s mentor since the 1970s. Similarly, other translators have their own lore. While Vasanti Phadke and Suniti Jain were part of Bhai’s circle from their heyday in Parliament, Vasanti Damle and Satish Kamat share a deep appreciation of left-leaning socialist movement and literature. Phadke, 86, had actually once offered to translate major texts. It was a while back when her husband historian Dr. YD Phadke spoke to the late Limaye to discuss the political path of India.
While translators acknowledge the intellectual heaviness of Limaye’s volumes, they are quick to add their appreciation for the author’s passionate interest in the parliamentary process and his painstaking documentation of critical phases, particularly the Emergency and its aftermath. Jain, 75, says Limaye’s words have been coined so carefully that he has to put aside “everything, especially cooking” to find Marathi equivalents.
Damle, 76, shared a quirk about Limaye’s Hindi speeches. In 1968, while Damle was pursuing an MPhil course at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Limaye was hosted as a speaker on international affairs. “He used pure Sanskritized Hindi words, which disappointed some of our students, who were expecting a more acceptable Hindustani idiom.” Smriti stayed with Damle for a long time; This prevented him from further meeting the MP in Delhi, when he was known for his political action. Five decades later, when she translates Limaye’s anthology on religious bigotry and institutional decline in India, she regrets not speaking to the visionary whose writings call a spade a spade. “His experiments reflect non-Congressional experiments as well as his objective assessment of a left-liberal worldview.” Curiously, many Limaye fans—Damle not included—felt that the leader’s Hindi oratory was infused with “warmjoshi” and “therav”.
During his Portuguese custody in Goa (1955–1957), Limaye wrote five letters to his younger son, which were later published as an illustrated Marathi book, titled Ladakya Poptas (For the Darling Parrot). The son is now busy reviewing the English translation of his father’s autobiography. It is one of the few texts that were originally written in Marathi.
For Limaye, words—whether in Hindi, English or Marathi—were weapons in political struggle, but they came to his rescue even when he was in prison. He used to say that he could happily be imprisoned if he was assured the company of books, especially the Mahabharata and the complete works of Shakespeare. Among his regrets was the lack of time to learn a South Indian language and a European language other than English. He never had the time or the time for those efforts.
Sumedha Raikar-Mhatre is a culture columnist in search of subtext. You can contact her at email@example.com