Surve's sharp poetry struck an instant chord
Ambarish Mishra, TNN, Aug 17, 2010, 12.52am IST

MUMBAI: Narayan Surve, who passed away in a Thane hospital on Monday
after a prolonged illness, will long be remembered for transforming
the post-1960 Marathi literary scene with his acid-laced poems.

Surve's debut work, a collection of poems titled Aisa Gaa Me Brahma
(1962), is considered a milestone in Indian literature. The
self-taught poet, who grew up on the streets of Mumbai and was
subsequently adopted by a mill worker, chronicled the life of the
city's plebeians-their arduous struggle to eke out a living in a
fast-paced, industrialized society, their fears and fantasies,
travails and triumphs.

Taking on the prima donnas of Marathi literature, Surve wrote, "I am a
labourer, a blazing sword. I wish to commit an offence.'' The rebel
poet struck an instant rapport with readers, who loved his stark
images and his colloquial, robust Marathi which was reminiscent of
legendary saint-poets Dnyaneshwar and Tukaram.

It is this bonding with medieval saint poetry that softened Surve's
fierce commitment to Marxism. He never allowed his ideological
moorings to eclipse his literary craftsmanship. Soon, Surve, Dilip
Purushottam Chitre and Arun Kolatkar formed a troika and freed Marathi
poetry of its maudlin sensibilities. Known as the first Dalit poet,
Surve cleared the decks for Baburao Bagul, Namdeo Dhasal and Daya
Pawar-and the iconic Dalit movement.

While many Dalit writers languished on the margins, Surve, who was a
teacher in a municipal school, carved out a niche for himself in the
world of letters. Admired as a mainstream poet, he won numerous
awards, including the prestigious Kabir Samman, the Soviet Land Nehru
award and the Padma Shri.

Restraint was Surve's credo. He refrained from intemperate outbursts
which marred the works of a few latter-day Dalit writers. While taking
a cue from the legendary Bal Sitaram Mardhekar who captained the `nav
kavita' (modern poetry) movement, Surve also engaged with Kusumagraj,
the Jnanpith laureate, with equal ease. This ability to blend the
contemporary with the classical made Surve a popular name in the
literary arena.

When Surve read out his favourite poems at sahitya sammelans (literary
meets), his baritone and style of recitation mesmerised the audience.
He was a major attraction at such meets. He was also at the forefront
of many social and cultural crusades. He was associated with the Lok
Wangmay Griha, a Mumbai-based publishing house for low-cost
literature, for many years. Noted film-maker Arun Khopkar and
well-known art criticShanta Gokhale have made a biopic on Surve,
capturing him in his myriad moods.

Tributes poured in from every corner. Chief minister Ashok Chavan,
deputy CM Chhagan Bhujbal, Union ministers Vilasrao Deshmukh and
Sushilkumar Shinde condoled the death of a "great poet''. Literatteurs
N D Mahanor, Mangesh Padgaokar, Vijaya Rajadhyaksha, Uttam Kamble,
Ashok Naigaonkar, and the Marathi sahitya sammelan chief, noted critic
D B Kulkarni, among others, paid glowing tributes to Surve.
Ironically, in the last phase of his illness, the Marxist poet's
guardian was Shiv Sena MLA from Thane, Pratap Sarnaik.

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