Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Book Review One Foot on the Ground -A Life told Through the Body by Shanta Gokhale

Shanta Gokhale wrote the Foreword for my book Bhagavata Mela My Tryst with Tradition

Today is Shanta Gokhale’s 80th birthday (August 14, 1939). She is a major figure in my life and even though seriously occupied with her work, is always open and welcoming when I approach her. I met her first when I had begun writing for the Arts page of Times of India, The Hindu (Chennai) and Sruti (Arts magazine). When I pointed out that Carnatic musicians never got their due in national publications, she encouraged me to write major features on important artistes. The Times had generously allocated space for arts in sister publications ‘The Independent’ and ‘The Metropolitan on Saturday’. I was secretly very proud of the fact that she never felt the need to edit or correct my typed sheets of articles. My husband, children and I became close enough to spend evenings chatting endlessly about music and dance at her home. She held many chamber concerts at her home by eminent musicians. It was potluck on many nights. I learned a lot about music and musicians during those sessions. When I became involved with Bhagavata Mela in 1993, I told her that I am planning a trip to Melattur in Thanjavur to watch Bhagavata Mela. She immediately jumped and said she would like to come along. She told me later that Bhagavata Mela was the origin of Marathi theatre through Thanjavur Maratha kings.

My parents joined us, and we had a lovely trip. We went to Thanjavur to see the Big Temple and visited the Saraswati Mahal library. I listened amazed as she spoke to the Marathi scholars there who replied in their Thanjavur Marathi lingo. We also visited Tiruchirapalli, Srirangam, and Tiruvaiyaru. She never wasted a moment and kept writing copious notes. In the summer of 1986, she spent some time at our holiday home in Kodaikanal. She, a non-believer, accompanied me to the Meenakshi temple, bought a few cotton Sungadi saris and thoroughly enjoyed her stay.

There was a certain grace in her demeanour which I have rarely seen in other women. Her cotton saris sat well on her. Her smile came from the heart and flashed through her eyes. That smile was the only ornament she wore.

Throughout my ten- year journey with Bhagavata mela, I would update her on my work. She attended some performances whenever I invited them to Mumbai. She was very happy to hear about the Marathi Bhagavata Mela and attended all the three performances in 2002. She graciously wrote a Foreword for my book Bhagavata Mela My Tryst with Tradition(2018) and video-taped a talk on Bhagavata Mela. 

Her autobiography was a pleasant eye-opener for me. Although I have known her for so many decades (from 1980) she is a private person who never spoke about herself.  I am so happy that she was recognised for her work by the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi in 2018. I have the deepest love and respect for her and am ever so grateful for her beautiful presence in my life.

 Book Review

One Foot on the Ground -A Life told Through the Body by Shanta Gokhale

Shanta Gokhale is an author, translator, and columnist. The list of her works and accomplishments is impressive and amazing. Her magnum opus ‘Playwright at the Centre’ is an exhaustive history of Marathi Theatre from 1983 to the present. Despite her intimate connections with the world of music and maestros, theatre and thespians, dance and divas, literature and literati, cinema and glitterati, she herself remains modestly low profile and private. Over and above all this, everyone who has met her will tell you she is gracious, vivacious and accessible to all.

Therefore, a bare-all autobiography comes as a surprise. And what an unusual theme, of telling a story through experiences with her body, meaning the story of how her body parts lent themselves to shape the path of her life.

The book begins at birth and goes on about minor health drawbacks till her fearful battle with the big C. The very unusual setting makes this a very personal history. Personal it remains as she carefully trips around revealing details about her high-profile children actor Renuka and writer Girish Shahane and his wife, film editor Jabeen. She does not spare the others who had hurt her, though.

One does not know whether to smile at the humour that is the highlight of the book, for it cloaks the agony and distress of several crises of her life. One could discern that the wings of her intellectual and creative achievements would have soared higher but were definitely restricted by some events on one hand and by her relationships on the other.

She brings on the humour with her inimitable style and at the most unexpected moments. Sample this:

“At Bristol, Mary Barwell once asked me if I was pink inside.  I mean where your clothes cover you.” ‘No’, I answered kindly. ‘I am evenly dark inside and out. I can live in the Arctic all my life and still be this colour’.”

“The blood test first. ‘You will need a finer needle. My veins are difficult to get at.’ I sigh and wait for the inevitable. ‘Dhundo dhundo re sajna dhundo’ begins in my head.”

“Mr. Dey did not easily display emotion. What he displayed was the origin of all emotions, the sthayi bhava of the rasa theory, an inscrutable arrangement of facial muscles that distantly suggested the presence of all the nine rasas but never allowed them to show themselves.”

There are many gems like these scattered among the chapters. This book is a must read as a model of an ideal approach the painful happenings in life. To go through physical pain is bad enough but what of the attacks on the mind and heart?

One missed reading about her impressions of cinema and the skill of writing scripts for documentaries. May be volume 2 will record anecdotes about her interaction and experiences with celebrities will come out soon. The cover photograph is stunning. A few photographs on the back cover makes you want more. Parents, childhood, kids, friends, sister and student life in Bristol. All of that. Don’t let the ink dry in your pen, Shanta.

One Foot on the Ground A Life Told Through the Body by Shanta Gokhale Published by Speaking Tiger 2019