TWENTY FIVE YEARS OF THE ABHIDHANANTAR MOVEMENT


Sachin C. Ketkar


Abhidhanantar, a quarterly edited by Hemant Divate, was one of the leading little magazines in Marathi during the last decade of the second millennium and the first decade of the twenty first century. It started as Abhidha in 1992 and later developed into Abhidhanantar Publications and published collections of new poets writing in fresh, innovative mode in Marathi. It has now evolved into an internationally renowned publishing enterprise named Poetrywala (2003) for publishing national and international poetry collections and Paperwall Media Pvt. Ltd (formally launched in 2013).
It was one of the earliest literary magazines and a literary movement in Marathi to engage creatively and critically with the potent processes of globalization which were rapidly transforming Indian society, culture and life in the nineteen nineties. Abhidhanantar provided a dynamic platform to the engagement with linguistic, cultural and literary transformations taking place, as well as to the crises they gave rise to. It provided a platform for the emergence of fresh poetic talents like Manya Joshi, Varjesh Solanki, Hemant Divate, Mandakini Patil, Sanjeev Khandekar, Nitin Kulkarni, Sridhar Tilve, Mangesh Narayanrao Kale, Dinkar Manvar, Dnyanada and Sachin Ketkar among others who had started writing in response to the new cultural and social predicament brought about by the compelling and intimidating forces of globalization in the 1990s, and also offered a forum for critical deliberations. This article seeks not just to document information about the Abhidhanantar movement, but situate it, evaluate it and discuss its contribution in the broader comparative social, cultural and historical context.


Historically, the Abhidhanantar Movement can be seen as going through several phases over the past 25 Years during the course of its development. The first phase from 1992 to 1996 is the ‘Abhidha’ phase, as the little magazine was then called. Abhidha in Sanskrit poetics implies the denotative power of word, as against ‘dhwani’ which means the verbal power of suggestion and upholds directness in dealing with life in poetry. The title indicates a kind of dissent against ‘suggestive’, escapist and romantic poetry that is popular in Maharashtra. The next phase is the Abhidhanantar phase from 1999 to 2008. The suffix ‘nantar’ in Marathi indicates ‘after or following’, hence Abhidhanantar literally means ‘after Abhidha’. The title had to be changed due to legalities of registration as a quarterly.


Abhidhanantar evolved into “Poetrywala’, a national and international publisher of poetry in2003 with publication of Virus Alert -Dilip Chitre’s English translation of Hemant Divate’s first collection of poems. In the current phase the movement exists largely in the national and international space as publisher of Indian and world poetry along with the poetry in Marathi and is not confined to poetry. It has also diversified recently into various imprints: ‘Paperwall’ publishes fiction and non-fiction, ‘PoetryPrimero’ publishes the first time collections of new poets. As ‘Imli’, it promotes children’s literature and as ‘Sushakti’, it focuses on women’s empowerment.


Its journey can also be traced in the changing address of its publication: Shahpur (till 1994), Kalyan (1995), Thane (1999), The Neighborhood, Lokhandwala, Kandivali (2000), Whispering Palms, Lokhandwala, Kandivali (2004) and finally Octacrest, Lokhandwala from where 2014 “ Facebook and Poetry ’special issue of Abhidhanantar that highlights more recent voices in Marathi poetry today.
Abhidha started in 1992 from a small town of Shahpur, a Taluka place in Thane District, one year after the economic reforms initiated by the then Prime Minister PV Narsinharao and the finance minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, and two years after the implementation of the Mandal Commission Report by the VP Singh government, and three years after the fall of the Berlin wall which put an end to the Cold War. The same year saw the demolition of the Babri Masjid, and three years later, the Internet would be made publicly available in India. Under the policies of liberalization and privatization, television saw an explosive growth by 1995. Needless to say, even today, the global neo-liberal logic behind economic reforms, the politics of Mandal, Kamandal and Media, informational technology revolution and the global decline of left-liberalism and multiculturalism plays a considerable role in our lives. What is understood as ‘contemporary’ in 2017 has largely been shaped by the processes that gained momentum in the post-nineteen nineties period.


Globalization is a shorthand term to describe these complex interrelated and chaotic processes that are at once global and local. While the term globalization has been defined and contested in numerous ways, it is useful here to think of globalization as what the sociologist Anthony Giddens calls ‘the post-1989 world’ whose everyday life is transformed by ‘worldwide communication revolution’, the globalist market place marked by the massive influence of financial markets and the emergence of weightless economy that throws up a new range of risk situations and the questions of ecology.”Abhidhanantar as a movement can only be understood in the context of these historical developments, this movement can be defined as a self-conscious effort to understand and engage with these developments in literary and artistic terms.


Based on the argument that these historical developments have transformed Indian society and culture so decisively that the pre-nineteen nineties paradigms of thinking and writing have limited relevance in contemporary times, Abhidhanantar is a unique phenomenon, to an extent that I haven’t heard of any parallel movements in literatures I am familiar with, that is, Gujarati, Hindi or Indian poetry in English. The last movement I have heard of in Gujarati is ‘Parishkruti’-Gadyaparva (now Sahcharya) movement in the nineties, whose ideological thrust is similar to the nativism and identitarian cultural politics that pervades the post nineteen sixties Marathi literature, and literatures in many other Indian languages.


Such movements are marked by their remarkable absence in Indian poetry in English. Indian Poetry in English was insulated from these social and cultural movements largely due to the upper-caste, urban and elitist location of English language itself in India, the very location that was challenged in the post-sixties poetries in other Indian languages. It is critical here to understand that Abhidhanantar started out a movement specifically in Marathi literature.


The Modernist avant-garde emerged in the mid-nineteen forties in Marathi in the later poetry of BS Mardhekar. His poetry of urban despair was far more radical in terms of experimentation and boldness than anything Indian Poetry in English had ever experienced in those days. Mardhekar’s poetry was extremely dark, personal, sexually explicit, and its language was hybridized / anglicized. This tradition of dark urban despair against the dehumanization by the city and the use of hybridized idiom, in some sense has continued and can be seen very often in poetry published in Abhidhanantar. Besides, the presence of Mumbai as well as Pune (especially due to the boom in IT sector in the nineties) as cultural sites where the processes of globalization made maximum impact during the nineties is a particularly vital influence on the development of the modern and postmodern Marathi literature.
The legacy of Mardhekar was preserved in the little magazine movement in Marathi that slowly emerged in the mid-fifties. ‘Shabda’ by Dilip Chitre, Ramesh Samarath and Arun Kolatkar in 1956 was the first important little magazine in Marathi. By the nineteen sixties the movement emerged more strongly than before, but not as strongly as in the other vibrant Indian literary languages like Bengali and Malayalam. The period of the mid-sixties to the late nineteen eighties was dominated by poetry and literature of identarian movements: Dalit, Adivasi, feminist, grameen, Muslim Marathi, nativist and so on. In Marathi literature, nativism and identarian clichés had become so pervasive that Vilas Sarang in 1992 complained that the modernist Marathi literature that was stimulated by internationalist modernist trends has now disappeared and ‘"The Marathi literary world today resembles a little pond crowded with frogs croaking at each other in self-satisfaction. ", thanks to dogmatic nativist ideology which he compared prophetically to cultural fundamentalism, “ closely allied to its religious variety”, twenty two years before Bhalchandra Nemade accepted Dnyanpeeth Award at the hands of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.


So by the time Abhidha started, the literature of identarian movements with nativist thrust had become established academic and literary orthodoxy. It continues even today, obsolete and yet complacent. Abhidha, like its partner periodical ‘Shabdavedh’ emerged out of enormous dissatisfaction with contemporary Marathi literary culture. ‘Shabdavedh’ would announce as a box item that though poetry was written prolifically, it lacked critical sense in terms of content and expression. It said that the poets anthologized in a book called Kavita Dashakachi (1980) edited by Mangesh Padgaonkar and others have failed to go beyond the fixed paradigm of times and become conventional. The period after the nineteen seventies till the nineties has become a ‘blank space’ (Shabdavedh, 1997) of sorts.


In the early ‘Abhidha’ phase, Hemant was joined by Shridhar Tilwe who passionately attacked this literary and academic orthodoxy using this idea of ‘chauthi navta’ or the fourth modernity (navta is not exactly modernity) using the platform of Abhidha. Building upon Vinda Karandikar’s theory of navta, Sridhar’s argument was that Keshavsuta towards the end of the nineteenth century represented the first navta, the Mardhekarian avant-garde modernism of the forties and fifties represented the second navta, the nativist-identarian movements represented the post-modern third ‘ navta’, the post-nineties phase according to him represented the fourth ‘ navta’ . The key challenge for the fourth navta according to Tilve was the challenges of virtual/digital semiotic spaces ‘ semiodities’ or ‘Chinha Shrushti’ -represented by the satellite TV, internet and commercial consumerist culture. Though Hemant and many other critics of Tilwe’s generation differed from his articulation of ‘Chauthi’ navta, the idea that the deeply entrenched nativist/leftist- identarian movements were obsolete and the challenges before a contemporary poet and writer are different largely from those of earlier generations became influential.


While Abhidha brought out a special issue on Dilip Chitre (1995), Abhidhanantar brought out a special issue on Arun Kolatkar (June 2004). It is important to note here that reputation of the major poets of the earlier generation was further strengthened, and they were established as the chief precursors of the post nineteen nineties generation. Thus Abhidhanantar demonstrated the dual impulses of preserving the historical sense of their legacy, and an impulse to move beyond, and reinvent the idiom of Marathi poetry.


In the second innings, ‘Abhida’ was reborn as ‘Abhidhanantar’. In the first issue of Abhidhanantar in 1999, the editor wrote: “Abhidhanantar that started out as movement of poetry, of poets and for poetry has assumed now the form of an expansive forum. It is going to deliberate upon the place of Marathi language after globalization, the place of Marathi in the wider context of world literatures, and linguistic, literary and cultural changes that have happened after globalization. It short it is going to be a cultural and literary ‘vyas peeth- (forum)’. It is also going to hunt for new talents by organizing poetry competitions, workshops, translation workshops and so on.” The movement has largely remained faithful to this vision.
In its commitment to search for and encourage newer voices, it organized awards for poetry that were probably biggest awards given to single poems in Marathi ever. The first award of Rs. 25,000 was given to Santosh Padmakar Pawar in 2002 ,and the later to Meenakshi Patil in 2006. Both the long poems were later published as collections by Abhidhanantar.


Abhidhanantar brought out series of issues dedicated to serious critical debates and deliberations around contemporary Marathi poetry and culture. It brought out an issue on “Intermingling of Form and Culture” in the Diwali issue of 1999 in which the noted Marathi novelist Ranganath Pathare, Shridhar Tilve, Avinash Kolhe, Manya Joshi, Nitin Kulkarni and Abhijit Tamnhe contributed.


As a publisher of Marathi poetry, Abhidhanantar

started out in the beginning of the second millennium. Lok Vangmay Gruha, an important left-liberal-nativist publisher of serious literature in Marathi, had brought out a series of eight poets in 2001. The volumes were very slender, almost like leaflets. Hemant Divate, in his editorial, critiqued these poets and the Lok Vangmay initiative by pointing out that though all these poets were serious creative writers and had been associated with the movement, none of these poets showed any signs of engagement with new lifestyle and culture that emerged with the impact of globalization. These collections do not show any engagement with ‘ nava jagne’ or contemporary life transformed by the forces of globalization. The emphasis on the contemporary and unconventional freshness that Abhidhanantar emphasized is reflected in most of the volumes it has brought out subsequently.


Abhidhanantar retained its legacy of the little magazine movements of the nineteen sixties in its insistence upon erasing the boundaries that separated life from literature and it argued that when globalization has changed our lives profoundly, poetry cannot turn a blind eye to the altered cultural and social realities. By insisting upon the notion that life and poetry ought not to be artificially divided and the observation that life has changed due to the processes of globalization, Abhidhanantar argued that the paradigm for poetry consequently cannot remain the same as it was in the seventies and the eighties. This position forced Marathi poets, readers and critics to think out the box, thus rescuing Marathi poetry from what Vilas Sarang had termed ’the croaking pond frog complacency’ that seems to continue in other Indian literatures including Marathi literary culture as a whole. This is the most noteworthy contribution of the Abhidhanantar movement to Marathi poetry.


It organized a decennial celebration (Dashak Purti) in 2002 as ‘ Kavitecha Divas’ where the new voices in Marathi poetry shared the platform with the established poets like Arun Kolatkar, Vasant Abaji Dahake, Ashok Shahane, Satish Kalsekar, Vasant Gujar and Dilip Chitre. Apart from reading of poetry it also included reading of critical papers by critics including Shridhar Tilve and concluding remarks by Dilip Chitre that are published in the Diwali 2002 issue.


The Diwali 2005 issue of Abhidhanantar focused on ‘Globalization and Culture’ which included articles by Avinash Sapre, Sachin Ketkar, Jayant Gadgil, Vishram Gupte, Bhalchandra Diwadkar, Saleel Wagh and Deepak Ghare on “Non-conventional Visual Art’.


In 2006, it organized a seminar on “New Directions in Contemporary Marathi Poetry’ in Pune in which papers were read by critics like Avinash Sapre, Eknath Pagar, Bhalchandra Diwadkar, Sanjeev Khandekar and Dilip Chitre. The articles appeared in Diwali 2006 issue of Abhidhanantar. It has organized ‘Nave Jagne, Navi Kavita’ seminars in other parts of Maharashtra too. Abhidhanantar became biannual after 2006.


It should be pointed out that Abhidhanantar did not restrict itself to poetry and poetry criticism. A short series on contemporary Marathi dramatist by the well-known dramatist and drama critic Jayant Pawar is a good example of its inclusiveness.
Its serious interest in visual culture can also be seen in the covers of its issues. Creative works of noted contemporary visual artists like Sudhir Patwardhan, Baburao Sadwelkar, Bhau Samarth, Ashay Chitre, Sanjeev Khandker, Deepak Dhore, Pravin Kajrolkar, Chintan Upadyay among others feature on the covers of Abhidhanantar. This tradition is continued in the covers of many poetry collections it has brought out.
It regularly published translations of from many Indian writers like Labhshankar Thakar (Gujarati), Savita Singh, Rajesh Joshi, Ashok Vajpayi and Tenzin Tsundue as well as international names like Dostoyevsky, Milan Kundera, Vasko Popa, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Octavio Paz, Wysaliva Zymborska and Taslima Nasreen. The last issue of published three French poets Frank Andre Jame, Daniel Memovar and Carolin Sago Dyuro translated by Hemant Divate.


Though urban and contemporary, Abhidhanantar always remained inclusive and was never dogmatic, as can be seen by its long collaboration with another little Marathi magazine ‘ Shabdavedh’ that also originated from a very small town in interior Maharashtra of Shegao and later Buldana, edited by Da Go Kale , Dinkar Manwar, Mangesh Kale among others. In 1999, ‘ Navaddotari’ or the post-nineties special issue of Shabdavedh edited by Abhijeet Deshpande in collaboration with Abhidhanantar, the editors wrote, “ Even if both the periodicals have different ideological orientations ( bhumika) they have come together with a common agenda of ‘innovativeness and iconoclastic orientation.’


It brought together , highlighted and promoted an entire new generation of Marathi poets like Manya Joshi, Sanjeev Khandekar, Sachin Ketkar, Saleel Wagh, Mangesh Narayanrao Kale, Varjesh Solanki, Mohan Borse, Meenakshi Patil, Dinkar Manwar, Manoj Pathak and others by regularly publishing their writing and bringing out their collections and even publishing a series of their interviews called ‘ Sauwaad’.
Abhidhanantar also gave space to new and emergent voices in criticism like Vishram Gupte, Avinash Kolhe, Avinash Sapre, Shridhar Tilve, Nitin Rindhe, Abhijeet Deshpande, Bhalchandra Diwadkar, Deepak Ghare, Jayant Gadgil, Eknath Pagar, Saleel Wagh and Sachin Ketkar.


In the final couple of years of Abhidhanantar, that is 2006-2008, it provided a platform to a vigorous debate of the place of new Marathi poetry and how it is to be read. The detractors, many of whom were part of the movement in the beginning, argued that the emergent Marathi poetry was an urban-elitist celebration of globalization that lacked social commitment as most of the poets of belonged to the class that has benefitted by globalization. This interpretation, as I have consistently countered by actual reading of this poetry by pointing out that this dark poetry was more of an alarmed reaction to the onslaught of technological revolution, rampant consumerism, corporatization and commoditization of culture rather than being joyous celebration of globalization. Besides social commitment cannot be a sole criteria for evaluation of poetry, as most of poetry that claimed to have social commitment was merely clichéd , full of loud rhetoric that has become commonplace in Marathi. However, such critical deliberations are not frequently found in other Indian literary cultures such as that of Indian poetry in English or Gujarati poetry.


Most of the Marathi critics have read this emergent poetry in the context of globalization and its discontents. As a critic, I have attempted to closely read it to uncover multiple types of crisis which form the overlapping contexts of contemporary Marathi poetry. Apart from the context of ‘crisis of globalization’, I have sought theorize it in the context of ‘poetic crisis’ resulting from what Harold Bloom as called ‘the anxiety of influence’ of the precursor avant-garde poets like Arun Kolatkar Dilip Chitre and Namdeo Dhasal and in the context of spiritual’ crisis which shows up as indirect resonance of the millennial archetypes of apocalypse, and ‘the end of the world’ in many poets of this period. It can be also conceptualized as embodying what Bakhtin calls ‘the chronotope’ of the globalized world
More recently,I have used the theoretical framework of semiotics of culture developed by Juri Lotman to demonstrate that is possible to conceptualize cultural globalization as the globalization of the semiosphere This framework is also useful to explain the semiotic mechanisms underlying the generation of new texts and newer languages like the language of new Marathi poetry and have tried understand these texts and languages in the context of the globalized Marathi ‘semiosphere’.


The import of Abhidhanantar movement in Marathi is that it not only published unconventional and fresh writing, but it created a new dynamic space, outside of the deeply entrenched nativist, identarian political establishment [comprising of award-giving institutions and academia in Maharashtra] for the new generation of writers and critics -and more importantly, it created a new kind of small but serious readership for such writing in Maharashtra. Thus it transformed Marathi literary culture by opening up a new paradigm that did not exist before.


Not just that, it also highlighted and promoted the new writing nationally and globally. The effort can be seen in Live Update: An Anthology of recent Marathi poetry (2005) translated and edited by Sachin Ketkar. It is a collection of thirty Marathi poets, most of whom had come into their own in the nineteen nineties and whose poetry displayed direct or indirect engagement with altered social and cultural realities of the nineties. These translations also found place in online journals like Poetry International Web and Muse India.com largely due to the efforts of Hemant Divate and the translator. Later on, new translators like Mustansir Dalvi and Sarbajeet Garcha joined hands with Poetrywala as translators in highlighting and establishing the new Marathi poetry.
The interesting experiment of 40 under 40: An Anthology of Post globalization poetry ‘edited by Nabina Das and Semeen Ali , published by Poetrywala, only of its kind in Indian poetry in English, can only be understood in the overall context of the Abhidhanantar movement in Marathi.
In the age where literary festivals have become a common trend, it has also organized Poetrywala Poetry International Festival (2013) to mark ten years of Poetrywala and Mumbai Poetry Festival (2017). Both the festivals focused on modern Indian and international poetry.


Rather spectacular combination of the poet, passionate editor of a little magazine devoted to poetry, and successful marketing executive can be seen in the Poetrywala model of publishing poetry- a ‘smart’ model-that has challenged the common, but deep-seated prejudice in publishing houses that poetry has ‘no market’. This model –an innovative ‘start-up’ or sorts, combines sharp marketing sense which emphasizes attractive quality of production, with passion and commitment for serious creative poetry that helps it in selecting texts for publishing. Particularly important role in this venture is played by Smruti Divate who handles the logistics and finances in a professional manner.


The very fact that it has published nationally and internationally acclaimed poets like K. Satchidanandan, Mangalesh Dabral, Adil Jussawala, Eunice De Souza, Vasant A Dahake, Vijay Nambisan, Vilas Sarang, Kersi Kartak and Dilip Chitre along with lesser known and fresh voices across the globe indicates its impact on the English language literary culture in India that seems to have forgotten innovative poetry. While Indian English fiction, both literary and popular, gets plenty of attention, serious and creative poetry in Indian English as well as in English translation is seriously neglected. Obviously, the interventions like Poetrywala who in such a short span of time has close to hundred poetry titles till date, will go a long way in its resurrection.

 

 

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