ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Gaav Gada

Without going into the merits of R Deshmukh’s English translation of the Marathi book Gaav Gada, it must be said that the review of the translation by Deena Khatkhate (December 15) is grossly unfair to the original book. There are many statements in the review which are strongly objectionable, starting with the names. The author is careful in writing his name in Devnagari as T N Aatre, with the first syllable pronounced as in (dee)NA, not as in KHAT(khate), a point missed by the reviewer. The book describes how economic and social life rumbles along in a village and how it determines and is determined by the caste structure. As such, the title ‘Gaav Gada’ describes its contents pithily, without any need of the more fanciful explanations offered by the reviewer. An even more serious objection is to his explanation of the Marathi terms ‘vatan’ and ‘balutedari’. The first term describes the system of a hereditary grant of land to a family or members of a caste, in return for serving the state, performing specified state duties, generally connected with revenue collection, keeping of village records, keeping law and order, etc. Sometimes vatans were also awarded for services rendered to the ruler or to the local community. Balutedari stands for the arrangement between artisans such as carpenters, ironmongers, cobblers, etc, and functionaries in a village essential to the running of village life on one hand and farmers and landholders on the other, for payment for their services in the form of the produce of the land. Both ‘vatan’ and ‘balutedari’ systems were inextricably linked with the caste system and hence their importance in understanding village life and society in general.

Aatre’s book was first published in 1915, a fact not brought out in Khatkhate’s review. The fact that it is still available and is read and discussed and is thought worthy of translation even after 85 years testifies to its importance. Aatre had worked for many years as a mamledar (tehsildar) in many parts of old Bombay presidency just about the time when a modicum of rule of law was established in the countryside in the last quarter of the 19th century, after many generations of unsettled conditions and before the advent of the first world war, which started the process of major changes in the Indian way of life. The book gives a stark yet faithful portrayal of village life as it obtained then, of the tensions and injustices that were prevalent under the seeming stability of rural life which was actually dominated by the caste system intertwined with the economic life. It administered a strong dose of realism to many inclined to look at the past as some kind of ideal pastoral existence. To complain that “the author [of a book published in 1915] had no integrated view of social dynamics ...” or that he lacked a “cohesive intellectual frame of reference ...” is silly. Don’t we have plenty of professors and researchers at national and international levels who make a career of doing such analyses? A

low-level civil servant, Aatre set out to describe life around him as he found it and he did it extremely competently, with great accuracy, single-handedly, living in an obscure village and in remarkably elegant and forceful prose, which has stood the test of time. Whatever the merits of Deshmukh’s translation, Khatkhate’s review fails to bring out any of these aspects of the original book in Marathi.


J V Deshpande

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