Sharad Muthe–My Teacher

Siddhartha Shastri


 Siddhartha Shastri

Siddhartha Shastri is originally from Nagpur, India and leads a retired life in Michigan with wife Shubhada. An engineering graduate from Nagpur University, he studied for his MBA at IIM, Ahmedabad. He worked for Tatas in India and Europe, before eventually migrating to the United States, working in the Computer Industry.

Just a couple of days ago, I was talking to my wife about late Shri Sharad Muthe, who I was privileged to know as a child, later on as his student, and as someone whom his students continue to admire even today.

Sometime in 1956, when I was only a primary school student, the Ramdas Peth Grihini Samaaj organized an evening program to present this handsome young, rising star of Nagpur to the residents. Shahir Sharad Muthe, known as an upcoming poet of exceptional talent, was also a terrific singer. India had recently become independent, and every corner of the country was full of optimism and effervescent enthusiasm - an environment that was tailor-made for Powada style (martial songs) lyrics, and the gusto with which they are typically delivered to the audiences.

In those days, two huge residential plots to the south of the gigantic Peepal Tree were yet to be built upon. A stage was set up by the northern side of Bhausaheb Mankeshwar's bungalow. Several hundred residents of New and Old Ramdas peth (locality) attended the program. The young Shahir enthralled the audience that winter night. I vividly recall assisting my mother and the many Grihini Samaaj volunteers who arranged hot tea and coffee during the intermission. It was fun to collect colored coupons from the audience and hand over steaming cups of tea or coffee to them. 

Although too young to truly appreciate his poetry at that time, I nevertheless can recall quite a few of his compositions that he sang for us that evening.

At that time, Nagpur was the capital city of the erstwhile Madhya Pradesh of independent India. Educated people of Nagpur spoke Hindi and Hindustani dialects in the streets as readily and willingly as they spoke Marathi or English at home. In my own home, my elders fluently used any one of the three languages depending on what was being discussed. The Maharashtrian identity was not yet a significant part of our consciousness. At least that is how I recall today that ambiance.

Against such a socio-cultural background, two of the Shahir's powadas made a special impact on my young mind.

"शौर्याची तव परंपरा, महाराष्ट्रा वळूनि बघ जरा" is a powada that seeks to invoke the Marathi man's pride for Maharashtra's history of armed struggle against tyranny. Much later, I would go on to read Shri. Babasaheb Purandare's inspiring books about Shivaji Maharaj, and the Maratha dynasties that followed, but the first interest was sparked by Sharad Muthe.

"काका, महाराष्ट्र वाचवा" is about a historical event that Maharashtrians can only feel ashamed about. The event referred to was the assassination of young Narayan Rao Peshwa, who seeks protection from his uncle, not knowing that it was this uncle who had sent the assassins to cut the young man down. I was vaguely aware of that history, but Sharad Muthe's powerful lyrics and voice recreated the tragic event before my eyes.

About that time, the poetic form of नव-कविता was being explored in Marathi magazines and periodicals about that time. The common man, unfamiliar with this new style, tended to make fun of it. Sharad Muthe presented his own mock-serious attempt at a नव-कविता thus:

जळते आहे, जळते आहे, जळतांना दरवळते आहे

आणि त्या गंधाचं छुपं पाखरूं, वातावरणांत फिरतं आहे...

The subject was the smoldering Agarbatti! He accompanied his narration of "छुपं पाखरूं" (coy birdie of fragrance) with a delicately effeminate gesture describing what he meant by the phrase. The audience erupted with laughter.

He also recited another "romantic" नव-कविता. It fitted in well with the self-conscious first one-on-one encounters between young men and women of the traditional and strictly conservative society.

तूं आणि मी
You and I

All alone

बस इतकंच
That was it

आपण तसं काही
We never did

केलंच नाही !
What we could have

In those days, a melodramatic tear-jerker Marathi movie and a particular lullaby बाळा, जो जो रे (Baby, go to sleep) in it had become wildly popular. Sharad Muthe spoke about his recent tour to non-Marathi regions of India, and posited that the song had become popular even amongst those who did not understand the language. He presented comic versions of how people from different non-Marathi regions would sing the lullaby, and regaled the audience that night. I can recall the Goanese version (बालांन जों जों रे) clearly even today.

Pandit Nehru's initiative of redrawing State boundaries based on the main language of the region (भाषावार प्रांत-रचना) was a major political controversy in those days. With his composition "येथून तेथून जनता सगळी एक, बंगाल-बिहार-गुजराथ- मराठा, का न्यारा उल्लेख सांगा, का न्यारा उल्लेख?", Shahir Muthe clearly told us why he opposed the proposition. (His view was that when the people are united from one end of India to the other, pray tell us, why do you want to disunite us with linguistic boundaries?) A few years down the road, there were riots when the initiative was implemented.

Newly independent India was a desperately poor country at birth. Naturally, the leadership under Nehru felt romantically attracted towards the Soviet Union and the egalitarian ideals of Marx. The visionary in Sharad Muthe saw dangers ahead. He worried about the brand of an idealism that concentrated unfettered power in the hands of a few. He feared that the revolutionary saviors of the proletariat would end up exploiting it. In his poem "रंगमहाल", the revolutionary comrades who initially asked the bourgeoisie "कोठुनी आल्या या मोटारी, कैसे सजले रंगमहाल?” (Where did your luxurious automobiles come from?) ended up narrowing the beneficiaries of their quest. The poem ends with the leaders assuring themselves "आपण सजवू रंगमहाल." (We too shall build our own luxurious palaces to live in.)


Many years later, Shahir Muthe joined Somalwar High School to teach middle-school History and Geography. I was in the first class he taught in the school - Seventh grade, Section E. I was thrilled to see him as our new teacher, for the memories of his performance were still fresh in my mind. Providence, however, chose to pour cold water on my enthusiasm that day.

Madhusudan ("Madhya"), Vijay ("Vijya"), and I sat on a three-student bench in the class. Vijya and I were somewhat serious-minded students, while Madhya was not.

Every time a new teacher came into the class, Madhya used to try to check him out using one trick or the other from his huge repertoire. That was his way of figuring out early the new teacher's limits of tolerance. Madhya was a superb actor too. His innocent face would make it impossible for a new teacher to figure out that he had actually been the perpetrator of whatever disaster that had been wrought upon the class.

As soon as the new teacher turned his back on us to write something on the blackboard, Vijya suddenly ended up shrieking in pain. He had just tried to sit down after reading some portion aloud from the textbook, and Madhya had deftly planted the sharp tip of a pen under him. My peal of laughter accompanied Vijya's painful yelp.

All circumstantial evidence suggested I was the culprit. The new teacher did not bother to investigate further. He, too, had some clear ideas about how to set limits. The rest of the forty minutes were spent illustrating various aspects of corporal punishment with yours truly as the Guinea Pig.

Ah, they were good old days, those!

Sharad Muthe was an excellent teacher. He made history come alive for us. For key events in the country's past, he would present us with a composition of his. If the class was at the end of the day, he would even sing it for us. Since the timetable did not always oblige, we would ask for, and he would happily agree for an extra class or two on weekends. Those classes would typically end with him singing for us a few of his old and new compositions.

"सैन्य हिंदवी गोव्याकडे, पाउल पडले पुढे-पुढे, जीव घेऊनि पळे फिरंगी, समिंदराच्या पलीकडे " (Our Fauj (Army) marched on to Goa, and with each advancing step, the panicked Firangis (foreigners) began their retreat all the way beyond the oceans) was composed just after the police action against the Portuguese regime of Goa to liberate the last portions of India under colonial rule. That was towards the end of 1961.

A year or so later, there were large-scale border skirmishes with Communist China, and significant chunks of Indian territory were suddenly under Chinese occupation. These developments were entirely unexpected, and Indians reacted with hurt and outrage. Demand grew for forceful eviction of the invaders. Those emotions found ready expression in Shahir Muthe's lyrics.

His powerful words reminded Indians of their forgotten history of surprising successes against mighty invaders, and expressed faith that the Himalayan intrusions would not stand.

आकाश फाडुनि उठे आरोळी, दुमदुमली ललकार
The resounding shout from across India tore the skies apart

अभंग राहिल उभा हिमालय, मानानें जगणार ।।,
Himalaya will remain unmolested, it shall live on in honor.

जग जिंकाया निघे सिकंदर, देश-देश ये तुडवित अंतर
Sikander set out to conquer the world. He marched towards India, crushing country after country under his steps.

खाण सुवर्णाची जाणुनिया, पाय ठेविला या धरतीवर
Then he put his foot on this land, his cherished Gold Mine

एकच-एक लढाई, सैनिकां घाई, म्हणाले नाही,
म्हणाले नाही पुढति संगर, म्हणाले नाही पुढति संगर
There was but one battle. It convinced his soldiers to fight no more.

सिकंदराला इथेच सुचली हयातीत माघार
अभंग राहिल उभा हिमालय, मानानें जगणार ।।
So shall Himalay stand tall and unmolested.
It shall live on  in honor!. 


I was lucky enough to be included in many of his programs and radio plays on All India Radio, Nagpur. The middle school years flew by rapidly, and suddenly students majoring in Science subjects had to part ways with History and Geography.

But I am grateful that I had Sharad Muthe as my Teacher, and as a source of inspiration.

Thank you Kartik Lokhande for your article, and for providing me with this opportunity to recall those years. If you get to see this post, please print it out and share it with Smt. Savita Muthe and her daughters, and give them my deep respects.


Siddhartha Shastri 2021. Posted March 2021

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