restricted access Overview: Arun Kolatkar’s Life and Work
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pa rt t wo The Texts 135 Overview: Arun Kolatkar’s Life and Work Arun Kolatkar was born on November 1, 1931, in Kolhapur, a large heartland city of the state of Maharashtra. There was English and Western art in his world through his father’s influence and exposure to Indian art through the company he kept as a young adolescent in Kolhapur , and the young Arun Kolatkar grew up in a multilingual context. After finishing high school in 1947, Kolatkar moved to Bombay to join the J. J. School of Arts, Bombay’s premier college for the study of art, but did not complete his coursework there (without attending class, he completed his final year of study on his own in 1957 and finished at the top of the class anyway). These were also the years when he met and befriended the young writers in Marathi literature, namely Dilip Chitre, Ashok Shahane, and Bhalchandra Nemade. Nemade was taking graduate classes in Bombay and would often meet up with Kolatkar and Shahane at the Asiatic restaurant and discuss their common interest in Tukaram, among other things. These were financially tough times as Kolatkar moved from one job to another, but they were happy years, according to his friends, especially since he married Darshan Chhabda, the sister of the famous painter Bal Chhabda.1 They wed in 1954, but the fourteen years of their marriage were marked by poverty and later to a two-year bout of heavy drinking on Kolatkar’s part before they divorced in 1969. This period was also one of the most formative periods of his life, during which Kolatkar wrote many Marathi poems (that were later collected in Arun Kolatkarchya 136  ❘  The Texts Kavita in 1977). Ashok Kelkar, a close friend, recalled how Kolatkar used to write to him from time to time and include poems in his letters ; Kelkar saved them and later, when Arun Kolatkarchya Kavita was being published, the letters came in handy as drafts of some poems for which the originals were missing. Kolatkar initially published a few poems in larger periodicals (six poems in Satyakatha in 1955 and one, “Ghoda,” in 1956; he also published in English in Ezekiel’s Quest in 1955). However, with the start of Shabda in 1955 and later through his association with Shahane, Nemade, and Mehrotra, Kolatkar resolutely avoided big publications and presses and dedicated his efforts to the small publishing world. Not only did Kolatkar make the acquaintance of Shahane and Nemade; he also met Ginsberg and Orlovsky in 1962; traveled to Jejuri, the temple town in Maharashtra, with the poet Manohar Oak and his brother, Makarand; finished writing the first version of Jejuri (which was lost by the editors of Dionysus in 1966); and participated closely in the little magazine world in English and Marathi, along with Shahane, Mehrotra, and many others. The 1960s and 1970s were rocky years in professional terms. Kolatkar joined several advertising firms as a graphic artist; he later teamed up for almost two decades, on and off, with Kiran Nagarkar, and individually and together they won six CAG awards for their advertising campaigns, the highest honor in the industry. The advertising world also brought him into contact with the fiery and unpredictable K. T. Royan, printer and biker, who had a creative yet devil-may-care attitude toward the world, and many of his lifelong friends (Vrindavan Dandavate, Dilip Bhende, and Ratan Sohoni) were from this industry. This was the time when he met Mehrotra, Jussawalla, and Gieve Patel. Equally important, he started taking pakhawaj lessons from Arjun Shejwal and through him met the irascible, funny, irreverent Balwant Bua, who became the subject of multiple writing projects for Kolatkar. In Kolatkar’s unpublished manuscripts, which include a play, a musical score, bilingual drafts of poems, and prose, there are two large narratives , one on Royan and the other on Balwant Bua. The latter is the more finished work and Kolatkar even wrote a book proposal for it to be submitted to Penguin in 1986. Royan and Balwant Bua, in their lives as close friends of Kolatkar and as subjects of Kolatkar’s writing , represent the two sides of Kolatkar’s art and world: Royan, the Malayali Christian printer who might as well have been a “gunslinger in a Wild West film stepping into a saloon,” refracts Kolatkar’s interest Overview  ❘  137 in American film and arts; and Balwant Bua, “the pimp of the god Vitthal ,” as Kolatkar describes him...


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