आहे मनोहर तरी

Memoir by Sunitabai Deshpande.


आहे मनोहर तरी is a memoir by Sunitabai Deshpande, who was an author, activist, freedom fighter, and more famously, Pu La Deshpande’s wife.

I had read it as a teenager when I was reading lots of Pu La. I clearly didn’t understand much then because I couldn’t recall any detail from it. Reading it again 20+ years later however I can relate to a lot of it. Sunitabai was a remarkable woman. As a 16 year old she dropped out of college against the wishes (but still supportive) family and joined the 1942 Quit India movement. She participated in bomb-making (!), once accidently blowing up her secret hideout in a chawl. She was also involved in setting up underground radio networks. Her outlook towards life was incredibly liberal for that time and even for today. She did not believe in the conservative mores of her parents. She rebelled against those when she was young but candidly admits that her judgement might have been shallow.

She fell in love with Pu La at 21 but did not want to get married just for the sake of staying together. She however, acquiesced to his wishes and got married but never stopped questioning the decision. After her marriage she channelled most of her energy and her hard-working, practical nature to managing his career. She negotiated his contracts, managed the distribution of his plays, and even sued people who willingly infringed on his play copyrights by performing them without royalty payments. During this time she also acted in a few of his plays, corresponded with GA Kulkarni, participated in the anti-Emergency movement and more. I was reminded that the science popularisation initiative at IUCAA was funded by their foundation, and after their deaths the copyrights were also donated to IUCAA who hold them. Sunitabai in her own right was an incredible woman and in this very honest memoir she wonders what would have happened if she had not married Pu La and charted her own path.

Pu La was immensely successful and a lot of the credit belongs to Sunitabai who remained in the background. She wrote this memoir at the age of 64 as she looked back at her life and honestly questioned her life choices. She also explored the question of whether she should continue being with Pu La as she no longer felt the love. She concludes that if she left now, she would abandon him as he had become dependent on her and it would be dereliction of duty to leave now. Her chief disappointment with Pu La was that he was intrinsically self-centred. I feel that Pu La was a genius, and like most geniuses was probably self-centred. To the world he was a brilliant writer who unfolded various layers of real and fictional characters sensitively, with humour and empathy. Sunitabai agonises why he could not extend it to her in their private life. She describes incidents like not coming to pick her at the railway station late at night, not being sensitive to her needs during her pregnancy, compromising her hard work of contract negotiation to not look like a money-grabber and many others. He seemed to take her for granted which hurt her. She accepts however that his self-centeredness was like a child’s–innocent and without any malice. She believes he was simply incapable of thinking of others and it was unfair blaming him for this. He just did not grow up in this aspect. The central theme of her memoir is that from the outside it looks and feels great, but… I really like the title of the English translation of her memoir, “And pine for what is not” by Gauri Deshpande.

Pu La is my idol and has been since my childhood. This book did not dent that image, but did add colour to it. It also evoked in me a new-found admiration for Sunitabai. She is from the generation that fought for our independence, won it, and was probably disillusioned in the years that followed. Her intelligence, values and principles however shone through in all of her life’s undertakings. They don’t make people like her anymore.

Amod Jog
Amod Jog

My research interests include medical image analysis, computer vision, and machine learning/artificial intelligence.