“PuLa’s humility was one of his most distinctive characteristics. When Narendra Dabholkar once requested PuLa to speak against superstition to the young people, he refused saying he has not worked in this particular field so he was unfit to speak about it,” said Dr Mandar Paranjpe, who hosted a discussion on the the work and life of Purushottam Laxman Deshpande, or PuLa, as he was popularly known.
The Global PuLa festival, which commemorates the centenary of the late writer’s birth, is currently ongoing, and a session was held at the Balgandharva Art Gallery on Friday.
The session was attended by the Aadishakti award winning author and social worker, Renu Gavaskar, writer and social activist Dr Anil Awachat, senior social activist Girish Prabhune, who runs the Punaruththan Samarasata Gurukulam, a Chinchwad-based residential school and NGO, and Dr Mandar Paranjpe, who hosted the event.
The discussion started with fellow writers describing when they were first exposed to the works of PuLa, and how it affected them. Writers described how they became more connected and aware of the world around them the deeper they delved into PuLa’s writings.
Renu Gavaskar, the writer and social activist, said PuLa’s work remains relevant in current times. Gavaskar said she finds the writer “hidden” in many of the people she meets with and interacts. “It was through literature that I found the different characteristics of PuLa Deshpande and that influenced me greatly. Whenever I read his books, I think of just how timeless the writer is.”
She recalled the story of when PuLa wrote about his experience of participating in a programme with former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. She said, “The event was an open talk with the public and a Sikh driver asked the then prime minister, Pandit Nehru, ‘why do our children go to the 75 paise school and the elite children go to the 100 paise school?’ PuLa writes that the Nehru was unable to answer the question.”
Prabhune, who runs the Punaruththan Samarasata Gurukulam, never got to meet PuLa in his childhood, but said the late writer, and his wife, Sunita Desphande, had a large role in his evolution as a writer. He also said that PuLa’s work hasn’t yet reached the Pardhi and the Kolhati caste. “The atmosphere that we live in is scabbed and no matter the amount of times we dive in, we come out scathed. At times like these, when you read Purushottam Shivaram Rege’s Savitri and PuLa’s Vyakti ani Valli, we are reborn with the dawn with the promise of good deeds in our hands,” he said.
Awachat spoke of how welcome he felt when he first met PuLa and how keen he was to help the children in the slum that he was then working in. “I don’t think any Marathi writer has done as much as he has for our society. He backed us with Muktangan. During hard times, we turned to the government but we did not receive any grants. He helped us financially by giving us Rs 2.5 lakh,” he said. PuLa also gifted eight library cupboards to the rehabilitation centre that Awachat had founded along with his wife Dr Anita Awachat.
A number of events have been planned in the year-long festival, which started on November 17 and will end on November 25.