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A Marathi classic revived for Mother's Day

Friday, May 07, 2010

CALL it Maharashtra's classic connection with Mother's Day. Shyamchi Aai, the Marathi literary gem on a mother's unconditional love for her child that was famously made into a film, will come alive again May 9. Shyamchi Aai will not only be screened in hundreds of places across Maharashtra but also in Andhra Pradesh and Punjab.

It was the autobiography of freedom fighter, social activist and writer Sane Guruji, revolving around his relationship with his mother. In 1953, the book was adopted as a movie, which in 1954 won the first national award for best feature film.

"It is a story that literally everyone – adult or child, man or woman, educated or illiterate – can relate to. After all, who has not been touched by and changed forever by a mother's love," says Subhash Chheda of Rudraa Home Videos that owns the right to the film. Chheda gets hundreds of requests around Mother’s Day every year, asking permission to screen the film. And he denies no one.

"I may hold the right to the film. But no one holds the sole rights to mother's love as depicted in the film and the book," he says. He dispatches hundreds of CDs and DVDs of the film across Maharashtra and some other parts of India every year.

Prakashbhai Mohadikar, around 91 years ‘young’ as he calls himself, is another such enthusiast. He shows the spirit of a teenager when he gets on stage to narrate the Shyamchi Aai story as an orator. Being a freedom fighter himself and having worked closely with Sane Guruji 60 years ago, he is like the heir to the great man's vision.

In Shyamchi Aai, Sane Guruji, who was fondly called Shyam as a child and belonged to a Brahmin family in rural Maharashtra in pre-independence era, narrates his memories to a group of children. The story unfolds in the form of chapters named 'ratra' (night in Marathi). Shyam's mother gets married into a wealthy family, but they gradually become a victim of debt-ridden poverty. She falls ill and dies, but her life leaves quite a mark on Shyam.

"Spreading the message of love, brotherhood and equality that Sane Guruji embodied is my life's mission," says Mohadikar, who has single-handedly sold more than 200,000 copies of the book. Around Mother's Day this year, he will hold talks across schools and other public forums in many of the 34 districts of Maharashtra.

Another such volunteer is 85-year-old retired schoolteacher Datta Puranik from Pune. He has sold 40,000 copies of the book so far and does not eat his meals till he has sold at least one subsidised copy of the book or the film. "After retiring, I have devoted my life to spreading the message of Shyamchi Aai," he says.

Starting May 9, he has 'katha kathan' (story-telling) sessions at public gatherings in and around Pune and Satara, followed by the screening of the film and street plays done by kids to mark Mother's Day.

There are thousands of other volunteers across Maharashtra, young and old, ranging from a woman sarpanch to teenagers who do their bit to spread the message of Sane Guruji and Shyamchi Aai.

But it is not just Maharashtra where this story of a mother's unconditional love for her child will find an audience. Telugu newspaper Andhra Jyoti is holding screenings of the film with English subtitles in various cities of Andhra Pradesh. Poonam Singh, the editor of the Punjabi magazine Prit Lihari, is also screening the film on Mother's Day in a Punjab village near the India-Pakistan border.


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