Vinod Mubayi

It is difficult to write in a public space about close friends who have passed on. Particularly when they happen to be well-known public intellectual figures with whom one shared over many years moments of joy, laughter, debate, and, simply, companionship.

Aijaz Ahmad

Aijaz was born in western UP (he told me Baghpat once) some months earlier perhaps than I, born in Lahore, in the same year, 1941. We first met in New York in 1976. Although we belonged to different intellectual fields (Aijaz a literary scholar, I a physicist), our shared cultural, and social spaces and political interests brought us together frequently, particularly in get-togethers in the Long Island home of our close (Lahori) friends Khalida and Arshad Khan. Aijaz was a private person. Although I knew he had migrated to Lahore after Partition, as I had to Amritsar and Ferozepur in late August and then to Delhi in December 1947, I didn’t know when he had done so until one day, by chance, I discovered he could read and write Devanagari. When I asked where he learnt it, he then told me he had completed his matric in UP in the mid-1950s before leaving for Lahore where his parents had gone a year or two earlier. Aijaz is probably unique in one respect: he is likely the only person who participated substantively in the left and progressive intellectual circles and political movements in both India and Pakistan. In the latter half of the 1970s, Aijaz spent time in Pakistan’s left politics for a year or so, but the space for progressive movements in Pakistan was probably too narrow to provide sufficient scope for his energies and interests and he yearned to return to the land of his birth which he did a decade later. His emergence as a Marxist scholar of international repute after the publication of his book In Theory: Nations, Classes, Literatures and his numerous written and spoken contributions to progressive academia and public life in India are well documented in the accompanying articles below by his colleagues Prabhat Patnaik and Gabriele Schwab. It is a tragedy of the low-grade bigotry that pervades the Indo-Pak bureaucracy that Aijaz was unable to establish permanent residence in India despite being born there simply because he had once held a Pakistani passport. In fact, his stay in India was only possible after he obtained a US passport to obtain successive long-term 5-year visas in India; that became impossible after 2013 when the law changed to disallow a visa to one who had had a Pakistani passport ever before. (This law is applied symmetrically by Pakistan as the writer of these lines discovered three years ago) He thus had to return to the US where he received a Distinguished Professor appointment at the University of California, Irvine. The remainder of his life was spent in California and we met only a few times when he came east to New York to visit his children. His death on March 9 leaves an immense void for many, not least his old friends.

We reproduce below two tributes to Aijaz’s accomplishments as a leading public intellectual and Marxist scholar of our time, one written by Prabhat Patnaik, a distinguished colleague of Aijaz at JNU, and the other by Gabriele Schwab his colleague at University of California, Irvine.

Remembering Aijaz Ahmad, by Gabriele Schwab UCI Dept. of Comparative Literature

It is with profound sadness that we announce the passing of our esteemed colleague and friend Aijaz Ahmad, internationally prominent literary and critical theorist, and one of the world’s foremost Marxist thinkers of our time. He died at his home in Irvine on March 9th, 2022, where he was able to take leave of his children and a few close friends including Ph.D. students.

Aijaz joined the Department of Comparative Literature at UCI in 2016 for a position in Global Critical Theory and Comparative Literature, after having previously held various appointments as a Distinguished Visiting Professor in Critical Theory, first in Spring 2011. Aijaz Ahmad was one of the leading critical theorists and literary scholars worldwide. Having been at the forefront of Marxist theory with a focus on literature and culture, internationalism, imperialism, and post/colonialism for over three decades, Ahmad authored seven pathbreaking and highly influential monographs as well as hundreds of academic essays and journalistic pieces. Forcefully engaging a subliminal Eurocentric bias in the work of Edward Said’s concept of orientalism and Fredric Jameson’s interpretation of Third World literature, Ahmad’s In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures (London:  Verso, 1992), for example, completely reshaped the intellectual conversation in critical theory and postcolonial studies. In subsequent years, he engaged leading voices in critical theory, including Jacques Derrida, Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou and Gayatri Spivak, revisiting debates about theory and politics from the perspective of the neoliberal turn that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war. In Ahmad’s more recent work, his critical interventions again set a new paradigm in critical theory by exploring the new role of political theory in the post-communist era in the 1990s. Lineages of the Present: Ideology and Politics in Contemporary South Asia (2000) established him not only as one of the most prominent critical theorists of South Asia, but also as one of the most powerful voices in theoretical debates about global nuclear politics. Finally, with On Communalism and Globalization, which analyzes neo-imperialism and the increasing influence of fascism in third world societies, Ahmad became one of the most challenging voices in debates about what we could call, using his term, the global neo-imperial turn. In a similar vein, many of Ahmad’s essays stimulated new thought in various fields, were translated into many languages, and reprinted in new editions and contexts. “Postcolonial theory and the ‘Post’ Conditions” – a topic on which Professor Ahmad held highly successful graduate seminars at UCI – critically analyzes the main philosophical, political, and epistemological trends in today’s diverse global cultures. “Islam, Islamisms and the West” opened a new horizon on the intertwinement of the crisis in global capitalism and the crisis in today’s Islamic world.

In addition to Aijaz Ahmad’s distinguished career in literary studies, critical and literary theory, and global Marxism, he also established himself as a distinguished poet and novelist in his native Urdu with several books of poetry and a novel. His essays on the history of Urdu as a literary language as well as on the multi-lingual and multi-vocal character of Indian literature are a testimony of his commitment to lend a voice to literary works beyond the monolingual hegemony of English. His capacity to span different cultures and historical epochs is unparalleled in critical theory and literary studies. The same is true for his capacity to make his work speak across the boundaries of departments and schools. He not only established his unique distinction in the fields of critical theory, discourse analysis and literary studies; he also earned distinction as a philosopher, a social scientist, and a political theorist and activist. Finally, he also had a distinguished career as a translator. Translations of Urdu Poems, including a substantial introduction, have appeared in The Hudson Review and in Poetry, and he has also collaborated on translations with distinguished poets, including Adrienne Rich, Mark Strand, W. S. Mervin, and William Stafford.

Aijaz Ahmad held academic positions internationally before accepting his tenured position at UCI in 2016. Previously, he taught at York University (Toronto), Jawaharlal Nehru University (India), Jamia Millia University (India), the School of African and Oriental Studies (London), and the University of Sao Paulo (Brazil). He delivered distinguished lecture series at Oxford, Cambridge, and universities in South Asia and Europe as well as the Distinguished Wellek Lectures in Critical Theory at UC Irvine.  Perhaps most importantly, Aijaz Ahmad was also a prominent and highly visible public intellectual who had regular TV appearances in India, was a leading voice on the web-based news portal Newsclick and wrote frequently for leading journals such as Frontline (India) and Monthly Review (US). His role as a public intellectual and scholar activist on the Left was always as important for him as his academic career. Given that he has moved between continents and taught in India, the US, Brazil and Europe, his career did not follow the linear trajectory of conventional academic appointments. After holding a tenured appointment in the US at Rutgers University from 1975 to 1992, he resigned to accept a Senior Fellowship from the Indian Council for Social Research, which allowed him to resume his career as one of India’s foremost public intellectuals. He became senior editorial consultant of Frontline and held a series of highly prestigious Distinguished Visiting Professorships such as the Rajiv Gandhi Chair at Jawaharlal Nehru University, the Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan Chair at Jamia Millia, and the Asian College of Journalism before accepting his tenured appointment at UCI.

An outstanding and charismatic teacher, Aijaz Ahmad inspired students with his intellectual rigor and passion, pushing them to excel in their work. His foremost concern was to teach how to think and read critically, a skill he deemed indispensable to understand the global entanglements of today’s world in a holistic fashion. His role as a teacher extended far beyond the classroom, including the large and diverse audiences he reached as a public intellectual and writer. At UCI he brought an invaluable wealth of learning and insight to studies of comparative literature and critical theory. Having worked with questions of imperialism, nationalism, world literature, translation studies and literary production and interpretation, he recently turned his attention to pressing topics of religion and culture in the fraught international climate of the 21st century. In 2020, LeftWord published a seminal book, edited by Vijay Prashad, with interviews conducted by Sudhanva Deshpande, Mala Hashmi and Vijay Prashad about Aijaz Ahmad’s life and work. It was to be followed by the publication of Ahmad’s final project, consisting of introductions to Marx’s political writings, which was sadly cut off by his death.

Aijaz will be remembered by generations of scholars from all over the world. As Vijay Prashad wrote, “Aijaz gave us confidence when the eclipse of hope seemed almost complete.” His writings and teachings will leave a permanent trace. Perennial migrant who could never truly call a place his home, he placed his roots in the rhizomatic network of left thought and politics. Deprived of citizenship in India where he was born, he became a citizen of the world of poetry and politics. When we hired him at UCI with the help of Dean Georges Van den Abbeele, during the time I was chair in Comparative Literature, I always thought of Aijaz as a double refugee. He was a political refugee because, according to Indian law, someone who was born in India but then became a Pakistani citizen could not regain Indian citizenship. But he was also a climate refugee because the air pollution in Delhi had permanently damaged his lungs and he needed to move to a different climate. Irvine became a strange sanctuary that ended the cycle of migrations and exiles that marked his life and scholarship. He always told me that being able to move to California gave him the gift of a few more years of lifetime.

Let me end with a few words about Aijaz as the person I knew. Apart from his unfailing commitment as a Marxist scholar and left activist, his deep passion was for the world of literature, poetry, art, and music. He was a literary writer and poet in his native Urdu, but he was also a photographer with the unfailing gaze of an artist who carefully edited his photographs until they became transformed into works of art. Finally, those close to him experienced his rare gift of friendship. In times of joy as well as times of need, he was unfailingly there. He was a great host, chef cook, and connoisseur of good wines. His sense of humor and his joy of life were contagious. Most of all, he deeply engaged the work of colleagues and students with a rare mixture of generosity and rigor, enriching our intellectual life together in innumerable ways. As we mourn him, his absence will fill our world. 

Professor Aijaz Ahmad, by Prabhat Patnaik, The Hindu, March 10, 2022

Professor Aijaz Ahmad who passed away on March 9, 2022, was a truly outstanding Marxist thinker of our time. He was what can only be described as a classical Marxist who strongly resisted efforts to import what he considered to be alien and incompatible concepts into Marxism, in the name of making it more realistic, thereby creating eclectic admixtures. His celebrated work In Theory: Classes, Nations and Literatures contained a critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism that sought above all to establish the primacy of the classical Marxist tradition. As a true Marxist intellectual, his scholarship encompassed several disciplines: literature, literary criticism, history, philosophy, politics and political economy; and in his political commentaries, he brought to bear on every particular quotidian incident, his understanding of the totality of our times.

Aijaz was born into a prosperous landed family of Uttar Pradesh in 1941 that migrated to Pakistan at the time of partition. In later life he had the occasion to visit his ancestral village only once and was overwhelmed by the warmth that the common people showed towards him. They had never before set eyes on him, and yet they took him as one of their own. He taught for years at various universities in the United States and Canada, including at York University, Toronto, that has for long been a centre of creative heterodox thinking, before returning to India which became his home for more than two decades. He became a Professorial Fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, a Visiting Professor at the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and held the Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan Chair at Jamia Milia Islamia. He became a regular contributor to the fortnightly Frontline and to journals on the Left like Social Scientist and The Marxist. He was also associated with the publishing venture Leftword Books from its very inception. In fact, many of his later books were published by Leftword.

Aijaz’s presence in India was a source of extraordinary stimulus for the intellectual and political life on the Left in this country. He gave numerous public lectures, never said no to invitations from Left student groups and Left literary circles, and never shied away from taking strong positions on political issues of the day, no matter how controversial within the Left these positions might have been. He brought to all such issues the rigour of his intellect. One had to reckon with this rigour if one happened to be on the opposite side in such debates, and of course one always learned from him even when disagreeing with him.

His wisdom, his sense of humour, his joie de vivre, his easy sociability, and his wonderful gift of being a good raconteur, endeared him to all who came across him. And he had the typical Awadhi trait of fondness for good food and good music. He also loved old Hindustani films of which he had dozens of video cassettes.

India was where Aijaz felt completely at home; he was more Indian than most Indians of a comparable social background that I have come across. After all, he had decided to return to India despite having been all over the advanced capitalist world and after holding the most prestigious academic positions. And yet, ironically, the fact that he was for a while a citizen of Pakistan always came in the way of his formally making this country his permanent home. This peculiar position, of not being able to settle down in a country that one considers one’s home, was a perennial source of tension for him. It ultimately made him accept the offer of the Chair in Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine, that had been held at one time by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida. But his leaving India where he had legions of friends and comrades, and that too at a time of life when one wishes no longer to be peripatetic, was a source great pain and anguish for him. 

I cannot resist narrating a remark of Maulana Azad about which Aijaz had told me when the issue of partition had come up. When some Muslim League persons of pre-partition days had asked Maulana Azad to give his assent to the idea of partition and ended their plea by warning that if partition did not occur then there would be continuous strife for the next one hundred days, Maulana Azad had replied that if partition did occur then there would be continuous strife for the next one hundred years. We are alas still in the midst of those one hundred years and to lose a sagacious and revolutionary intellectual like Aijaz at this time constitutes an irreparable loss. For his friends, among whom I am fortunate to count myself, it is a deep personal loss.

Sudheer Bedekar

I met Sudheer in 1971 or 1972 when I lived and worked in Bombay (now Mumbai) from 1969 to 1974. I was part of a varied group of left activists who were trying to comprehend and apply Marxist ideas creatively to the Indian situation. The formation of the Magowa (pursuit in Marathi) group, in which we were comrades together, after several months of intensive study circles in different areas and the founding of Shramik Sanghatana (Toilers Association), an agricultural workers union of Adivasis in Dhulia district of north Maharashtra, gave an impetus to the left and progressive movement in the state especially among educated youth some of whom became full-time movement activists. Sudheer was an intellectual leader with a good knowledge of theory that he put into practice by founding the Magowa journal in 1972 of which he became the editor. Magowa achieved a prominence in the political and cultural life of Maharashtra far beyond its slender resources. It was the first perhaps to publish the searing verses of the Dalit Panther poets like Namdeo Dhasal. Within a holistic Marxist framework, it explored the links between art, science, politics, and revolution in the Indian context while not eliding issues of caste, Dalits, and tribals that resonated in day-to-day struggles. Serving on its editorial board for a while brought me close to Sudheer and I came to deeply appreciate his calm, gentle, yet firm personality, his sense of humor, combined with an in-depth reading of Marathi literature and Marxist theory despite his academic degree in engineering. The last time we met was in February 2020 when I visited Pune, stayed with him for a night and spent a whole day in discussion with him, Kumar Shiralkar, and Vivek Monteiro. Lal salaam Sudheer! You will be sorely missed by all comrades.

We print below two tributes to Sudheer: one by Dr Uday Narkar, written originally in Marathi on behalf of the Maharashtra state committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and translated by him into English. The other is a deeply personal account by a Magowa group comrade Suhas Paranjape written in the form of a complaint to the departed for leaving us too early. It was also written in Marathi originally and published in The Wire-Marathi on March 29. It has been translated into English by Suhas himself.

Sudheer Bedekar, Red Salute by Uday Narkar

Everyone, progressive writer as well as activist, academic as well as trade unionist, was shocked and immensely grieved by the sudden passing away of Sudheer Bedekar. The Left and progressive movement in Maharashtra has lost a sagacious friend and co-traveler. He was just seventy-six when he breathed his last in the wee hours of Friday, 25 March.

Sudheer came into prominence as a brilliant exponent of Marxism during the Seventies. The two decades of the sixties and seventies of the twentieth century were reverberating with Communist movements drawing a huge number of young men and women to socialism. Chinese socialist revolution was followed by the Cuban Revolution, heroic martyrdom of Che Guevara, the epic struggle of the Vietnamese against American imperialism, incomplete revolutions in Angola and Portugal and all these earth-shaking events were inspiring the youth all over the world to launch a life and death battle against the capitalist exploitative system.

This transformation found its various echoes in India too. Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 had shown beyond any doubt that Marxism was not a mechanical system of thought but had an uncompromising human core. Inspired by this understanding a bunch of highly educated, mainly middle-class youth, established a group called ‘Magowa’, which can be loosely translated as ‘tracing, seeking after’. Sudheer was its leader. A graduate in electrical technology from the revered Indian Institute of Technology of Mumbai, or Mumbai IIT in common parlance, Sudheer gathered around him several engineers, scientists, writers and poets, painters and a large number of students spread over Maharashtra. ‘Magowa’ , a tiny group of radical young men and women, turned into a movement. Magowa gave birth to Kumar Shiralkar led Shramik Sanghatana of Shahada in the Adivasi belt of Dhule district, known as Dhulia then. The tribal people of the area had been expropriated from the lands they cultivated for hundreds of years and inhumanly exploited by the landlords who were also moneylenders. The Shramik Sanghatana organized the tribal people against the rruthlessly exploitative local ruling elites. It was the next chapter of the struggle that the Adivasis launched with the red flag in hand after the historic struggle led by the venerated and legendary duo Shamrao and Godavari Parulekar. Shamrao had begun his political life as a leader of the Independent Labor Party, founded by Dr. Ambedkar to later join the Communist Party. Godutai, as Godavari was fondly known, was the granddaughter of the great Freedom Fighter Gopal Krishna Gokhale, who too became a Communist. All these streams coalesced in the work of the Shramik Sanghatana.  It was mainly Sudheer who kept providing ideological ammunition to these youngsters in ‘Magowa’ and Shramik Sanghatana, who proudly kept alive grand dreams of toppling the system in their eyes: Prafulla Bidwai, Kumar Shiralkar, Suhas Paranjape, Kumar Ketkar, eminent Painter Sudheer Patwardhan, novelist Dinanath Manohar, Public Health activist Dr. Anant Phadke, trade Unionist Ashok Manohar, the tribal poet activist Vahru Sonawane, Dr. Bharat Patankar, Achyut Godbole, Prof Sharad Navare, Ravindra Mokashi and several others.

Sudheer founded, led and edited the monthly magazine Magowa, an electrifying journal that sought to expand the traditions of revolutionary thoughts on class, caste and gender. In no time Magowa generated a large readership not only in metros but in the remote hinterland of Maharashtra too. Its contents and contentions encompassed Charvaka to Deviprasad Chattopadhyaya, Lenin to Rajni Palme Dutt, Hegel, Marx, Georg Lukacs, Christopher Caudwell, Erich Fromm and many more. Magowa broke open the traditional shell around social consciousness. It analyzed sharply, yet sympathetically, the strategies and tactics the Communist Parties were adopting; it dissected various cultural and literary expressions including Little Magazines and Dalit writings. Youthful Namdeo Dhasal was a close associate.

Post emergency, Magowa as a group was dissolved and so was the journal. However, the editor in Sudheer would not take a respite and with the guidance of G. B. Sardar, Nalini Pandit, Narayan Surve etc. he started another journal Tatparya, which, in the new political environment came closer to the organized left, mainly the CPI(M). Sudheer ran this journal, almost single handedly for over a decade. Both these journals were marked by Marxist theoretical interpretations as well as a sharp exposition of the contemporary social, economic, political and cultural events and practices. Sudheer Bedekar taught Marxism to two generations.

He was not a voluminous writer but what he wrote had steely strength of thought as well as liquid simplicity of expression. A generation of Marxist students voraciously read and reread his two books, Kala Vidnyan ani Kranti (Art, Science and Revolution) and Hazar Hatancha Octopus (An Octopus with Thousand Arms). These are seminal works of Marxist theory, aesthetics and critical accounts of Indian history and society.

Sudheer was an excellent teacher of Marxism. He was adept at explaining in simple language intricate concepts of Marxism. He was fondly invited to study camps and study circles all over Maharshtra.

After 1980 Sudheer along with Kumar Shiralkar, Parkash Samant, Ravindra Mokashi, Jaysingh Mali, all from the Shramik Sanghatana, joined the CPI(M) as they found the Party closest to their ideals and political understanding. Unconsciously they had been going along a similar Program. Sudheer, though, withdrew from active political life, remained a co-traveler of the Party.

He was one of the founders of the Academy of Social and Political Studies, Pune and remained its trustee till the end of his life. He was mainly instrumental in establishing and Bhagatsingh Sabhagriha and Library.

He was living a solitary life in Pune, yet reading voraciously and interacting with friends and comrades consistently after the sad demise a few years ago of writer wife Chitra, who also wrote for Jeewan Marg, the CPI(M)’s state organ and Janshakti Prakashan. During the pandemic he published a collection of unpublished articles and drawings by D. K. Bedekar, his father and a great Marxist scholar.

In Sudheer Bedekar’s death the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has lost a comrade who held deep sympathy with the Party activities. The Maharashtra State Committee of the CPI(M) pays revolutionary homage to the memory of Sudheer Bedekar.

The Party remains with Sukanya, Sudheer’s writer-sister and a contributor to the ‘Jeewan Marg’, other members of his family and Hyderabad based son Nissim.

Dr. Uday Narkar, Secretary, Maharashtra State Committee, Communist Party of India (Marxist)

That is just not fair, Sudheer: A Lament on the Untimely Demise of a Comrade

Suhas Paranjape

When I first saw you, your hand was in plaster. I think we were in the third year of our B. Tech. course at IIT, Bombay. Praful Bidwai pointed you out to me and told me – that is Sudheer Bedekar, Kumar Ketkar’s Marxist friend. You had just finished your B. Tech. and you were working as a Demonstrator in one of the Electrical Engineering Labs. Very soon you quit the job. That was probably your first and last job. I didn’t know then that you were to become my close friend, comrade and guide.

It didn’t take very long for that to happen. In a couple of years, we all came together. Those were heady days, full of hope and very different from the times we are living through today. The world was being shaken by people’s struggles. It was just a few years ago that Fidel and Che had led a successful revolution in Cuba. And Che had then gone away to assist the revolution elsewhere in Latin America. There was the student’s revolt in Paris in 1968 and student’s struggles and occupations continued. Tiny Vietnam had brought the American giant to its knees. Inside the US, the anti- war movement was going strong. In India there were strikes, protests and gheraos (that new and peculiarly Indian form of struggle) all over the place. The armed uprising in Naxalbari had shaken the complacency of the parliamentary left. Everything was in a ferment.

In short, those were days when the rebellious youth could think that revolution was not a matter of something that would happen in the distant future; it was an immediate presence, demanding urgent action, right now. It is on this background that we all came together. Those who had gathered around Praful Bidwai in IIT, Bombay, those around Vinod Mubayi and Mukul Sinha in TIFR including Waheed Mukaddam, those who had gone to Shahada with Kumar Shiralkar, those around you in Pune, those around Subhash Kane in Nagpur, Bharat Patankar and Dilip Naik and Kamat from Belgaum – let me stop, I know there are many left out. We all came together and formed the Magowa Group and we began to publish the Magowa monthly under your editorship.

I didn’t know you too well before Magowa. Over time we became close. Comrade you already were. And before that a guide as well. In fact, I had two guides – you and Praful, both in many ways polar opposites of each other! And then we became friends and colleagues. It was you who etched into my mind the crucial importance of the 1844 Manuscripts. It was you who gave me my first lessons in understanding Marx’s unique ontology and epistemology. And you were the one who introduced me to the basics of Dialectical and Historical Materialism. No matter that we came to think somewhat differently about these matters, which we continued to discuss right up to a few days ago.

At the time Magowa was being published, most of my time I was in Shahada. Whenever we visited Pune, I used to spend my days at the Magowa ‘office’. That spacious room on the terrace of your house was probably a refuge for activists all day. (It was very different with the house downstairs where you lived. The doors of that castle opened but rarely and only for a select few.) In any case, in those times we were drunk with having supposedly de-classed ourselves. While we were scrupulous about our work, we were unruly, even rude in our behavior and the way we dressed down. I remember that student activists from PUSU who also often frequented the place were similarly rowdy and loud. In short, we were, personally, unruly and undisciplined.

I don’t know how you suffered our unruliness. In your own mild way, you had cautioned us against it. But you would suffer it with a smile. Was there also a hidden sense of pleasure in it? A hidden pleasure at having someone do something that you would have done yourself but did not? It is difficult to say. But you surely were the most disciplined and orderly rebel that I have ever encountered! Watching you work in the Magowa office was an experience. Whatever may be the state of the rest of the office, on your desk, and on the desk of your permanent assistant Comrade Purushottam Panse, order reigned supreme. Whenever you sat down to correct the proofs, you would first pin them together so that you did not mislay any one of them. Those were the days when pages were typeset, not designed on PCs. You would always have a ruler by your hand and with its help you would ensure that they were rightly aligned with the typeset line before you marked the corrections in your immaculate handwriting. So good was your calligraphy that I think we could easily have photographed your manuscripts and printed the book.

The same orderliness characterized your thinking. Not for you a magpie collection of thoughts and facts. All the knowledge you had absorbed at any given time was organized into an orderly structure and any new thought and fact that you came by had either to fit somewhere or the structure had to be modified to accommodate it if you found it important enough. That is why you were so effective as an educator, why you could grasp the essence of important concepts and put them forward as a coherent whole. And at the same time, you had a rare sense of humor, an eye for inconsistency. Both made your analysis so sharp and penetrating.

But can I tell you something, Sudheer? One possible result of this orderliness is a lack of what shall I call it, openness? For a long time, we have been talking about a paradigm shift that is needed. But when we discuss actual examples, and compare paradigms, they are both full formed alternatives and it is easy to see the difference and choose. But that is not actually the case. We are living in a situation where we know that the older paradigm is outdated, but the new paradigm has not yet emerged. Everything is fuzzy and indistinct. In such a situation one can then tend to fall back on the soothing orderliness of the old paradigm. I think that because of this, many times you were not able to sufficiently accept, welcome and incorporate in your thinking the very things which you were saying we need to. 

Though Magowa was a ‘mouthpiece’ of the Magowa group, it was true that you, along with help and sometimes obstruction from Comrade Panse, ran it alone. After we had declared that we will even bring Marx under our microscope in our opening issue, we received brickbats from all the communist parties. But in a short while, Magowa began to cater to the intellectual hunger of the young left cadre in Maharashtra because it provided a platform for all left and progressive currents to express themselves in its pages. It provided space for Dalit literature and had close ties with many in the Dalit Panthers like Namdeo Dhasal. Chhaya Datar and others had started a Magowa Mandal or circle in Mumbai. One could say that some kind of a Magowa Parivar, a Magowa family had taken form comprising the sympathizers and readers of the magazine. Its spread was not very clear, but we can say that it had reached a great many parts of Maharashtra. Even today forty-five plus years down the line, I meet complete strangers who tell me that they have either read Magowa or met people from Magowa. You and your stewardship of Magowa had a big role to play in this phenomenon. Even today this Parivar has not entirely dissolved and, on the whole, retains its progressive character.

But the Magowa group itself was being increasingly torn apart by differences. Praful became a Trotskyist and began to campaign vigorously for his views. There were heated debates around it. Magowa went through the experience that if differences are not simply around personalities and short-term goals but around theoretical-political issues and the discussions are scholarly and studied, the entire process can be an enriching one. Indeed, if we piled up all the reading that everyone in Magowa did in those two or three years, it would make a pretty big heap. But however much we may have enriched ourselves intellectually, organizationally we were breaking apart. The levels of our understanding and the theoretical-political directions among us were so very different that in the end a group that had eighteen full activists came to be dissolved. After a time Magowa magazine too closed down. You were not happy with the dissolution. You felt that a small but organized group had to be in place. That was quite understandable. You and a few others tried to do so excluding the Trotskyists, but it did not work.

The real need was to go beyond Trotsky-Stalin-Mao and rethink Marxism radically, literally, from its roots. The world was changing rapidly. Our personal and socio-political circumstances were changing. By and by all of us got married, built families. A few weeks after the dissolution, the Emergency was imposed in June 1975. Many of us went underground. A few of us were jailed. The India that emerged from the Emergency was a completely changed India. After the dissolution, Magowa comrades dispersed. But in their very dispersal they also enriched the left in Maharashtra. You, Kumar Shiralkar and many comrades from Shahada joined the CPI(M). Ashok Manohar joined the Lal Nishan Party. Bharat Patankar, Vijay and Vikram Kanhere and others decided to establish Shramik Mukti Dal to continue the Magowa tradition in a new form. Vaharu Sonavane, Anant Phadke, Dilip Naik and some others joined the Dal. The Magowa family too dispersed. Everyone chose whichever political formation they felt they were nearest to.

Then you decided to publish the Tatparya monthly. Someone asked you, why are you taking up this thankless task again. Your reply was, habit. Indeed, you had become habituated to providing the most wholesome intellectual food to the hungry! With Tatparya, you set out to do that once more. Again, you tried to make it inclusive of all progressive currents. For ten years you toiled hard. But, in the end, it did not work. On the one hand, you could not maintain the high quality you aimed at; on the other hand, the financial burden was becoming unbearable. An important means of intellectual awakening had to be abandoned. During the editorship of Magowa and Tatparya, you wrote extensively. And you did not leave any subject untouched. Your collection of articles named Hajar Hathancha Octopus (The Thousand-armed Octopus) is witness to that.

Bu then something happened. Tatparya ceased publication and your pen fell silent. Your voracious reading continued. But you pen was silent. None of us have understood why it happened. Many of us requested you to write. Anant Phadke has been pestering you about it all these years with a tenacity that is entirely his own. You always evaded the issue one way or the other. What exactly was going through your mind? Which raw nerve was being touched by our requests? We do not know. Of course, you lent assistance for intellectual awakening in other ways. You helped set up the Samajvidnyan Academy (Social Science Academy) and the Bhagatsingh Platform. Many programmes for the spread of socialist thinking were organized there with the help of Datta Desai and others. You took part in study circles and camps and spoke individually with activists. Recently you put in a great amount of work to make all Magowa and Tatparya issues available on the internet for some time.  However, that may be, your pen continued to be silent.

Until my retirement, I worked with SOPPECOM on issues of land, water, and energy. SOPPECOM had its office in Pune. I also used to come to Pune to meet and discuss with Dr. Sulabha Brahme who had published my book on Marx’s Capital. Thirty plus years I had been coming to Pune where I stayed sometimes with Anant-Sandhya and sometimes with Joy-Mani. But we rarely met. Chitra and Swatija were in touch with other over their writings, but we never visited. Chitra would insist but it just did not happen. We used to meet outside, once in a while. But our most regular meeting was when our old comrades Vinod and Waheed, both of whom had settled in the US, would return to the country for a visit. The old Magowa connection was what worked!

In the recent past, you endured so many calamities. Three times you looked Death in the face. Suddenly, with no warning whatsoever, you lost your wife Chitra. Your son Nissim also was away. He was finding his own feet in the world and had taken a different path. But as sister and comrade your bond with Sukanya remained strong. She came to Pune often. However, essentially you were alone. Once when we had met somewhere outside, as we were wont to do once in a while, I asked you about your loneliness. If you stick to your routine, it takes care of itself, you had told me and closed the subject. I could feel a line being drawn, a line I was not to cross. I didn’t. I daresay others too would have had a similar experience. Inside, you were a very private person. Who knows what your suffering was?

For the last two or three years, especially after COVID, you were very disturbed. Whatever was happening inside and outside the country was horrendous. There was such cruelty and hate on display that it would freeze your blood. A few times we had long conversations over the phone. We talked about our old work and my one and a half essays – On Capitalism (one) and On Nature (half) written in 2007. And you said, when I re-read our work, I realize that we had done really good work, and is all this to vanish after us? I think this feeling had brought you to a new turning point. This year you very much wanted to meet the old Magowa comrades again. Finally, a meeting could take place in March. Waheed from the US was here on a visit. On the 13th of March, you, Waheed, Kumar Shiralkar, Balmohan Limaye, Vivek Monteiro and Sukanya had a day-long meeting in a friend’s house in Kanjur Marg. Everyone agreed that the discussion was very good. I could not attend the meeting because I had a compression fracture of two lumbar vertebrae and was flat on my back. So, you all had planned to visit us at home on the 14th.

When you, Mukul and Sukanya came to visit us on the 14th, it was a pleasant surprise for Swatija and me. We had never seen you so relaxed as you were that day. You were full of life. The discussion went all over the place and touched every topic around the world. I remember we also discussed the issue of paradigm change in respect of Marxist theory and how the needed change could be illustrated by how Feynman begins his book on quantum mechanics.

The other thing was that you were full of plans for the future. You were always very close to Kumar Shiralkar. You had plans to provide funds to set up a trust with you, Kumar and a few others as trustees to continue studies and propagation of socialist thought. You had also promised Kumar that you would take study circles for activists post-22 April, which is Lenin’s birthday. But the most important thing you said to me was that you would begin writing again and said that I too must do so. To which I had replied, yes, I will, but after you. This was a big thing for me. Swatija and I kept talking about the visit for the next two or three days. It had not only given us pleasure but had also enthused us.

A couple of days later, you had a slight fever and Swatija and I talked to you about it, but it had subsided.

Then on the 25th morning we received a phone call from Waheed.

That was not fair, Sudheer.

To raise our expectations so much, and walk away like this.

No, that is just not fair, Sudheer.

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