Mumbiram’s rapport with the River is heart-warming, mystical and wonderful. Pune, the town where he was born, is sitting on the confluence of the Mula and the Mutha rivers that originate on the hilltops of the Sahyadri mountains. Pune is a town with a long history. It had come into great prominence in the past few centuries.
Here we see a young man-boy sitting on the bank of a river. The waters are orange. It is a regular monsoon river. No panic. A little paddle boat is crossing the river. The boy is waving to the boat. This painting is nostalgic about long lonely afternoons Mumbiram spent at the boatclub of the College of Engineering that was nearly at the confluence of the Mula and Mutha rivers of Pune.
The whole surrounding was replete with places of British colonial references. The legendary Mount Stuart Elphinstone had his residency next doors where the District Judge now resides. Vasudev Balvant was tried for sedition and rebellion just across the street. The College of Engineering was coming into existence nearly a hundred years before Mumbiram became a student there. The famous Sir Mokshagundam Vishveshvaraya was in the first batch of graduates out of the college. Hold on. Mumbiram’s own great grandfather Vishnu Vartak graduated on the top of that very first batch. He went on to become the Chief Engineer of the Bombay Presidency. Around 1910 or 12, encouraged by Lokmanya Tilak, he started the first Indian sugar-mill at Phursungi near Pune. His household was intimately related to the Peshva legacy of Pune. One of his four illustrious sons, Ganesh, was the Principal of the Engineering College in the 1950’s. Mumbiram’s maternal grandmother, wife of Artist S.H.Godbole, was Varanasi Vartak, the eldest daughter of Vishnu Vartak.
But look at the collection of books this young man is harbouring. Ooh ! There is PaaNakaLaa (पाणकळा). This very romantic novel was written by a Pune lawyer named R.V.Dighe. This man was fascinated by the lives of the tribal forest dwellers of India. In the novel PaaNakaLaa there is a tragic entanglement in love that involves a tribal beauty Raina. Mumbiram had found a copy of that novel in the desk-drawers of his father’s writing desk. Advocate Ramdas Paranjpe harboured affection for this wayward lawyer colleague. Ramdas Paranjpe was the first lawyer to become the one who regularly defended people of the Phasepardhi community who were declared as a ‘criminal caste’ during and since the English rule. They were both attracted to the lives of the free-spirited forest-dwellers and gypsies. Then there is ‘Advanced Mathematics’. Later at Berkeley Mumbiram studied nothing but advanced Mathematics. Differential Geometry and topology, algebraic geometry, Lie Groups were his areas of interest. Vyankatesh Madgulkar’s MaaNadeshi MaaNase (माणदेशी माणसें) was a collection of soulful word portraits of memorable characters from rural Maharashtra. This would be closest to what Artist Mumbiram’s art from the Mandai period would be described. College of Engineering got its dues too. Mumbiram was at the top of his class in the yearly exams.
Upekshitaanche Antarang ( उपेक्षितांचें अंतरंग ) was a collection of short stories and portraitures of the little known noble characters of the lowest castes and tribes of backwoods of Maharashtra. The writer Shree.Ma.Mate had a cult-following of idealistic youth. Ramdas Paranjpe had done apprenticeship with Barrister C.B.Agarwal who had been a student of Shri.Mate. Fakiiraa ( फकीरा ) was a novel about a rural rebellion against British rule led by a low-caste hero. The writer Annabhau Sathe is himself seen as a hero by the people of the low caste Mang community. He became a successful novelist while struggling to support himself and family in Mumbai as a scrap ( bhangaar ) collector on the streets. BhatkyaancheLagna ( भटक्यांचें लग्न ) was about the sociology of marriage and rituals amongst itinerant tribals such as the phasepardhi tribals that Mumbiram later came to know intimately. The painting depicts a state of mind as well as the state of a place.
After returning from America Mumbiram visited the other side of the river in a paddle boat with his Yerwada rag-picker ladies. He would later come to know that the legendary Lahuji Vastad left his body thereabouts. Mumbiram’s earliest Mang friend Tara Sadashiv Thorat lived at Lahuji Vastad Talim in Ganj Peth. Her sister Chhabi was one of Mumbiram’s earliest muses. Tara’s son Bhaarat travelled with Mumbiram to Vrindavan and to Usar of Thakur tribals who are holding Mumbiram’s Iconic Krishna painting. Mumbiram’s hero Vasudev Balvant, the rebel patriot who organized a gang of Ramoshi tribals, was a martial arts student of Lahuji Vastad. Mumbiram’s life in Pune was so beautifully interwoven.
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