Noted Marathi poet and one of the founders of the Dalit Panthers, Padma Shri Namdeo Dhasal succumbed to a long-drawn battle against illness including colorectal cancer in the wee hours of Wednesday. He was being treated at the ICU of the Bombay Hospital in south Mumbai. He was 64.
The award-winning writer of ‘Golpitha’ — the collection that was named after the prostitution neighbourhood in central Mumbai where he grew up — had a medical history of myasthenia gravis, a rare auto-immune disorder. He had been in and out of hospitals since the diagnosis of cancer. His funeral will be on Thursday afternoon.
Golpitha’ showcased in tight close-ups Mumbai’s underbelly choc-a-block with endearing characters such as commercial sex workers and pimps, taxi drivers (Dhasal himself plied a cab to make both ends meet before he took to creative writing) and drunkards, crooks and mill workers.
“Dhasal Passes Away served a knock-out punch to the giants in the field of literature. He wrote in a style that was refreshingly unorthodox and straight from the heart,” said noted litterateur Ashok Shahane, whose friendship with the maverick poet goes back to the ‘Little Magazine’ era which groomed a new band of avante-garde writers in Marathi such as Dilip Purushottam Chitre, Arun Kolatkar, Raghu Dandawate, Bhalchandra Nemade and, of course, Namdeo Dhasal.
“Dhasal gave voice to the downtrodden and the underprivileged in his poems, and brought the middle-class Marathi ‘manoos’ face to face with new and robust sensibilities,” Shahane added.