passing away of a quiet crusader



Ram Puniyani


Pradeep Deshpande, the well known writer, translator and activist passed away in a Mumbai hospital, after a prolonged illness on 4th August 2013. I am hesitant to use the word prolonged illness, as though he was suffering from Cancer from last one year, his spirits were never down, he was doing his favorite work of writing most of the time, and barring few weeks including the last week, he was mostly in a positive and cheerful predisposition. In his death he has communicated to us a valuable lesson as to how to deal with disease, even if it be cancer. His attitude towards the disease was such that the suffering caused by the illness is not overstated and one keeps up with one’s work and engagements with a positive attitude.


Pradeep approached my nearly a decade and a half ago, searching my address through a friend. In response to the rising tide of the communal politics, I wrote a tract, ‘Fascism of Sangh Parivar’. He came over to seek my permission for translating the book. I was happy that an author is offering to take the work to Marathi speaking world and it was a heartening thing for me. But that was just the beginning. Following this he undertook upon himself to take the work of translating, publishing and disseminating the books related to communal harmony and national integration, with great amount of zeal and enthusiasm. It is remarkable the way he lapped up new relevant work and engrossed himself in translating it. This of course was in addition to his own regular writings, columns in dailies like Mahanagar and lately Divya Marathi. He was also writing lot of invited articles sought by other publications and taking a keen interest to ensure that the publishers undertake this work and then disseminate it far and wide. He was more focused on ensuring that the message reaches the people as much as possible.


When he approached me I did not know him much except to realize his deep commitment to progressive values. His commitment to the cause became more obvious when he took voluntary retirement from his job, even before he turned 50. His unique interpretation of Indian mythology and history was something I admired and thought over it to shape my own understanding of this complex area of our social commitment, i.e. fighting the communal forces. In an uncompromising way he kept up his struggle through his mighty pen against the forces trying to divide the nation in the name of religion. Our regular discussions on these topics led us to take up the topics of communal presentation of Shivaji, to counter which we brought out Sarvadharmsambhavi Shivaji Maharaj. Seized with the issue of rising wave of terror, we brought out Dahshatvad Mithke ani Vastav.


Pradeep was basically a literary person, poet, fiction writer and commentator on social issues. His poems in Marathi and sometimes in Hindi are very touching and are also a commentary on the social realities of our times. His concern for gender issues was manifest all through with his close association with women’s rights groups like Stree Mukti Sangthan and his independent writing on the subject. His in-depth understanding of caste oppression in the country is also manifest through his own book, Manusmriti Ajun Jadte aahe, which has gone into several editions so far. His understanding was very rational and he associated himself with the work of promotion of rational thought, science education in particular through Lok Vigyan Samiti. Through talks and exercises he communicated the basic scientific concepts to students and young generation.


His columns on topical issues first in Mahanagar and then in Divya Marathi got a very good response from the readers. Being multifaceted he also helped publication of the writings on Islam by scholars like Abdul Kadar Mukadam, in particular.


He also worked for many organizations in carrying out their work of great importance to the society, particularly D.D. Kosambi Memorial Trust, Ekta, Committee for Communal Amity and All India Secular forum. One will miss this dynamic and steady, writer-activist, for times to come. His gentle and mild nature endeared him to a large circle of friends. More than anything it is a personal loss to me. Personally speaking I am yet to recover from the loss of another of my close friend Asghar Ali Engineer, who we lost a couple of months ago, and here comes another blow to me as a person. I just hope the inspiration of both these friends’ life and work will be a guiding force for future.