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As Kala Academy Goa organises ‘Vishnumay Jag’ today, on the birth anniversary of Vishnu Surya Wagh, NT BUZZ speaks to a few people who still live with fond memories of this versatile Goan

A tribute to Goa’s ‘Wagh’

Danuska Da Gama | NT BUZZ

Vishnu Surya Wagh donned several hats during his lifetime. From being a caricature artist, poet, author, translator, actor, director, to pursuing journalism in his own style, and becoming a political figure, there was no sphere of socio-cultural life of Goa that was alien to Wagh.

He was an activist who fought atrocities meted out to the Bahujan Samaj. People enjoyed his company, politicians were at attention when he spoke, and he was loved for his poetry, speeches, and dramas, such that his popularity extended beyond Goa to Maharashtra and to Belgaum, Karnataka.

He wrote more than 25 plays in Marathi/Konkani, and scripted one act plays, besides publishing several poetry collections in Marathi and Konkani. In fact, no area of theatre was alien to him right from scriptwriting to acting to directing to even being a make-up man.

He courted controversies, more so in the political and literary field, especially when he switched from MGP to Congress while being its spokesperson and for his Marathi play ‘Tuka Abhang Abhang’. His collection of poems, ‘Sudhir Sukta’ (Hymns of a Shudra), was a subject of controversy when it was declared, in August 2017, to be the awardee of the Goa Konkani Akademi (GKA) Award in the poetry category, which was cancelled after an outrage campaign on social media.

While he served as vice chairman of Entertainment Society of Goa, and as chairman of Kala Academy, he initiated several new programmes in the field of music, theatre, and art. Wagh’s life was cut short on February 8, 2019 after suffering from an illness since August 2016.

But he remains well and fondly remembered by many people, whose lives he touched.

Upright and fearless

Ramrao Wagh recalls that his brother (Vishnu Surya Wagh) was a bright student and secured the tenth rank at SSCE examinations. He however had to quit his MSc (Microbiology) course to become a journalist after their father passed away. “He rose to become the youngest editor of a daily in Goa. He then worked with few other news organisations and was also instrumental in starting the first evening paper ‘Vartaman’. He was upright and fearless, which led to differences with the management during his tenure as a journalist,” he recollects. It was after this, he says, that Wagh became more active in politics while side by side writing books. He also started writing regular weekly columns, a practice he continued till the illness took him over.

“Vishnu’s sense of Goa’s socio-cultural issues was way ahead of others and his contribution in Vidhan Sabha as a MLA was excellent as he touched on not only issues of his constituency but of entire Goa. Looking at the current political scenario in Goa, the Goan public is feeling the loss of this mass leader who in a way could have provided a credible face to lead Goa at state or national level. He had that calibre and the people of Goa, especially the Bahujan Samaj, looked up to him,” he says.

A true inspiration

Minister for Art and Culture Govind Gaude meanwhile credits Wagh for being the inspiration behind him becoming a politician. “He guided my steps in this direction in the most natural manner just like he helped me in theatre,” says Gaude who acted as Shivaji in Wagh’s play ‘Shiv Gomantak’.

He further hails Wagh as a great theatre personality who contributed immensely to Goa in the field of art, culture and literature. “As his name suggests, Vishnu named after God Vishnu is the ultimate truth, and he always upheld the truth. He never shied away from voicing his opinions through his talent and skill. He was a bright and glittering star and shined in all spheres. And just like a tiger ‘wagh’ he would speak up for the identity of Goa. As chairman of Kala Academy he initiated several programmes to bring forth poetry and literature to the people of Goa,” he says.

Crusader of the masses

Author Damodar Mauzo remembers Wagh as a crusader of the masses. “He always championed the cause of the masses. His play ‘Tuka Abhanga Abhanga’ exposed the hypocrisy of the then Brahmin community that harassed Sant Tukaram because he openly criticised the priests who exploited people. His collection of poems ‘Sudhir Sukta’ in Konkani was an open attack on the othering factor clearly apparent among the upper castes that ill treated the masses- that were termed as profane and acerbic,” details Mauzo, adding that he followed a path that was non conformist.

“He wrote in the language of the masses as he experimented in folk forms like ‘sunvari’, ‘hovi’, ‘ladainha’, etc. Vishnu was an excellent performing poet and a gifted orator with command over several languages including Konkani, Marathi, English and Hindi,” he says.

And while they were fellow writers, Mauzo acknowledges that they had their differences too especially with regards to politics and their stand on Goa’s official language. “He supported the dual language formula to which I disagreed. We often argued on this topic. But our differences did not come in the way of our friendship,” says Mauzo.

More than a friend

Author Rajshree Bandodkar Karapurkar’s memories of Wagh go back to the college days.

“Vishnu, Mahesh and Sameer were the three consecutive general secretaries of the student’s council of Dhempe College of Arts and Science from 1985 to 1987. I was a close associate of the student council with lot of activities happening from the student’s side because of my brother Sameer. The college event ‘Creations’ started during our times and the three batches at that time emerged winners of ‘Happenings’,” he remembers, adding that Vishnu was a very creative person.  “It’s rare to find a genius of such high calibre. As the years passed by, he was known for his fearless journalism and meaningful speeches. I had immense respect for him,” he says.

The talented genius

Marathi writer and critic Somnath Komarpant was also an admirer of Wagh’s literary talent. “I knew his father and I remember Vishnu since 1973 when he came along as a student. He had great acting and literary talent. He also had a mastery over Marathi and I keenly observed his outstanding oratory skills. I knew he was a genius after I read his poems. His drama writing skills were commendable, specially ‘Tuka Abhang Abhang’, ‘Shiv Gomantak’ and those on social issues,” he says, while also crediting him for bringing glory to Hauns Natya Mandal in Ponda.

“Wagh was able to capture hearts as a bright star. I was delighted to write a biographical note on my friend Vishnu Wagh, in Shriram Pandurang Kamat’s ‘Vishwacharitrakosha’,” he adds.

Of greatness

Chairman, Goa State Pollution Control Board and close friend Ganesh Shetgaokar states that it was because of Wagh that they got recognition on the stage.

“He was an intellectual and there will never be another person like him who displayed superiority in various aspects. It was in his companionship that people like me reached somewhere in our careers,” he says.

In honour of late Vishnu Wagh

‘Vishnumay Jag’ will be held at 4 p.m. at Dinanath Mangeshkar Kala Mandir. The programme will be inaugurated by minister for art and culture and chairman of Kala Academy, Govind Gaude and poet and district collector of Sindhudurg, Dilip Pandharpatte.

There will be a variety of programmes on poetry recitation, ‘geet gayan’, skits from the plays of late Vishnu Wagh, monologues and a ‘Nandi’ presentation by Pralhad Hadfadkar and chorus artists. ‘Kavyanubhav’ – selected poems of Wagh will be also recited, while a programme ‘Bhavrangi Vishnu’ conceptualised by music composer Ajay Naik from the lyrics written by Wagh will be presented by vocalists with instrumental accompaniment.

The evening will also include ‘Mazya Matiche Gayan’, a programme of songs of late Wagh having a touch of the original Goan flavour, and ‘Waghnatya’ – a programme of skits presented from selected plays written by Wagh. These will include ‘Shiv Gomantak’ presented by Siddhi Nandan Theatres, Nagueshi; ‘Tuka Abhang Abhang’ by Rudreshwar, Panaji; ‘Suvari’ by Ravalnath Prasadik Natyamandal, Nagueshi; ‘Alakh Niranjan’ by ex-artists of Repertory Company of Kala Academy.

A few monologues will also be presented from the plays of Wagh by artistes Umesh Parab (‘Shabdkund’), Mahendra Shirodkar (‘Adityachakshu’), and Shradha Gawandi (‘Bai Me Dagud Fodte’).

Besides this, the literature of late Vishnu Wagh including plays, novels, and poetry will be displayed at an exhibition by Nilesh Bugde in the foyer area of Kala Academy.(Open to all)

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