Nandkumar M Kamat
On the last occasion when I met him at a private hospital, he recognised me and tried to speak but he couldn’t say anything. His son sitting near his feet said, “he has recognised you, uncle”. I held Vishnu’s hand as he was staring at me with wide eyes with a sparkle in them – it was hand of friendship that goes beyond description as I would permanently miss him from my life.
I touched his forehead spontaneously as the moment was emotionally burdening me– while holding back a dam of tears, as we tried to connect without any words. I had found his new ‘avatar’ amusing when in an unofficial “reception’ to launch a new innings in his family life at Kala academy he had invoked my caste and had given me a certificate as one of his “good GSB friends”.
I could imagine the new trajectory of Vishnu’s life since then and could feel that he would drift away from all his old friends in Goa’s student and youth movement. Missing him for many years, my ailing mother who served him lunch during his occasional visits to our house used to ask me- “when your friend Vishnu would come again to visit us”. Now totally senile and bedridden at the age of 85, my mother won’t understand if I try to tell her, “Aai, to ata kennach yevacho na (he would never visit us again)”.
To the generation of Goa addicted to digital world, Vishnu Wagh would remain just a search term, one more matter of curiosity on internet and a popular topic on social media. Vishnu never recovered after August 2016. He had dismissed me every time when I brought up the topic of lifestyle related risks to his health. The tragic end of Vishnu Surya Naik Wagh in an alien location under seemingly bizarre circumstances was an anti-thesis to every word that he had spoken emphatically during the public meeting held in Panaji under late Amrut Kansar to condole the brutal murder of social reformist Narendra Dabholkar.
Vishnu as I knew him since 1983 debunked all dogmas and superstitions. He didn’t even accept notions of heaven and hell. He was an iconoclast, a rebel with a definite cause of social engineering, for transferring power structure from the classes to the masses, the downtrodden and the voiceless subalterns while daring to invoke Gandhi, Phule, Ambedkar, Che Guevara, Savarkar and Vivekananda at the same time. He had the unique ability to take the best from lives and works of great personalities and weave stories to impress the audience. But I noticed that in his 40s he found great comfort in Maharashtrian Saint Tukaram.
I would never be able to write anything openly, truthfully or speak publicly on Vishnu Surya Naik Wagh of Dongri because certain aspects of his life can never be shared and these need to die a natural death in the interest of his family and the society. After a very agonising and traumatic phase in his life Vishnu bounced back like sage Valmiki and never looked back as he began to sublimate his trauma and found new, original idioms in prose and poetry, theatre and oratory.
I knew the real roots of his anger and pathos and he knew that only I could do justice to his writings because when nobody had even dared to open his iconic Konkani poetry collection ‘Sudirsukt’ on March 25, 2013, I had written about it in this column which had concluded with these words- “Vishnu Surya Wagh has come a very long way without any literary or political godfather. He has seen testing, trying and very hard times. This pain permeates in his poetry, drama, artworks and speeches. Goa’s youth need to make a public reading of Sudirsukt to empathetically internalise Vishnu’s iconic agony and ecstasy. Goa needs to be liberated from casteism, orthodoxy and dogmatism’.
To me and many alumni of Panaji’s Dhempe College of Arts and Science which taught us good values, discipline, sense of social service and leadership, Vishnu would always remain as a role model. As a general secretary of the college he had launched- ‘Creations’, a unique intercollegiate cultural festival. By 1983 Vishnu had already established himself as a born artist, poet and orator.
In our movement against the private Vodithala trust’s capitation fee based engineering college and anti-ragging agitation he played a stellar role. But I could see his approach to common people when we did a house-to-house survey of ST families of Markaim canoe capsize tragedy in June 1984. He displayed his talent at the three-day residential youth camp organised at Kala Akademy during International Youth year, 1985. In June 1986, noted artist Surya Wagh, his father met me to discuss his future education. On my recommendation Vishnu joined the M.Sc course in Microbiology at Goa University.
I lent him my books and encouraged him to study Russian writers and poets. I told him to read Pushkin and gifted my copy of Russian poet Valdimir Maikowsky. Vishnu had to terminate his post graduation after two traumatic incidents- death of his father and the violent language agitation which followed immediately. He was almost unapproachable for two years. With much persuasion and help from some well wishers we got him a break in journalism at Belgaum and subsequently he flourished and created his own space in Marathi press and literature.
He found much better audience in Maharashtra and when he returned to Goa his mind was made to reach the state assembly. We were working together to find a permanent solution to the mismanagement of Khazan lands but the BJP government developed cold feet when the model official bill was ready to be tabled in the assembly. He had drawn up a plan to complete two irrigation projects at Siridao to irrigate vast khazan lands at Bhatim, Santana-Talaulim.
He was first MLA of St. Andre to get the famous “tovshyachem fest” or feast of cucumbers at Saint Anne church declared as a state sponsored event. Anyone visiting the picturesque spot of Chapel of Jesus Nazareth at Siridao can see the beautification work he had done to protect and project the ancient place of pilgrimage. When I visit the sunset point below the Nazareth chapel, I know Vishnu’s spirit would be there to capture the ecstasy and paint it on mysterious canvas of the unknown.