C. Gangadharan Menon
Guest Article

Obituary: Shantaram Pawar: A Tribute to my Dronacharya

Ex-adman and author Gangadharan Menon pens a memoir.

Poet, illustrator, designer, advertising professional and art teacher Shantaram Pawar, passed away peacefully on August 9, 2018. He was a week away from his 84th birthday. He is survived by his three daughters, Gauri, Gargi and Gitalie, and two generations of students.

While he was teaching at Sir J.J. Institute, Shantaram Pawar created many Arjuns. After he finished with his teaching, he created an Ekalavya. Fortunately, in return for all that I have learnt from him, he never asked me for my thumb. And now he won't, because he's too fond of me.

Obituary: Shantaram Pawar: A Tribute to my Dronacharya

Shantaram Pawar

It's a quirk of fate that I didn't meet Pawar Sir till 1984. My teacher and friend Sadanand Rege and he were close. Every second day, Sadu spent the evening with Pawar Sir. And every second day, from 1976 to 1984, I too spent my evenings with Sadu. The only reason I never met Pawar Sir during those eight years is that the days I was with Sadu were not the days he was with Sadu!

In 1984, Pawar Sir came to Trikaya to take a brief for the illustrations for a campaign for IPCL.

After reading the campaign, Pawar Sir asked Nalesh Patil who the writer was. Nalesh said it was a new copywriter called Ganga, and Pawar Sir asked him to call me over. When I met him, he congratulated me for the writing. That day on I became his student.

I was a silent listener as he would sit with his 'practicing' students, and analyse and lay threadbare the various campaigns they had done - for the visualisation, typography and design. My study classes started in 1984. And they continued for 26 years, to this day. Over the years, these sessions became personal, one-to-one. And from 'informal' classrooms, they spilled over to art galleries and poetry sessions. Enhancing my aesthetics, and fine-tuning my critical appreciation of art, sculpture, photography, calligraphy, poetry. Or should I say life?

When you look back at the immense body of work that Shantaram Pawar has created over the last 50 years, you realise you cannot separate the man from the work.

A poem of his sums up his eternal quest and unquenchable thirst for knowledge, meaning, and the very reason of existence. 'Asaava dhag mathyaavar, yaksha prashnani bhaarlela; paakhdave tyane aag musaldhar, vizhu naye aayushyabhar.'

Shantaram Pawar tried to explore many avenues of art and its expressions, and left his indelible mark in every endeavour. From conceiving and executing gigantic murals to designing memorable book covers for leading figures in Marathi literature, to designing sets, to creating brands out of nothing, to creating some of the finest illustrations for both literary works and advertising campaigns - his repertoire is wide-ranging and all-encompassing.

This again reflects Shantaram, the man - a restless soul, forever searching for newer expressions and forever chiselling older ones. In his younger days, he worked for 18 hours non-stop; he worked like a bull. To him, spontaneity is the heart of creativity. He thought like a tribal artist, always guided by instinct and aware of the collective consciousness of art history.

Once while loitering on the beach at Shivaji Park, he thought of an illustrative idiom for Aadimaya, a collection of poems by Vinda Karandikar. He had to put pen to paper before he lost the vision. But there was no pen and no paper. As the waves of creativity splashed in his mind, he grabbed a floating driftwood and started drawing on the sands in a frenzy. Visual after visual of Aadimaya were soon scattered on the beach, only to be washed away in the high tide. But the act of scribbling it down etched it in Shantaram's mind; it reappeared on his scribbling pad, the next day.

Whichever field Shantaram chose to explore, he chose the finest minds to interact, engage and debate with. In design it was Bhai Patki, in advertising it was Kersi Katrak, in poetry the likes of Sadanand Rege, Manya Oak and Vinda, in theatre it was Vijay Tendulkar. These interactions sharpened his intellect. But many of today's artists and poets, unlike Shantaram, live in islands, create in islands, and die in their own islands.

Incessant discussions made Shantaram a fertile mind and a prolific creator. The stylistic idioms in his poetry range from lyrical romanticism to imagism to caustic sarcasm - you can't cast him into a stereotype unlike many contemporary poets who are trapped in their own Chakravyuha.

For every surviving poem of Shantaram, there would be ten others which never saw the light of day because he tore them to bits with the same contempt with which he tore the inferior visualisation attempts of his students, right in front of the incredulous eyes of the class. In fact, he never minced his words even when it came to assessing his students' aptitudes.

His rigorous and relentless training helped in the creation of many Arjuns. Arun Kale and Vikas Gaitonde blazed new trails in the world of advertising. His pioneering attempts at sensitising art students to copywriting created novelist Ashok Roy, and renowned screenplay writer Kamlesh Pandey. His constant encouragement gave birth to Avinash Godbole, who broke new ground in illustration and painting. His creation of 'Ya Mandali Saadar Karu Ya!' JJ's own theatre group, spawned a host of film-makers: Vinay Newalkar, Purushottam Berde and Raghuvir Kulkarni. His discussions on the nuances of poetry and art created poet Nalesh Patil and art critic Deepak Ghare. And the generosity with which he shared his knowledge created one of the finest art teachers of the next generation: Ranjan Joshi.

By organising the first and the last Art Jatra in his art college, he opened up the minds of many students to options other than advertising. When students, in gay abandon, created and sold anything they wished to create, they became aware of their potential in many allied fields of art, and realised for their own good, that advertising is not the be-all and end-all of applied art!

If Shantaram had the option, he would write with his right hand and paint with his left - simultaneously. And thus was born the concept of Chitrakar Kavi. One who is both an artist and a poet. When he first coined this phrase, it was - and is - misunderstood. The phrase Chitrakar Kavi isn't an artist by day and poet by night. If it was so, then there would also be Advocate Kavi, Architect Kavi and Doctor Kavi!

Chitrakar Kavi is a creative person who attempts to express the same thought or idea in two different art forms - painting through images and poetry through words. Shantaram Pawar was a Chitrakar Kavi.

(The author is an ex-advertising professional and present day travel writer, wildlife photographer and an art teacher at Rachana Sansad).

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