Dr Mangesh V Nadkarni
Prof Mangesh V Nadkarni: 6 March 1933-23 September 2007—A Tribute by Ranjan Naik
Prof Mangesh V Nadkarni: Thanks to Sucheta for sending this picture of her father giving a lecture on Savitri. On 6 March 2009 Mangesh V Nadkarni would have been 76, but destiny hastened to take him on another path of progress unknown to us. Here is a short tribute to him from his fond admirer Ranjan Naik.
Nadkarni had his first Darshan of the Mother in 1956. At that time the Mother was very active and he must have seen her in the Playground and the Tennis Ground on the sea-beach. After marriage, he and his wife Mira came first to the Ashram in 1961 when they had the Terrace Darshan. In 1966 they together went to the Mother and had received Blessings directly from her. Their younger daughter Sucheta was educated in the Ashram school in New Delhi. MVN came back from Singapore in 1992 and lived in Secundrabad. He used to visit Pondicherry very often for extended stay and later got settled down here. It is here that his Savitri-sessions started becoming famous, wide-ranging as his presentations always were. My own personal contact with the Nadkarnis was since 1992. My wife and Mrs Nadkarni are great friends. ~ RYD
It is with a heavy heart, full of feelings, that I am writing this note to express my reverence to the great departed soul, Professor Mangesh Vithal Nadkarni who was a legend himself and who hailed from my great village. I am presenting here what I fetched from several sources, from friends and relatives.
“God does not take away knowledge from people directly but He takes away the scholars and consequently takes away knowledge along with them,”—such is the saying we could apply to our learned and beloved Professor, Mangesh Vithal Nadkarni.
Mangesh’s parents were from Bankikodla-Hanehalli village. Bankikodla-Hanehalli village in the western part of South India is considered as a twin village in a kind of a valley shaped by the western Sahyadri Mountains and the Arabian Sea. The spectacular rivers Gangavali and Aghanashini hop this village on its two shoulders. During heavy Monsoons this village could be a frail and shallow village with ponds and puddles, and vulnerable bridges all-around. The village has a fine community consisting of different parishioners. It is set in a well-off culture and education. The village has given birth to several teachers, writers, engineers, entrepreneurs, scientists, physicians, philosophers and performers. One of the leading Kannada fiction writers, and also an academy award winner, Yashavant Vithoba Chital hailed from this village. Yashavant’s elder brother Gangadhar ranked first in the school leaving examination in the then presidency of Bombay which included current states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, part of Karnataka, and part of Madhya Pradesh.
Nadkarnis are Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmins. This Brahmin community is believed to have lived once on the banks of the River Saraswati in northern Hindustan. Mangesh was born on 6 March 1933 at Kodibagh, an outskirt of Karwar town. Here the River Kali meets the Arabian Sea on her way, rendering stunning and spectacular scenery all around. He was the eldest child among the seven children of Vithal Nadkarni. Vithal and his wife Shanta were kind hearted, of helping nature. So were their children. Vithal was born in Gokarna, in a joint family estate. As Vithal came from a rich landlord family, he spent most of his time looking after the estate. However, the Tenancy Act fell on them as an axe and they lost land properties. With it education became the only source to shape their life and career. Mangesh’s mother Shanta was from a Kaushik family, with a maiden name Indira; she was also a Chitrapur Saraswat. Indira had lost her parents in her childhood and was brought up by her cousin, Subrao Kaushik in Kodibag. Indira Kaushik had her education in Marathi at Karwar, where she was born and brought up. After her marriage, which took place on 31 December 1931 at Karwar, Vithal and Shanta (Indira’s name after marriage) Nadkarni decided to migrate to Bankikodla, just at a stone’s throw from Gokarna. Vithal Nadkarni was a life member of the Rural Education Society, which still runs and manages the Anandashram High school built by the Chitrapur Saraswats; it continues to keep the light of knowledge burning in that village, and also in the neighboring villages.
After Mangesh’s primary education (4th grade) in Bankikodla, he joined the then English Middle School Bankikodla in June 1943 where the Head Master was Datta-master (Nadkarni). In the Kannada Primary School my maternal grandfather, Bommayya-master from Mogta village, was his 4th grade teacher. I heard that my grandfather would walk from his village, take food at Nadkarni’s house, and go to school with Mangesh. Both had a very close bond of affection. Throughout his school life Mangesh was not only very reflective, but was also an able sportsman; he was a golden-boy. As an athlete, Mangesh earned many prizes during our school’s annual gathering sports events. His forte was Volley Ball which brought him many laurels, not just during school but also during college days.
While in his High School, he took part in Yakshagan also; Yakshagana is a kind of a theater popular in Southern India in which are played important rolls of Lord Krishna, in Krishna-Sandhan, and Karna a warrior son of Kunti Devi, in Karna-Arjun Kalaga (fight) of the Mahabharata. Mangesh’s younger brothers, Bhaskar and Sundar, continued his legacy, carrying his aroma. Sundar was a Professor of English at Ananad College, Gujarat. He also authored literary criticism and essays in Kannada and received several prestigious awards and honours. In a way, Mangesh did influence Sundar’s career as a Kannada writer and as a professor of English. Mangesh proved himself an ace orator and earned many laurels, including those in elocution competitions. This gift immensely helped him during college days and further in his later life. Mangesh passed School leaving examination in first class and his score of 79% in English was considered praiseworthy during those days. At high school, he was a student of Subbanna-master of Hubli, an academy award winner in poetry and also the winner of the best teacher award from the government.
After passing the examination in 1949 from Anandashram High School Bankikodla, Mangesh joined Rajaram College at Kolhapur. Gourish Kaikini, who authored literary criticism and essays in Kannada and who was awarded several prestigious awards and honors, was Mangeh’s teacher. My father, Nagesh S Naik, taught Mangesh Science in the senior years. Mangesh would always call upon my father, his friends and his teachers whenever he visited the village. Though I was born later, after Mangesh’s high school graduation, I heard all these stories about him from my father; also from my mother Kamala and from the villagers. What my mother told me, about the role models from my village, had a fairy-tale quality and it motivated me greatly.
During the early 1950s, my parents, including my paternal grandmother, were Vithal Nadkarni’s next-door neighbours at Bankikodla. My mother was a good friend of Shanta Nadkarni, in that village they working for Mahila Mandal and Satya Saibaba Samiti. Bhaskar and Mangesh played games with my father and walked together to seashore during the time my father was a college student. Later they became students of my father in Bankikodla High School. In the school, head master R V Pandit, from Ratnagiri, taught Mathematics to Mangesh. D G Bhat, from the Chitrapur Saraswat community of Bankikodla, was Mangesh’s classmate; later Bhat retired as a comptroller of Lube India. The other noted classmate was K G Naik who was my principal at the college in Ankola where I studied. K G Naik from my village was also a Professor of Mathematics at Karnataka College Dharwar. K G Naik and D G Bhat are no more. Mangesh’s other classmates retired as teachers in neighboring villages and towns.
Mangesh Nadkarni completed his under-graduation with English as major subject under the tutelage of Dr. V. K. Gokak, an academy award winner and Principal of Rajaram College, Kolhapur. Nadkarni got his post-graduation degree in the year 1956 from Pune University. He took up a job as a lecturer of English in Commerce College at Rajkot. In 1959 he joined Nalini and Arvind Arts College. Gujarat.
Mangesh married Mira Mallapur at Talmaki Wadi at Grant Road, Mumbai, on 21 January 1961. Mira was born and raised at Grant Road. She had her early education at St. Colombo High School and then college education at Wilson College. She was working with Union Bank of India; however after the marriage she resigned from the Bank and went to Anand in Gujarat to be with Mangesh. During her stay at Anand, she continued her post-graduation studies in History and Social Studies and came out with an outstanding result in the M.A. examination; in fact she secured the Gold Medal by standing First-Class-First in the University of Gujarat.
In 1962 Mangesh was chosen from his college as a foreign language student to study English in the Central Institute of English at Hyderabad. Mangesh ranked 1st in the examination. Considering his feat, he was offered a job in the same Institute, which he joined in June 1963. This Institute sent him to the University of California, Los Angeles, to get his Doctorate in Linguistics, which he completed in 1970. During this time Mira Nadkarni was teaching History in one of the school districts of California. It is here that they were blessed with their first child Nandita. I still remember Nadkarni’s parents back home in our village showing the photo of their granddaughter to my parents. I would say it is the first coloured photograph I had ever seen.
After returning to India, in the year 1970, Dr. Nadkarni stayed on the Osmania University campus at Hyderabad, working for the Central Institute of English from 1970 to 1984. It is interesting to note that later his English and Kannada teacher Ekkundi-master in Bankikodla High School came to Hyderabad on a training programmme at the same Institute, thus becoming a student of his earlier student for one year. I was then an 8th grader from the same high school in Bankikodla.
In June 1984 Dr. Nadkarni was selected and appointed as a Professor of English in the National University of Singapore. In the same year, I happened to be in Hyderabad visiting Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd on an assignment from the TCS Mumbai, then Tata Burroughs. I called him from a hotel in Hyderabad. He invited me to attend the Ganesh Puja at his house on the University campus. This was not the first time I met him in person. Earlier, I had met him in 1973 at his brothers’ house in Borivali, Mumbai. As he had just returned from the USA, he narrated to us his experiences at the UCLA with great relish. At his house in Hyderabad, Nadkarni celebrated the Ganesh Puja the way his parents did in Bankikodla. He managed to get right idols of Ganesh, Gouri and Ganesh’s vehicle, Mouse. I was quite surprised to see these idols, because Ganesh festival in Hyderabad is not that popular as in Mumbai, Karwar and Bankikodla. I enjoyed talking to him and his family for hours. He looked very bright and his vibrant metal-tone voice impressed me much. I was given the Prasadam. Now my visit to him at Hyderabad turns out to be the last meeting with him.
A few days later, my wife Jayalaxmi and I (with our little one-year old son) decided to drop in at Dr. M V Nadkarni’s house. But the family had gone out somewhere, except his daughter Nandita. Not too long after that, they left for Singapore. In Singapore, Dr. Nadkarni successfully completed his teaching and research assignments and returned to India in the year 1992. He spent his retired life in Secunderabad and Pondicherry.
Nadkarni dedicated his retired life, till he breathed his last in the early hours of 23 September 2007, for the cause of Sri Aurobindo’s work, particularly giving discourses on the epic Savitri. This is a poem which is quite difficult for a layman to understand; but Nadkarni was a master expounder and could take it with ease and grace to larger audiences. He travelled extensively throughout the US, Europe and the Far East, not the least length and breadth of India, carrying Savitri with him. In spite of his heart bypass surgery that was done in Delhi in 1995, he did not seem to slow down his activities and hectic schedules. This is how he kept himself busy in a dedicated and purposeful manner.
Nadkarni was always cool and had a well-balanced persona. He was always ready in attending family needs. The crown of their family and the best friend of the friends of his village, he helped everyone. Villagers from Bankikodla-Hanehalli and the neighbouring villages would remember him as a friend, scholar, writer, performer, teacher, role model and a preacher of Sri Aurobindo and, to top all, a perfect all-rounder. Last May, in 2007, he stayed with his younger brothers, Bhaskar and Appa, in Mumbai for about five-six days; this was during the house warming ceremony of Bhaskar’s son Amogh. Later, in mid-July 2007, he visited his village on the way from Bangalore. That time, while he was in Bangalore, after two long decades, I bumped him on his cell phone from the USA. He could not identify me for a second, but understood when I told him that I was the second son of his beloved high school teacher N. S. Naik. He inquired about his teacher, my beloved father. I whispered into his ears that I would love to meet him this time in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and attend his talks on Savitri. In Bankikodla, Nadkarni met several villagers, his old friends and relatives. He stayed at his youngest sibling Jaya’s house in Kumta, a town near to his village. His younger daughter Sucheta, son-in-Law Padmanabh, and grandson Pranav who live now in New Jersey had accompanied him. It was Dr. Nadkarni’s inspiration to show to his grandson the milieu of Bankikodla where he—the grandfather—was born and raised. His two daughters are well settled in the US.
Mangesh Nadkarni’s body was cremated in Pondicherry, in the tradition of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. But the last religious rites were performed at Bankikodla Matt of Chitrapur Saraswats’ Vaikuntha Samaradhane; this was done on the 4th October. His old friends and people from the Saraswat community, including his relatives from the neighbouring town Gokarna had gathered to pay the final respect and obituary to the departed legend. May Dear Mangesh’s soul rest in peace!
Remembering my Uncle Dr Mangesh V Nadkarni—By Shodhan B Nadkarni
Dr Mangesh V Nadkarni (1933-2007) was my dearest Mhantu who inspired me like many others from within. He was born in Bankikodla, a little village in coastal Karnataka, which is the most picturesque part of the west coast where the Sahyadri Mountains hug the Arabian Sea. Literature, folk art, spiritual lore, music and sports kept him enthralled during his school days.
His teachers in secondary school gave impetus to his imagination and taught him to perceive the sheer excitement of ideas, leading him to the path of his inner quest. Dr Nadkarni had a brilliant academic career and completed his Post-graduation in English Literature from Rajaram College, Kolhapur, and began his teaching career in Rajkot. Later, he moved to Anand where he was Professor of English in Nalini Arts College. During his college career, he was a student of Professor V K Gokak, an outstanding man of letters, an educationist and a great teacher of literature who influenced Dr Nadkarni towards Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy.
Dr Nadkarni did his PhD in Phonetics from California, USA, and was Professor of Linguistics at the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad. He later taught at the National University of Singapore.
The influence of Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy on him was gradual and he found it intellectually most liberating and satisfying. He was a Yogi on the path of continuous progress, and a renowned exponent of the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. He lectured extensively in India and abroad on Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy and vision.
Dr Nadkarni was a master of the English language and spoke brilliantly on Savitri, a 24,000-verse epic poem by Sri Aurobindo. The poem recounts the saga of human victory over ignorance and the conquest of death. Reading Savitri is itself considered a practice of integral yoga and a potent vehicle of aspiration. Dr Nadkarni inculcated Savitri as a mantra in his life.
Had it not been destiny’s cruel blow which snatched away our beloved uncle from our midst, we were planning to celebrate, on a grand scale, the completion of 75 years on his birthday on 6 March 2008. But, fate willed otherwise, leaving me to write this article in his remembrance.
He will be remembered for his vast knowledge, eloquence, sense of humour, melodious voice, smiling face and a magnetic, lovable personality. He was the personification of Sweetness and Light and carried an aura of Ananda with him. The soul incubates in the body as the bird in the egg; cracking the shell, the bird waddles away. Lament for the shell or rejoice for the baby bird? My prayers to the Divine Mother to take his soul in Her arms to its heavenly abode.
Prof Nadkarni, we do hear you—by Amartya Kumar Dutta
How to record my impressions about Prof Nadkarni’s talks and their impact on me? Words seem to distort the true feelings. But I see Nirodbaran’s gentle smile. He has accurately formulated what I feel but cannot express:
As much as the talks it was the atmosphere created by them that was the magnet. I felt a Presence pervading the room. The reason that struck me for it, if any reason can be given for an occult phenomenon, is that, by the lecturer’s own admission, Savitri was a madness and a passion with him. If that was so, the Aurobindonian “God-touch” was bound to be there. And the passion was felt in every word, each expression of his, either in interpretation or in elucidation or in reading of relevant passages. This made everything living. His fluent, spontaneous delivery with a masterly command over the language combined with his easy and simple manner accounted further for the Presence, and the great success resulting from it came extra graceful because of his handsome appearance.
Nirodbaran made the above observations on Dr Nadkarni’s talks on Savitri in his valedictory speech at the Society Beach Office. 1 In a simple compact passage, Nirod-da has described the quintessential features of Nadkarni’s sessions on Savitri. It explains the vibrant and sublime delight that we used to feel during his talks. As Nirod-da remarks in the concluding part of his speech: “He [Dr Nadkarni] has made us enter into the divine beauty of Savitri.”
Nirod-da says that it is not that Prof Nadkarni opened any magic casement on Savitri; he spoke of the usual themes: the Divine’s Love for humanity, of the Truth, Beauty and Felicity at the core of the universe, the great promise held forth by the Poet about the human race while notable thinkers were beset with gloom and saw nothing but absolute failure for it. But what made his talks special was the unfailing energy and conviction with which such familiar themes were brought home to us in the audience. Nirod-da also emphasises the importance of Savitri recitation:
One thing especially I learnt from his talk: that to enjoy poetry, one must read it aloud. Particularly great spiritual poetry like Savitri, full of mantric vibrations, cannot be appreciated by a mute reading. Sri Aurobindo, I am told, read aloud not only to the Mother but also to himself what he had written. Dr Nadkarni brought a fine ringing voice to his recitation.
The entire speech is reproduced in the August 1990 issue of Mother India.
In his inimitable style, Nirod-da then gives an occult allegory involving the author of Savitri, its scribe and its messenger. Seeing that the world is in a big mess, Lord Vishnu called for Narada in Heaven and announced his plan to take birth as a poet and compose an unprecedented epic whose mantric utterance will bring about a great change in the consciousness of the world and give it hope and courage. Narada was to accompany the Lord as a scribe. Lord Vishnu also told him that
…one day you will meet a remarkable person who, steeped in the lore of Savitri, will be spreading its message in the dark corners of the globe. He will seek you out and you will recognise each other as kindred souls.
I would now like to share my thoughts on the role of the messenger. Mangesh Nadkarni was a sadhak but he deliberately confined his study camps and lectures to an apparently intellectual approach to the study of Sri Aurobindo using primarily the language and idiom prevalent in the contemporary academic and cultural world. Dr Nadkarni’s task was focused: to spread something of Sri Aurobindo’s consciousness to “dark corners” of a certain type: the shallow confused minds in contemporary intellectual circuits, the modern versions of the Philistine so vividly described by Sri Aurobindo in The Human Cycle. He had a rich sense of humour and irony which he used to judiciously make sure that the audience do not lose their concentration.
There was a cultured aggression in his approach. Did not Sri Aurobindo say in a certain context: “Knowledge must be aggressive, if it wishes to survive and perpetuate itself…”
Dr Nadkarni was to rescue and restore some receptive minds before they get putrefied by the asuras in the mental world. For this mission, Prof Nadkarni’s academic achievements, professional stature, sharp intellect, vast scholarship and impressive personality made him a powerful warrior in the services of the Mother.
To those of us who are raw aspirants and students of Sri Aurobindo, staying geographically away from Pondicherry in an ambience that is mentally active but spiritually underdeveloped, Nadkarni’s lectures have imparted a clarity of thought and strength of intellect and made it possible that we hold more of Sri Aurobindo at least by way of intellectual illumination. This holds not only for his camps on Savitri and Gita but also on his thought-provoking talks and writings on miscellaneous themes like the Indian intelligentsia, the ideal of the Rishi and the ideal of the monk, India’s Destiny, and so on.
To illustrate the role played by Prof Nadkarni, I mention a few of my own experiences. During the early 1990s, I was doing my PhD in mathematics at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (Mumbai). Somehow I happened to visit the Churchgate centre in Mumbai, a quiet centre for meditation and silent study without much of outward activity. I got drawn to the centre and began visiting it as and when I could.
I used to read at random the Ashram and Society journals and booklets. It was at this juncture that Prof Nadkarni delivered a series of lectures on Savitri, at Mumbai, in September 1993. That was the first time I heard anyone speak on Sri Aurobindo’s work for a considerable length. Prof Nadkarni’s sessions provided a quick coherent overview of the epic and Sri Aurobindo’s work about which I was having only some diffused ideas through occasional and haphazard studies. It was as if someone knocking at the periphery was brought close to the centre-stage.
And, further, he became largely influential in infusing a bit of Sri Aurobindonian dynamism in my intellectual personality. Initially the two aspects of my life were sort of partitioned: there was the Churchgate-centred life which gave a sense of quiet inner joy; but there was the professional world of science where spirituality was taboo and one had to, as it were, hide such leanings to avoid ridicule. But then gradually the shyness and timidity gave way to a bold intellectual robustness. The compartmentalisation disappeared. And no longer did the achievers in science and academics have any stifling effect on me by their attitude to spheres outside their provinces of expertise. As I look back upon the human influences which made the change possible, Nadkarni’s visit to Mumbai was a definite turning point. It got further consolidated by my subsequent visits to Pondicherry and meetings with sadhaks like Nirod-da and Arindam-da.
Those of us in the outside world, who have got identified as devotees of Sri Aurobindo in our respective social and professional world, have a responsibility to represent the ideals and works of Sri Aurobindo as faithfully as possible. We have to do it in two ways: whenever the occasion arises in our academic and social interactions, we have to accurately represent Sri Aurobindo’s perspectives before people unfamiliar with his vision; and, more importantly, we have to become worthy examples of his influence. And, in this regard, Prof Nadkarni has been an example before us—at least for those of us in the “highly qualified” academic circles.
The name “Nadkarni” stirs up not only the image of a gifted orator, a grand scholar and a bold and forthright commentator, but also the image of a kind human being who had been exceptionally considerate to all his acquaintances, irrespective of their stature. It is a joy to recall little incidents of interactions. I mention one.
I used to attend his Savitri camps in Mumbai in September 1993 and May 1994—but at that time I did not have any interaction with him. In May 1995, I was on a short visit to Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. One morning, I visited Sri Aurobindo Bhavan at Bangalore and was pleasantly surprised to discover that there would be a talk by Nadkarni in the evening. I went for the lecture well before time. People at the Bhavan knew each other; however, I did not know anyone there.
Nadkarni noticed me in the Bhavan complex, recognised me (not as an acquaintance but as a member of his Mumbai audience) and struck a conversation with me. He talked as if with someone long acquainted with him; he also enquired about my professional work. The programme began at the scheduled time. And Nadkarni began his lecture by telling the audience that they might not be aware that they have amidst them a young… and introduced me in glowing terms. In one stroke a non-entity—who was a complete outsider in the Bhavan complex, almost a trespasser—became an honoured Guest! That is Mangesh Nadkarni.
Nadkarni was not only a great speaker, he was also a keen listener. During my visits to Pondicherry, I had opportunities of brief meetings with him. We had various discussions, especially on issues about which he was quite concerned. He used to listen with all seriousness whatever an immature youngster had to say.
We are now reconciled to putting the prefix “Late” before his name, but it is difficult to believe that Mangesh Nadkarni is no more with us. But then is it really true for us, the students of Sri Aurobindo who have been fortunate to hear him? In the context of the Mother’s statements on the Supramental Manifestation, do we not hear his anguish: why do we act as if she has not made the statements? Do we not hear his “ringing voice” repeatedly remind us that our consciousness gets purified in the atmosphere of Savitri, that every word of Savitri has a vibration of optimism, joy and love, that behind the words there is a Force to realise the words, to make them come true, that Savitriis the key to feel the presence of Sri Aurobindo, that the text vibrates with Sri Aurobindo’s consciousness!
There is a saying that the Bhagavat begins where the Gita ends. In one of his talks, Dr Nadkarni once referred to the two aspects of the legacy of Sri Krishna: (1) the author of Gita, and (2) the Flute-Player. And he drew an analogy: while The Life Divine and other major works (of the Arya-phase) give the gospel of Sri Aurobindo, Savitri is the playing of His Flute. To those of us who have participated in his camps, Dr Nadkarni ceaselessly beckons us to wake up from our slumber and listen to the Flute.
MVN’s last visit to Savitri Bhavan