Feb 272019
 

Today is Marathi Language Day (मराठी दिन, मराठी दिवस), celebrated every year across the Indian states of Maharashtra and Goa. It is celebrated on the birthday of eminent Marathi Poet Vishnu Vāman Shirwādkar. Vishnu Vāman Shirwādkar (27th February 1912 – 10th March 1999), popularly known by his pen name, Kusumāgraj, was a poet, playwright, novelist, short story writer, as well as a humanist. who wrote of freedom, justice and emancipation of the deprived

Kusumagraj was born in Pune as Gajanan Ranganath Shirwadkar. Upon being adopted, his name was changed to Vishnu Waman Shirwadkar. He pursued his primary education in Pimpalgaon and high school education in the New English School of Nashik, which is now called J.S. Rungtha High School of Nashik. He then entered Mumbai University. In 1932, at the age of 20, Shirwadkar participated in a satyagraha (non-violent protest) to support the demand for allowing the entry of untouchables into Kalaram Temple at Nashik. In 1933, Shirwadkar established the Dhruv Mandal (ध्रुव मंडळ ) and started writing in a newspaper called Nava Manu (नवा मनू). In the same year, his first collection of poems, Jeevanlahari (जीवन लहरी), was published. In 1934, Shirwadkar obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Marathi and English languages, from the H. P. T. College in Nashik.

Shirwadkar joined Godavari Cinetone Ltd. in 1936 and wrote the screenplay for the movie Sati Sulochana (सती सुलोचना). He also acted in the movie as Lord Lakshmana. However, the film was not a success. He later worked as a journalist. He wrote in periodicals such as Saptahik Prabha (साप्ताहिक प्रभा), Dainik Prabhat (दैनिक प्रभात), Saarathi (सारथी), Dhanurdari (धनुर्धारी), and Navayug (नवयुग). 1942 was a turning point in his career as the father-figure of Marathi literature, Vishnu Sakharam Khandekar, published Kusumgraj’s compilation of poetry, Vishakha (विशाखा), at his own expense, and in his preface describing Kusumagraj as a poet of humanity, writing, “His words manifest social discontent but retain the optimistic conviction that the old world was giving way to a new one.” Its publication coincided with the Quit India Movement, and carried the message of freedom and opposition to oppression. His words became popular with young men and women of the region.

After 1943, he started adapting the plays of giants, such as, Oscar Wilde, Moliere, Maurice Maeterlinck and Shakespeare, which played an important role in boosting Marathi theatre of the period. This continued into the 1970s when his masterpiece Natsamrat, styled after Shakespeare’s play King Lear, was first staged in 1970. In 1946, he wrote his first novel Vaishnav (वैष्णव) and his first play Doorche Dive (दूरचे दिवे). From 1946 to 1948, he also edited a weekly called Swadesh (स्वदेश). In 1954, he adapted Shakespeare’s Macbeth as Rajmukut (राजमुकुट), ‘The Royal Crown’ to Marathi. It starred Nanasaheb Phatak and Durga Khote (Lady Macbeth). He also adapted Othello in 1960. He also worked as a lyricist in Marathi cinema.

He had a keen social sense and championed the cause of the downtrodden. In 1950, he founded the Lokahitawādi Mandal (लोकहितवादी; organization for social good) in Nashik which is still in existence. He also edited academic textbooks for school students. His work reflected the changing social milieu, from being the reflection of national uprising during Indian freedom struggle and in the post-independence era it got steeped into rising social-consciousness amongst Marathi writers, which marked the advent of modern Dalit literature.

He died on 10th March 1999 in Nashik, where his home also served as the office of the ‘Kusumāgraj Pratishthān.

The Marathi-speaking region covers Goa, home to my favorite curry, vindaloo. But I have given three different recipes for vindaloo already, so I should move to the mainland. The cooking of Maharashtra is known as Malvani cuisine. Malvani cuisine uses coconut liberally in various forms such as grated, dry-grated, fried, coconut paste and coconut milk. Many masalas have dried red chilies and other spices like coriander seeds, peppercorns, cumin, cardamom, ginger and garlic. Some dishes also use kokum fruit, dried kokam (amsul), tamarind, and raw mango (kairi). The Malvani masala, a form of dried powder masala, is a combination of up to 15 or 16 dry spices that can be bought commercially (like garam masala), or made at home. Homemade varies from cook to cook. This masala is coarsely ground and stored in jars to be used when required. This recipe uses a slightly simplified version for a classic Malvani chicken dish.

Malvani Chicken

Ingredients

1 kg chicken (cut into medium sized pieces)
3 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil
3 onions, peeled and finely chopped
grated coconut
chopped fresh cilantro

For the malvani masala:

1 bay leaf
½ nutmeg
6-7 cloves
6-7 dry red chiles
10 black peppercorns
1 large cinnamon stick
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp red chilli powder
½ tsp turmeric powder

for the coconut masala paste:

3 green chiles
5-6 garlic cloves, peeled
1 coconut, grated
¾ inch ginger

Instructions

Heat a large heavy skillet over medium heat and roast all the ingredients of the Malvani masala until they are aromatic. Coarsely grind them. (I use a coffee grinder).

Grind all the ingredients of the coconut masala into a paste. You can use a mortar and pestle or a food processor.

In a large, heavy pot, heat the ghee over medium heat, add the onions and the ground coconut masala and cook for 10 minutes. Add 3-4 tsp of the ground Malvani masala, and chicken pieces, and cover with water (or stock). Cover and simmer for about 40 mins or until the chicken is tender. The sauce will thicken in the cooking process.

Garnish with chopped coriander leaves and grated coconut, and serve with plain basmati rice and Indian flatbread.

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