He ruled the screen and became an iconic figure of Indian cinema expressing angst of the society in his own effusive style. National awards, Filmfare and Padma Shri (India’s fourth highest civilian award) remain a crowning glory for his towering presence in every story he attempts to tell on the performing stage, in both Hindi and Marathi . Tracing the origin of intense emotions with impeccable dialogues and comic genius in Nana Patekar, we land on to a veritable story of an ardent boy of 13 years who would walk 10 miles each day to reach school and start earning before touching adulthood. Passion for theatre at an early age was a way to purge and at the same time draw the attention of his father, who would travel to watch him perform taking pride and reassured of his future. Oblivious to the mise en scene, the script of real life was at a toss with sudden loss of father and his business. Shocked but not shattered at life’s beating, Nana walked up to the theatrical semblance of cinema to echo those sentiments which kept boiling in the psyche of the nation, shoving his own but silencing none. Through ‘Prahaar’ he adorned a soldier’s way of life receiving four years of hardcore army training two decades ago. With the highest respect for the military uniform and service, he has acted upon his calling to address some of the most urgent issues within the boundaries of the nation including farmers’ suicides and misery of the soldier’s families martyred or killed on duty.
I had felt the stir when farmers’ suicides in the state of Maharashtra would make headlines, but a solution to the problem was nowhere in sight. The issue has since gone trans state where the distress of small and marginal farmers has been left largely unattended and lost into the din of verbosity. In the year 2015 the headlines flashed in the news rooms with Nana Patekar taking up the cause, and expressing his pain over the loss of farmers’ livelihoods due to severe drought that had hit the state. Natural disasters and climatic emergencies had forced migration leading to health and food crises. He shared his pain about poor treatment to the displaced people who have ever known to live with labour and dignity; and our respective roles in empowering people who face hardships. Without much ado, he picked up the cause and started offering support to the grieving families of farmers through the NAAM Foundation (Hindi acronym literally meaning Name).
As I get into conversation, I learn his simplistic explanation about individual actions at the core of which is personal satisfaction with what you do with your own strengths and sense of power. His philosophical fabric back stitched into discussions with people, officials and volunteers working closely with the farmer community, makes a serious attempt to nail the root of the problem. Sharing his concern about choking natural paths of flowing water as an extension of disruptive human tendencies, he cautions against not prioritizing restoration of water bodies in the villages as they remain central to the human civilization. Every other aspect of our social-economic well-being and self-reliance gets automatically addressed if we care for and conserve our local resources that nature has endowed upon us, he expounds.
NAAM’s role in changing lives and social dynamics is not something Nana is boastful about. His humility and reticence could appear to be unusual but it’s also because of his complete attention to the current crisis of flooding of villages and loss of precious human lives and habitats. He pays personal visits to the flooded areas of the state without media glare and his team works day and night for rescue and relief operations. On one hand is relief, on the other is preparing ground to plug the impending climate crisis through river-revival drives. As I delve into the details of water-centric works my count reaches up to 400 rivers and local water bodies desilted, catchment paths cleared, small dams constructed and plantations along the banks to check soil erosion. Spread across more than 350 villages of Maharashtra, rivers coming back to life and irrigation activities getting normalized with better water management and improved ground water levels is not a work which could possibly go unnoticed. Lockdown period also couldn’t dampen the speed of work as consistency is the value the ground team is trying to inculcate among participating forces.
It is work with complete community participation where the needs are identified by the villagers, and NAAM Foundation mobilizes resources from community, government and corporations. The team closely working with the families who underwent traumatic experiences of suicide committed by the bread earner, shared that improved financial conditions, young generation opting for farming and dairy as a remunerative activity; and reversal in the trend of migration to cities in search of work is boosting the village economy. When people become part of such transformation, collective consciousness for self-awareness is a bigger gain.
Climate change is on top of the agenda for the United States and India is seen as key contributor in achieving Climate neutrality by 2050. India is not ready to buy the idea of net-zero easily seeing its own development pace and priorities. The underlying meaning of cooperative partnership between the two countries could, however, be further emphasized by bringing to light the relationship between large scale water conservation efforts and thereby reduction in energy consumption. Measuring the work of community-based organizations from the yardstick of reduction in climate footprints and attaining sustainability could be an added perspective to the water-oriented works with an engaged grassroots population, who contribute least to the climate crisis but get most of the burden through adaptation and mitigation efforts imposed on it. India is already leading from the front with state level climate action plans and policies. Rivers, fields and soils are climate sinks coming alive through consistent community driven works taken up with a vision. This must find more meaning in the larger climate discourse having potential to pull curtain from enigmatic and tech heavy climate dialogues which go beyond the common man’s intellect to be felt and acted upon.
If the Shakespearean phrase of ‘violent delights have violent ends’ be seen as prophetic for our world where flooding and vanishing water both play havoc with lives, we cannot go on a consumerist-capitalist spree as before. We cannot live in harmony if human societies are at loggerheads with nature. Climate emergencies can only be tackled with the interplay of community initiatives, policy support and informed choices. Just as Nana’s NAAM Foundation is doing with the firm belief in the power of each one, we need to wake up from the slumber and shake up our immediate world.