Lack of students has not dulled the spirit of Jyotiba Laxman Palkar, a master in the art of Maratha weaponry, says Rishi Majumder
Photographer: Rana Chakraborty
Martial arts? No, I just teach people how to fight with some lathis… and swords.” And with a self-effacing shrug, 92-year-old Jyotiba Laxman Palkar shows us his collection of lathis, talwaars, spears, daan patta (a mean Maratha gauntlet), cheri patta (a sword with a swivelling blade), a patta talwar (with a long lashing blade that bites into you from just about anywhere), banati (a lathi with wooden globes on either side for optimum bone crunching), and pharsi kurad (a humungous battle axe). Then he slips in gently, “Some of these belong to Shivaji Maharaj’s era.” Then, swiftly swinging the battle axe around him, he steps out of his little hutment-like Netaji Palkar Vyayamshaala to instruct a row of eager under-12 boys.
Why is a 92-year-old ustaad training kids in ancient Maratha weaponry in the corner of a local Curry Road maidan — for Rs 10 a month?
Overlooking the young ones practice, he reminisces: “I started learning the kalas at an even younger age from ustaads at Kolhapur. There was a time when I did not have a single challenger in the state for a daan patta duel.” We believe you, Master Palkar, as he is called. Balasaheb Thackeray, however, dubbed him ‘today’s Netaji Palkar’ (Shivaji’s top general) even as political leaders like Yashwantrao Chauhan granted him the room he conducts his vyayamshaala from.
But wait, let’s rewind. Formed in 1956 to help people defend themselves during post-Independence rioting, Palkar heralded the vyayamshaala into a training ground for Girni Kamgars (mill workers of the famous Girni Kamgar movement). “I was a Girni Kamgar myself for over 25 years. The workers who had no other means to fend off attacks, would train here for hours into nightfall after work,” he remembers. Then the mills, and consequently the movement, shut down, depriving Palkar of his most prized students. “But some of those who had acquired real mastery went on to open vyayamshaalas in their hometowns!” he points out optimistically, even though there are no more than two adults at his gurukul today. “The older boys would rather play cricket,” Palkar smiles. “Come on Master Palkar. It’s the age of the gun. Of what use is a sword?” a boy retorts.
Palkar turns to the group of children as they spar with tin swords and shields while eyeing Anil Soppanowal, his 25-year-old student swirling the patta talwaar around him at manic speed. “The use of the sword?” he replies. “It’s for building your own confidence like no other martial art can, because you’ve mastered fear by making the weapon a part of your body.” Soppanwal’s stopped swirling now. He’s cut himself on both cheeks. He silences the cricketer with something simpler: “Ye mardaangi ka khel hain.”
This article originally appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/exr4