Looking Back at the Life & Work of Subhash Shah

Renowned dramatist Subhash Shah left for his heavenly abode on February 16, 2018, in Ahmedabad. This is the story of a man who looked upon all literature, art and life with undivided enthusiasm.

The creative fraternity of Gujarat fondly remembers Subhash Shah, a humble human being who invested a lifetime into giving meaning to art through his plays, novels and other written works. Shah worked greatly towards the compilation of artworks so that future generations could benefit from them. He was best known for co-authoring the first absurd play in Gujarati (Ek Undar ane Jadunath based on Samuel’s Waiting for Godot in 1966) and for popularising the performing arts amongst the youth of Ahmedabad. Shah was numerously awarded by the prestigious Gujarat Sahitya Akademi.

Hailing from a humble family background, Shah was born in Borsad, Gujarat, on April 14, 1941, and had nine siblings. The seeds of love for literature were sowed in him by his father Rasiklal Shah. His father had an “artist-like escapist personality”, as fondly recounted by Shah in a documentary, and though his father was not scholarly, he would take keen interest in reading. After completing his primary education from Borsad, young Subhash continued his high school education in Vadodara and further pursued the degree of Master of Science.

Gujarati had always been Shah’s favourite subject, although he studied Hindi and English with equal zeal. He was already writing haiku, poems and short prose at the time that he met celebrated Gujarati novelist Suresh Joshi, who was a lecturer and professor at the MS University, Vadodara. Joshi influenced Shah’s work tremendously. While staying in the cultural city of Vadodara, Shah shared intimate bonds of friendship with the stalwart contemporary artists Late Bhupen Khakhar and Padma Bhushan-winning artist and writer Gulam Mohammed Sheikh. Together, they frequently visited Joshi’s place in their hunt for creative inspiration and, during this process, Shah was introduced to World Literature. In fact, Joshi was also the prime supporter of Shah’s work and later became the first person to write an article appreciating his haikus, in the 1960s Subhash Na Subhashito.

Shah decided to shift to Ahmedabad in 1964, his youthful soul being drawn to its cultural aura. Here, he started contributing Re School of Writing (રેમઠ), which was in vogue at that point in time, and is considered as a moment in Gujarati literature, which marks the beginning of Modernist era after the influencing Gandhi Yug and AnuGandhi Yug that ruled the first half of 20th century. This was also the year when his first book Subhash Shah Na Kavyo Ni Chopdi was published. From here on, he never looked back, drafting more than 22 titles over his lifetime. Ranging from poems, plays, novels and short story compilations to various other genres of creative writing, he also wrote columns as a film critic and critiqued plays for various publications. With his friend Labhshankar Thakar, who later became a master wordsmith, Shah wrote Gujarat’s first absurd play. Called Ek Undar ane Jadunath, the play took inspiration from Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Shah’s highly admired play Prapanch won the Gujarat Sahitya Akademi’s seven prestigious Awards, and through his 1973 initiative of We Theatre, he worked to popularise the performing arts amongst the youth of Ahmedabad.

Shah’s contribution to the archival work of Gujarat Sahitya Akademi was immense. He undertook the task of compiling documents, written works and audio-visual works of more than 125 writers of Gujarat. As a documentarian, he produced documentaries on various artists, dramatists and writers of Gujarat, all hailing from various genres of creativity. While conversing with the art fraternity of Ahmedabad, who are grieving over the loss of this talented dramatist, we discovered that one of his lifelong wishes was to make a full-fledged feature film.

Amidst the company of various visual artists, Shah was also inspired to paint, during multiple intervals of his life. He also happened to have a rich art collection, which included works by Jeram PatelBhupen Khakhar, Nagji Patel and other stalwarts. His inclination towards the visual arts was extensive and he served as the Director of the L&P Hutheesing Visual Art Centre from 1978 to 1990.

Gujarat will fondly remember this talented and humble human being.

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