I don't have to climb and search shelves to find that book. It has made its own special shelf in the library of my mind. And while stuff in the real world is subject to wild handlings and insect attacks, not to mention folks who borrow it and never show their face again, this one sits, fresh as ever, lighting up a corner of my mind.
"Pu. La. Deshpande : ek Saathwan " edited by Jaywant Dalvi. I assume folks understand that this would be in Marathi. An amazing compilation of the works of Pu La, by another wonderful younger but well known author.....
Pu La. as he was affectionately referred to by the masses of Maharashtra, was a person who belonged to the same strata of society as we all did. At least that what's everyone who read him believed. Sometime in my teenage years, I started reading his serialized articles on his Europe and America trip, in one of the leading Marathi magazines. (I still chuckle over them) . Humor was his forte, but so was his knowledge of classical music, and its great personas. He made movies, excelled at the harmonium, revered the great musician artists, adored Tagore, wrote plays, performed amazing one man shows, and they were always about real people, like us. We were always on the lookout for his newer books .
And then sometime in 1979-80, I remember a book being published on his 60th birthday, the above mentioned book. A neat play on the word "SaaTh" साठ which means sixty in Marathi, and the word "SaathwaN" साठवण which means "a collection or live archive." साठवण also means stuff organized for storage and expected to last a long time . Particulary common, in the summers of life , of those whose lives are spent in kitchens....
Certain Marathi publishers (Majestic Book Stall) were like institutions themselves, considered it a great honor to be involved in producing a commemorative book like this, and so we purchased then , for the impressive sum of Rs 25/- only, a specially priced edition of this book. I was just getting set in my job, the house was being set up bit by bit, the family was growing; books hadn't suddenly been priced out of the common man's reach then, and this was a purchase, greatly looked forward to.
I actually went to an English school where the school library had typical English books read by school girls, many classics , and the like. But we lived in a part of Pune which was rich history by itself. My parents actually had an instructor who came in to teach us Sanskrit shlokas and Marathi calligraphy with a reed pen. "Shuddhalekhan" शुद्धलेखन (writing text passages for practice) daily in Marathi was a big thing, regardless of what language your school taught. One of the greatest Marathi novelists was a neighbor and his daughter was my best friend . And so one grew up amidst the excitement of Marathi literature happenings so to speak.
Pu La never really wrote about fantasy. He wrote about "characters; he wrote about situations that we see everyday; thrived on describing situations with middle class ethos, while being a part of it; his observation of personalities was a wonderful mixture of indulgent external trivialities with a solid internal kernel, and made you look for such folks around you.
Who could forget his first description of arriving in London , a first trip by air out of India? Peopleless roads at a cold 9 am, no conversations happening in the bus from the airport, a typical drizzle in progress, shops closed , no crowds hanging around at corners, or loudspeakers announcing unimportant stuff importantly. He wondered if there had been an inauspicious event, say, in the royal family.
He turns, clears his throat and asks his wife quietly in Marathi , "Why is everything so silent?" and gets rewarded by the immediate stares of a few Englishmen in the bus, as if reacting to a loud noise....... (I had similar questions when I first went to the US to study and saw empty roads , many cars, and asked the immortal question , " Where have all the people gone ?" ....). His crackling narration of the British proclivity for discussing the weather, digging in the gardens, and their dogs. His amazement that nobody takes off surreptitiously with milk bottles left outside houses, and his pithy comment on the difference on how Europeans and British spend Sunday mornings ...
His description of a character in Ratnagiri, in Maharashtra's Kokan area , while on a visit to his in-law's place. An old man, a complete institution by himself, Antu Barwa, steeped in the ethos of old folks grown up the hard way, providing you windows and doors into a culture. A personality , as he describes it, studded with properties of the tough red "chira" mountain stone used in houses, rough edged, soft innards blessed jack fruits , tough coconut resilience, and scratchy concerns of colllocassia leaves.
The name Antu (somewhat an abridged thing from the original Ananta) was misleading for a man who sported white hair everywhere, an almost toothless jaw, a firm loyalty to a khadi half lungi wrapped around his middle, a massively repaired, creaking old chappal, and an opinion from everything from why the British left India, levels of corruption, motivations of various freedom fighters, how a son-in-law should conduct himself, and a huge pride in his native town which made him summarily dismiss Shimla , but espouse sleeping in the Coconut and areca nut plantation-shades, as akin to natural airconditioning......
His great proprietary pride during the author's last visit prior to a maiden foreign trip, and the tough old man nodding his head approvingly on learning that the wife would be going along too, saying ," let me tell you a secret; I lost her (my wife) forty years ago, and the mango trees, with earlier harvests of hundreds , have not blossomed after that, till today; you never know which way fate works. But go well, and travel safely ...." and then as an after thought , " Do one thing for me, please. Have a look at the Kohinoor diamond for me , and come back and tell me. If I die , and the subsequent religious events/customs imply unfulfilled wishes, just stand there and say "Kohinoor, Kohinoor," and everything will be fine . Don't forget to see Paris too... "
And he finally appears , at 5 am at the local bus stand, and calls out and rushes in with a small paper packet , containing the vibhuti of the local deity. "For your protection". Waves goodbye, standing with the author's extended family, and quietly lifts his old traditional shirt to wipe his old sunken eyes. His more than flat concavity of the abdomen, pulls at the author's heartstrings.
There are other vignettes of someone who can only be described as the King of all Man-Fridays, where weddings are concerned, "Narayan"; and a completely urban centric, western mindset hinting personality that haunts you with its story, Nanda Pradhan. Travelogues in Japan, Bali, France, the US, with pithy self depreciating very observant comments.
Gods , in Pu La's books are very human. The inside cover leaf of this book, has a couplet he found at, and included, on a write up of a Panwala , that would possibly have made Lord Krishna smile :
कृष्ण चालले वैकुन्ठाला , राधा विनवी पकडून बाही ,
इथे तमाखू खाउनी घे रे , तिथे कन्हैय्या तमाखू नाही .....
(Lord Krishna , is on his way to Vaikunth (the abode of Vishnu), and Radha tugs at his sleeve , and implores him , " Have your fill of tobacco here , dear, 'cause there aint any tobacco at Vaikunth...." )
So many brilliant portraits of so many "ordinary" personalities, all with their good and bad quirks, descriptions of situations , localities, and the sociological pictures of bygone days. Spell binding travelogues of trips to so many countries. Stories of meeting great people.
Every time I pull out this book to read , I appreciate something new. As a young girl, and then someone starting a household, I laughed at different things. As someone slowly about to traverse a senior peak, there is an element of looking back and enjoying a nostalgic evening as one closes the book, smiling away, albeit with full eyes.
This book has so many heart rending, chuckle producing, guffaw inducing, head nodding descriptions of life. Like a beautiful outfit , with that significant little tear in a crucial place; a joyful dress with a frill of sadness. Gives a new meaning to the phrase "laugh till you cry".......
Way up in a cupboard, in my in-law's house, are some very old books. Some ancient Marathi classics, some very popular authors. Carefully covered in brown paper, sitting cheek by jowl with some books in praise of various deities, with the associated prayers and religious verses. For those born at beginning of the 20th century, education was a great privilege, particularly if you were a female. And so classics and books were very carefully and lovingly preserved, and read often.
Somewhere , in a shelf, long after I am gone, I hope this book remains, possibly dogeared, but proudly sitting. Despite the e-fication and miniaturization of everything, I hope someone pushes that laptop aside, removes those buds from the ears, and sits in an armchair with this great book, on a monsoon evening, with a nice cup of tea, and gets lost in the wonderful word , that I have been fortunate to enjoy.
Times have changed. The author is no more, after a lifetime dedicated to making people happy , with words , music, and something that few only may know : a dedication to helping those trying to emerge from drug and alcohol addiction, something for which he and his wife made immense financial and artistic contributions. Pu La wrote about and appreciated literature in other languages, was a Sahitya Academy awardee, and honored as a director of the NCPA in Mumbai ....
This book lives for me. I never tire of pulling it out and reading something from it. It lights up the sort of society I grew up in. It sometimes reminds me of my grandparents, sometimes my parents, and sometimes I am steeped in the entire ethos of the bygone days, when the printed word was supreme, and there was no DEL key.
My children, who never really had read him, but have seen us chuckle and crack up, watch his performances again and again on DVD's that are now available.
Their laptop hard disks, containing these mega collections, don't feel the weight at all ; thanks to the incredible lightness of being the brilliant performances of an unforgettable Pu La.
Truly a Sathwan साठवण !
Edited to add : So many have asked if there are English translations. Those wishing to read a wonderful translation of "Chitale Master ( चितळे मास्तर )" , from the award winning book "Vyakti ani Valli (व्यक्ती आणि वल्ली )" which won the Sahitya Academy Award, may read http://gauravsabnis.blogspot.
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