Thursday, 22 April 2010

The chaiwallah writer

Brewing steaming hot cup of tea by roadside is what he does for earning his livelihood. But writing books is his passion he lives for. This writer-cum-tea-seller, 55-year old Laxman Rao, is a unique story in himself.

A graduate from Delhi University, he rides to his shop everyday on a bicycle carrying his professional and literary world together. A bag hanging would carry the copies of books authored by him and another bag would contain a saucepan, tealeaves, sugar, milk and plastic cups. Yet another bag hanging on the cycle handle would have his lunchbox.

Everyday, 1 pm is when he reaches Digambar road, near ITO in the heart of Delhi where some of India’s major English newspaper houses are located, and sets up his shop by the road under the canopy of an old banyan tree.

Untill a few days ago he would set up his makeshift stall just under the tree but now he has been shoved out to the margins of the road in the midst of piled up debris as a new sewer line is being laid.

The stall comprises a stove, a stone slate to sit on and a plastic sheet to spread his book titles on. For his customers, he would quickly make a sitting bench by placing a wooden plank on two bricks each on either ends.

Rao is a multi-tasking man. While preparing milky tea, he engages his customers by his jovial talks and tells them about his books on display and the ones in the offing.

He says he has written 21 books so far. But on display there are a few copies of eight titles which he himself published as no publisher agreed to take his work.

His first title ‘Nayi Duniya Ki Nayi Kahani’, written in 1979, narrates his early days struggle as a labourer or working as a waiter in a tea stall. It took him two years to write this book. It was followed by a play “Pradhanmantri” (Prime minister) in 1984. The book was an outcome of his meeting with the then prime minister late Indira Gandhi.

“It’s one of the most memorable days of my life. I wanted to write a book on Indira Gandhi but she said many books had been written on her and he should rather write on administration. So “‘Pradhanmantri’ came into being highlighting the corrupt administration surrounding a prime minister,” quips Rao.

Soon other books, including ‘Ramdas’, ‘Narmada’ ‘Renu’ and ‘Abhvyakti’, came out.

All his books are based on real life stories — what he sees around him. It was one such incident that shook the writer in him in his childhood. A young boy, Ramdas, was drowned while taking a bath. The shock was overpowering and could be dealt with only when he expressed himself through pen and paper.

“My moving story on Ramdas was liked by everyone,” says he.

It was his first brush with literary writing but reading literary works was not new to him. He was quite fond of reading while he was in school and had read already many books in Hindi literature though he had Marathi language background.

Born on July 22, 1954 in a family of farmers at a village in Amravati district of Maharashtra state, he had to leave study after 10th standard in 1973 and work in a local spinning mill and after its closure switched to farming to help his father.

But this did not last long. “This was not what I was inclined and perhaps destined to do. There was something more compelling to be done,” reminisces Rao.

So with just Rs40 in his pocket he ran away from home at the age of 21 to explore the outer world. He boarded a train but with that money could barely reach till Bhopal in central India. There he worked as a labourer without ceasing his “sharp observation of his surroundings and its people. It was his observation here of a poor girl adopted by a rich family upon the death of her parents became the subject matter of his book ‘Narmada’, which has gone for a reprint of 500 copies. In three months he had saved enough to continue his journey, now this time to Delhi.

Upon reaching the capital he survived by cleaning dishes in restaurants. “After saving a decent amount I started selling cigarettes and beetle nut leaves before I opened a tea stall in 1985,” recalls Rao.

During this period he passed his 12 class exams from Open School and graduated from the School of Correspondence from Delhi University. It’s been 25 years since he has been selling tea by the roadside during the day, writing books by night and promoting and distributing them to schools in the morning.

Money earned through the sale of books Rs300 each but given in 50 per cent discount goes into paying the cost of reprinting old books and publishing new ones through his own publishing house Bharatiya Sahitya Kala Prakashan.

The sale of his books was not very encouraging earlier. But now everyday he is able to sell at least four copies of his books in school libraries and a book a day at his roadside book ‘caffe’.

Now he has enough money to publish two more books “Ahankar” and “Gandhi”. He may not be making big money like other successful writers, but he is getting enough recognition.

A fact he is quite happy about. “All these years I was just struggling to keep my passion alive to establish myself as a writer. I think I have reached the milestone and can call myself a writer and just not a chaiwallah (tea seller),” says Rao.

After a day full of running around and work, he peddles home to be with his wife and two doting sons—the elder one is doing Chartered Accountancy and the younger son is pursuing Bcom.

With a happy family by his side, he has no qualms with life. But he does occasionally dream of having a little better and smooth life if not those of successful writers’ without having to think where his next meal would come from if he doesn’t sell tea.

Untill he strikes gold, he is determined to nurse his hobby by writing, publishing, promoting and distributing—all by himself and on his cycle.

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