Saturday, May 24, 2008

LOL. In the good ol' days.

Chi(ntaman) Vi(nayak) Joshi (1892-1963) must have been quite a brilliant man. Televiewers all over India came to know him as the progenitor of Chimanrao. This middle-class protagonist from pre-Independence Maharashtra made his debut on Doordarshan in the late 70s (1977 - 1979) in the epinomous Marathi serial. A week back, I was fortunate enough to pick up seven of Chi Vi's books from the Peoples Book House, Cawasji Patel Street, close to Flora Fountain, at what I thought was a bargain price. Chi Vi was a Professor of Pali and a student of the world-famous Pali scholar and associate of Gandhi, Acharya Dharmanand Kosambi He had worked for quite a long time in the erstwhile princely state of Baroda. What's impressive about him is that not only did he write excellent humourous prose but also he could cogently explain the theory of humour. In fact, the introduction to his book, Na Maro Pichkari (= Don't splatter me with colour/Don't spew betel juice on me), first published in 1960, is about the types and origin of comedy/humour. What also impressed me about Chi Vi's humour is that it is based on his keen observation of social phenomena and his perceptive commentary on what he has seen and experienced. While reading his Aamchaa Pan Gaon (= We too have a village), which turns the popular simple-honest-villagers-versus-crafty-venal-city-folks paradigm on its head, I was a bit surprised by something he wrote on the topic of cottage or home industries in the village, Harangaon (= Deer Village?). One of them, a hand-operated grinding wheel, was run by Saloobai, a low-caste widow. The time of the narrative was 1941-1943. Mumbai and Pune were then believed to be under the threat of Japanese bombardment. A lot of the residents of these cities had decided to migrate to their villages until the peril passed away. Anyway, Chi Vi wrote that Saloobai's was the only grinding wheel left in the village. I found it a bit odd because I clearly remember that, at home, i.e., at 233 Khetwadi Main Road, we used to have a grinding wheel in daily use till as late as the mid-50s. That was in Mumbai, a metropolitan city. Given his accurate observation and reportage, though, my guess is he probably was stretching the point a bit. The other thing he mentioned that triggered a wave of nostalgia in me was a shopper at the weekly village bazaar planning to buy a tiny bit of opium for her child. I remember my father once nonchalantly offering me and Ujwal a miniscule black ball wrapped in a translucent tracing paper to help either Ashu or Abhi sleep. That we did not put it to medicinal use is another matter. Apparently, it was an acceptable practice to him. For all I know, I may have been an unknowing opium eater as an infant. Interesting thought, that. Two more things I remember about Chi Vi were two Marathi comedies, Lagna Pahave Karun (= Try getting hitched) (1940) and Sarakari Pahune (= State Guests) (1942) both based on material from his Chimanravache Charhat (= The long-winded tale of Chimanrao), first published in 1932. Both were directed by Master Vinayak and had the cross-eyed Marathi comedian, Damuanna Malwankar playing Chimanrao and VS Jog as his body-builder cousin, Gundyabhau. I vaguely remember watching them either at Central Cinema near the Girgaum Portugese Church or Roxy Cinema near Royal Opera House.