Monday, May 05, 2008

Not just ha, ha, ho, ho but hmmm, is that really, really so?

Ask almost anyone about Pu(rshottam) La(xman) Deshpande’s Batatyachi Chaal (not Chawl – unless his Sokaji Nanaji Dadaji Trilokekar, apparently a Pathare Prabhu like me as one can see from all the subtext, would pronounce it) and the reaction is: ha, ha, hee, hee, how very funny. Talk to them a bit more and you realize that their reference point is his one-man show of the same title, later turned into a play format when Dilip Prabhawalkar started doing it after Deshpande’s demise. I don’t blame them. I had read this book long back and seen his one-man show also back then. And, my final take-away then was a very funny book, a very funny show as well. Yesterday, I found my ancient copy of Batatyachi Chaal, published by Mauj Prakashan and started reading it. “Wait a minute, mate,” I said to myself as I carried on. “This is not how I remember it.” What I found myself reading this time was not a book that took just a light-hearted look at the middle class Mumbaikar of the fifties eking a precarious existence in South Mumbai’s Khetwadi but something straight out of George Orwell but wittier and more palatable. I find this sort of thing happening to me more and more as I re-read stuff I had read long, long ago and consigned to memory as a pleasant experience. For instance, when I re-read Aldous Huxley’s Time Must Have A Stop fairly recently, it was like nothing I vaguely remembered. Maybe, it’s the blessing of experience altering your perspective and/or your capacity for interpreting what you’re reading or (pardon the dreaded word) “experiencing”. Coming back to Batatyachi Chaal, Pu La is in a socio-political parody/satire mode. Re-read the book if you don’t believe me. The piece called Gacchisaha – Zalich Pahijey, for instance, seems to me to be a take-off on the Samyukta Maharashtra movement as I recall it. Raghunananchi Kanyes Patrey parodies Jawaharlal Nehru’s Letters from a Father to His Daughter. And, so forth. There are quite a few digs at the then widely prevalent fad of sarvodaya via the caricature of Acharya Vinoba Bhave (Acharya Baba Barve). Pu La had reiterated his admiration for PG Wodehouse in an interview in the late nineties. His own brand of parody/irony/satire was often much punchier than Wodehouse’s, though. And, much less gentle. Vijay Tendulkar unerringly pointed to Pu La’s need to make people laugh. According to his wife it was his nature (“dharma” = sacred duty as Sunita called it) to do so. The man of parody and wit was made of sterner stuff. He opposed Indira Gandhi’s Emergency vehemently. Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena chief and erstwhile pupil of Pu La in Orient High School, as well as Vinoba Bhave meekly accepted it as a fact of life. The latter even euphemistically called it 'Anushasan Parva' (= Government Epoch). When the BJP-Shiv Sena Government conferred on Pu La the Maharashtra Bhushan Award in 1998, he did not hesitate to upbraid Shiv Sena for its Fascist politics thereby causing quite a controversy. His hero, on the other hand, got himself into hot waters for making broadcasts from Berlin aimed at the US of A in World War II.