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Chai and literature
A chaiwalla by day and a writer by night, Laxman Rao has written 23 books so far, all inspired by the buzz of life that he sees around him.
Laxman Rao does not get to enjoy even a moment's respite at his tea-stall on the busy Vishnu Digambar Marg in Delhi. Be it the students of the neighbouring colleges, artistes taking a break between rehearsals or office-goers, there's always a little crowd on the pavement where Rao sits cross-legged under a shady tree, preparing a special cuppa.
Next to him, a dozen books lie spread out on a plastic sheet. Propped up in the middle are huge photographs of Rao with President Pratibha Patil. "About two years ago, I had presented her a copy of my book, Renu, " he says as you do a double take it isn't everyday you come across chaiwallahs who double up as authors. The 57-year-old smiles at the reaction and adds: "I have written over 23 books including three plays. "
Rao's journey started from Tadegaon Dashasar, a village in Maharashtra. His growing up years were divided between the fields where he helped his father and attending school. That's where he met his 'hero' and senior, Ramdas. A wayward kid, Ramdas had been reformed by his teacher. "He became a great favourite of the teachers. But Ramdas did not live long - on his way to a wedding he died in a drowning accident, " Rao remembers.
The death of a friend caused Rao such anguish that he began writing to give expression to his grief. Life gave him yet another chance when a doctor couple visiting his village took him to Amravati. "There I was to study and also work as domestic help in their home, " he says. When he was unable to pass his class X exams, the doctor got him a job in a spinning mill. But the unit soon closed down and Rao had no option but to test the waters in a big city. He first went to Bhopal where he worked as a labourer and later came to Delhi and helped out at a dhaba.
"It was around this time that I got hooked onto the novels of Gulshan Nanda, who became my inspiration. People around me wonder why I don't work in an office, " he says, "but opportunities like those don't come easily. "
Soon Rao set up his own cigarette-bidi stall and once his business stabilised, he began writing. "I follow a very strict routine, " he states. He gets down to writing only after he reaches home late at night. "Till about 4 in the morning, I write my novels and plays. And when I am not in the mood to write, I scribble - something, anything. My day is not complete until I pen something down. "
It is this discipline that made him a prolific writer. He writes around "three books in a year, " he says. What's more, he publishes them himself. "I was forced to do this after my first manuscript got rejected. Actually, two of the publishers I gave it to didn't even bother to reply, while the third told me to just get out of his office without even glancing at my work, " he says.
Today, the money made on the sale of his books funds the publication of his new writings. Ask him if diminishing reading habits affect the sales of his books and he shakes his head, "It is easier to sell vegetables and tea but I am happy with the way my books have fared, " he says, pulling out a notebook to show details of his latest work, Abhivyakti. "Of the 500 copies I published, 375 have been sold in the last 18 months. I am fine with that, " he states.
He smiles remembering a big moment in his life - former law minister Shanti Bhushan once told him that he had heard Indira Gandhi mention a newspaper article about him. With Bhushan's help, Rao went to meet Gandhi at Teen Murti House. "She was very encouraging and when I sought permission to write a book on her, Indiraji told me to go ahead but focus on her work rather than her life, " he recalls. Soon after, Rao published his first play, Pradhan Mantri. His dream of gifting Gandhi a copy remained unfulfilled - she was assassinated just a few months later.
Rao believes in finding inspiration amidst real people and incidents. "I talk about the realities of life, " he says. Renu was based on the conversations between the young people who frequented his stall. "I would overhear them talk about a bright girl who braved tremendous odds to study. I weaved a story around her from those nuggets, " he smiles.
Happily married to his "biggest critic" Rekha, Rao has two sons. The elder, pursuing his CA, is currently doing his "articleship";the younger one works in a publishing house. "At one point, my sons wanted me to give up my chai ka kaam, but now, they know isi wajah se main woh hoon jo main hoon (I am what I am because of my work). But they are proud of me, " he say. "The other day, the director of a company asked me to edit her book on Mahatama Gandhi. Tell me, will anyone ask a chaiwala to do that?
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