Chaiwallah by day, writer by night

Chaiwallah by day, writer by night

There seems to be some inscrutable link between committed chaiwallahs and fame in various fields.  Many Indians take pride in the fact that a chaiwallah could rise to the level of becoming the country’s Prime Minister.

New Delhi: There seems to be some inscrutable link between committed chaiwallahs and fame in various fields. Many Indians take pride in the fact that a chaiwallah could rise to the level of becoming the country’s Prime Minister. There are others who point out that much before Narendra Modi could become India’s Prime Minister, it was the countrywide chai pe charcha sessions that prepared the ground for dislodging the Congress from the Centre in the last General Election. Whatever it may be, another chaiwallah in Delhi is in the news.

Seventy-year-old Laxman Rao has attracted attention in as a writer within the country and also in some foreign countries, with his prominent work, Ramdas, selling more than 4,000 copies through online platforms. Ramdas, published by Bharatiya Sahitya Kala Prakashan in 1992, went on to bag the Indraprastha Sahitya Bharati Award in 2003. It is a different matter that Laxman Rao has been selling chai on the pavement of Central Delhi near ITO.

On his celebrated work, Laxman Rao observes: "Ramdas is the story of a wayward schoolboy who gets reformed by a dedicated teacher of his school, becomes a studious Vidyarthi, and then goes on to win accolades. However, this darling of the school drowns accidentally in his village one day and dies, leaving the entire village shocked. This is about a life wasted, reformed and perished.

I knew Ramdas and grieved for him. In fact, all my works emerge from life. Whatever life does to people interests me and I write. That is all." He says it is boring for him to narrate "the same old story to everyone" and would rather see himself as a full-time writer.

"Life has been hard. Yes, but I never gave up my passion. The road to Delhi from my village in Maharashtra to this point (Delhi) was strewn with stones. I worked in a clinic in Amravati for about five years and later with a textile mill for about the same period. I then moved over to Delhi. It began with odd jobs (pauses a bit, serving customers) ...and I took to this business of selling chai here around 1980....Good business".

So, what inspired him to become writer? "Film writer Gulshan Nanda inspired me a lot initially. Sarat and Premchand also were my favourites. I am a voracious reader. Would read any work, any book. Being in Hindi, I loved to read all their works and many more of others. Also read William Shakespeare", he smiles.

Laxman Rao has seen the dark side of the publishing world. If he has become his own publisher, spending a part of his hard-earned money, it was because no publisher was prepared to publish his works. "Maybe, it was so because I write in Hindi. Who will buy my books?" So, he began publishing his own works. He normally writes during afterhours.

He terms as one of the "glorious” moments of his life the chance meeting he had with former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. "I was told Smt Indira Gandhi liked my works and she also knew that I am a chaiwallah at the ITO Centre. I met her at the Teen Murti Bhawan. When I told her that I wanted to write a book on her life, she refused and said: “Write on my work, instead”. I wrote a play about her and it was published. However, I could not gift my book to her as she was assassinated".

Laxman Rao has written 24 books so far and seeks to retire from his business to become a full-fledged writer. Many awards came his way and several honours awaited him. "Former President, Pratibha Patil honoured me on January 23, 2009 for my writings". His books are now listed on Amazon and Flipkart too and Kindle too has his translations.

Several media houses have written about him and many channels have done stories around his life and works, taking his reputation far and wide. This brings even foreigners to him and they share their lives and experiences with him over a cup of tea. He loves his interactions with strangers. School children and employees often spend time with him, asking about his next work. He sells his books that are spread on the footpath right next to his chai shop on the premises of a government school nearby.

Laxman Rao dreams of doing his Ph.D in Hindi literature. He has completed his MA through IGNOU, having pursued his dreams religiously. One can easily make out that his mind and heart have but one passion: studying. His goal is to keep writing till his last breath.

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