“[If the people in this book come alive and meet me,] I will embrace them warmly!”
P. L. Deshpande (when asked about characters in Vyakti ani Valli)
Almost any marathi person’s introduction to PuLa is reading “Vyakti ani Valli”, “Batatyachi Chaal” or “Asa Me Asa Me”. These books, along with his other comedy stories are so engraved on marathi psyche, that just the mention of the names of characters is enough to invoke laughter.
“Vyakti ani Valli” consists of twenty character sketches of fictional characters written from around 1944 to 1968, but we can see those character traits even in people we meet today after so many years. And I think that’s why PuLa is so popular even today.
The characters come from various backgrounds, are diverse in their traits. But almost all of them have one thing in common. They all form some part of tragedy of life, and when they try to fight their lives, that’s what causes the idiosyncrasies which are the root of the comedy in their life.
So, you meet Narayan, a complete nonentity, but who is the omniscient, omnipresent being in the marriage hall. He is the person who is nothing in normal life, but he is The Person who ensures almost single-handedly that any marriage preparation he is part of will go without any incident, while remaining completely in the background.
And you have Gampu, who is known as Paropakari Gampu (Philanthropist Gampu), born to help others. You can recognize this person easily, as he is the one who will come to invite you to his marriage and tell you while leaving, “I saw some good rice in the market. Will get it for you once I am free from this marriage stuff.” In the same mold is Bapu Kane, who is born to be a secretary of every organization he sees. He doesn’t differentiate between an organization which is in birth control and one which helps families arrange funerals.
All these people are nothing if seen outside their “expertise”, are extremely poor to boot. But they don’t have to do anything to get their roles when their time arrives, and they have all the qualities (even slight arrogance) when it comes to finish their work.
And then, you have Sakharam Gatne (one of the most famous sketches in the book). He is the shy school boy who eats books as often as he breathes, speaks in Perfect Marathi (which is something beyond even written marathi, think about using words you read in your friends GRE books in normal conversation). And when the writer gives him the message, “Be loyal to literature” along with his signature, he is so faithful to literature that he refuses to marry.
And on the other hand, you have Namu Parit (parit = washerman), who has all the characteristics of successful laundryman: he breaks buttons, steals clothes from his clients (not steal, he wears them in front of same clients) and never gets the clothes back on time. On top of that, he drinks, has some other ahem… unsavory pursuits and is completely unaware that anything he does is wrong. Also, you have Babdu, who is the dada of his class in school, goes to jail on false charges, and comes back in writer’s life for a day as a successful smuggler. But at the same time, he hasn’t forgotten the laddus writer’s mother once gave him, or his english teacher who was the only one who met him in jail.
Then there is Lakhu Risbud, who is an embittered writer, who wanted to change the world by his writing but instead ends up in an assistant-editorship in some second rate magazine. Also, the nameless person who is only recognised as “He”, the person who sells his scholarship to others and helps them gain recognition. “He” has created so completely his own reputation as a deceiver, that when writer gets to know his real story (“He”’s thesis advisor steals his thesis and gains recognition publishing it as his own), nobody believes him.
Then you have representative of all the poor in wealth, having characteristic sarcastic edge in their comments which can cut you to quick, but underneath all are big-hearted people in Konkan area, Antu Barva. Also, the representative of all the teachers who are devoted to their profession, Chitale Master (a teacher is called master in marathi). And who can forget 100% Pestonkaka, the perfect Parsi gentleman of yore. These characters are so representative and so completely part of marathi life, they shouldn’t need any more introduction.
There are many others, but there are three characters which in my opinion, form the peak…
Nanda Pradhan, the cursed angel. He is a friend of writer’s from college. This is a person whose mother ran away with their neighbor and father died when he was very young. This is the person whose wife was a jew in Germany, when he was there at the time of second world war. This is the person whose almost only love was unfortunately a daughter of an embittered old man, who asked her to choose between Nanda and feeding her three small brothers. Though he is the only person who was paired in almost every cute girl in their college (and who would have given “walk-over” by any boy in college in any affair), he is completely detached from life.
Natha Kamat, the eternal lover. He is the first one to know the complete biodata any new attractive girl in whole Mumbai. People can tell which parts in Mumbai have what quality in girls department by where he stands in local when the station arrives. He is the first one to visit all the colleges first thing in June, the day colleges open. He opens and closes many “accounts”. He gets many “cuts” in love life, but the only one which goes deepest is the girl who marries first the college hero and then a major in army, before killing herself.
Bhaiyya Nagpurkar, the so-called “gunda” of college. This was the first character sketch written by PuLa of the ones in the book. Bhaiyya is navabi, born with golden spoon in his mouth. He loves drinks, music (mehfils) and everything that comes with it. Though he is “brahmin” by birth, he is often mistaken for a muslim because of his mannerisms, not to mention his mastery of sarangi. He is recognised as the “mavali” (=tapori) by almost all, but he has photos of Mahatma Gandhi and autobiography of Jawaharlal Nehru in his room. He drinks, but is not enslaved by it (and feels for the poor who spend all their earning in drink), and decidedly keeps away from drink for all the days Gandhiji was fasting.
I can write on and on and on about the book, which won the Sahitya Akademi award in 1965. But I guess saying that this is one of the few books which can score negative 10 on the Book(?)…err scale should tell you what I feel about it.
P.S. Read introduction about Pu La, here.
Quote of The Day:
He was a genius – that is to say, a man who does superlatively and without obvious effort something that most people cannot do by the uttermost exertion of their abilities.
– Robertson Davies, “Fifth Business”
Read the review of “Asa Mi Asami” here.
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