Vantage point

Monday, March 05, 2007

Sakharam Gatne by Pu La Deshpande - Part 1

Pu La Deshpande won the Sahitya Akadami Puraskar for his book "Vyakti Aani Valli" which was a collection of fictional character sketches. A few months back I had translated Chitale Master, my favourite sketch. At that time I had also taken up Sakharam Gatne to translate. But I left it midway. I will be maddeningly busy until the spring break, so just posting half of it right now. Will post the remaining in a few days.

“Sir, please deign to sweeten your palate with this humble offering”, Sakharam Gatne handed me a small box of sweets.

“What’s the occasion?”, I asked.

“My endeavor to attain the Higher Secondary Schooling Certificate has fructified”

“Very good”, I immediately zeroed in on the difficulty level of the HSC exam these days “How many marks did you get?”

“The precise marks attained have not yet been communicated by the concerned authorities, but I am confident of lunging past the 65% rubicon.”

Sakharam Gatne does his best to use the purest language possible. I met him after one of my speeches. He was in high school those days. This boy, with a white shirt tucked into his shorts, Gandhi cap almost reaching his nostrils, small expressionless eyes, crooked mis-shapen teeth, was standing in the door of the auditorium. I gathered all the garlands I had been saddled with, and went out when he approached me. He folded his hands and bowed in front of me with more reverence than I felt necessary.

“Autograph please”, he said extending a notebook towards me.

“No no, I never give autographs”, I put on airs without any rhyme or reason.

“As you deem appropriate, Sir”, he said and stepped back.

He folded his hands once again as if he was in his favourite temple. Now actually it’s not as if I always turn down autograph-seekers. But sometimes children tend to make you want to act brusque. I know that giving autographs is pointless, but it is also true that refusing autographs is equally pointless. Sakharam Gatne was standing in a corner looking very nondescript.

I went inside the office of the organization hosting me. I could see Gatne from the window, just standing there like a little puppy. Somehow my guilty conscience got the better of me and I asked the Secretary of the organization hosting me to call him inside.

He entered and stood in front of me like a guilt-stricken convict.

“What is your name, son?” I asked him as softly and encouragingly as I could.

“Sakharam Appaji Gatne” he replied.

“This kid has really beautiful hand-writing, you know. In fact he is the one who is in charge of writing on our notice board every day”, the Secretary informed me. “His father runs a signboard painting business in Appa Balwant Chowk”.

“Is that so? Ten tell me son, if your handwriting is so good, why do you go around collecting signatures from others?” I said.

Now actually, this was at best a feeble joke, at the most worthy of a smile, but all the members of the managing committee present inside the room started laughing loudly.

“Anyway, let’s see whose signatures you have collected so far” I asked

“I exclusively aggregate autographs of litterateurs.” Gatne said handing me his notebook.

I started flipping through his notebook. Each page had a quote taken from a writer’s work and had the autograph below it. I flipped to the last page. The quote there did not have an autograph below it.

“Whose quote is this?” I asked him.

“It is from one of your plays”, he respectfully replied.

That quote looked so ridiculous out of context, that I felt ashamed of having ever written it.

“But why did you choose this quote?” I asked.

“I think of this quote as being the epistemological kernel of your philosophy”, he replied.

Good heavens, I though to myself. I was not expecting a phrase like “the epistemological kernel of philosophy” to be uttered by this 4-4.5 feet tall kid. I kept staring at his face in surprise. An elderly gentleman in the managing committee, possibly equally awe-struck by that phrase, offered Sakharam a chair.

“Sit down, son”, he said.

“Epistemological kernel? On what basis? Have you read any of my books?” I finally managed to say something.

“I have pored over each and every line ever published under your name, Sir”, he said, “Sane Guruji and you are my literary idols.”

“Oh God!” I couldn’t help saying.

“Hey Gatnya, but I remember, when that other author had come last month, you told him it was him and Sane Guruji”, the Secretary of the committee said.

There is probably an unwritten law which states that any man holding the title of the “Secretary” of any organization should not possess even an ounce of common sense. Sakharam looked very embarrassed. I tried to change the subject and said,

“What class do you study in?”

“I’ll appear for the SSC shortly” he said, “If you bestow me with your esteemed autograph, I shall be eternally indebted to you, Sir”.

The more I heard this guy speak, the more I felt like he had printing press types in his mouth instead of teeth.

The next time I met Sakharam was a few months later. He had come to my house on Dussehra.

“You may not recollect making my acquaintance, Sir” he said.

“Of course I recollect.... I mean remember. You had come for one of my speeches.”

“I am flattered beyond all conceivable imagination, Sir. This is like the sun preserving the memory of encountering a mere firefly.” Gatne, true to his habit, let out a bookish tribute.

Now I could not figure out what to do with this kid. He had come specially to greet me for Dussehra. So I had to at least offer him a cup of tea. But the devotion on his face was driving me crazy.

“I had some queries which I was hoping you would reply to.”, he said.

“Let us meet some other time for those, son” I tried an evasive tactic.

“I will come whenever it is convenient for you, Sir. I do not wish to disturb your intellectual ruminations.”

Intellectual ruminations?? I felt like shouting at him, “Kid, why don’t you talk like a normal person? Who turned you into such a nerd? And who the heck does intellectual rumination?”. But I did not say any of that. Gatne’s eyes were dripping with the vulnerability of a few dozen bunnies. The way that the veins in his neck and his facial muscles would contort every time he spoke was so piteous, that even if he had uttered an expletive, it would have made the listener sympathize with Gatne instead of being offended. And it seemed like Goddess Saraswati had opened language classes on his tongue.

“Come in the evening sometime next week.” I said instead.

“Could you specify the exact day, Sir? It is entirely acceptable, even if you do not wish to do so, Sir. I will come everyday.”

Just as I was beginning to grapple with the idea of the possibility that this creature would be visiting me every day, he let loose another missile.

“After all, perseverance is the lifeblood of perspicacity.”

“Lifeblood of what?” I asked.

“Of perspicacity. That’s what Kudchedkar says.”

“Kudchedkar? Who is Kudchedkar?”

“S. T. Kudchedkar, author of The Drooping Dahlia. Reknowned.”

“Ok” Now I had never heard of an author named Kudchedkar. But Gatne was actually quoting his “The Drooping Dahlia” from memory. Gatne’s case seemed completely beyond repair.

We decided on a day when to meet, and sure enough, Gatne turned up promptly on time the next week.

“I apologize if I am culpable of interrupting your contemplations, Sir.”

“What contemplations? I was just lying down for a while.” I said, already feeling annoyed with him. This evening did not look promising.

“Or was it meditation?”

“Not meditation either, Gatne. Anyway, will you have some tea?” I asked.

“No thank you, Sir. I desist from consuming any stimulating beverage.”

Stimulating beverage! I started fantasizing about taking a powerful hose and washing away all these bookish cobwebs from his brain.

“Who told you tea is a stimulating beverage?” I asked him.

“Choukhule Guruji has written so in the Vijayadashmi special edition of the Unnati magazine in an illuminating essay titled – “Six Principles of Personal Self-Improvement”.”, he replied earnestly.

“Listen to me, Gatne. Don’t read essays like these.” I said.

“I actually came to seek your counsel on this very issue.” Gatne said.

“What sort of counsel?”

“I aspire to broaden my literary horizons. Without a broad literary horizon, a man’s personality does not develop the appropriate contours.”

“Which ass told you this?” I almost yelled.

Gatne gave a start and looked at me surprised. I think I had unknowingly fingered one of his innumerable literary idols.

“Listen to me. Have some tea.” I said. “have you ever had it before?”

“Yes”, he said looking needlessly contrite, “I used to drink it.”

Finally he drank the tea as I commanded. After all, I was also a member of his pantheon. But the expression on his face while drinking that tea was remarkable. He resembled a lamb eating at the same table as a wolf. Now that I mention it, Gatne did remind me of a lamb in more ways than one. Lambs consume leaves from plants and he consumed pages from books.

I made a list of all the possible books I could remember and gave it to him. His face was a picture of gratitude as he took the list from me. He went through the list and said to me,

“I have read these.”

“All of them?” I almost fell off the chair.

“Yes, but never mind. I will read them again, and attempt to do so with a broader perspective.”

“No, no, you don’t need to read them again.” I said. Actually I felt like telling him, my dear friend, don’t even read the newspaper for the next five years.

Finally I took him to my bookshelf. As he laid eyes on those books, he started resembling a kid in a candy shop.

“Take whichever books you want.” I said.

“I hope to read as much as you some day, Sir”, he said and I felt embarrassed. I hadn’t even opened half the books there. Gatne picked out a few and put them in his bag. He left, and I breathed easy again.

About ten days later, the sentence “I apologize if I am culpable of interrupting your contemplations, Sir.” pricked me once more as Gatne stood at the door. This guy had run through some 2000 pages in a matter of a little more than a week. I took the books from him and asked,

“So did you like the books?”

But Gatne was standing still, with his eyes moist. I was shocked.

“Gatne don’t cry.” I said.

“Please forgive me, Sir.”, he said in a choked voice.

to be continued

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