Vantage point

Friday, January 09, 2009

Sakharam Gatne by Pu La Deshpande - Part 2

Salil's translation of Nagpurkar reminded me that the second part of my translation of PuLa's Sakharam Gatne has been due for almost two years now. So better late than never, here it goes.

Read Part 1 here.

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.

"What's wrong? Weren't you able to make time to read the books?" I asked.

"Of course I did!" Gatne said thrusting his minuscule chest out, "In accordance with your directive, I burnt the midnight oil and got through every treatise. Please peruse this detailed record."

And he handed me a notebook. Even in that serious situation, his use of the words 'directive' and 'peruse' made me suppress a smile. So I perused. I opened the notebook, its pages covered with the most elegant handwriting I have ever seen.

"In it, I have written a concise but comprehensive abstract of every book you so kindly entrusted me with."

Sure enough, the first page had the word ABSTRACT written on top. Below it, Details of Reading Duration - 8:30 p.m. to 1:35 p.m.. Then Folio Count - 232. After that, the author's full name, publisher's name, publisher's address(!!), price of the book, and more information. After that, he had written the abstract. And what an abstract it was - The plotline is exceedingly prepossessing. Character-building is immensely alluring. The tale unfolds in three metropolises - Mumbai, Nagpur and Lucknow...

It was as if he had written an inquest for each book, but in really pretty handwriting. Gatne's dedication towards literature never ceased to amaze me. And of course, long complicated words and phrases had gathered all over the notebook like moss in a dinky pond - prohibitively bewitching, pulchritudinous, endearing expanses of enduring emotions, tch tch tch! Finally, I realized I had been silent for too long, so I said,

"Very good, son. Looks like you have studied all these books in great detail."

But he looked even more distressed, and said,

"Alas, this is the aftermost episode in my literary life."

"Aftermost episode? What do you mean?" I asked, alarmed that maybe this kid had decided to commit suicide or something.

Gatne was sitting there, trying very hard to tell me something, but whenever he opened his mouth to speak, he would start crying even more. It was an extraordinary turn of events and I had no idea what to do. Finally, Gatne managed to control his bawling, and started talking,

"Please....please...please....forgive me, Sir. I will never inconvenience you in any manner in the future."

What was that supposed to mean? A few days back, I had told some of my friends about Gatne's extraordinarily annoying personality, and we had all had a nice laugh at his expense. I wondered if he had found out about it somehow, and was feeling hurt because of it.

"You have assisted me and enriched my life beyond expectations, Sir. Many meek and needy sentient creatures flourish in the patronage of a great redwood, but how can the great redwood be cognizant of its own boundless beneficence?"

This last sentence made me feel a bit relieved, because it showed that at least Gatne had returned to his normal self. And since he had used the metaphor of a redwood tree for me, I suddenly started wondering if the hair in my nostrils was due for clipping again, and smiled. He saw me smile and said,

"It is understandable for you to feel amused by my devotionary plaudits. But my days of savoring the compassionate cornucopia of your selfless affection, are sadly all but bygones. Often during one's existence.."

"But Gatne, what has happened?" I interrupted him before he could chomp into another thesaurus in his mind.

"Well, it is time for the beginning of a new juncture in my existence". This kid was really beyond control. This signboard painter's son was talking about "junctures in his existence" as if he was some hero from a Greek tragedy.

"What juncture?"

"I am ashamed to even admit it.." Gatne trailed off uncomfortably. So I asked him,

"Have you fallen in love with someone?"

"NO!!", he said, once more thrusting out his 28-inch chest. "No! No! No! Because in this imperfect world, there is no such thing as true pellucid love."

"Who the hell told you that?" I asked.

"Sir, it's a quotation from your play The School of Birds," he instantly replied.

Sigh! In my mind, I slapped my own forehead. Actually that "quotation", I mean line, was just a throwaway line said by a humorous character in that play.

"Okay fine, but then what's wrong with you? You are intelligent, so young and yet you have read more books than I ever will in my lifetime. And you're crying?"

"What can I do, Sir? Circumstance is the most prolific manufactory of lacrimal secretions, as Olimbe has said."

"Olimbe who?" I asked, expecting to be educated about another unknown hack.

"The teacher at my coaching class."

Whoever this Olimbe was, if I ever meet him, I'll be sure to hang him upside down from a tree, and suffocate him with the smoke of burnings books on the ground. Manufactory of lacrimal secretions indeed!

"So what are these circumstances you are facing?"

"My father does not understand the grander objective of my time on this earth." Gatne said.

I thought of Gatne's signboard painter father. He was after all a man who measured letter by the inches and filled them with paint. Obviously, how could he understand the grander objective of the time on this earth of a modern-day Proust in his home? If someone says "grander objective" to him, Gatne's father is probably more likely to respond, "What font do you want that in?".

"But what makes you think your father does not understand the grander objective of your time on this earth?"

"My father has hatched the heinous conspiracy of getting me married," with his lips trembling, Gatne finally let the cat out of the bag.

"What's so heinous and conspiratorial about getting you married?" I asked. "If you don't want to get married, just tell him so."

"That is precisely the imploration I have come to you with. I don't care about my own wants. After all, the battlefield of life is littered with occasions in which you end up mortally wounded."

"Huh? Getting married is usually a nice and happy occasion. What's there in it to be mortally wounded by, Gatne?"

"I don't care about my own ambitions. In accordance with my respected father's wishes, I don't mind obediently getting myself clasped in the laborious chains of marital bonds. Lord Ram is my ideal after all. Like him, I will also obey my father."

"Okay, so what do you want? You want me to come and talk to your father?" I asked.

"I leave that to your wisdom, Sir. I am ready for marriage." Gatne answered.

That confused me even more. If this brave young soul was ready for marriage, then what was I supposed to do about it?

"I am ready for not just one, but even ten marriages if that's what will gladden my father's heart." Gatne added. "But I did not want to chagrin you or let you down, Sir.

I looked into Gatne's eyes to see if I could detect any signs of dementia.

"Chagrin me? Let me down? Why would your getting marriage let me down?" I asked.

"It might have escaped the voluminous recesses of your memory, Sir, but not mine. I always read the message and the autograph I got from you on the first day we met." Gatne said. "Your message is - Always Stay Supremely Loyal to Literature.

Dumbfounded, I got ready and went to meet his father. Our rickhaw took us to an old spacious house. We went inside and I saw a heftily built man walking down the stairs. He had a big bald head, a thick curved mustache, huge pot belly and had tilak smeared on his forehead. This massive gentleman in his 50s was surprisingly the father of young scrawny Sakharam Gatne. We exchanged pleasantries.

My preconceived notions about Gatne's house turned out to be completely wrong. Signboard painting was just one of the Gatnes' many businesses. I am sure his wealthy father had never even held a shaving brush with his own hand, let alone a paint brush. Because as soon as he climbed down the stairs, he told a servant standing there with a shaving kit that he did not want a shave today. I was surprised at how a literary sapling like Sakharam had sprouted in this obviously commerce-minded household.

"Welcome to our house, Sir. Please come in." Gatne Senior said in a booming voice. "Sakhya, go ask someone to arrange for some tea and snacks." Sakhya ran inside, not unlike a mouse scooting into his hole.

After about half an hour of our conversation, I came to know that the Gatnes also owned six buildings in Pune. I also came to know that apart from an old widowed aunt, there was no other woman in the Gatne household. And I also came to know that since that aunt wasn't in the best of health these days, it was very important to add to the female presence in the household. That regal-looking man had not remarried after his wife died, on the 12th day after Sakhya was born.

"I know from first-hand experience how hard it can be growing up with a stepmother, so didn't want to put Sakhya through it. I won't lie to a learned man such as yourself, Sir...... I have had three affairs with three women until now." Gatne Senior confessed while staring at his diamond ring. Although their styles were as different as possible, I could see where Sakharam got the trait of sharing too much information with others.

"But today, thanks to the blessings of great people like you," he continued, "we have almost everything we could ever need." Gatne's father's obvious wealthiness, and the blessings of someone like me.... it seemed very weird to put those two in a sentence together. It seemed like saying that year's monsoons showers were thanks to the blessings of a faucet.

"Sir, please, Sir, do anything you can and get my son ready for marriage." he implored. Such a huge man was mewing in front of me like a kitten. "I tell you, the girl is really one-of-a-kind and unique. Kind, loving, good looking and from a good family. You must have heard the name Songaonkar Jewelers."

I though, of course, people like me only hear the names of jewelers, but I resisted the temptation of saying it out aloud to him.

"Sir, they have a huge palatial house in the heart of the city. And she is the only daughter. She is also educated, has gone to school. Plus, their horoscopes are matching perfectly according to the astrologer. But Sakhya is being stubborn and refusing. Says he has promised you something, so can't get married."

"No, no." I said. "Nothing of that sort."

Then he took me upstairs to Sakhya's room. The room had huge bookshelves filled with all kinds of books. On one wall, there was a picture of Sane Guruji, and next to it, a picture of me! And below my picture, was a big painted plaque-like board with the line Always Stay Supremely Loyal to Literature neatly lettered in, with an enlarged replica of my signature below it.

I finally got Sakharam to agree to the wedding. At his wedding, I gifted him my entire collection of books - each and every one of them. Written on the first page of every book was a new message - Always Stay Supremely Loyal to Literature and to Life.

After barely nine months, I got evidence of Sakhya being supremely loyal to life as well. Sakhya's father came to my house with sweets in a silver bowl and with the good news of his grandson's birth. A while back Sahya had given me sweets on passing HSC. Now his father was giving me sweets on having a grandson.

Sakharam Gatne's life was finally on track. The detour of literature was now out of the picture, and he was on his way.

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