Thursday, May 19, 2011

Lakhu Risbud

Here’s a selective translation of P L Deshpande's LAKHU RISBUD. I have tried to retain the original flavour while taking liberties with some text. Lakhu is an immensly likeable imposter, the pathos of his story is as endearing as the humour. Needless to say, P L Deshpande can’t be reproduced.


Lakhu Risbud

From ‘Vyakti aani Valli’ (Individuals and Characters)
By P L Deshpande


Lakhu is an intellectual, a deputy editor at that. Actually, he’s yet not sure what the word ‘intellectual’ means but does that stop him from merrily rattling lines like ‘We the Intellectuals’ or ‘Our intellectual tribe’. After all, why should meanings come in the way of usage?

Lakhu’s intellectual gems regularly glitter in not one but three periodicals - the daily ‘Aaghadi’, monthly magazine ‘Jadbharat’ and the weekly ‘Lokranjan’ - by virtue of his payroll association with the ‘Kranti Karya’ group that runs all three for a noble cause: emancipation of Marathi literature. Lakhu’s employers duly file receipts for dearness allowance, just that they don’t pay him the allowance. Lakhu sincerely believes this sacrifice fuels his journalism of courage and conviction.

Lakhu cleared his MA in Marathi two years back. Actually, he wished to major in Economics. But thanks to his enduring struggle with the English language, a secret shared only with the tutor who checked his English essays at school, he was found grappling with the spelling of ‘Economics’ - whether it ended with a ‘s’ or ‘c’? He ended the quandary itself by ticking on Marathi in the enrolment form.

Surely, it was this seemingly academic choice that paved the way for Lakhu’s tryst with intellectualism. As if to signify the start of a momentous voyage, this was also the time his eyes were adorned with a pair of spectacles - the most coveted mark of the thinking species. Deep within, he was delighted with the specs but outwardly he cursed them for limiting his potent sports potential.

Lakhu has never played a single sport in his life. The closest he came to the playground was during an inter-collegiate tournament when he recorded the proceedings for two overs while the scorer went to the toilet for a leak. But since many of his college mates were avid sportsmen - Parab, Kadam, Darasha, Disilva and Tawde among others - Lakhu chose to become the sole expert among the spectators making succinct observations: open-ended remarks like ‘Kadam’s back-hand lacks power’, ‘Darasha has a clear left-hand advantage’ or ‘Miss Mohini must improve her service’

These sly but carefully packaged quips soon won him a loyal audience and his wobbly wisdom gradually crossed other frontiers - Literature, Politics, Arts, Music, Philosophy, Humanities...

His favourite pastime was to point out flaws in college plays: how some actor failed to ‘touch the soul’ or how the director misread the script. And these sermons, consecrated with a generous sprinkling of Shaw and Maugham, were invariably delivered over tea and cigarette puffs sponsored by some mesmerised (or victimised) listener impressed with Lakhu’s ‘critical faculty’.

Enthused with his success, Lakhu found immense value in another ploy. He now claimed to have read all those books he reckoned (not found) as ‘must reads’. Such was the effect on the audience that after a while Lakhu himself believed he had actually read the books.

The BA class introduced him to Kaikini, the bright guy with an Inter first class. Lakhu had just about begun his self-inflicted struggle with ‘Quintessence of Ibsenism’ in the library when Kaikini stepped in, to collect information on Ibsen for his article in the college magazine. They met and exchanged notes, and Lakhu munificently dissected Ibsen for the benefit of Kaikini, courtesy: first six pages of “Doll’s House”; first six lines of “Quintessence...” (Fresh in memory) and a critique by some Marathi author.

Lakhu was thoroughly enjoying his performance.

“Ibsen, I tell you, simply cuts across our social fabric like a sharp knife. I mean...just note the way his Nora slams the door behind her as she leaves....” (That was all he knew about ‘Doll’s House’ sifting through a Marathi translation which he ‘found’ nowhere near the unread original)

“...You know, the way Nora departs...I mean...it causes such psychological...I mean and all that... you know what I mean!”

Kaikini was simply floored by Lakhu’s authoritative insights on Ibsen and their friendship began with a vow to study Shaw and Ibsen in greater depth.

Lakhu was often seen at Kaikini’s place, a plush flat in Talmakki Wadi. Kaikini’s gorgeous sister Varada would greet him in her chaste English

“Please be seated Mr Rissboood”.

A baffled Lakhu would then feel thoroughly ashamed of his name. Varada’s mother spoke fine English as well. She wore colourful sarees and her diamond earrings danced so gracefully with her gestures. During such mystifying moments, of stealing awkward glance at the ravishing mother-daughter duo, he would resolve to improve his English like never before.

Soon, “Fowler’s Usage” and “King’s English” would be registered against his name in the library. He also took on Shakespeare’s Hamlet for the same purpose but was on the verge of giving up only after a few pages...

Fortunately for him, he got to know from Kaikini that Shaw had openly criticised Shakespeare on numerous occasions. Well, that was it! Now he took on Shakespeare in public with outrageous remarks like:

“Shakespeare is a hoax; he lacks Shaw’s social consciousness. If I wish, I can demolish his myth in just four articles (in Marathi of course)”

“I was utterly disappointed with each of Shakespeare’s 32 plays (or were they 34...or 36?) King Lear has some merit but I don’t agree with what Bradley has to say”

These borrowed revelations impressed Madhu Gupte the most. With his fully-clothed body weighing less than 100 pounds, Gupte had the right ‘figure’ for a communist, what if his intellectual abilities were seriously in doubt.

Lakhu taught literature to Gupte while the latter introduced him to Marx...and just at the right time. When Kaikini cleared his BA with a first-class-first, Lakhu took a drop as he now discovered that all his professors were ‘shallow’ and Kaikini was only a careerist joining the ranks of exploiters in this capitalistic society.

Lakhu was now an authority on just about everything - Sartre, O’Neil, Kafka, Richards, Nihilism, Defeatism, Existentialism, surrealism...he threw a bagful of contemptuous opinions on every occasion, with the mindless vigour of errant street urchins hurling stones at each passing train.

.....

It took thirty long years for Lakhu to realise the fact that his non-conformism hardly confirmed anything and more important, his cultural ascent had not been accompanied by any economic raise. And slowly but steadily, he yearned less for the day that would unfurl the utopian prospects of free thinking and more for the one which fetched him his meagre monthly salary.

Madhu Gupte won a seat at the Corporation. Kadam, the guy with the weak back-hand, was now a Deputy SP and also the proud husband of Neela Salvi, the girl Lakhu secretly craved for throughout college years. Darasha became a pilot, Kaikini was in London and to top it all, he sent Lakhu a cute, handcrafted invitation announcing his sister’s marriage to one Major Hattangadi... "Damn these careerist fools!"


Now Lakhu has donned a new role, that of a cynic. The moment he learns some friend has tied the knot, he mockingly quotes from Oscar Wilde. For this reason, he’s worshipped as a woman-hater in his circle. But little do his friends know that even forty-plus ladies of his chawl don’t escape the unabashed lust of his eyes.

He writes... and writes all the time, and his journalistic job helps him in his cause, providing the platform for making brazen remarks on the establishment and the revered.

Even today, he’s busy with a review of the movie Dadanche Jaanve (Dada’s sacred thread), to be skilfully accommodated between two advertisements. He’s angry, it’s past the 10th of the month and his pay packet is still not in his pocket.

He begins “Four fools come together...”

“Risbud”, his editor yells....

“There’s hardly any creation, the cinematography’s dull, uninspiring...” (As he writes this, he recalls the dazzling lights that focus on the heroine’s prominent peaks)

“Words are a filthy mess (again the mind shifts to her pelvic thrusts on the number “Paach, Sahaa, Saat, Aath, Nadi Tiri Padli Gaath” - Five, six, seven, eight...by the river was the date)

“Risbud, I say”, the editor blares again...

Lakhu looks up reluctantly “What?”

“Good news! You win a 30 rupee promotion. We are launching a giant crossword. Will you design it? Here...hold the pay for this month”

Lakhu is speechless.

“I mean you’re such a committed intellectual, you may find this work demeaning”

“Not at all. We’ll make first-class crosswords sir!” Lakhu replies in a flash.

“Great, this baby’s yours. I feel the first prize should be at least 15,000/- what say?”

“Sure sir! And I’ll make the crossword fit for the prize” (30 rupees promotion)

As soon as the editor turns his back, a beaming Lakhu picks up the review and tears it to pieces. He begins afresh:

“A masterpiece etched on Maharashtra’s literary landscape, as significant and sacred as the Krishna-Koyna conflux, is director M Ganpatrao’s Dadanche Jaanve....”

PS: That evening, Lakhu bought himself a pack of Capston for the first time in his life.

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