It is no secret to those who know me somewhat well, that Marathi language and literature is close to my heart. The sheer character of the language, coupled with its ability to lend itself to a wide variety of articulation ranging from the sweetest terms of endearment to the most ridiculous extent of raucousness, got me hooked very early. English may have its Shakespeare, Dickens and Tolkien, but Marathi has Kusumagraj, Dandekar, Atre, Padgaonkar, Pendse and many more. English has Wodehouse. Bah. We have Deshpande. Or as he is better known, Pu La.
Like any nerd kid raised in a culturally aware household with a history of bibliophilia (so, like maybe 0.5% of the general populace), I was introduced to the Pu La phenomenon as a 10-year-old kid. Having started with “Ti Phulrani” (a conceptual revamp of Shaw’s Pygmalion in Marathi), I quickly graduated to his collections of humorous essays. It is to these pieces of literary genius that I attribute fits of hysterical laughter at 11 in the night (hey, that’s quite late for a 10-year-old). My fam was happy that I was catching the madness, although I can’t imagine that our quiet and decidedly not-crazy neighbours were too thrilled…
Much has been written about Pu La’s virtuosity with words, his writing style and his ability to coax the most delish puns out of Marathi while throwing English into the mix. His style of humorous writing could be compared to PG Wodehouse. Both were prone to using stock characters (Freddie Widgeon vs Sonya Baglankar) in a large intertwined literary universe, and both used their minute observations of their respective space-time (20s-30s England vs 60s-70s Maharashtra) to come up with uproarious sketches that portrayed the society in a satirical light. But it’s not that humour was the only weapon in Pu La’s arsenal (though it could be called his Brahmastra). His collection of character sketches of frequently encountered species in urban jungles are as heart-rending as they are hilarious (the last line of “Chitale Master”? Oh man). He also was a prolific and proficient playwright, political commentator and composer.
But above all else, the biggest test of a writer is to withstand the test of time; whether they can stay relevant across generations, whether our children will be able to relish their work as much as we do today. This is where Pu La truly astounds. “Ti Phulrani” is a shining example of feminism; the lead character’s wrathful monologue against her misogynistic teacher has been empowering women and giving people goosebumps for half a century. And bear in mind, this was before modern feminism was even conceptualized, and before it became the thing that everyone loves to get offended about.
The same goes for his other works, like the thoughtful yet side-splitting essay on people of Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur. Having lived in all 3 cities for extended periods, I can definitely say that 50 years later, that essay still rings resoundingly true. Pu La mentions Armenian actor Akim Tamiroff in one of his sketches, whom I’d written off as an unknown entity (you know, not having Google at my fingertips then), only to find a reference to him many years later in “Bourne Ultimatum”. My mind literally exploded when that happened (I now imagine Ludlum and Pu La in the afterlife chilling with a beer and giving each other a high-five), which is why Pu La stands the test of time. And it is also why after having read his books 10 times over, I still read them again and marvel as references and connections I hadn’t understood before become clear.
It is then, that I am overcome with the urge to write something. Just so that I can classify myself as a writer, and that people may someday attribute the same profession to me as they did to Pu La. After all, it’s only been 4 years since I last wrote, how bad could I be?
(If someone has the cheek to write “Very” in the comments, it will not bode well for them)