Books, oh Books!!

August 27, 2009

My obsession with books started when I was a kid.

Not the “text-book” type of a book, that was a student’s occupational hazard. What fascinated me were books of the story variety. Books which took you away from the routine and into a land of imagination and fantasy. Books which smelt good when they were new (and even when they were old), books whose covers shone with the radiance of a million promises, books which gave endless tactile pleasures. If they had a hardbound, laminated cover you would caress it before opening the book at random and inhaling the ambrosia wafting from within. Books would entertain, engross, educate and mystify.

Books brought you into a mystical communion with writers past and present. Books whose writers were not mere pen-pushers but confidants sharing life’s secrets and mysteries. A book was an entire package of life’s treasures and all its sensual goodness packaged into one volume.

I would ache to possess books. Just to get them into my physical proximity. But the catch was there was no money around to buy these books of my dreams.

******

There was this Hindi “Baal pocket books” which advertised itself as a quarterly book-mailing club for kids. You could subscribe to the club’s membership at an equivalent of 10 paise per day.  Remember in those days children’s monthlies, “Parag” and “Nandan”, cost 50 paise each. The government publication “Bal Bharati” cost even lower. “Chanda Mama” and “Lot Pot” we considered infra-dig. “Champak” was too kiddish. While CBT’s “Children’s World” has hardly available in the market. The all-time favourite kiddies books by Enid Blyton were far more expensive. So was Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Three Investigators” series when I grew old enough to fancy them. The hardbound Hardy Boys’ series (there were no paperbacks of these then) were even more expensive.

There was this occasional monetary gift from relatives, initially in paises and then later in rupees. These were assiduously collected in an improvised piggy bank fashioned out of an old tin can. Money saved to purchase a new book. Yes, one long desired book, totally new. Wholly my own. The cheaper the book the better. Not cheap books, I assure you. (I did read some of them- the cheap ones I mean- but that was much later and certainly not with my painstakingly saved money.) I am talking about more-read-for-the-rupee, so to speak.

Some of these low-priced books were primarily sourced from the pavement stalls on Bishtupur Main Road, just opposite Central Bank of India. I refer to the magnificently produced books of a now forgotten publishing house from the then USSR, “Progress Publications, Moscow”. They had these eclectic collection of books right from the illustrated biography  of Lenin (in colour and on glazed paper!) to folktales from the distant corners of the Soviet Union to some excellent textbooks on the sciences. Many a weekend morning and much of one’s savings was expended acquiring these.

Then there was the ever popular and unbelievably inexpensive books from Geeta Prakashan, Gorakhpur. Mostly found at the railway station. That one publishing house which has done pioneering sevice to the spread and dissemination of Hindu religious literature. They also had publications for kids with stories from Ramayan and Mahabharat in a simple-to-understand way or some moral stories with a neatly packaged homily at the end of the story. All-in-all, entertaining, enlightening. And more importantly, very, very inexpensive.

Also available at the railway station were ELBS books, low-priced English language paperbacks from an institution called “English Language Book Society” which had taken upon itself the responsibility of selling low-priced textbooks primarily for the student.  Never mind the binding of these paperbacks wore off after a few weeks of handling. A book was a book, right? How does the fragmentation matter!

******

I had the recourse to a substitute to buying books though. Not something which would enable possession of books but certainly I could get to read them. My father was a college lecturer and hence entitled to borrow a number of books from the well-stocked college library. Those were friendly days; no problem if I strolled into the library and borrowed a book or two (or five). The library was at a walking distance from the college staff quarters where I stayed. On Saturdays and during the school summer vacations (the college library was open through the summers) that was the place to be in.

Most of my reading of the classics by Charles Dickens, Alexander Dumas, Jules Verne etc. is courtesy the college library. And lots and lots of Hindi literature or Hindi translations of world literature. Premchand’s stories and novels,  the magical “Chandrakanta”, “Chandrakanta Santati” and “Bhootnath” series. Translations of Bengali novelists Vimal Mitra and Shankar. Marathi writer Sane Guruji’s “Shyamchi Aai”. Translations of Gorky, Chekhov, Camus etc. I am not sure how much of these I understood, probably nothing, but it was an honour and a pleasure to be holding these tomes and reading away! At the risk of sounding immodest, I admit that I was a bit of a precocious kid. My father, Pitaji, did nothing to discourage me.

Our school too had a most wonderful library which we were allowed to access only when we entered the high school. An extraordinary collection of books! The entire collection of Enid Blytons; all of her series including Mallory Towers  and St Clare’s which we young men thought were oddities in an all boys’ school, but we read them nevertheless. The most-in-demand “Hardy Boys” series and “The Three Investigators” series presented by Alfred Hitchcock. Biggles, Billy Bunter, William. Ripley’s “Believe it or Not”. Alistair MacLean and Desmond Bagley. The mandatory Classics. And tons of other books. And yes, shelves and shelves of text books too.

The library was under the stern supervision of Mrs Irani who could be immensely strict. You were punished if caught even whispering in the library. She would closely examine the books as they were being returned. I shudder to think of the punishment boys would get when they turned in a soiled, or worse still, a dog-eared book. But Mrs Irani could be utterly loving too, in her sweet parsi aunty kind of way. Ah, those endless hours spent in the library pouring through volumes of old National Geographic magazine! And the old, bound editions of Dharmyug. And browsing through Encyclopaedia Britannica.

******

Sometimes in my early teens, in my pursuit of books, I discovered the “circulating” libraries. These were tucked into the bylanes of the interiors of Bishtupur market, diagonally opposite the famous mithai shop, Manohar Maharaj. These shops lent pulp-fiction for a pittance. And it is here that I got my quota of James Hadley Chase, Harold Robbins, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather and Peter Benchley’s Jaws. And so many others. Needless to say that these reading exploits were carefully concealed from my parents- or so I always thought- by covering these books in old newspapers and reading them only when I thought they had gone to sleep! Ah, those heady days of growing up!

Bishtupur also had two book shops, I am not sure whether they exist now. There was this “Sanyal Brothers” up the Bishtupur Main Road which would specialize in fiction and best-sellers. Down the road was “Sen and Co.” which sold mostly text books. These were holy destinations for me, Sanyal more favoured than Sen as it allowed window-shopping and browsing. There was one more shop tucked into the bylanes of the market, not far from the aforementioned circulating libraries. This was actually a fruit juice cum fruit shop turned into a book shop, “Bhatia Pustak Bhandar”. The sardarji there displayed a mouth- watering selection of fruits and books too! The books-cum-gift shop “Wasava Singh” at Kamani center happened much later, when I was in my high school perhaps, maybe even later.

******

The situation was not very different in my college days. The financial resources were still scarce, the love for books heightened further. But I had access to some of the best libraries and to some great book shops (for window shopping) in my college days. In those days of discovering myself the reading tastes swung wildly! Ayn Rand was an absolute must for all of us who had even the faintest ambition of being called thinking people. Then reading swung among sci-fi, Vedanta, psychology, politics, Marx, Sartre…. The more ecletic the better. Never mind if I could not understand most of what I read!

******

I became totally unhinged in my love for books when I started working and earning a salary. But that is a story for another piece!

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Ponga, pagaar, rokegaa ladeej; an intro to Jamshedpur patois

August 22, 2009
Section of Jamshedpur Skyline

Section of Jamshedpur Skyline

This post is on the colourful and unique words used in Jamshedpur in the days I was growing up there in the 60’s and the 70’s. Jamshedpur being an industrial town had migrant workers from all over. Bhojpuri speaking people, Maithils, Bengalis, Oriyas, the Andhra people from the northern part of coastal Andhra (called “telangis” in local parlance).  Of course the local adivasis speaking a myriad languages of their own; Ho, Munda, Oraon etc.

This, over time, produced a “language”, mostly unique to Jamshedpur. I list below a few of the words which have stuck in my memory over the decades. This list is by no means a definitive. I am sure there are many more words which I may have missed. I may have even got some meanings not–so-right.

Do read, dear readers, and let me know of other words which would merit a mention in a subsequent similar piece on the Jamshedpur patois.

Ponga:

Ponga refers to a grave sounding loud siren which would go off at periodic intervals thrice a day signaling the start of a fresh shift at TISCO, aka, Tata Company. At 6am, 2pm, 10pm.  These would beckon the Tisco workers to their work, “duty” as it is called. Or colloquially, “diuty”.

Shift:

A ponga heralded the start of a shift. As in an “A’, “B”, or “C” shift. “Shift” here refers not to a general lateral movement, but to the commencement of an eight-hour work period which was announced by a ponga.

The life of Jamshedpur was dictated by these shifts. Guests to a wedding dinner party would excuse themselves early, even before the baraat clarionetted (a clarion commonly called a “kilaat“) and drummed its away to the bride’s house, saying that they had an “A” shift the following day and they had to have an early dinner so that they could be  early to bed, in time for the 6 o’ clock shift. And their wishes were fulfilled with an earlier-than-normal serving of dinner.

Naga:

If the workers were not able to participate in their shifts, they had to perforce take a “naga”, a chhutti.  Commonly called a casual leave, a CL.

Off:

Refers to the weekly break enjoyed by the workers. Each of them had his “off” on different days of the week. Commitments to meet socially depended on the weekly off the workers had. “Kal biyafey hai, hamara off hai. Ham aayengey.” Biyafe being the Bhojpuri word for Brihaspatiwaar or Thursday.

Pagaar:

Pagaar was what the workers received as the rewards for their month’s labours. Pagaar, a salary.  Curiously enough the pagaar was disbursed not on the 1st of the month, but from the 4th to 8th of the month. Each “department” had a specific day for this activity.

And timing themselves with the day, the pathans, or the money-lenders (kabuliwala clones in my growing-up days) would position themselves at the factory gates waiting to recover their dues from the hapless worker who had the misfortune of taking a loan from them.

Double-Pagaar:

Double-pagaar meant the annual Puja bonus the Tisco factory workers received before the commencement of the Puja season. Puja was the time when the entire city went berserk doing purchases. Clothes, appliances, two-wheelers, books, what-have-you! In the weeks after the double-pagaar, the otherwise friendly shopkeepers would not  have even a moment to as much as nod back at you, the tailor would look the other way when his regular patrons requested him to deliver the tailoring in time for shashthi, the neighbouring “hotel-wallah” (called the halwaai in the rest of North India) would smile away deep-frying furiously the singharas and the jalebis.

Double-pagaar time was multiple fun times for the entire populace of Jamshedpur.

Giddu:

This appellation is for humans who are vertically challenged.

Yeh giddu kya khelega? Ek tho chhotey sa bowl hi uskey liye bouncer hai.

Gentler versions are “chhotu”, “bauna”.  If there is a gush of affection then the aforesaid bauna may be referred to a baunoo as well. In cases of extreme affection, Giddu would be converted into Gidua as well.

This word was often used depracatingly.

PS: “Tho” is a very Bihar word meaning nothing, just a linguistic crutch like the Bengali “ta”, as in “Ek ta”.

Single-haddi:

An epithet for humans with slighter stature. Patla-dubla in common parlance.  Also meaning durbal, nirbal, and well…. single (haddi). The precursor to the adjective “size- zero”.

Double- haddi:

Someone endowed with a generous weight. Of a healthy disposition. Mota!

Iss double-haddi goalkeeper key side sey football daal do, goal toh ho hi jayegaa.” (“The corpulent goalie would not be able to move his significant butt before the ball shot through the goalpost”)

Phutani:

An expression for unbecoming pride, vanity. Usually employed in the context of jealousy. “Phutani maarney waala” was a show-off. Rarely a term of endearment.

An explanatory sentence: “ Jab sey bell-bottom pehena shuru kiya hai, badi phutani marta hai”.

An explanatory ditty:

Hindustani, daal ka paani,

Chutiya rakhkar badi phutani.”

For those uninitiated, Hindustani was an appellation for a Bihari those days. It was often used by the Bengalis whose population in Jamshedpur has always been considerable. Daal ka paani refers to the watery version of Arhar daal which the Biharis relish with their chaawal (or bhaat as they call it). Chutiya can be loosely translated to a ponytail, the little twist of hair at the back of an otherwise clean-shaven pate. I have no idea why a chutiya-endowed Bihari should exude vanity.

The Hindustanis would retaliate against the Bengalis with an equally colourful ditty which went thus:

“Ai Bangali, ting-tingali

Pocha maachh khanewali

“Oh, ye Bongs, you smelly (rotten) fish-eaters”. My researches have revealed no specific meaning of “ting-tingali”. I suppose it is a device used to rhyme with the subsequent khanewali. As a matter of fact, I do not even know why the feminine khanewali was used.

Dangali:

Dangali refers to the branch of a tree. Dangali katna was a regular acitivity with families with overgrown guava, jamun or katahal trees in their backyards (more likely “front” yards). Katna= cutting, pruning.

The humble dangali too has it own uses!

Like the time in the early centuries of Anno Domini when the celebrated Sanskrit dramatist Kalidas was seen sawing-off the very dangali he was perched on. This led to a series of multiple events culminating in his marriage to a haughty princess. And the rest, as they say, is history (and literature!).

Thonga:

In those years before plastics, thonga was a paper container used to pack commodities in the local grocer’s shop. Thonga means a paper bag. This would be made of either old newspapers or with pristine brown paper sheets.

Thonga is not to be confused with the suffix “tho” which has an altogether different meaning as mentioned earlier. But it was ok to say “ek tho thonga”.

Butru.

Sometimes spelt as buturu as well.

This refers to a young lad, a male child. Often a child worker at a dhaba or at a roadside tea-stall. “Ei butru, yeh tabul ponchh (wet-wipe the table) do”, “ei butru zara ek cigarette khareed lao”.

The usage of butru was not confined to such workers but used for other kids too. “E butru o marad ka hai na?” (“This kid belongs to that chap”)?

Some butrus were even addressed as babuas, or babus. The female equivalent of a babua was buchia, a buchunia, or even a babuni. I do not know of a similar gender conversion with butru roots. Maybe female butrus those days were impossible to find in a road-side tea stall.

And finally,

Rokegaa, ladeej

Mini-buses were the blessing- or the scourge- those days, depending on how you saw them. Those early days of these devilish vehicles. They would torment all the road users.  With their very “artistic” swerves from the left of the road to the right or even vice versa.

And they had given themselves licenses to stop in the middle of nowhere should the conductor, or more commonly the khalasi (the bus attendant) feel like it. The khalasi was that guy swinginging on the door handle -mostly outside the confines of the minibus- trying to guide the destiny of the vehicle. And its passengers. He would shout and whistle for the minibus to stop, even in the middle of the road, should he spot a potential lady passenger.

Rokegaa, Ladeej”!


Aaj Pehli Tarikh Hai…

August 8, 2009

This post is on a song which we listened to when we were growing up. We would tune into Radio Ceylon’s music program at 7.30 in the morning just to listen to this song which was the first one played in the program. I am referring to the famous Kishore Kumar song called: “Pehli Taarikh Hai

I reproduce below the entire lyrics of the entire song, with some interjections and observations from me.

(the lyrics are from the blog atulsongaday.wordpress.com, many thanks for this)

—-

Din hai suhana, aaj pehli tarikh hai
din hai suhaana aaj pehli tarikh hai

khush hai zamaana, aaj pehli tarikh hai

pehli tarikh aji, pehli tarikh hai

This ode to the first of the month refers to the day when most salaried persons are paid their monthly remuneration. Well most of them in Jamshedpur of those days. That was an era far removed from credit cards. No easy credit for anyone. With these pieces of plastic each day of the month feels the same as far as buying power is concerned. In fact I have a few of my friends who time their purchases to some date in the middle of the month so as to be able to enjoy the lengthiest credit! They never existed in my childhood. Period!

The era I am referring to is from long, long ago. Late 60’s and early 70’s. When the month’s salary mattered to all. That is when you would get (hard-earned) cash for the forthcoming month’s spending.

Pitaji, my father, who was a college lecturer got his salary on the first of the month. But, for some reason, the bulk of Jamshedpur’s population who worked for various factories in the town (Tisco, Telco, etc.) was paid between 4th to 8th of the month. The word for salary in Jamshedpur was “pagaar” which I understood much later was of Bombay origin courtesy the Tatas who ran most of the factories in Jamshedpur. There was a cousin of pagaar, the double pagaar. This denoted the annual puja bonus which all factory workers got. Which unleashed some stupendous buying power into the city. The fabric/garment sellers in Sakchi and Bishtupur, the shoe-sellers, Sree Leathers in Sakchi and the Bata showroom on Bishtupur Main Road and the appliance (= radio and two-in-one’s) sellers, they all reaped a harvest those days. So did the tailors who were besieged with requests for a quick turn-around on their customers’ orders.

biwi boli ghar zara jaldi se aana jaldi se aana

shaam ko piya ji hamein cinema dikhana
hamein cinema dikhana
karo na bahaana, haan bahaana bahaana
karo na bahaana, aaj pehli tareekh hai

khush hai zamaana, aaj pehli tarikh hai
pehli tarikh aji, pehli tarikh hai

Our family could not afford cinema together. Not for all eight of us, parents and six siblings. And anyway, cinema was the fount of moral turpitude; or so we were told. We were told that good children (“achhey bachchey”) saw movies only once in a year, and only stuff like “Shahid Bhagat Singh”, “Sampoorn Ramayan” and maybe “Teesri Kasam”. And that too only at the end of the final exams for the year. Once in a while my elder brother, who was pretty movie- savvy, cajoled my parents to see movies like “Anand” or “Namak Haraam”. Perhaps this depravation was the reason why I developed innovative ways to catch up on movies when I went to high school. I have written extensively about my film escapades in my earlier posts.

The only pehli taarikh indulgence of parents’ was the dosa at Bombay Sweet Mart, Bishtupur, after ordering the month’s groceries at “Ashok and Co.” I was co-opted by parents into this expedition to “escort” the groceries on their way home on the cycle-rikshaw, so I too was treated to a masala dosa. It is another matter that in one of these trips mai saw a restaurant bearer scratch his back with the bunch of forks he held in his fist. And BSM was banned promptly for our household after that!

kis ne pukara ruk gaya baabu, lala ji ki jaan aaj
aaya hai kaabu, aaya hai kaabu

o paisa zara laana, o paisa zara laana
laana, laana.

o paisa zara laana, aaj pehli tareekh hai
khush hai zamaana, aaj pehli tarikh hai
pehli tarikh aji, pehli tarikh hai

Thankfully we did not have any creditors as far as cash was concerned. The only creditor we had was the local grocer. The chap from whom we would purchase the month’s supply of attadaal and tel. Our, grocer,Lalaji, who changed from “Ashok and Co.” at Bishtupur to the neighbourhood Bhagwati (of “Rajesh General Stores”) at Kagalnagar market had some ready customers, e.g. our parents. Pitaji used to buy all provisions on a month’s credit. And promptly on the 1st he would pay the bill. Lalaji who would extend this credit would also take this opportunity to push brands and goods where he would earn the maximum profits. He would dust an aging pack of some hitherto unheard of masala powder, for example, and tell my mother how great it was and that he had used it himself. Never mind that he had never used it and that he was pushing the pack only for the hefty margin this would earn him. But all were happy with this arrangement, my parents for the line of credit they got and the Lalaji for the extra margin he earned.

banda bekaar hai, kismat ki maar hai
sab din ek hain, roz aitwaar hai.

mujhe na sunana, haan sunana sunana,

mujhe na sunana, aaj pehli tareekh hai,
khush hai zamaana, aaj pehli tarikh hai
pehli tarikh aji, pehli tarikh hai

There were many in our extended family who had gravitated to Jamshedpur from their villages in search of a job. Some had managed to find one courtesy Pitaji who had some contacts in Tisco. The others, who were not lucky, would curse their luck, the Tatas and sometimes even my Pitaji for not having wielded his magic wand to get them the coveted Tisco jobs. They would line-up at the local employment exchange for years and spend their time ruing their luck! For them each day was aitwaar– Sunday- day with nothing to do!

dar ke saamne, aaye mehmaan hain
bade hi sharif hain, puraane meharbaan hain

bade hi sharif hain, puraane meharbaan hain
are jeb ko bachaana, bachaana, bachaana.
jeb ko bachaana, aaj pehli tareekh hai

khush hai zamaana, aaj pehli tarikh hai
pehli tarikh aji, pehli tarikh hai.

dil beqaraar hai, soye nahi raat se

seth ji ko ghum hai ki, paiso chalo haath se
are lootega khazaana, khazaana, khazaana.
lootega khazaana, aaj pehli tareekh hai
khush hai zamaana, aaj pehli tarikh hai
pehli tarikh aji, pehli tarikh hai

The first of the month also brought forth favour-seekers, people who wanted small loans to tide over their financial crises. All well-meaning folks, but their monthly expenses had far out-stripped their incomes. There were others too who would borrow odd amounts of money only to repay it in parts, and often never at all.

aye cinema waalon aao, aao khel mazedaar hai
ho khel mazedaar hai, ji khel mazedaar hai

agha hai bhagwan hai, kishore kumar hai
nimmi geeta bali hai, ashok kumar hai
nargis raj kapoor hai, dilip kumar hai
geeton ka toofan hai, naach
ki bahaar hai
naach ki bahaar hai

paanch aane ka das aana
paanch aane ka das aana
paanch aane ka das aana

are waapas nahi jaana, jaana, jaana
waapas nahi jaana, aaj pheli tareekh hai

khush hai zamaana, aaj pehli tarikh hai
pehli tarikh aji, pehli tarikh hai

I have referred earlier to the austerity around the household regarding movies. And the closest we came to watching films was hearing songs on Radio Ceylon on our Murphy radio! Never would we have paid the usurious “paanch aane ka das aana” black-marketeers rates to see 1st day 1st show. To the contrary, I even got my classmate, whose family owned the poshest cinema hall, Natraj, in the city to give us complimentary passes to see a couple of movies there.

mil jul ke bachchon ne, baapu ko ghera
baapu ko ghera.
kehte hain saare ki, baapu hai mera
baapu hai mera.
khilone zara laana.
khilone zara laana, aaj pehli tareekh hai
khush hai zamaana
aaj pehli tarikh hai
pehli tarikh aji, pehli tarikh hai.

The bachchas would have a myriad request in the beginning of the month. A new notebook, a fresh eraser (Sandow, if we were lucky!), even a new pair of shoe-laces. All these had to be met at the earliest! And what about a close friend’s birthday party? Some fresh brown-paper to cover the books? A set of coupons to a school fete, or even a day-long outing with the Biology Club would mean a request for an extra allowance.

din hai suhaana, aaj pehli tarikh hai
khush hai zamaana, aaj pehli tarikh hai
pehli tarikh, aji pehli tarikh hai

PS 1: This song is the basis of a new chocolate ad. In our days of growing up, we did not know what a chocolate was. And if my parents knew what it was, they would have frowned on it, anyway.

PS 2: This song is a comedy song from the film Pehli Tarikh. The film was released in the year 1954 with direction  by Raja Nene. He was also the lead starcast of the film. Voice for this song is given by Kishore Kumar.

PS 3: This was not a comedy song for us kids when we were growing up. It was a part-and-parcel of life.


In Which We Turn A Book Publisher And… A Book Seller

August 5, 2009

Thesis Cover Final

Some of you may have read an account of my father’s new book on Vinoba Bhave which I got published earlier this year. This post is about an earlier book, far removed from Vinoba Bhave, by Pitaji which I was instrumental in getting publishing.

Pitaji received his Ph D degree way back in 1961 from Ranchi University- Ranchi then in Bihar- now in Jharkhand. The thesis was a socio-cultural study of Bhojpuri proverbs. It was one the earliest works of its types and the first for Ranchi University. Pitaji had travelled across the Bhojpuri speaking region in Bihar and UP and collected thousands of proverbs. These were classified under different sub-heads. Life, relationships, social structure, professions, entertainment, etc. Ph D degree obtained, the “job” of the thesis was done with. When I was a kid I would see this big, hard-bound thing in the family’s Godrej cupboard and wonder what it was. Over time, I was told that it was Pitaji’ thesis, and when I did not understand that, I was told it was his badi kitab, the big book. And that was that.

Pitaji has been a Hindi teacher, he taught Hindi all his working life. He probably could have done much greater things in life but for his two prime passions; he wanted to raise his six off-springs in a manner that would be exemplary compared to the standards prevailing then and he wanted to devote himself to teaching Hindi. And that meant he had to forgo writing. Totally.

That hard-bound book remained a matter of curiosity for me all through my schooldays.

…..

Cut to 40-odd years later.

On a whim I decided to get “the book” published. Pitaji was sceptical, I persisted. I knew I had to get it published myself, no publisher would touch a thesis 40 years or so old and that too on Bhojpuri proverbs. My father’s student, Narendra Kohli, who is an eminent novelist got the wind of my idea and dissuaded me from a personal publication.

“It lacks dignity”, he said.

I said, “But how shall I find a publisher? I am in Bangalore, in a job and place far removed from Hindi publishing. There is no way I can find any publisher.”

Kohli-ji, who is Delhi-based, asked me not to worry and leave the job of finding a publisher to him. And find he did! He called me a few days later and gave me a Delhi mobile number to call. “This person will do the job. I think it is a good idea to go through him.”

The mobile number turned out to be that of the owner of the Deli-based Vani Prakashan which is one of the most eminent publishers of Hindi books. And Vani Prakashan also happened to be Narendra Bhai-sahab’s regular publisher. I call up Mr Publisher and he has two different deals to offer, both requiring upfront cash investment. That’s in lieu of the number of copies I will get from the publisher. In one deal the book would be published by Vani Prakashan, the flagship company of the publisher. This was a more expensive venture, but was rather prestigious as most of the publisher’s celebrated releases came under this banner. Including the best-selling novels of Narendra Bhai Sahab’s And more interestingly the banner’s logo was designed by the celebrated artist MF Hussain. The other deal was cheaper but the name was unknown (perhaps used to publish theses, or even worse still old Bhojpuri theses, I could never figure this one out!)

……

So Vani started the publication process. I got myself involved with the cover design. Which finally was my father’s hand-writing on the cover as a kind of watermark.

I was keen that the book was priced at a respectable level. And that the book was hard-bound with decent production values. I need not have bothered about the production values, Vani had a name to protect for itself.

…..

Finally the book was ready and I received some copies in lieu of the investment I had made. Neatly packaged and delivered to Pitaji’s address. Just in time for us to release the book on the day he turned 81. 45 years after he got his Ph D on this work. Our family decided to have a public function in Jamshedpur to release the book on Pitaji’s birthday. That was easier said than done. We needed to find some organization under whose banner we could hold this function. All of us siblings were too scattered across the country do any organizational activity. “Jamshedpur Bhojpuri Parishad” volunteered to do the needful, as long as we footed the bill. Which we did and the program was a grand success.

The release of the Thesis

The release of the Thesis, Pitaji second from left

The author, Dr Satyadeo Ojha, speaks

The author, Dr Satyadeo Ojha, speaks

The highlight of the program as far as I was concerned was that I was invited to speak to the audience as the “producer” of the book. And the catch was given the nature of the forum I had to speak in Bhojpuri. This was my first, and perhaps the last speech in that language (dialect?). Even if I say so, it was not a bad effort at all.

The program got extensive coverage in the local media.

One of the press stories the day after

One of the press stories the day after

The initial plan was that this book would be freely distributed among all who knew Pitaji. There was no commercial motive behind the project. But at the last minute, on the day of the book release, I had serious issues about this plan. “No way this work of hard and long labour would be freely distributed. Since this book is of major interest- and use- to those who would read it, giving the book away for free did not make any sense. No one ever reads a free book. As a corollary, people read a book only when they have paid for it. And then I decided to “sell” the book. I did not care if no one bought it and I was left with a pile of inventory. “That is OK,” I thought to myself, “at least that way I would not be devaluing the book.” And anyway, the investment I had made was not such a great amount for me for me to lose sleep over.

The only concession I made is to offer a good 30% discount on the book’s cover price of Rs 425, but even at Rs 300 it was an expensive book. I was right, and I got the first taste of my decision on the day of the book release. With much reluctance the organizers permitted me to sell the book. “Crass commercial interests,” they must have muttered under their collective breaths. That evening we sold just 2 copies of the book to an audience of nearly 150-175. Virtually similar audience had come to attend the “Amrit Mahotsav” celebration (81st birthday) of Pitaji the previous year and had made long queues to get a free copy of the hard-bound commemorative book we had released that day.

But I was determined to sell as many copies of the book as possible.

…….

The biggest ally in this “selling” project was the premier Bhojpuri website, www.bhojpuri.org.  I wrote to the founder, who subsequently over a period of time turned into a friend, about this book and my plan to sell it. He posted my message on the website and it was also circulated to the Bhojpuri e-group.

Orders started coming in right from day one!

The first order came from Singapore of all the places! This Singapore order snow-balled into an order of twelve copies. I persuaded a colleague traveling into Singapore to carry this consignment with him and arranged to have it picked up by one of the buyers there. The cash was transferred in no time to my account. And that was the beauty, I would get mails from complete strangers who would ask for a copy. I would get it couriered to them and soon enough the money got transferred to my account. Till date I have not had any defaulter, not a single one!

Over time I received orders from Perth in Australia (yet another colleague traveling to Sydney carried a copy and mailed it from within Australia), one from South Africa (the person was traveling to India shortly and he asked me to ship it to an India address. So mercifully I did not have to look for a way of reaching it to this African country. Some orders from England. One from Los Angeles (again shipped via a colleague traveling to LA). A requirement of ten copies from the Bhojpuri Association of North America. They had decided to display and sell the book in a Diwali Mela stall they had taken at Dallas, USA!

Bhojouri Association on North America office bearers (Sailesh Mishra ji to the extreme left)

Bhojouri Association on North America office bearers (Sailesh Mishra ji to the extreme left)

The Display at Dallas Diwali Mela

The Display at Dallas Diwali Mela

Mauritius has a large Bhojpuri diaspora and I got in touch with the Ministry of Culture there. There was also a Prime Ministerial -Mauritius’- intervention of sorts, but that is a matter for a complete post by itself. Over a period of time I got a mail asking me to submit an evaluation copy and then within a few weeks I was asked to courier 15 copies for the ministry-run libraries in this island state. A US dollar cheque including the courier charges arrived pretty promptly.

The word-of-mouth spread and I ended up shipping copies to friends of the early buyers. Over time I have had the books shipped to a Bhojpuri TV channel presenter, a film maker, a research scholar in Linguistics, a housewife, and so many more!

Many would write back and tell me what a wonderful book they had read. And that its publication was a great service to the Bhojpuri language. Some have even become friends ever since! Like Binay Pandey, from Ranchi, the founder of the Bhojpuri Group, Sanjeev Roy, then in Singapore and now in his company HQ near San Francisco, California, Neeraj Chaturvedi from Singapore and Sailesh Mishra from Dallas, USA . Some even suggested that this book be translated into English for a wider audience who knew spoken Bhojpuri but could not read Devnagari script.

But I have a more basic problem. It has been four years now and the initial print run is nearly exhausted. I have just 7-8 copies remaining with me which I would be loathe to sell or even give away. I sometimes wonder whether it would be a good idea to get into a reprint. Perhaps I should. One never knows how big the next requirement would be. But this would be, I suppose, rather unprecedented in the Hindi publishing history; A Hindi hardcover book, pretty exorbitantly priced by Hindi publishing standards, a Ph. D. thesis, and that too on Bhojpuri proverbs going into a second print run!

Maybe I should. If not for anything else, then for the fact that this will give Pitaji an opportunity to write a preface to this second edition to express the “embarrassment” he has had after re-reading his thesis. He told me early on that he feels a little odd to read now something he wrote decades ago, when he was still “young”. And that his perspectives in life had changed.

Pitaji, maybe your perspective in life has changed, maybe you want to rewrite the preface. But that is not because you are old. You are still young going on 85, it is just that time- multiple decades really- have elapsed in the interim years.