Sunday, March 15, 2009

Pu La Deshpande – the gentle giant of Marathi literature. Maharashtrache Laadke Vyaktimatva

Purshottam Laxman Deshpande (popularly known as Pu La in Marathi colloquial…….) is a beloved litterateur of my home state of Maharashtra. He was a gentle multi-talented author of the comic genre, translator, harmonium-player, film-director, actor, aficionado of music and life in general etc.etc. His wit and command over the Marathi language, his wisdom clothed in humour, his life and the way he lived it is still an inspiration for many. A national treasure, he enriched the life of many and doubtless was an inspiration to many. Am pasting scenes from his very popular one-act play ‘Batatyachi Chaal’ and some other book readings. Being an actor, his book-readings too were extremely popular. The audio cassettes of his book-readings are highly popular to this day, many years after his death.

His apt obituary from The Independent (London) is so well-worded that I need not say more. Am reproducing it fully, below.

Obituary: P. L. Deshpande
Independent, The (London) , Jul 15, 2000 by Adrian Dannatt

BOMBAY'S LEADING poet, playwright and philanthropist might serve as an opening approximation of P. L. Deshpande's place in Marathi culture, but only if it were followed by a string of such qualifications as comedian, singer, musician, raconteur, screenwriter, film director, translator, actor and author of enough books to fill this space with their titles alone.

Deshpande, who died aged 81 in the city of Pune, his longtime base of operations, was known as "Mr Multi-Media Man" and indeed there was almost no area of popular and intellectual culture within Maharashta that he had not dominated for decades. "Pu La" as he was affectionately known by his Marathi initials was as widely popular as a harmonium player as a movie actor, his comic cassettes were continual best-sellers and his unstinting generosity made him a revered supporter of a range of charities.

Deshpande, who had been suffering from Parkinson's for the last six years, died in the hospital he had himself inaugurated; his home became a seething site of mass pilgrimage for several days and, after the Prime Minister of India had sent his condolences from Delhi, Deshpande was to be given a full state funeral, an event wisely resisted by his widow, Sunita, as the antithesis of his aesthetic.

Deshpande was a lifelong socialist resister and radical who, despite his vast fame, never really accepted the status quo. He was amongst the few to resist Indira Gandhi's imposition of emergency and he promoted and translated the dissident literature of that period. More recently the Shiv Sena party government created a special award for him but at their lavish presentation ceremony he strongly condemned the "Fascist tendencies" of Shiv Sena, whose infamous chief Bal Thackeray - a lifelong fan of the writer - derided Deshpande in response.

Deshpande's middle name may have been "Laxman" but he was anything but lax in his ceaseless creative energy which covered every field of entertainment and it would be hard to conjure a figure of equivalent stature in the West. If Deshpande's tape Mhais, a comic account of a bus and a buffalo, still staple entertainment at every middle-class home in Bombay, could cast him as an Indian Woody Allen, his musical repute might mirror Mike Oldfield and his best-selling travelogues suggest the success of Bill Bryson.

As well as his comic travel guides Deshpande's books include genres such as article collections (from some 50 years of journalism), character sketches, lectures and anecdotal recollection, the output of a true "Man of Letters" of the old school. Deshpande's central love was for literature in all its guises and though his oversize reputation is largely limited to the overpopulated state of Maharashtra he was an active force for international cultural exchange.

His plays included versions of Brecht's Threepenny Opera and Shaw's Pygmalion (Tee Phulrani) and one of his most loved works was a Marathi translation of Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. When he visited London on one of his regular global peregrinations in search of copy he made a special trip to visit Dulwich College to pay homage to the Alma Mater of his favourite writer, P.G. Wodehouse.

Purushottam Laxman Deshpande was born in Bombay and attended Fergusson College, where he set up a literary circle: "We ran it with complete confidence that the future of Marathi literature rested only in our hands." A typically self-mocking comment which can hardly disguise the fact they were proved right. His love of literature was reflected by the series of public readings of Marathi poetry that he set up with his wife and which became sell-out stadium events.

Deshpande seriously studied the harmonium from a young age and eventually became a leading player, as accompanist for some of India's most fabled singers and also composing his own hits, whether the devotional song "Indrayani Kathi" or the children's number "Naach re mora". Indeed his harmonium tapes were a staple at every Marathi home, where few social gatherings would end without some discussion of Pu La and his activities.

Deshpande made his first film, Kuber, in 1947, in which he was acting and play-back singing; by Mothi Manse in 1949 he created the music; and he spent the next decades on countless movies in which he was either actor, play-back singer, composer, narrator or writer. On his last film, Ek Hota Vidooshak (1993), Deshpande created the screenplay and dialogue.

In 1948 his first play, Tuka Mhane Ata, was staged and was his one and only flop, soon followed by years of hits, as appreciated by critics as the common audience. But even Deshpande's plays could not rival the unprecedented popularity of his one-man shows held in theatres and on television, the most spectacularly successful of which was Varya Varchi Varat, a typical satire on middle-class Marathi mores.

Perhaps his signature work was the play Batatyachi Chaal about a ramshackle Bombay apartment building, which is one of the few of his works translated into English.

Deshpande had been sent for television training with the BBC in 1958 and subsequently produced the first television programme broadcast by Delhi Doordarshan the following year. As Maharashta's "Favourite Personality" he won every award and honorary degree in India but no sooner would he receive a monetary prize than he would hand it away. When he received an award from the vocalist Pandit Joshi the audience gave him a spontaneous standing ovation and Deshpande gave all the money to the Asiatic Society of Bombay for the preservation of old books.

Deshpande led a determinedly simple life and pumped his considerable wealth into his own eponymous foundation, whose largesse was unstinting. Its first donation may have been to translate the best Marathi books into braille but the Deshpande Foundation supports everything from a hostel for the children of prostitutes near Pune to a science laboratory at a village school for children displaced by the Koyna earthquake.

All his prizes, medals and decorations are on display in his own museum in that city, the "PL Gaurav Darshan". This also stocks the best-selling videocassette on his life Pu La Vruttant and his pictorial autobiography Chitramay Swagat.

Deshpande had the modesty of all truly popular cultural figures and knew the limits of his appeal:

My writing is primarily parody-based. I was the least bothered about its literary value or its being outdated with the passage of time. I was glad that readers enjoyed my books greatly. The smile on their faces is my acknowledgement. I couldn't ask for more.

Deshpande's personal heroes were Chaplin and Tagore: "the two sides of a coin that is humanism". Deshpande spent three months in Tagore's town, learnt Bengali in order to translate him into Marathi and wished to die with all the grace of Tagore's own words: "Let me say this on this last day what I have seen and what I have received are unparalleled."

Adrian Dannatt

Purushottam Laxman Deshpande, writer, film director, harmonium player, actor and singer: born Bombay 8 November 1919; married; died Pune, India 12 June 2000.

Pu La Deshpande Batatyachi Chal Marathi Natak Part1

Pu La Deshpande Batatyachi Chal Marathi Natak Part2

Pu La Deshpande Batatyachi Chal Marathi Natak Part3

Pu La Deshpande Batatyachi Chal Marathi Natak Part3

Pu La Deshpande Batatyachi Chal Marathi Natak Part4

Pu La Deshpande Batatyachi Chal Marathi Natak Part5

Pu La Deshpande Batatyachi Chal Marathi Natak Part6

Pu La Deshpande Batatyachi Chal Marathi Natak Part7

Pu La Deshpande Batatyachi Chal Marathi Natak Part8

Pu La Deshpande Batatyachi Chal Marathi Natak Part9

Pu La Deshpande Batatyachi Chal Marathi Natak Part10

Pu La Deshpande Batatyachi Chal Marathi Natak Part11

Pu La Deshpande Batatyachi Chal Marathi Natak Part12

Pu La Deshpande Batatyachi Chal Marathi Natak Part13

Pu La Deshpande Batatyachi Chal Marathi Natak Part14

Pu La Deshpande Batatyachi Chal Marathi Natak Part15

Pu La Deshpande Batatyachi Chal Marathi Natak Part16

Mumbaikar, Punekar ki Nagpurkar


Paliv Prani 001

Paliv Prani 002

Paliv Prani 003

Pu La Deshpande - Majhe Shahari Jeevan 001

Pu La Deshpande - Majhe Shahari Jeevan 002

Pu La Deshpande - Majhe Shahari Jeevan 003

P.L. Deshpande's recording for EMRC and Andha Shradha Nirmulan Samitee

Nakshtranche Dene - Pu La Deshpande Part 2/15


Fiddler said...

Could you please share the link from where you got this obituary?

Nirvana said...

Hi Fiddler,

I have already quoted the article in its entirety. You can google for it and find the original article



Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this wonderful obituary Nirvana. Undoubtedly the best!