Nipped in the Literary Bud
(Written by Neil D’Silva)
Dhoklu could have been a literary genius. His name could have been shining right up there with all the Chetan Bhagats and the Amish Tripathis and the person who wrote the Chacha Chowdhary series whose name he does not remember now (all Dhoklu’s great – and only – inspirations), but sadly it did not happen. He could have won a Booker or a Pulitzer or maybe Amdavad’s New Debut Litstar Award (ANDLA) but it never happened. And we will never know what a genius Dhoklu could have become.
It will be too depressing for you to know what Dhoklu is doing today after his literary dreams were shattered, so I shall not speak about that, but it might help a couple of us here to know what really shattered Dhoklu’s dreams.
So, these are the culprits right here.
Imagine literary murder. Nay, literary terrorism. And imagine the terrorist standing right there with the automated weapon that’s known only with its acronym and its serial number. And imagine the terrorist massacring literature in cold blood. Well, that’s Dhoklu’s mother right there.
Now, don’t get me wrong. This quintessential Indian Maa did all the right things. She doted on her Dhoklu like she definitely should have. But the moment the poor woman saw the beautiful curves of Dhoklu’s English writing in his III Standard (those were the days we said III Standard and not Grade 3 like today), which were suitably assisted with his newly-bought China pen filled with Chelpark ink, the lady went into a state of euphoric high. And then she said those brutal words that marred Dhoklu’s psyche forever – “Dhoklu, tu ketla saras lakhe chhe! Writer bani jaao!” (“Dhoklu, you write so well! Become a writer!”)
Those were the bullets that she assaulted our poor Dhoklu with, and the wounds never healed. Maa kabhi jhoot nahin bolti and all that, so how could Dhoklu not believe in it? Like Mithun Chakraborty of yore, Dhoklu took it upon himself to become a writer, by hook or by crook. Mostly the latter.
But today Dhoklu is wiser, and Dhoklu has learned. Dhoklu has understood the impact of his mother’s carelessly spoken words. That is why he almost had an altercation with his wife last week when she told their son Paatru – “Paatru, tu ketla saras lakhe…” “NOOO!” Dhoklu yelled out. “Stop it right there!” Well, Dhoklu’s wife stopped, but not before ending it tearfully with, “Pann hoon to… hoon to keval Paatru ne protsahit karwa maan aavi hati… nahitar Patel ni putri handwriting competition jeeti jashe!” (“But I was… I was only saying this to encourage Paatru… otherwise Patel’s daughter will win the handwriting competition!”)
Oh, Dhoklu had several Taare Zameen Par moments when he was a kid. That’s not at all surprising, is it? Most of us writers have had those. Maybe we did not see animated fish in a bottle, but we have had our individual fantasies. Dhoklu had them too. And he might have worked on them as well, but his teachers, his brutish teachers…
They gave him homework. Which was nothing more than writing the chapter on Solar Energy ten times, copying it word to word.
And then there was his tuition teacher (whom his mother referred to as too-shun teacher), whose only religion was the term exams. And her only procedure was to make the student know the answers so fluently that they could say that in their sleep.
Well, once Dhoklu’s school did the unthinkable and prescribed an actual literary book – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – for casual reading. It was a good initiative, of course, and Dhoklu could actually have seen what literature looks like, but then his teachers brutally murdered poor Dickens by making Dhoklu mug up answers to questions such as “Why is Huck Finn admired by all boys in the class?” which was suitably translated as “Chokraaon na Hook Feen kem gamay chhe?”
Dhoklu’s Education Board
Oh, why blame the individuals when the system itself can be put to shame? And deservedly so. Things would have been so radically different if there was ICSE in Dhoklu’s time. But all the poor stifled genius had was to make do with the State Board.
And, believe me if you will, this was a State Board with the most pathetic textbooks ever. It was a Board that did not differentiate between ‘Suez Canal’ and ‘Sewage Canal’. This was a Board where African natives were referred to with the N-word. This was a Board which said that astronauts go to space wearing helmets. I kid you not!
This was also a Board where the only literary pieces in the Standard X textbook were written by people of dubious merit such as Shobha De. Oh, they did have literature, but that literature was poorly-translated versions of Munshi Premchand’s stories. Like, Bade Ghar ki Beti was transliterated as ‘Daughter of Big House’.
And the Board Exams! The big sham known as Board Exams. The kind where all you do is cram, cram, cram, and go and puke, puke, puke. The Great Indian Vomiting Marathon, if you will. They didn’t help Dhoklu one bit.
Now tell me, under these circumstances, what could poor Dhoklu do?
Well, there is ICSE Board now, and Dhoklu’s son Paatru is a proud student of the Board, but sadly Dhoklu and his wife are not. Hence, half of Paatru’s proper learning is unlearnt because of his parents and his tuition teacher. Hopefully, in the next generation…
Dhoklu’s father came into the picture of his literary world quite late in the day. After he turned 57, to be precise, when it was found that his blood sugar was too high to continue running around for his garment business. But by then he had earned enough and with suitable investments in all the right places, that paid him more than the average salaries of ten Indian families, he could very well retire.
That was also around the time when Dhoklu told him – very hesitatingly, I might add – that he wished to be a published writer. The guffaw that followed shook the very foundations of Gajanan Apartments for a whole ten minutes, until the neighboring Chhedas and Prajapatis came to inquire if everything was all right with Ranchhodbhai, and when they left, Ranchhodbhai asked his son if he was really serious.
Well, Ranchhodbhai had money. And a small dream of seeing his son’s name on a publication did ring a bell somewhere. He might have thought it was his contribution to the alien world of intelligence that he had never been a part of thus far, and, what the ho! He had money, didn’t he?
“Jaa, beta, jee le apni zindagi!” he said in truly filmi style and Dhoklu ran in slow motion to his computer and typed in the Google search box – carefully, letter by letter, thinking of the spelling as he proceeded – ‘how to get published in India’.
And the whole family rejoiced when they saw the top ten results. Ranchhodbhai read them slowly too, and then asked, “Dhoklu, aa v-a-n-i-t-y soo chhe?” And Dhoklu smiled back. “Search karoon chhoo, Papa.”
Dhoklu’s saga continues in the next episode. Read it here now:
(c) Neil D’Silva