With 126 books already to his credit, the 64-year-old Gujarati writer,Chandrakant Bakshi,did not look like a spent-force,either physically or mentally. It was our first one-to-one chat.There were several surprises.
He smiled easily,laughed heartily,even at a joke at his own ex-pense,behaved what the British gentry would have described as correctly,and generally comes across as an amiable person. He might forget and forgive a physical attack,but never an insult.
Which profile,many of his detractors-- and they are in a legion --would testify,did not sit easily with his profile as an author.If his tongue was witty,his pen was generally barbed,and prone to drip-ping vitriol more often than not, or so it would seem to the detrac-tors.
That made Bakshi a highly controversial writer,and he positively loved controversies.Some say he chased a few if none came his way naturally.A man who took life as it came,and like to take it at a flood,Bakshi was a meticulous craftsman of words.
But,he was not a man with the gift of the gab and nothing to say.He backed up his skill as a wordsmith with an equally meticu-lous research,meshed with ideas designed to create an agita-tion.Simply put, he was a writer who hated to be ignored and did his damn best not to go unnoticed.
Bakshi divided his writing into two compartments,journalistic writ-ing,aimed at specific target audiences of the young,of women, of people in far-flung areas,striving to learn more, know more.It is studded with information and writing in a lively fashion-- a definite infortainment.His other writings,such as novels,short stories are what he said brought him into his element.But,in both types the backbone was a mix of research and experience.
He began writing for publication at the age of 18 and had never stopped,producing during the years 25 novels,12 collections of short stories,two collections of plays,seven travelogues,14 on his-tory and culture,41 anthologies of articles,two biographies,three containing excerpts,10 of translations and 41 anthologies of arti-cles in addition to three volumes of autobiography.Even his autobi-ography,begun in 1987,was an on-going work; more volumes were yet to come,till his last breath.The only branch he left alone is po-etry-writing."I did write some 20 poems but early on in my life, I re-alised poetry was not my forte."
A rebel,who was often at odds with the establishment,he was twice awarded first prizes by the Gujarat Sahitya Academy and the Gujarat government,but did not accept,contending these should go to younger writers.By temperament,he appears to be more at home in combat than in agreement with the powers that be.Many ridi-culed him as a one-man army,always itching for a fight; others think of him as a Don Quixote of Gujarati literature, forever tilting at real or imaginary windmills-- or windbags.
In reality,Bakshi was a warm-hearted person,with a strong sense of personal loyalty and a community sense of rebellion.He loved Calcutta dearly,although he left it many years. He disregarded the criticism of the eastern India megapolis as a dying city:"I spent the best years of my life in Calcutta.I have rich memories.Your friends may not happen to be the most beautiful people in the world,but they are “ your friends",he said, explaining his loyalty to Calcutta.
His growth as a writer was some kind of anti-thesis to the envi-ronment in which he was brought up.He hailed from a family that was not poor.
Born on August 20,1932,at Palanpur in north Guja-rat,Chandrakant did his matriculation from Bombay university in 1948,taking the first class.He did his B.A. from St.Xavier's col-lege,Calcutta with distinction in 1952,took his degree in Law in 1956 and finished his post-graduation from Calcutta university in History and Political Science in 1963.In 1970,he moved to Bombay as a college teacher,joining the Mithibai College of Arts,taking un-der-graduate classes in history and political science for a dec-ade.For five years between 1975 and 1980,he also taught the post-graduate students at the Bombay university in the same sub-jects.For two years he worked as the principal of L.S.Raheja Col-lege of Arts and Commerce in Bombay,till 1982.
But what made him take to writing? Chandrakant had no clear-cut answer,save the memory that he started writing very early.His first short story,in Gujarati,Makanna Bhoot,was written in 1950,when he was 18,and was published the next year in the pres-tigious Kumar magazine.
What prompted him to write in Gujarati was the location of his stores in an area in Calcutta,where no Gujarati was spoken all day."As it was my Gujarati was bad, it was atrocious,and I began to fear I will forget it altogether if did not write."
Remembered Bakshi of his olden days:"I did not know a soul in Gujarati literature,did not even know the language very well. But there was no looking back after I made a breakthrough in 1951. My writing contained the real raw experience of the river-side,of life in a decaying city, of murders and may-hem in day-to-day life, of fish.This somehow made an impact.Bachubhai Rawat told me in those days that for the first time a short story has come where there is real life,you feel the throb of it, feel it breathing.I think that was it.I feel art for me comes from real life.I believe the story con-tent has to be there in whatever you are writing,it should pertain to real life."
He did not think that he was avidly read because he loved to shock people,by being outrageously different."That is a misconcep-tion about me.Actually, earlier there never was any tradition of hard work in Gujarati writing,of marshalling facts, mounting meticulous research,doing a lot of home-work. I have fortunately had the disci-pline of history and law in my training,and I tend to do a lot of work before I put words on to the paper.I read up,move around,talk to people,look at landscape.Nothing gets out of my hands, my control in my writing.I am outcast in literature,am never called for anything, am not on any committee, no official accolade comes my way.The Soviet Union called me,but not in our state.That rankles me some-times,but only momentarily.There has been a conspiracy of si-lence".
"I have only one ambition; I want to be able to live as long as I do in the same way as I am doing now.I ask God to grant me that.I also do not want to die an invalid.I have no mandate to improve the world."He was full of joie de vivre and wished to be that way till the very last breath."I am I,and I want to be so till I am there".It requires superb arrogance or self-confidence to wish that,or perhaps both.
His wish was fulfilled and then one day in the dawn as the night hastily departed, it snatched Bakshi; he became He.