More than a quarter-century ago, a banker-turned writer,Rajnikumar Pandya, hit upon an innovation in Gujarati literature—showing the story rather than telling it. Not being either a student or a pundit of literature, the 73-year-old Rajnikumar is diffident—and full of deference too-- while talking about it even today..
This is despite the fact that he has come out with more than 50 books, numerous monographs, biographies,tv serials, books on Hindi filmdom. He commands a huge fan-following and ironically,there is no major award in Gujarati that has not been bagged by the author.The literati may dislike his physical presence but the power of words could not be overlooked.The honours included the award for best rural reporting in all langauges in India,given annually by The Kolkata daily, The Statesman.
All this is sought to be played down by labelling him as a commercial writer because he earns his bread-and-butter by accepting writing assignments.
It is the same story as in the case of advertisement copy writers. Partly, this is owing to an inability among the literati to do what professional writers are doing. Most readers, attracted to a well-done advertisement, are impressed by its pithy,bright and brief copy plus visualisation. This is not everybody’s cup of tea. Jealousy comes in. The successful professionals are sought to be cut to size by calling them commercial. Rajnikumar is a trail-blazer in this area; he is highly organised,able to abide by the brief, can work smoothly with cameramen,singers,composers and even the rich who want to show to the world.Yet, he carefully keeps distinct the two original writing and assignments
To the literati everywhere, a typical man of letters means someone with unkempt hair,unshaven face,eyes red, mind full of ideas but wallet empty. Injustice is the common tag. Those writers who did not photo-fit this image are somehow viewed as intruders in the paradise.
By vocation a man who dealt with numbers at work as a bankman, Rajnikumar does not fit the shoddy image. He belives in meticulously remain a presentable personality.He was convinced in his heart that he was a man of letters, a natural story spinner, no matter what others thought.Launching himself as a columnist in an Ahmedabad daily,hearted penning what journalism called human interest stories.He thought he had arrived.
Around that time, the writing world in the West was also in a turmoil. Novels were being discarded and tv watching was eating into reading time. Newspapers and magazines too were feeling the heat of tv news channels because many marginal readers stopped buying news journals , depending on tv news. New Journalism came into vogue with journalists applying techniques of fiction writing to non-fiction. These included reconstruction of the story not in chronological order but by highlighting the most dramatic scenes by what the film makers call jump-cutting . It involves shifting from one scene to another.In doing this, dialogue of the main players was brought in. How was this done? Simple. By lnterviewing people.
Unaware of this, Rajnikumar began experimenting and the resulting stories ran under the logo,Zabkar,caught the attention of readers from all strata of society. Now, the literary establishment in many Indian languages, including Gujarati,is populated by professors,teachers,linguistic experts ,grammarians and assorted educators whose last contact with ordinary life was when they were jobless.
The establishment was bewildered. It has yet to come to terms with reality because it knew the reality via notions of literature which it passes off as principles.The literati could not credit it that the new comers were being read by a large number of people.
Oscar Wilde it was who put it tersely: Newspapers are not worth reading,but are read by a large body of people. In Gujarati,Rajnikumar showed that newspapers too can have literary writing.
But, the establishment continues to feel bad. Many writers who are popular among people are unpopular in the literati.
Rajnikumar knows he is persona non-grata in the establishment but cannot make out why. The Gujarati literati also does not know because being self-reliant not many read modern world literature. A few innocents seem to assume that the world outside Gujarat was a permissive space to be avoided. Some are so busy writing they have no time to read.
Yet, authors like Rajnikumar , Ashwinee Bhatt, Madhu Rye,Labhshankar Thacker and Chinu Modi themselves keep low profile.The basic Gujarati mentality to avoid a clash as far as possible plays a major role in this attitude.
When you find Rajnikumar walking,his gait seems to be so deliberate that you would think he is measuring the land. Actually, he is watching his tread to ensure he does not step on a literati’s toes.Generally, he behaves placatorily, verging on public relations. The Gurus think his diffidence underlines a sense of inferiority, proving he is an intruder. At the best, he may be a journalist who has used literary devices to pep-up his reports.
This tug-of-war goes on, taking an invisible tall. Crows feet are laying a siege around his eyes, his hairs are fighting to retain their black colour, face and the body betray a plumpness. His mind is full of anguish, making him think something is yet to be done.
Not many will detect a veil of somnolence wrapping the author’s persona. He commands a huge fan following but has been dreaming about something else.Only the closest of his friends know that Rajnikumar yearns to be a music-maker, wants to sing, and direct movies. These are his childhood dreams.
Late Vasudev Mehta, a veteran journalist, was the first to notice the graphic quality of Rajnikumar’s writing. He noted that among the contemporary writers, he was perhaps the lone one whose writing can be visualised and picturised.
His widely-acclaimed novel, Kunti,was a highly popular tv serial on national scale. Some years ago, he wrote a novel on an Non-Resident-Indian family,based on a true story,Pushpadaah. It was the first major Indo-US literary work in Gujarati. Rajnikumar is a meticulous writer. To know the local ambience,colours,society he travels to far-off places,to acquire realism he listens to dialogue; he not only reports,he tries to enter the mind of his character,pile up details. He always ends up with more material than he needs.But,this gives him scope to prune so that a controlled flow of the story emerges.
Rajnikumar’s innate sense of insecurity rivals with film artists like Amitabh Bachchan or cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar; all three know that to survive and win the rat race,they cannot rest on their laurels.They have to excel by being restless.
The author’s quest led him to put together a rare venture in literature; an album on Meghdut, the mammoth lyrical classic of 11th century by Kalidas. An unabashed celebration of life, the Sanskrit volume is a proof of India’s vibrant richness. Kalidas has outdone himself in compositionof verses,called samshloki ( verses written in such a way that they can rhyme and be recited musically,creating an ambience).
Meghdut followed an earlier digital documentation of the pioneering Gujarati popular journal,Visami Sadi,and its fearless secular-minded editor
In 1913,an ardent fan of Meghdut, Kilabhai Ghashyam Bhatt, himself a scholar translated the verses into Gujarati, in a manner that they too could be recited musically. Till todate, numerous translations of Meghdut were done but few could rival with Kilabhai’s work.
Then, in 1940-41,in Palitana, a pupil named Navnitlal Shah got interested in learning Sanskrit and heard Meghdut. Later,he moved to Mumbai and spotted Kilabhai’s translaton,priced at Rs.5 or 6.Now a wealthy old man,Shah still has the copy.He did not need to refer to it since he knew the entire volume,verse by verse,by heart.
Navnitlal is a lover of literature and had earlier joined hands with Rajnikumar to bring out a volume commemorating poet Ruswa Mazlumi who wrote ghazals.Other documentation followed.Eventually, he told the author to attempt something to take Meghdut and Kalidas into Gujarati homes with Kilabhai’s easy translation as the centre-piece.
The volume was accompanied by musical recital of the verse in two CDs by noted folk singer,Prafull Dave.The music direction was done by Asit Desai, another household name.
Rajnikumar said he knew precious little about Meghdut beyond the words Ashadhasya Pratham Divase. He set about learning more and everything he found he put into the book.So the album has articles on related matters by pundits.Its richness has been augmented by sketches and paintings of scenes and people in the epic done by renowned artists like Late Kumar Mangalsinhji, late Vasudeo Smart,late Kanu Desai and a host of others,all rare.
The album has been offered to public at cost price of Rs.595,and of Rs.295 for the book only.
For the restless author, a new quest begins.