Surviving as tea seller, Indian writer keeps passion alive

by Hemlata Aithani

NEW DELHI, April 7 (Xinhua) -- Brewing steaming cup of tea by roadside is what he does for earning his livelihood. But writing books is what he lives for. The 55-year old Laxman Rao is a unique story in himself.

A graduate from Delhi University, he rides to his shop everyday on a bicycle carrying his books in one bag and a saucepan, tealeaves, sugar, milk and plastic cups in another.

Everyday, one p.m. is when he reaches Digambar road in the heart of Delhi where some of India's major English newspaper houses are located, and sets up his shop by the road under the canopy of an old banyan tree.

The stall comprises a stove, a stone slate to sit on and a plastic sheet to spread his book titles on. For his customers, he would quickly make a sitting bench by placing a wooden plank on two bricks each on either ends.

Rao is a multi-tasking man. While preparing milky tea, he engages his customers by his jovial talks about his books on display and the ones in the offing.

He said he had written 21 books so far. But no publisher agreed to take his work.

His first book entitled "Nayi Duniya Ki Nayi Kahani", written in 1979, narrates his early days struggle as a laborer or a waiter in a tea stall. It took him two years to write this book. It was followed by a play "Pradhanmantri" (Prime Minister) in 1984. The book was an outcome of his meeting with the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

"It's one of the most memorable days of my life. I wanted to write a book on Indira Gandhi but she said many books had been written on her and he should rather write on administration.

So "'Pradhanmantri' came into being highlighting the corrupt administration surrounding a prime minister," said Rao.

All his books are based on real life stories. It was one such incident that shook the writer in his childhood. A young boy, Ramdas, was drowned while taking a bath. The shock was overpowering and could be dealt with only when he expressed himself through pen and paper.

It was his first brush with literary writing but reading literary works was not new to him. He was quite fond of reading while he was in school and had read already many books in Hindi literature though he had Marathi language background.

Born on July 22, 1954 in a family of farmers in Amravati district of Maharashtra state, he began working in a local spinning mill in 1973 and after its closure switched to farming to help his father.

But this did not last long. "This was not what I was inclined and perhaps destined to do. There was something more compelling to be done," reminisced Rao.

So with just 40 rupees in his pocket he left home at the age of 21 to explore the outer world. He boarded a train but with that money could barely reach Bhopal in central India. There he worked as a laborer without ceasing his sharp observation of his surroundings and its people. It was his observation here of a poor girl adopted by a rich family upon the death of her parents became the subject matter of his book 'Narmada'. In three months he had saved enough to continue his journey, now this time to Delhi.

Upon reaching the capital he survived by cleaning dishes in restaurants. "After saving a decent amount I started selling cigarettes and beetle nut leaves before I opened a tea stall in 1985," recalls Rao.

He has been selling tea by the roadside during the day, writing books at night in the past 25 years.

Money earned through the sale of books 300 rupees (six U.S. dollars) each was spent to reprint and publish new ones through his own publishing house Bharatiya Sahitya Kala Prakashan.

The sale of his books was not very encouraging earlier. But now everyday he is able to sell at least four copies of his books to school libraries and a book a day at his roadside book "cafe".

Now he has enough money to publish two more books 'Ahankar' and 'Gandhi'. He may not be making big money like other successful writers, but he is getting enough recognition.

"All these years I was just struggling to keep my passion alive to establish myself as a writer. I think I have reached the milestone and can call myself a writer and not a chaiwallah (tea seller)," said Rao.

With a happy family by his side, he has no qualms with life. But he does occasionally dream of having a little better life without having to think where his next meal would come from if he doesn't sell tea.

Source: Xinhuanet