I was forced to walk on the dusty and potholed road, reading from my house to the main road, inspite of my broken foot and the heartless autowallahs in no mood to help, a lane neglected by the woman MLA Ms – By Ali Peter John.
Bharti Lovekar and her corporator for six long years,when I saw my foot kicking something and when I realised it was a part of a newspaper which seemed very familiar to me, I tried to pick it up and it would be saying nothing if I say I was shocked.
That piece of paper was exactly the page on which I wrote my columns, “Ali’s Notes”, which I gave 45 years of my life to write without a break and had earned my livelihood and a name.
I kept looking at my name Ali and also kept staring at what I had written and from that moment, I was tormented by a torrent of questions and the one question that should be most, ” was I putting all my efforts and giving my life to bring life to what i wrote for it all to be found on that dusty and dirty road someday and find myself kicking it ?”.
This was not the first time I had seen the work of writers being “mauled and molested” on streets and in the shops of small and big raddiwala’s.
My fascination for the work of writers, some of the greatest of them being ill treated and insulted started when I had just finished college and was walking to Andheri station and travelling in a train without ticket every day to find more life in places like Flora Fountain ( Hutatma Chowk) and the offices of The Times of India.
I used to find several small lanes where the books of some of the greatest authors, from Shakespeare to George Bernard Shaw, to Charles Lamb, all the romantic poets which were more than a hundred year old lying on those lanes where entirely illiterate men sold these great works for a few rupees without knowing the value of these books and sometimes even cursed the writers of these books which were not being sold even at one fourth of the original price.
I used to wonder what these writers would have felt if they had seen what condition there books were lying in on unknown lanes and dark corners.
True, I could see the men dusting the covers of these books to make them look good but I still was not satisfied and asked these men from where they found those books and whether they knew , the real and the priceless worth of them and all they could do was shrug their shoulders and say that they were doing this job on the order of some men folk who were doing this business of not only providing middle men like them with books, but some antiques, paintings and other works of art, which they tried to sell at prices which could be afforded by students, lecturers, professor’s and even other writers who didn’t have the money to buy the original books.
I asked them how many books they sold in a day and one answer that was common was “Bahut bekaar dhandha hai Sahab, isse toh accha hota ki hum rumaal aur pyjama bechte.
Aise bhee police waalon Ko aur BMC waalon Ko hafta dena padhta hai aur vaise bhee hafta toh Dena her padhta hai, agar bambai mein dhandha karna hai”.
Those words still ring in my ears and hurt me and I seriously wonder why after knowing what happens to the works of the great writers , poets and historians, I still decided to take writing as my profession.
I had heard about Chor Bazaar which was in the darker side of the heart of Bombay, where all my friends told me if I went there on a Friday , I could get anything “from a pin to a piano” at dirt cheap prices.
It was in 1976 when the Emergency declared by Mrs. Indira Gandhi was in full force that I got my first major assignment from the features editor of The Times of India to do a piece on Chor Bazaar.
And what I saw during my rounds of this famous/ infamous Bazaar opened up a new world for me and I couldn’t forget the things that I saw there for years.
I saw old books, manuscripts of some of the great writers of India, entire libraries of some rich people , book racks and tables and chairs on which some writers wrote and even there pens and ink stands.
I also found ancient pictures of various God’s selling on the pavements for a few Rupees and I was bewildered when I saw a gold crucifix of Jesus Christ standing in thw midst of other goods and objects on sale.
I wrote the article on Chor Bazaar and submitted it to the features editor, Mr. Darryl D’Monte, who said the article would have to be passed by the special censor Mr. Vinod Rao, who was appointed by the Government.
Mr.D’ Monte sent me a copy of the article I had written and which was censored by Mr. Rao and what was left of my article was just one line which was the name on the road on which Chor Bazaar was running for mor than a hundred years.
It was the first of the many jolts I had to receive as a bidding writer, but it was what I had experienced at the Chor Bazaar which was a greater treasure for me.
I had joined K.A Abbas who had the kind of personal library stocked with the most precious books I had ever seen and if there was any reason why I decided to work for him even though he paid me hundred rupees a month which was also not regular and I had to live on vada paav, I joined him because he only gave me the permission to sit in his library and read any book I wanted , which my senior hated because they considered me a “Kal ka baccha”.
Abbas died in 1987 exactly a week after his birthday and I thought it was the end of the world for me and had to drink two bottles of strong Haywards beer literally on the rocks at the Juhu beach to have the courage to face the man who was a symbol of courage and determination as a dead body.
But that was not the end of the tragic story. The next day I came to know that someone called Anwar, who I later came to know was his nephew who he had brought him up like a son and even got him a comfortable job as an executive in Air India had managed to sell his library, his trophies, his awards and all the artifacts he had in his spartan office.
He had even gone to the extent of giving away Abbas Sahab’s apartment back to the landlord, Mr. Correa for a paltry sum of 5 lacs of rupees.
Abbas Sahab had been living as Mr. Correa’s tenant when it was Philomena lodge in the 50’s and was only paying a monthly rent of Rs. 100 till the very end.
That apartment is still under lock and key and I have never tried to find out. For me , Abbas Sahab gone was everything gone.
I joined “Indian Express”and worked for its film weekly for almost fifty years and had got used to seeing books,papers and periodicals being carried in trucks like fresh or dead cattle for poultry.
I had seen piles of old papers turning grey and yellow in various gowdowns. I had seen libraries stacked with books, which were never touched by all the learned editors , writers and reporters for God alone knows how long.
And I started despairing over the futility of all that hard work done with all the minds and all the heart to be reduced to this sorry state of affairs.
I next saw how all the manuscripts, letters poems, ghazals and other mementos and above all the Padmashri of Sahir Ludhianvi lying in a squalid state in his own apartment where he lived alone during the last few months of his life.
The apartment where he lived was a part of the building he had built himself and had named” Parcchaiyan” named after a collection of his poems and the letters he wrote and never posted to his first and only love, the Punjabi poetess Amrita Pritam.
Some of his other work was found in different raddiwala shops in and around Juhu, where he lived almost all his life.
Next to his building was the bungalow of the legendary actor Balraj Sahni who also had a vast treasure of books and his own books and typed and written versions of his autobiography in English and in Punjabi.
He died 46 years ago and his second wife who held on to everything that was associated with him died two years ago, the bungalow has almost collapsed with one of his daughter’s still living there in the most inhuman conditions and what bothers me the most is the bitter truth that none of his possessions, especially his books are even talked about.
I have still to solve the mystery about how I laid my hands on the copy of the original autobiography he had written and now even that copy is missing from my house where I too live in the constant fear of my writings, scribblings, notes and books which the people in my house consider as raddi before they can go to the raddiwala who buys old newspapers at 5 rupees a kilo and takes away some of my most treasured books for free, especially when I am not at home.
I have seen the damage and destruction of the books of other great writers like Rajender Singh Bedi, Inder Raj Anand, Dr. Rahi Masoom Raza, The other poets like Majnooh Sultanpuri and Jaan Nissar Akhtar being thrown out as waste or eaten away by white ants and other destructive insects.
However, my biggest shock in recent times is what happened to the coffee table book of the star of the millennium, Amitabh Bachchan.
A copy autographed by him was found in a raddiwala’s shop. A fan of Amitabh happened to see it and offered the raddiwala any price to get his hands on it.
The raddiwala said it was already booked by one of his regular customers for Rs 350.
The fan who could not get over it came back after fifteen days to find that the book was still lying inthe same corner and in the same condition.
The raddiwala was now willing to sell the copy to him,but he was a smart raddiwala who had done his homework about the book and had now decided to sell the book at a royal sum of Rs 3,500 which was 500 rupees more than the original cost of the book.
This is the destruction of great writers and their writings I have been witnessed to and if you ask me two of the most insulting incidents and lines spoken about this kind of an attitude towards books and writings,it is the seen from the film” krantiveer ” in which Nana Patekar tells Dimple Kapadia who plays the” kalamwaali bai ” that her writings were worth only for mothers in slums who place newspapers below their children’s bums to shit on.
And the other incident I have been witness to is a bhelpuri wallah using the Times Of India to serve his bhelpuri to his customers,one who even said, “bhaiyaji , mera wallah bhelpuri uss waale kaagaz mein parcel kardena”.
And after seeing all this, I feel like singing Putin pain like Guru Dutt did in Pyaasa and say “Isko hee likhna kehte hain toh kya khaak hai yeh likhna vikhna” ?