"Aaho motaar chalu astana, vateth zar mahees alee, tar mahees marel nahi ta kay doodh dheel" - This incredible outburst of a fictional character of an imaginary situation created by PuLa Deshpande for his classic "Mhais" still cracks me up.
The marathon narration by PuLa of that eventful bus journey he undertakes along the curvy roads of Kokan region of southern Maharshtra has some of the most hilarious instances ever told. During this journey that is so full of events, PuLa interfaces with some of the most amusing characters ever.
The names of the characters he uses ring a sound of familiarity for people who know the Kokanastha community.
Mhais was a masterpiece. Period.
An imaginary ensemble of great and funny characters all riding the same bus. The Red colored Maharashtra government's "Yeshti".
There's the over-eager wannabe "English Guntlemun" - Madhu Manushte, there's the temperamental school teacher, there's the sophisticated homeopath, the burly and brute Havaldar, the i-care-a-damn bus driver, the over the top village folks, the subak thengani, the Usman sheth guy and so many freaking -ly funny characters.When you listen to "Mhais" you can actually picture those characters right in front of your eyes. Your mind relates to those figures almost as if you have seen them, have heard them, have been with them, somewhere.
The genius of PuLa was not narrating such a story; his genius was making it simple and digestible. "Mhais" is an example of extraordinarily smooth narration. PuLa knows exactly what words to use and when. He does not go on and on and knows when to take a break, when to build up a character or a moment, when to even end the whole episode. There's never a dull moment. The feeling - "enough already" never enters.
I have never really traveled much in Kokan, except for my one off trip to Chiplun some years ago, yet I can totally relate to "Mhais" who's entire premise has a Kokan background. The dialect, the slangs even the curses are very very Kokan [-astha]. In fact i belong to the exact opposite side of the region.
Yet PuLa with his un paralleled brilliance pulls this one off for all Marathi knowing janta.
PuLa Deshpande was the original stand up comedian as far as i am concerned. Maharshtra's very own Seinfeld , much before Seinfeld was born. His beautiful story telling abilities, finding humor in most troubled situations and pretty much riding the smooth narration with funny anecdotes are legendary in Marathi speaking folks.
His awesome, near genius, ability to convey and connect to people worked like a charm almost every time he went on a stage and started speaking. It was easy.
I keep repeating the word "smooth" here; and that's the closest i can think of him. He was smooth. Even in sarcasm he was not spiteful. That was this ability - to drill without sharp edges. His words, vocabulary and command over the language could not help but make you wonder in awe. He elevated your senses to realm of humor. He almost always gave you a happy Six Flags ride.
I have heard many of his great essays, but for me "Mhais" remains a personal favorite.
If we ever get in a situation like how PuLa gets in "Mhais" we would be freaking out and pissed off with the damn situation. It takes a PuLa to find humor given the frustrating situation (although imaginary). At some level the journey, the people, the event, the lazy process of the police investigation; of it all in "Mhais" connected with me. I somehow tend to believe i *know* all those characters. I know "Bagu Nana", i know "Jampya Damle", i know the "diver", i know "Nana Phadnavis", i feel i know them all. To that extent i can even feel the pain in my butt of that bus journey. I can almost smell the "hapoos" !! It gets surreal after a point.
And again, i repeat, i was in no way remotely connected to Kokan. Like ever!
The reason could be that Humor can transcend region, race or any other domain; as i have previously argued. And PuLa had that incredible ability. His humor transcended a lot of layers. His simple use of words like for example "paanaachi bhakkam peenka" cut across all those layers i mentioned and cracked us up. His precise yet powerful insight into a common man's sensibilities should be a subject of study; that i seriously believe.
I don't have that cassette of "Mhais" anymore. I tried to get hold of it on youtube but without much luck. Although i did find some others that were just awesome.
My knowledge of Marathi Literature and it's personalities is pathetic. There's the "Limit tends to zero" in my case. But it's worth noting that even for a person like me with such limited knowledge, i can easily appreciate PuLa's prowess. That surely tells us something.
All great entertainers have one thing in common. They simply "connect" with a huge population. Be it Rajnikant, Amitabh Bachchan(at some point of time) or Sachin Tendulkar. The mass appeal factor is the common thread amongst these Champions. They are exceptional. They are masters of their fields. And although PuLa may not be in the same league as these people, he had a massive following. A massive following of ardent fans. A following that still craves for his books, his audio narrations, his essays. A following that almost felt like PuLa was "their own". A following that would sit around a small stereo and listen to him like small kids being told a story.
A following that will , as long as it lives, salute a man who was a talking magician.A magician of words. A Wordsmith