Pouring endless cups of tea for customers, Laxman Rao looks like any other tea vendor on a busy road of the capital. But looks can be deceptive and Rao proves that. This tea vendor has authored 18 books till date!
Sitting on a low stool at his tea stall near ITO in Delhi, 53-year-old Rao spoke of how he came to run his own publishing house, Bharatiya Sahitya Kala Prakashan.
<b1>"I have been writing short stories, plays and books for 28 or 29 years," Rao smiled and said, as he poured tea into one of the small glasses to a customer.
"In my first book, titled Nayi Duniya Ki Nayi Kahani I poured out my heart. I narrated all the hardships that I had faced and the challenges that I fought to rise to a decent life. That was back in 1979," Rao told IANS.
He went on to write a play, Pradhan Mantri in 1984, which was about his meeting with the then prime minister, the late Indira Gandhi. The play was woven around Gandhi in a social set-up and how her subordinates were responsible for corruption.
Ramdas and Parampara Se Judi Bharatiya Rajniti are some of his other publications.
Born to a family of farmers in Amravti district in Maharashtra, Rao's fondness for Hindi literature saw him complete his matriculation in Hindi medium from the Mumbai University in 1973.
Reminiscing the bygone days, Rao said he was an avid reader and got addicted to Gulshan Nanda's novels early on.
"Although his work didn't get the recognition it deserved, Gulshan Nanda's way of writing greatly influenced me and I enjoyed it every bit," he said.
Talking about the way he embarked upon his literary journey, Rao said he had never wanted to be a writer, but an episode - involving a young boy known to him who drowned while taking a bath in the river - pushed him into writing.
"It was a shocking experience and I just wanted to give vent to my feelings. That's when I started writing," Rao said.
However, his dream of continuing to write and devour as much of reading material that he could lay his hands on was soon cut short. Difficult financial circumstances in the family forced Rao to give up his studies after Class 10 and he had to start working.
After working in a local mill for a short while, he started working in the fields with his father. But the zeal to do something more pushed him into giving up all of that and Rao left home for Bhopal in 1975 with a meagre amount of money in his pocket.
"In Bhopal, I started doing odd jobs like working at a construction site to earn my bread and butter. Dissatisfied still, I then left for Delhi the same year. For some time after that I had to do menial jobs to feed myself," he said.
But once there, Rao discovered the vibrant makeshift books market at Daryaganj in the old quarters of Delhi that springs to life every Sunday and is flooded with book lovers from all quarters.
From Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru to Karl Marx and Shakespeare, Rao read up as much as he could in this place. Besides reading, these books inspired him for one more feat - doing his graduation.
"I took admission and graduated as a Bachelors in Arts in Delhi University by correspondence," he said.
From what he had saved, Rao then applied for all the necessary documents required to set up a tea stall. Thereafter, he decided to concentrate on his first love - writing.
"But nothing was meant to be easy for me. None of the publishers I approached in Daryaganj were ready publish my book. I tried my best to convince them, but they threw me out of their offices.
"That's when I decided that I will write, publish and distribute my own books. I did not need anyone's help," Rao said.
Of course, that meant despite churning out so many books, Rao is hardly left with any profit. All that he earns from one book goes into investing in the next.
"Some of my books can be found in public libraries and school libraries," Rao said with pride.
"That's why, although my wife does complain at times that what's the point in my being a writer if I still have to sell tea in the stall - she is very proud of me!"