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Saturday, Aug 24, 2019

Life of a tea- seller as a writing coach in Delhi

Laxman Rao, who hails from a village in Maharashtra’s Amravati, came to Delhi in 1975 with the sole ambition of becoming a writer. He has been running a tea stall for almost three decades outside Hindi Bhawan near ITO.

delhi Updated: Feb 03, 2019 17:02 IST
Manoj Sharma
Manoj Sharma
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Laxman Rao with his novels at the Hindi Bhawan, where he conducted a workshop, in New Delhi.
Laxman Rao with his novels at the Hindi Bhawan, where he conducted a workshop, in New Delhi.(Biplov Bhuyan/HT PHOTO)

On a chilly Sunday evening, a group of aspiring writers, some young, some not-so-young, listen with rapt attention as Laxman Rao, 66, tells them the story of how he fulfilled his dream of becoming a writer. Rao, a tea-seller who made his name as a novelist, is dramatically using his hands to draw attention to the acoustics of his speech at a writing and publishing workshop — part of his new life as a writing coach. The venue — a large hall at Hindi Bhawan in central Delhi — has a projector screen; his books are exhibited on a table. Among the participants are not just aspiring writers, but also those who already have several books to their credit.


“ I have realised that to teach writing is more difficult than writing. Ever since I started coaching two years ago, the most shocking revelation I have had is that most of the budding writers do not read, and are just obsessed with being called a writer,” says Rao. “So the first thing I tell them is to start reading because all good writing is born out of good reading.”

He conducted his first writing workshop in 2017 at Oxford Bookstore in the capital at the invitation of a self-publishing company. And the ticketed event was packed. “Many in the audience suggested I should hold more such workshops. And that is how I became a writing coach,” he says.

Rao, who hails from a village in Maharashtra’s Amravati, came to Delhi in 1975 with the sole ambition of becoming a writer. He has been running the tea stall for almost three decades outside Hindi Bhawan near ITO. He has written 25 books in Hindi and self–published 18 of them.

Rao’s workshops include lessons on how to get ideas and develop them into a novel. As he dwells on the subject, he shows us some of his books —Dansh, Renu, Ramdas, Narmada. “All these novels are based on real-life stories of people I have met at some point in my life. I do not believe in magic realism or wild imagination. I talk to people, listen to their stories, take notes and keep in touch with them. I believe life is stranger than fiction,” says Rao. “I tell aspiring writers to be very clear about the beginning, middle and the end before they start writing a novel. Many of them try to develop the story as they go, which is not a good approach”.

Vinod Parashar — a Delhi-based postmaster with the department of posts and an author of two books, including a poetry collection — who attended one of Rao’s workshops, says he got valuable insights from his session, particularly on how to market books. “The most important thing I learnt was that writers, young or old, should unabashedly market their books. He once sold books directly to schools and libraries on his cycle, and markets them wherever and however he can,” says Parashar. “Besides, he teaches you not to be discouraged no matter what publishers say about your work.”

Rao, who did his post-graduation in Hindi literature through correspondence at 64, says most people fail to fulfill their dream to be a writer because of publishers. “Most of them are businessmen with no interest in finding new literary talent. So, my workshop includes lessons in self-publishing. Why should you allow your dreams to be killed by a publisher whose only concern is money? I tell writers to understand that they write for readers and not for publishers, and they should not hesitate to take their book to readers through self-publishing,” says Rao, his voice laced with anger. “What matters is the quality of the book; not who published it.”

In 1975, when Rao shifted to Delhi, he knew no one in the Capital and had little money. He lived in a Dharamshala (a charitable guest house) and started looking for a suitable job, but could not find one. “I had completed only my 10th and to sustain myself, I cleaned utensils at a dhaba, worked at construction sites, and a few months later, in 1976, set up a paan shop. I sold paan during the day and wrote books at night,” says Rao. Within two years, he was ready with a couple of manuscripts. But getting them published did not turn out to be an easy process.

Rao faced instant rejection.

“The first publisher I approached in Delhi rudely asked me to get out. I felt humiliated. He looked at me, and not at my manuscript. I think I did not look like a writer to him. Those who showed some interest asked for money, which I did not have,” Rao says. “So, over the next one year, I saved money and self-published my first book in 1979.”

In fact, Rao’s workshops include elaborate lessons on how to self-publish not just print copies but also how to self-publish on platforms such as Kindle. “Technology has made it so much easier to take your work to readers and earn money as a writer. I tell both published and aspiring writers that if they do not promote their books, no one will. Unlike when I started, the social media has now made it so much easier for writers to market their books,” says Rao, who always puts up his works at his tea stall for sale. “In my workshops, I tell people that the real writers are not those whose books are being favorably reviewed, but those whose books are being sold. They do not need reviewers to sell your books.”

A common question asked by the participants, Rao says, is how writers can find out how many copies of their books a publisher has sold, how much royalty they should get. “Writers do not seem to trust publishers these days at all.”

Rao’s life — a fascinating tale of a man’s determination to become a writer against all odds — seems to inspire many. No wonder he is often invited as a motivational speaker at schools, management and engineering institutes, and corporate houses that fly him to the venue and pay him a fee. “I do not demand it; they offer me anything between Rs 10,000 and Rs 20,000 as an honorarium. It does help me as a writer,” says Rao.

So, what does he say to his audience as a motivational speaker?

“I tell school children my life story, urging them to be socially conscious, be focused and determined in pursuing their dreams. At school and colleges, many students and teachers ask why I decided to be a writer and how I managed to write so many books despite not being highly educated,” says Rao. “At companies, I mostly speak on the role of willpower, honesty and hard work in success. They know I have practised what I am preaching.”

Rao was first invited to a corporate event by IEEMA (Indian Electrical & Electronics Manufacturers’ Association) as a speaker at its annual meet in 2016 at a five-star hotel in Gurgaon. Among the audience were top executives of electronic and electrical companies. “Everyone was spellbound as he spoke about how he overcame the challenges to fulfill his dream of becoming a writer,” says Naveen Upreti of IEEMA. “All top corporate leaders surrounded him after his speech and asked him about his life and books.”

First Published: Feb 03, 2019 16:02 IST

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