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Roundabout | Author lost and found in his last stories

The last stories by legendary writer Swadesh Deepak appear in an anthology for the first time some eleven years after his disappearance affirm his art.

punjab Updated: Jun 11, 2017 15:27 IST
Nirupama Dutt
Nirupama Dutt
Hindustan Times
Some 11 years after his disappearance, the last stories that Swadesh Deepak wrote appear in an anthology ‘Bagugoshey’.(Saumitra Mohan)

I check out at the gate of the office for a book to arrive for me by courier, all too often. And one day, a slim packet is handed to me in which there is a brand new book of short stories by the inimitable Swadesh Deepak, the amazing playwright and famed fiction writer of the play ‘Court Martial’. Besides plays and fiction aplenty, Swadesh also wrote an amazing memoir of his seven-year tryst with mental illness called ‘Maine Mandu Nahi Dekha’, which is being translated by Jerry Pinto.

I caress the glossy blues of the volume in hand called ‘Bagugoshey’, almost tasting the pear juice in my mouth. This book with eight stories comes to the hands of his admirers, courtesy the efforts of his close friend of some four decades and a half, poet Saumitra Mohan, and his son Sukant Deepak, a fellow scribe. Of course, the friend and son were at odds on its final publishing, but the love for his writing is shared equally by them along with so many others.

Saumitra was one of the closest associates of Swadesh, in his long troubled and disoriented years, and made it a point to keep record of all that he wrote after fearing that nothing should be lost: Be it ‘Mandu’, serialised in ‘Kathadesh’ magazine, or stories which appeared in different journals. It was Saumitra who took upon himself to compile these stories and give them to Swadesh’s Hindi publishers. Sadly, they sat on it too long and finally it had to be withdrawn by the son and given to a new-wave publishing house creating waves with print and digital publishing. The result is a fine volume, sadly without as a few lines as foreword by Saumitra, which would have been an asset.

That apart, Saumitra says thus of the merit of the stories: “Although these stories were written after a long stretch of disorientation, medication and a constant death wish accompanying him, they are as beautiful as those written in his prime. No where does he lose his mastery over language and in fact, the metaphor of these stories is stronger still. The title story ‘Bagugoshey’ is about his mother. Several fiction writers of Hindi have dedicated a story to their mother but Swadesh’s stands on a par with stories on this theme by say Kamleshwar or Mohan Rakesh”.

The front cover has a blurb by senior writer Krishna Sobti, who was very fond of Swadesh and his art, ‘Swadesh, where have you gone? Come appear before us with ‘Bagugoshey’ in hand. If only this could happen Krishnaji! Swadesh, as much as I knew him as an admirer of his writings and his playful innocence, was something of an artful dodger: wanting to dodge not just others but himself too. And this is what he did one hot summer day when he walked out of his old, sprawling home in Ambala, without his spectacles or even his wallet, never to return again, compelling his son to do a ‘shraadh’ of words many years later in a moving piece called ‘Papa Elsewhere’.

As one goes through a few stories because one does not want to read them in a hurry (not this last gift), one is face to face with the dark world of his writing, but the humour is never absent nor the dignity. The concerns for a cruelly unjust social order too are there and also his own alienation from a world peopled by those who are forever trying to keep up with the Jonses, or in our context, the Junejas or Rahejas. The writer calls himself a citizen of the ‘Dead-Letter Office’ or the prisoner of a dark room in which no negative can turn positive. Yet, he keeps receiving letters of love from a beautiful woman called ‘Saryu’. Saryu is also the name of the river on the banks of Ayodhaya into which mythical Lord Ram disappeared in the final ‘samadhi’.

Swadesh, now in the face of declining years, one often thinks of ‘Saryu’, or closer home ‘Sutlej’, that will hold one’s hand for the writer says, “One saves oneself by suicide: It is an act of self-defense’. How true you sound Swadesh and most convincing ... but not yet. No. One should at least be able to write a few words like you before the final dodge!

nirudutt@gmail.com