Raja Kaka

Initially Raja Kaka belonged to my childhood years. I recall those Saturday evenings when the Abhiruchi and Satyakatha writers would congregate in our verandah and talk non-stop, nourished by my mother Indirabai’s fabulous snacks. There were discussions, debates, arguments and much laughter during those Saturday evenings. Contemporary writers who were exploring new forms came in for unstinted praise. Established writers, who refused to get off the old sentimental-romantic bandwagon, came in for merciless censure. It was done with wit and candour, but even more importantly, with a profound commitment to literary values. As children, my sister Nirmal and I only overheard snatches of these heated conversations; but we sensed that something pretty important was happening in our verandah.

One Saturday evening image that I recall vividly is of my father pacing the verandah, waiting for the “gang” to arrive. When he spotted Raja Kaka turning the corner into our lane, he would call out to my mother in the kitchen, “Shenvi ala ga”. In a home where caste and community were never mentioned nor even thought about, this loud reference to community was a deliberate affectation which seemed to give my father great joy.

Raja Kaka was actually the quietest of the “gang” or so he appeared to our eyes and ears. Later one realised how eloquent that quietness was and, when it was broken, how pointed, significant and ironic his utterances were. Quiet irony was Raja Kaka’s style. Loud provocation was my father’s.  

I rediscovered Raja Kaka when I returned from Bristol University in July 1962 with a BA Honours in English Literature and Language. That equipped me for teaching and tangentially, because I had a certain way with words, for advertising. The latter was out. I mean I didn’t even consider it. So there was no real choice. Teaching it had to be. But where? How?

As if in answer to those questions, Raja Kaka called one evening to ask my father if I’d like to fill in for a pregnancy vacancy in the English department at Elphinstone College. My father handed the phone over to me. That was the first adult conversation I had with Raja Kaka. Crisp and to the point. He asked, I dithered. I was shy. I couldn’t see myself facing a class full of students not much younger than myself, waiting for me to deliver gems of wisdom. Raja Kaka assured me that no college lecturer was expected to deliver gems of wisdom. He asked me to consider the idea and get back to him.

I considered the idea while my parents watched and waited. The question was very simple: if I wasn’t going to teach what in heaven’s name was I going to do with my English Language and Literature? Almost helplessly, I said yes to Raja Kaka and presented myself duly at the college on August 22. Underneath the grin I had put on for the occasion there was tumult. Raja Kaka gave me an encouraging nod and escorted me to my first class. It was compulsory English, a class of one hundred odd, in which not everybody showed signs of goodwill. This wasn’t going to be the brightest beginning for someone with jelly in her knees. But I dived in and suddenly found I could swim. I took to teaching like a duck to water. I’ve never stopped thanking Raja Kaka for giving me the chance to find my vocation.  

There’s an amusing anecdote attached to that first class. At some point during my lecture, I noticed a movement outside in the corridor through the corner of my eye. I turned to see Raja Kaka walking slowly past the class with the casual air of someone who likes taking mid-day strolls through the college. A few minutes later he was walking back. In a short while I saw Miss Shroff doing the same. Soon after that, Raja Kaka again! After class was told that Raja Kaka had felt I needed guarding against possible mischief by a known disturber of the class. I was deeply moved by his concern. These are memories I will always cherish.

Published On : 19-06-2014