Brews more than chai

Chronicles of a chaiwallah who loves stories
Last Updated : 01 December 2018, 19:30 IST

Follow Us :


"Get out, and don’t come back." This angry order barked at Laxman Rao when he was in his early 20s changed his life forever.

The author of over 25 books reminisces about the day he took his first manuscript to a publisher and was promptly shown the door.

There could have been two reasons for this, says the now 63-year-old, “Perhaps because I was doing the unthinkable — having the temerity to talk about payment and royalty to the chief of a publishing house who would, on the contrary, ask authors for payment. And secondly, being a chaiwala — who was selling tea from a pavement ‘shop’ — daring to dream of becoming a writer.”

But although Rao never got round to meeting this publisher ever again, never forgets to thank him enough. For, it was because of him that Rao’s journey as a writer-cum-publisher commenced. And became a success story that is being hailed even by the international press.

Little wonder then, Rao doesn’t allow himself a moment of rest at his sidewalk tea stall outside the Hindi Bhawan on the busy Vishnu Digambar Marg near Delhi’s ‘Fleet Street’.

Between single-handedly making and serving innumerable cups of tea to students from neighbourhood institutions, theatre artistes taking a break between rehearsals and to office-goers out on a stroll, he manages to do his writing work as well. “I don’t like wasting a single minute,” states Rao, who has just completed his MA in Hindi Literature from IGNOU. These days, he is putting to bed his latest book on the fundamentals of Hindi Literature, Manviki Hindi Sahitya.

Wonder man

Many of those who stop for a cuppa cannot help wondering how he has managed to win laurels — even from the Indian President some years ago. He smiles pointing to a big board that displays big photographs of his with president Pratibha Patil.

“The President’s House organised a special event at which I presented a copy of my work Renu to Madam Pratibha Patilji, ” he says. No wonder people in the vicinity have got used to even visitors from abroad stopping by for a tête-à-tête. Recently, a bus full of Swiss tourists came especially to meet Rao.

“They had a translator and it was amazing, the kind of questions they were asking me about my life. Many of them picked up copies of my first book, Ramdas, and said they’ll have it translated,” he says. Ask him about his subjects and he smiles. “Well, many are people from among us — people who faced adverse circumstances and have emerged victorious,” he says.

“I don’t like wasting a single minute,” states Rao

Laxman Rao and his tea stall, where he also writes his novels. He has written 25 novels so far!
Laxman Rao and his tea stall, where he also writes his novels. He has written 25 novels so far!

“Some like The Barrister Gandhi (awaiting production) and Pradhan Mantri, a play inspired by Indira Gandhi, are inspirational works.” He remembers meeting with the Iron Lady of India, “I said I would like to write about her. She was encouraging but asked me to concentrate more on her work than her personal life. And that’s what I did. My only regret is that I could not gift her a copy of this play, because she was assassinated a few months after it was completed,” he rues.


Hailing from a small village (Talegaon Dashasar) in Maharashtra, Rao’s journey started when he, as a little lad, would help his father out in the fields. “Of course, school was a must too.”

At his alma mater was a senior student called Ramdas (who became the subject of his first book) — a wayward kid who was reformed by a teacher.

“Ramdas was idealised not just by me but also many of my schoolmates. Even teachers, after the way he changed, had only words of praise for him,” recalls Rao.

Ramdas, unfortunately, did not live long; he was drowned while on his way to attend a wedding. His untimely death came as such a shock for Rao that for years, he looked for an outlet to give vent to this pain, and found it in writing.

Meanwhile, a doctor-couple visiting Rao’s village spoke to his parents and with their consent took him to Amravati, where they helped him get admission in a school, and he, in return, worked as their domestic help.

Disheartened when he failed his class X result, he got a job in a spinning mill that, unfortunately, soon shut down. “I again decided to change tracks and move to a bigger city. After first working as a labourer for a while in Bhopal, I came down to Delhi and got a job in a dhaba where I served tea to customers,” says Rao.

It was around this time that the youngster got his hands on a novel by the popular Hindi writer Gulshan Nanda. “His easy writing style and storylines gripped me and I started dreaming of becoming a writer like him. But I had no clue how.”

Soon Rao set up his own little stall to sell cigarettes and bidis, and in the free time tried his hand at writing.

With work keeping him busy through the day, he would — and he still does — work at night and continue writing till the wee hours.

It is this discipline that has made Rao the prolific writer he is today. “I write and publish my own books — this happened soon after that publisher asked me to leave and two others I had sent my manuscript to, did not even bother to reply,” he smiles adding, “There was a time I’d go to schools and libraries in far-flung areas carrying books on my bicycle.” Now, in keeping with the times, he sells his work online on the different shopping websites.

Happily married to his “biggest critic”, Rekha, Rao has two sons. “My family sometimes wants me to give up my 'chai ka kaam'. But that is something I will not do, after all, this work is what has given me an identity. People know me as the chaiwallah who writes,” he signs off.

Published 01 December 2018, 19:30 IST

Follow us on :

Follow Us