I have been reading short stories by authors from the Indian Subcontinent for a few years. I started with the great R. K. Narayan (I was very happy when The Economic Times of India endorsed my posts on him) and moved on from there. Today I am initiating another Reading Life Project, Short Stories of the Indian Subcontinent. No literary cultural has roots as old as that of India. I will always admire Edmund Burke for saying in the English Parliment that England had no right to rule a culture with much deeper roots than that of England.
I have nine collections of short stories by Subcontinent born authors on my E Reader, with at least 100 stories by new to me writers. I want to read all of these stories eventually and I have started my new project to motivate myself. It also opens the door to learning about the incredibly rich Multiculturalsm that is India. In today's story, "Namu, the Dhobi" I learned, for example, that a Dhobi is a member of an hereditary caste that does laundry and got a bit of a feel for the dirty laundry of the world of Ballywood.
P. L. Deshpande (Purushottam Laxman Deshpande, 1919 to 2000, born Mumbai) was a very successful writer, movie actor, and composer. He wrote in the Marathi language, one of the 23 official languages of Indian. It is spoken by around 73 million people and is the co-official language of the Goa province. "Namu, the Dhobi" centers on a laundryman who for many years has washed the clothes, with his helpers, of people in the Bollywood movie industry. I it is hard to look up too people whose dirty laundry you have seen and Namu is far from intimidated by his clientele. He feels like the glamour of the movie industry has rubbed off on him. I love these lines, you can feel the pride of Namu.
"‘I have eight pictures on these days.’ Meaning, of course, he has been engaged to wash the , clothes of the director, the actors, the actresses and the cameramen working in eight films. Namu is still in Ed the film line; I walked out of it long ago. He has shifted from Kolhapur to Poona. He has seen several ‘assistants’ – who used to be kept busy getting their director paans and cigarettes whenever he felt like them – blossom into directors. Some of them made quite a name for themselves. But to Namu one of them was still ‘Chintya’, another ‘Antya’ – the nicknames of their nondescript days. We can understand a dhobi breaking".
The story is narrated by a major Ballywood producer, a long time client of Namu. He and Namu are from very different worlds but they have developed a kind of friendship but one in which you can sense the caste and class boundaries.
"Namu, the Dhobi" in just a few pages lets us see how people from very different levels of Indian society interact. Namu keeps his dignity by seeing himself as working in the film industry. I really enjoyed reading this story.
I read this story in Best Indian Short Stories, Vol II, edited by Khushwant Singh. It was translated by M. V. Rajadbyaksha from the Marathi.