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Updated: March 28, 2014 13:49 IST

The noble man who pushed me into literature: Dinakara Desai

Deepa Ganesh
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In 1949, Bommiya Hulluhore was born.
Special Arrangement In 1949, Bommiya Hulluhore was born.

This excerpt is from Yashwanth Chittal’s essay collection Antahkarana, published in 2009

In 1949, my first story Bommiya Hulluhore was born. I had never thought of writing a story in Kannada. I don’t think there was such a dream within me. One afternoon, after my nap, when I sat on the stone bench outside my home without having anything to do, I told myself I was going to write a story. I got up from the bench, looked for ink, pen and wrote. I was under the illusion that what I wrote was a story, so, without showing it to anyone-without telling anyone, I sent it to Ra. Ve. Valagalli, who published a weekly magazine called Sachetana from Sirsi. It was only after I sent the story that my stupidity occurred to me, and my heart began to pound. Still, I consoled myself. If poet Gangadhar Chittal’s brother’s story got published, then yes, I did write a story; in case it didn’t get published, I never wrote one! But what happened later was close to a miracle. One day, as if to testify that I had written a story, a copy of Sachetana came to me with my story published in it; it also had the editor’s letter. The letter said -- if you are going to write more of such wonderful stories, we will be happy to publish them; I broke into a dance of jubilation. As I saw the magazine, and my name printed under my story, I began to dream of becoming a story writer. The person who played the most important role in helping this dream acquire a solid shape was Dinakar Desai.

The two stories that I wrote after Bommiya Hulluhore were Kalla Giriyanna and I think Ondu Tatvada Saluvaagi. I didn’t send them to Sachetana. Remembering Valagalli with gratitude – the person who ushered me into the creative realm by publishing my story – I gathered courage to send the stories to Jeevana, a monthly that Masti used to edit. My courage wasn’t wasted. When both the stories got published and the copies of Jeevana reached my hand, it almost felt like I had grown horns! Getting something published in Jeevana meant that your writing was up to the mark. Because Masti himself would read every manuscript and choose the stories.

In the next few days, an incident that inspired me to remain committed to writing took place. It is the most memorable day of my literary life. I had the opportunity of meeting and speaking to Dinakara Desai -- a man who had achieved much in several public spheres, but shielded the innocence of his self by being a poet.

I have forgotten the year. Must be 1954. But I remember that day, my older brother Damodara Chittal had come from Hubli. My brother and Dinakar Desai were dear to each other, old friends. He knew poet Gangadhar as well – through his poems. But he hadn’t heard of me. When my brother went to meet him, during the course of the conversation, “What is Yashwanth Chittal to you?” he had asked. “He’s my brother. Has he done something wrong?” my brother enquired. “When he’s your brother how can he do anything wrong? This month’s Jeevana has a good story by him. There was one earlier too. He lives in Mumbai. Ask him to meet me,” he told my brother. “Why should I tell him? You call him. I will give you the number of the company he works for. It will make him very happy,” my brother gave him my number. Desai called me. He began to introduce himself, “I know,” I replied. He told me the reason for calling and appreciated my story. I bloated with happiness. Even today when I think of what he said, I go through the same happiness. He gave me his office address and asked me to see him.

We met in the office of the Canara Welfare Trust which was on the second floor of an old Servants of India building; it stood on one side of the Prarthana Samaj square near Kethiwadi which was close to Girgaon. As soon as I entered, I saw his smiling face; an embodiment of masculine grace, he stood up and extended his hands towards mine. Then I saw the white sparkling pyjama, a collarless, long-sleeved kurta like shirt; and as we shook hands, his warm eyes firmly locked in mine, spoke of an ancient friendship. Contrary to the image that had filled my head, he was honest-to-goodness, and endearing. “Come, sit,” he said in Konkani. “I didn’t know you lived in Mumbai. I came to know only after your brother told me. We both are old friends. Let’s have tea first. Then if you have the time, I’ll read to you what I’ve written this week,” he said. I knew he was trying to put me at ease. I liked him immensely at the very first meeting itself.

It seemed like he had more faith in my ability as a short story writer than I had in my own self. “Write,” he said, at once putting me to work and also gently provoking my ego. “I will write,” I said immediately. I wrote, keeping my promise. In the next two years, I wrote a piece every two months for Janasevaka that he edited, and my stories were published under the title, “Uttara Kannadada Jeevanada Chitragalu.” Dinakara Desai himself chose nine from these stories and published them in the newly started publishing house that was meant to encourage young writers. That is my first literary work, Sandarshana.

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