Selected Short Stories of Pushpak Bhandari

For some time now, this book has been debated in literary circles. It has been translated into English, as also into Hindi, Marathi and Malayalam. According to the grapevine, a few stories will be made into a film by a director who’ll stay true to the original storylines. For a book in a regional language, this is no mean achievement. Like dust trailing a chariot, this, too, will earn prizes, medals and acclaim—no doubt.

For the last few decades now, I have been living away from Gujarat and so have lost touch with its literary circles. I was intrigued by the book and requested of a bookseller to send me a copy for purely personal reasons. After all these years I was reminded of the esteemed Pushpak Bhandari. I cannot honestly claim that he was my friend. He was an author of repute and I was a mere journalist, one among many. In those days, that is, about thirty years or so ago, he had quite a following among literary aesthetes and the common man.

One reason for his popularity, to some extent, was biographical. Pushpak Bhandari was not merely one person, but had two distinct identities; the one before his wedding and the one after.

He had begun his as a brash warrior with words, sword in hand. He’d lived with tribals in a remote hilly area. If he’d attend literary meetings in the city, then on account of his angry mien, dusty clothes, and abrupt manner he’d not be considered worthy of respect. Then, a miracle happened. Out of the blue one fine day, he got married, in an event graced by literary giants, industrialists, politicians and social workers. All the greats were invitees of the bride’s family. Bhairaviben belonged to a respected, cultured family, and she had earned repute as a good painter. In this manner, Shri. Pushpak Bhandari was joined heart and soul to the same lifestyle that he had rebelled against. Where did the two opposites first exchange glances, and in what circumstances, what was the nature of their dialogue, before the beauty agreed to the first touch, was the hairy pro-man scrubbed clean by capable assistants and perfumed, or did that happen afterwards—all these questions remain unanswered. All that people observed was the magical gentle touch of a cultured woman. Without any exaggeration one can claim that the man who sat in the wedding mandap was a lion, but the one who stood up after the ceremonies, hand in hand with his newlywed, was a deer.

But of course, all this was hearsay. I had acquaintance with only the second version. I’d request his stories for my weekly newspaper supplement. I’d have to meet him often, even visit his home once in a while. By temperament he was a loner and spent most of his day in a cave-like first floor study, where he sat hidden by piles of books and papers. Sometimes, I’d be able to meet only Bhairaviben, and return after a cup of tea. To tell you the truth, I’d value those meetings with her. While I’d sit there, I’d feel as though I were sitting alone by a placid lake. Of course, we’d talk, about my work, about additions to their library and such things.

That special chapter because of which I now remembered Shri. Pushpak Bhandari had begun with a phone call at midnight. I’d return late from work, at about twelve or twelve thirty. Even at that late hour, I’d find sleep elusive, so to attract the mercy of the Goddess of Sleep, I’d pray at the altar of another Goddess.

I was reading when the phone trilled. “Pushpak Bhandari here.”

I was surprised. This was the first time ever that the esteemed elder had called.

“Yessir! So late at night? Anything the matter?”

“Who is this Pushpak Bhandari?”

A question that would seem directly from the Upanishads even if it were uttered by an illiterate farmer or a naïve child. The learned littérateur had picked the midnight hour and flung a question beyond my ken, and so I asked, “Other than you, who has the wisdom to risk a reply?”

He changed the words around.

“Who is this Pushpak Bhandari?”

“They ask, who is Ghalib…”

“Come to the point.”

When I heard him out, I could understand the reason for his angst. The problem was administrative. You could call it a mix up as well. The fact was that our last few Wednesday supplements carried some anecdotes with the byline “Pushpak Bhandari.” This was the reason for the literary giant’s anger.  Who uses my name to write such nonsense? Neither is the language appropriate, nor is the grammar in order.

Whether literary or administrative, I was not able to respond on either front. I told him, “I’ll go to the office tomorrow and check.” I added earnestly, “Truth be told, I’ve not paid particular attention to the writing you mention.”

“So is this the kind of editorship that you do?”

“Sir, as a matter of fact I’ve been on vacation for the last month and half.”

“And just where did you take yourself?”

“Sikkim and the northeast, along with two vagabond friends.”

“Pay some attention here. The Himalayas won’t be lost without you.”

I didn’t take offense at the sermon. In all ways, I was the younger one. Also, experience has taught me that great poets and artistes are human too. They, too have a right to human reactions. One cannot expect the mangy lion to bestow an affectionate smile to the reflection in the lake. There can be only one Emperor, even in the jungle of Literature.

“Let me know what you’ve decided,” he said.

I may be younger in age and stature, and polite, but I ruled over my limited domain. To rush to a decision or promise something without examining all facets was, as such, foreign to my nature. So I repeated my words, “Kindly give me a day or two to revert.”


The next day, I asked for back issues. There was nothing noteworthy about those articles—some experience while traveling by bus, a ruin that recurred in his dreams. The author’s feeling that he lived all alone on some distant planet. A man walking into the distance, by a seashore. I then called for a meeting of the editorial committee of our small and relatively new newspaper. The editorial committee consisted of Professor Desai and me. Desai kaka had joined the newspaper post-retirement; he edited the paper with dedication and precision. His reply to the dilemma that the literary stalwart roared about the previous night did not prompt curiosity. The author was an ordinary youth. He worked in a chemical factory and lived in a working-class neighborhood. He’d ride his bicycle ten-twelve kilometers and reach our office late at night in order to submit a page or two.

Desai kaka asked, “Is there a problem, sir?”

”Pushpak Bhandari, the esteemed one, is flustered. How dare someone else use his name! This seems like using a shaligram, a symbol of Lord Shiva, to pulp a chutney.”

“This is not the first instance of two people with the same name in the literary world. Sir, I’ll leave it to you. This scrap of writing, tucked away in some corner, isn’t our paper’s highlight. If we stop publishing this, it won’t be missed. If we continue printing this, it’ll stay in its corner and not intrude on anyone else.”

“You’ve forgotten that it does intrude on someone…”

Retirement had brought a special glimmer to the Desai kaka’s sight. He peered past his glasses, “The solution is that any one of these two writers modify their names.”

“Forget this, kaka. If I dare suggest this, the sensitive, gentle littérateur will tear me apart.”

We examined the alternatives. A pseudonym or fictional title would be perfect, but in this instance the name itself was a pseudonym. And as such, that practice has almost disappeared these days.  Or perhaps the junior writer could make a reference to his late or living parent, Pushpak-something-Prasad, -Chandra or -Ray, Bhandari. Or he could use an initial the way it is done in Marathi, Pu Aa or Pu Raa.

“When that gentleman comes here next, I’ll try to broach the subject,” Desai kaka said, standing up.

Kaka, why don’t you send him to me?”


That story had more facets than I had thought. I understood this a few days later, when the senior writer paid a scarce visit. I greeted him and helped him settle. The peon offered water.

He waved the glass aside and stared. He did not use words to make his demand.

I said, “I wish to see the other gentleman once and discuss this. I’ve given instructions for him to meet me when he comes to hand in his next article in a day or two.”

He looked different from three months ago—he seemed tired.

“Who is this man?”

“He works in some factory. I don’t know anything more.”

“I may have seemed blunt on the phone but I don’t insist on any rash measure. How is it the poor man’s fault? Just a few changes, if not his father’s name—just the initial—that should do.”

“We also thought of this.”

He fidgeted.

“As such this is a very small matter; why it bothers me so—I really don’t know.”

Half seriously I said, “He is a bit of straw. You are the sun.”

“Forget the flowery language, bhai.”

“I may move the words around, but this is the truth. Not even a pebble in the walls of your castle.”

“Not that all over again!” He shook his head and got to his feet.

When disaster strikes, even a great man becomes childlike. He seeks the mother image in his woman. That night again, just as I was about to pray to the Goddess of Sleep, the phone rang and a gentle voice brought my apartment to life. Very few women remain untouched by the ravages of time. With her silver, waist-length hair and graceful saree, Bhairaviben looked like a ship afloat in deep waters. I was a child before her.

“What’s all this?” she asked.

“You know more than I do.”

“I’d like to think so. I’ve never seen him as disturbed before. He wakes up in the middle of the night and is lost in deep thought. I wonder—wouldn’t he be confronted by some basic question about existence?”

With anyone else, the conversation would have ended right there. But this was Bhairaviben.

“Imagine if …”

“Supposing someday when you’re old, one winter evening you run into someone in the shadows of a narrow lane.”

“With exactly my name and features?”


“Then I’d imagine myself to be a ghost. Not him.”

This is where our conversation ended. Do this, or don’t. Bhairaviben didn’t instruct me.


“Excuse me, sir.”


“It’s me.”

“Who is this ‘me’?”

“I’m Pushpak Bhandari.”

I can see that scene exactly as it happened. I was busy at my desk. The door had opened quietly—even in the still evening I had not heard him. I could only see a shadow beyond the lamplight.

Through his posture, he seemed to be saying, “Pardon me, sir.”

I couldn’t see his face, so I said, “There is a light switch right behind you.”

“Desai, sir, sent me. He said—the editor, sir, was remembering you.”

There was nothing in his features to mark him as an artist. In his old and loose garments he seemed even older than he must have been. But his manner of standing, his face held politeness but no groveling. The beads of sweat on his face were those of a laborer. He’d cycled ten kilometers, hadn’t he? At this moment, the task that the editor had considered too grueling became much simpler. You could say that what the words couldn’t attempt, the eyes handled.

“Did Desai sir tell you anything?”

“No, sir.”

Perhaps he didn’t know about the existence of the other contender. He was not a shadow, nor an original. He was simply Pushpak Bhandari.

“You may go,” I said.

He seemed surprised so I said, “Nothing. Just wanted to see you.”


An insignificant incident. A mega-revolution had taken birth in the dusty confines of a small newspaper office. If I consider this objectively, perhaps there was some arrogance in my decision. I was the emperor of my publication. How could I possibly matter among the greats? That day I just had to say a few words. There is no reason why the factory worker would not have agreed. If I’d done so, I would have pleased a respected literary giant, and gladdened a gentle woman whose kindness was like a benediction.

In any event, that chapter was closed. I must state this for the elder—he did not make any further demands. Even when we’d meet at a conference, I’d not witness any rancor. For sure, the analogy of the sun and a bit of straw must not have been lost on him. After this event, my career path changed quickly. I moved to Dubai to work in a news agency and lived there for about four years. Based on that experience, I moved to London to work for a magazine there. After staying away for about two decades—if I may put it poetically—the call of the homeland lured me. For two years now, I’ve been in Delhi. One reason for my curiosity about that book was also that the respected couple whose grace I had once received, had long breathed their last.

The Selected Short Stories of Pushpak Bhandari.

I received this volume in today’s mail. The book lies on a table before me. A compact book with a simple cover. The stories are very short—about four or five pages each—hence about forty tales fit these pages. There is a short bio on the back cover. A short life, a short bio. Several years ago, he had died in an accident.

I stared at the photo on the dust jacket. The same face that I’d seen in my office all those years ago—polite yet composed. Free of deceit. Death had been seated in those eyes but I had not grasped it, not back then. As such, had I even been able to spot the decrepit ruins and the signals of the solitary man prancing by the seashore?

This is about reflections. Do they stop here? I sat holding the book until late at night, and then a miracle happened. Right next to the photo of the young author, the image of the senior writer also took shape. There was anguish, and a smile that hid this anguish. Never mind that I’d been dumb, with blinkers on; he had been alert and had seen all that I’d missed.


Pravinsinh Chavda

Pravinsinh Chavda is an established author in Gujarati, with six short story collections and a novel to his credit. A literary autobiography and a travelogue are forthcoming. Several of his stories have been translated into Hindi and Marathi. He has been a member of Gujarat Public Service Commission, worked in the Gujarat Educational Services, and taught for nearly a decade at the undergraduate level. He began writing when he was at school, and about fifty of his short stories and essays have been published in reputed Gujarati magazines.

Mira Desai

Mira writes, works, and lives in Bombay, with a day job in the pharma sector. She hoards the time to read, write, and translate. Her translations have been featured in 91st Meridian, Indian Literature, Pratilipi, Muse India, and Calque, and await publication elsewhere. As a writer of fiction, she collects rejection slips and is surprised to have contributed to Birmingham Arts Journal, Six Sentences, and the California Writers Club newsletter. She is a member of IWW, the Internet Writing Workshop.

Copyright (c) Pravinsinh Chavda, 2009. English translation copyright (c) Mira Desai, 2010.