66-year-old Laxman Rao may seem like your everyday chaiwala, but he is a writer with over 25 works to his name, as even Amazon and Flipkart sell his books on their website
In front of Hindi Bhawan at ITO, one of the busiest localities of Delhi, you will always find a crowd of people gathered around a small shack on the footpath to have a cup of the famous tea made by Laxman Rao, the most popular tea seller of the area.
But Rao is no ordinary tea seller. He has authored 25 books, holds an MA degree in Hindi from Indira Gandhi Open University and is a celebrated motivational speaker.
Rao was born in a remote village called Tadegaon in the Amaravati district of Maharashtra on 22nd July 1952. Belonging to a family of peasants, Rao was inclined towards literature from a very early age. “I studied till class eight in my village school and it was during these days that I started reading Gulshan Nanda’s works as part of my syllabus”, says Rao.
Gulshan Nanda’s works inspired Rao to the very core of his being. “I would go out of home on holidays and while other children used to play, I used to go to the field and read his novels for hours and hours. Someday, I too wanted to be like Gulshan Nanda”, says Rao.
Rao studied Classes 9 and 10 from a school in Amaravati and then due to financial reasons had to leave his studies and look for a job. “Thankfully, a kind doctor in Amaravati gave me shelter and offered me work as a labourer in a textile mill. I worked there for five years, till one fine day, the mill shut down due to shortage of electric supply,” says Rao. After that, in 1975, he returned to his village, and started helping his father in farming. Amidst all this, his wish to become a writer was lost somewhere.
“Doing mundane work and leading a normal lifestyle didn’t interest me. So, I lied to my father, borrowed `40 from him, left home and went to Amaravati. From Amaravati, I took a bus and went to Bhopal. I worked as a waiter at a bhavan canteen in Bhopal for three months, and earned Rs 90, and decided to come to Delhi”, says Rao. By then, he had already started penning his first novel.
Rao came to Delhi and started doing odd jobs, like working in canteens as a waiter and working as a sweeper in the bhavans in and around the Vishnu Digambar Marg in ITO, to earn a decent living to sustain himself. Then, in 1977, he opened his paan shop, a few metres away from his current tea stall.
In this time, Rao had already finished his first novel, titled Ramdas, which tells the story of a boy from Rao’s village, who he saw drown in the village pond. The novel traces the boy’s journey, and also explores the relationship between Ramdas and his teacher. Aiming to publish his work, Laxman Rao, approached publishers all around the city on his cycle, but was rejected by everyone. “One very famous publisher asked me to get out of his office, and that incident made me more determined to publish my own work”, says Rao.
“I had saved around `6,000 for buying a home, but publishing my work seemed more important to me at that point of time. So, I spent all my savings on publishing my first book”, says Rao, adding that he never regrets doing that. Incidentally, Ramdas is still his most famous book, with over 4,000 copies sold.
“From then onwards, there was no looking back as I kept publishing book after book, and soon enough people started noticing me, and I was being interviewed by journalists from major publications not only of India, but other countries as well”, says Rao.
But the path was not all smooth for Rao. “I have faced a rather tough time during 1984, when my father died. I was going through a bad phase, both emotionally and economically. I thought of leaving everything and going back to my home village”, says Rao.
But an incident in 1984 infused Rao’s life with a new passion. He had become one of the most talked about people in Delhi during that time and his stories were even being discussed by members of the then ruling party, the Indian National Congress. In a meeting with then prime minister Indira Gandhi, a senior congress official mentioned Rao’s name and his achievements to her, and she wanted to meet him.
“One day, a member of the Congress came in his car in front of my shop, and asked me to come with him as Madam wanted to meet me”, says a jubilant Rao. “I met her in her residence in Teen Murti Bhavan, and had a long chat with her, as she wanted to know all about me and my novels. I even offered to write a book on her life, but she refused and told me that if I at all wanted to write something about her, it should be about her work and not her personal life”, says Rao, who considers this meeting as the turning point in his life as it gave him newfound zeal and enthusiasm to write more and more books. The meeting remains even more special for Rao, as she was assassinated a few months after it. Rao also wrote a book on her titled Pradhanmantri.
“I thought I had achieved everything in life, until one day a journalist asked me what my qualifications are. I somehow felt ashamed that being a prolific writer, I had only formally studied till Class 10”. It was then that he was determined to do his further studies. At the age of 37, in the year 1989, he passed his class 12 board examinations as part of a correspondence course of the CBSE. Then, at age 52, he completed his graduation from a distance learning programme of the Delhi University, and finally his MA in Hindi from IGNOU just three years ago. But he does not intend to stop there. “I want to do my PhD, and also pursue a course in English literature”, says Rao, who believes that knowledge knows no limits.
Rao also holds regular motivational talks at Hindi Bhawan, and sometimes even at British Council. “I believe to share my experiences and knowledge with the younger generation. I also give talks on Hindi literature as I feel that the urge for reading in the language is on the decline, and I just want to enthuse young minds to read more and more Hindi, says Rao, who has also won a President’s Award from former president Pratibha Patil.
Rao says that he has sold over 20,000 copies of his books, and even online vendors like Amazon and Flipkart sell his works. His books are also available in Kindle versions.
But despite everything he has achieved, Rao still sits on the footpath of Vishnu Digambar Marg and sells tea to this day. “One should never forget his roots, and by selling tea every day, I pay homage to my roots, as this is the job that gave me the stability and money I needed to publish my own book”, says Rao.
For aspiring and struggling writers Rao says, “Writing a book is the easiest thing, but marketing it and publishing it are the most difficult tasks. If you really love your writing, you should persist with it, and publish it by all means necessary — and not give up, like me.”