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Pu La Deshpande passes away

PUNE, JUNE 12: Renowned literary genius and humourist Purushottam Laxman Deshpande died at a private hospital here on Monday. He was 81.

Deshpande, who was in coma since late Sunday night, died at 1.22 pm, according to Dr Shirish Prayag. Deshpande was admitted to Prayag hospital last Thursday following a bout of pneumonia. His condition kept on deteriorating and he slipped into a coma.

He was kept in the intensive care unit of the hospital and was given artificial respiration as his lungs were not functioning properly.

Due to pneumonia in the lungs, his vital organs were affected as they were not getting adequate oxygen supply. His blood pressure had become erratic and the dosage of medicines needed to stabilise the BP was steadily increasing, which led to "multiple organ system failure", the doctors said.

Affectionately known in the Marathi literary world and the Maharashtrian households as "Pu La", he enthralled audiences with his sublime humour and satire.

He was a man with the "midas touch" and scaled new heights with his writing, producing and directing dramas, films, one-man talk shows, biographical sketches and travelogues.

He was gifted with a unique ability to make people laugh with his sharp intellect and minute observation.

Born on November 8, 1919 in a middle-class Saraswat Brahmin family at Vile Parle in Mumbai, he did his schooling in Mumbai and graduation in Pune's Fergusson College.

He completed MA from Willingdon College, Sangli, and served as a lecturer at a college in Belgaum for a brief period and later at Kirti College in Mumbai. He was associated with the All India Radio since 1937.

Pu La, also known as `Bhai' in close circles, had a streak to portray poignant tales of life in his works stirring the souls of his audiences and readers.

The towering personality of Marathi literature made his foray into writing with his contributions for Bombay magazine in the late 40s.

However, Khogirbharati in 1949 followed by Ammaldar (based on Nicolai Gogoi's `The Inspector General') announced the birth of an acclaimed author.

Deshpande's one-man shows like Varyawarchi Warat, Batatyachi Chawl and As mi Asami made him immensely popular in the state. As a person, Pu La, was modest, down-to-earth, with no trace of arrogance despite his immense contribution to the literary word, and engaged himself in noble causes.

Much of his earnings were diverted to social organisations - a fact not known to everyone - through a foundation instituted after his name.

A staunch believer in democracy, Pu La was among few noted litterateurs, who dared to publicly oppose emergency proclaimed by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. He then translated Jaiprakash Narayan's memoir on his days in jail. He was honoured with Padma Bhushan, the country's third highest civilian award.

He was the first recipient of Maharashtra Bhushan award, instituted by the state government. In 1995 Deshpande was conferred with the fellowship of Asiatic Society which is usually given to researchers.

His contributions to the Marathi film world as an actor, script-writer, music director and as writer are significant. Pu La carved a niche for himself in the film world by producing and directing films like Pudche Paul, Dev Paavla, Doodh Bhat and Gulacha Ganapati.

The renowned litterateur was also an exceptional harmonium player and used the instrument in his various dramas, films and one-man talk shows.

The ace humourist, gifted with a razor-sharp intellect and amazing felicity with words, regaled audiences for several decades. Though the celebrated Marathi litterateur had made the fabled Pewshwa city his permanent home his fame had transcended linguistic barriers and geographical boundaries.

Pu La began his writing career in the late 1940's with two other friends Mangesh Vitthal Rajadhyakshsa and R V Alurkar in Bombay magazine.

Later, his play Tuze Aahe Tuzpashi, a satire portraying conflict of values between a grey old epicure and a stern obscurantist, became an instant hit.

Pu La's Tee Phulrani based on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion and Teen Paishacha Tamasha based on Bertold Brecht's Three Penny Opera created history in Marathi stage.

Pu La and his equally talented wife Sunitabai had teamed up in the 1970's to perform one man shows such as Batatayachi Chaal focussing on a life in a ramshackle chawl in Mumbai while Vareyavarchi Varat that brought together diverse style of comic performances, won him instant praise from critics and commoners alike.

Such was his popularity that few years ago the porters from Nagpur railway station struck work for 28 minutes every Thursday to watch his TV show.

Deshpande and his wife Sunita, a philanthropic literary couple, have given away grants of nearly Rs 1 crore through the P L Deshpande Foundation, all from the earnings out of the royalty of his works.

The foundation has remained a major source of inspiration for a number of social projects, including Muktangan De-addiction Centre and Hemalkasa project for tribals in Vidarbha.

Condolences poured in from all quarters as word of his death spread. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee condoled Pu La's death saying: "Deshpande will always be remembered for his sterling contribution to quality humour writing."

Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh said Maharashtra has lost a multi-faceted and saintly personality. "Pu La taught Marathi people to live life sentiently," he said in his condolence message here.

Governor Dr P C Alexander said the country has lost a versatile literary genius. "He was an unusual combination of a gifted writer, humourist, actor and music composer and above all a great human being," the Governor said.

Union Minister for Heavy Industries Manohar Joshi said: "The entire Maharashtra has become still after learning about the sad demise of the renowned litterateur. I salute the first recipient of Maharashtra Bhushan Puruskar."

Joshi further said: "I pay wholehearted respect to Pu La, who with his humour brought smiles for years in the lives of Maharashtrians.'

Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal said the state has lost a literary giant of this century in the death of the renowned litterateur.

"Pu La's death is an irreparable loss to the literary world. His works had the capacity to create a bond between rich and poor and literate and the illiterates," Bhujbal added.

Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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