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Durable Link to this BlogSunday, October 28, 2007

Writer Nagesh Wishwanath Pai

Nagesh Wishwanath Pai (1860-1920)
An Early Indo-English writer

With a pleasant surprise, I came across the works of Nagesh Wishwanath Pai (1860-1920) written as early as the end of the 19th century. He wrote humorous and entertaining pen-pictures of Mumbai and round about area in English. His "Stray Sketches in Chakmakpore" (1894) seems to have been a highly readable book.

Nagesh Wishwanath Pai, after graduating from St. Xavier's College in Bombay in 1881, studied Law. He started practice as an attorney after completion of his LLB degree, first in Bombay and then in Sholapur. Naturally he must have come across various characters and incidents of human interest in his profession. He had more talents than mere observation. He delightfully recorded some of them in his pen-portraits. The complete title of his book is "Stray Sketches in Chakmakpore from the Note-Book of an Idle Citizen". Long descriptive headings were a fashion in English literature of those times.

In those 36 sketches, Nagesh Pai gives a first hand sympathetic and sensitive interpretation of Maharastrians of different walks of life, whom the author thinks, many Indians and Europeans could not hope to see themselves. He further explains that they were chiefly meant to amuse. The fictitious name of Chakmakpore could apply to any small town in India. But the author has depicted life of Belgaum and Sholapur. Pen pictures of a Parsi girl, a sweet-vendor (mithaiwala), the pedagogue, irritable Saheb (boss) and mother-in-law, medicine man, street singer, mendicant, all come out lively and entertaining. The book is written in a simple and homely style that seems singularly appropriate.

Mr. Pai's other work is "The Angel of Misfortune" a metrical romance of 5000 lines in blank verse. It is based on the story of "Vetala-panchavimshati" known as Vikram and the Ghost. Vetala-panchavimshati is a Sanskrit prose romance of 25 stories wherein an unfortunate king loses his crown under weird circumstances and has to obey a ghost (Vetala) and answer many puzzles. Mr. Pai chose the incident of Saturn (Shani) and has built a romantic poem. Mr. Pai's versification is uniformly good. Influence of Keats, Tennyson and Spencer could be felt. Pai was a well-read man and master of description of Indian milieu. He has shown his originality by depicting Shani as female ghost. He sketches animal and plant life beautifully and has proved his poetic genius.

Reference: The Indian contribution to English Literature, by K.R. Shrinivas Iyengar, Bombay 1945

See Also:
• R.K. Narayan
• M.V. Kamath
• Khushwant Singh
• Arundhati Roy
• Arun Shourie

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Jyotsna Kamat

Jyotsna Kamat Ph.D. lives in Bangalore.


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