An Introduction to an Anthology of Telugu Short Stories by R. S. Sudarshanam.

The modern short story in Telugu dates back to1910, when Gurazada AppaRao published his piece, Diddubaatu (Reform) in a journal called ‘Andhra Bharathi’. Social reform was in the air and Gurazada Appa Rao and Kandukuri Veeresalingam were pioneers in social reform as well as in literary renaissance. Gurazada was a step ahead of Kandukuri Veeresalingam in using spoken Telugu for his creative work, viz. lyrical poetry, drama and short story. There is also a difference in their outlook on life reflected in their attitude to reform and in the portrayal of men and women in their writings. Kandukuri Veeresalingam was a Brahmo Samaj follower and his stance was one of ethical realism, while Appa Rao was a humanist with a lot of tolerance and good humor for the foibles of men and women including reformers. The five short stories he wrote bear this out no less than his immortal play, Kanya-Sulkam.

The realism and romanticism. While Veeresalingam and Appa Rao represented realism, romanticism was ushered in by Rayaprolu Subba Rao through his new poetry influenced by the EnglishRomantic poets and Rabindranath Tagore. Very soon there were novels and short stories reflecting the romantic ethos in the portrayal of characters and events, even when the reformist direction was not lost sight of. Indeed when we remember that the issues of social reform mainly centered round the status of women — the degenerate institution of dancing girls, etc., against which Kandukuri Veeresalingam and Gurazada Appa Rao waged a relentless war—it is no surprise to find literary themes, a majority of them, exploring and delineating man-woman relationship inside and outside marriage. And the short story has been no exception to that during the decades that followed Gurazada.

In the years 1920-40, social reform and romanticism dominated the ethos of Telugu fiction- Chalam, Velury Sivarama Sastry, Sripada Subramanya Sastry, Dikshitulu and Viswanadha Satyanarayana are the outstanding writers of this period, who contributed to the development of the short story and wielded considerable influence on the writers who followed them. In the period 1940-60, social reform gave place to ‘class-consciousness’ with the advent of the Progressive writers’ movement; and romanticism in its decline yielded ground to psychoanalysis. Gopichand, Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao, Ravuri Bharadwaja, chaganti Somayajulu, Palagummi Padmaraju, Buchi Babu and Balivada Kantha Rao represent this period. Balagangadhara Tilak, Madhurantakam Rajaram and Rachakonda Viswanadha Sastry appear towards the end of this period. The decade 1960-70 may be described as women’s decade, when a number of women writers of fiction became prominent; and the problems of the ‘new woman’ inside and outside the four walls of the home came to be discussed in the novel and the short story.

Realism and romance single and alternate in the ethos of their writings. The women writers Ranganayakamma , Vasireddi Sita Devi as well as Puranam Subramanya Sarma and a host of others represent that decade. Since 1970, the Revolutionary Writers’ movement has exercised its influence and brought about a marked change in the ethos of the short story. The struggle of the dispossessed – the tribals, the bonded labour, the unorganized workers against feudal lords, middlemen and money-lenders, against the police and the courts, is delineated with great virtuosity demonstrating the need for the overthrow of a system, which cannot be reformed. Kalipatnam Rama Rao, Allam Rajayya, Nagnamuni, Jampana Peddiraju and Yerramilli Vijayalakshmi represent this trend.

With this background, we can now proceed to approach each story in its proper perspective to get at its intrinsic value.

Balivada Kantha Rao’s Varada Velluva (The River in Spate) portrays a woman’s sexual passion in its transcendental aspect. It transcends all social norms and decencies, ignores maternal concerns, and assuming the proportions of an elemental force, drives Rajamma like a possessed woman to unite with the flood-waters of the river and be swept away. This is reminiscent of Chalam’s romantic portrayal of sexual love which he glorified as an ideal against the humdrum existence of men and women in society. But Kantha Rao’s disapproval of it is duly conveyed at the beginning of the story itself: describing the discovery of the mutilated corpse of Rajamma torn by birds of prey as it is removed for postmortem by the police. Towards the end Simmanna, the lover is described to have turned into “a nisachara, who sqeezed the flower and pushed it into the flood-waters”.   And Simmanna goes mad for the rest of his life! In the story, the stoic goodness and forgiveness manifested by the wronged husband is purposely set off against the extraordinary passion of Rajamma, which is ultimately depicted as nothing but the supreme egoism of a beautiful woman. KanthaRao resorts to poetry and metaphor to describe Rajamma’s personality. “Though she appeared to be a lotus, like the stem of the lotus, underneath there was a certain hardness in her, and below that, like the slush, a certain corruption…” The writer continues the metaphorical description to narrate how a mere farm-hand Simmanna was drawn and inveigled to become Rajamma’s lover. The method adopts cuts a long story short, and achieves not only wonderful economy but also creates a romantic aura about the affair. Kantha Rao’s ethical idealism wondrous than Chalam’s transcendental sex, which it seeks to disapprove. Has Kantha Rao succeeded in refuting Chalam? What is the final impact of the story? The reader must answer for himself.

Buchibabu’s   Anuraaga Prasthaaram (The Flow of Love) is the exploration of a certain psychological subtlety in married love. The story starts with an assumption: if there be two women who look alike as twins do, but not related to each other…the story-teller forestalls the reader’s possible objection in the very first sentence: “No two persons are alike;” and goes on to persuade the reader, however, to make such an assumption for the sake of the story. Kamakshi and Sobhasundari look alike physically but they are also different, their characters and situations being different. The willing suspension of disbelief by the reader is obtained as a first step so that the story may have its full impact on him without any distraction. Kamakshi and Hariprasad married for six years and childless have arrived at a stage, when they are fast losing interest in each other. In fact Kamakshi has become ‘static beauty like a sculpture’ in the eyes of Hariprasad. With the appearance of Sobhasundari, a replica of Kamakshi, the frozen beauty comes alive and revivifies Hariprasad’s love. And Hariprasad’s new-found interest in Sobhasundari stimulates Kamakshi’s jealousy and she draws close to her husband. The result is Kamakshi’s pregnancy. Sobhasundari’s long-lost husband Vidyasagar similarly is attracted by Kamakshi’s looks, rediscovers his interest in Sobhasundari and is united with her. Buchibabu displays artistry and finesse in delineating the situations between the characters and bringing them to the happy conclusion.   After all a story is a story; it is for the psychological truth we read it!

Lakka Bommalu (Wax Dolls) by Ravuri Bharadwajais another piece of psychology pertaining to human relationships. What is it that an elderly man finds in an adolescent girl to sustain their friendship over the years till she becomes a mother and elderly too? After a series of encounters with Radha at different periods of her life, and seeking several explanations for his interest in her, he concludes at the end, when he finds her a conventional mother “the individuality in its growth, in its thrust, inevitably struggles with time, with the physical body, with age, with blood (instincts), and finally ceases and gets frozen. Radha has now a solid form. But this form has no movement. It does not breathe. It is a doll; a mere doll.” This elusiveness of human personality is a part of life’s mystery; and when the elusive quality is gone, the fascination is gone. The elusive and vivacious Radha ends up as a happy conventional mother. Is it a happy ending?

Puranam Subrahmanya Sarma’s story Kothi (The Monkey) is in the tradition of an earlier veteran practitioner of the short story, Sripada Subrahmanya Sastry who drew graphic pictures of characters and situations from contemporary (around 1930) middle class Brahmin families living in the Godavari districts. What Puranam Subrahmanya Sarma’s story presents is a fascinating picture of domesticity—the wife-husband quarrel, the relationship between sisters-in-law, the attitudes of parents and their married children, the family tradition and pride, all tinged with individual idiosyncrasies and mannerisms. It belongs to the period around 1950 and is already dated. The monkey in the story is both a character and a symbol and draws the reader’s attention pointedly to what the writer would convey as his stern message , for Puranam Subrahmanya Sarma does not mince his words: “Let it be heaven or hell, happiness or misery, one’s home and one’s life with the husband are one’s own…rejecting that, running somewhere and again jumping to some other perch, this business of hopping and jumping maybe in the nature of female monkeys and suit them, but does not behove human beings and family women” Saraswathi, the central character in a reflective and repentant mood tells herself: “It was my intolerance that turned me into a monkey.” And that makes for a happy ending!

Ranganayakamma’s Meeting Pelli  (Wedding as Meeting) …is a fine piece of satire. Inter-caste marriage is universally advocated as an item of desirable social reform. To perform the wedding in such a case, often the reformers discard the traditional ritualistic form. A public meeting is convened with ministers and politicians as speakers. It becomes not only a drab affair, but deteriorates into a series of lengthy meaningless speeches. Worse, points out Ranganayakamma, the speeches are highly insulting to the couple and contrary to the spirit in which the two have decided to join in wedlock. An inter-caste marriage is not between two castes but between two individuals, who wish to forget caste as an irrelevance. And the reformers and speech-makers don’t allow them! Ranganayakamma’s narrative builds up a fine tempo of irony till the accumulating tension is triggered off by the bride snatching the mike and making a speech to end all speeches.

Vasireddi Sitadevi is a feminist writer. The story   Tanadaaka Vasthe (Confrontation) is not one of her best, but serves to indicate her main concern as a writer. There is a cinematic element in it, the role Malathi plays to expose the true character of her suitor Sudhakar, a revolutionary writer and a professed champion of women. During the role she plays, Malathi keeps Sudhakar on tenterhooks deliberately breaking off her narration to point to a lizard on the wall in the act of watching its prey, which it finally succeeds in capturing. Simultaneously in Malathi’s contrived story Malathi is captured and raped; and in the real situation, Sudhakar is confronted and caught in his true colours, with his hypocracy exposed. The symbolism is a little too obviously contrived.

R.Vasundharadevi’s stories have no conceptual bias and are not motivated either by social reform or romantic ideology. Adavi Puvvu (Wild Flower) is a good example. The portrait of Ragamma, the wild flower, is drawn straight from life and drawn with love and imaginative understanding. For persons like Ragamma, life is not an economic problem with a hierarchy of values. It is just a series of vicissitudes bringing joy or sorrow. Ragamma lives by feeling. She inherited it to some extent from her father. But her mother and her in-laws look upon life differently. This contrast between attitudes is what makes the portrait realistic and yet profound. Nowhere does the writer intrude even to suggest what her thinking is in the matter. The portrait of Ragamma as well as the background is rich with filigree details meticulously furnished—so that even a sociological study can be made out of the story. The economically shattered weaver community in and around Nellore in the sixties, their men folk and women folk struggling to make a living. But that is not the point of the story at all! “Expressive of life and joy, Ragamma is a wild-flower, a blossom on a dry-tree bereft of leaf or any trace of greenness. The appearance of such a flower on such a tree was itself nature’s wonder.” Marriage means a transplantation for Ragamma. “A growing plant was transplanted on ground of gravel.” Her little son is Nature’s gift sustaining her in her alienation. After her son’s death, she turns to green fields, Nature again. That is the heart of the matter!

The following three stories: Nuvvulu-Telakapindi,   Bangaramma Kamatam, and Karanam Kanakayya’s Veelunaama are examples of the short story used as an instrument for demonstrating how typical “class- consciousness” works in individuals, whether they know it or not. Economic exploitation is the common theme in all the three stories.

In Nuvvulu-Telakapindi (The Crushing of Gingili Seed) by K.Kutumba Rao, The exploitation of Somayajulu’s singing faculty goes through several phases. Through marriage Jayalakshmi acquires Somayajulu with his singing voice just for nothing, that is for a subsistence wage economically speaking. She is not content with the pleasure she derives, but goes about showing off to others. Then Somayajulu is subjected to training in classical music to receive social approval. While Jayalakshmi loses interest in the transformed singing of Somayajulu, her brother in collaboration with another person markets the singing on the stage and makes a profit of twenty five thousand rupees. Of which Somayajulu gets nothing. Then the singing is further modified into the popular Punjabi style, Somayajulu being trained to suit the movies. Further profits would accrue to the investors, Jayalakshmi’s father and brother. That is how the story concludes. In all this Somayajulu’s inclinations are not consulted, and because of the family tie by marriage, he could neither demand wages as a worker, nor share profits as an investor. The status of an indigent son-in-law in a capitalist framework is no different from that of gingili seed processed and crushed for oil! The point of the story, however, is neither in this analysis nor in the analogy. The question arises whether Somayajulu’s story could have been different, if he had asserted his individuality. After all a human being cannot be identified with a gingili seed! The writer makes a significant observation in the prologue to the story:” Though economically they belong to the working class, certain Brahmin families, because of their caste-consciousness, try to maintain a middle-class or a bourgeois status. That way they forfeit the happiness and privileges in life they would otherwise be entitled to as members of the working class.” Somayajulu’s lack of perception about his ‘class’ in society, allowed him to be trapped by the middle class, who squeezed him dry and he had no escape. The message of the writer is imperative need for individuals to develop class-consciousness if they wish to get anything from life.

The second story Bangaramma kamatham (Bangaramma’s Farm) is similarly a story of exploitation. The land-owner Bangaramma is an ambitious widow, and the farm-hand Bhimayya, since he grew up on the farm, is oblivious of his rights. The surplus value of his labour ever goes to increase the size of the farm and enrich the widow, while Bhimayya remains absolutely poor. Even the hut on the farm, in which he lives, gets furnished only after his marriage-with the earnings of his wife. Bangaramma’s sexual leanings towards the sturdy masculinity of the farm-hand too were corrupt with an ulterior economic motive. If the farm-hand had yielded and shared her bed, he would have become a slave for life. But his virtue saved him. Then comes the rude shock, when his wife dies; because of Bangaramma’s callous act of omission he loses his wife. That awakens him to the situation in which he is placed, and he walks out of it: a comparison of this story with Kantha Rao’s The River in Spate will be illuminating. Both have a similar situation. The change in literary ethos between the stories is the change from romance to social realism.

Padma Raju’s Karanam Kanakayya’s Deed is a more complex presentation of the theme of exploitation with reference to the theme of woman in a certain milieu. Kanakayya has nothing but a contempt for his wife and resentment towards his only daughter, who married against his wishes. He conveys all his property to his son-in-law, whom he admires because the son-in-law has succeeded in subjugating the daughter who had always bossed over the father! Kanakayya’s activities of a whole life time, his flair for litigation, his amorous affair which for a time alienated his wife, his daughter’s marriage, which started a vengeful action against his brothers-in- law and his own dismissal from the post of village officer, everything is crammed into the short span of a conveyance deed. Kanakayya’s obiter dicta on woman’s role as a wife and man’s role as a man of affairs reveal an interesting cultural milieu of feudalism-in-decay in the first half of this century. The story assumes the form of a legal document with its characteristic modulations of language, and admirably clothes and proclaims the personality of Kanakayya, the village officer.

The next five stories are by writers associated with the Revolutionary Writers Movement. Allam Rajayya’s Srishti-Karthalu (The Creators) is forcefully direct in espousing the cause of the exploited tribals of Telangana. The establishment is on the side of the feudal lord Mutyam Rao, who brings the court-amin and a contingent of police to prevent the tribals from cultivating the forest land which he claims to be his legal property. The tribals are arrested and presented in the court. The public prosecutor brands the tribals as inveterate thieves, murderous goondas and destroyers of property. The aged Odenna on behalf of the tribals answers the charges in his inimitable way, and this is the best part of the story. He says: ”How could it be that we have nothing but shreds on our backs, if we are thieves? How could it be that we have not killed Mutyam Rao yet, though there are so many of us against one man? We are of the earth; we create and do not destroy. We produced bags and bags of food-grain for the feudal lord. We made him rich, We are builders and not destroyers.” The case is adjourned. The writer doesn’t go on to tell us how the case is decided. The establishment would never mete out social justice to the dispossessed, because of the existing court procedures and the inequitable laws. The struggle continues.

Kutra (Conspiracy) by Kalipatnam Rama Rao is more a political tract than a short story. A hundred and fifty political workers are arrested on the charge of conspiracy against the state. There can be nothing ‘conspiratorial’ about it, argues the writer, when citizens in such large numbers seek to change the social system and the government in their own way. But should it not be through constitutional methods? What is a constitution? Is it not a set of rules framed by the privileged to suit their convenience? The conspiracy truly began when they framed the constitution which has not worked in favor of the poor? The conspiracy deepened with the establishment of the Planning Commission and the adoption of what has been called ‘mixed economy’ at the instance of Vaidyanathan, a sly operator with no commitment to socialism. Mixed economy led to a position in which the private sector {native industrialists) could blackmail and dictate to the government and the public sector to wrest concessions and privileges to fatten themselves, and exploit the toiling masses, who constitute the consumer public. In the process the rich have grown richer and the poor poorer, a fact sadly acknowledged by Jawaharlal Nehru himself. What Kalipatnam has narrated in a manner intelligible to the exploited sections is, according to him, the story of India after 1947. The manner of telling it reminds one of Antony’s oration in Shakespeare’s Julius Ceaser: the rhetorical devises employed are similar. Kalipatnam Rama Rao has written other stories with men and women; while the present one deals with ideas and not men. Even here his talent shows.

Kabuli by Nagna Munideals with the irredeemable indebtedness of the lower middleclass in our society. The inability to make both ends meet is common to everybody, whether one is a government clerk or a policeman. The sub-inspector of police who is a formidable figure in the eyes of the public cowers before the Kabuli creditor. The vulnerable point in the psyche of the middleclass is respectability and the Kabuli, by threatening to drag it into the street ensures repayment by his debtors. The story is written in a light vein and rounded off with a sardonic laugh at the policeman.

Foul! Foul! Is by Jampana Peddiraju, a promising young writer, who died at the age of twenty-four. He story focusses on the gulf between public concern and genuine human values. Tania, the tennis star, realizes it when she finds Tirupati, a coolie woman, working at midnight to level the tennis-court in spite of her extreme illness. When Tirupati dies after vomiting blood on the tennis court it takes some time for the shock to work up on Tania. The next day, playing tennis on the same court, she is overcome with sympathy for Tirupati. And in her absentmindedness, receives a bump on the forehead. The entire crowd witnessing the match makes a fuss over her hurt, but nobody has taken serious notice of Tirupati’s death while laying the tennis court. It’s not fair, it is foul, the way things are in our society. “Never think seriously. If you think, you cannot do even a little thing. There is your head—for combing the hair, for making up the face, but not for thinking. Don’t think. Thinking is dangerous.” Because, the ignored half of humanity was dear to Jampana Peddiraju.

Yerramilli Vijayalakshmi’s Borusu (The Other side of the Coin) reveals yet another side to exploitation in society. The mother’s love for her little son makes her a born-slave to the man who fathered him; but when the man exploits her, tortures her, and drives her in to risks beyond all limits of endurance, it is the boy who puts an end to the injustice by killing the exploiter to save his mother. Man’s inhumanity to woman in this story is painted in very strong colors, but the picture rings true to life and brings home forcefully the dehumanization of man, when money becomes the sole concern.

Maduranthakam Rajaram as a story writer is not committed to any political philosophy. Many of his stories are vignettes of rural life in Rayalseema. He has a fine sense of humor and great sympathy for the unsophisticated villagers. Villains are rare in his stories. Puthrotsaham (pride in progeny) gives us a delightful picture of the village school – the attitude of parents and pupils towards it, and the school master’s view of them all. Out of it emerges the pupil hero Rambabu, whose adventure away from home arouses in the parents only pride in their progeny. What is good bringing-up? What is the role of discipline? And to what extent children should be allowed freedom of adventure? The story sets one thinking.

Avishkarana (Book-Release) by Chaganti Somayajulu is a piece of critical realism. The subdued tone of irony and the details meticulously piled up make it very effective. The book release was by a big man of letters, presided over by another big man in politics. Pressmen were present, and the book received a lot of publicity.  Copies of the book were sold out in a short time finding their place in public libraries all over. But is it readable? No, it is only fit to be seen and not read, says the only reader present at the function!

Binadevi’s story Mrs. And Mr.Saxena starts in a light vein and proceeds with wit and humor ‘till the twist in the ending shocks us into sadness and silence. Mr.Saxena lives in a make believe world, and Mrs. Saxena keeps herself busy meeting friends. The façade of laughter hides a tragedy too deep for tears!

That is also the theme of Navvu (The Smile) by Balagangadhar Tilak. An existential crisis bestowed on the teen-ager Ramachandra Rao the vision of life’s profound anxiety. “This creation this life is a funny thing! There is neither order nor pattern to it. Even if there be anything like it, it is beyond our knowing… The whole thing is a big joke, a matter of laughter.” Retaining that vision, orphaned Ramachandra Rao passes through life with a gentle smile, which is the most mysterious and fascinating thing about him for his friend Murthy, who watches him in several crises and admires his equanimity and strength of mind. The secret of his vision of life is finally confided only to the woman he loves, who he succeeds in winning as his wife. “She understood it. It was not an empty smile. Behind the smile, was great sadness, behind that was Vedantha.”

The Corner Seat is a memorable story. The transforming vision of life in the presence of death, in contrast with death, directly communicated as a felt experience towards the close of the story makes it great. The paltriness of values by which we live and which we tend to identify with life is washed away in a moment, and the beauty and joy in being alive, the great mystery of life bathe the mind in a radiance which is at once saddening and purifying

By the mention of Korean war and Truman’s speech in the story, Rachakonda Visvanatha sastry’s The Corner Seat may be dated as pre-1960, but really it is dateless as literature. Tilak’s story was written in 1964, and Binadevi’s, a little later. The higher vision of life in the three stories is comparable.

In conclusion, it may be said that in the 20 stories gathered here, we have a panorama of the Telugu short story in its changing ethos and its multiflorous achievement as art.

 

Madanapalle,                                                                       R.S Sudarshanam

14-2-1988.

List of stories in this anthology:

1)    Balivada KanthaRao. Varada Velluva

2)    Buchi Babu. Anuraaga Prasthaaram

3)    Ravuri Bharadwaja. Lakka Bommalu

4)    Puranam Subrahmanya Sarma. Kothi

5)    Ranganayakamma. Meeting Pelli

6)    VasiReddi Sitadevi. Thana Daaka Vasthe

7)    R. Vasundhara Devi. Adavi Puvvu

8)    K.Kutumba Rao. Nuvvulu-Telakapindi

9)    C.S.Rao. Bangaramma Kamatam

10) Padma Raju. Karanam Kanakayya’s Deed

11) Allam Rajayya. Srishti Karthalu

12) Kalipatnam Rama Rao. Kutra

13) Nagnamuni. Kabuli

14) Jampana Peddiraaju. Foul! Foul!

15)   Yarramilli Vijayalakshmi. Borusu

16) Madhurantakam Rajaram. Putrotsaham

17) Chaganti Somayajulu. Avishkarana

18) Bina Devi. Mrs.and Mr. Saxena

19) Balagangaadhara Tilak. Navvu

20) Rachakonda Viswanadha Sastri. The Corner Seat

—————–

(A Note from R. Vasundhara Devi, along with submission::

I found this typed-script in Sri R.S. file long after he passed away. He dated it as on 14-2-1988.   I do not know for whom he wrote it nor who selected the stories.

I vaguely remember Sudarshanamgaru mentioning about Kannada poet/translator Sri B.C. Ramachandra Sarma of B’Lore requesting an intro for a Telugu short story anthology.Details of publication of this anthology is not available with me. Any information from readers is welcome.

– R.Vasundhara Devi)