Gopalam is a well-known story writer. His stories have stuff. But not many seem to have noticed the fact. As for myself, I would read anything and just say “This is good and that is bad”. I am unable to explain why I like or dislike anything I read. I had tried to analyse as to what should have been done to improve the story but my attempts never really took off.
This was because whenever I read Edgar Allan Poe, stories about impossible events seemed be the best ones. Sherlock Holmes stories would make me believe detective fiction was the thing. At other times, romantic stories appealed to me. Jacobs’ stories attracted me to maritime themes. On occasion short stories would interest me and at other times, I felt that stories should be at least forty pages long! With my opinions changing constantly according to the situation, it became impossible for me to come to any conclusion.
Meanwhile our short-tempered friend “Durvasa” met me one day and asked me to introduce him to Gopalam.
“What on earth for?” I asked.
“I have some work with him” said he.
“What kind of work?” I was curious, naturally.
He began to hem and haw.
“No, nothing really…To tell you the truth…Not that I can become a writer overnight…Once you get the knack of it…Gradually one can practise…If you know what I mean…” he dithered.
“No, I don’t” I said bluntly.
At last he came out with it. He too wants to write stories. If only Gopalam could lend a hand, he is confident he can get on with it successfully.
“Oh my dear Durvasa” I exclaimed.
“Don’t you call me names” he said with anger. The poor fellow had never shown temper until he got the nickname. That’s life for you. There is no justice!
There was no escape. We both found a convenient time and went to meet Gopalam. To avoid blame I forewarned him that Gopalam was no ordinary fellow and could land him in trouble
Gopalam lost no time in getting my friend to prattle.
“Sir, I find it devilishly difficult to describe anything in my writings, be it a person or a house” said Durvasa.
Gopalam said, “Please don’t bother. Just go ahead without any description. I too find it a difficult task. So I try to manage without it”.
“Really?” said Durvasa in surprise.
“Please believe me” said Gopalam.
Durvasa was visibly happy.
“There is another thing. For the life of me I can’t find a theme. I tried twice or thrice but it all boiled down to events in my family and my in-laws’. Can’t think of a theme” said he.
“My problem exactly! Neither can I put together a good theme. Perhaps you might have noticed. I just pick up events that I observe here and there and cook up a story”.
“You don’t say?” said Durvasa with a smile.
“Trust me” said Gopalam with a straight face.
By now Durvasa lost all his nervousness. He started believing that he had joined the ranks of story-writers. Only in one respect was Gopalam different. Gopalam has already written some stories while he will be doing so shortly. Imagining himself to be one of the tribe, Durvasa started talking as if he was on par with writers like Gopalam. Having thus encouraged my friend initially, Gopalam started deflating him gradually. Being a fool, my friend could not notice.
“You see, the whole problem lies in the fact that if you take up someone’s life story, you cannot narrate it from the beginning to the end. Life is full of stories that keep happening. The story may end within the day or may continue over a period of ten years. It is not possible to include all that happened during the time in our story. A writer must have the skill to find it out for himself” said Gopalam.
“What was that again? What did you say?” asked Durvasa.
“The writer should know where to start, and what to avoid. Then there are improvements here and there, we could call them changes”.
“Yeah. If we don’t change names and things we may get into trouble”
“You are right. One should also know thoroughly what to change and even how to end the narrative”
“Absolutely” said Durvasa.
“It is more difficult to end a story than to begin it. Some beginners ask me ‘Sir, should we end it when the leading lady gets pregnant or after a son is born and everyone is happy?’ I tell them ‘Why bother about all that, just fade it out even as the hero and heroine start kissing each other’ ”
“That was a very good suggestion”
“Comes with a little experience. Ninety-nine per cent of the readers can tell when the story has ended. In the movies, even the lower class audience starts leaving well before The End title appears”
“That may be true but as for myself, I always feel the movie has ended too soon”
“Never mind that”
“So you think I too can write stories?”
“No doubt. Since you have taken the trouble of coming here all the way, why waste time? Let me show you how stories are embedded in our lives. Just keep prompting me to continue. As soon as the story ends you will simply stop doing that. My story can also serve as a sample”
“Please go on” said Durvasa.
Gopalam started the narration and my friend started responding.
“I had a school-mate named Sankaram. A well-to-do chap. He didn’t really need formal education, or employment. So he stopped with matriculation. His family was dominated by women and he was influenced by that. As you know, our society is riddled with both the masculine and feminine culture.
“As time went by he got married and his wife came to live with him. Sankaram had never read any romantic classics. Forget the romance; he wasn’t even capable of being friendly with his wife. We don’t know about his bedroom manners, but otherwise he used to treat her like a stranger. Wouldn’t allow her to touch his clothes, his things, suitcases etc. But the lady was fond of teasing him. Having noticed his reluctance, she would frequently indulge in pranks, just to irritate him. If for some reason he stepped into her room during daytime, she would follow him and bolt the door. What would people think?”
Durvasa turned to me “That’s characterization for you. He has already established the fact that the fellow came from a family dominated by women. Please sir, go on”
“What made the girl most suspicious was the fact that this Sankaram fellow would never allow her to open his suitcases. Could some women be writing letters to him secretly? With that thought, her mischievousness turned to grim resolve. One day, in his absence, she opened his most prized box and what did she find in it? The photograph of a good-looking woman.
“All hell broke loose. She was angry and unhappy too. She wanted to tear up the photo at first but, on second thoughts, wouldn’t she relish her husband’s consternation when she confronted him with it suddenly. She put back the photo carefully and repacked the suitcase.
“The same night she dropped the bomb-shell. Sankaram saw the photograph and was totally ill at ease. That confirmed his wife’s worst fears. She started crying; scolded herself, berated him, was herself completely confused and confused him too. In the confusion Sankaram forgot to find fault with her.
“That was their first quarrel. From then on, there was bad blood between them. There was no point now in blaming his wife for having opened the suitcase without his permission. He was aware that she was suffering for no reason. But he wouldn’t dare explain to her about the photo or how it came into his possession. He was scared of sharing that little secret lest she should lose all her respect for him for ever. So he kept mum for a few days.
“Then he had a bright idea. He told his wife it was his sister’s photograph. But she knew he had no sister. He said to her defiantly, ‘You can see the resemblance’. She couldn’t deny that either.
“His wife was really flummoxed. She was ready for compromise; but on one condition. He should tell the truth about the girl in the photograph. But the stupid fellow refused to oblige.
“Well friends, I happened to visit them at that moment. I asked him in his wife’s presence ‘Hello Sankaram, will you play the female lead for our Anniversary or have you lost your old enthusiasm?’ His wife responded at once ‘Oh my dear, won’t you let me watch you in a female role?’ ”
Durvasa was all ears and started prompting Gopalam “Hm, hmmm…”
Gopalam placed a cigarette between his lips and began to fumble in his shirt-pocket for a match-box.
I said quietly “The story has ended. Shall we make a move?”
Telugu original published in Andhra Jyoti, Dec 1935.
[Translator’s comments: It is exactly 25 years since my father passed away in Madras on 17th August. He was about 26 when he wrote this story.
My father’s Telugu stories first made their appearance in 1931-32 when he was about 22. He was barely 26 when he wrote this story. No doubt that resulted in the easy readability and smooth flow of words and ideas. He belonged to a generation that had lapped up the humourous writings of many Telugu stalwarts and English classic writers as well.
As in most of his early stories, technique seems to come to the fore here. Also, the brevity that marked most of his writings shows the influence of British authors like Conan Doyle, Wells et al. The narrator ofthe story is himself reportedly familiar with several British and American authors which indicates the easy availability of good foreign literature in the smaller towns in Andhra region those days.
The main point in this story seems to be the fundamental principle that as any tale is narrated, the listener responds with a sound like Umm which would prompt the story-teller to go ahead. As soon as the story ends, so too does the prompting. That is the most natural way the story would end but it would require proper story-telling and proper understanding on the part of the listener. – Kodavatiganti Rohiniprasad.]
(Originally published on thulika.net, July 2005)