Bucchibabu (review) by Nidadavolu Malathi

Bucchibabu (Sivaraju Venkata Subba Rao) is one of the famous writers from the forties through sixties, in Andhra Pradesh, India.

Bucchibabu was born in Eluru, Andhra Pradesh, received his master’s degree in English literature, and worked as lecturer in English in Anantapur and Vizag. Later he joined the All India Radio, Madras. He was married to writer Sivaraju Subbalakshmi at the age of 19.

Bucchibabu is one of the top-ranking fiction writers, playwright and essayist  in the history of Telugu literature. He is especially known for his style, which is two-fold–psychoanalytical approach and his poetic expression. He is the first author to introduce the psychoanalytical technique in Telugu fiction.

In his preface to his most famous novel, chivaraku migiledi [What is left at the End], author says that although he started to write it in 1943, its publication began only in 1946. It was published in Navodaya monthly in installments’ for a period of 16 months. The novel has received praise from prominent writers like Achanta Saradadevi and Pilaka Ganapathi Sastry. In 1952, a publishing company Desi kavita mandali published it in book form. Later in 1970, EMESCO published it in two volumes.

In recent times, the composition and habits of readership and the methodology of critics have changed considerably. In the light of these changes, I would like to attempt to revisit this famous novel. Also, since I have introduced a few eminent writers on this site, and Bucchibabu belongs in that category, it is only appropriate I discuss his  most famous novel, chivaraku migiledi.

Like several other writers of his time, Bucchibabu became acquainted with the romantic genre of the nineteenth century Britain, and we notice that romantic element prominently featured in his narratives.

The novel chivaraku migiledi [What is left at the End] has received a permanent place in history of Telugu fiction as the first psychoanalytical novel. The author has stated some of his motivation to write this novel as follows:

1. Every writer gets complete satisfaction only after sharing his inner feelings with the public; only then, it [the work] ascertains its value and attains the status of social conscious work.

2. In writing this novel, he hopes that it helps the reader to obtain a perspective on life.

3. The protagonist’s mother’s tarnished character followed him as a shadow through out his life and polluted it. In confronting his mother’s violation, he gains some values and this novel reflects some affinity with those values.

4. He also wonders whether readers could find if they could experience the writer’s ability to depict his passion for knowledge with complete honesty.

5. Bertrand Russell’s article, A Freeman’s Worship, has transformed him [Bucchibabu] and his perception of life completely. The readers however must beware that he was not mindful of either Russell or the article in question at the time of writing this novel.

The EMESCO publishers stated in their introduction to the novel that this novel illustrates in detail how children would lose the opportunity to grow and be ruined by the sins committed by their parents.

I have read this novel in my younger days but I do not remember what kind of impression I had formed at the time. Now, after reading it for a second time, it would appear to me that the technique of psychoanalysis and the poetic quality in the descriptions are the elements that brought enormous fame to this work. And, the author’s postulation on life, as the author himself pointed out in his preface also is worth considering.

Basically, the story revolves round the protagonist’s psychoanalysis of other characters in the story. Dayanidhi, the protagonist, suffers as a result of his mother’s moral transgression, which we know only as rumors but not the real event itself.

In his college days, Dayanidhi meets several women in his village and reflects about their personalities. He suffers because he has heard rumors about his mother’s character. After he has obtained his degree in medicine, he moves to another part of the state, Anantapur, to practice medicine. He strikes rich in Anantapur not because of his professional excellence but by stumbling on diamonds. However, he is not happy in Anantapur either. He feels regional prejudices and local politics put him at a disadvantage. At the end, he concludes that he has been left with nothing but memories in life.

Into this brief story, other characters and events are woven. To me, Dayanidhi comes out as a self-ordained philosopher and the novel a record of his reflections. He keeps psychoanalyzing each person he had come across in his life from the start to finish. The characters came under his scrutiny are his mother, and young women Komali, Amrutham, Suseela, Indira, Nagamani, and Katyayini.

Dayanidhi admires his mother greatly. He even has her statue made and installed in his town. At the same time however he also blames her for all his problems in life. We do not know and not even Dayanidhi knows the details of her transgression, whether anything has happened at all. All that we know is only the rumors as stated by Dayanidhi. The author has stated in his preface that the events that led to her immoral behavior were considered irrelevant and left out. Readers may accept this explanation yet may question why Dayanidhi, a rationalist and thinker, makes no effort, shows not even an interest in digging deeper and finding the truth. There is no desire on his part to understand her perspective, and no attempt to improve his life by using the new knowledge he could have acquired by such probing. It is hard to believe that a seeker of truth would jump to conclusion regarding his mother’s behavior based on the rumors he had heard. Dayanidhi seems to be anxious only to justify his own behavior: He lied because another woman made him do so, his life turned into hell because his mother behaved badly, and so on. Through out the novel, we see only his belief that he is not responsible for his life; it is always somebody else’s fault.

Dayanidhi’s relationship with other young women is also a bit confusing. He gets close to Amrutham, because she resembles his mother in some ways. She invites him to visit her; he goes to meet her. They will have sex, which confirms his perception of the resemblance between his mother and Amrutham. Actually, Amrutham came to him on her own. Both of them surrendered to a momentary excitement and had their wish fulfilled. It is not Amrutham’s fault exclusively. Nevertheless, in Dayanidhi’s mind, Amrutham crossed the line and committed the same sin his mother had committed. She became pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl. The strange part is, it does not occur to him that his daughter will have to undergo the same fate as he has been living and for the same reason, a mother’s sin. Additionally, he goes crazy wondering whether the baby girl is his or not. He goes back to Amrutham’s house but does not have the courage to ask her. At this point, I would question his integrity.

Komali is another woman that has fascinated him. In his opinion, Komali is not a woman but a part of nature like the green grass and the sky. She invites him to meet her at the village well, tells him that she would light a lamp to notify her presence. Dayanidhi goes to the well but returns home without even laying a finger on her. In his mind, Komali is like a flower; the petals might drop on touch; he cannot taint her piety. He puts some money under the pillow and walks away. The truth is, he only wants her but does not love her. The desire is physical as opposed love which is anchored in the heart. In desire, there is selfishness; in love, there is sacrifice. Komali loves him but he only desires her–these are some of the thoughts he entertains, the outcome of his psychoanalysis.

After finishing novel, I found it hard to believe that Komali is naive. Her approach appears to be more pragmatic than emotional. She has shown more worldly wisdom in assessing her situation and following the path that works best for her.

In his psychoanalysis, Dayanidhi often includes the women’s physical attributes, which make one wonder whether his passion for knowledge and understanding of them is only about their character. If author’s aim is to inform the readers only Dayanidhi’s character through his physical descriptions of women and his opinions but not about the intrinsic values the characters cherish, I must admit the author has succeeded.

Suseela is his uncle’s daughter, a cross-cousin thus eligible bride, considering how the relationships in Andhra Pradesh play out. Her father however refuses to give his daughter in marriage to Dayanidhi because of the rumors about his mother. Dayanidhi’s father arranges his marriage with Indira. Indira’s father performs the wedding yet refuses to send her to live with Dayanidhi. When Dayanidhi visits her, she begs him to take her with him but he remains passive. Once again, reader does not see him as an educated, intelligent individual who needs to act in order to make a life both for his wife and himself.

He strongly believes and revels in the thought that all the women around him are aching for his company  and struggling to catch him endlessly but never attempts to put his beliefs to test and verify if there is a truth in his beliefs. According to his assessment, Komali is a part of nature, Suseela is a part of urban life, Amrutham is a down-to-earth person, kitchen cow, just like his mother; they all are hunting him and robbing him of his peace of mind. Actually it is in the nature itself–women hunt men and enjoy in the process.

Suseela and Amrutham get married eventually and start their lives with their husbands. Komali  realizes that she cannot find happiness with Dayanidhi, goes away with a zamindar, who ill-treats her. She leaves him and returns to Dayanidhi. Dayanidhi believes that she has come back to him because of her selfless devotion to him. To me, it seems like, she has understood that Dayanidhi is incapable of violence, and for that reason, she is safe with him. Whether she is naive or pretending to be naive in order to make her life comfortable for herself is a moot point. It is a bit surprising that Dayanidhi has not noticed that angle.

After he has completed his education, he moves to Rayalaseema to start practice as doctor. There also he finds no peace, because of the rumors about his mother and the new rumors that he has some bad habits. The fact that he has not brought his wife with him haunts him. In Anantapur, he strikes rich not through his professional excellence but because of a diamond he found rather accidentally.

Bucchibabu is known for his romantic style. That comes out strongly in Dayanidhi’s reflections on the women he had come across in his life.

His description of  Komali is as follows:

Komali is the kind of person who should be bumping around amidst blades of grass, befriending the earth and the sky, tending them and fondling them. That is the place for her truly. Green grass is her natal home, the sky her in-law’s. The yew trees sit her and shower her with the water they have sucked in the rainy season. The wind sticks a shameless silly flower in her hair forcibly. Blades of grass, which tie up the red flowers together, glimmer in the sun because of the wind in harmony like a green silk sari, which is laid in the sun to dry; it dries up and wraps around Komali. She is the godliness which knows no confusing, desirous sadism and which has no hunger or thirst; she is the  experience that knows no boundaries.”

In his description of Amrutham again, we the unusual metaphors he is so famous for:

Amrutham is a person that must be living amidst stone relics. In some place like Hampi – where all stones, broken sculptures, lonely stone pillars, like princess whose heart has turned to stone for love, and the relics lay around as if they might move if a sigh or footsteps are heard; Amrutham sits amidst the relics and smiles sadly. When one cries and cries and reminisces the glory of the past experiences, her tears slide down the breast drop by drop and turn into today’ river and flow. Her sorrow turns into a river and drown the body – that’s wrong! She should not cry – she laughs with sadness. On that day, her beauty completes its journey and turns her into stone. Amrutham, like tears spilled in one’s sleep, turns into water, when one moves any one of those relics with a sigh.

The descriptions highlight Bucchibabu’s use of metaphors, which at times are confusing. He himself suggested that readers should not be mindful of religion and blind faith while reading this novel. However life is a conglomeration of pleasure and pain, good and bad, hardships, tears, and other mundane issues. If we read this novel from that perspective, Komali, Suseela and Amrutham are the only characters that are closer to the people we come across in real life situations. They seem to understand life in all its complexity, reorganize their lives to the extent possible given their situations and live the best they know how.

The entire novel is a record of Dayanidhi’s psychoanalysis. Since it continued as a philosophical catechism, it appears more like a compilation of quotes from earlier philosophers or a list of adages. There is little action on the part of the protagonist and more cogitation and postulation. Author mentions in his foreword that it is a weakness or a characteristic present in every human being.

Life is a journey from birth to death. This novel ends with Dayanidhi’s conclusion that life has no meaning, and that nothing is left at the end but memories. I am not sure what kind of memories he is referring to.

One of the virtues of this novel is Bucchibabu’s style as mentioned earlier. Her we see shades of the romantic poetry which gained prominence in the forties decade in Andhra Pradesh. At times, even the story seem to leave the ground and frolic in the air, as the saying goes.

An important angle in this novel is the immoral behavior of his mother, or, rather the rumors of her immoral behavior, and his strong conviction that his life had been ruined because of those rumors. Secondly, his belief that mutual hatred between different societies, Sarcar district and Rayalaseema area to be specific, do influence the individuals in question. Bucchibabu says that society and the antagonistic powers are the reasons for a person for not being able to receive love. As an extension of these opinions, we also find a suggestion that love in supra-mundane and loftier than everything else.

I would like to mention briefly another novel by another prominent writer Lata. Two decades after Bucchibabu’s novel has been published, Lata published her novel migilindemiti [What is left].

Bucchibabu wrote a letter to Lata commenting on her novel. Some of the opinions he expressed in his letter are worth noting. He said:

1. I finished reading the book, skipping some parts. I had felt excitement, surprise and some sensuous [sic] feeling.

2. In the novel the parts that I find objectionable are: Vidya, a prostitute, comments that her mother is purer than a respectable family woman. I think this statement is unnecessary. Her [mother’s] chastity is irrelevant to the story; Vidya was born to that kind of mother yet cherished a plausible moral perspective. In that sense, chastity strikes a “falsetto note”.

He continues, “If somebody else had narrated the impropriety Vidya had perpetrated with Raja in the hospital, it would have been less sharp and more polite. I am also one of those who believe that a bit of impropriety and offensiveness in life and literature are necessary. However, it is going to take very long time before our society gets to that level.” (Anjaneya Sarma. sahitilata. p. 86.). In fact, the incident between Raja and Vidya (having inappropriate sex) is no different from what Dayanidhi and Amrutham had done. In both the instances, they got carried away and engaged in inappropriate sex without thinking. In both instances, the issue is same, that of having inappropriate sex. Both the writers used the same language. That being the case, why did Bucchibabu make a point of commenting on it?

Possibly Bucchibabu changed his opinion since there is a twenty-year lapse between the publication dates of the two novels. Or, he (Bucchibabu) considered the character of  Dayanidhi is significantly different from that of Vidya. I think this is one of the instances where the argument that critics are biased towards male writers gains support.

Bucchibabu has discussed about love in Lata’s novel at length also but I could not follow his argument. Therefore, I will stay away from that subject. There is one point however that is a bit strange to me. He suggested that if the novel was written in second person in stead of first person, it would have received a kind of dignity and harmony. I am not sure if it is possible to write a novel in second person,

Chivaraku migiledi is narrated in third person. However since it is a narrative of the protagonist’s psychology, it reads like a first person narration. I agree that there are advantages in writing a narrative in the first person. However, when we study the two novels in juxtaposition, I see no justification for this kind of grammar applications.

In short, there is no correlation between what Bucchibabu has achieved as a writer and the opinions he has expressed as a erudite reader.

Bucchibabu says the purpose of literature is to provoke reader into thinking. After I finished reading the novel, chivaraku migiledi, I had to think hard about the message in the novel.

In the past, Telugu literature created characters that are supposed to be models for the people to follow. In modern times, the protagonists are created based on common man, based on democratic principles. I have no problem with that. However, I am not sure I would suggest that is the model for general populace. I could be wrong but the first thoughts that came to my mind are: Is he saying that the mode of thinking in men is this narrow? Among men, there may be some who think like Dayanidhi? If one sits around and continues to analyze life in this fashion, can a person accomplish anything in life? Or, that is what he wants us to understand, that we need action-oriented individuals.

Among his essays, there is one essay, nannu marchina pustakam [the book that has changed me] has received tremendous success. In the essay, he explains how Bertrand Russell’s article, A freeman’s worship changed his perspective on life. He has read this article while he was in college and was grappling with fundamental issues like what is the meaning of life and what is the relationship man and god. In his essay, he explains how he has moved away from the preconceived religious notions such as “I am sinner, I sinned and therefore I will go to hell,” and learned to appreciate the beauty of life. Despite his claim that this novel has nothing to do with Russell’s article, some of the words spoken by Dayanidhi seem to be very close to Russell’s philosophy. This only shows the extent of the influence of Russell’s writings on Bucchibabu.

Although my critique is somewhat harsh, that by no means undercuts Bucchibabu’s place in Telugu literature. This is just an attempt to present one more perspective, a different approach and raise a few more questions, partly because I am not knowledgeable in the area of psychoanalytical novels.

This novel has been made into a movie by the same name in 1960.

He has written several famous short stories, novels, radio plays and critical essays. His paintings also are well received. Among his other works that received critical acclaim are nirantara trayam (Endless triad), atma vanchana (Self-delusion, a play), nannu gurinchi katha rayavuu?(Won’t you write a story about me?). He has won Sahitya akademi award for his critical study on Shakespeare.

At stated at the outset, this novel has a permanent place in the history of Telugu fiction as an experimental work. In my opinion, the purpose of an experiment is only to find the result. After that, we do not repeat the same experiment. This novel as an experiment got my attention. On the other hand, if a novel fascinates me, I will read again. I do  not think I will read this again. Having said that, I must admit there are plenty of Telugu readers who swear by this book Several readers have said that they had read several times and still are reading.

(End)

(The article was originally published on thulika.net, July 2012)

Sources:

Anjaneya Sarma, Ghatti. Sahitilata., Vijayawada: Sri Vani prachuranalayam, 1962.

Bucchibabu. Chivaraku migiledi. Hyderabad: EMESCO Books, v.2. 1972.

—            Nannu marchina pustakam. 1953. reprint.

Lata: Antaranga chitram. Vijayawada: Vamsi prachuranalu. 1963.

—   Migilindemiti. Vijayawada: Jayanti publications, 1971.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sivaraju_Venkata_Subbarao

———–