Expats, TV Series. 2024. Review

Expats is close to my heart, naturally. However, I found there is more to be said about this series. In several ways, it is not the usual, run-of-the mill show. It has been done with artistic flair. It addresses human emotions we feel deep down in our hearts. Some of us only know them as passing phases; there are others who live through with intense emotional consequences, and at the end, come to terms with the turmoils in their lives.

The Expats series is noted as a critically acclaimed series, specifically for its quality acting and directing by Emmy award winning director Lulu Wang.

Simply put, it is a powerful illustration of poignant, life-changing perceptions of grief, motherhood, and life’s other challenges. It provokes viewers into thinking on some hard-pressed issues in life.
Basically, the series addresses highly charged emotions of three expats in Hong Kong. To understand the two main characters, Margaret and Hilary, we need to sift through all the 6 episodes, and figure out where their behaviors were coming from, and why they were acting the way they did.

First, let’s see Margaret. In the first episode, she makes a passing reference to a tragedy (“… defined by a tragedy.”). In ep 2, we learn the tragedy was losing her child in a mall. Other factors that contribute to the gravity of her grief were: 1. She had the child, Gus, late in her life; 2. She did not want that pregnancy at first, but she became very fond of him after he was born (ep 4. Her chat with Hilary), and, 3. She left Gus in Mercy’s care, which led to his disappearance.
All these harrowing experiences lead Margaret to a terrifying thought that she failed Gus as a mother. The tragedy was overwhelming to her and soon finding the kid becomes her sole purpose in life to the exclusion of all others and their needs or feelings. Nicole Kidman as a distraught mother haunted by her desire to find Gus is august, and befitting her reputation. There is no other way to recreate Margaret.

Hilary is beset by self-doubt, universal I might add, motherhood as a defining coefficient. At first, she and her husband, David, had agreed not to have kids, but David changed his mind (ep 4. Her chat with Olivia.). As Hilary feels pressure from friends (Margaret, Olivia), her mother, and other socialites, she slips into an introspective reverie as to why, or if at all, a woman is defined by her status as a mother. While bearing a child for David is a critical issue in their crumbling life, the role of Gus’s disappearance is not to be ignored. Margaret suspected David of stealing Gus, and Hilary was not quick enough to defend him. That was an added sour point for David.

Saryau Blue as Hilary has given a stellar performance. She wanted to save her marriage, despite David’s infidelity, but not at the expense of losing her own self-respect. Various conflicting emotions in her, her confrontation with David, her arguments with her indigenous mother and father, and the denoument in ep. 6 are depicted superbly.
I have read a few comments referring to the Emmy level quality of her performance, and I agree with them.
Mercy’s character sets apart from the other two in the sense she belongs to current generation. Hilary and Margaret appear to be in their 40s or late 40s, Mercy has a college degree and a job, (we learn from her chat with her friend, Charly, in ep. 6.) and adventurous. She too has a problem, though. She grew up, feeling she was cursed. That belief plays out the way she handles her encounter with David, and later, her pregnancy.

When Mercy asks Margaret if she would take her child, bewildered Margaret asks, “Don’t you want your baby?” There again the topic of motherhood arises. Apparently, Gus was on their minds, each for her own reason.
In the final episode, Hilary comes to terms with her situation and moves on. Mercy also finds a way out for her unexpected pregnancy, and moves on. Margaret continues her search for Gus; actually, that becomes her only purpose in life, as it were.
While most of the series is focused on the haves, one episode, ep 5 is exclusively devoted to illustrate the lives of the have nots, namely, the helpers, who are also expats from Philippines. I was very much drawn to this episode. I have always wanted to know the lives of these “helpers” from their perspective. They are also people, real people with their own mode of thinking and living. I may be side-stepping, but I have to say this. Most of the Telugu writers depict the working class people from their perspective of their own standards. In Expats, director Lulu Wang meticulously took steps to present them with great authenticity. She said her family was her inspiration. In that, I would say she has succeeded in presenting them as thinking, enjoying people in flesh and blood.

I was blown away by the artistry of this series. Episode after episode, it doles out very poignant points in small dosages. That is just the way I like it.

Before I end my review, here is a warning. There are 3 scenes with sexual content close to x-rated, rather than 18+ as producers claimed.

My heartfelt compliments to all the actors, director and writers.

(February 29, 2024)

Topics in Library Science and Information Services

Probably, some of you remember this title and the scanned pages of old files featuring various topics on libraries and library administration in Andhra Pradesh.
Thanks to Prof. Ainavilu Usha Devi’s review of the articles posted earlier, and her posititve comments, I felt I should edit, revise where necessary, and degitalize the articles.

The current version is that revised copy of the articles.

Here it is, Topics in Library Science and Information Services

Your comments are much appreciated.

Nidadavolu Malathi
November 13, 2023

Critical Essays and Reviews e-Book.

Click on Critical Essays 2 to download, free.

Previously, I published one e-Book, Eminent Telugu Writers and Other Essays. It has been received very well. Just the number views on archive.org, in addition to downloads on my blog, speaks for itself.

In the past few months, I was engaged in compiling anthologies of my articles, which were not include din the previous anthologies. Three more anthologies are added to my previous anthologies.

The current anthology includes my essays, reviews, and other topics of interest in Telugu literature. These articles are not included in any other anthology.

I hope you will find this anthology also equally interesting.

Nidadavolu Malathi
October 29, 2023

Six Blind Men

This is my first story written in 1982, after I arrived in America in 1973. T
I tried to illustrate fallacies people in one country entertain about another country.

Six Blind Men
I began my preparation to leave for the United States of America. An ardent patriot and well-wisher told me, “Look, you are an unofficial ambassador of India. Don’t forget that you inherit the spirit of Gandhi.”
“Which one[1]?” I asked timidly.
He cast a nasty look at me and left.
I have a degree in math. I can talk about the Pythagorean theorem. May be a little about Einstein. But about Sankara[2] and Panini[3]?
I rushed to the library and checked out fifty books on every conceivable topic–from Mahatma Gandhi to Indira Gandhi, from Aurobindo to Guru Maharaj ji, from babas to cobras, Hindu religion, Elephanta caves, Meenakshi temple, Brindavan Gardens,…
Then I talked to people who had been to the States and returned to India with valuable possessions and invaluable ideas. They advised me:
“Be yourself. Don’t imitate them blindly an bring shame on our country.”
“Remember, you’ve got to be a Roman in Rome.”
“Take plenty of cotton sarees. Cotton is very expensive there.”
“Don’t take any sarees. No one wears sarees in the States.”
“Americans are highly individualistic.”
“Americans are success-oriented.”
“Americans are honest.”
“Americans expect you to be on your own.”
“Oh! It’s heaven. The streets are paved with dollars.”
“The American girls are pretty and friendly. May be you can get me a date,” one of my brother’s friends hoped.
One of my nieces secretly told me that I should send her four packets of that revolutionary pantyhose which was advertised in the latest issue of a Bombay fashion magazine.
I was also educated on such details as how to hold a fork, when to say ‘thank you,’ when to say ‘you’re welcome,’ which car, which toothpaste..
Finally I arrived in New York with a suitcase that was half empty and a handbag loaded with Andhra pickles. If the customs officials thought I was crazy, they hid it very well.
After a week-long sleep-eat-sleep schedule, I woke up one beautiful morning. I looked out of the window.
The first snow of the season!
The first snow of my life!
Glistening white flakes of snow floating in the air, settling gracefully on the tree tops, roofs of houses, cars, bicycles, people.
I was thrilled!
I pulled my winter clothes out of the closet and put them on. I felt like a polar bear. But it was the most exciting moment of my life when I stepped out on the street and looked up to feel the snow flakes on my cheeks.
I slipped and fell.
I got on to my feet, lifted one foot and fell again.
I fell for a third time.
I rose to my feet again, and before taking that small step, which was not in any sense a giant step for mankind, I looked around. I knew I was being watched.
With a gentle smile hovering on his lips, he approached me and extended his hand. I grabbed it quickly and walked over to a safer spot.
As I was about to go on my way, I said to him, “You know I just found out something no one ever has told me before.”
“Yeah! One could slip in snow and fall!”

[1] The late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was at the lowest ebb of her popularity at this writing. The question refers to Indira Gandhi versus Mahatma Gandhi.
[2] A great Indian philosopher from 8th century. His interpretation of Hinduism is liberal and so accepted by majority of Hindus.
[3] The first Sanskrit grammarian in the 4th century.
(Published in Wisconsin Academy Review, June 1982. At the time, my name was Malathi Rao.)

Nidadavolu Malathi. Eminent Telugu Scholars and Other Essays

A Series of analytical/informative articles on Telugu scholars and a few topics in Telugu Literature.

The articles include prominent authors: Kanuparthi Varalakshmamma, Nidudavolu Venkatarao, Nayani Krishna Kumari, Utukuri Lakshmikantamma, Tenneti Hemalatha, and Arudra.

Topics include tanscultural transference from Telugu to English, structure in Telugu story, elements of oral tradition in Telugu story, what makes a story a good story, humor and family values in Telugu stories, and bilingualism in Andhra Pradesh.


Your comments are appreciated.

Nidadavolu Malathi
August 10, 2023.

That’s Me

My life is a cereal box half empty.
   My life is a book of poems
   The blank half of every page.
My life is the little vacua between branches
   of the humongous Banyan tree
Shooting down branches and rooting in.
My life is not your world
Filled with umpteen little meaningless objects.
It is the vast expanse of the sky
  Sporting Stars and Signs.
You cannot comprehend my life
 Until you will take in the total view of the sky.


Munipalle Raju. Beyond the Shores of the River Existentialism

Beyond the Shores of the River Existentialism By Munipalle Raju, translated by Nidadavolu Malathi.

An Anthology of short stories in Telugu by Eminent scholar and writer, Munipalle Raju, entitled Astitvanadam avali teerana, translated into English by Nidadavolu Malathi, under the title Beyond the Shores of the River Existentialism, and published by Kendra Sahitya Akademi, is available now at Swati, Temple Road, New Delhi, 110 001, India. You may also contact sales@sahitya-akademi.gov.in. Rs.270.00
This project had been quite a challenge for me. Among other things, the stories are imbued with Mr. Raju’s vast knowledge of ancient works, Indian and Telugu culture and traditions. In fact, had I provided notes and explanations for all the references he had woven into his stories, it would be one more book, possibly, bigger. I have noted some of the challenges in the book under the title, “Translating astitvanadam avali teerana; A Unique Learning Experience,” though.
In short, reading these stories would be a unique experience for readers interested in Indian culture, traditions and the essence of Indian philosophy.
I have provided some footnotes, sometimes, with the help of my knowledgeable friends. I am grateful to them.
With nearly twenty years of experience in translating fiction from Telugu into English, this is my best work yet, I would add. I hope you will enjoy these stories in English.
Much obliged for your kind comments. Thanks in advance.

Nidadavolu Malathi

Sunita Ratnakaram. Speech on Two Novels of Malathi.

(Sunita Ratnakaram garu spoke at a meeting organized by Kalpana Rentala [Founder and organizer of Molla puraskaram] garu to award Molla Puraskaram to Nidadavolu Malathi garu on March 11, 2023. Sunita Ratnakaram is an avid reader of Telugu and English literature, and a professor of business at a reputable college in India.)

A Review of two novels, Chatakapakshulu and Marpu.

First, I congratulate Malathi garu on receiving the Molla Puraskaram. I extend my namaskarams to all the speakers assembled here to discuss the literary works of Nidadavolu Malathi garu. My only qualifications to say a few words about Malathi’s novels at this meeting are reading her fiction zealously; also because I like her as a writer and as a person.

Kalpana garu, [Founder and organizer of Molla Puraskaram], thank you for creating this opportunity for me to speak today.

The first thing I should mention is what nearly 50% of Malathi’ followers on Facebook would say; she is the reason I have retained my Telugu language skills to this extent. After watching her determination, I started with writing small words in Telugu. Now I am writing even English words in Telugu script, if necessary. We all know the words remain in our control only as long as we put them in writing.

The one factor that always amazes me about her is: her fiction, the titbit writings on Facebook full of humor, satire, and dialogues; and, her knack to update her technical skills regularly, and continue her literary activities on Thulika. Coming to my topic, other speakers will be speaking on other topics, I confined my speech to her two novels, Chatakapakshulu and Marpu.

Whether it is a story or a novel, the general rule is not to recount a summary. Therefore, I will follow the same rule and share my understanding of the two novels only.

Chatakapakshulu is her first novel. Previously, I have expressed my opinions on both the novels in a separate article.[Sunita’s article previously published on tethuika.wordpress.com here] Due to my job and other responsibilities, I could not read this novel novel for a second time, but I have read d Marpu again. I apologize.

Malathi said she had started this novel in the 1980s, stopped for a while, and again picked it up and finished it in 2004. The novel has been published as a serial on APWeekly.com the same year. Currently, the Telugu original is available on her blog, Telugu thulika. [For Chataka Birds in English click here]

Briefly stated, Chatakapakshulu is about a young woman, Geetha, who arrives in America after her marriage with Hari, an NRI. She lives her life as it comes without any goal or plan, while absorbing local culture, reminiscing about the place where she had grown up, watching the other Indians who had arrived under similar circumstances as herself, and trying to reconcile all those with her own thoughts.

One might wonder, “Why read this now; there was a time when barely one person from one city had been to America; later, it was one person from one street, and now, every household has one in America. That being the case, what is there in this novel that we don’t already know?” We can accept that argument if the author presented it as a travelogue or a description of American way of life.

But, in this novel, author delineates human psyche and analyses of the characters; that is what makes it a ‘must read’ book.

All the characters – from those that appear briefly, such as Sivam, Kanakam, Emmanuel, and Achala, to the main characters like Geetha, Hari and Tapathi – are depicted as characters full of life and zest. The interaction between the characters are authentic and captivating. We see all of the through the eyes of Geetha, who remains detached, like a dewdrop on a lotus leaf. Author’s restraint not to make Geetha a perfect model because she is the protagonist has done enormous good to the character.

Malathi touches upon a wide variety of issues from social programs and devotional gatherings in an attempt to maintain the spirit of native culture to the travesties of social groups or literary meets. She has accomplished it through humor, satire, and brevity. From what I have read, I find Malathi’s stamp as a straight-to-the-point narration without unnecessary theatrics. You will find this peculiarity throughout this novel. I consider it a characteristic of a good story; and, I admire it, both as a reader, and personally. Her observations about the field of literature are few, yet notable.

Marpu novel [Change]
What a great way to make use of the breadth available to the novel! I was amazed how widely she has discussed the changes in several areas, and all in crisp short sentences. I was amazed to not she has commented on so many areas elaborately. They include: the evolution of man-woman relationship from personal to societal; familial relationships; metamorphoses in the lives of Indians, Americans and Indian Americans; changes in the metaphysical perspectives of individuals; literary groups, and their activities. She has not, however, give in to the temptation of offering solutions to each problem.

I will not say this is her magnum opus work, but marpu certainly belongs in the trove of best novels I have read. We must be grateful to Malathi for writing on the changes so eloquently.

Now, let’s examine it further in detail.
In this novel, after describing a party of Telugu people, author says, “Just in those two and a half hours, I’ve got the feeling I had seen one half of the city.” In just one page, the readers get a bird’s eye-view account of political, societal, familial, individualistic, and theological matters; it is as exasperating to the reader as to the narrator. One can visualize the suffocating atmosphere distinctly. The narrative flows briskly and realistically. And with equal genuineness and ease, she discusses potent questions such as what is happiness and what makes life complete. This discussion should or could be lengthy, but Malathi accomplishes it in a crisp, brief narration.

She does not constrain herself only to Telugu characters, but also extends to matters relating to American society, as and when it is appropriate fot the development of the story. Some of them are: glitches in the Social Security, credit card troubles, political parties’ rumpus, local politics, lenders, grocery store stories, not so obvious formalities in the invitations, playing ‘good’ hosts, and so on.

About the main characters in story, I would put it this way: Aravinda and Vishi represent the present generation; Leela and Sundaram belong to the previous generation; Vishi’s parents, Prabhas Rao and Sivani, are from two generations prior. So also are Aravinda’s parents; yet one more generation behind is Aravinda’s grandmother, Sridevi. Her older sister, Peddakka, is the oldest of all. All of them are from upper middle class and lower middle class; or, just one step below.

With all the characters at play, this novel may be taken as a commentary of the narrator, Malika, on the changes in human relationships as mentioned earlier, the good and the bad in the institution of marriage, and about the changes in all matters.

That does not mean the author constrains the discussion to only one topic. Just like in all the novels in general, Malathi includes subplots also, while narrating the main plot. She makes the best use of the breadth available to a novel, like any other good novelist. To put it in one sentence, this novel has not been written to illustrate only one subject. I would say, using the English phrase we are used to, the narrative ‘evolves’. One day, she speaks about the value of ‘word’ and how sharp it could be; on another day, it is about the laughs and cries in real life situations; yet another day, about a young boy who elaborates on the pleasure and pain in life from a theologian’s perspective; or about the origins of feminism in America and whether it is suitable for Telugu people. She also discusses the changes in the conditions of the lives of our women powerfully, including a few researchers’ input on those matters. About a person’s progress in the Hindu tradition and their methods of finding solutions to their problems, and the family’s role in it, on another day. Also, the hardships of a grandfather after the family he had supported, throws him out and after they find no use for him. There are so many stories woven into this story; and, all of them merge superbly into the main story, but for a couple of incidents that stand out.

The poet’s trip to America is a must read account. Another sub-plot similar to this, is the literary meets and the speeches at those meetings. Malathi’s comments are rendered in her decisive style complete with her in-depth look and scrutiny; and, not a part to be passed.

Here are a few gems:
“What do you mean experience? Is it not the only lesson we have learned from history? That we learn nothing from history? If we had learned from history, we would have no more wars after the Maha Bharata war of Dwapara yuga. We all would be living happily forever.”

“Nobody knows better than yourself, what your situation is, what your capabilities are, and what makes you happy. You are the only one who knows it.”

“You are still young. You make decisions based on what you see. Let alone each subject, you will put everything in dry words, in black and white. For me, everything is a conundrum. No matter how much I have learned, I still feel like there is more to it.” – A very good example of the change in the mode of thinking in different generations; she puts it in simple words with ease.

Author’s observations

Malathi’s observations are carefully thought out. For instance, she says we tickle babies and see them laughing; but, do we really know if the babies are enjoying it?

Here is another example. While speaking with Tarakam, Sridevi speaks at length about the changes Battula Kamakshamma, Nalam Suseelamma, and Veeresalingam[ Renowned social reformers in the 19th and 20th centuries. ] had brought about. But, with Aravinda, she talks about her own childhood and tells the stories she had heard at the time in a cozy friendly conversation. The readers are charmed as they notice the difference between the two conversations.

In essence, the author’s conviction is clear: there is no single rule that works for all occasions, like there is no one mantra that works for both fear of thunderbolt and begging for alms[ A proverb. There are different mantras, one to waive the fear of the thunderbolt and the other for begging alms. ]. Each individual should make decisions in accordance with the times and their competence, and based on their own experiences and potential.

Malathi’s fliar for sarcasm

Lastly, my personal favorite is her use of sarcasm. We all know sarcasm gives great pleasure to the readers, if the writer knows how to make the best use of it. Malathi is one such writer. For instance,

“My social skills kill me.”[A pun The Telugu sentence plays on a word, goru in kalupugoruthanam.]

“True, sir. In this country, we can’t even die without prior appointment, like varala abbayi[ A once a week food arrangement with a family. The family agrees to feed the young man until he finishes school. ]. If the Yama [god of Death] comes to take me away, I will have to tell him to come back after six months.”

“The movie has started. Nobody seems to know what is happening. Nobody is ready to admit they have no clue what is happening. Maybe, they will, tell after a few more minutes.”

“So, who all came to the meeting? I mean the eminent people?”
“What can I say if you put it that way? All of them are eminent people. Why would they be invited if they are not eminent?”

“Nevermind. Tell me what you have talked about?”
“Why bother her like that? Actually, that was not a meeting of speeches; it was awards meeting. It is like serving food at our weddings. They call the names, the awardees go on to the stage; and somebody hands a plaque or a certificate to each awardee; they may or may not mention the recipient’s field of expertise. At the photo session, however, they make a big point of telling the awardees to stand up with a big smile and showing off the plaque. That’s about it.”

This concludes my observations on these two novels. In these two novels, we find several insights that can be made possibly by this narrator only. I urge Malathi garu to write at least one more novel for giving us more of such in-depth observations.

Malathi garu appears, on the surface, as overwhelmed with worldly activities, but, in reality, is detached, I think. Maybe detached is not the right word; she is focused on detachment, I might say.
Since this Molla Puraskaram (ceremony) is not the kind of ceremony mentioned earlier, but one of the 8 pleasurable events I have enumerated above, I congratulate Malathi garu one more time and take leave of you all.
(Original speech delivered at a zoom meeting, Molla puraskaram ceremony on March 11, 2023. Translated with speaker’s permission.)

April 8, 2023