Category Archives: Analytical articles

2. WOMEN WRITING IN ANDHRA PRADESH: SOCIAL CONDITIONS by Nidadavolu Malathi

(Part 1 Historical Perspective).

2. WOMEN WRITING IN ANDHRA PRADESH: SOCIAL CONDITIONS
Emergence of female fiction writers in the 1960’s.¨¨¨

In my article on women writing through centuries, published in September 2002 issue, I attempted to trace some of the trends in regard to women’s education in upper classes. In this essay, I intend to show the environment both at home and in society that contributed to women writing in post-independent Andhra Pradesh.

Women telling stories in the form of poetry continued into modern times. Women writing fiction started in the second quarter of the 20th century. Kalipatnam Rama Rao, one of the well-established and highly respected writers, summarized the history of 1950’s and 60’s fiction as follows: He opened with an apologetic note.

I am getting old and my memory is failing. I can’t recall all the details, but here is what I usually say in my public speeches:
After achieving independence, the government offered help, under their Five-Year Plans, to start high schools even in the smallest villages, just for the asking. Formal education for girls was already put in place the 1950s. So the girls who were receiving education only up to 5th or 6th grade in the villages advanced to the high school level. By then, the number of high schools in the cities also had increased. It took seven to eight years to reach this level.

A second development was in the area of printing. The government loans and investment opportunities played a key role in increase the number of printing presses. The magazines, in order to recover their investment, started several link magazines in 1960s, for instance Andhra Jyoti started Bala Jyoti for children and Vanita Jyoti for women. Thus, with the proliferation of magazines and link magazines a need to feed them followed. They needed contributions as well as editors. Well-informed persons with a sense of social responsibility became editors which in turn helped social consciousness writers to come into existence. The literary scene led to magazines competing for readership. Amidst this competition, a concern to identify a paradigm to attract the readership became important. The focus became not what was good for the general public but what they wanted to read. That caused a major change in the literary trends of the time.

During this period, women who had received education in the fifties decade have not entered the job market yet. They stayed at home either as housewives or waiting for bridegrooms with qualifications higher than theirs. They started buying and reading magazines as a pastime and then started writing about their experiences and aspirations. Just about that time some writers like Ranganayakamma have already started writing social consciousness fiction. And these educated, unmarried women felt a need to be recognized as persons—something like “notice me, try to understand who I am,” was apparent in their writings. At the same time, they were also putting “the woman at the feet of man [charaNadaasulugaane unDaali].” In other words, the women who had received some education began writing as a diversion and the magazines encouraged them. Their views were in a nascent stage.

The third development in the 1950’s was the change in the climate as a result of the formation of a new leisure class. The government plans, bureaucracy, bribery, etc. helped people to amass wealth. New kitchen gadget created more leisure for women. To make use of this leisure women depended on the magazines.

Eventually, women entered workforce. They were however reading the magazines even at work. They would keep the magazines in the desk drawers and read them. The number of workers was always higher than was necessary because it was a woman’s[Indira Gandhi] regime, and so, the women did not have a problem reading magazines.

Popularity of women writer got to a point, men could not survive as writers unless they also wrote under female pseudonyms. That is my understanding from what I have seen. Editors’ perception follows readers’. Some of the new editors, either scared of the competition or due to their ignorance, committed the most disgraceful crime. Both the parties, readers and the editors should bear the brunt of this failing[to maintain high literary standards?].

Responding to one of my questions, Rama Rao mentioned that Ranganayakamma and Usha Rani Bhatia as writers with social responsibility, and also he has respect for K. Ramalakshmi as a writer. There are not many women writers who are perceptive and or wrote with an awareness of literary values, he added.

The above passage encapsulates a historical perspective of the two decades under reference. In the following few pages, I will try to elaborate on some of the comments, and also adding a few more details.

WOMEN WRITING, SECOND STAGE:

After achieving independence in 1947, India was lulled into silence for a brief period for want of direction. The logical step was to rebuild the country in step with the developing nations, which meant educating the mass, males and females. Mass education and women’s education became a priority for rebuilding the nation. In the post-independent era, an overhaul of traditional values started taking place.

The three major movements, namely, the social reform movement started by Veeresalingam, the independence movement under leadership of Gandhi, and the library movement under the leadership of Ayyanki Venkataramanayya, contributed immensely to popularize female writing and explore female creativity. Just in one decade, in 1930’s, the number of Telugu magazines almost doubled from 136 in 1920 to 240 in 1930. Several of them were caste-oriented reflecting the strong community bond within the castes.

WEEKLY AND MONTHLY MAGAZINES:

While most of the older generation female writers continued to publish in the magazines exclusively for women like Hindusundari and Gruhalakshmi, a new generation of writers started writing fiction and publishing them in the magazines that were not identified as for women only. Popular magazines like Andhra Patrika, Andhra Prabha, Bharati, and Telugu Swatantra welcomed the fiction by female writers zealously. Although they were not exclusively for women, the magazines were markedly instrumental in promoting female writing, especially fiction. Most of these editors and publishers came from earlier independence movement and women’s movement, and as such entertained liberal views. This chapter attempts to establish that these editors and nationalists encouraged women to write and publish.

Andhra Patrika weekly was started by Kasinathuni Nageswara Rao in 1908. The magazine was originally published from Bombay and moved to Madras in 1924. The mission statement of the publishers was, “We hope to provide knowledge relating to our society and the world for all our people.” Significantly the magazine did not identify the females as a separate class in its reference to the public. However Andhra Patrika weekly was one of the magazines that featured female writing extensively. In their target audience, the specific reference to females was conspicuous by its absence. Possibly in the post-independent era identifying female writers as a separate class needing special attention was waning off. Lakshmana Reddy also noted that the magazine enjoyed a subscription of 2000 members at the time.

Among these magazines, Bharati (1923), a monthly, became a milestone for its high literary standards. Although most of the writers/scholars were male, Bharati featured female writers like Kommuri Padmavatidevi, Illindila Saraswatidevi, R. Vasundhara Devi, Dwivedula Visalakshi, and Kalyanasundari Jagannath, Turaga Janakirani, among several other prominent female writers.

Another magazine among these trendsetters was Andhra Prabha Weekly. Narla Venkateswara Rao, known for his western education, sophistication and several innovations in journalism, was with Andhra Prabha Weekly from its inception in 1938 and became chief editor in 1942 and left in 1959. Under his editorship, the magazine’s circulation went up from 500 in 1942 to 72,000 in 1959. The weekly magazine gave prominence to not only political issues but also to social, economic, industrial, and educational issues and thus laid new grounds for new trends in journalism. One of them, relevant for our discussion, was the introduction of “Pramadaavanam,” in 1956, with Malati Chendur as its columnist. In her interview with Sivasankari, Malati has stated that, “I have dealt with all topics under the sun in a series of articles, in a question and answer format for over 45 years.” The topics ranged from beauty tips to health and family counseling. Malati also published brief introductory articles on foreign female writers in this column. The readership she has gathered for “Pramadaavanam” was remarkable. This feature could be one of many reasons, for the circulation of Andhra Prabha weekly to reach astronomical figures. In my 1983 interview with her, Malati had mentioned that she was taking some of the ideas from foreign magazines like Ladies Home Journal she had been subscribing at the time.

Khasa Subba Rao was the editor of Telugu swatantra. In the 1950’s, Telugu Swatantra was one of the reputable magazines to encourage women writers. K. Ramalakshmi, Turaga Janakirani, P. Saraladevi, and Ranganayakamma are some of the writers who have published their fiction in this biweekly magazine.

Another magazine that made enormous service to female writers was Andhra Jyoti Weekly which was started in July 1960 with Narla Venkateswara Rao as editor. I have no record of the precise date Puranam Subrahmanya Sarma joined the magazine but he was one of the magazine editors who was very supportive of female fiction. [More on this in later paragraphs]

MAGAZINE EDITORS AND CIRCULATION:

In January 1983, I went to Andhra Pradesh and interviewed some female writers. During my interviews, the names of the editors that were mentioned as supportive of their writings in the 1960’s decade were Gora Sastry, Khasa Subba Rao, editors of Telugu Swatantra and Puranam Subrahmanya Sarma, editor of Andhra Jyoti weekly. The other weekly and monthly magazines like Sahiti, Swati, Tharuna, and Jayasri also had been publishing female fiction extensively. Ranganayakamma’s comment in this regard is noteworthy. Ranganayakamma stated that, in the early stage of her writing career, the editors were publishing anything she had sent in. In my recent trip to Andhra Pradesh, I have talked to a few more writers, e.g. Turaga Janakirani, D. Kameswari, P. Satyavati, and they all expressed the same view—that their writings were never rejected. Kameswari said, if one magazine rejected it, she would send to another and got it published. Janakirani stated that the editors’ response to her writing was a matter of pride for her and she felt encouraged. It is safe to assume that the magazine editors were less critical and more supportive of female writing.

My own experience was not very different. My first sketch was published in Telugu Swatantra in 1954. I could say late Khasa Subba Rao encouraged me although I never had the pleasure of meeting him or corresponding with him. My reason for the statement however is similar to that of Ranganayakamma. The second editor to encourage my literary pursuit was late Puranam Subrahmanya Sarma. I would like to relate a couple of anecdotes that could vouch for the editors’ inclination to welcome fiction by female writers. At the time of these anecdotes, I had not met Puranam Subrahmanya Sarma in person. I happened to send a story to Andhra Jyoti, and Subrahmanya Sarma read the story and took it up on himself to include it in the pile for a contest that was announced at the time. Eventually the story was announced winner of first prize. In the following year, I sent another story marking it specifically for the short story contest. The contest announced three prizes. For my story, a special prize [a fourth!] was announced. My point is the magazine editors were inclined to consider fiction from female writers favorably!

By early 1960’s, the female writers reached a status which was impacting magazine circulations. As a result, the magazine editors started to accommodate the demands of the female writers. Higher remuneration, sometimes twice the remuneration as much as male writers, accepting incomplete works, and publishing without editorial intervention– were some of the demands that were happily met by the magazine editors. Magazine editors and publishers signed contracts with women writers, sometimes without even seeing an outline or a draft! In 1982, I picked up a couple of monthly catalogs of publishers where I found the ratio of fiction by female writers to that of male writers was staggering. In one instance the ratio was 120 to 6! In 1983, in response to my questions, two editors of the highly circulated weekly magazines, Andhra Jyoti Weekly (with 100,000 circulation) and Andhra Prabha Weekly (with 80,000 circulation) expressed the view that in sheer numbers the female writers outnumbered male writers, and that the names of women writers were contributing immensely to increasing their readership.

TWO FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO THEIR SUCCESS: THEMES AND LANGUAGE:

The two major factors that worked in favor of the female writers were their choice of themes and the use colloquial Telugu. In addition, their style and technique came into the fore like never before.

The themes chosen by the female writers contributed to their success immensely. They chose topics from day to day life of the middle class families –the life they were familiar with and the life the readers were living during the period. After gaining some reputation they went a step farther and took to belligerent writing. Among the writers that captured public attention with their choice of topics, Ranganayakamma and Tenneti Hemalata, better known as Lata, stand foremost. Their success in getting published in all magazines led to publishing books eventually.

Ranganayakamma spared no language in attacking the evils that were chewing up the contemporary society. The outdated caste system, the inequalities and injustices in the society and the malignancies that had arisen from the archaic patriarchal system were her themes most of the time.

Lata hit the nerve by choosing to write about prostitutes. Prior to Lata, both male and female writers were writing about prostitutes and prostitution either as a social evil or as a segment of society meant for recreation. Lata for the first time in the history of fiction dealt with the subject from the perspective of the prostitutes, their miseries, their abuse by men, and the diseases they contract in the process. (more discussion under Academy). [Ref: Kites and Water Bubbles].

In my recent interview with Janakirani , she narrated a theme that was atypical. one of her stories written in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s was about an unwed mother.

The story, “Jaganmatha” [Universal Motherhood] opens with a dialogue between two friends with opposite views on the issue of having a child out of wedlock—a case of a mutual friend of theirs. One friend was against it and hell-bent on reprimanding the mother for stupid decision. The second friend on the other hand was keen on expressing her sympathies and consoling her. Both the friends pay a visit to the unwed mother and leave her without saying a word. Another dialogue follows between the two friends. The first friend says that she, the unwed mother, was so happy with her bundle of joy, it was impossible for the friend to get angry with her. The second friend says the mother did not give her a chance to express her sympathies either.

Janakirani added that one of the editors complimented her profusely on this story and commented that Janakirani had captured the essence of womanhood in this short story while others were wasting their energies on ideology-based, heated discussions.

The second factor was the colloquial language. In this regard, the comment made by M. Ramakoti, a noted writer, at Visakha Sahiti on 13 October 2002 was an apt one. Ramakoti asked her about her superb command of colloquial Telugu. Rangnayakamma replied, “I am not highly educated in English and so I stay with Telugu. Secondly, I talk to lot of people and pay attention to their diction.” That was partly the key to their success. Telugu women writers were good listeners and observers. And most of them took pride in their command of the language. Janakirani who is educated and highly knowledgeable both in English and Telugu said, “The present generation writers are not paying attention to the language. A good story must include good idiom [bhashaa pushti]. I know at the moment I am using English words while talking to you. However, I do make an effort and pay attention to my language when I write fiction.” I think she made a valid point—a story makes a stronger impression when told in the native idiom.

In another interview, Srikanth, a senior editor, Vaartha Newspaper, commented on the sorry state of Telugu language of the current generation youth. He said, “I come from a farmers’ family. Yet my command of Telugu, my agricultural terminology for instance, is not as good as my father’s, and my daughter’s is worse than mine. Telugu language skills are deteriorating. You cannot find a writer like Adivi Bapiraju among current fiction writers.” (See editorial and readers’ comments in Thulika, December 2002).

The 1950’s and 60’s female writers have captured the essence of our culture in depicting their stories in native idiom.

PUBLISHERS:

Soon enough, publishers have noticed the marketability of fiction by female writers and started publishing, at first, the novels published as serials in popular magazines and had captured readers’ attention, and later, “direct novels,” meaning not published as serials. Both the kinds of novels brought enormous name and fame to the female writers, and money for publishers. Following the magazines’ philosophy, the commercial publishers were also accommodating the demands of female writers. In this regard, D. Kameswari, a noted writer from the 1960’s decade, has an interesting story regarding how she came to write her first novel, Kottaneeru [Fresh waters].

In 1968, Kameswari was searching for a publisher for her anthology of short stories. K. Ramalakshmi, a contemporary writer, introduced her to M. N. Rao, publisher of EMESCO books. At the time EMESCO was one of the foremost publishers of popular fiction. M. N. Rao told Kameswari that anthologies were not selling well and promised to consider it if she had brought him a novel. Then Ramalakshmi suggested that Kameswari should write a novel to humor the publisher and include her anthology in the negotiations. Kameswari took the hint and wrote her first novel. She also added that she continued to write novels and used them as bargaining chips to publish her short story collections!
A brief note on anthologies. It was the era of novels. There were not many anthologies and if there were, women’s stories were few and far between. At this time, one writer, G.V.S.L. Narasimha Raju, took upon himself and published in 1962 the first anthology of short stories by nine female writers, entitled, Kalpana. It took another 30 years to publish again an anthology of fiction by all female writers!

ACADEMY:

While the editors, publishers and the public kept evincing interest in the fiction by female writers increasingly, the academy continued to be indifferent. Female writers were conspicuous by their absence in the critical works produced by the academy in the 1960’s but for an occasional reference to one or two writers like Ranganayakamma and Lata. The female writers were hardly featured in literary reviews and critical essays on Telugu fiction. In fact even in the year 2001 the female writers were not featured unless it was specifically a study of female writers. Even female critics from the academy were focused only on male writers of repute.

By late the 1970’s, critical works started paying attention to female writing. Dakshina Murthy, tracing the history of Telugu short story over a period of 65 years, 1910-1975, listed some 200 short fiction writers as notable and among them 30 were females. All but three or four were from the post-independent era. To my knowledge this is about the biggest number in terms of references to female writers in critical works

By 1980’s, the female writers began appearing in the critical works of the academy and also as subjects of doctoral dissertations. Arepalli Vijayalakshmi tracing the history of fiction by female writers noted that, “29 novels were written by females in the first quarter of 20th century … And by the 1960’s the number rose significantly. … Nearly 200 women have produced several thousands of novels … Regarding the female fiction in the post-independent period, [I must say] a peculiar phenomenon occurred. There is a major change [in the history of Telugu fiction].” An established writer and critic, Sriramamurti commented on the same period, the 1960’s decade, as follows: “Currently, women have been writing fiction like never before. The demand for fiction by females has increased tremendously. I think it is perfectly fair to label the present period as ‘navalaa yugam’ [female novelists’ epoch] and I mean it in both the senses.” The term navala has two meanings in Telugu: 1. woman and 2. fiction. Sriramamurti implied that the fiction by female writers was the rule of the day. The two comments, one from a female critic and the second from a male critic, both from the academy, together, sum up the present day perception of female writers in Andhra Pradesh.

To put it another way, the women writers found a strong platform for their writing in popular magazines– giving rise to two powerful but contradictory arguments. On one hand, the scholars and the academy found one more reason to dismiss the female writing as non-literature, and on the other, the publishers found it a major contributory factor for increasing their magazine circulations and sales.

As I mentioned earlier, critiques on female writers started appearing in academic works in the late 1970’s and 80’s. Here are two critiques on Ranganayakamma from the academy. Sriramamurti labeled Ranganayakamma as an “angry [young] woman.” Venkatasubbaiah paid tribute to Ranganayakamma: “Study of women’s issues based on historical and sociological grounds started with Ranganayakamma.” He further commented,

When a woman, who has been oppressed and violated for centuries, questions our fraudulent values, we cannot expect those defiant questions to be in polite language. We must brace ourselves to be hurt. We are not qualified to dismiss those questions as angry outbursts. On the contrary, we must ask ourselves why the voice is so loud and where those ferocious questions are coming from.

Both the observations have some element of truth. Another noted scholar from the academy, Ramapati Rao [Manjusri, pseud.] stated, “Srimati Muppalla Ranganayakamma is an excellent writer. She has sharp imagination and brisk style. Although she has vigorous imagination, fierce ingenuity, and inspirational style, she could not become a writer of the caliber of Premchand, Sarat and Tagore because of her fixated enthusiasm on her ideology [ativada dhorani] and subsequent lack of understanding of the existing social structure.”

Among the writers that were most unpopular with the academy Lata comes next to Sulochana Rani. Lata was criticized for exposing the heartrending stories of the streetwalkers in scathing terms. Both Lata and Sulochana Rani were accused of presenting negative or unrealistic images and misguiding the impressionable youth. The publishers and the magazine editors ignored this academic perspective and focused only on the readership and the circulation numbers.

Lata’s first novel, entitled Gali padagalu – Neeti budagalu [Kites and Water bubbles] was published in 1951. The book became a sensation for two reasons: first, the fact that it was written by a woman, and secondly, for its theme, prostitution. Lata was eloquent in describing the pain and suffering inflicted by men on prostitutes. The book offended the middle class Victorian sensibilities and the academic scholars alike. The book was not officially banned but there was a social taboo. It was rarely seen in the living rooms of respectable families or in the hands of youth in the presence of adults. The elite dismissed it as a cheap attempt by a woman writer to sell her book. Nevertheless, the book sold well and went into reprints within a short period. The immediate reaction from the establishment was one of self-righteous indignation. The self-righteous scholars raised three questions: (1) “How could a woman write like this?” (2) Why did she write it at all?” and (3) “How did she knew about these things?” Probably for the first time in the history of Telugu literature, the question of writer’s gender became a moot point. Lata’s response was that the writer depicts whatever he or she sees using the pen as a brush. “The artist paints whatever he sees. There is no sex for literature. It just mirrors life. Why am I attacked?” was her rebuttal.

Although the female fiction was generally ignored in critical works, their existence was acknowledged in a different manner. Here are some of the comments I have heard in the living rooms of the elitists: “Malati Chendur is uneducated,” “Bhanumati is an actor among writers and a writer among actors,” “Sulochana Rani is writing escapist fiction,” and “Lata is writing cheap sex.” These are not the comments one would find in critical works but often heard in coffee table conversations. Even female writers in the academy have expressed similar views.

FEMALE CRITICISM IN THE ACADEMY:

Contemporary female writers from the academy subscribed to the same view. For instance, Sulochana Rani is criticized for writing escapist fiction. A common comment is that Sulochana Rani’s fiction was doing more harm than good to the society. The academic perception seems to be the same even after nearly two decades. C. Anandaramam, a noted writer and professor, wrote in 1987 commented on the fiction of the 1970’s and 1980’s as follows:

The readers are doused in an illusory world filled with six feet tall heroes, fancy foreign cars, colossal mansions surrounded by lawns and water fountains. Since this [kind of] uninterrupted happiness gets boring, they [the characters] are depicted as suffering from some imaginary hardships due to misunderstandings and spilling tears…
Because of the change that has taken place in the economic and social disposition of women in society, [these] two decades have come to be known as the era of female fiction writers…

In this comment, the fact that Sulochana Rani was writing romance fiction was ignored. The world literatures have accepted romance fiction as a genre. It stands to reason that her work must be evaluated within the context of that genre. On the other hand, if Anandaramam is implying that the romance fiction should be dismissed as commercial literature, it is reasonable to accept that Sulochana Rani’s fiction has been a commercial success. The society welcomed Sulochana Rani’s literature with great enthusiasm. Ironically, the major part of the feminists’ contention is that, those women were not able to publish! Understandably Sulochana Rani is able to write novels that editors and publishers would kill for!

One of the harshest statements leveled against Sulochana Rani is that her fiction is misleading and corrupting the impressionable youth. While there is no recorded foundation for this charge, the comment made in a different context by Kutumba Rao (1909-1980), renowned for his critical analysis, is noteworthy. Kutumba Rao stated that the books themselves do not make people good or bad, but only serve as an affirmation for those who are looking for a validation of their own actions or decisions. I am inclined to agree with Kutumba Rao.

The point is while the academy is dismissing some of the writers as non-productive and their writings as ‘non-literature,’ the public have embraced them with unprecedented zeal thereby giving rise to the question which one is acceptable as a genre and which is not. Sulochana Rani did not receive validation from the academy in the 1960’s and probably not in the 1970’s. However, she is one of the foremost writers in terms of readership and financial success.

Further discussion on criticism on female writing will appear in future articles.

SERIOUS READERS OUTSIDE THE ACADEMY

By the mid-1960’s, Lata gained respect among fellow writers, male and female. Anjaneya Sarma, a civil engineer by profession, quoted numerous letters, addressed to Lata from male writers and enthusiastic readers, in his critical work, sahitilata. For instance, late Bucchibabu, an eminent writer of psychoanalytical fiction, wrote [original in English]:

There is a social consciousness in your writings. Probably Chalam, Alberto Moravio, [and] lawrence [sic.] wrote not without a reason. I feel proud without reservation that we all are probing the same truth. Maybe you had read their writings. We all are exploring the same home called social values and each of us opening a different window, and thereby making the home livable. No one writer can accomplish a literary tradition single-handedly. Several persons have to make a combined effort. Your book is supporting that effort .

Toleti Kanakaraju, a well-known physician and scholar wrote in English:

…I found you depicting ‘provoking incidents’ but in the latest work of yours you could really picture ‘thought provoking’ incidents and thoughts which really transcended mundane measurements…
Hats off to you. I wonder whether you can produce a better work of psychological excellence than this…
My wife Srimathi Toleti Seshamma garu also shares the above thoughts. (Quoted in Anjaneya Sarma 88-89).

Lata’s writings have been compared to several famous writers from all over the world. Anjaneya Sarma writes:

Resemblance is seen between the characters in Saptaswaraalu and those in Man and Superman of Shaw. We see the same kind of sharp wit of Shaw in Lata also. The views expressed in Dorian Gray of Oscar Wilde are evident in Lata’s Jeevana Sravanti. We see some shades of the characters of Dostoyevsky in Patha viheena, and a semblance of Dorian of Somerset Maugham in Saptaswaraalu. Similarly, we can see Rahul Sankrityayan, Annamacharyulu, and Malladi Ramakrishna Sastri in her other works. Also in Gali padagalu- Neeti budagalu, we see a shade of Jean Paul Sartre. But, in the midst these writers, Lata maintains her own style.

GENERAL READERS:

The difference in the perceptions of the academy and the general readers is significant. While the academy examines, meticulously looking for underlying meanings, figures of speech, and unique qualities, the general readers read either for pastime or for solutions to their own problems. In the latter case, they identify themselves with the characters and get involved emotionally.

The general Telugu readers are no exception to this rule of identifying with the characters. Here is an account offered by Vasundhara Devi, a writer and critic, in her article, neti katha-teeru tennulu [The trends in modern day fiction]. A reader diagnosed with tuberculosis happened to read three stories [one of them authored by Vasundharadevi]. In all the three stories the patient/protagonist died at the end. The stories were no consolation to the reader who was desperately hanging on to life, his wife and child. He asked Vasundharadevi, “Do all the tuberculosis patients die? Is there no hope for them?” The stories in effect robbed him of his faith and hope.

Vasundharadevi wrote that she felt guilty, apologized to reader on behalf of all the writers, said some comforting words but could never really get over it. “I still see him in front of my face,” she added. Vasireddy Sitadevi also mentioned similar experiences—readers approaching or writing to her that her stories played a decisive role in their lives.

Writers are divided in regard to the propriety of offering solutions in their writings. Dwivedula Visalakshi says that she does not believe in providing solutions. Evidently individual writers are taking a stand of their own.

SAHITYA ACADEMY:

Sahitya Academy is a literary organization created by Andhra Pradesh State Government Organization created in the mid-1960’s. Part of their mission is to honor writers in each genre annually. In 1976 the Academy announced awards for various literary genre as usual but excluded fiction from the list of categories. Puranam Subrahmanya Sarma, editor of Andhra Jyoti Weekly, took exception to their decision, and published a letter condemning the Academy’s action. The letter read as follows:

On October 31, Andhra Pradesh Sahitya Academy published several categories for awards… Left out the genre of novel. The novels that received the same award in the past may not be of inferior quality. But the ones that are being published are not of any lesser quality compared to those that have received the awards in the past …For instance, Madireddy Sulochana has written excellent fiction depicting Telangana life–among the titles worth mentioning are Tharam marindi [new generations], Pula manasulu [tender hearts], and Mathamu-manishi [Religion and man]. So also Andhra people’s favorite writer Sulochana Rani whose novels include Jeevana tharangalu [The waves of life], Bandi [the prisoner], Premalekhalu [love letters] etc… Any one of these novels is sure to meet the criteria for an award. Several Telugu women writers like Parimala Someswar, D. Kameswari, and I.V.S. Atchyutavalli have written several great novels. Publishers have published a record number of 300 new novels and that is unheard of in the past.

It is significant that all the novels mentioned in the above letter were authored by female writers. Later Subrahmanya Sarma came to Madison and I asked him if his letter could be construed as his assessment of female writing. He replied that he was speaking in comparative terms—in terms of the quality of the novels that had received awards in the past.

Sahitya Academy did not seem to have acted on his letter. But the public responded. The readers and the elite alike poured letters poured into the Andhra Jyoti office, some supporting and some ridiculing the women writers. Some letters stated that the women writers were writing trash containing cheap sentiment and empty dreams while others maintained that the female writers had been doing an amazing service. In this heated debate, the comments made by two highly reputed male literary critics, Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao and Addepalli Rammohan Rao are noteworthy. Kutumba Rao stated that the writings should not be judged on the basis of writer’s gender. Rammohan Rao stated that the critics must at least give credit to the women writers for what they have accomplished so far.

These accounts vouch for the attention the female writers were getting in the 1970s decade. With the extraordinary attention came ridicule.

WOMEN WRITERS AS A TARGET OF RIDICULE:

As mentioned in my article on Female Writing in September 2002 issue, sarcasm and ridicule have been part of Telugu humor for centuries. At Visakha Sahiti meeting, several writers and scholars gave numerous examples of such practice that has been in place for centuries. One of the examples given by Malayavasini, Telugu professor and scholar, is a poem written to ridicule women writing. Here is her narration:
A woman named Koonalamma wrote poems, with her name at the end of each verse, like a caption. Another male writer wrote the following poem, imitating Koonalamma:

kunDale bhaanDamulu
kukkale sunakamulu
aaDuvaare streelu O koonalammaa!

In this poem, the first set of words in colloquial Telugu, ‘kunDalu’ [clay pots], ‘kukkalu’ [dogs], and ‘aaDuvaaru’ [women] are equated with Sanskrit terms ‘bhaanDammulu,’ ‘sunakammulu’ and ‘streelu’ implying an elevation of status. Malayavasini commented that replacing an erudite term for the colloquial (e.g. damsel for woman) might appear complimentary but in reality meant to ridicule the female author, Koonalamma.

A second example Malayavasini gave us was from a weekly magazine. She referred to a set of photographs of women writers published in Andhra Jyoti Weekly in 1982 under the caption, “racayitrula bommalakoluvu,” [a show of dolls]. Let me explain the connotation for those who are not familiar with the tradition of ‘bommalakoluvu.’ In Andhra Pradesh we have a festival called Dasara, usually celebrated in October. As a part of the celebration, young girls arrange dolls and other items—they can be very creative—and invite each other to visit their decorations, something like Christmas tree decorations. The reference of the women writers’ photographs on a page as “bommala koluvu” is hardly a compliment to their creative skills. Malayavasini pointed out that ridicule has always been there, and probably, we would have more female writers if this kind of ridicule and humiliation were not prevalent, but the fact remains women have been writing and publishing.

KAVANA Sarma, a writer known for his humor and satire, referred to the Telugu family tradition in his speech at the same Visakha Sahiti meeting and said kidding around and picking on each other among family members like brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, husband and wife are part of our tradition. “I poke fun at my wife and she pokes fun at me. It is in our culture.” I agree that in day-to-day life in Andhra homes, witticisms and poking fun at each other are quite common. No offense intended, none taken.

By the 1970’s the tradition of making fun of women found their way into magazines. Cartoons and jokes on female writers have become a regular feature in magazines. Here are some examples:
One mother said to a fifth grade teacher, “You just teach my daughter the alphabet and she will write novels and make her living. She is not going for a job or anything.”
Apparently the mother believes that one can be a writer if knows the alphabet.

Another cartoon by Bapu, top-ranking cartooninst, is about a father lamenting about his children’s future.
The father said to a friend, “I have four daughters and one son. I am not worried about my daughters. They can write fiction and make a living. I am only worried how my son is going to survive.”
Andhra families usually worry about their daughters’ futures. The joke implies that parents do not have to worry about girls anymore because the prospect of becoming a writer is at their fingertips.

A publisher: Madam, for some reason your novel did not sell well this time.
Female writer: Of course it wouldn’t. I told you to print my name on each page. You didn’t listen!
The unusual angle to this clever remark is–this is supposed to be a joke on the ego trip of the women writers in the 1970’s decade. However, I happened to notice that several Telugu books, not necessarily by female writers, carried author’s name on each page.

Following quip is a comment on the ignorance of female writers.
Did you know that Viswanatha Satyanarayana wrote veyipadagalu?
The female writer: I don’t understand this. People asked me the same question when I wrote Veeravalladu.
The female writer obviously was unaware of the existence of a renowned writer named Viswanatha Satyanarayana and of his works, the two titles under reference.

In short, making fun of each other is a two-way street in Andhra homes. This kind of ridicule did not stop females from writing. They came to a point they could ridicule those who were ridiculing them. Bomma Hemadevi, a prolific writer during the period under discussion said, “Sometimes my husband gives me some money out of the goodness of his heart and tells me to go out and buy something for myself.” Knowing what I know of Telugu families, I would not take this as a comment from a suppressed or oppressed woman. A suppressed or oppressed would not dare make a public statement like that. In my opinion, she was in fact ridiculing the others who were complaining about lack of economic freedom.

It would appear that against the complex cultural background and tradition of Andhras, it is not easy to identify how far this practice of ridicule impacted the creativity of women. In Andhra Pradesh, support and ridicule existed in juxtaposition. I will come to the support of family members a little later.

USE OF PSEUDONYMS:

Use of pseudonyms is a factor that needs special mention. Unlike in the States and Great Britain, Telugu women writers did not use male pseudonyms. An interesting and unique phenomenon of this period is the use of female pseudonyms by male writers. While few women writers did use pseudonyms they picked only female names. For example Aravinda (A.S. Mani); Syamalarani (Akella Kamala Vijayalakshmi); and Sarvani (Nilarambham Saradamma). The only woman to write under a male pseudonym is Vacaspati. I could not find her real name nor her reasons for choosing a male name. One interesting aspect to this, however, is Vacaspati literally means Brahma, the husband of Goddess of learning [Saraswati] and the two names interstingly are onomatopoeic.

In this context, I refer to speakers at Visakha Sahiti once again. Malayavasini said that the idea of males using female pseudonyms started in the 1940’s when women’s magazines proliferated and the editors could not find that many female contributors to fill the pages. Ganapatiraju Atchyutarama Raju also gave one more example—a famous poet, Setti Lakshminarasimham translated the Hounds of Baskerville under the title jaagilamu and published it under his sister’s name, Seeram Subhadramba.

In the 1960’s, some of the famous male writers like Rachakonda Viswanatha Sastry (1922-1993) , Puranam Subrahmanya Sarma (1929-1996) (Puranam Sita), Akkiraju Ramapati Rao (Manjusri), and Natarajan (Sarada) have used female pseudonyms. Some writers openly admitted that they were using female pseudonyms in order to get their writings published.

Discussion on pseudonyms is not complete without reference to Beenadevi, a name that is still under fire. Beenadevi has been writing since the 1960’s. In public sources the actual writer is given as B. Balatripurasundaramma, wife of B. Narasinga Rao. In the 60’s decade, the rumor was Narasinga Rao, a judge by profession, was using his wife’s name to circumvent some of the government rules in place at the time. Ganapatiraju Atchyutaramaraju at Visakha Sahiti Sadassu mentioned that there was even another rumor that Viswanatha Sastry himself was writing under the pseudonym, Beenadevi. At this point the only fact I am aware of is—both Narasinga Rao and Viswanatha sastry passed away, and Beenadevi is writing and publishing. A few years back she received Racakonda Viswanatha Sastry award—an award instituted to honor writers who write in Ravi Sastry style. To me this looks like a validation of Beenadevi being a writer in her own status quo.

FEMALE WRITERS AT HOME:

There was no question that the female writers were recognized by the public. At home they did not face any objection. Before I proceed to what the writers have said about their families’ responses to their writing, let me state briefly their educational qualifications and marital status..

EDUCATION:

In the 1950’s and the 1960’s the level of women’s formal education varied from elementary school to college degrees and a few university degrees. Even in families where the adults were opposed to female education, there was no opposition to women studying at home. This practice has been a norm for centuries [see the article on women writing in the September issue]. In course of time, women in the middle class families, owing to favorable social conditions, continued to educate themselves, beyond the scope of formal education. Lata had schooling only up to the fifth grade level but was very knowledgeable in Sanskrit and Telugu classics. Her command of Telugu was remarkable. Sulochana Rani, who nearly attained the status of Romance queen and is often compared to Barbara Cartland and Denise Robbins, had only high school diploma. Malati Chendur received high school diploma and later improved her knowledge through self-education. Ranganayakamma finished high school and later studied other literatures, including Marxist literature and became an avowed Marxist.

Vasireddy Sitadevi possesses Master’s degree in Social Work and also Sahitya Ratna diploma in Hindi. She has stated that the adults in her home opposed her attending public school but did not oppose her studying at home. They even have brought a proctor from Madras (overnight trip by train) to facilitate the completion of the required testing for her high school diploma.

Most of the women writers in Andhra Pradesh had no problem in improving their knowledge through reading books at home. Some of them continued to write and publish fiction. By the 1980’s, the academy began acknowledging female writers by conferring honorary doctoral degrees on them. For instance, an honorary Doctorate and a Kala Prapoorna title were conferred on Lata who had hardly finished grade school; honorary Doctorate on Bhanumati Ramakrishna, who had attended first year college. Vasireddy Sitadevi has a Master’s degree and received an honorary Doctorate. In other words, the female writers of the 1960’s era began receiving validation from the academy. In almost all the cases, the female writers were exposed to extant literature. Their family members, whether at natal home or in-law’s did not stand in their way to improve their knowledge. It would be interesting to examine why the universities chose to confer honorary Doctoral degrees on female writers while denying them a proportionate place in anthologies and critical works.

Some writers like Nayani Krishnakumari, C. Anandaramam, Mannem Sarada, and P. Sridevi have completed university education and hold jobs in the academy as college professors, engineers and medical doctors. Among these writers, Anandaramam and Sarada are writing fiction. Krishnakumari is well known for her poetry, critical and scholarly works. She has done considerable work in the genre of oral literature.

All these writers showed remarkable talent in their chosen genre. The difference in their academic qualifications is apparent in their works to some extent. Those who are associated with the academy have published critical works in accordance with prevalent methodologies.

From the information given in the Who’s Who of Telugu Women Writers, even those women who had no formal education have read world literatures in Indian languages, Sanskrit and English. Among the foreign writers quoted as their favorite writers by some of these female writers are Tolstoy, Hardy, Pearl Buck, Cronin, Oscar Wilde, Steinbeck, Maupassant, O’Henry, and Marie Corelli.

Among the famous writers of other Indian languages Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, Rabindranath Tagore (Bengali writers) and Kalki (Tamil writer) are mentioned frequently. One of the female writers of this generation, Sarvani has translated several works of Triveni from Kannada into Telugu. Among the Indian writers, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee remains the most popular writer, possibly because translations of his works are available in Telugu extensively. It is important to remember that Bengal stood foremost in the Indian Freedom movement and women’s movement in the late 19th century.

MARITAL STATUS:

Malati Chendur married her maternal uncle at the age of 16. Responding to a question by Sivasankari if her husband had helped her in her literary career, Malati Chendur amusingly said, “If Chendur had not married me, his life would have progressed along different lines. He would have had seven or eight children and would be roaming around on a cycle with vegetable baskets.” In June 2001, I wrote to her asking for clarification. I asked her if her comment meant that she was the intelligent one between the two. Her husband, N. R. Chendur responded on her behalf and said, “Malati was being frivolous.” He quoted another incident where she was quoted as saying, “People refer to me as Saraswati [Goddess of Learning], and I’d say he [husband] is the Brahma [the creator and husband of Saraswati] who made me Saraswati” These comments exemplify the complementary conjugal relationships in India. It is very common for Indians to be casual, humorous and exchange witty remarks. Ramalakshmi made a similar remark in regard to her relationship with her husband, famous writer and critic, Arudra. Ramalakshmi said their first encounter was when Ramalakshmi asked Arudra to write a preface for her anthology, vidadeese railuballu [the trains that separate people]. She added that he wrote the preface and after that Arudra never read her writings.

In regard to their marriages, most of these writers have shown some kind of independent thinking. If it were an arranged marriage, they worked out their marriages into a relationship of mutual respect and complementary nature. In the cases where it did not work, they took it upon themselves to find a solution.

Vasireddy Sitadevi resisted the attempts of her parents to arrange her marriage and left home. Ranganayakamma had an arranged marriage at the age of 20, was separated in 1973 and was divorced in 1979. She later married a person, B. R. Bapuji, who introduced her to Marxist literature and their friendship eventually led to their marriage. What is obvious is the little importance they have attached to the fact whether their marriage was arranged or otherwise.

Sometimes literary heritage also has been a contributory factor in their self-expression. In a recent interview, Turaga Janakirani stated that not only her mother and aunt were writers but she was also related, on her mother’s side, to a reputed and highly controversial writer, Chalam (1894-1979). Chaganti Tulasi is a daughter of an esteemed writer, Chaganti Somayajulu (1915-1994), a renowned progressive writer. Usharani Bhatia is daughter of Kommuri Padmavatidevi who had published extensively in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

I just came across an account by another writer, Kalyanasundari Jagannath, who passed away last year. In her article, “kathalu raayadam elaa?” [How to write stories?], she stated that Mallampalli Somasekhara Sarma, a reputed writer, used to visit their house and kept telling her to write a story. Then she wrote a story and showed it to him. He took it to the famous literary magazine, Bharati and it was published under the title “anamika.” Kalyanasundari also mentioned that Somasekhara Sarma commented that, “I thought you could write but didn’t think that you could write so beautifully.” Another comment she had received was from the most famous poet of our times, Sri Sri. She wrote that Sri Sri told her he would translate her story into English, and also suggested that, “In future try to write tragedies without killing your heroes. …” (8).

A significant factor is none of the writers said that their families discouraged them from writing or forced them to hide their writings for fear of ridicule. During my interviews in 1982-83, one husband was answering our questions. The writer did not talk much. Later I found out that there was a tragedy in the family, and he was helping her cope with the loss. In another case the husband served us coffee and snacks while we were talking. Sometimes the husbands were present only as audience. In some families brothers did some writing but that did not hinder the women’s writing. Sulochana Rani said she used to fair copy her brother’s fiction and that was how she has learned to write. I did not come across her brother’s fiction though.

INCOME FROM WRITINGS: DID IT MATTER?

The economic status did not play a crucial role in women writing in the early 1960’s. As in the past, it was never a woman’s role to support the family and whether they had money or not did not figure into their creative expression. This situation has changed considerably after women entered the workforce. The question became not of economic freedom but of economic status. In general, even those women who were earning, I mean not the writers specifically but women in general, were not always in a position to spend their earnings as they pleased. This aspect has been depicted extensively in the female fiction of the 1960’s. The new economic status they had achieved hardly worked to their advantage. The educated woman was caught up in a double-bind. The writers I spoke to clearly stated that economics was not their motivation to write, nor that of their families.

One of the contentions of the critics in the West was that women did not succeed in literature due to lack of economic freedom. This argument was repeated by famous Indian writers like Kamala Das and Anita Desai but does not seem to be the case in Andhra Pradesh. Koganti Vijayalakshmi emphasized this point at Visakha Sahiti Sadassu [12 October 2002]. She said that Telugu women never wrote in the past nor in the present to make a living. They wrote only to gratify their urge to express their responsibility toward society, she emphasized.

Some of the writers referred to some sort of economic constraints at home during their childhood. Malati Chendur mentioned that she was a baby when her father died and her mother took care of the family. Ranganayakamma mentioned about financial constraints in her younger days. However, in both the cases, the family’s low economic status did not curb their creativity. None of them mentioned that their families discouraged them from writing for any reason, economic or otherwise.

Ranganayakamma mentioned about her financial hardships after separation from her first husband. She said she moved to Hyderabad for her eye surgery, and stayed with her friends—her ardent readers and supporters. Referring to their kindness, she quoted a popular Telugu proverb which roughly translates as “I can’t settle their debt even if I give my skin to make sandals for them.” Interestingly, while attacking the male domination and female oppression vehemently in her writings, she also gathered a large circle of male friends.

Probably it is appropriate to add a note here regarding income from writings. In the preceding centuries, the financial aspect was not a concern. With the advent of modern civilization in the post-independent period, the power of currency also started figuring in. The magazines started offering remuneration for fiction. Not all of them but most popular magazines like Andhra Patrika and Andhra Prabha were offering substantial amounts as remuneration. Some reputed magazines like Telugu swatantra and Bharati offered no financial reward to my knowledge. In a recent interview, a well-known humor writer, Bharago, however mentioned that he insisted on getting paid and got paid by Telugu Swatantra. I am not sure if any female writers got paid by this magazine. In the 1950’s, the female fiction writers like R. Vasundharadevi, Dwivedula Visalakshi, and Abburi Chaya Devi found their way into literary circles through Bharati. In a way it was recognition in kind if not in cash.

In summary, Telugu women writers received support from their families, publishers, magazines and the readers while expressing themselves in writing fiction in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

WOMEN WRITERS IN THEIR OWN WORDS:

At the outset, I would like to make a note about what is customary in our families, at least in my day and the way I knew it. In my home, nobody appeared thrilled that I was writing and publishing. To me it was part of the day to day activity. Now, looking back, I could recall couple of incidents that could be construed as their encouragement. On one occasion, my father took me [a two-hour trip by bus] to the Andhra Prabha weekly office. My sister subscribed to Readers Digest in my name during my teen years. My mother would suggest reading stories of Hindu saints. I am not sure whether it was supposed to be my religious training or writing career, but in my mind, the stories helped me to think about stories. My uncle, father’s youngest brother and writer, Nidadavolu Lingamurti once critiqued a story I wrote for Chandamama, a popular children’s magazine. Like most of the women of my time, I was reading whatever I could find. Nobody in my family objected to my reading Lata or Chalam [both unacceptable by the standards of some moralists]. Nobody in my family ever said anything that could dampen my spirits. In recent years, my second brother, N. S. Rao’s involvement in my literary activities is something I would cherish as very special.

In support of my perception, I am including the comments of two acclaimed writers, Turaga Janakirani, highly educated and with rich literary heritage, and D. Kameswari, a housewife and equally prominent writer. Both Janakirani and Kameswari are straight forward in stating their position, no beating around the bush, no fluff.

Turaga Janakirani said that her mother was niece of Chalam, a renowned and controversial writer of the 1930’s. Janakirani said writing came naturally to her. In response to my question whether her family members encouraged her, she said, “If you are asking me, if any of them came to me with a pen and paper and told me to sit down and write, the answer is no. I wrote whenever and whatever I felt like writing. I am not a prolific writer. I will write only when something touches me. And the publishers were very encouraging. Actually I was even proud since whatever I wrote was getting published right away. Sometimes they write back to me, critiquing my story. Gora Sastri, editor of Telugu Swatantra was one such editor.
I know Chalam has excellent philosophy but it is not all-inclusive. His vision is partial at best. And I was not afraid to tell him so. I have written all that in this book, “maa taatayya Chalam,” [my grandfather Chalam]. We had wonderful conversations. He liked me a lot. That does not mean I have to agree with everything he had said.”

D. Kameswari said she started writing after her marriage. She was a voracious reader, used to read anything and everything she could lay hands on and sometimes secretly. “I have read Chalam and Kovvali novels also, sneaking behind my parents back,” she said. Chalam and Kovvali novels were viewed as objectionable for their sexual content by many parents in those days. “I am not highly educated, just a housewife. I started writing after my marriage, and my three children were born. Nobody said anything one way or the other in regard to my writing. Occasionally, my husband would read and say something if he feels like it. But there were never occasions when I felt sneered at for writing. Money was never a motivation. I admit it feels good to see a few rupees as my own. It was not much but it was fun. But clearly it was not a motivation for writing.”

The two comments summarize the positive climate Telugu women writers enjoyed at home. From my personal experience and knowledge, I can safely state that in the middle class families of Andhra Pradesh, women enjoyed the freedom to express themselves in their writings. There was no taboo in writing and/or publishing. The negative response and ridicule in public started in the late 1970’s when they reached the height of their success and probably it will always be there since it is part of our culture.

Published on thulika.net, March 2003.

What is a good story? by Nidadavolu Malathi

This article is about a question I’ve been struggling with for some time. Although thulika.net has been created to introduce Telugu fiction to the American readers, it is also reaching out to the young Indians who have adopted English as their medium of communication. Thus my answer specifically oriented to what my thoughts are in that context.

Before I go into the definition of a good story, let me briefly comment on the nature of our audience. First, it is common knowledge that different parts of a story appeal to different readers. Secondly, the readers with different cultural background perceive the story from yet other perspectives.

For the purpose of this article, I could classify the readers into two categories—the participant and the critical. The participant readers interact with the story on a personal level, identify themselves with a character or a situation or the conflict in the story and participate in the course of events. Their comments could be simple statements like I’ve been there, I know what you mean. Or, go deeper and offer suggestions such as what a given character could have done differently or what else the author could have provided to resolve the conflict. For instance, in “Moral Support” why was Gopalam so stubborn? Why couldn’t he get off his moral high horse and do something to please his wife and parents? Didn’t have a moral obligation to his family? At another level, the readers put some distance between themselves and the story but still react like participants. They see the story as a story, a figment of the author’s imagination, and at the same time want more from it. They raise questions like why Gopalam could not see that buying goods at a cheaper rate and selling for profit was neither illegal nor unethical. That is business101. That is basically the rule we all are living by in our present day world. For some readers Gopalam’s arguments are in tune with his character. For others, it is a flaw in the depiction of his character.

The critical readers distance themselves further and study the story totally objectively. They look into the structure, technique, characterization, diction and the message. At times it is possible for the critical reader to get carried away in his critical thinking and lose sight of the author’s purpose.

Taking the earlier example, Gopalam, like all the idealists in real life, lost sight of the realities of life and failed to see the setbacks in his mode of thinking. Whether Gopalam’s character was depicted well or not depends on what the reader considers a good characterization. This is only one example of how various views could emanate from the same story.



Getting back to the topic under discussion, what is a good story, two pieces fell into place for me automatically—the cultural nuance and the insights of the Telugu elitists. I reviewed some books and articles written by Telugu writers in the past three decades. Based on my readings, the essential components seem to be the same as in the case of world literatures. The list included the opening, the development of a plot or conflict through a series of incidents, the resolution or the ending, technique, the message or the author’s point of view, characterization, unity or structure, and author’s command of language. Using some of these elements as touchstones, I tried to examine some of the stories published on Thulika.

Broadly speaking, when a person sees or hears about an event, he responds to the scene emotionally and feels a strong, innate urge to relate it to others. That is the motivation to write a story. And then, he is confronted with how to start it.

The title: Although authors don’t always start with a title, let’s take the title first since that is what captures the reader’s eye first. In the current issue, the story, “Diary” is a good example. The original title in Telugu was “Kukka” [Dog]. For Telugu people, the term “dog” invokes an image of a sick, stray dog eating garbage on the streets. For the western audience, dog is a domestic animal, man’s best friend, and the impression on the reader’s mind is not as revolting as in the earlier instance. So we consulted the author and decided to change it “Diary.” The term diary raises curiosity since it allows the readers to peek into somebody’s private thoughts. The very first lines tell us that it is a peek into a child’s mind. The child’s use of a dog as a metaphor to make his statement is even more interesting which was the basis for the original title, “Kukka.”

The second title that caught my attention is “Soham” [He is I]. The phrase is from the Upanishads, referring to an individual identifying himself with the Supreme Soul through a long and rigorous process of contemplation and reflection. The title for this story is open for interpretation. I had a hard time interpreting it and contacted some of my friends, writers and also Malladi Narasimha Sastri garu, the author’s grandson. He said the title meant, “I am part of God because he stays within me, meaning I love and worship God and when he is within me, I cannot abuse my own body. I must respect myself and in turn respect others.” Satya Sarada commented, “Perhaps the protagonist just realized who he was and stopped trying to be someone else based on false pride or instigation.” I understand the logic but fail to see the necessary incident to justify the revelation the protagonist was supposed to have experienced. The discussion between the young man and the protagonist towards the end does not lead to this realization. The young man’s description of his experience at Rattamma’s house was left to the reader’s imagination. What do you, as a reader, think happened at Rattamma’s house? Was it the same as Swamiji’s experience? Why did the author leave out this particular, apparently crucial, incident out of the story? Was it the author’s intent to provoke the reader into thinking? Or, did the author imply we all have our share of the inexplicable in our lives, and we all live at random? Is this a strength or weakness in the story? Yet the story caught my attention because of the title. Was that the author’s plan in choosing that title?

My understanding was: The story opened and ended with the young man and so I assume he is the protagonist. Since most of the story was narrated by the second protagonist, Swamiji, the young man possibly felt a connection with Swamiji. At the end, after Swamiji returned to his wife, the young man could have told himself, “That is my story. He is I.” The use of first person, reflexive pronoun taanu in the Telugu original is significant. In Telugu taanu indicates that the views are expressed from the perspective of taanu, an equivalent of I. Thus the connotation appears to be that the story is not about an individual but about exploring a universal truth. The title, an aphorism from the Upanishads also meant that the drifting away for a while and returning home is a part of male psyche or human nature in general.

The title “The Drama of Life” also is open for discussion. Madhurantakam Narendra, son of the author and a writer, pointed out that the term prahasanam (in the original title, “jeevana prahasanam”) meant burlesque or farce as opposed to the term I used. I however felt that the implicit irony and satire are apparent for the native speakers but not for the English-speaking audience. I think a term like farce diminishes the intensity particularly because the sarcasm is lost in the translation and for those who are not familiar with the culture, the term drama conveys the gravity of the conflict the performer [Harinarayana Sarma] was grappling with. I am open to suggestions from readers, particularly non-native speakers.

Opening scene: Different writers open the story at different points in their narration. Some stories begin and continue sequentially while others start in the middle or at the end and go back to the beginning.

The opening lines in the “Primeval Song,” once upon a time, take us to the good old days of oral tradition. It is a song. It is about the enchanting times. The first paragraph depicts a luring scene only to highlight how far we have come from that heartening time to the disheartening present.
In the “Illusion,” the story opens with a shrewd, seasoned lawyer lecturing on the stark realities of law practice to a junior lawyer, a simpleton and fresh from law school. The senior lawyer’s crude and abrasive presentation makes the reader want to know what the junior lawyer would discover at the end. In both the stories, the opening scenes set the mood for the reader as in a play. The opening paragraph is a brief statement of what is to expect.

In “The Man Who Never Died,” the felling of a tree is the midpoint in the story. In the first few lines the author informs the reader the crucial role the event was set to play in the lives of the two main characters, Appanna and Markandeyulu. One of the important ideas in the story was the difference between the two—one person clinging to life and the other clinging to nature.

The development/unfolding of a plot or conflict: The incidents are like building blocks. Each block reveals a little of the story, building readers’ curiosity, satisfying it partly and then creating more curiosity, keeping him wondering what next. The incidents add to the length of a story, although that is not the purpose. While some stories include only two or three incidents and jump to the end, other stories build the conflict through several incidents, and let the story evolve with a strong base and bring it to a head. Possibly the magnitude of an issue—the central theme—plays a role in the number of incidents the author would like to include. In the longer stories provide the incidents contribute immensely towards recreating the milieu. The result is two-fold. For those who are familiar with the culture it is nostalgic and for those who are not it helps to appreciate not only the story but also the culture. The more the details are the clearer the setting is. For instance, in the “Primeval Song,” the incidents are straightforward and, actually, traverse the bounds of time and space. A curious baby monkey walks through several experiences only to return to the forest where she finds her home and her identity. The allegory format confirms its primordial nature. It is something readers could relate to anywhere anytime.

In “The Drama of Life” the author recreates the village atmosphere to an remarkable degree. The story moves systematically from the villagers’ appreciation of tradition to modern ways of rearranging their priorities. The story delineates meticulously the scenes in a carefully orchestrated fashion. The very first line tells the readers that it was about a performance. The village head, Naidu, was impressed by the moving performance of the traditional narrator, his originality and creativity. Each incident or episode—the description of the village, the customary celebration of Maha Bharata yajnam, Naidu’s zealous references to numerous episodes in Maha Bharatam, and the manner in which he extended his invitation to the performer —is filled with charming minutiae. For me, this was one of the hardest stories to translate. I however thought it was worth the effort since the story provided so much of the life in the villages and also the changes that are taking place in the attitude of people and the society.

The first half of the story includes several incidents leading to the conflict. The second set of incidents leads to the denouement or resolution; it is needed in order to bring about a satisfactory experience in the reader’ mind. In “The Drama of Life,” the detailed descriptions of several gambling stalls—from the games with small bets to the games with high stakes which are a ruination of the local families—leading to the final catastrophe (breaking the heart of the traditional performer) serve that purpose.

The Conflict: The conflict is the pivotal point in a story. In “The Man Who Never Died,” it is the impending death. The protagonist was willing to compromise his values and cut down a 40-year old tree and ruin a 30-year old friendship in the process. Why we fear death and why we would want to live forever are the questions for which we don’t have answers. But can we do anything to conquer death and live forever? The story illustrates how the fear of death is fed by the people around us.

There is a subplot in “The Man Who Never Died,” the friendship between Appanna and Markandeyulu. Felling the tree has a symbolic significance for both of them for different reasons. For Appanna it was a blow to their friendship. For Markandeyulu it was a life-saving event. But their disagreements overlap and Markandeyulu does everything in his power to save Appanna’s life. This part of our culture, the interpersonal relationship that defies the caste and class distinction, is rarely presented in Indian fiction, translations or original, outside India. It is also interesting to see that, in this and a few other stories, the illiterate persons from the lower strata of the society are presented as instrumental in making the educated persons see the light of the day.

The end wraps up and reveals the author’s point of view. That is the simplest statement in any good story. Some readers felt that the ending in “Illusion” was left much to be desired. Bhaskar Rao commented that the ending fell flat.

My understanding is that the central theme in the “Illusion” is our botched up court system. The story is about the failed system as perceived by Muthelamma, based on her experience with the courts. The senior lawyer in the opening scene expresses his disillusionment of the system in scathing and unequivocal language, e.g. comparing the lawyers to the foxes hanging in the graveyards. Later Muthelamma, a client from the working class and an illiterate fires away a volley of questions and even challenges the junior lawyer to prove her wrong. Her speech is considered one of the most powerful speeches in Telugu fiction. The author created a rebel-victim in Muthelamma who was betrayed by the system and who comes to understand that the only way to stay out of jail was to play along. That was the revelation, a poignant point, for the junior lawyer must face. At the end, Muthelamma rises to a level where she could even be patronizing, “You did good. I was there. I saw it. You shook them [the police] up,” she tells the junior lawyer. I wonder how many readers smiled at this twist, the reversal of role playing. To me, it looks like the author has succeeded in bringing the illusion—what the system claims to do, what it actually does and the hurt of the people betrayed by the system—into bold relief.

At the outset I mentioned that some readers would ask why the author did not give us more details. My question is, is it necessary to summarize his point of view? Does the author have an obligation to answer all the questions on the topic he chose to write about? In that, are we erasing the difference between an essay and a story? Personally, I feel that it is the author’s privilege to decide what and how much he wants to say.

In my story, Frostbite the story revolves around the female protagonist’s silence. The readers would continue to read the story looking for the reasons for her silence. In that sense, the story ended when she broke her silence. I however was confounded with the one question at that time and has always been—why do people hurt others and often for no good reason? So, I continued the story, killed the protagonist in the process, and went on until I could raise the question. You, the readers, have to tell me if that made any difference to the story one or the other.

The other elements of a good story are technique, characterization, diction or command of language, structure, and author’s perception of the society he is living in. I do not intend to go into all these components but only some that are relevant to my selection for publication on thulika.net.

One of our editors, Satya Pappu, said that her general reaction to Malladi’s stories has always been one of satisfaction and contemplation. That kind of satisfaction and contemplation is possible only when the author is skillful in his delivery and also in the reader’s disposition to lose oneself in the flow of the story. Any one of the elements—a character, an incident, the diction, figures of speech, proverbs, descriptions of the environment, or some other element in the story, that is normally ignored or overlooked by people, can suddenly pop up in the reader’s mind and bring about a kind of revelation or understanding. It is for this reason, stories that rush to the end without establishing the conflict and resolution sufficiently leave the reader with dissatisfaction.

One story I would like to review in this connection is Woman’s Wages. The conflict—the disparity between a woman’s wages and the services she is entitled to—is the main theme in this short story. The protagonist, Naidu, raises the question—why should the woman pay the same fare as males when she was not paid the same wages for her labor. And the story ended there. For the readers the unanswered question is what happened next? If I want to develop a story around this incident, probably I would include a few more incidents such as the protagonist protesting vehemently, even standing in front of the bus, insisting for a fair value of their labor and money, the passengers taking sides, the driver struggling with a dilemma—whether to make a special allowance for the woman or run over the man in front of the bus. Then we have a story. Then there is a room for the readers to empathize, room for a piece of social history and a story that goes beyond the immediate moment. But then again am I contradicting myself here? Earlier I have stated that it is the author’s privilege as to what and how much he wants to tell. What do you think?

Narration: The story “He is I” was a difficult one to translate for me due to its complex structure. There are two narrators besides the author. The story opens with taanu but for the most part the story was narrated by Swamiji. It was also presented as a conversation between these two characters—Swamiji narrating the story to taanu, the young man. On rare occasions, the author narrates the story, referring to the other two as they. There are also instances where the actual incident was left to the imagination of the reader. For instance, the young man’s experience in Rattamma’s house was not told. Swamiji’s comments seem to indicate that the young man had the experience Swamiji craved for. Or, was it only Swamiji’s interpretation of the young man’s unrecorded account? The story raises several questions and seems to have too many loose ends.

I took it up as a challenge and tested my translation on some of my American friends. To my surprise, they were not as baffled as I was. Is it possible I was reading too much into the story because of my cultural background? Or, was it the author intention to force the readers to see that we don’t get all the answers always that we live at random?

Characterization: Creating believable characters is part of good writing style. Depicting a character does not necessarily mean providing a physical description of the character. This is superbly done in the delineation of characters in Moments Before Boarding the Plane by Sripada Subrahmanya Sastry, a noted writer from earlier generation and well-known for his command of diction. From the conversations, readers can visualize the characters in age, deportment and maybe even some physical attributes.
Another example is the character of Vennela in the Old Letters (December 2002). Just from the letters written by Vennela to thatha, the readers understand that she was a young woman, married, divorced and was perplexed by serious questions about life in general.

This type of characterization however is not common. In general, readers envisage the characters from their behavior, author’s description, and the comments made by the characters themselves and by other characters. The incidents and characterization are interdependent. It is impossible to write a good story with livid characters.

Technique: Technique is the element that is specific to individual writers. The writer is the technique as far as his writing goes. In addition to the elements discussed above, the technique includes the idiom, his knowledge of his culture, his awareness of his society, and his ability to pull them all together to make that one indelible impression on the reader’s mind.

Most readers can identify a writer from his style. Style is an element that does not lend itself to translation. Here is for example a line from Marigolds – buDDideepam cheta pucchuku aa guDDivelugulo chukkallaati kaLLato bikkubikkumanToo choostondi Kamalabala.
“With her starry eyes, she was staring at the marigold plants furtively in the dim light of the tiny wick lamp in her hand, and slouching over the flower bed.”

The original lines are poetic. The alliteration is striking. The translation is very pale compared to the original. The poetic quality is lost. The word count in the translation is three times the original, which speaks for the author’s skill. The author, Viswanatha Sastry is one of those writers who stories will not allow the readers to skip lines and rush to the end.

Another example of unique style is the references to the stage performers of the mid-20th century in the story, “He is I.” For those native speakers who had enjoyed stage plays in the past, the references are gratifying. Sometimes, it is a little humorous too. Swamiji says, “she [his wife] was like Purushottam in his role as Chitrangi.” This analogy brought up a smile for me. Purushottam was a male actor playing a female role. Did the author intentionally compare his wife to a male actor playing a female role? Did the author expect the reader to take it as his observation of male psyche? Human nature? Or, was it just to show the author’s appreciation of the performer?

In any case, individual writers use such reference whenever the occasion supports it, and in an attempt to evoke the nuance in the mind of the readers. Would the stories read the same without these references to classics and classic artists? For the native speakers, it is a bonding experience. For foreigners the story might be the same or even easier to follow without them. On the other hand, these details also provide an opportunity to understand the culture better.

Author’s point of view: Whenever a story is written a point of view is expressed. What specifically that point of view is a moot point. As I mentioned at the beginning, different readers relate to different aspects in the story and different critics see different viewpoints. The story “Choices” (Empu) provided a platform for different viewpoints. The author, Chaganti Somayajulu, was one of the early modern writers well-respected for his social consciousness fiction.

Let me first explain my perspective. The story was first published in 1945. At the time, most of the literature was focused on the middle class issues—the hopes, dreams, aspirations, fears and frustrations of the era. If the working class characters were depicted they were depicted as victims of either the system or the centuries old tradition, which meant depicting only stereotypical images. The author of “Choices” seemed to point out that the hopes, dreams, and family values of the beggar community are not different from other human beings in the upper classes. The father, musilaadu was looking for an eligible bachelor for his daughter within their own community, beggars community. The father prefers the blind man and the daughter has her heart set on the crippled man. The father’s logic, the correlation between the marriage and economic status, and the persuasive arguments of the crippled man are the same as in any middle class family. The only aspect that sets them apart is their status as beggars. Keeping that in mind, I mentioned that the story was about the beggars community—their hopes, dreams, aspirations and family values. Dakshninamurthy, a noted writer and critic, also commented that, “Their [the beggars’] philosophy was that all the beggar girls must invariably look for and find only a blind men to marry”(498).
Chaganti Tulasi, a well-known writer and the author’s daughter, offered the following explanation: “The story, ‘Empu’ was published in ARASAM special issue, September 1945, and that was 58 years ago. But the situation of arranging a marriage for one’s daughter has not changed much. Though Chaso took his characters and life from beggars it is about the fundamentals of economics of all communities, rich and poor alike. The richest man’s philosophy is also the philosophy of the poorest. Chaso wrote a small keynote sentence in the story – musilaadi upanyaasam mushti lokaaaniki Upanishattu (tr. The old man’s speech is a Upanishad for the beggars’ community). Here mushti lokam has an inner meaning besides the meaning ‘the beggars world.’ The word mushti is used as a derogatory term for the entire human community. In your translation the second meaning has not been conveyed. It tells about the panhandlers community only. Fathers , daughters, would-be son-in-laws are all alike in all communities.”
Themes: I’m going to make only a brief comment about themes since enough has been said in the above paragraphs while discussing other aspects. I agree that a good writer can write a story almost about anything. However for the purpose of this website, I am looking for themes which are commonly ignored or overlooked, stories that throw light on cultural peculiarities, and stories that deal with human nature yet unique to Telugu people. Writers and translators may also note that humor and satire are culture-specific and hard to import in translation. I know I am taking some chances in this respect. But I would like you to be aware of how it turns out.
Language: Diction displays the author’s command of figures of speech, knowledge of traditional values, symbols, epithets, proverbs and the ability to suffuse the story with native flavor.

Sripada Subrahmanya Sastry and Rachakonda Viswanatha Sastry (not related) are often quoted as two writers who could present dialogue with the sharpness of a knife (Dakshinamurthy. 339). Srirangam Srinivasa Rao stated that Muthelamma’s speech in the story “Illusion” belonged in the world’s greatest literatures. Metaphors and proverbs are powerful ingredients of our sociocultural history. Most of our writers draw on the characters from ancient literature for what the characters stand for in the public perception. A writer need not believe in Rama as a god to use the name as a symbol for an ideal person. In the story, Reform the author, known for her Marxist ideology, described the state of mind of the couple at the end as “two persons lost in dharma yuddham.” The phrase dharma yuddham refers to the great war in Maha Bharatam, which was fought in the name of justice. The reference was only limited to that point. It invokes an imagery of a battle fought for a just cause and lost.

One more thought. My friends here are immensely helpful to me in bringing these translations to you, the readers. (Thank you, Judy, Lucille, Mary, Nancy!)
One of their comments was about long Telugu names. One friend said that the long names were like roadblocks and would not let the reader move forward with the story.
Generally speaking, foreign names are hard to remember for any reader and long names are the hardest. However the names are part of characterization. They add considerably to the narrative.
Tentatively, as an experiment, I tried to change the names in “The Man Who Never Died” after contacting the author. I could change one name, Appalakonda to Appanna, but couldn’t come up with a decent substitute for Markandeyulu. I was wondering what are the thoughts of the writers and translators on this one.

Finally, I would like to point out that my references to only some stories and/or some elements in the stories do not mean that they are the only stories/elements that are notable. I used them only as examples and must be understood only as such.

This article is not an attempt to provide guidelines for writing a good story but to bring up some of the topics for discussion and to show what I am looking for in my selections. I tried to point out what captures my imagination and by extension what I like to publish on this website. I hope to publish more writers rather than more stories of the same writer and, thereby, create an awareness of the widest range of Telugu culture among English-speaking audience.
[End]

Published on thulika.net, June 2003.

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REFERENCES:
Brahmaji Rao, Ghandikota. Kathanika: Katha kamameeshu. Mamidikuduru, Vijaya
Publications, 1996.
Dakshinamurthy, Poranki. Kathanika: Swaroopa swabhavalu. Hyderabad: Author, 1977.
Katyayani Vidmahe. Telugu navalaa kathaanikaa vimarsana parinaamam. Hyderabad: Charita
Publications, 1995.
Rama Rao, Kalipatnam: Vijayawada: Swetcha Sahiti Prachuranalu, 1990.
Srinivasa Rao, Srirangam. Preface, Viswanatha Sastry, Rachakonda. Aaru sara kathalu.
Vijayawada, Visalandhra Publishing House, 1962.

English Translations of Telugu stories

Recently, there was a question why Telugu stories in translation have not captured the attention of global audience. Here are some of my thoughts. Readers are welcome to comment.

Two days back I posted a request on Facebook, asking to “Suggest two Telugu translators who in your opinion have done a good job.”

That was actually a follow up of an article published in Sakshi, September 12, 2014 in which a question was raised regarding the English translations of Telugu stories. ( http://www.sakshi.com/news/opinion/telugu-author-who-is-known-to-english-readers-166194 )

I am writing this post in English to address the readers, who cannot read Telugu script.

Briefly stated, it comes down to this: Do the currently available translations measure up to acceptable standards? If they do, why they have failed to capture the attention of the global audience? If not, what can we do to improve the quality of our translations.

Thus the question is not whether there are translations or not but how the existing translations are faring with foreign audience and what can we do about it.

For those who have not seen the previous discussion, the gist of it is as follows:

In a literary gathering commemorating Kannada writer U. Anantha Murthy, Vadrevu China Veerabhadrudu garu asked why there was no English translation of Yajnam (Kalipatnam Rama Rao). Since I am aware of at least two translations, I have contacted Veerabhadrudu garu. His argument is, although there are translations, they do not “sensitize American readers” in a manner Prof. A. K. Ramanujan’s translation had done.

On Facebook, I have received responses from Anil Atluri, Amarendra Dasari, Narayana Swamy, Rao S. Ummetthala, R. Vasundara Devi, Syamala Kallury, G.K. Subbarayudu, C. Raghotthama Rao, and P. Sathyavathi.

The translators, whose works they have appreciated are Ranga Rao, Prof. C.L.L. Jayaprada, Alladi Uma – Sridhar, Narayana Swamy, Ari Sitaramayya, and B. Indira. And there are others like Dr. Sarada (Astralia), Dr. Sujatha Gopal, and Dr. Vaidehi Sasidhar, who have contributed to thulika.net. I am sure there are numerous other translators and hundreds if not thousands of translations published each year.

Against this background, we need to review the current situation of English translations of Telugu stories. Secondly, if the existing translations are of poor quality, what we can do to improve the quality of translations. And more importantly, what can we do to bring them to the global audience.

It is common knowledge that people read translations when they do not possess the language skills necessary to read the originals. By default, translations are specifically aimed at readers who cannot read the originals in Telugu. Starting probably two generations back, the interest in English has increased to a point that Telugu language learning, reading and writing has decreased. However, I cannot help notice that there are Telugu readers both at home and abroad, who can enjoy both the versions. I have received emails vouching for this fact. Most of them are living abroad and are comfortable with both the languages. In other words, the translations demand certain mental disposition or aptitude on the part of the readers also. They are able to set aside the inherent idea that the essence of beauty of Telugu is not carried into English version but read it for what it is, an English rendering.

I start with the premise that all translations are not done with global audience in mind. Actually, Sahitya Akademi’s policy clearly states that their aim is,“to foster and co-ordinate literary activities in all the Indian languages and to promote through them all the cultural unity of the country.”

Currently, the situation in India is this:

Several universities and foreign language institutes, C.P. Brown Academy and Sahitya Akademi are working towards producing English translations of Telugu stories.

So, here are a few questions we should be asking:

  1. For translation teachers:

– What are your goals?

– What are your syllabi?

– Have you included translations of Telugu stories? If not, why not? (this question is even more important, if you are a native speaker.)

– If they claim there are no translations, is it not their job to train their students to translate Telugu stories?

– What are the criteria for their selection of stories for including in their syllabi?

– If they are working towards producing translations for global audience, are they aiming to meet the “criteria”?

– Are the critics, who say we do not have good translations, asking these institutions and universities to work towards producing good translations of Telugu stories?

  1. For scholars and critics:

– Is there any substantial study of English translations of Telugu stories currently available in India?

– Are there any critical/analytical articles of Telugu stories by a single translator or single book of translated stories?

In short, there is plenty of criticism to write off the existing translations but not much effort on the part of critics, teachers and institutions to improve the situation. Please, enlighten me if there are such studies and or attempts to conduct any study.

  1. Publishing. We need to address this area as well.

– I think most of the translations are being published by universities and literary organizations. However, I did not see any effort on their part to bring these books to the public. Once a year, they may have a book fair but is that enough? What else can they do to promote to make the public aware of their existence?

I would like to add a word about “sensitizing translations to American readers.” Some of the translators mentioned above live in America. Sarada lives in Australia. That means they interact with the foreigners on a daily basis and they do have a better of understanding of the sensibilities of global audience. I’ve been living in America for 40 years. Today I understand Americans better than Telugu people. I understand American English better than the English spoken by the Telugu people in Andhra Pradesh. In my opinion the translations of those translators are written off because they are not read with the mindset of a foreigner. If you are a Telugu person and read a Telugu story in English, automatically you tend to translate it into Telugu in your mind and then you are disappointed. I know I have seen some of the criticisms of my translations. From experience I can say that it is hard for a native speaker to set aside his preconceived notions and read an English version like a foreigner. I am talking from experience.

However, to be fair, I need to address the issue of quality of all translations in general.

I must admit some of the translations I have received were sloppy. After starting thulika.net, I tried to edit and show to the translators the mistakes in their translations. Then, the translations got sloppier because I was there to edit their sloppy translations! Now I do not do editing any more.

My belief is the translator has the original story and possibly in touch with the writer, and the end product carries the his or her name. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the translator to make sure that grammar, spelling and sentence construction are properly addressed in the end product.

Now, the pivotal question – why Telugu stories have not reached the global audience. As I mentioned earlier, the quality of translations may be partly responsible. And also the fact that some of them, like the Sahitya Akademi publications are not intended for global audience.

To me the reasons for not reaching the global audience are not just lack of translations but our failure to create an awareness of these translations.

It has to happen at two levels. 1. At the academic level; not only the Telugu professors at the universities and other educational institutions but any Telugu person working in an institution can make any effort to introduce Telugu fiction to the students at a formal or informal level. Are they doing it?

I am however not crazy about support from the academic circles. The actual work must start much earlier. The Telugu families abroad can create reading circles in their children’s schools and public libraries and read the stories to them. Yes, I am aware the children’s first response could be ‘this translation sucks.’ Probably those, who have spent time with grandmothers and grandfathers, uncles and aunts may not be surprised by the language in our translations. If they say the language sucks, ask them to tell the story in their words. They may enjoy rewriting and even talk about it with their peers. That keeps them on track.

Secondly, introducing to the general readers. In addition to the reading groups mentioned above, in your parties, youth camps, talk about the stories we have, regardless whether the originals or translations. How many of you talked about Jhampa Lahari or Arundhati Roy as opposed to talking about our own writers? How many of you introduced the Telugu stories to Telugu youth?

  1. For the translators:

I can’t stress this enough. While editing, do not rely on Word spellchecker completely. Half the time their suggestions are misleading. When I have a question about the usage of a phrase or word, I will type, “…. in a sentence” or “… synonyms” and it gives several examples. We can even ask for famous quotes with a specific word or phrase, which gives pretty good idea within a context. This is particularly important in the case of phrases. For example

Just do not start translating because you know English. It is more than knowing the language.

There are two articles on translating Telugu stories into English. You may find it interesting. One by Dr. S.S. Prabhakara Rao, Translation or transference: the Problematic of Culture Specifics, and the second, Dynamics of Cross-cultural Transference: Translating from Telugu to English.

I need to add one more point here. Some editors and writers refer to the editing practices in America. There is more to it than what meets the eye. The magazines undertake editing only when money is involved. It is a business, and they edit according to what they think their readers would enjoy. The editor is paid and the writer is paid. And where there is no money, there is no editing either. They accept or reject based on their requirement but do not undertake any editing. Then they may send letters asking you to attend their workshops, of course, for a fee of $300 or so.

In other words, the translators must of necessity pay attention to grammar and phraseology. That is also part, actually a major part, of translating.

And for all Telugu people, please do something about creating awareness that Telugu is a language with rich cultural and literary history.

Just for fun, I typed two search phrases, American stories and Telugu stories. The results for Telugu stories are far from flattering, actually appalling.

 

 

 

 

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R. S. Sudarsanam

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

The modern short story in Telugu dates back to 1910, 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)

Translation or Transference: The Problematic of Cultural Specifics

by Dr. S.S. Prabhakar Rao. 

Allen Tate has once observed, “Translation is for ever impossible and for ever necessary.” Down the centuries there have been unending debates about loyalty to and freedom from the original in a translation – ‘formal equivalence’ vs ‘dynamic equivalence.’ Whether a translation should read like a translation or like an original is still debated passionately. But it is possible to surmise that one should pursue the middle path agreeing on “maximum readability and feasible fidelity.” The other problem relates to the carrying across of cultural specifics from the Source Language to the Target Language. Terms, which have no equivalents in the TL, the author argues, may be transferred and expressions may even be literally translated so that optimum feel and flavor of the native culture can be re-created. He has cited the practice of Raja Rao in his path-breaking novel Kanthapura, in which he boldly translated Kannada expressions as well as transferred certain terms. The author devoted the second section of the paper to the problems he faced in his translation of short stories, classical poetry, a novel and a classical epic from Telugu into English and the tentative solutions he could arrive at. The author hopes that, despite the multiplicity of problems and the lack of encouragement and recognition, the tribe of translators will increase and contribute to much-needed cultural synthesis in the world torn apart by fissiparous forces.   

 Translation has ever been a tantalizing literary activity. It has been observed that translation is for ever impossible and for ever necessary. There is a term in the Italian, traducer, which means both a translator and a traitor and the activity is often considered the great betrayal. But for the much-needed cultural and emotional synthesis in a country like India torn by linguistic and regional fissiparous pulls, translation assumes paramount significance. Among the three streams/waves of Indian writing – the Anglo Indian, the Indo-Anglian (or Indian Writing in English: Prof K R Srinivasa Iyengar’s preferred terminology) and Indo-English Literature (Prof V K Gokak’s term) – the last one seems to be gaining ascendancy in the literary hierarchy in recent ties. The only Nobel Prize to be won by an “Indian” writer happens to relate to this wave: Tagore’s Gitanjali, which is a translation into English from the original Bengalee.  Without exaggeration, it can be stated that it is in the rich and vibrant literatures in the regional languages of India that one can find the real soul of the country. And to discover or unravel that soul translation is a necessary activity.

The term translation is derived from the Latin term translatio (to carry across.) It is kin to the Greek terms – “Metaphrase” and “Paraphrase” – which indicate the major problems a translator faces. Metaphrase refers to literal, verbatim (verbum pro verbo: word-to-word) translation, while Paraphrase (later used by Dryden) refers to “saying in other words.” The need for equivalence between the text in the Source Language and the final version in the Target Language is admitted but the problematic, should it be merely “formal equivalence” or “dynamic equivalence,” the terms used by Eugene Nida, has been debated for long. For long there has been an implicit view of master-servant relationship between the writer and the translator, who cannot afford to be creative. The 19th century British poet D G Rosetti observed that the work of a translator involved “self-denial and repression of his own creative impulses.” But it has not been so with gifted translators. Edward Fitzgerald, who gave us the immortal rendering of the Rubayat of Omar Khayam, was among the first who took liberties with the original in his creative translation.  He declared, “It is an amusement to me to take what liberties I like with the Persians, who, I think, were not poets enough to frighten me from such excursions.” And the end product is an eminently readable fluent rendering. But one wonders still, is it a translation from the Persian original or what Dryden called a “Parallel Text.”

In the colonial period the relationship was more of servility with the SL text author as a sort of feudal lord, ordering implicit loyalty to his text. Such an attitude led to treating translation as craft by Eric Jacobsen, while Theodore Savory considers it an art. Horst Frenz clinches the issue by declaring, “It is neither a creative art nor an imitative art but stands somewhere between the two.” The challenge before the translator is, on the one hand, to transfer the semantic constructs and the formal contours of the original and on the other, to re-create the spectrum of aesthetic/cultural features inherent in the SL text. Implicit fidelity to the original words has been largely discouraged. As Dryden noted, “when words appear literally graceful, it were an injury to the author that they should be changed. But since what is beautiful in one language is often barbarous, nay sometimes nonsense, in another, it would be unreasonable to limit the translator to the narrow campus of his author’s words.” It is where creativity or even what the Indian alamkarists (aestheticians) call pratibha comes in. The corresponding proper words may occur to the translator in a flash, very like the best words in the best order in the original work. Perhaps, the possible solution lies in pursuing the middle path of maintaining “maximum readability within the confines of faithful rendering.”

The attempts of linguists to offer a scientific base for this activity have occasionally added to the confusion. While Roman Jakobson categorically declared, “Poetry by definition is untranslatable” he also discussed three types of translation: Intra-lingual (re-wording or interpretation of verbal signs by means of other signs; Inter-lingual (translation through verbal symbols in another language); and Inter-Semiotic (transmutation of verbal signs by means of non-verbal signs). But except the second type, the other two bear no relationship with translation proper.

Believing that the process of translation involves a little of creativity, a translator like Prof P. Lal uses the term, “transcreation.” In the Indian languages, translation is called anuvaada, literally to toe the line of thinking/argument of another. To reflect the element of creativity, I coined the term, anusrijana, to create in the fashion of another. Prof C D Narasimhaiah in an evocative way considers the original Udbhavamurty and the translation Utsavamurty as all original writing is composed in antar hridaya akasa. The need for close relationship of the translation to the original is generally admitted. Prof K. Viswanatham, a scholar, who was also a translator stated, “a translator’s first and last duty is doglike devotion to the original. .. If one is not faithful to the original, one is not faithful to the spirit.” Adopting a diametrically opposite stance, KY M Patanjali, who translated his own novella, declares, “there need be no relation whatsoever between the original and the translated text.” A K Ramanujan, the distinguished translator, whose translation of the Kannada poems of Goaplakrishna Adiga, published by Writers Workshop, inspired me to translate the Telugu poems of Devarakonda Balagangadhara Tilak, Song of the Cosmos & Other Poems, also published by Writers Workshop, takes the middle path, when he noted, “A translator must be true to the translation, no less than to the original.”

There is another issue which needs to be considered. How should a translation read? Should it read like a translation or like an original text? As early as 1791, Alexander Tytler, while admitting the impossibility of both form and content in a translation, still lays down in his three ‘laws of translation,’ that “a translation should contain all the original ideas, the style should be the same as that found in the original and the translation should read like an original.” (Italics mine). But during the 19th century, largely under the influence of Victor Hugo’s dictum in his “Prologue to the Translation of Shakespeare’s Works”: ‘Une traduction est presque toujours regardée tout d’abord par le peuple à qui on la donne comme une violence qu’on lui fait. […] Une langue dans laquelle on transvase de la sorte un autre idiome fait ce qu’elle peut pour refuser’ the general belief was that a translation should read like a translation. But even a diehard ‘loyalist’ like Friedrich Schleirmacher could not overlook the inevitability of transparent reading when he included in “The Different Methods of Translation” (1823) the method that moves the writer towards the reader.

All along there have been spirited efforts to domesticate a SL text by bringing in the native/local flavor. During the 17th century, French translators attempted to Gallicize the Greek texts. Even Dryden tried to make Virgil speak in words that as he would probably have written if he were living as an English man. While stylistic equivalence could be the ideal, the imperative of ease of reading cannot be sacrificed. Coming closer to India, we notice that even in the translation of epics like The Mahabharata and The Ramayana translators did not hesitate to introduce local elements. Tikkana, who translated a large part of The Mahabharata into Telugu, introduced a few marriage customs and social activities prevalent in the Nellore region of Andhra, in his rendering of the Sanskrit original. The tendency of several translators has been to ‘domesticate’ rather than ‘foreignize’ the original. But care has been taken, by and large, not to distort.

My main concern in this paper is the problematic of “cultural specifics” in a translation from one language into another language when they are culturally unconnected. It is well known that any language is deeply steeped in its culture and to translate such cultural ethos into an ‘alien’ language calls for considerable resourcefulness and even inevitable compromises and sacrifices.

In most Indian languages, the elders are addressed in plural. In Hindi we have aap, while in Telugu we have meeru. But in English there is only you universally applied to all. Such cultural load is impossible to be carried across. By common consent, it might be possible to choose the archaic form thou for aap and thy for aapka and so on. But in several cases such improvisation may not be possible.

II

Now, I wish to present the problems I faced in translation efforts and the tentative – far from wholly satisfactory – solutions I came up with.

During the sixties I was deeply impressed by the work of Srirangam Srinivasa Rao (Sri Sri), the pioneer of progressive poetry in Telugu, and wanted to introduce a short poem to non-Telugu readers of a special issue of Caravan on Andhra Pradesh. The title of the poem in Telugu is Avatali Gattu (literally, the shore on the other side). It would be downright clumsy to resort to literal translation of the title. I thought about it for a whole six hours in the night and in the small hours in a flash it occurred to me: the title, “The Shore Beyond.”  In instances like these the play of what poets call “happy chance” or “vital reason” in the work of translator is not qualitatively different from that in the poet’s original work. It was relatively an easier task for me to translate the surrealist poems of Sri Sri in his later work Khadga Srishti (Forging the Weapon), when I was invited to translate a few poems from his collection by the Bharateeya Jnana Peeth Awards Committee for considering his work for the award, though finally he did not make it! The fluent style, akin to English idiom, in his longish poem, Sarat Chandrika (Moon Ray of Sarat), was a joy to translate.

The problem of culture specificity arose when I translated a short story by Tripuraneni Gopichand, who is steeped in rural culture, for Illustrated Weekly of India. The title of the intensely poignant story a villager was Dharma Vaddi, a kind of nominal interest charged in the villages, when one is not likely to get back the money lent, with the stipulated interest. Here again literal translation of Dharma Vaddi would not serve the purpose. I had to resort to an idiomatic translation as “The Nominal Interest.” The real problem was rendering the dialogues of the rural people and I made them sound neutral – not Telugu-specific, yet resisting the temptation to make the characters speak like the inhabitants of a Californian ranch or the Okies of The Grapes of Wrath.    

Some years ago, when the 400th birth day of the great Telugu poet Bammera Potana was celebrated, I was invited to translate a few poems selected by me from his immensely poetic Srimad Bhagavatam. The lilting cadences and the sweet melodies of the original are certainly untranslatable, but I made a brave attempt to approximate the translated version to the original mostly in the area of thought-content and tried to carry across a little of the poet’s profound devotion.  I attempted to retain a few verbal repetitions in a manner natural to English. Here are a few examples:

The maid of poesy, tender

Like the shoots of mango young,

Would a true poet surrender

To the meretricious mortal?

And eat of that morsel immoral?

Again,

The hand in the service of the Lotus-eyed

Alone are the hands;

The tongue praying to the Lord of Wealth

Alone is the tongue;

The eyes espying the Protector of Gods

Alone are the eyes ….

Central Sahitya Akademi had an ambitious project to take a few good short stories from Telugu to a larger national/international awareness and arranged a Workshop on Translation and at the workshop it was generally agreed that a few culture specific terms relating to social and familial relationships, religious customs and ritual may be transferred into English for providing the reader a feel and flavor of the original. For example, in a village a person belonging to a lower status addresses the one of a higher status, Ayya, and to translate the address as “Sir!” would be preposterous and would be tantamount to perpetrating cultural violence. It would be preferable to retain the Telugu term. The present writer argued that a writer like Chinua Achebe brought in much-needed cultural transfer in his novels by using terms, like chi. From the context the foreign reader would be able to guess the meaning or he may consult the glossary at the end of the work, without impairing the natural flow of reading. The discussions finally resulted in the publication of thirty short stories of well-known Telugu writers translated into English and published under the title, Golden Nuggets.  In my translation of Palagummi Padmarju’s Telugu original Padava Prayanam (“The Boat Moves On”), I freely retained Telugu expressions, like maridi (brother-in-law, husband’s brother), babayya (a respectful way of addressing an elderly or superior , in status, person) and Ammo (a cry of agony) to present the rustic passionate love of Enki for her stealing, abusive lover with her rustic speech. But when I translated Chalam’s O Puvvu Pusindi (“A Flower Blossoms”), it was a sheer joy to translate the poetic, highly symbolic language of Chalam, who was indeed a poet at heart, though he was known mostly for his prose. I wish to offer a few samples of his poetic prose:

A flower blossomed in the woods. Looking around at the encircling     darkness she cries out in fear. The surrounding leaves draw her to them, reassure her and comfort her.

The bliss of tender night, the touch of soft grass, the soft blue of the sky, the strength of tree-branches, the piteous notes of the koel, the playfulness of the breeze, the ceaseless sap of the roots – all flow into her.

Recently, I have been assigned the pleasant task of translating Dr Vasireddy Seeta Devi’s poignant novel, Matti Manishi (“Man of Soil”), by P S Telugu University. The novel is a delineation of the incursion of urban values and avarice on the rural lives of people. The portrayal of the central character, Sambayya, recalls to one’s mind the powerful, yet whimsical, protagonist Henchard of Hardy’s novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge, with his flaw of arrogance and uncompromising stance, even when it wreaks havoc in his life. The Telugu novel set in a small village and then a smallish town in Andhra is region specific and simultaneously the theme of erosion of rural values under the inroads of urban culture (or the lack of it) is of universal and timeless resonance. But the novelist has maintained admirable balance in presenting the rot that is inherent in the rural situation with scheming village accountants, petty but shrewd and unprincipled opportunistic businessmen, haughty and reckless individuals wallowing in false prestige and soon turning into paupers and young women, running after filthy lucre and extra-marital gratification, ending up as physical, financial and moral wrecks. But the rural specificity is the striking feature of the original. There is an abundance of rural, agriculture-related terminology, which needs a close acquaintance with the ethos of the village. It is neither possible nor always desirable equivalents in English. As with short stories, the crux of the problems faced by a translator relates to dialogue, replete with forms of address, expressions of relationships, and so on. The carrying across of the social/religious customs typical of an Andhra village also is a challenge.

At the beginning of the novel, there is a scene of threshing in the farm. One of the farm laborers says, “If ayya garu threshes the first sheaf, there is bound to be harvest of ten puttis.” To retain the feel of the original, I kept the Telugu term and also the tern for measure. The terms used in italics do not present any obstacle for fluent reading by the general reader; only the more keen reader might refer to the appended glossary to get inputs about what the terms stand for. In the same way, expressions, like ayya goru, instead of alien Sir and amma goru, instead of Madam, are preferred. In some cases, an attempt has been made to translate some typical native expressions, like Nee siga tharaga (May your hair be cut off), as long it does not violate the natural expression in the target language. This is a practice made respectable by Raja Rao, in his path-breaking novel Kanthapura, when he translated Kannada Expressions into English, adhering to the Kannada turns of expression, as in “I’ll drop a word in your mouth,’ ‘every squirrel will have his day,’ ‘Moorthy has gone through life like noble cow, ‘stitch up your mouth’ and ‘he wanted me to be his dog’s tail,’ apart from choice Kannada abuses like ‘son of concubine,’ ‘son of a widow’ and ‘I’ll sleep with your wife.’ The narration by Acchakka in folklorish tone is retained by the liberal transfer of native expressions, which succeed investing the tale with an authentic rural flavor. Even Mulk Raj Anand uses several literal translations of Punjabi expressions, apart from transferring terms like Badmash. It is to be noted that R K Narayan tries to evoke a neutral atmosphere – not that of Tamil – by minimizing (even avoiding) the native Tamil terms.

In my translation, I attempted to retain the original ethos by using translations of the Telugu idioms, like: “Will I cross your threshold of your house even if it means my death?” “Waiting like a fox near the pit,” “To remain silent liked crushed lice” and “Where is the comparison between a fox and Naga Loka?” I also transferred words like putti, thumma, bure and gare.

To present the culture specific traditions and rituals, I translated them, as in “applying turmeric to the utthareeyam and dhothi.”  Some of the personal habits are expressed vividly, as in “nod one’s head like a cow,” and the curse, like “Where is the canal? Only his funeral!” is translated – literally. The description of Sambayya, the protagonist, throbs with native vigor:

His nerves, like young serpents’, the muscles turned steel strong under hard labor are like the bowstring pulled full length… his thick-grown hair crawling on to his neck, his nose sharp like a ploughshare – all reveal that Sambayya is a man who trusts land and lives totally on land.

Man of the Soil, p 20

Although the translation may not read like an original novel conceived and composed in the target language – almost a parallel text – it tries to carry across a feel and flavor of the source language.

In another assignment, I was called upon to introduce a classical Telugu prabandha (an  autonomous epic), along with a few free transcreations of the original Telugu poems. With a view to introduce Telugu classics to the non-Telugu readers – even the native Telugu readers, who cannot read Telugu – C P Brown Academy, set up by Alpha Foundation, took upon itself the commendable responsibility of introducing the five classics (panca kavyas) and as part of the project assigned to me the job of introducing Allasani Peddana’s Swarocisha Manusambhavamu (Manu Caritra). The challenge was indeed stupendous.

For this task, I decided to narrate the story of the epic generally in prose, but chose the memorable poetic moments for a free transcreation. As with my efforts to introduce the mellifluent poems of Bammera Potana, here too I had to give up on mellifluent cadences of the source poems and attempted to carry across the thought-content and spirit of the original. I may be permitted to cite a few examples.

In the suggestive invocation to gods/goddesses for blessings, the poet ingeniously suggests/foreshadows the crucial developments in the epic. The case of mistaken identities is pivotal. To suggest this, the poet invokes Ganesa in the following manner:

Ganesa, who, while drinking milk from the breast of Paravati,

On the right side, through his natural childlike act

Searches for the breast on the left side and finds instead

A necklace of serpent and takes it for a lotus stalk.

In his picturesque description of the dwelling place of Pravara, the pious Brahmin, the poet portrays the Brahmins, who are more erudite than even Brahma and so do not praise Him and the Kshatriyas who can challenge Parasurama, he presents

The Vaisyas, who can lend capital even to Kubera;

The sudras can offer alms to the First Mendicant…

Even the tenderest twig there is strong and sturdy.

The appearance of the enticing lady, Varudhini, is presented:

A fragrance of musk, camphor,

Perfume from paan leaves and other aromas

Wafted towards Pravara,

Indicating the presence of a damsel.

After losing his way Pravara asks the damsel to enlighten about the way back to his town, she smartly replies:

You are gifted with wide eyes; why then do you

Seek guidance of others to find your way?

Isn’t it a pretext to talk with women who are alone?

Else, don’t you know the way you have come?

Apart from the portrayal of the infatuation of the damsel with Pravara’s peerless beauty, and the amazing sense of self-discipline of Pravara, who manages to propitiate the God of Fire and get back to his town, the pangs of separation suffered by the lady, the cheating by the gandharwa, who had fallen in love with the lady and was rejected, the story moves on to the birth of Swaroci, his growing up and becoming a king. But the memorable part relates to the hunting expedition, where the poet exhibits his personal knowledge of the details of hunting as well as the names of several animals and birds, which have been transferred into English.

The poet also shows remarkable ability in recording the various customs and rites, especially of the wedding, as, for example, in the presentation of the wedding of Swaroci and Manorama. As there are no equivalents in English for the terms referring to the rites of marriage and the materials, varieties of dress used during weddings, it is inevitable to transfer the terms from Telugu. In fact, the rites presented by Peddana are region and tie specific and do not necessarily relate to the time and region of the marriage described. They are mostly practiced in Andhra during Peddana’s time. The custom of receiving the bride groom by the bride’s party – especially, the father of the bride – is universal, but there are other region-specific rites like offering madhuparka, a drink of curds made from the milk of Kamadhenu (divine cow) or simply cow nowadays, honey and sugar; and holding the curtain between the bride and the bridegroom till the muhurtam are typical wedding practices of Andhra observed even today. The description of the raising of the curtain is evocatively presented by the poet:

As auspicious music was playing,

Elderly women raised the curtain slowly

And the bride Manorama appeared –

Hairdo first, then face, then throat and then bosom –

As though she were goddess Lakshmi rising

From the ocean of milk.

As for the terms related to marriage, terms like kanyadana, akshatalu, tala(m)bralu, tali and asirvacanam have been transferred into English. It is hoped that they lend optimum native color and feel to the translation.

As a modest translator, I strongly believe that there is really no perfect translation nor one perfect solution to the multiplicity of problems a translator has to face in his usually thankless and generally unrecognized job. He has only his passion to sustain him in his missionary activity with the unflinching hope that his tribe will increase and contribute substantially to the much needed “cultural synthesis” in the world ravaged by numerous fissiparous forces.

Works Consulted     

Basnett Susan et al (Ed), Translation Studies, 1988, London, Taylor and Francis

Catford JC, A Linguistic Theory of Translation, 1965, Oxford, OxfordUniversity Press

Hugo Victor, “Prologue to the Translation of Shakespeare’s Works,” quoted by Maria

Teresa Sanchez, “Domesticating the Theorists,” Translation Journal, Vol 11, No 1, (January 2007)

Gokak VK, ‘Introduction,’ The Golden Treasury of Indo-Anglian Poetry, 1978, New Delhi, Central Sahitya Akademi  

Kelly Louis G, The True Interpreter: A History of Translation Theory and Practice in the West, 1979, Oxford, Basil Blackwell

Narasimhaiah CD, The Problems of Translation, 1957, Mysore, Dhvanyaloka

Newmark Peter, Approaches to Translation, 1995, Hemel Hampstead, Phoenix ELT

Nida Eugene A and Charles R. Taber, The Theory and Practice of Translation, 1974,

Leden, EJ Brill

Patanjali KYM, Impish Chronicles and Doggish Dabbler, 2009, Spearhead

Communications, Hyderabad

Prabhakar Rao S S, Golden Bouquet, 2008, Delhi, Authorspress

—                           Man of the Soil, 2009, under print, to be published by Potti SriramuluTeluguUniversity, Hyderabad

—-  Manu Caritra, 2009, being published by C P Brown Academy,

Alpha Foundation, Hyderabad

Ramanujan A K, ‘Translator’s Note,’ Speaking of Siva, 1973, Baltimore, Penguin Books

Robinson Douglas, Western Theory of Translation, 1997, Manchester, St Jerome Publishing   

Tytler Alexander Fraser, Essay on the Principles of Translation, 1791, included in Douglas Robinson’s work cited

Venuti Lawrence, The Translator’s Invisibility, 1995, London, Routledge

Viswanatham K, Essays in Criticism & Comparative Poetics, 1977, Visakhapatnam, AndhraUniversity Press

——-

(Reprinted, with author’s permission, from ICFAI Journal, Hyderabad, and published on thulika.net, December 2009)


* S S Prabhakar Rao is a Faculty Member, Academic Wing, Icfai University, Hyderabad -500 082; Email: prabhakar.sivudu@gmail.com

Dharma Chakram by Viswanatha Satyanarayana: A Review by Santwana Chimalamarri.

Dharma Chakram, the confessional biography of an iconoclast. I would call myself a novice in the realm of Vishwanatha’s literature, being only around ten novels old. Most of the ones I read belong to Purana Vaira Granthamala, the ones that left my modern fantasy soaked mind astounded with their magical warp and weft. I was struck by the pride of nationalism afresh, and I found myself jabbering frenetically to the few heeding friends about the real history of Hindustan, not without a lump held back in the throat at times, when talking of how 1300 years of golden history was strategically nullified.

But Dharma Chakram was different. Could be called the most complex work I ever read by far. The Wheel of Righteousness, how it turns, what makes it turn and how it is bound to turn perpetually in time is the nexus of the story. What is right, what is not? What if it feels right to you? Would it mean it has to be right to all? Is the righteousness relative? If evil is relative, can good be relative too? Or is it the absolute, unchanging truth? These and a motley mass of other contrasting questions break in as I finish the book.

The book predominantly is an account of the period in history that witnessed the momentous clash of ideologies between Hinduism and Buddhism. Or perhaps it focuses upon a few out of several reasons that led to its advent and establishment, displacing the long formed Hindu ideals. That is the outer shell to the reader. But the kernel, that only becomes evident after dismantling the layers of philosophy that garbs this work, is the story of an individual’s struggle with rejection and a compelling account of how a rejected individual sends currents of dysfunction into the society, especially when he holds a strong position in hierarchy.

The book begins with a chilly description of how VeeraPurusha Datta, a boy baby of dubious origins is made the royal heir of the Iskhwaku dynasty, ruling the kingdom of Andhra, on one clandestine moonless night. He is accepted by a few and doubted by others, but welcomed by all as the much awaited male heir of the kingdom. He grows up to hear the half true stories that engulf his past, doubts himself at times, but being of an adamant nature, he learns to assert himself, taking cues from his aunt Shantishree. He has all the virtues and valor that becomes of a king, but none would illuminate the dark shadow of dubious past that lay beneath these. He vanquishes the king of a distant kingdom and wins his daughter, Bhatti Devi as his wife by force. Bhatti Devi, a divine beauty, is described as the one to match VeeraPurusha in all his vigour and effulgence. He begins to love her obsessively, though she would never warm up to him. He never asks her what the reason was, he only goes on assuming that it concerns with the tiny sliver of public opinion about him being a non-Kshatriya. The acceptance he desires from the object of his admiration turns unachievable to him. The indifference begins to puncture his soul. He begins to tumble down the stairs of righteousness, by marrying several times, including his aunt’s daughters, may be wanting to assert himself as always before, or to secretly and unspokenly, beseech Bhatti to cast a glance of compassion at him. He gets all the respect from Bhatti Devi, but he can’t help himself from sensing the coldness in it. He begets two children through her, but the coldness remains. One day, he discerns an aura of peace in the house of Shantishree, his other wife and cousin and begins to go in search of the starting point of the peace. Shantishree introduces him to the Buddhist priest Bhadantacharya, who tries to enlighten him through his philosophical and logical discourses. Vishwanatha dares to point an arrow of criticism towards the Ikshwaku dynasty by saying that the people of dynasty are more concerned about the public opinion rather than their own, citing King Rama estranging the pregnant Seetadevi, caring for a meagre washerman’s words. (I somehow felt that the discourse has a little of Shri. Vishwanatha’s opinion in it, which would justify the non-existence of Uttarakandamin the Ramayana Kalpavruksham series, but It is just a fleeting opinion, I stand to be enlightened). He urges VeeraPurusha not to care the public opinion and his origin does not matter, he urges him to become a Buddhist believer and start his spiritual pursuit to eliminate all his doubts.

VeeraPurusha, instead of accepting himself, tries to make the people accept him. He then begins to feel the ire against the Hindu ideals that have long been extant in the country, the caste system and vedic traditions, considering them as the reason for his non acceptance by the society. Instead of finding peace, he begins to feel his discontentment rise, inflame and take a form. He decides to sacrifice all the vedic rituals, he starts forcing his citizens to be Buddhists, massacres Brahmins who reject to convert all around the kingdom.

Rejection from loved ones always leads to a simmering, unpredictable wrath within the individual. It may burn himself slowly, devouring his soul to ashes, or as in this case, get magnified to an uncontrollable level, sabotaging the surrounding equilibrium indiscreetly. The feelings and reactions are not confined to that century but have travelled down, as examples to human intricacies, arousing the question again and again as to why a righteous person would seem wrong to another.

The kingdom becomes a huge Buddhist establishment as time passes on, and Chaityas and Viharas are built everywhere. Monks begin to visit the kingdom from all the four corners of the world. Vishwanatha points out the virtues of such global spirit, by stating that the monasteries housed great universities where multifarious arts and sciences were taught. But as always, he never gives blanket coverage to anything. He cleverly introduces the questions of Dharma there. He gently starts to ignite the reader’s psyche regarding the futility of the nihilistic theory of Buddhism. As an intelligently conceived archetype, he illustrates Kodabalisri,the daughter of VeeraPurusha and Bhatti. She is portrayed as the real embodiment of all the nihilistic ideals. She is a woman who doesn’t know that she is one. Or who doesn’t care if she is one. She has very limited tasks on her regime, seeking alms like a Buddhist monk for feeding herself and defending herself from adversaries. The portrayal is a perfect symbolism of what nihilism in its most primary form does to a human being. If there exists nothing, there exists not even hope. There is no hope to learn, to live, to marry or to procreate. People would regress to Stone Age, only bereft of the enthusiasm to discover better ways of life, which would make the entire universe a black hole in due course. The very character emphasizes the hollowness of the ideal and hints at the direness of consequences.

Vishwanatha also criticizes the hierarchy, as subordinates follow superiors with no further thought. All the officials become Hindu haters in a sheepish fashion and they begin to guard the new ideals with no idea of what they are doing. Some use it to their own convenience to torture people they had hated for long while some take it as a license to kill and feed their blood thirst. These references too, are not limited to the ancient society, but their venomous tendrils have the world under their grip whichever timeframe you would consider.

VeeraPurusha reaches the peaks of intolerance and ignorance, when he denigrates a Shiva Lingam with his feet on the auspicious Karteeka Pournami[i] night. Vishwantha’s undisputed literary genius gleams bright through the passages in this part when he describes that the silver moon appeared to be tarnished after the incident. There are several sentences that rasp like sharpened blades, stab bluntly at times, or spiral in and out of head. I wish new readers would discover those by themselves so I recede from mentioning references.

VeeraPurusha races in a direction exactly opposite to what he seeks in doing all this. He never finds peace, never gains acceptance all through this ordeal. The realization dawns upon him only after the introduction of a pivotal character in the story. How the story turns thereafter would be best if read, but expect a thrilling penultimate chapter that whets your thinking  power and a climax that reiterates Vishwanatha’s unflinching belief in the vedic marital rites in undertones.

When the heat dies down, when the blood in veins slows down, when debility’s talons begin to grip the muscles, a man cannot help but repent his youth, whether it was well spent. When nearing the corporeal oblivion, contemplation perches upon him, of the ill balanced sins and virtues. Few are lucky enough to be free of repentance at that stage. From my limited sphere of knowledge and even limited list of literature I love, that part of the book kindled a thought to draw a parallelism between Veera Purusha to another negative protagonist that I could never get out of my head, Heathcliff.  Both were victims of social non-acceptance due to their nebulous origins. Their obsession, their monomaniac passion, their belligerence, their heights of self-abhorrence that makes them hate everything that is theirs, even their offspring, using them as weapons to vanquish their objects of desire and their repentance unto the end and realization that they are nowhere near what they desire.. The similitude clarifies something to us. People like VeeraPurusha or Heathcliff are not a rarity. But they have that shattering impact only when they begin to rise above others in terms of money or power. Conceiving such characters and spinning the story around them is for sure a daunting task, which might become an overdose of negativity without the exercise of caution. But Viswanatha excels in sculpting out the plot to such finesse, where he evokes not just the feelings of apprehension and repulsion, but a tinge of compassion within those.

(End)

© Santwana Chimalamarri.

This article has been published on pustakam.net and reprinted here courtesy of pustakam.net.



[i] Full moon in the month of Karteeka (8th month in lunar calendar)

Structure in the stories of Achanta Saradadevi

By Nidadavolu Malathi.

Achanta Saradadevi is one of those notable Telugu writers who have written only short stories and just under one hundred. Her stories are proof that not the volume but the constituent that makes a good writer. You may arrive at the same conclusion if you had read two of her stories, The Runaway Parrot and Coral Chain, published on this site.

In Saradadevi’s stories, we do not find huge earth-shaking, mind-boggling conflicts that could make us jump out of their skin or uproot our beliefs forever. We do not see strong negative emotions like anger, frustration and  hatred towards the society we are living in. I am not saying there are no conflicts; the conflicts are not theatrical. She depicts characters and their mode of thinking before and after a given incident, and makes us reflect upon similar incidents in our lives or in the lives of people around us. We find the author introspective as if she has gotten into a dialectic with herself, attempting to see various angles of not only the character but the conflict that put the character in that  situation as well. The stories carry a lyrical note. The narrative moves slowly and in a pensive mood. It reads as if the author is thinking to herself while sharing her thoughts with the reader at the same time. Often the stories describe a given situation. They do not the features, usually considered required characteristics of a short story, such as catchy opening, astounding conflict and pacifying closure. Yet, they do not make a tedious reading. If one is looking for such masala, they will not find them in these stories. The one factor that makes the reader want to come back to Saradadevi’s stories is her presence. Readers feel her presence as if she is right there and narrating the story in a very personal way.

Saradadevi shows unusual flair in her selection of topics and narrative technique. She can take a very ordinary event and elucidate it from a peculiar angle. In that sense, her stories may be termed philosophical treatises. In each case, she seems to raise questions—why did it happen like this? Is there an underlying connotation for this action? Is it possible this incident is intended to teach us something?

Loneliness, couples without closeness, an individual waiting for that special person in her life, yearning for an enchanting future, an individual’s psyche in a variety of situations, the ups and downs in social conditions, middle-class pseudo values—they all provide situations and characters for her stories. We all know about them, have seen in our lives. Yet, as Saradadevi takes these topics and weaves them into stories, we appreciate her laying it for us in that peculiar manner; we do not say, “I know that.” That is the reason these stories are ranked best in Telugu fiction.

There is no Telugu reader who has heard of Saradadevi’s name and yet has not heard of her story The Runaway Parrot [paaripoyina chilaka]. This story has earned enormous fame as a story of freedom for women. The core theme in this story is about freedom yet it is not fair in my opinion to describe it only as a story depicting a woman imprisoned within the four walls of home by a man. The freedom the protagonist, Kamakshamma, has yearned for in this story is not just freedom from the four walls of home.

Sundara Rao told himself that in the cities there was nothing but dust and rubble and decided to move away from the city and build a house for himself in a mango grove. He loved a single life for a couple of years, with a cook and peon to help him with chores. Then he thought “it would be nice if a thing called wife is in the house,” and decided to marry. That he should consider wife a “thing” is notable. His daily activities are constrained to – wake up while it is still dark, leave for the city, take care of his business, spend time playing cards with friends most of the day, and return home after it got dark. Immediately he picks up the newspaper. Again, after supper, he buries his head into the paper.

Kamakshamma rolls paan leaves and into tiny birdies and hands them to her husband. He takes a few of the paan birdies. After a while, Kamakshamma asks, “What’s new in town?”

“What is there? Same as usual,” he says from behind the newspaper.

Silence again.

Kamakshamma chats on: Jasmine blossomed, no rains, … on and on.

He says, “Why don’t you see if there is any program in the radio?”

Kamakshamma leaves and goes into the next room.

With this brief conversation, reader may discern the intimacy and closeness between the husband and wife. There is no need to elaborate on this.

After a few years, Kamakshamma asks him, “All your work is located in the city. Let’s move to the city.”

“How can we get this solitude and peace in that city?” he says. Once again, the author’s ability to convey a potent message with fewest words is noticeable here. Sundara Rao is not enjoying the peace and solitude he is so fond of since he is never home. With his response to Kamakshamma it is evident he is not even aware that he is not enjoying that peace and solitude! We also will know from his response how small-minded he is and how shallow their relationship is. In this regard, the concept that the house is a cage for women is only one aspect. What Kamakshamma has been yearning for is not freedom from the surroundings of home but closeness with another human being, namely, her husband. The real reason for her disappointment is not that she has no freedom to do what she wants to do but interaction with her husband. Having stayed home all day alone with hardly any human interaction but for brief chats with the gardener, she would like her husband some human touch, human interaction, affection. He did not need to beat her, not scream at her, but ignoring a person in the room is enough to destroy that woman’s self-respect. That is lot more excruciating than physical abuse.

Into that “solitude and peace,” an injured parrot comes. Kamakshamma picks up that little bird, nurses her wound and takes care of her. She finds a rejuvenating satisfaction in doing so. The bird flies away as soon as she could. Kamakshamma is crushed like a mother who lost her child but Sundara Rao has no qualms, acts like nothing happened. He does not even realize his wife’s pain. He just goes about his business as if nothing happened. Eventually, the spring arrives, flocks of birds fly into the garden. The gardener asks Kamakshamma if he should catch another parrot for her pleasure. She opposes the idea vehemently. She has learned to enjoy the view as the birds fly around freely in the sky. In this attitude, I find a streak of human relationships. What Kamakshamma showed is more than just kindness. She saw another life in that parrot. In my opinion, if not the core point, it is an important point.

In human relationships, group mentality is a very important part. A human being yearns for the friendship of another human being. It happens only in humans that one person can have his or her life intertwined with another, without undoing it. I have heard of dogs and bulls getting so close to humans but not to each other within their one genus.

What Kamakshamma missed in her life is not freedom but closeness and partner to share her sweet nothings. Sundara Rao did not give that to her. The parrot gave it to her but only for a brief period. Thus in her life the true tragedy is not the house turning into a cage but her husband ignoring her existence.

There are a few other stories with similar themes in her stories, meaning one person hankering for the attention of another person. In the “Runaway Parrot,” it was hankering for another person,

stories like “Athithi” [guest], “marichika” [Mirage], and “mamoolu manishi” [Ordinary person], illustrate about persons who meet their soul mate so to speak, spend time with them for a day, and yearn for them for the rest of their lives.

For instance, in the story, “okanaati athithi,” [guest for a day], the background is a kind of bed and breakfast place, located away from the city, where wayfarers are treated to sometimes just a glass of water, other times a night’s stay with food and bed. Her little daughter, Kethaki, follows her father to the hut, cleans the front yard and draws beautiful designs with rice flour. One day, a young man comes to their hut, and stays for the night. At night, he sits down under the pogada[i] tree, Kethaki is so fond of, and tells her travel stories. He makes a garland of pogada flowers and gives it to her.

The next morning, as he sets out to leave, Gaurayya asks him if he would come back ever again. The young man says, “I will never trod the same route I came by and never visit the same place twice,” and looks at Kethaki with a smile. Kethaki takes that look to mean an embrace and bidding farewell to her. In course of time, she is married, her mother gathers a bunch of pogada flowers and gives to her daughter saying, “For you because you like them so much.” “Heavy,” says Kethaki and throws them away the bundle.

The difference between this story and another story, “marichika,” [Mirage] is very little. Both the stories take place on the outskirts of cities. Possibly, the names of the two stories highlight authors shift in perspective. The message in the first story is closer to puppy love while in the second story, Mirage, the message is life is like a mirage; it is all a fabrication of one’s imagination.

Yet another story, “mamoolu manishi” illustrates once again a young woman letting her imagination run wild. She meets a young man in a train and imagines him to be her prince charming. Later in the evening, she sees him with his wife, which shatters her fanciful imagination. He turns out to be just one more “ordinary man.”

I must however point out that not all her stories are about only love and imaginary heroes. In several stories, she takes poignant topics relating to social issues and human values. In the two stories, “manchi pani” [Good work] and “smruthi” [Memory], she deals with illicit relationships and the manner in which the individuals involved in those affairs resolved their problems. In the process the stories also project the changes that have taken place in our society in course of time. They show how far the society has come from that time the stories had been written, which I believe to be fifties, to the present. Unfortunately, the anthology from which I have taken the stories has not provided bibliographical information. Based on my personal knowledge, I tend to believe that the stories have been written in the fifties.

In the story, “Manchi pani,” Sundaram is respected Principal of a local college. While his wife went to her natal home for a brief visit, he got involved with one of his students, Subhadra and she was pregnant with his child. Sundaram kept quiet. She married another person and left town. As far as Sundaram was concerned the problem was resolved. Another lecturer in his college and a married man, Siva Rao gets involved with another woman and by law Sundaram is required to report to the higher authorities. The woman who is involved and Siva Rao’s wife beg Sundaram not to report it to the authorities because Siva Rao needs the job. In the opinion of Sundaram, Siva Rao is a blessed man, having won the support of the two women! Even his (Sundaram’s) supports the pleas of those two women. Sundaram still could not tell his wife of his own past. “I will write the report tomorrow,” he says; implicit in his statement is he has no sympathy for Siva Rao. The story highlights contemporary women’s perspective—a social attitude—of the times. It also projects the changes in our views from the perspective of yester years.

The story, “Smruthi” [Memory] also depicts forbidden relationship. In this story, the protagonist is a college principal who has fathers a child out of wedlock. After several years, a young woman comes to him seeking admission in the same college. He realizes that the woman is his child and decides to adopt her without informing her of their relationship. It was those times when illicit relationships were viewed more sternly than now.

This kind of stories still has its own value. They provoke readers into rethinking the value of interpersonal relationships and the dire consequences when crossed. I believe in stories such as these, the ending is not as important as the fact that these kinds of things are happening in society and the consequences are not always pleasant. Different readers may respond to these stories in different ways. Some may approve of Siva Rao’s behavior while others dismiss him as irresponsible, thoughtless and even disrespectful of traditional values. A few others may criticize Sundaram for being hard-nosed or despise the three women as pathetic. Another writer may take the same topic and write a different story. We see all these angles in readers’ comments and criticisms. The value of the story lies in making readers think in so many ways. That is what Saradadevi’s stories do, makes us think, reflect.

Jealousy is a normal human condition. In “kaaru mabbulu” [Dense Clouds], we see this human condition presented from a peculiar perspective. The story is narrated in the first person, so we do not know the name of the narrator. She and her colleague Sridhar fall in love and get married. They are deeply in love. His behavior however changes dramatically after she is promoted to a higher post. After learning that he is about to resign from his job, she tells him that she is planning to quit since the she is pregnant. The dark clouds in Sridhar’s heart are blown away. The narrator however is not happy. The fact that he is back to normal only after her resignation hurts her. Dark clouds start closing in on her. Thus, the dark clouds in Sridhar represent his jealousy while for the wife it is her disappointment in him. She realizes that there is also the danger of those dark clouds engulfing their relationship and that she needs to save herself from them. She remembers the celebrated Gita tenet uddharedaatman aatmaanam. Notably, in both the instances, only she is aware of the imminent clouds but not he—first when she saved him from his inferiority complex and the second time when she recognized the reality of their situation. Another angle to this symbolic presentation is: In real life dark clouds bring rain and thus a welcome sign. In literature, on the other hand, dark clouds are often used to represent sorrow and disappointment. In this story, first they are shown to represent Sridhar’s jealousy, and later the disappointment in his wife. Both of them could achieve redemption only after they are freed from these clouds. This is the reason I called the title symbolic.

In the old days, division of classes happened on the basis of religion. In modern times, it is rooted in money. The evil that follows such division is always the same, no difference. “A String of corals” [pagadaalu] and “Hunger” [aakali], depict the phony morals of the middle class. In the first story, a poor old man makes a living by running a small store round the corner and raising his granddaughter. A neighbor, who has a daughter (Vasanthi) of the same as the old man’s granddaughter, accuses him baselessly of stealing her daughter’s coral chain and makes him pay with the ten rupees he had, which is his life’s savings. Later the maid finds the chain under a chest of drawers, but the mother is not ready to admit her mistake, fearing that will ruin their reputation. The story is told from the perspective of the daughter, as she recalls the incident on her way to visit the family after several years. Her mother’s words, “What would people think if they come to know that we had the chain in our possession all along and we ill-treated the old man for no apparent reason, and took his money? Won’t they think we are mean?” This highlights the cowardice and the sham of the middle class moralists. Vasanthi could not understand at the time. She could not understand how it would be humiliating to them but not to Thata who in fact was innocent. This line of thinking in the little girl is probably intended to make a statement that these phony values are not innate but acquired in course of time.

The story “Hunger” also illustrates how people are afraid of what polite society might think about them. A starving young man sees his friend on the porch of a house where a wedding is being performed. He asks his friend to let him eat there. The friend however is in no mood to entertain this shabby-looking man. He says the place is not his, he would go in and ask the homeowner if that would be okay. He goes in and never returns. The message is he does not want to acknowledge a poverty-stricken person as his friend. The young man goes away, wanders around, hoping to find something to eat. Eventually, an old woman, selling fruit on the roadside, offers him fruits to eat. He is grateful. In course of time, he starts a small business, gets rich and decides to return the cost of the fruit, two annas (one eighth of a rupee). The strange part is he defers the payment so long, by the time he went there, the old woman has died, and another little boy is sitting there. The boy says he is hungry and asks for money. The young man gives him the two annas he owed the old woman, feels satisfied that he has paid off his debt and goes away.

In this story, some of the twists are noteworthy from the perspective of structure. The hesitation on the friend’s part to let the young man have food at a wedding is rather unusual. In Indian homes, there is always plenty of food and no person is turned away, especially on such ceremonial occasions. The narrator does not verbalize the friend’s reason for saying he would have to check with the house-owner. It would appear his middle class values came in the way to acknowledge a beggar as his friend. Like the sham values in the “Coral chain”, here again the author points out the fake values cherished by middle class people. The second twist is when the person who was nearly dying for a morsel of food and the change of attitude after he became rich. He did not forget the old woman who had given him food when he was hungry yet he delays repayment for inordinate length of time. There is no reasonable explanation for his procrastination. We just have to tell ourselves that is the way it is. It occurs to me that ever so often we defer to perform good deeds for no reason.

In the story, maarina manishi, [changed man], the story revolves around a person takes a job as a servant yet refuse to do the tasks the lady of the house assigns him. This house also, like in so many of her stories, is located on the outskirts of city. The woman does not want to complain about him to her husband for fear they might not be able to get another servant, who would be willing to travel the distance. Later however she tells her husband about the servant Narayana and his attitude. The husband yells at Narayana and he, without a word, quits. Years pass by. On one dark and rainy night, the woman gets off the train and gets into a rickshaw, not knowing the rickshaw driver was no other than Narayana. Narayana however recognizes her. After she got off at her home, he identifies himself politely. She is surprised that he is so polite when he is doing well, and was so arrogant when he was down on his luck. The author has showed extraordinary flair in weaving this story. It shows her aptitude in analyzing human nature. Here, not only she delineated the character of Narayana but also showed how their employers would evaluate or rather misevaluate others. The story is narrated by the lady in first person yet the author is able to identify and highlight the flaws in her character. That is the peculiarity in this story.

In the story thraasu [balance], Sitaramayya is busy making money and his wife and daughter are busy spending it. He understands the value of caring only after his servant brings him an apple and a rose saying, “because it is your birthday, sir.”

Another notable quality in Saradadevi’s stories is vivid descriptions of nature and their significant role in her stories. For several of her stories, the location is outside or on the outskirts of town. Almost all stories feature clouds, stars, breeze, and light drizzle. Sometimes, the descriptions run to one whole page yet not monotonous. For instance, the story, korikalu [desires] is a story told by a banyan tree. “It is dark. The stars drew designs. The moon has arrived, it is breezy though. My leaves shook and started to reach out to the sky.”

In the “Runaway Parrot,” the protagonist, Kamakshamma, spends most of her time watching the sky and the clouds from her backyard. She tells herself, “How beautiful the clouds move around! One second they hug each other affectionately! And then they move away on their separate ways! Who can tell what these temporal attachments mean!” A woman who has studied only up to eighth class, not only describes the nature beautifully but also finds correlation between the environment and human nature. There lies the author’s skill. For one thing, author seems to imply that there is poetry in everyone’s heart; secondly, it tells symbolically what lies ahead. At the beginning, Kamakshamma is used just to watching the birds that come into her garden and fly away freely. Then a parrot with a broken leg comes into her front yard and she develops an attachment to the bird. She loves the bird as her own child. For the bird however it is only a confinement. Therefore, the bird flies away as soon as she gets an opportunity to do so, the same way the clouds get close and move away. In that lies the beauty of the paragraph quoted earlier.

In short, Saradadevi evinces an unusual understanding of human nature and reflections on life. She has mentioned in one of her interviews that she has read extensively. However, unlike several other writers, her stories do not carry any “elitist” attitude. They are one hundred percent Telugu stories, brimming with native flavor.

She has published three anthologies. None of them include bibliographical information. The first three anthologies were published in the sixties and the fourth one in 1991. Thus, I would conclude that the stories in the first three anthologies had been written in the fifties and sixties and the stories in the fourth anthology written later. There is a significant difference between the early stories and later stories in her choice of themes and endings. In the later stories, she has imbibed the changes that have taken place in our lifestyles and mode of thinking. In the early stories, we find a kind of distancing herself and detachment. That does not mean the stories are without feelings. All human beings have desires and they all hope for better life, they believe in brighter future. Saradadevi has achieved great balance in analyzing these emotions.

Very little is known about her life. In a reputable magazine, Andhra Jyothi new year special (1975), the details she has given are as follows: She was born in 1922 in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, India. She has master’s in English literature, and Telugu literature, received Hindi Visarada diploma, and also studied a little Sanskrit. She learned classical music. She worked in Padmavathi College, Tirupathi, Andhra Pradesh, for several years. She said she got an opportunity to read extensively after her marriage with well-known writer, Achanta Janakiram in 1944. Her first story was published in 1945. She also stated that she strongly believed that encouragement from Narla Venkateswara Rao, prominent journalist and editor of Andhra Jyothi, was behind the writer she turned out to be.

When we read her stories, we feel that we are reading authentic Telugu stories. We obtain that satisfaction. In choosing her topics, and sculpting them into fascinating stories, and in commenting on life, she evinces extraordinary talent. I will finish this article with a simple statement about the structure in her stories. Saradadevi’s stories are well-rounded stories in all aspects: opening, environment, situations, development, characterization and ending.

(End)

This article written by Nidadavolu Malathi has been published on thulika.net, December 2012.

Publications:

1. Paaripoyina chiluka. Vijayawada: Adarsagrantha mandali, 1963.

2. Okkanaati athithi. Vijayawada: Adarsagrantha mandali, 1965.

3. Marichika. Vjayawada: Adarsagrantha mandali, 1969.

4. Vaanajallu. Hyderabad: Sahiti, 1991.

 


[i] Known as Spanish cherry or minusops elengi. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mimusops_eleng

The Native Element in Telugu stories By Nidadavolu Malathi.

We read stories—Russian, Chinese, Japanese, African—and learn about their culture. Some stories tell us we are not different. Their customs, habits, perceptions, social consciousness, family values and ethics appear to be so close to ours. They cry in the same way as we do, and be happy the same way as we, and aspire for better life in much the same way as we do. Then there are other stories that distinguish us from them. That is because each culture evolves in its own environment. Russian winter is unimaginable in Andhra Pradesh. The effects of the vast expanse of land in America is inconceivable in our country. Their interpersonal relationships are defined by their environment. They cannot imagine our lives during summer months. Possibly the extended family, so common in South Asian countries, is totally enimagmatic to Westerners. The stories from other cultures are fascinating for this reason—they tell us how people live under varying and/or similar circumstances.

The stories of writers like Chekhov, Maupassant, and Mark Twain appeal to us because they all are deep-rooted in their culture; they do not embrace the lifestyles of other cultures or create a pseudo-foreign atmosphere in their stories. This should tell us something, meaning, we the readers suspend our disbelief willingly, as Wordsworth put it, and acquiesce to the other environment, and explore the other culture. That is and must be one of the primary principles for translation into another language, especially for international audiences. For that reason, when we select a story for translation, we need to keep the target audience in mind constantly.
Sometime back, a reader asked me how would I know who reads the translation. Of course, the translator cannot predict who would read the story. Once a translation is published, the translator has no control over the readership. However, he or she can still keep certain target readers in mind, and select a story that hopefully captures the attention of that audience. Others may read, and even enjoy the story. Nevertheless, one thing I would like to emphasise is, the readers, especially the native speakers, (Telugu readers, in this case) must remember that native flavor cannot be transported into the translation one hundred percent ever. When we read a translation from another language, more likely than not, we do not know if the story had carried its native flavor into the original. We can only see whether the translated version appealed to us or not.

When I select stories for translation, I attempt to find stories that illustrate the Telugu homes, Telugu environment, family values, interpersonal relationships as reflected in our relational terminology, our customs, beliefs, the games our children play and the food our mothers cook. It is important that they include as many minute details as possible. For the same reason, I stay away from stories filled with descriptions of modern homes with imported goods and ideas. I want stories that provide our age-old values, beliefs, customs, lifestyles, and perceptions we have cherished. One great example would be the arranged marriages in our families. Unfortunately, very often our stories cater to the stereotypical, preconceived notions of the westerners; but make no effort to explain the complexities inherent in the system; for instance, the underlying philosophy of the extended families, which includes the support the couples would receive in times of crisis.

Second, I would look for a style peculiar to the writer. It is common knowledge that every writer has or develops his own technique for telling a story. No two persons talk alike, and no two writers tell the same story using exactly the same vocabulary. There is no verbatim report, even when a story is retold by the same writer. That also explains why we have so many stories on any given topic. Each writer presents a new perspective, and adds to the commonality of global  understanding. Similarly, no two readers appreciate the same story and/or perceive the same message from a given story precisely in the same manner.

Against this background, I have attempted to present my rationale for selecting stories for translation for foreign readers, who are not familiar with our culture and traditions. Basically, I find three angles to this thought: 1. the stories that depict our religious, philosophical beliefs, and customs; 2. stories that describe various activities in our daily lives; and, 3. reflect unique perspectives and lifestyles in our society.

Let’s review a few Telugu stories in translation. In the story The Soul Wills It by Viswanatha Satyanarayana, man-woman relationship is explored within the context of Hindu beliefs. The story presents, in a larger context, man and woman not as two entities but, as one entity, complementary in nature. Thus, the pain suffered by the woman is experienced by the man. Similarly, the woman carries the man’s wish, not as a duty but, as a replication of the man’s pain. In terms of technique, the author used several forms. It started out with a description of the location and the main characters. In some parts, it was presented in the form of a direct report; and, in one instance, a dialogue, as in a play, was introduced. Is this acceptable as a storytelling technique in modern times? I am not sure. As I said at the outset, the author has the freedom to present his story in a manner that is befitting to his mode of thinking.

The Drama of Life (Madhurantakam Rajaram) depicts the absurdity in a presentation of Bharata yajnam, a narrative of Mahabharata in harikatha, style and the monetary reward the narrator receives at the end. The underlying philosophy of celebrating Bharata yajnam is to point out the appalling effects of gambling on a family. The storyteller learns, much to his dismay, that his payment has come from the income at the gambling stalls set up for the enjoyment of the audience. The storyline in itself is not something we can be proud of, yet, the umpteen details woven into the rendering are enlightening.

In the story, He is I, (Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry), the author depicts prostitutes as connoisseurs of fine arts and conjugal bliss. At one period, in our culture, they are supposed to initiate young men into the life of marital bliss. Into this complex issue, the author weaves a mystical perception “He is I”, the message being God resides in our bodies and respecting our bodies implies respecting God. As I mentioned earlier, the philosophical connotation leaves plenty to the readers’ imagination.

Another angle in this story is the use of pronouns peculiar to Telugu language, thanu or thaanu which is a gender-free reflexive, roughly meaning oneself. In a complete sentence, the verb suffix corresponds to the person’s gender though. The story He is I opens with one person, taanu, as the narrator. The pronoun, a reflexive, indefinite, third person, singular, and non-gender specific, is peculiar to Telugu language. After Swamiji is introduced, most of the story is narrated by Swamiji using the first person singular, nenu[I]. Towards the end, Swamiji says, “We [memu] were waiting for the other train to arrive.” Telugu has two forms of third person plural, manam [all-inclusive] and memu [excludes listener]. Significantly, in the story, the second term, memu is used. Thus implicitly the pronoun “we” includes the listener, the young man [taanu], and, puts the reader/audience in the shoes of a listener. Confusing as it is for foreigners, it is also quite illuminating. That is one of the reasons, I chose this story despite the difficulty in translating it.

Relational terminology is another aspect that pervade our stories. Just recently I read that Native Americans use relational terms for people not related by blood in much the same way we Telugu people do. In our culture the terms are indicative of not only the relationship between two individuals but also how each perceives the other. The discussion of relational terminology is beyond the scope of this paper but the point I am trying to make is our stories provide an additional layer to understand the conversations between two persons.

The Wedding Garments by Ravuru Satyanarayana Rao is a heartwarming story, perfect for holiday season. The madhuparkaalu are a set of garments offered by the bride’s parents to the groom along with a drink made of honey and milk  as he arrives for the ceremony. Puttanna, the protoganist, is a weaver by profession. He customarily makes the garments and presents free of charge to the family who performs a wedding in the village. The story illustrates the spirit with which Puttanna cherishes his family tradition. He refuses to make an exception even when chips are down and he is struggling. He would rather sell his cow, which he needs not only for his own subsistence but other families to whom he supplies milk. The story walks us through not only his struggles but the remarkable sense of dharma the groom avows. This is a moving story highlighting the human values that go beyond the call of one’s duty.

Currently in our society, caste is dismissed as reprehensible. There is however another angle to this caste or community spirit, which is welcome because it aims at the common good. Puttanna belongs to weavers community. For him it is a custom to weave madhuparkaalu (new set of clothes for the bride and groom) in any family in his village free of cost. The reader also learns what life was like for weavers community in those days. It tells us of a lifestyle that is fast disappearing.

Another story that gives elaborate description of a wedding ceremony in Telugu homes is two pawns lost by Poosapati Krishnamraju. This story oozes authentic Telugu flavor and provides  a peek into the process of wedding ceremony in our families as it unfolds.

The story Cottage Goddess by Kanuparti Varalakshmamma, published in Andhra Patrika Ugadi issue, 1924, depicts the ruination of cottage industries and the struggles of families caught up in the aftermath of the great Depression following the World War I. The author gives us the harsh realities of the early forties in middle class families and the woman’s struggle to raise her two little children. The amount of details in the struggles of the protagonist’s (Ramalakshmi’s) is quite an education. Sad as it may sound, that has been the reality in India. The small farmer, the small business, the mom-and-pop store round the corner took a downward turn and never recovered as India kept moving towards modernization. Once again, the details of everyday life during the period in question are well-recorded in these stories. 

The story, Headmaster by Palagummi Padmaraju, depicts the extraordinary, lifelong influence a mentor has on a student. In our tradition, the teacher has the same place as mother and father in the life of an individual. The lessons children receive from their teachers go beyond textbooks.

In the story Three million rupees bet (Arudra), we learn about the games children played prior to modernization has taken over and in the process about the creative ways they spend their time. The story introduces the reader to a game that is not prevalent anymore even in India. In these days of plastic toys and computer games only money can buy, it is hard to imagine children had just as much fun with the side panels of discarded cigarette boxes. It effectively illustrates not only children’s psyche but also how they imbibe the complex monetary values early in life.

Some of our feminist critics perceived the story The Escaped Parrot (Achanta Saradadevi) as a feminist story, since the female protagonist feels suffocated in their home. I however think that story goes beyond a woman feeling confined. The story illustrates powerfully the lack of communication between husband and wife. What Kamakshamma missed in her life is not freedom but closeness with her husband. In the absence of that closeness with her husband, she befriends a parrot, short-lived nevertheless. Thus in her life the true tragedy is not the house turning into a cage but her husband ignoring her existence. The one-word conversations between husband and wife, the husband constantly trying to convince her that life away from the city is peaceful are authentically depicted. That was the state of affairs in most of the Telugu homes in the fifties.

The story Lord Siva Commands by Nidadavolu Malathi, while depicting the newly acquired concept of privacy in Indian homes, the interpersonal relationships between two unrelated individuals belonging to two different generations are highlighted. In this story, the young woman rooted in Indian values and traditions happens to meet after two decades the elderly lady whom she respects as mentor. The story features several layers – two women from two generations developing closeness, the changing attitudes of the young woman after coming to America, her discomfort with the older woman’s probing questions on one hand and remembering the sweet memories from her past, and at the end realizing where the older woman has come from and how natural it is for her to speak the way she has spoken.

I included this story here because of the comments from current generation readers. The story illustrates the issue of privacy. In the past, in our country, the concept of privacy is not understood in the same manner as in the west. However, the perception among the current generation has been changing fast and it is evident from some of the comments I have received. Most of the current generation Telugu youth would consider the elderly woman “intrusive” and “insensitive,” to put it mildly. The letter at the end of the story, which she would have written had she known how to write, explains where she was coming from. Readers need to delve deeper into this kind of psyche.

That humor is hard to translate is common knowledge. Nevertheless, it is important we expose the foreign readers to that aspect of our culture. One of the ways I found is to introduce the story by way of review. I translated janatha express by Mullapudi Venkataramana as Middle Class Complex. This story has been relatively easy to translate since there is a noticeable storyline. On the other hand, another story Radha’s debt (Radhamma bakee) by the same author is hard to translate since there is plenty of witticism and little of storyline. For that reason, I presented in the form a review. The entire story is provided with explanations why a particular line is considered humorous for us. It allows us to explain the parts, which we consider humorous, but may not be perceived as such by foreign readers.

For each of these stories, it is a different time and different place. Usually, readers from other cultures read these stories in order to identify those differences. And, that is also the criterion for our translators in their selection of stories for translation.

I must admit that all the stories on this site meet these criteria. Nevertheless, ideally though, that is what I aim to accomplish—introduce our culture in its multifarious perceptions and our values to the non-native speakers.

(End)

(Author’s note: All the stories referred in this article are available on this site. This article has been modified from the original, how to read a Telugu story, published on thulika.net, January 2005.)

© Nidadavolu Malathi.

 

 

 

Urban Characters in Telugu Fiction of the Sixties and Seventies.

By Nidadavolu Malathi.

Traditionally the city has been treated in Telugu literature as a place of riches and freedom, and city as something to which people should aspire. Traditional writers have always portrayed the city in all its glory, even correlated it to the royalty of the country. There is, however, a major departure from this attitude in Telugu writers of the sixties and seventies. Western education, modern technology and Marxist ideology have inspired the writers to recognize various life styles available to individuals in society. Most Telugu writers of these two decades felt a strong urge to probe into these different life styles which developed as a result of the modern urban situation.

It is not the sketchy and idealistic image of the city but a host of other aspects that developed around the city that appealed most to the writers. It is not the wealth but the inevitable alienation that accompanied wealth, not freedom but the suffering of other losses in achieving freedom that appear in bold relief in Telugu fiction of the sixties and seventies. Modern technology with all its progress is also causal in bringing about disruption through commercialization in an individual’s life.

For the purpose of this paper, I will consider three life styles discernable in Telugu fiction corresponding to the three economic strata of society: namely, the rich, the middle class and the poor. This classification, according to economics, plays a more crucial role in cities than in villages; in fact, it has even superseded religion and caste to a remarkable degree. These latter two important aspects of Indian society are more conspicuous by their absence in novels and short stories in which they do not form the central theme.

In general, the rich are portrayed as reflecting a pseudo-western culture which is developed out of misinterpretation of a foreign culture and through the operation of ill-informed sources. The middle class people are lured to cities by western education and employment opportunities but are into ready for changes in their traditional values. The poor unskilled laborers see promise of respectability and social mobility in cities.

I must add that within these three categories, the life styles of women reveal the constraint put on them by both men and money. Their life style also differs from both their female counterparts in villages and male counterparts in cities.

With this introduction, let us examine each group in detail in order to derive Telugu writers’ perceptions of city life in the sixties and seventies.

THE RICH CLASS: MEN

One new trend one notices in Telugu fiction beginning with the sixties is the lack of empathy for rich people. Telugu writers in these two decades seem to be particularly averse to the life styles of the rich, and have depicted the wealthy as possessing neither the strength of character, nor other plausible innate qualities.

The city of Hyderabad being the capital of the Telugu-speaking state of Andhra Pradesh has been developing into a big center of modern technologies since the formation of the state in 1956. This city was also the seat of Muslim rules of the recent past whose tradition was epicurean in nature. In Telugu fiction we see a combination of these two aspects—the effects of modern technology and love of sensuous pleasures—giving rise to a new way of life very much foreign to Indians that can only be called pseudo-western.

A popular Telugu writer, Panyala Ranganatha Rao in his novel Gadval cira [Gadval Sari] describes the life of a wealthy man, Somasundaram who becomes the chief of his company by means of living a western-style “social life.”

Among the company bosses there exists a lot of “social life.”  Every employee should go to every party accompanied necessarily by his wife. Once in a while each should call on others for a “social visit.” Without any reason one should invite all others for a “cocktail party.” The future of some employees and the survival of some companies depend on this “social life.” That’s not all. Every member should enroll himself in some gymkhana or cosmopolitan club. Foundations for promotions and foreign tours are laid in these parties. Women recommend each other’s husband.

In this narrative Ranganatha Rao seems to feel that among the rich, traditional human values disappear in the face of overpowering material and economic success. Individuals become caricatures. Another popular writer, Madhurantakam Rajaram criticizes these parties even more strongly in his short novel, Maricika [Mirage].

Behind that dinner it looked as if a race was started. Each of them was lost in his attempt to attract everybody’s attention, some through dress, some through talk and some through action. The real problem arose there. If all of them are speakers, who are the listeners? If all of them are actors, who is the audience?

Both Ranganatha Rao and Rajaram observe in their novels that the social life of the rich in the cities is success-oriented as opposed to the life imbued with community spirit in villages.

In Telugu novels dealing with the life style of the wealthy, we find two varieties of characters that usually are the models for the rich of India. The first variety is comprised of those Indians who have been to or lived abroad for sometime. Devadas in Gadval cira is one such character. He has lived all his life in the United and returned to India to marry an Indian girl at the insistence of his father. He is blatantly ignorant of both cultures. At his own wedding reception, he drinks excessively, insults guests and drags his wife upstairs while the reception is still going on. In the room upstairs he tells his wife to undress because he wants to see a “beautiful nude figure.” And then he forces her to drink and dance. He tells her, “It’s fun when a wife undresses herself. In America every wife takes off her clothes in front of her husband even before he asks her to.” The writer’s spite for persons like Devadas is clearly shown in the final statement of the narrator about this scene: “Devadas raped his wife like a common criminal would rape a stranger.” The entire novel is similarly replete with the ill-conceived perception of American culture among Indians.

The other variety of characters that supposedly represent foreign culture is the foreigners themselves. InGadval Cira, Williams and Rita re a British couple working in a British firm in India. While Williams is hardly mentioned, Rita is given a stereotypical female role in the novel. She asks Somasundaram for sexual favors while Williams is away and Somasundaram cooperates. Later when Williams writes a strong and favorable report about Somasundaram, the latter could easily understand that the rewards were due to Rita. These two characters, Devadas and Rita, stand for the gross misrepresentation that the Indian fanatics of western culture want us to believe to be true.

Very rarely do the wealthy look back to Indian culture. When they do so they are withdrawn from the “social life” of the modern world. For instance, in Gadval Cira, Somasundaram admits to Saradhi, a young man from a middle-class family in search of a job, in the privacy of his (Somasundaram) home:

However civilized we may think we are, however much we acquire foreign habits due to the pressures of circumstances, we honestly cannot repudiate our customs and conventions so easily! It is in our blood. (p.88)

With this argument Somasundaram willfully ruins Saradhi’s chance to get a job in his firm. He wants Saradhi at his own home for literary discussions; Saradhi represents tradition. In Telugu fiction, we do not find compatibility between tradition and technology.

THE WEALTHY: WOMEN

Wealthy women in Telugu fiction, unlike any other class are presented as having a lifestyle of their own. They enjoy greater freedom than women in other classes. While the wealthy women in villages continue to be homemakers, their urban counterparts go out to reach society.

It is important to mention that there are at least two perspectives. First that of the women writers in Andhra Pradesh, and the other, that of the male writers who delineate the female characters in wealthy families. The female writers tend to draw heavily on the sex roles the women in the high class are made to play in their husbands’ lives. Lata, a female writer of many controversial novels has extensively dealt with this aspect in her novels. She is most vocal in her description of Hyderabad and the position of women in that city. The following passage illustrates some general impressions on the city of Hyderabad shared by many writers.

For many people Hyderabad is heaven on earth. It is the place for care-free life, pleasures, and the unfettered life of art lovers. In that city, woman too is one of many pleasures. Women are being been used endlessly for the pleasures of men since the beginning of creation, yet those who suffer from this meaningless intoxication see no light.

Earlier in Hyderabad women were available for money only in ‘Mehboob ki mendi’ [prostitutes quarters]. After the city became the capital of Andhra Pradesh and the law against prostitution came into force, women became available everywhere—in hotels, in cars, near Charminar … in every form, on the pretext of employment; women are made to please men.

It is evident that the freedom that women could exercise in the cities is taken advantage of to serve the purpose of male-dominated society. In this novel Maha nagaramlo Stri, Lata writes about three women with mediocre talents who successfully make their way into the movie world by using sex. All of them were seduced early in life. It is important to note that Lata has been particularly concerned about the causes or factors that lay behind the behavior of these women.

By contrast, the male writers reveal a different aspect when they write about the high class women. They write with levity, even with a touch of sarcasm. The women characters created by male writers engage themselves in activities like club memberships, picnics, and celebration of national holidays—January 26 (Republic Day), and August 15 (Independence Day), etc.—or get busy with the latest gads. Telugu male writers seem to feel that these activities not only fail to serve any meaningful ends but sometimes turn even disastrous. Binadevi has delineated a typical character, Vijaya in his Punyabhumi, Kallu teru, (Oh Pious Land, Open Your Eyes!). The following quotations illustrate the author’s viewpoint:

A quarter of a century ago, Vijaya studied up to tenth grade. She has only one wish in life that she should become a very prominent figure in that city. She started a ladies club with all the officers’ wives in that city. She started another organization for women with all the middle class housewives and she was its president. They celebrated important festivals and gave away prizes. Reports about the functions were sent to the All India Radio women’s programs for broadcasting.

All the members are middle-aged. None, including Vijaya is under thirty-five. All of them have cooks, governesses and servants. So none of them need to pour a cup of coffee for their husbands or feed their infants. On holidays they play cards with their husbands with high stakes.

She recently started writing articles like ‘My husband and Little Irritations’, ‘Children and Discipline,’ etc. Magazines published them!

She strongly believed that the children are the main hindrance in the progress of mothers.

In the end, she becomes pregnant and to cover that shame she commits suicide. Here one can perceive that while the female writers treat these characters sympathetically and attempt to explain, the male writers touch upon the realities only superficially.

The rich, both men and women, with their penchant for foreign culture and foreign goods reveal very little of their own values in life. The society they have created for themselves does not reflect a happy blend of the best of the cultures, east and west, but a sad and miserable imitation and apparently a failure.

THE MIDDLE CLASS: MEN

The middle class life as depicted in Telugu fiction in the sixties and seventies reflects the hardcore, day-to-day realities much more vividly than the rich class life. Here we find elaborate descriptions, rich with valuable details and true-to-life characters.

Ironically, Telugu writers show awareness that for the rich the city holds everything they wish for but it is not so for the middle class people. For them, it is just another arena for their struggle for existence. For instance, Saradhi in Gadval Cira, a middle class young man, who goes to Hyderabad in search of a job, stumbles into a high class family. He fails to get the job because of his traditional values in life. Prakasam in Maricika is an idealist who is educated but remains in the village. He modernizes his home with a good library, newspapers, etc., and his farm with modern equipment such as a bored well. But his cousin Sobhadevi from the city fails to see his point.

“Why do you need all these books if not to show off that you are an educated man?” Sobhadevi asked.

“I don’t blame you for thinking that these books are for show. In fact, the idea that the entire human life is only for show is getting deep-rooted. Education is not for enlightenment through the training of intellect. Wealth is not, like the pious glow of Ganga, for washing poverty. Everything is just for the pride of possession. Sobha! If you remove the pride and show from the kind of life you value as supreme, is there anything left? I think there will be nothing left.”

For both Saradhi and Prakasam, city implicitly means a departure from tradition and is thus unacceptable

Natarajan, who worked in a small coffee shop as a waiter under the female pseudonym, “Sarada”, had thrown some remarkable insights into the life style of middle class people, particularly, in the second largest city in Andhra Pradesh, Viajayawada. His famous novels, manci, chedu [The Good and the Bad], deals with various aspects of middle class life in cities. Most of the problems the middle class face are related to money. Insecurities on jobs are a major concern for them, their jobs being their only source of income. So they have to work hard to secure a job and stay in it. Sarada presents this anxiety powerfully in the following passage:  

Bhaskara Rao is a junior clerk who marries the daughter of a senior clerk. At his nuptial ceremony, instead of asking for an expensive gift like a wristwatch or radio according to the custom, he asks for “confirmation of his job in the shop.”

 The bridegroom’s request and the father-in-law’s reaction to the request confirm people’s anxiety for security in their jobs:

What a genuine wish, he (the father-in-law) thought. He remembered the times when he was newlywed and worried about the uncertainty of his own job. The senior clerk understood very well the anxiety and concern of the junior clerk.

Their houses, their daily lives and their efforts to keep up appearances present a grim picture:

There are four families in that one house. But each lives a secluded life; not that they do it on purpose.  They cannot afford the time for chit chat. Maybe once in a while the women get together and talk. Besides, there is always shortage for something or other like sugar, salt, coffee and at least for that reason they have to approach the neighbors. Then a bond of friendship and affinity develops among them …

In front of these houses everyday one or other creditor will be shouting at a high pitch …

Their earnings would not exceed one hundred rupees a month. They have very large families. Children will be screaming and crying everywhere …

The men would go to work, washing and ironing with hot water pans the one or two shirts they had, and go with the look of respectability.

In the face of these harsh realities, they develop a wry humor and their own ways of entertainment.

Their dwellings are old and badly in need of repairs and maintenance.

“Why didn’t you ask the landlord to whitewash the walls?”

“Of course I did. He said he had gotten it done only during the last pushkaram [Tidal wave that repeats every twelve years] and no hurry”

“The landlord is waiting for the building to fall apart by itself so that he can save on demolition charges.”

They cannot afford to pay for the movies, theater, and concerts and so they content themselves with cards, which do not cost them money.

 The Telugu writers in the sixties and seventies have stressed that the dwellings, daily life and entertainment in the villages do not put so much pressure on individuals as the city life does.

THE MIDDLE CLASS WOMEN

Women in cities coming from middle class families face all these tensions the middle class men face and the added burden of being a progressive woman. In Telugu fiction after fifties, the women are usually portrayed as educated and conscious. Strangely the middle class men want these women to act both as happy homemakers on one hand and go to work too. Both male and female writers have produced voluminous literature on the problems on the educated, middle class, working women. In playing this dual role, women suffer a great deal.

In marina kaalam-marani manushulu [The Changed Times-Unchanged People] by Vacaspati, the main character, Rukmini is an educated woman who shoulders the family responsibility because her father, being a gambler, does not care for the family. This is a fairly new trend and can happen only in cities. After seeing her brothers and sisters settled in life, she marries, late in life, a widower, and less educated than herself. Since the attitudes of people deep down remain conventional, her family disapproves the marriage. The society cannot condone the act either. They face baseless scandals and humiliation. The husband, who is not bad by nature, repudiates her for want of moral courage on his part. Rukmini commits suicide.

This story gives a typical example of the problems middle class working women face in cities. Like the insecurities on jobs for middle class men, the public scandal plays a considerable role in the case of women. ‘

The theme of scandal has an interesting approach in Telugu novels. Persecuting women through public scandal is a universal phenomenon and it happens both in villages and in cities. Strangely, however, the urban situation helps the male victims but not the female victims. For instance, Rukmini in maarina kaalam-maarani manushulu is driven by scandal to such an extreme measure as suicide, whereas Bhaskara Rao in manci-chedu is hardly affected by a scandal about himself and his stepmother. To forget any irritation caused by the scandal, he is advised by his father-in-law, Sudaram to move to another part of the city. Sundaram tells him:

This is not a village for a scandal to persist for years. If you move from one part of the city to another, it won’t bother you anymore. In the city, an incident that can create havoc on one day becomes an ordinary incident on the second day and totally forgotten on the third ay. The time and opportunity available in villages to discuss such matters at length are rarely available in cities.

These two perspectives obviously imply that in the case of women, the old moral standards continue to apply, irrespective of the locality.

The situation is somewhat similar when caste is the central theme in the novels and short stories. While here too the victimization of women continues, the urban situation makes it a little different.  The marriage between Aruna, a brahmin woman and Bhaskar, a Harijan man, is the central theme in the novel, balipeetham [Sacrificial Stone] by Ranganayakamma, a militant female writer. In view of the importance of this novel in the history of modern Telugu fiction, I am tracing some of the main points of the story here. The circumstances that led to the inter-caste marriage in the novel are: (a) Aruna is a child widow and yearns to die as “sumangali” which means dying while husband is alive; (b) Aruna is sick and doctors predicted a short life span for her; (c) Bhaskar is an active member of a humane organization and decided to marry a destitute or a lady in distress; and finally, (d) their urban situation makes it possible.

Aruna’s uncle Sastry and aunt Jagadamba vehemently oppose this marriage as can be expected. They are also Aruna’s in-laws by virtue of their son’s marriage with Aruna at a very young age. The boy died soon after the marriage. Interestingly, Aruna and Bhaskar were not ostracized, which would have been the case, had they lived in a village. Their life in the city saved them from being ostracized. For the same reason, Sastry and Jagadamba maintain familial ties with Aruna but Bhaskar is treated as an outcaste. The older couple welcomes their granddaughter, Jyothi without any qualms into their house and despite her lineage on her father’s lineage. They are also willing to allow Bhaskar’s nephew, Gopi, into their home, but assign menial jobs to the boy, reflecting their awareness of his low class status. In other words, Aruna, Sastry, and Jagadamba are willing to ignore the caste barriers only to the extent that it suits their convenience and the city provides them with opportunity to do so.

Aruna sets for herself similar dual standards in her daily life too. On one hand, she puts up fights for equal rights as an earning member of the family, and on the other, she attempts to play the traditional housewife, calling herself, padadasi [wife whose place is at the feet of her husband]. Thus because of the superimposition of modernity on tradition, the middle class educated women in the cities face both family problems and job-related problems. Part of the reason is their own awareness of their difficult situation, which does not seem to hold any creditworthy solutions.

THE WORKING CLASS: MEN

The poor and the middle class experience the same strain in some matters such as housing and day-to-day necessities. Yet the poor in the cities project a lifestyle of their own. New kinds of occupations like rickshaw-pulling, work in factories and hotels, jobs in government and quasi-government establishments (peons and office boys) have created a new lifestyle unknown in villages.

In short stories and novels in the sixties and seventies, the /Telugu writers have depicted lower class as people moving from villages to cities with new hopes.  The attraction of unskilled laborers to the cities can be explained on one hand as something based on superficial matters like the movies, movie stars, high officials and all that glitters; on the other hand, it is the removal of social seclusion of the lower caste. Although the lower caste people are not totally integrated into the urban society, they are permitted to move within this society with some reservations. Their gain fits at least their own concept of respectability. In is evident in their material possessions.

The proletariat class people are aware of their position in society and they try hard to relate themselves to the higher social stratum through imitation of the language of the literate, cleaner clothes, and possessions of sophisticated items like wristwatches and transistors.

In story, chiruchakram [The Small Wheel] by Malathi Nidadavolu, the main character Venkanna moves to the city because he considers a peon’s position in a school is more respectable than farming on his land in his village. On his job in the school, he goes far beyond his job obligations to please his superiors. In the end he gets fined not for his fault, not for the mistake of his boss. Later in the night, he describes with great thrill the day’s happenings at school to his wife except the fine, which he purposely omits. In reality, he is intent on ignoring the raw deal the society has dealt him. The universal problem of the disadvantaged taking the blame of everything that went wrong continues in spite of all the progress and civilization the city claims to have achieved. This is a valuable perspective many Marxist writers of Telugu fiction have been projecting since the sixties.

THE WORKING CLASS: WOMEN

The women characters of the proletariat in Telugu fiction are alert, racy and sensitive.  Rachakonda Viswanatha Sastry and Binadevi, both veteran Marxist writers, have created many impressive female characters in this class. For them, the low class people are only underprivileged but not unintelligent. For example, Muthyalamma in maya [Illusion], by Rachakonda Viswanatha Sastry baffles a professional lawyer with her knowledge of the operation of the judicial system:

The truth of the courts is different. For them, it is enough if the testimony holds. These witnesses, although they go on the witness-stand one after another, corroborate their testimonies beforehand. What are the questions you can ask? Questions like “At what time you left the police station? How many of you went there? Did you go in civilian clothes or did you wear uniforms?” etc. Right? These questions are like ready-made dough for the police. [and they are ready with their ready-made answers]. The magistrate would say, “Well, the testimony sounds about right. There are no discrepancies. Even if there are any, they are only minor. So you pay the fine. Or else, go to jail,” Two times … two hundred rupees … blood sir I paid.

Muthyalamma, who was booked on false charges, simply because she failed to pay the monthly bribe to that police, at the end, gets acquittal not through her own rhetoric nor the expert cross-examination of the lawyer but by paying the same bribe she could not pay earlier.

Her opinion on the present day world is equally perceptive:

There is nothing but money and commerce in this world. Animals—dumb chattel—have morals but not we. I am illiterate. And I don’t have any morals. You are an educated man and you don’t have them either. The whole world is prostituting itself for money. I sell rum for money. You sell your education for money. They police sell justice for money. In the elections, you, I and he, all of us are sold in exchange for votes … sale, sale, sale nothing but sales in this world. I am not educated but this is the truth I have come to realize. If that is not the truth, you tell me what is.”

The female working class characters are thus invariably shown as the victims of failure of social institutions in reality.

A FEW OTHER REFLECTIONS ON THE CITY

Some Telugu writers have given their perceptions of the city life without reference to a class or group. The picture is usually unfavorable. They appear to nurture a general skepticism towards everything that is new or non-traditional.

For instance, Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao, known for his critical understanding of Marxism, disapproves every aspect of city life in his story Patnavasam [City Life]. Some of his impressions of the city life as revealed in the story are:

The vegetables are not fresh; the food is not nutritious; the city people resent longevity of life; they present uncertainties in life as pleasant surprises; they interpret the disobedience of children as an expression of individuality.

“How is life in the city?” the villagers asked him. “Our people are finding ways to commit suicide,” he replied.

Kutumba Rao observes that the city life does not in reality symbolize progress but only provides us with a way of interpreting things to suit our fancies. Angara Venkata Krishna Rao presents a similar view from a different angel in his short story, “Nagarikata” [Civilization]. In this story, first he describes the savage killing of a pig by a group of muscular men using clubs and ropes. Later when he sees a well-dressed couple walk out of a store in a city with a beautiful and colorful box marked “Bacon” in English, he wonders:

A beautiful and colorful box is a symbol of civilization. But what about the cries of the pig it contained? If dress is a mark of civilization, what about the people in those clothes? 

In other words, the city has been teaching us to refuse to notice the offensive and ugly facts of life, and learn to accept everything that is presented in a neat and pleasing-to-the –eye package.

CONCLUSION

Beginning with the sixties, the Telugu fiction writers have become increasingly concerned with the psychology or social behavior of individuals. In ach class or group, people have a definite way of conducting themselves in relation to others. An important factor to remember, however, is that there is a tangible shift in the emphasis regarding values in life. The much-wished-for economic progress has led individuals to become self-centered. Technological progress has enabled people only to accumulate material possessions. Education has been viewed as another means of moving into a higher economic group. Conventional and familial relationships have suffered severance. Now relationships are formed based on social status or residential contiguity.

Telugu writers of the past two decades (50’s and 60’s) have perceived the social institutions as definite failures. All the illusions about them as instrumental in improving the lot of the unfortunate people do not seem to stand the test when their actual working is critically probed.

Against this urban background, the lot of women is even less reassuring. Whatever their economic position, their social acceptance by men as equals is doubtful. The freedom the women can enjoy in the city is only skin deep. Their capability to act intelligently and achieve success is counteracted by the contrivances of the male-oriented society. The city with all its material and technological progress has become seriously detrimental to the individual’s development as a full-fledged and civilized human being.

[End]

(Paper presented at South Asia Conference, Madison, Wisconsin, and published in Journal of South Asian Literature, v 25 No.1. Winter & Spring, 1990 –(©Malathi Nidadavolu))

Source List.

Binadevi [Pseud.]. Punyabhumi Kallu teru. Vijayawada: Navabharat Publishers, 1971

Kutumba Rao, Kodavatiganti. “Patnavaasam,” Kathalu V.2 Bratakanerchinavaadu. Vijayawada: Navabharat Prachuranalu, 1963

Lata. Mahanagaramlo Stri. Secunderabad: M. Seshachalam &Co., 1969

Malathi, Nidadavolu. “Chiruchakram”. Andhra Jyoti Weekly. April 2, 1971.

Rajaram, Madhurantakam. Maricika. Chittoor: Bharati Prachuranalau,

Ranganatha Ro, Panyala. Gadval Cira. Secunderabad: M. Seshachalam &Co., 1969

1967.

Ranganayakamma. Balipeetham. Vijayawada: Sarvodaya Publishers, 1963.

Sarada [Pseud.]. Manci Chedu. Tenali: Brundavan Publishing House, 1969.

Vacaspati [Pseud.]. Marina Kaalam, Marani Manushulu. Vijayawada: Sarvodaya Publishers, 1971.

Venkata Krishna Rao, Angara. “Nagarikata,” Kadile Bommalu. Visakhapatnam: Visakha Sahiti, 1975.

Viswanatha Sastry, Rachakonda. “Maya” Aru Saaraa Kathalu. Vijayawada: Vijaya Books, 1962.

 

 

P. Saraladevi (Review) by P. Satyavathi

A prominent bi-weekly magazine Telugu Swatantra magazine, run by Khasa Subba Rao in the nineteen fifties and sixties and later by Gora Sastry and Sridevi until its closure, used to welcome new writers amicably. Magazines in those days used to encourage young writers regardless of their repute.

Saraladevi who has won readers’ hearts even with her early stories, published many of her stories in Telugu Swatantra. She also wrote an essay, “oka prasasti” [one tribute] on the novel Kalaateeta vyaktulu by Dr. P. Sridevi. Saraladevi’s first story, “baava chuupina bratukubaata” has been published in Prajatantra in December 1955. Her first anthology, Kumkuma rekhalu, has been published in 1956. About seven or eight stories she had published previously in Telugu Swatantra are not included in the anthology Kumkuma rekhalu.

The stories included in Kumkuma rekhalu were originally broadcast on All India Radio in series. Her narrative technique and language are soft befitting her name (Sarala literally means soft). At the time Syamasundari, who had a sweet voice and an imitable modulation, lent her voice to the narration, making them even more fascinating. The stories were received very well.

The cover page of the second edition of Kumkuma rekhalu holds mirror to the ripeness the writer had achieved both as a writer and as a person.

Saraladevi started writing fiction in 1955 and wrote mostly in the sixties and seventies. In 1977, her second anthology of short stories was published. In 1979, her short novel Komma, bomma [A Woman, A Doll] was published in the monthly Yuva. Later, she published two novels—komma, bomma and an unpublished short novel Chiguru [Tender shoot] written in 2004 as one book. She also published Telugu samethalu, saanghika chitrana [Telugu proverbs, a portrayal of society] a critical study in 1986. Her poetry has been published in Telugu Swatantra and other magazines. She also collaborated with six female writers on two serial novels, Shanmukhapriya and Saptapadi.

The anthology Kumkuma rekhalu, includes eight stories and a preface by Gora Sastry, editor of Telugu swatantra. The second anthology Saraladevi kathalu contains ten stories.

In the story “Kumkuma rekhalu”, the life of a young woman named Hemalatha is illustrated as it develops from innocence and straightforwardness to acquiring worldly wisdom, understanding ways of the world and living without hurting herself or others in the process. The narration is realistic and facetious.

Hemalatha, who had grown up watching the financial circumstances in her natal home and the way they handled the funds, came to believe that after she had her own home and family she would be prudent with their money and would save. She believes that, if they save, they would not have to take out loans; she has been waiting for that day.  She is happy when her husband keeps a little pocket money and gives the rest of his salary to her and tells her to manage the household. Soon enough she realizes that saving in low-income families meant only managing without taking out a loan and stays focused on that. With her straightforward attitude she gets into troubles, and later learns that worldly wisdom is necessary to mingle with others, and to adopt the philosophy of avoiding hurting others or getting herself hurt. Finally, she gets her husband say, “you’re okay”.

Hemalatha was interested in taking the B.A. exam by private study. She had the habit of reading books. She was also used to keeping her books safe. Parthasarathi is the kind of husband who understands her mode of thinking. Therefore, she has no gender-related issues.

Almost all of the eighteen stories in the two anthologies by Saraladevi are woven around women’s lives, especially the middle and lower class women. Saraladevi began with the themes of thriftiness and living streetwise in her early stories. In her later stories, she puts to discussion some serious issues such as women’s sexuality, marital relationships, and some pleasures in life both men and women are losing because of the special qualifications and duties imposed by society.

Saraladevi started writing at a time when higher education for women just started. It was the time when the middle class families still believed that seeking jobs by women was dishonorable for the families; the time when girls barely eighteen were married because marriage was the only goal for women. This situation was not prevalent in all classes though. Among the wealthy families and the families inspired by various reform movements, interest in women’s education was shaping up. We can see this interest in the story Saraswatulanu cheyyabote” [While trying to make them goddesses of learning] by Saraladevi.

A young man with progressive views attempts to make his younger sister a doctor or marry her to a doctor. The younger sister disappoints him and chooses to marry a man with an ordinary job. The brother hopes to send at least her daughter to school but that girl also follows the same route as her mother. The story kuuthullu [Daughters] depicts the financial burdens the middle class families have to bear for daughters’ deliveries and highlights the need for daughters to act responsibly.

In “tirigina malupu” [Turning around], the author emphasizes the importance of space between husband and wife, regardless how close the two persons may be. Her description of the little jealousies amidst the familial affections among the family members is depicted realistically.

We see a clear-cut progress in the stories from the first anthology to the second anthology. In the later stories, we see distinct clarity in the author’s views on life and the relationships between men and women.

We see Saraladevi’s gender-related understanding not only in the ten stories included in the second anthology Saraladevi kathalu (1977) but also in the stories published in Bhumika and in Nurella panta. The stories, “oka inti katha, “vaadi kommulu”, “bhinnatvamlo ekatvam”, “pechi”, “marri needalo”, reflect Saraladevi’s philosophy of life  and perception of the world.

In the story “oka inti katha” the mother, who lives by the traditional shatkarmayukta principles and manages the household, tells her daughter that that is the dharma for a woman. The daughter is surprised; she asks, “Is one person such a burden to another, mother?” meaning her mother may have carried the weight of those shatkarma tenets but she cannot. This story helps us understand the mode of changes and the mentality of questioning which started developing in young women during that period. In “stri”, the parents, because of poverty, arrange Santha’s marriage with Govindu who is deaf and uneducated. Her relatives give her signals suggesting she should satisfy her physical desires and even ask her directly to give herself in to them. Santha understands her situation, tells them that deafness does not come in her way to live with her husband, sets up a tailoring shop by way of supplemental income for her husband’s bicycle shop, bears two children and raises them well. However, when her son marries a girl from a rich family and leaves home, she is hurt as if he has died. Santha is a woman who abides by the decision her adults had made for her future, accepts their decision silently, and makes her place where she ended up livable.

Vaadi kommulu” holds mirror for Saraladevi’s opinions on man-woman relationship. In the past, mothers-in-law used to quote the saying mundocchina chevula kante venakocchina kommulu vaadi, [The horns which grew later are sharper than the ears which came first]. This refers to a touch of jealousy the the mother suffers from when a son shows affection for his wife. The young man in this story explains the logic and says, “Yes, that is true. They are sharper.”  He says, “Probably only in India we have this question—who is more important in a man’s life—mother or wife? Several books and movies raised the question—whether husband is preferable to son in a woman’s life, and proclaimed that choosing husbands as opposed to sons is the philosophy of an ideal woman. We saw that and clapped. Following the same logic, why don’t they clap when man chooses wife to be more important in his life?” He says further, “Uncle, can you imagine a husband-wife relationship filled with friendship? I know you can’t. In it, there is no question of more or less feeling, no question of heads or tails. I wish it is like home is heaven. The horns which grow later are sharp for sure, whether you accept it or not.” He suggests that a man should make his life pleasurable by loving and respecting his life-partner, without ignoring his duty towards his parents and should set aside their overzealous wishes at the same time.

bhinnatvamlo ekatvam” is about two women who refuse to leave their husbands, even when they are being ill-treated by them. One woman is an uneducated rustic woman. The second woman has more opportunities than anybody could ever provide for her. Yet she would not divorce her husband. The ending lines Saraladevi gives for this story are: If women who provoke their wicked husbands, can we say they are wicked too? What do they accomplish by this kind of decision? It feels like a terrible truth is obvious, only vaguely though. If that is true, where are they heading?

In the same story, her uncle tells to the second woman, “Maybe the world would not appreciate when a woman divorces and remarries but history appreciates it. Is it not better to burn up as a splinter in a healthy fight rather than burning vainly?”

In “pechi”, the father is unable to pay dowry. He learns that his daughter and a young man Harikishan are friends. Father, being unable to ask Harikishan to marry his daughter, spreads rumors about them and manages to perform their wedding on the sly. The son-in-law learns about this ploy and prohibits his wife from visiting her natal home ever again. The point is women have no right to make any decisions. The persons who have made decisions and played with the daughter/wife’s life are both men. “marri chettu” depicts the story of the only son/younger brother who feels suffocated by the affection poured on him by his mother and older sisters. He comes to realize that as long as he is stuck in their possessiveness in the name of excessive love, he has no shot at a real happy life with his wife and applies for transfer at his workplace.

Two novelettes or long stories of Saraladevi also depict the turmoil in two women’s lives. Both the women in both the novelettes belong to lower middle class.

In “chiguru”, Vimala, due to their poor circumstances, is married to a much older man, Ramapathi. He has been married twice before and father of five. Even at the time of pelli chupulu [initial meeting for arranging the wedding], he has made clear that he was marrying only for the sake of children. To that end, he leaves the five children to her lot and washes his hands off of them. He does not even look at her. Ramapathi has a peculiar temperament. He never tells directly what he wants to say but creates a huge scene. The others in the home just have to understand his mind and behave accordingly. His eldest son Hari, who is about Vimala’s age, is the only one who understands her. He is Ramapathi’s first wife’s son. The other children were born to his second wife. The second wife had put up with all his trashy occupations and managed the household effectively. Vimala’s mother, Ramanamma, learns that Vimala has turned into a cook and nanny for the children. She also believes that unfulfilled physical desires in a woman are a huge flaw and that Vimala has been deceived; she dies brokenhearted, dwelling on her daughter’s fate. Ramanamma was a child widow. A Young man named Ranga Rao sympathized with her situation. Ramanamma was attracted to him. With the help of friends, they got married in another town. Ramanamma believed (author believed) that the physical needs are not different for women from men and the nature exercises the same kind of sway on both but the tradition has tightened the harness only on women. For that reason, she tormented over the fact that they (she and the other adults in the family) had done injustice to Vimala. Ramapathi’s son Hari guesses his father’s intent correctly. His father needs a woman physically but does not know how to get it. He does not even know how to treat his wife properly. He is incapable of reaching out to her directly, befriending her gently, enticing her sweetly, and capturing her attention happily. Society has killed that skill in men. It has killed that skill in men by according the rights to them on a woman in the name of marriage, providing several venues, and by strapping woman in the name of pativratyam [ritualistic devotion to husband]. The author states in the words of Hari how the rights acquired through patriarchal system distanced men from the feelings natural to human beings.

In the novelette, Komma bomma¸ father arranges Manga’s wedding while she is still in school. The husband runs away on the wedding night. Mother-in-law blames Manga for the incident. Manga, without understanding what “first night” meant or why her husband ran away, takes the accusations quietly. Her mother agonizes over the injustice done to her daughter and dies. Father is ruined financially. Manga, with the help of a friend’s mother Kamalamma, finishes school, becomes a school teacher. She also shoulders the responsibility of raising her sister’s children after sister’s death. Eventually, she decides to marry Ananda Rao, co-teacher in the same school. In that inopportune moment, a stupid young man shows up with his grandmother and claims he is her husband that ran away previously. The neighbors band together and pass judgments on her. They preach women’s dharma to her and suggest she should take him back. They stress the need of man’s support for a woman. Nobody really knows whether that man is real or fake. Earlier, her sister’s husband tried to assault her and when she refused, threatened her, “Watch what I can do to you.” Manga is tormented with the thoughts, “Who gave these people the right to come on to my porch and pass judgments on my life? My life is slipping away through my fingers constantly and ending up in someone else’s hands. I have to live on the goodwill of how many people?” At the end, Manga breathes freely after the two persons (the stranger and his grandmother) absconded secretively.

Saraladevi tells how much turmoil the institution of marriage is creating in women’s lives, and how even the educated women with earning power also are entangled in this system. The male characters—Hari in chiguru, Ananda Rao, Gopi, and Ranga Rao in komma, bomma are men with conscience. Ramanamma, Kamalamma, and Rama are astute women.                    

Saraladevi, who understood women’s internal struggles, slowed her writing activity in the seventies. Had she continued, the gender awareness in women which developed in the eighties might have helped her to write more good stories. As Mrunalini states in her preface to the novelettes of Saraladevi, “Saraladevi is a writer who should be writing even more.”

Saraladevi is older sister of Seela Subhadradevi (poet) and a friend of Dr. Sridevi (fiction writer).

Saraladevi was born in 1937 and died in 2007.

(End)

(The original article in Telugu has been published in Bhumika.org, October 2010.)

(Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, March 2011.)