Category Archives: Analytical articles

Narayanarao by Adivi Bapiraju – a recollection by S. Narayanaswamy

This is neither a literary criticism nor a learned analysis of this classic novel. It is a reader’s fond recollection of his life-long association with this wonderful work of fiction. It is a personal attempt to define my fascination with the story and attachment to the eponymous protagonist.

The beginning

I think I came across this novel for the first time when I was 8 years old. I found it in one of the bookshelves at home – it was a rather old copy – the front cover and a few pages were missing. However, the name of the novel was printed on each page – Narayanarao. It had a nice ring to it. It was very close to my own name of which I was very fond and proud. I read a few pages. I quickly noticed that all his friends addressed him as Narayana – just what my friends and family called me. I felt instantly closer to him. A couple of pages into it, there was a full description of Narayanarao – tall, handsome, strong, with long thick jet-black hair, and very popular among friends – just what I wanted to be! I was hooked.


I don’t think I’ve read the whole novel at that time. The book was there at home. It was not going anywhere. I had more urgent things to do, yet I kept going back to it. Like all boys of that age, tales of magic and adventure held more appeal for me than fiction with social themes. (This is true even now – we bought two copies of each Harry Potter novel; one for my daughter and one for me). However, this novel continued to fascinate me – it was a fairy tale in its own way. It took me to a magical time and place, populated by noble, beautiful, artistic, eccentric and utterly fascinating characters. I fell in love with the book. Once my mother caught me with the book and scolded me – what was I doing, meddling with adult’s books? But, when she saw that it was Narayanarao, she thought it was okay and left me to my reading. I continued to read it and re-read it all the time I was growing up. And I still read a few pages occasionally – at least once a month – especially if I am feeling down. I have two copies at my home. In case somebody wants to borrow, I’d still have one for myself.

The story and the structure

The basic story is not very complicated. Narayanarao is the younger son of a large rich land-owner Brahmin family from Konaseema region of Andhra Pradesh. He has been studying law in Chennai. The Zamindar of Visvalapuram notices him on a railway platform and decides that he is the most suitable groom for his younger daughter, Sharada. The marriage takes place. Sharada’s mother does not like this match with a commoner family and tries her best to poison Sharada’s mind against Narayanarao. However, Narayanarao bears this tragedy with forbearance believing that Sharada would one day love him. Sharada comes of age and goes to live with her husband in Chennai as he sets up his law practice. Over a couple of years, Sharada slowly comes to realize Narayanarao’s multi-faceted greatness and begins to love him. The novel concludes with their union in an utterly cute and romantic scene.

That does not mean that the novel is simple. There is a multitude of characters. There are plots and sub plots. There are histories of families, regions and dynasties. There are heated debates about politics. There are passionate discussions about literature, music and art. Narayanarao’s younger brother-in-law goes off to America to pursue scientific studies – so we follow him now and then. One of Narayanarao’s friends goes off on a free love adventure – we follow him too. There is the family of four beautiful sisters – we keep checking on what’s going on with them. We take a peek into the lives of farm laborers and we look in on the unbridled debauchery of a feudal young lord. We make the acquaintance of the Anglo-Indian community, and we get to know the women folk of Narayana’s household. The final product is rich in texture, colorful in characterization and pulsing with life.

With all the sub plots and so many characters, the author establishes Narayanarao in the center of reader’s attention very firmly right from the beginning. Narayanarao’s attractive physique and his personal magnetism (Bapiraju frequently compares him to the legendary hero Arjuna) are described in loving detail – almost as lovingly as the ancient poet Valmiki describes his hero, Rama. Narayanarao excels in everything he tries – he is first in studies, he is a competent athlete in several sports, good at playing the violin in Carnatic style (This is how he first impresses the heroine), and he is an accomplished poet and painter too. He is a staunch Gandhian with passionate nationalistic fervor – wears only khadi clothes, yet he is also cool headed and logical.

Nori Narasimha Sastry’s views on History and Historical Novel

Nori Narasimha Sastry discussed history and historical fiction at length n a couple of essays.

He put forth enormous amount of information in support of his theory that our way of studying our history if faulty. In the process he also defines the correlation between history and historical novel.

In the essay, swatantra bharatamulo charitra rachana (Writing History in independent India), he shows how our mode of thinking had been molded by the methods established by famous western historians such as Gibbon, Carlyle, the lord Prudhoe and Wells. Their works on history are valued as literature; they have shown us that historians are poets in essence.

However, we also need to remember that the British rulers introduced Macaulay Report in schools only to serve their purpose, which is to turn our people into tools for prolonging their rule in our country.
That led to us relying on English books to study our history to a point that we would not read our Telugu and Sanskrit texts unless they are given in English. This craze for English is extended to all the other fields as well—religion, society, politics, literature, science and even into geography.

Currently, the history of India is broken into three periods—the Hindu period, the Mohammedan period and the British period.

Narasihma Sastry goes to elaborate on the problems with this division as follows:

Originally, the Aryans came from outside, assailed the Dravidians and the Dasyulu and promulgated their religion in our country vigorously. Their cultural power however waned due to the hot climate in our country. Internal struggles eroded and some of them turned traitors. After the Aryans, the Mohammedan rulers came in multitudes and took over. They attacked the feeble Hindus. Later, they succumbed to mundane pleasures and lost their power. When the British came, the country was in shambles. They could easily drive away the Mohammedans and the other white rulers and take over the country. This is the gist of the division of the historical periods.

There is a perception that heat weakens individuals. This is not a proven fact though. Possibly others who are accustomed to cold climate may suffer from the heat in our country and vice versa. However this should not be an argument to let ourselves be slaves to the foreigners. Heat is a geographical issue and irrelevant to one’s strength or weakness. This is a pious land and the place for such sacred activities as bathing three times a day and offering prayers to the Sun god (sandyavandanam).

Narasimha Sastry continues to observe that since creation of the universe, 195 crores 85 lakhs and 550 years have passed. In this long span of the history of mankind, the British ruled our country for 190 years, the Moghuls for 181 years, the Lodis for 75 years, Sayyads for 37 years, Tughlaks for 94 years, and Khiljis 30 years.

Among the Indians, the Gupta period runs for 500 years and that is considered golden age. We read that the Satavahanas ruled for 464 years and no other reign had sway for a period that long. And the Kushans seemed to have ruled for 230 years, the Mauryans for 160 years, and the Nandas for 74 years. Also the Bimbisara and others ruled for over 200 years.

Thus, it is evident that the current history as we study in our books gives more importance to the time we had been under foreign rule. We should rewrite our history books expanding the times we had been free and proud, and delimit the period we had been subjected to slavery.

No doubt the British have ruled our country for about 200 years. There were some local rulers called Zamindaris but they existed only with the blessings from the British. Mohammedans stayed mostly in the north. Attempts of Tuglak and Aurangazeb to take over the southern part of India failed. At the time, the Kakateeya kings in the south were powerful. After that Vijayanagara kings prevailed in the south for one hundred years more. Thus, the label for these periods should be Kakatiya period, Vijayanagara period and so on. In the 18th century, the Maharashtra rulers were strong all the way from the southern end, the Sethu, to Himachal. Indian culture has flourished in the north for sometime and later the south enjoyed superiority. There were times when the Chola, Chalukya and Pallava kingdoms and Kancheepuram were at the peak. There is no reason to accept the labels given foreign rulers who ruled only the northern part of the country.

Other facts to note are: During 550-330 B.C., Persian kings ruled Punjab and Gandharam (current Nepal?). Later Greeks ruled over the same land for 150 years (200-20 B.C.). Kushans prevailed for sometime. There is also a misconception that all Mohammedans are the same. In reality, some of them were Shiites and others Sunnis. In the north, Persian culture was prominent while the Absenian culture prevailed in the south. The difference between these two is no less than the difference between the Greeks, Patheons, Sakuns, and Kushans. That being the case, it is unfair to lump them all together as one race.

Against this background, Narasimha Sastry suggests labels such as the Turkish threat, the Moghal menace, the Sunny hazzard, Shiaite turmoil, and the British tempest for periods our history. Also there are only two races—Aryans and non-Aryans, and one is productive and the other destructive, like any other living organism in the world.

It is important to note that the Aryans regard the land as their motherland and fatherland. For them, the land gives them birth, entertains them, and comforts them. It is karmabhumi [place of action], tapobhumi [place of contemplation], and punyabhumi [pious land]. For them, the entire India is one country and the Vedas and the Vedangas are the paradigms to live by. Sanskrit is the language of the polite society. The non-Aryans on the other hand are engrossed in self-promotion, their physical image, and abandonment.

The detailed discussions of dates for a given king are not important. The Puranas have recorded the history of the kings who reinstated the Aryan dharma following political and social turmoil. They should be the paradigms for us but not the texts written by foreigners such as the Greek travelers in Alexander’s time, Megasthanese during Chandragupta’s rule, the Chinese traveler Huen Tsang, and so on. We should read our history based on the data available in our texts produced by our poets. The texts by foreigners may be used as secondary texts. Historians should sift the falsehood propagated by foreign historians.

Let’s not forget that regardless of their affinity to the kings of their times, Valmiki and Vyasa maintained their stance as poets in their own status quo.

By the time Vyasa wrote Maha Bharata, 193 crores, 83 lakhs of years passed. He was fair in depicting the histories of the two dynasties, including the violations of Dharma by the Pandavas. The pundits who question Maha Bharata’s integrity need to separate the later interpolations and study the original carefully.

The historians should help us to revive the spirit of unity, nationalism. Valmiki and Veda Vyasa should be viewed as the archetypes, the protectors of dharma; they are historians and poets in true spirit.

Historical novel

The term “historical” implies narration of truth without fluff. On the other hand, novel requires invention specifically.

A novel may not contain even one page of authentic history in a 304 page book. Yet it may provide details about the political atmosphere, social customs, manners, travel amenities, and other facilities of its time without contradicting historical facts.

A novelist takes bits of history, “dry as dust” in Carlyle’s words, brings them together, adds other parts and grows into a big tree, sprays heavenly nectar on it and brings it to fruition.

Westerners store dead bodies in graveyards. They save important and unimportant incidents alike. The historians cull through these bits of data and elaborate on the past history. Because of this custom to save all the items, the historians are able to tell the stories of their people—poets, sculptors, lyricists, kings, ministers, their kept women, businessmen, priests, actors and actresses, soldiers, and beautiful women. The books, diaries, magazines, letters, inscriptions, and memorials carved on the graves—all these are available to their writers. However, despite the availability of all this information, the established theories are getting thrown out by new revelations. While interpretation of history keeps changing, great novels are being produced in the west.

We do not have the amenities to write historical fiction or biographical fiction the same way the westerners do. Nevertheless, we have produced great novels such as Bhagavan Parasuramudu by K. M. Munshi and Simha Senapathi by Rahul Sankrutyayan. The first one attempted to recreate the Vedic and the Pauranic works from the perspective of national spirit. The second one took the Vedic literature with Buddhist tradition as supreme ideal, and attempted to promote the current communist ideology. Both the works as great examples of our historical fiction.

In a country’s or even world’s history, what has happened is important. The dates and the names of individuals are like the body. The incidents are the life force behind these works. Beyond these two elements, there is also the Atman which is the dominant force in our lives. A historian must not forget the soul. From this perspective, we need to examine whether our historians have understood the supreme truth about our nation as much as the authors of our puranas.

Numerous plots and subplots embedded in the Ramayana and Maha Bharata appear to have happened actually. They might not have happened in that particular time and in that particular place but they seemed to carry certain authenticity about them. And they contain lessons for us. To collect such stories and record them is the primary responsibility of our historians.

The authors of our Puranas had a great sense of the timelessness of history and what must be recorded. We fail to appreciate their philosophy only because of our self-indulgence and our ignorance.

Greek historian Herodotus had written several fantasy stories in the name of history and we regard him as the king among historians. The Chinese travelers wrote history, depicting their own importance and we have accepted them as standard the same way as the histories written by Christians. The stories in their books are fabricated much the same way as the stories in our puranas. It is the same with personal letters, diaries and other writings.

The genre of novel may have been born in Italy or France but there is no clear-cut definition yet. It has been taking various forms in different times and different places, which is its distinctive nature.

A novel could be rendered in the form a play, story, biography, letters, diaries or a combination of several forms. It can be short like a little pond or like a great sea, a combination of several features.

We may create suitable platform and call works like Dasakumara charitra, Simhasana dwatrimsati, Bhoja charitra, pancatantra, Hitopadesa, neeti chadrika novels. Our critics called kalaa purnodayam a novel, although it is written in the form of poetry.

That being the case, it is a mistake to consider only the form set by westerners as the only standard form for a novel. We may even stay as far away as possible from the western mode of thinking and create much better novels.

Narasimha Sastry also points out that writing novel is a profession for westerners. And marketing it requires novelty constantly. In his opinion, they are short-lived for that reason. On the other hand, we consider novel as a literary genre, and thus maintain its quality.

Novelist has a wide range of opportunities. A novel is not a short story and in that, there is no holding back. It is not a miniature painting; it does not have to flow in a monotonous manner as in a big story. Unlike a play, the novel does not rely on theaters, the vagaries of actors and actresses, and insensitive audience.

However, as in a drama, the writer may take the uniqueness of dialogues and incidents—the intrinsic qualities of a play, and incorporate poetic merit and musical quality in his novel. He may include his entire knowledge in it. A novel has the ability to reflect numerous varieties of literary genre in numerous ways. Novel is the supreme genre among the entire literary genre so far we have gotten. The proverb, naatakantam sahityam may be rewritten as navaalanatham sahityam.

The novel that contains history with the traits noted above may be called historical novel. When we study novel from that perspective, we find no contradiction between the noun “novel” and the adjective “historical”. On the other hand, the elite may even find a close affinity between the two terms.

It is common knowledge among intellectuals that it is hard to evaluate contemporary works, regardless how capable we are and how unbiased we are.

Unless we examine them from a distance, we cannot recognize their authentic value; the incidents do not rise to the level appropriate for plots of kavyas. This is the reason many poets in all countries at all times choose the stories related to their heroes and events from the past. That does not mean writers should not write about contemporary occurrences.

Critics sometimes comment that authors of historical fiction, being unable to face the modern day society and issues, choose incidents or people from the past and write about them. Their ignorance regarding the characteristics of kavya is evident in this kind of comments.

A novel may achieve the status of kavya even when it does not depict contemporary life? And that is so even when it does not aim to solve the current society’s problems. For instance, Tolstoy wrote War and Peace based on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. Even as our rishis would, Tolstoy did not rely only on the history written by historians but conducted intense search for historical facts and thus was able to produce a unique work. Same thing can be said of Faust by Goethe, Paradise Lost by Milton, and so on.

Thus it is evident that poet, even when writing about the current events, can produce a high quality work only when he has the ability to look back in to the past. In support of this argument, He quotes an example from his own experience after China attacked India:

He says, “I was furious. I wanted to take over the entire nation of China in retaliation. I was irate that our government pledged to fight for the land up to McMohan line only. What about our ‌Manasa sarovaram, Kailasam that is the abode of Lord Siva, and the land that conjoined the sites where the two rivers Brahmaputra and Sindhu originated? I was so irate yet not a single poem came out of my mouth. So many people have written kavyas and sang songs. None of them appealed to me, when I try to read them as kavyas.

Secondly, dragon China’s national symbol. I searched hard for an quivalent term for dragon in Sanskrit. “Sarabham” or “Sarabhasaluvu” could be but did not sound right. In Rg veda, “ahi” had been mentioned. Some scholars used dragon for Ahi in their translation of Vedas into English. I remembered the verse in the vedas which described Indra at the time he killed Vritrasura. To my knowledge, nobody else thought of it yet even I could not view it in the form of a kavya. My heart has been sullied with my hatred for the Chinese. It will not reach the kavya level unless and until the hatred in my heart has been washed up.

If we think on these lines, the scholars who study the philosophy of kavyas may note that among all the genres of kavyas, the novel and among all varieties of novels the historical fiction is the highest.

Basically the Maha Bharata has been identified as history (ithihasa) and Ramayana as a purana (mythology). From the standpoint of tradition, both the works had been written by the writers who had lived in those times. Yet they became great works for the following reasons. Valmiki was a tapasvi (introspect). He was capable of distancing himself from contemporary life and observing it with uncontaminated eyes. Similarly, Vyasa was a rishi who could stay detached despite his kinship with all the characters in the story. He could stay in his hermitage quietly, contemplate and reflect on the story in his heart.

Some scholars accept that these two authors simply collected several stories told by several individuals and had them recorded by a few or several other individuals. There is no doubt that the incidents in these stories had been based on actual occurrences.

As is evident, the social, political, and dharma-related systems, the war strategies, philosophic reflections are narrated in these works focusing identifying the ultimate truth. No other work has that much influence on Indian culture. Despite the fact that these two works are based on Vedas, they have exerted more influence on our culture than the Vedas themselves. Without these two classic works, it is hard to imagine how far our culture could have deteriorated. This is deductible from the history of other countries where there is no such impact.

However, the Ramayana text and most of the Maha Bharata text are rendered in the form of poetry. It is not filled with difficult Sanskrit phraseology but written in a form that is close to modern prose. We can call them historical kavyas or historical novels written in the form of poetry. The difference is only in terminology but not in essence.

One of them is a great river flowing with zest like the River Ganges. The second one is the milky ocean encompassing several great rivers. Today’s historical novelist is a follower of those great authors, Valmiki and Vyasa.

They are not performers of death rituals who collect pieces of history. They are the visionaries who have attempted to identify the historical truths.

Modern day historians should search their souls and find to what extent they have understood these tenets and adapted them.


Published on, June 2011.

(Translations of excerpts from two articles by Nori Narasimha Sastry. I am grateful to the writer and publishers of the volume Nori Narasimha Sastry. V. 5 Sahitya vyasaalu.

– (Nidadavolu Malathi. Originally published on May 30, 2011.)


In the nineteen sixties, women writers dominated the field of fiction in Andhra Pradesh. Visalakshi is one of those writers, who have captured large readership because of their ability to tell stories with charismatic elegance.

Historically, as a part of social reform movement and the country’s reorganization plans, women were encouraged to learn to read and write. And the women made the best of it by addressing contemporary social issues in their stories. The impact of western civilization on our values, women’s education, newly developed problems facing the educated women, their transformed status within the families and society, and the newly arisen challenges in arranged marriages—figured into the literature created by women writers at the time. Weekly and monthly magazines proliferated and the editors encouraged women writers with great enthusiasm. In that environment, a few women made their mark in literature, rightfully, I might add. Dwivedula Visalakshi is one of them.

Normally, there are two ways for writers express their views in their writings. Some writers present the issues as manifested in real life. Their goal is to highlight the inherent problems in society, which everybody knows yet ignores knowingly or unknowingly. They attempt to highlight the issues in order to create an awareness in the public. There are other writers, who identify the problem and position it in the environment of a hopeful future. They may not offer solutions yet present a positive vision nonetheless. Visalakshi belongs in the latter category. Her stories and novels leave the reader with a satisfaction that he has understood something about our society or human nature.

Dwivedula Visalakshi started writing short stories probably in the late forties. Her first novel, vaikuntapaali, won first prize in an annual competition held by a prominent weekly magazine, Andhra Prabha. It was serialized in the same magazine in 1963 and published as a book in 1965.

The core theme in the novel is adoption. In general, the word adoption carries a vague sense of suspicion. If the child is raised by a family without going through the ritual of adoption, it may create latter. Additionally, if the mother gives birth to another child after the first child is brought home, matters precipitate. I discussed this novel previously. (Click here for the full text.). It would suffice to say the novel illustrates the ensuing problems when a child is not legally adopted and the manner in which some people rationalize their actions.

In her second novel, maarina viluvalu[1] [Transformed values], Visalakshi delineates the status of educated women in our society in the face of changing values both at home and in society.

Janaki is the eldest of five children—three boys and two girls. The novel opens with the second daughter Santha announcing that she passed the Intermediate exam. Mother is not happy however; she is sad since her third son, Sambu, failed the same exam. In her opinion, education for women is not important. Ironically, there is one educated woman in the family and they are enjoying the benefits from her education. Yet, mother does not see it that way. In our society, while the social reformers, both male and female, scream for education for women, there are also some who remain deep rooted in tradition.

A second angle to this theme is the use of women’s property called stridhanam by her family. In the old days, it was the money given to a woman as gift at the time of her wedding, and meant exclusively for her use when a crisis strikes in her life. Using that money by other family members is considered deplorable. In modern times however, this opinion has changed significantly. Families now allow educated women to go out and earn much the same way a man does. However, son continues to command higher status regardless of woman’s earning power. All these variations in the relationship of woman and wealth are built into this novel, providing the readers with a piece of history in the making.

In the next chapter, the pivotal incident, which led Janaki to take up a job, is explained. Previously, her marriage had been arranged and aborted in the middle of the ceremony due to her father’s failure to come up with more money to give to the groom. Since it happened after tying the tali around her neck was over, she was technically a “married woman.” Later at night, Janaki went to the railway station to persuade the groom to return to the wedding arena but to no avail. Eventually, she obtained a job in an orphanage and started supporting the family both economically and emotionally.

The eldest son, Surya Rao, is spineless and constantly worried about public opinion. He does not have the guts to encourage his brother, Prakasam, in his business venture, fearing it might hurt their social status. He cannot accept that his youngest brother, Sambu, is not up to the demands of education. He does not know how to handle the situation. He cannot allow his sister, Santha, into the house after she ran away, and returned home, deceived.

Janaki is the female hero in the novel. She takes on the responsibilities, which should have been Surya Rao’s. She understands Prakasam’s abilities to go into business, Sambu’s inadequacies to grow as an individual, and Santha’s daring spirit.

At the end, the man, who had left Janaki on the wedding day, returns, asks her to go back to him and take care of him and the children of his second wife, now deceased. Janaki tells him that taking care of the children at the orphanage is more satisfying to her than going back to him.

A striking element in this novel is the author’s portrayal of women as strong characters. They are confident and determined to achieve their goals. In contrast, men are portrayed as weak and ineffectual. Prakasam, the second brother, is portrayed as successful but not without plenty of support from Janaki, and his sister-in-law, Kanakam.

Second daughter Santha may have made wrong choices in life yet she is shown as having the courage to pursue what she thought was right for her. In that, she is not the typical naïve young girl, commonly known in our society.

There are two incidents in this novel that need scrutiny. In the first chapter, Janaki goes to the railway station alone in the middle of the night. Recently, a young woman asked me, “Would such act on the part of a woman not be considered inappropriate in the sixties?” From what I know, the readers of the sixties did not raise this question. Secondly, to answer this question, we need to consider the social conditions of the times.

As I mentioned at the outset, the society was swarming with social reformers and political activists who encouraged women not only to learn to read and write but also to participate in the movement. In fact, the active participation by women in all the social and political movements had started even before we achieved independence. Thus, while majority of the women were still rooted in tradition, there were also women, who showed independent spirit. And several writers of the sixties depicted those women in their fiction.

Janaki’s independent spirit and progressive views have been established with the incident at the railway station. Possibly, the elite created strong-willed female characters in fiction by way of providing comfort to the feeble women in our society, even to provoke them into action.

The second incident in this story is the husband’s reappearance. Janaki refuses to go back to him, which again is in step with her character. In those times, this also could be viewed as improbable yet the readers did not raise this question in the sixties.

Last August, I met with the author. She told me of another incident, which possibly happened much later. Visalakshi said that a prominent movie director, C. S. Rao, approached her for permission to make the novel into a movie. He was interested in making the movie but asked her to change the ending. Per his suggestion, Janaki should ask for her husband’s forgiveness and go back to him.

Visalakshi refused to make the change and the director the movie idea. Here I see the traditional mode of thinking in the director and the author’s progressive views in her refusal to change the ending. Strangely, the director had no objection to Janaki going to the railway station alone in the middle of the night.


In the novel, grahanam vidichindi [The Eclipse Ended], written in 1967, the author addresses two issues—firstly, a young woman, Bharati’s psychological trauma after her husband’s sudden and untimely death, and secondly, the ensuing complications brought by the money she had acquired after his death. All her family members, on her side and the husband’s side, offer to help her and protect her money through investments in the products of their choice. Bharati starts suspecting their ulterior motives. While struggling with her emotions, she gets involved with her husband’s best friend and, in course of time, finds out that he also is interested in putting her money to work according to his own preferences. Disgusted, she decides to go to Hrushikesh, where she finds Babaji consoling at first, and later as a man with suggestions to invest her money. Once again, she feels betrayed and packs to leave. Babaji gives her a note on the eve of her departure, which explains the real problem in her mode of thinking. While living in the constant fear of being cheated by everybody, she is doing the same, which is clinging to her money. She realizes that she should consider the alternative possibility—that all the people around her might be genuinely interested in her welfare as well as her money; genuine affection and their interest in her money need not be mutually exclusive.

In her preface to this novel, author made it clear that the argument for widow remarriage in this novel should not be construed as an argument that all widows must remarry necessarily. In her opinion, one may remarry if that contributes toward one’s personal growth and only if that is her choice. In other words, it should be the choice of an individual, and not a rule to be honored by all widows categorically.

In Visalakshi’s short stories, we find an unusual flair in her choice of themes and her narrative technique. She chooses the language and the milieu appropriate for her narration.

Two stories, ittadi binde [brass pot] and teerani korika [unfulfilled wish] illustrate two different angles in the psychology of the rich. In the first story, a wealthy woman goes shopping in her car, just to kill time, and buys a six thousand rupee necklace. On her way home, the car breaks down and she decides to take the bus “for fun.” In the bus, fellow travelers are fascinated by a brass pot, a working class woman bought for thirty rupees. The rich woman is surprised by their fascination of the pot. Eventually, she learns that the young woman is her servant’s wife. Almost impulsively, she invites the couple to live in her outhouse. The story revolves around various emotions the rich woman goes through while watching the couple express their love for each other. The crux of the problem is her inability to sustain her generosity. It is an interesting twist.

In the second story, “teerani korika”, we find a different angle, once again, in the generosity of the rich. The protagonist, Rangaraya Bahaddur is a wealthy zamindar, whose generosity knows no bounds. He never says no to anyone who comes to him with an appeal. A new gentleman, by the name Potti Pantulu, arrives in town. Potti Pantulu needs help but does not go to the zamindar. Zamindar waits since he does not extend his help unless the person comes to him. People around him notice that the zamindar is troubled about something but do not know what it is. While zamindar is waiting for Potti Pantulu to appear at his door, Pantulu wins a huge sum in a lottery. Thus the zamindar’s wish is never fulfilled.

In both the stories, the author did a good job in depicting the psyche of the haves. In both the case, the issues appear to be small for most of us yet of consequence to those who would have to face them.


Normally, a lazy person, who squanders away his life, does not admit he is squandering away his life. In the story, kadalika [The Change], narrated in first person, the protagonist has no problem admitting that he is wasting his life like a branded bull. In Andhra Pradesh, a branded bull carries a ritualistic significance. In some families, as a part of death ritual, a bull is branded and let go on the streets to roam freely. Traditionally, people are not supposed to stop the bull in any manner for any reason.

The young man aware of the resemblance between his conduct and that of the branded bull on the street yet has no will to change his ways. He whiles away his time at the bus stops watching beautiful girls getting in and out of buses. One day, he sees an old man in stinky, tattered clothes getting off the bus. Being old and clumsy, the man reels off the step and falls on the ground. Another bus hurries through the street, running over the old man. The young man notices a medicine bottle and a prescription slip on the ground. He debates for a while in his mind and decides to go out of his way and pick up the two items. He learns from the prescription slip that a girl named Malli is waiting in some hospital for that medicine. He goes to the hospital only to find that Malli is a little girl and she died the night before because the medicine was not delivered in time. The doctor tells the young man that the body will be thrown into the municipal cart if he does not take it. The young man, despite his carefree lifestyle, is moved (the change) for some unknown reason. He takes the girl’s body to the outskirts of the town, buries it and returns home.

At home, his older brother yells at him for returning home late and slaps him. For the first time in his life, his older brother punished him. He notices the change in his brother’s demeanor and is surprised. Both his brother and sister-in-law never punished him, not even so much as raise their voices as long as he acted like a wild, branded bull. Now, for the first time in his life, he acted like a human being, did a good deed and in return, was slapped. The older brother did not know of the young man’s humanitarian act yet instinctively, he acted as if he had recognized the human element in him at that point in his life.

Annayya lifted his hand and slapped me a few times. “I am being so patient but there is no use; your behavior is getting worse each day. Tell me, where you’ve been? What did you do with the money Vadina gave you for books?”

Annayya pulled all the strength in his body and beat me.

I did not reply. I was surprised. I stood there watching him.

This is the first time Annayya has ever laid a hand on me. He did not have the heart to lift a finger as long as I sported the signs of a branded bull. Probably, he was scared that I might squash him with my horns and make a mush of him. Now, the branded bull within me has moved away and I am showing the signs of a human being, he has gotten the strength and the interest to punish me.

Had he punished me like this before, I would have thrown my head indifferently and walked away. But, his chiding today got the better of me completely. With that whack, my stupor has gone completely. They would not believe me even if I tell them what happened. Annayya knows me only too well to believe my words; I would not stand a chance!

“I lost the money. I was searching for it all this while,” I said.

Annayya knew that I was lying but he did not have the strength to beat me anymore. I knew I lied to them. There was no point in telling the truth. The old man’s soul would know that it was a lie. Malli, who was lying alone in the tamarind grove, knew it was a lie. But, they are not in a position to show up here and say that it was a lie.

This is what I liked about the story. The author’s keep perception into human nature. Self-analysis in a self-centered person is not an everyday event. However, it is not completely unlikely. That is what stories do—bring out the corners in huma psyche that is ignored in everyday lives.

As long as he acted like an unfettered bull, his brother and sister-in-law treated him just the way they would a branded bull -feed him and let him roam on the streets. After he imbibed a bit of human quality—kindness, they viewed him as a human being. Implicit are two perceptions: First, one may sense the change in another person intuitively. Second is the human value, which is to acknowledge that there are consequences for one’s actions. If a person is considered a human being, the other valuses such as discipline follow. Discipline means reward for good deeds and punishment for bad behavior. In this instance, the young man came home late and for that reason must be punished. He has done a good deed but the brother is not aware of it. Maybe the young man will be rewarded after the elder brother learns of it.

On a slightly different note, I must say I ran into some glitches while translating this story. It is filled with long, meandering sentences, and, at times, too much information is packed into just a few lines. There are inconsistencies in a couple of places. For instance, the narrator says the stores were closed because it was Sunday. If it was Sunday, why did the young man go to the bus stop to watch the college girls get off the bus. Are not the colleges closed on Sundays?

This is one of the traits we see in the sixties’ stories. In the story, “Travelling in a Ladies’ compartment”, published in March 2010 on this site, the narrator switches between the first and third persons in a couple of places. When I pointed out the inconsistency to the author, Subbalakshmi, she did not mind my changing the lines to make the narrative consistent.

“The first sale” is a short short story (3 pages) woven around a single incident. In the wee small hours of dawn, a graveyard watchman is losing hope because he has not had even one sale in the entire night. Unless he receives one dead body and collects the fee, he will not be able to buy medicine for his sick child. In the last minute, he sees a man approaching him with a bundle in his hand. Much to his dismay, it is his child, for whom he was hoping to buy medicine. It is time for the next guard. The next guard comes, looks at the dead body and is elated that he has a sale even before he started his shift!

I believe this is one of the few stories where burial ground is used powerfully as background. The story should remind the native speakers of the story of Harischandra, who also is forced to insist on receiving the fee for burying his own son. The guard is aptly named, Veeri gadu, which reminds us of Veerabahu in the story of Harischandra.

Like the wealth, death has several angles and the author succeeded in highlighting those angles which are usually not noticed or noticed but ignored. Visalakshi possesses a remarkable skill in crafting her stories. Her narrative oozes the native flavor.

She has traveled Malasia, America, Britain, and Switzerland. She has working knowledge of Hindi and English.

To her credit, she has 13 novels, 4 anthologies of short stories, and an anthology of essays, Malasia: then and now. Some of her novels have been translated into Kannada.

She has reviewed about 200 books, under the pseudonym, Sumana. Her works have been subjects for several Ph.D.s and M.Phil. degrees.

Visalakshi has received the prestigious Gruhalakshmi Swarnakankanam award in 1966, Andhra Pradesh Sahitya Akademi award in 1982, and honorary D. Litt. from Potti Sreeramulu Telugu University in 1998 among several other awards.

I met her in August, 2009. She was willing to meet with me but no interviews she said. She further explained her reasons for not giving interviews. “These days, I am unable to recall the details. It would not be right on my part to give wrong information. Therefore, I decided not to give interviews”

I asked for permission to translate her stories. She said, “I can say I have no objection. However, it is not appropriate for me to do so, since I have donated all my books with full rights to Visakhapatnam public library. You should contact Bhamidipati Ramagopalam and Varahala Chetty, members of the board of trustees of the public library and obtain permission from them. I am sure they will have no objection but you should contact them.”

Accordingly, I met with Bhamidipati Ramagopalam and Varahala Chetty in the next two days. Both of them assured me it was not a problem. Mr. Varahala Chetty jotted a line on a piece of paper, which said “With the kind permission of the copyright holders, Visakhapatnam public library” and gave it to me.

After I returned home, I translated the story kadalika and mailed a copy to the author as a matter of courtesy. She wrote back to me that the story in question was not her choice for translation and that I must not publish it. Probably it was one of those instances of memory lapse. Regardless the copyright holders have given me the necessary permission, I discarded the translation.


Published on, June 2010

[1] This novel is discussed at length in my book, Telugu Women Writers: 1950-1975 (a critical study). Author, 2008. (Available at


Bhandaru AcchamambaHistory of Telugu women writers is filled with numerous gems. If we dig them up and polish all those stones buried in dirt, the present day writings would be pale by comparison. We need to rewrite the current day history with an awareness of feminist perceptions and from women’s perspective. Well-known writer, Gurujada Appa Rao, commented that “Modern day woman will rewrite history.” His comment is significant in that he is credited with being the first story writer in Telugu by famous critcs and the academy. In that sense, he is in competition with the woman who in fact was the first story writer in the entire history of Telugu fiction. I have great respect for Gurajada Appa Rao nevertheless I am going to establish authoritatively that Acchamamba was the first writer to write a modern Telugu story.

Acchamamba’s first story was dhanatrayodasi. It was published in Hindusundari monthly in 1902; it dealt with a modern theme. It was about a poor couple who had no money to light up even little lamps for Deepavali celebration, let alone buy clothes. Husband, out of desperation, thought of stealing money from his boss to buy a saree for his wife. Wife came to know about it and stopped him from committing the felony. At the end, his boss gave him the money for the celebration. The crux of the problem was husband’s attempt to steal from the store and the wife reprimanding him for his ill-advised plan. Gurajada Appa Rao’s story, diddubatu, published in 1910, also dealt with a similar theme–a cheating husband and wife’s plan to bring him to his senses. Appa Rao’s story was idealistic and humorous. Acchamamba’s story was realistic and sombre. Yet our historians shoved her away to the backstage on purpose.

In 1998, bhumika, an alternative magazine and anveshi, a research center for women’s studies, conducted a 3-day workshop on “Social Reform Movement – Women’s stories”. At the workshop, K. Lalitha spoke for the first time about this erroneous record and stated that Acchamamba was not only the first story writer but also first feminist historian.

Critics put forth two arguments for denying Acchamamba’s story the status of the first story in Telugu: They claimed that, first, Acchamamba’s story was in classical Telugu; and second, the story did not contain the elements of a short story. The truth is, Appa Rao’s story was also written originally in classical Telugu and included in the anthology, Animutyaalu, compiled by Avasarala Surya Rao. We have evidence to show that the story was rendered in collloquial Telugu much later.

The second argument that Acchamamba’s story lacked the characteristics of a short story. This question will not arise if we understand the historical background of Acchamamba’s story. The short story in the modern sense came into existence only in the 19th century. It was still in its nascent stage. We have to assess Acchamamba’s work only in that context. Telugu literary hisorians either ignored or refused to accept a woman as the first short story writer in modern times because of her gender. Our critics ignored the historical facts and they dodged the truth by giving untenable reasons.

Several of the renowned critics like Vallampati Venkatasubbayya, Peddibhotla Subbaramayya, Bhamidipati Jagannatha Rao, Singamaneni Narayana and Madhurantakam Rajaram either ignored or made only a passing mention of her. They did not have to accept Acchamamba as the first writer. Should not they be at least doing her the honor of discussing the merits and weaknesses in her stories? Is it not their outright dismissal of Acchamamba’s stories as non-modern that provoked us into thinking of male domination?

Let me discuss the gender awareness in Acchamamba’s writings and prove that she was the first short story writer and first feminist historian.

Acchamamba was born in 1874 in a small village called Penuganjiprolu in Krishna district. Her father died when she was six. She was married at the age of ten. At the time she had no education. She was living with her mother and younger brother. Her family sent younger brother to school but nobody encouraged her to go to school. Acchamamba learned Telugu and Hindi, sitting next to her brother while he was studying. She understood the value of education even at that early age and the gender discrimination. Her brother finished his master’s while she could not learn even the English alphabet. She pointed out this aspect several times in her writing.

Acchamamba wrote in her monumental work, Abala saccharitra ratnamala [History of great women]:

Statements like “women’s brain is slower than men’s, women’s brain is weaker than men’s, and that it weighs less” clearly indicate people’s bias. Instead of saying that women are environmentally dull-witted, one should admit that women became dull-witted because they were not allowed to go to school from the start. During childhood, both girls and boys are equally intelligent. Yet parents encourage boys to study scientific subjects and deprive girls of getting any education. That is the reason for women to be dull-witted. It is the male discrimination that hindered women’s advancement in the areas of education and not any other reason.

In the preface to her book, Abala saccharitra ratnamala, she stated two purposes for writing her book:

  1. People often comment that women are weak, dull-witted, senseless and are the epitome of all evil qualities. My aim in writing this book is, first, to prove that such accusations are untrue, and women were there in the past who were courageous and possessed unparalleled scholarship, and there are such women at present as well.
  2. Second, Some notable men stated that women would take to evil ways, ruin the family unit, humiliate their husbands, if women were educated and given freedom. I am going to prove with examples that those accusations are unfounded, and that education only helps to build one’s character and not the other way round. The country will only benefit from the freedom for women to receive education; it will cause no damage. In fact, women’s education is an absolute necessity.

The book included the biographies of thirty-four women who proved themselves in various fields in India. Acchamamba presented each one of these accounts from the perspective of the two purposes she had stated in her preface. The first story was about a woman named Veeramati. At the beginning of the biography, the author quoted a Sanskrit verse which states, “Women should be educated so that they could carry themselves without fear and with confidence in all matters the same way as men.”

In every one of her writings Acchamamba reminded us constantly and in a timely fashion the importance of women’s education, and the damage lack of education in them causes. She was constantly worried about the way women were ignored or dismissed by family members in our homes. In her book, she wrote that Thoru Dutt’s father raised her as son, and sent her to school as if she was a son. In this regard, Acchamamba wrote, “The sastras state that a daughter must be treated as son. Have we not seen that, at the time of giving his daughter away in marriage, the father says, “this girl was raised by me as son”?

In the same essay, she commented about the families discriminating against girls even from the day they were born. She wrote, “It is extremely painful to watch the amount of humiliation girls are subjected to in contrast to the way boys are raised. Parents lead a life of misery from the day a girl was born. As the girl grows, they raise her not on par with a boy but as an unwelcome responsibility. There is no doubt that 99% of the girls in this country are being raised the way I have mentioned.”

Acchamamba was deeply troubled by this humiliation of girls from parents even from the day they were born. In her essay on Khana, a woman of excellence in Astrology, Acchamamba once again pointed out how women are inherently intelligent, and that the parents ignore them only because of their bias towards male children. She argued that women are not born as unintelligent but become so because of the way they are raised. She contends:

If a boy were dull-witted in his childhood, parents send him to school as soon as he turned five, make sure he was shaken out of his dullness. They make him study several subjects to improve his knowledge. On the other hand, his older sister, a very bright individual, will be left to live a lackluster life for want of proper education. Thus a huge fissure has been created not because of women’s dull wit but because of the discrimination in parenting girls as different from boys.

Acchamamba, who was highly vocal in expressing her views on the suppression of female children at home, repeatedly insisted on the need for women’s education each and every time she had an opportunity to do so. It is amazing that Acchamamba was writing as early as the turn of the nineteenth century how the gender discrimination started, and how women were ignored and dismissed as unintelligent and powerless.

While making powerful arguments for women’s education, Acchamamba also addressed the conjugal relationships and how men shut women up in closed rooms. In her article on Sarasavani, a contemporary of Adi Sankara, and top ranking scholar in nyaya, mimamsa, and vedanta, and who also challenged Adi Sankara with her erudition, Acchamamba raised serious questions in regard to the injustice doled out to women by men.

Instead of giving them [women] the most valuable piece of jewelry, education, men are giving women only metal ornaments, making them puppets and using them for their own pleasures. Instead of treating them as equal partners at home, turning them into maids. In doing so, men are turning not only women as high class idiots but they themselves are making fools of themselves. All this is happening only because of the flaws in men’s attittudes and selfishness; it is not at all women’s fault.

It is strange that nobody ever called Acchamamba a “man-hater” in those days despite her criticism that men were responsible for women’s degrading status and that they kept her as a slave at home. In fact, the one Sanskrit verse Acchamamba quoted at the beginning of her book is sufficient to gauge her views and perspective:

arikshitaa gruhe ruddhah purushai raaptakaarikaaribhih

            aatmaana maatmanaa yaastu raksheyustaassurakshitaah

             Women who are confined in homes by male well-wishers are not safe

Only those who protect themselves are safe.

Here, “male well-wishers” means father, brothers, husband and such. They are well-wishers, no doubt. But they all are anxious to confine women to the homefront. They think that they are protecting women while confining them to the four walls, hindering their progress, and subjecting them to oppression. Acchamamba pointed out that such behavior on the part of men is not protection but suppression and emphasised that women must protect themselves. Acchamamba was direct and articulate in her expression. She was very lucid in her thinking process. Let us review some of her other writings where she encouraged women to be self-reliant.

Most of Acchamamba’s essays, poems and other writings were published in Hindusundari and Saraswati maganizes. In June 1903, her article, “dampathula prathama kalahamu” [The first dispute a Wife {sic}] was published. It was a dispute between a husband and his wife on a small matter. The wife was upset and left for her natal home. In a conversation between the wife and her mother, the author made wife say as follows:

I am a woman married to a man, but I am not his maid. Would I become his servant simply because I married him? Doesn’t he have to respect me, love and treat me like a partner under one roof? On the contrary, if he treats me as a servant, and demands that I should wait on him hand and foot, why would I do so?

After the marriage has been performed, we are entitled to the status of an arthaangi[1], not paid servants. Women like us will never tolerate the egotistic mentalities of men.

Without proper understanding of the relationship between husband and wife, the inequality between men and women and the egocentricity in men, one cannot write this kind of sentences. Unless we are aware of the social conditions of her times, we cannot appreciate the level of her identity awareness.

In another article, vidyaavantulagu yuvatulakoka vinnapamu [An appeal to educated women], she described the importance of education for women, and what the parents should do to educate women. She also stated that women should have respect for themselves. She believed that the reason for women’s lack of education was male teachers. Therefore there should be more female teachers in schools.

As a solution for encouraging women to learn to read and write, she wrote:

Women should form a group, open a school in one of their homes, and conduct a school. If one runs into a problem, others should take turns and help out. That is the only way to contribute towards improving women’s education and have a purpose for their own lives.

Acchamamba urged that the educated women should establish schools in villages and share their education. The entire essay is charged with her deep concern for the lack of education in women.

In her article, strividyaa prabhaavam, [the power of women’s education], she wrote about an imaginary but powerful world, which was almost impossible to imagine by an ordinary brain. Her creativity is beyond one’s imagination.

In a country called Iceland, all men and women receive education equally. They all have equal rights in politics. A woman is in charge of the department of education. Since the security is supervised by women only, there are no prisons and no police officers, and no courthouses. Is it not all due to women’s education? We can find such examples in other countries, but in our country, people are still arguing whether education for women is necessary or not.[2]

I think Acchamamba created this imaginary world in order to emphasise how important it is for the country to have women educated. I am saying this because there is really no country in the world where there are no jails and no police force. We must interpret this account only as an illustration of Acchamamba’s creative skills.

I can write at length about Acchamamba’s writings and it can become a huge volume. Her works deserve to be collected, studied in depth and analysed systermatically.

Utukuri Lakshmikantamma wrote about Acchamamba in her book, Andhra Kavayitrulu, as follows:

Although she [Acchamamba] was not educated in her childhood, she learned to read on her own and acquired the skill to understand and interpret sastras, Sanskrit kavyas, and even religious treatises such as Sruti and Smruti. She became a scholar in Marati and English as well.

Writing history is hard even for men. Acchamamba was admired for undertaking such humongous task and doing an excellent job at that. She is acknowledged as the first historian among women.

Acchamamba was credited with starting a woman’s organization, Brundavana strila samajam, in Machilipatnam in 1902, along with Oruganti Sundari Ratnamamba. She traveled statewide and helped others to establish several women’s organizations. She used to take in destitute children and educate them also. She had five or six children in her home always.

Acchamamba passed away at an early age of 30, on January 18, 1905. Then popular magazine, Hindusundari paid a 5-page tribute to her and wrote under the title, “keertiseshuraalagu srimati Bhandaru Acchamamba garu” [Acchamamba who lives in our memory for ever] that “This woman was born only to serve others” and “Hindusundari magazine lost mother.”

Bhandaru Acchamamba earned a permanent place in the hitory of modern of Telugu literature. Although she was not educated in her childhood, she acquired scholarship in several languages on her own. She was not disheartened by the devastating personal loss in her life. She was acutely hurt by the loss of her son and daughter at an early age. Even as she was heartbroken by grief, she continued her life’s mission with determination and produced a remarkable book, Abalaa saccharitra ratnamala. In 1903, she traveled around widely, spoke with several scholars and elitists and gathered enormous amount of information about women from the earliest times. She used her writings as her medium to disseminate her views on the importance of education for women and to promote women’s movement.

If we were to look for the first example of women’s writing for our inspiration, Acchamamba would top the list. Acchamamba wrote the first short story in Telugu and was first feminist historian. She produced progressive writings with feminist awareness even one hundred years ago.

It is sad that Acchamamba’s life should end so early in life. Had she lived a full life, she would have written several more invaluable books. Maybe the feminist movement would have taken roots even with her at that time itself.

In 1974, the women’s movement erupted to enormous heights yet we did not celebrate the centenary of Acchamamba who was born precisely one hundred years ago. I am saddened and yet proud to pay a tribute to that examplary woman in my own humble way today as I conclude this article.


(Abridged and rendered into English by Malathi Nidadavolu, and published on, March 2010)

 (Full text in Telugu was published in Bhumika and Sujanaranjani, March 2004)


[1] Literally, one half of one person. Implicitly, husband and wife together make up one person

[2] Hindusundari, August 1902.

Vaikuntapali by Dwivedula Visalakshi: A Review by Nidadavolu Malathi

In the history of Telugu fiction, the two decades 1950s and 1960s have been significant. Writers have produced notable fiction from the perspective of themes, technique and in recording social history of the times effectively. Immediately after the declaration of independence, the country set out to educate the public, and
newspapers and magazines played a huge role in this effort. Women writers dominated the field of fiction at this time. Several women writers of this era are warmly remembered by readers even to this day.

Under the title, revisiting the stories of yester years, I would like to introduce some of those novels highlighting the peculiarities of our fiction and cultural nuance as reflected in the past fifty years, from today’s standpoint. — Nidadavolu Malathi


Dwivedula Visalakshi. Vaikuntapaali [Snakes and ladders]


Dwivedula Visalakshi (b. 1929) wrote her first novel vaikunthapali in 1963. The novel won an award in a competition held by a popular weekly magazine, Andhrajyothi. The title vaikunthapali refers to a kind of board game. Literally,
the term “vaikunthapali” (also called paramapada sopaana paTham) means the heavenly abode or steps leading to the ultimate destination. Philosophically speaking, winning in the game meant reaching the ultimate destination after fighting the innumerable odds in life. We roll the dice (actually seashells are used in Andhra Pradesh) and move on to the next square, up the ladder or down the
spine of a snake. Snakes and ladders are symbolic of the events in our everyday lives. The western board game Snakes and Ladders is a variant of the same game.


The core theme in vakunthapali is adoption. It opens with Avadhani, an elementary school teacher, bringing home a two-year old boy. His wife, Parvatamma, was surprised and also taken to the boy instantly. She asked him, “He is so cute! Whose boy is he?”

“Ours, of course. Why else would he be here?” Avadhani said and explained how he happened to bring the boy home.

Parvatamma was elated. The couple had no children of their own, and that had been a sore spot for her for a very long time. Avadhani went to consult Sastry, a local astrologer and friend, to find an auspicious day for performing the ritual of adoption. Much to their disappointment, Sastry told him to wait until the boy turned three; second year was not auspicious.


In a series of flashbacks, several events, which led Avadhani to bring the baby home follow.

Avadhani had been to another village as a polling officer and run into a young woman, Rajeswari, his former student. She had invited him to their home. Avadhani learned of their disheartening situation.


Rajeswari’s mother Mahalakshmamma had been sick for some time. Rajeswari had an older, sister, Saraswati, and three younger siblings, Ramu, Subhadra and Vasu. Their father took to drinking and had been spending away any money he could lay hands on, and a few things he could find to pawn away.


Somebody brought a proposal for Saraswati from a prestigious family. Saraswati’s parents could not turn it down, considering their circumstances. The marriage was performed in style in step with the groom’s status. Saraswati moved to her in-law’s home.


Avadhani was transferred to another village. Parvatamma fell ill. Avadhani left her at their village, and went to work in the other village. He was commuting to home on weekends.

One day, he pulled out an old coat to wear to a wedding and discovered a letter his wife had given him long time ago, and he had forgotten to read. It was the same letter Saraswati had written to Rajeswari. It said, that Saraswati’s life had miserable at her in-law’s place. Her father-in-law had had used up most of the family fortune on his extravagant habits and died. Her mother-in-law had been keen on
keeping up the same extravagant lifestyle, despite lack of resources. Saraswati’s husband had been squirming under the pressures from his mother. He had learned that his wife was pregnant, got scared and fled, leaving Saraswati and her unborn child to their fate. Saraswati had died after giving birth to a baby boy. After her death, Rajeswari brought the baby home to raise him herself. By this time, Rajeswari’s father had run away from home, never to return.


Rajeswari went to another town for teacher training. There, she met a young man, Syamala Rao, who expressed his feelings for her. She also had feelings for him, which she kept to herself. Syamala Rao got a scholarship for higher studies in America and left.


Rajeswari was diagnosed with tuberculosis. She wrote to Avadhani, begging him to visit her. Avadhani went to the sanatorium, where he met with Syamala Rao, who had returned from America and landed a job in Calcutta. Rajeswari begged Avadhani to raise her sister’s baby. Avadhani promised her that he would take the baby.

Rajeswari died. Syamala Rao told Avadhani that he would perform the death rituals for Rajeswari in Benares. He felt that he had earned that right, although they had never been married, but that kind of bond existed between them.

After a few days, Avadhani went to Rajeswari’s place and brought the baby home.


Avadhani received a letter from Subhadra. After Rajeswari’s death, Syamala Rao was sending them money, specifically for her education. Mother died. Ramu, like Rajeswari was taking care of the family, but he also died. Vasu married a girl from a rich family and moved out. Subhadra had no one to turn to but Syamala Rao for help. Eventually they got married.


The little boy turned three and Avadhani went to Sastry once again to set a date for adoption. He learned from Sastry’s wife that his wife Parvatamma was pregnant. Sastry had misgivings, and advised Avadhani to examine carefully the logistics of adoption at this point. Avadhani returned home, and asked Parvatamma whether she would feel the same way about the first child after she had one of her own. She dismissed his fears and assured him that she would never discriminate, never choose one over the other. The couple had a son. They performed the naming ceremony. The first boy was named Ranganatha Rao (Ranganatham) and the new baby Gopala Rao (Gopi).


Avadhani took Ranganatham to admit him in school. The headmaster insisted on giving Ranganatha Rao a surname. Avadhani was in a dilemma. He could not give his own surname to the boy, since the adoption had never taken place, and he could not give the birth-father’s surname; he had never known their surname. It was decided to note down a single letter ‘A’ as Ranganatha Rao’s surname, rather arbitrarily


Santha was Avadhani’s first cousin (their mothers were sisters). Avadhani has always been treating her as his own sister. Santha, her husband Satyanarayana and daughter Sudha came from Delhi for a brief visit. Santha proposed to take Ranganatham to Delhi with them. Avadhani and Parvatamma had reservations but let Ranganatham go, hoping that it might give him a better future.


In Delhi, Ranganatham was admitted in school. Santha kept assigning chores to him, which interfered with his schoolwork. He received an undue punishment from Satyanarayana, who was unaware of his wife’s part in it. Ranganatham took all the beating without speaking a word.


Ignoring Avadhani’s specific instructions, Santha talked about Ranganatham’s past inadvertently; and Ranganatham was devastated as he heard it from his cousin. He confronted Santha but failed to get a direct answer, much to his dismay. He was heartbroken and fell ill.


Avadhani and Parvatamma heard of Ranganatham’s illness. They went to Delhi and found that Ranganatham has been seriously ill for sometime now. Parvatamma insisted and they moved into another apartment in town. They stayed there until Ranganatham was strong enough to travel and then they all left for their village. That was a blow to Santha who has become fond of the boy and has been hoping to marry Sudha to him and make him an illarikapu alludu[1] (live-in son-in-law).


At home, Ranganatham asked his mother about his birth-parents once again. His mother explained to him that he would always be their son, regardless to whom he was born. In the final year of his high school, Rananatham had to deal with the issue of surname once again. The school clerk refused to accept a single letter ‘A’ as a surname. Ranganatham was mortified.


Ranganatham finished high school. Parvatamma fell ill. Santha and Satyanarayana came for a visit. Santha invited Ranganatham to Delhi, promising to send him for higher studies. Parvatamma and Avadhani were torn between keeping their son at home and letting him take Santha’s offer, which included a bright future. Ranganatham told Santha that he could never live with himself, if he left his
adoptive parents behind, trading them for his own future. Ranganatham completed teacher training and settled down as a teacher. He promised Gopi to
finance his engineering education.


Parvatamma tried to arrange marriages for her two sons. But Gopi told her that he had decided to marry a rich girl, whose father promised him a bright career.

Ranganatham agreed initially to marry a girl of his mother’s choice but things changed quickly. His colleague, Janaki sent him a telegram, saying her mother was seriously ill. He went there only to find that it was a ploy to get him to her place.  He returned home and told Parvatamma of his decision to marry Janaki. He assured her that she (Parvatamma) would be pleased with Janaki. Parvatamma died before the weddings had taken place.


Gopi invited Avadhani to live with him and his wife’s family. His wife’s family took care of Avadhani very well. Nevertheless, their life in the city was too mechanical for him to stomach.

He went to Ranganatham’s house, where, once again, he was met with extraordinary kindness, which once again was too much for him. He went on a pilgrimage. Ranganatham and Janaki had a baby girl. He wrote to Avadhani that Parvatamma had returned to their home as a little baby girl. Avadhani returned and broke into tears as he held the little baby in his arms.


The central theme is adoption. On a secondary level, the interpersonal relationships reveal the social phenomena of the times. The interaction between husband and wife, and brothers and sisters, even when they were not born to the same mother or in the same family, have been presented truthfully in this novel. That is one of the strong points of the author, Visalakshi, I might add.


Let’s first review the main characters in the story. The main characters in the story, besides the protagonist, are Avadhani and Parvatamma are the childless couple, who had taken in Ranganatha Rao for adoption, and Santha, who was interested in taking Ranganatha Rao under her wing. Avadhani was depicted as an intelligent school teacher, who constantly weighs the pros and cons of each issue, and the propriety of his actions, but rarely consults his wife. In the first scene, he walks
in with a two-year-old baby in his arms, and tells his wife that the child was theirs to keep. There is a line in the narrative stating that he explained how he had come to bring the baby home. There is no indication of any prior discussions with his wife, although the subject was on his mind for quite some time. The couple told themselves that “although we did not go through the ritual of adoption, he is and will always be our son; we have accepted him as our son in our hearts,” and swore that they would never show favoritism toward one over the other. In their minds, there has been no discrimination. However, the question of surname for Ranganatham has surfaced twice and both times Avadhani failed the boy.

A note on surnames is in order here. In Telugu families, surname connotes a lot more than just an identification mark. Very often, families are referred to by their surnames; and sons, daughters, and even daughters-in-law by their surnames.

That being the case, Avadhani’s logic sounds hollow in the face of Ranganatham’s heartache caused by the lack of a legitimate surname. Avadhani told his wife, after returning from school. The headmaster refused to admit Ranganatha Rao in school without a surname. If you don’t consider him as your adoptive son, tell me his father’s surname, he said. And I know only Ranganatham’s father’s name is Sivakamayya; Rajeswari told me only that much, not any more. I thought he (Ranganatham) would go and find out himself, if he were interested in his roots later. I can’t go about it now; I have neither the strength nor the motivation to do so. That’s what I told the headmaster.

Somehow, the process was about to be wrapped up, the same question came up once again. All the children will have an initial (representing their surname). … If Ranganatham’s name carried no initial letter, it could cause problems later, if not right away. … Thus, Avadhani agreed to prefix an initial ‘A’ in front of Ranganatha Rao’s name, and was happy that it was taken care of  for the moment.


To me, the reason for ignoring a very important aspect of one’s life like surname by an apparently intelligent man like Avadhani illustrates the manner in which even the most important events in one’s life were passed up in those days. This action on Avadhani’s part had left a permanent mark on Ranganatham’s mind and on his life.


Avadhani does not consult Parvatamma even in matters of consequence. So, what kind of relationship they are supposed to have between themselves. After Parvatamma’s death, Avadhani reminisces the past and the times they had had while playing the game, vaikunthapali. Parvatamma had been winning almost always. One time, she had lost and broken into tears. Avadhani tried to console her that it was only a game. Parvatamma had turned the conversation into a discussion on husband-wife relationship. In the game, you left me and reached the ultimate destination. Are you going to do the same in life too? … The thought that you would move on leaving me behind is scary, she said.


“Well, you’ve been moving forward all these days, haven’t you?” he retorted.

“That’s different, you are a man,” she said, and continued to explain the difference built into the psyche of man and woman. A woman is compared to a vine wound around a trunk. When that support is removed, the vine collapses to the ground. So also a woman; her entire life is wound around man’s life. Physically, she might be a separate entity but mentally she is united with her man into one piece. For man, that is not the case. He allots one part of his life for her, he loves her and adores her in that position. But he also has the remaining part of his life, separate from her. A man is complete only when he has these portions united. He might grieve his wife’s death but he also has the facility to manage his grief, with the help of the other part in his life.

Avadhani looks back now and ponders, “Parvati, I could not refute your argument on that day, but you are wrong. Today I know so from my experience. Here is my rebuttal. I am unable to keep my feet on the ground; I am on the run endlessly. …

A woman may not be the only thing in a man’s life. But she holds the rudder that can make his life run smoothly. … A man without his wife is like a hand with his thumb cut off. A man receives all his passion for life and happiness from a woman in his attempts to shape his life. Without that source of passion, man is left with nothing but darkness and sorrow. A woman may display her sorrow in front of others and humble herself in the process. A man does not even have that provision,
unfortunately. He has to suppress his grief within himself and burn inside.”

Avadhani understood the gravity of the problem, only after he had come to experience it.  This entire mode of thinking points to the nature of things prevalent at the time.


Despite her views on the status of woman, Parvatamma was depicted as a strong character in her own way; she would put up a fight only when it matters. One good example is when they went to Delhi to see Ranganatham. She noticed that Ranganatham’s illness was more serious than they had been led to believe. So, she decided to move Ranganatham to another apartment in the same neighborhood, take care of him, and bring him back to their home, after he recovered. Avadhani
tries to point out that it could hurt the feelings of Santha and Satyanarayana, but to no avail. She was determined to take care of her son herself and she did it. On the other hand, she would let go in regard to the two sons’ marriages, despite her attempts to fix them up with brides of her choice. Both the sons disappointed her, but she would not fight them because she was keenly aware of changing times.


Santha is a naive, middle-aged woman, who means well but acts without much forethought. When she saw Ranganatham for the first time, her thoughts were to marry him to her daughter and keep both of them at her house. After arriving in Delhi, she started assigning him chores, hurting his education in the process. She did not realize her mistake until he had taken the punishment from his uncle for missing school, without pointing a finger at her. Ranganatham missed the school bus because she had sent him to bring banana leaves from the store. She knew it was her fault, but did not have the courage to admit it. Her logic was “how can I make bobbatlu[2] without banana leaves to press on?” Her second mistake was to talk about Ranganatham’s birth parents, ignoring Avadhani’s instructions. Her redemption lay in changing her attitude toward Ranganatham but it came too late. Both the mistakes played a major role in shaping Ranganatham’s character and life.


Ranganatha Rao, the protagonist, was portrayed as an archtypal hero. Symbolically, he was the pawn who moved up the ladder or down the spine of a snake at the whims of other players. As a hapless child, whose mother died and father absconded, he still had a ray of hope in his aunt Rajeswari. And she had set up a place for him in Avadhani’s home, prior to her death. Thus, each step of the way, his life was balanced with ups and downs. His character was delineated with flair. From the moment he had learned that he was going to have a baby brother to the moment he had to make a decision about his marriage, it had been one tough
ride for him. Yet, he handled it like a man, even when he was a little boy! Probably, that was the problem in a way. There are occasions, like when his uncle beat him up for missing school, when the reader wonders why he did not speak up.

His silence at Santha’s house could have come from the fact that he never felt at home there. Although, it is not unusual in our families to assign small chores to children, the fact that Sudha has never been asked to do any chores makes Ranganatham’s situation look worse. There was a time when he did tell his aunt that it was getting late for school but Santha dismissed it as a trivial matter. That was a crucial turning point in his life. After that, he kept his lips tight forever. Sudha developed friendship with him but that was not enough for his little life.


Into this gamut of characters, the theme of adoption was worked in. While there were some serious implications and repercussions in regard to the ritual of adoption, the ritual itself had become immaterial for the couple, and supposedly for the son. In Avadhani’s mind, legal issues could arise only if there was a property to allocate, and he had no property. The only issue would be taking care of the parents in their old age, and both the sons were more than willing to do so. That was not an issue at all. The incomplete adoption process came to the fore twice in the story  – both the times, it happened in a school environment. Avadhani, a school teacher, did not foresee it, and did not find a plausible solution for Ranganatha Rao. Once again, it reflects the attitude of the adults during that period. The age-old belief that things have a way of taking care of themselves – the karma theory of sorts – kicked in..

A second occasion was when Santha invited Ranganatham to live with them, and Avadhani’s justification to allow him to go with them. It points, rather indirectly, to the same argument that Ranganatham’s life and his future must be evaluated in the light of his adoption. Avadhani felt that he had made a promise to Rajeswari that he would give Ranganatham a better life, and therefore, he must of necessity set aside his own preference to keep him with himself and his wife. It is obvious that his thoughts would not be on the same lines if Ranganatham were his own son, Gopi. In fact, even Santha might not have thought on the same lines if it were Avadhani’s own son. Additionally, the above incident in juxtaposition with Gopi’s decision at a later date, to move in with his in-laws in pursuit of his career sheds a new hue on an old custom.


In all, they all seemed to have acted in a rather slapdash fashion, despite all that intelligent and highly cogent arguments Avadhani, Santha and even Satyanarayana had. Some heavy duty discussions did take place between Avadhani and Parvatamma, and again between Santha and Satyanarayana regarding how Ranganatham should be raised but, in reality, none of them had taken away or even tried to alleviate the pain they had caused him in the process.


The novel depicts the massive social change that had been taking place during that period as well. One such instance has been the interpersonal relationship between generations – the freedom parents allowed to their children. In the past, children followed fathers in their of choice of vocation automatically. A doctor’s son was a doctor and a lawyer’s son was a lawyer (pretty much like caste-oriented vocations). But in the post-independent Andhra, sons and daughters have started showing signs of independent thinking[3] and parents allowed it, while struggling to let go of the old habits. Ranganatham became a teacher, not because his father was one, nor at his father’s suggestion, but due to other prevailing circumstances. Gopi, on the other hand, wanted to become an engineer and Ranganatham was willing to foot the bill. Avadhani and Parvatamma let the children make their own decisions, even when it went against their grain.

A second area was the husband-wife relationship. In this novel, we see both the angles – the past and the present. Avadhani brought the little boy with not so much as mentioning it to Parvatamma in advance. But Parvatamma played a major role in bringing Ranganatham away from Santha’s home, botching her plans.


As for the structure of the novel, we must, first, look into the process of serialization. In the fifties and sixties, novels were written for publishing them in instalments in magazines. That meant creating segments to fit 3 or 4 pages at a time, and including a cliff-hanger line to sustain the readers’ curiosity. In creating these artificial breaks however the story suffered from lack of cohesiveness at
times. For instance, the time frame of the letters when they were actually received and how much time had passed between the reading and writing were not very clear. It is even more confusing when one reads the novel in a book form. Sometimes, one incident switches to the next without even an extra space between the two.


Most of Visalakshi’s novels and stories are pivoted around the middle class – their economic problems, women’s education and more importantly the familial relationships. Like most of the women writers of the 1950s and the 60s, she wrote about the life she has been familiar with. One of her strong points is the struggle of finding a happy medium between the traditional values and the progressive views. Her characters are deep-rooted in tradition yet open to experimentation in modern ways to improve their lives. This is particularly true of women characters.



(Published on, April 2006)


[1] A son-in-law invited to live with the parents-in-law. It is not a flattering status, often happens because of his poor economic conditions.

[2] Flat bread with sweet filling.

[3] The story God’s Work also illustrates similar theme.




(Part 1 Historical Perspective).

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.


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.


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]


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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 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.


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..


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.


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.


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.


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, 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 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. Herein, I will try to illustrate the peculiar features prominent in Telugu stories.

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 another perspective.

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? Did he not 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 this site.

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 do not 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 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 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

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.

Published on, June 2003.


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. ( )

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 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, 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.








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


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.


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?


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, December 2009)

* S S Prabhakar Rao is a Faculty Member, Academic Wing, Icfai University, Hyderabad -500 082; Email: