Category Archives: Analytical articles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


© Santwana Chimalamarri.

This article has been published on and reprinted here courtesy of

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

Structure in the stories of Achanta Saradadevi

By Nidadavolu Malathi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silence again.

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

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

Kamakshamma leaves and goes into the next room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

3. Marichika. Vjayawada: Adarsagrantha mandali, 1969.

4. Vaanajallu. Hyderabad: Sahiti, 1991.


[i] Known as Spanish cherry or minusops elengi. See

The Native Element in Telugu stories By Nidadavolu Malathi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

© Nidadavolu Malathi.




Urban Characters in Telugu Fiction of the Sixties and Seventies.

By Nidadavolu Malathi.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Her opinion on the present day world is equally perceptive:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

Source List.

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

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

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

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

Rajaram, Madhurantakam. Maricika. Chittoor: Bharati Prachuranalau,

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


Ranganayakamma. Balipeetham. Vijayawada: Sarvodaya Publishers, 1963.

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

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

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

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



P. Saraladevi (Review) by P. Satyavathi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saraladevi was born in 1937 and died in 2007.


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

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

G. V. Krishna Rao (Review) by Nidadavolu Malathi.

He is considered to have set the standard for Telugu literature. A Literary meet, Sri Aravinda Sahityaseva samiti, Tenali, honored Dr. G. V. Krishna Rao on March 3, 1979. At the ceremony, several writers and critics praised him for his superior quality work in Telugu literature and commented that his work sets standard for Telugu literature.

Krishna Rao was born in 1914 in Kuchipudi village, Tenali taluq, Andhra Pradesh, India. In an autobiographical essay, Dr. Krishna Rao stated that originally he was not very keen on attending school. His parents had no education but wanted him to obtain education. Not much came out of it though. Either he absconded school or when went to class, his mind was elsewhere. Later, his aunt took him to her village and put him through school there.

He was not much of a learner in traditional methods. He says that when he tried to write chepa [fish], it would look like chaapa [mat]. Nevertheless, he wrote a parody and showed it to his friend. That friend showed it to their teacher. The teacher chided him kindly though, “You can’t recite even ten verses and you’re writing poetry?” At the same time, the teacher also gave him a piece of advice, which he says was worth a million. The teacher told him, “It is wrong to write poetry without studying literature on poetics thoroughly. It will let the hell break loose.” At the time, Krishna Rao was in eighth grade. Thenceforth, he started studying classics and ancient grammatical works on his own. He says that study had its negative consequences. For instance, he came to believe that writing meant only writing poetry and that scholarship meant writing complex phrases. In his later years, he understood that prose was more important and put it on a higher pedestal.

In his final year of high school, his teacher, Sastry, corrected his essay and told him, “Writing long, meandering phrases is not good. Beatific meaning is important. Unless there is efficacy, one should not use a word that is not comprehensible instantaneously. A document must always be lucid as like a peeled banana. That is the greatest writing.”

Krishna Rao was well-versed in grammatical texts ever since he was a child. He started creative writing in high school. At the age of 17, he wrote his first novel, and wrote a satakam (a book of 100 verses) at the age of 20. He also wrote a storybook for children and tried to have it prescribed as textbook in schools, but did not succeed though. During the same period, he was upset with one of his teachers and wrote a poem on the blackboard. That resulted in him being transferred to another school. There he met with Tummala Venkatramayya with whom he had forged good friendship. Venkatramayya recounted a couple of interesting incidents from this period. First, Krishna Rao’s name in school records was Gavini Venkatakrishnayya. He researched the origins of his surname, and found out that there was a word Gavaka meaning the entrance to Durgamapuram. In course of time, that the word underwent several variations such as gavanu and gavani. He preferred the name Gavanu. Currently, however his surname is appearing in books as Gavini.

During the same period, he filled the answer papers with his comments on the grammatical errors in the questions given to him, instead of answering the questions. In his school days, parents used to request him to write poems of blessing for their sons and daughters at their weddings.

Krishna Rao performed ashtavadhaanam and sataavadhaanam – a peculiar kind of poetic application where a poet crafts poems, extempore and one line at a time in response to eight or one hundred individuals, called prucchaka [interrogators] in one sitting. This skill is prevalent only in Telugu and Sanskrit to the best of my knowledge. Krishna Rao took it as a challenge and practiced these skills in woods, pretending the trees to be the interrogators, and playing himself both the interrogators and respondent. He would not much give much weight to these early writings. He commented, “It took a long time for me to get rid of the habit which I had gotten used to from this trellis-like poetry.”

While he was studying for his bachelor’s degree, he met Gopichand, a prominent leftist writer of his times, from whom he had acquired a taste in Western literature and literary styles. Krishna Rao studied M.N. Roy’s works and Marxism, which changed his entire perspective. He understood that the use of colloquial language was important for his work. In those days, he also used to meet with traditional writers as well as modern writers like Chakrapani and Kutumba Rao. They all met regularly in some medical store and discussed the characteristics of criticism and short stories.

After obtaining his bachelor’s degree, he tried to get a job but without success. During this period, it became hard for him even to get food to eat which reminded him of an episode describing the anger and frustration of the sage Vyasa in kasikhandam. Inspired by the episode, Krishna Rao wrote a play called bhiksha paatra [Begging bowl]. He says, “It is my first writing that emanated from the bowl filled with experience.” He sent it to several magazines but none of them accepted it for publication. However, the play has received critical acclaim later and been performed in several places numerous times. In this context, the comment made by Kurma Venugopalaswamy, registrar of Andhra University in the fifties and an avid supporter of Telugu stage is worth mentioning. He commented that he had read the play several times and had it performed in the experimental theater of Andhra University, Waltair, Andhra Pradesh. It has been translated into several Indian languages also.

After failing to obtain a job, Krishna Rao went to Benares to study for his master’s degree in English literature. He took a tutoring job to pay his tuition fee. At this time he also pursued his other interests. He studied eminent literary works in Telugu, Sanskrit and English. That part of his studies resulted in a classic work, kavya jagatthu. About this book, Krishna Rao says, “I explained the metamorphoses of theme in a kavya from the perspective of Marxism, quoting various from notable Indian and Western works, from Bharata to Pandita rayalu, and from Plato to Marx.” Further, he added, “I reviewed modern literary movements and their characteristics, and wherefrom they originated, namely, the social conditions and the leaders of those movements.”

Another milestone in Krishna Rao’s life was attending the political conference organized by Radical Democratic Party following the end of Second World War. At the conference, M. N. Roy vehemently criticized the existing political parties and proposed a new humanistic idea that is non-divisive and democratic in principle. That speech stunned Krishna Rao and paved the path for his future literary pursuits. That was the start of his studies in philosophy. Eventually, Krishna Rao worked on Kalapoornodayam for his Ph.D. and received his doctorate.

From his writings, Krishna Rao’s life appears to be one long stretch of endless inquiry, insatiable thirst for knowledge—from meaning of a given word to meaning of life. He has stated that the theme in his novel, keelu bommalu [Puppets] reflects this enquiring mind: “What does freedom mean? How humans are losing it? What is the way to regain it? To what extent, the economic and political matters are influencing human lives? What is the duty of individuals?—inciting this pursuit of knowledge is the goal of keelu bommalu,” he has stated in the preface to the book. Once a reader wrote to Krishna Rao suggesting the novel should have a happy ending. Krishna Rao replied, “Had I given it a happy ending, I wouldn’t have gotten even this note from you.” Apparently, the author was happy his novel provoked the reader to think.

While he was working in a degree college, he studied keenly the grammatical works of Acharya Nagarjuna, vigrahavarthini, Ratanavali and several others and translated them into Telugu poetical works. Unfortunately, his translations were stolen. He said he was able to translate again only one book vigrahavarthini and published it with extensive preface. He also translated Plato’s Republic.

In 1962, he lost his job. Then he started writing another novel, papi kondalu but left it unfinished as he got a job in a radio station. While working at the radio station, he wrote some poetry, translated pratima natakam by Bhasa, and published an anthology of his short stories, udabinduvulu. The author called it an anthology of short stories. However, the copy I had come across includes poetry, plays, and two essays. His last novel papi kondalu was never completed. Krishna Rao died in 1978.

Krishna Rao is one of those rare scholars who had examined the Indian traditional values and ancient works as well as Western philosophies thoroughly, developed his perspective on life and the world and presented his own philosophy. His works such as jegantalu and kavya jagatthu vouch for his standing as a literary persona. He had been persistent in his jignasa [pursuit of knowledge] even from his childhood days.

His opinion regarding the western influence on our (Telugu people’s) mode of thinking speaks of his keen sense of awareness what is wrong with our society at present. He says, “We have acquired modern, scientific and technical knowledge. Rationalism has taken place in our lives. Industries have been set up and wealth has prospered. The appetite to go for it [wealth] one way or another also has increased. We’ve gotten used to materialistic culture and started pursuing physical pleasures. In the process, we are becoming increasingly slaves of material possessions and thought. Ethical values are waning; generosity and appreciation of fine arts are disappearing. We must not ignore economic values, which we have learned from western civilization. But are the economic values the same as all values? Unfortunately, we see them only racing our lives today. What is happening to this society? Are we forgetting gradually the culture that has put dharma on high pedestal and made us visualize Truth, Beatitude and beauty; are we forgetting ourselves?” he questions.

Until recently, I have not heard of any of his works but for the novel keelu bommalu. After receiving the novel from his daughter, Dr. Umadevi, I searched Internet and found several other works. Here are some his works I have found:

Sahiti chaitraratham. This is a commemorative volume, put together in honor of Krishna Rao, his service to Telugu literature and his distinctive personality. The volume includes articles by several prominent writers, critics, and admirers of Telugu literature. It also contains three essays by Dr. Krishna Rao.

In his article on the duty of writer, he comments, “Our writers, being unable to see the world perceptible by the five senses, are commemorating the world of the past. Even those who could see the modern world are unable to comprehend it. Even if comprehended it, they are only playing a game like ring-around circus but unable to resonate with it. A writer may become a poet only when he watches the present day world, comprehend it, ache for it and then proffer his views to the world. If he fails to do so, he becomes simply a seeker of renown.

Jegantalu is a Telugu rendering of Plato’s philosophy. He called it a translation. From what I understood, which, I must admit is very little, the book is a result of his study several books by Plato. At the end, a list of 18 books by Plato and critical works by other writers is given as his sources.

In his essay Kavya jagatthu, the author discusses the essence of kavya from the perspective of Marxism. The book includes extensive discussion of various poetic works in Sanskrit, Telugu and English and the author’s perspective on the themes under discussion. There is a glossary at the end.

Udabinduvulu is an anthology of his poems, stories and plays, including the play, bhiksha patra mentioned earlier.

I have been searching for the novel, keelu bommalu for a long time. Several novels published in the forties and fifties were focused on the struggles of Independence movement and the social conditions following the declaration of independence. Among the very few novels that dealt with human condition and psychological analysis, chivaraku migiledi [that which remains at the end] by Buchibabu, is well-known. I believe, Krishna Rao’s novel keelu bommalu [Puppets] belongs in that category.

I liked keelu bommalu better than chivaraku migiledi despite its high acclaim in literary circles. In terms of thems, in the latter novel, the story revolves around one man and his thoughts about himself and the women around him. The entire story is presented only from the protagonist’s perspective. The other characters have no identity except what the protagonist tells us. On the other hand, in Keelu bommalu the author presents a balanced view of all characters. Each character speaks its mind thereby giving the reader a chance to discern his own opinion of those characters. Secondly, in chivaraku migiledi, the story revolves round man-woman relationship. In keelu bommalu the story is anchored in the dharma of individuals. Thus, the topic is broader.

Regarding the title of the book, puppets, the perception usually is that we are puppets in the hands of some unknown force; there is a player who pulls the strings and make us act. Krishna Rao states unequivocally that was not the message in his book. His aim was to illustrate, “A human being must think for himself from the perspective of humanism, and choose his own path of dharma.” In this novel we see how a man thinks when he is faced with a conflict and how he resolves. Apparently, most of the time, he forgets his dharma and resorts to temporary comfort zone.

The protagonist, Pullayya, cosigns a loan for Chandhrasekharam without telling his wife. When the time for repayment is up, Chandrasekharam has no money to settle the debt. Legally and morally, it is Pullayya’s obligation to pay up but he cannot do it. His problem is, if he pays his wife would come to know of cosigning, and he is not prepared for such revelation. That is the crux of the issue in the novel. People in the village start talking about it, expressing opinions on either side. Pullayya’s daughter wants to know the truth. She asks father and he by keeping his mouth shut, leads her to believe that he did not cosign the loan and that Chandrasekharam was spreading rumors. Not only he misleads his daughter and wife but in course of time he convinces himself that he had done nothing wrong. Pullayya did not lie out of ignorance but with the full knowledge of the actual event. He consciously chose to ignore the truth and let the villagers divide into factions and emotions flare up resulting in clashes on the streets, arson and murders. Even when the village is being destroyed systematically, Pullayya remains convinced that he did nothing wrong. He even accepts honors for his generosity. The message is individuals need to reflect and decide what dharma is for them by themselves. It is not something that somebody would provide for them. In that sense, there is no puppeteer. Each person is his own puppeteer. The author has shown extraordinary skill in depicting this angle in the story.

There is another angle to the story, particularly in relation to modern mode of thinking—that the value Pullayya puts on his wife’s status in the family. Back in the fifties, making money is husband’s duty and running the household is wife’s duty. That being the case, he should have told her about the possible expenditure yet he did it without her knowledge. At the time probably, he hoped it would never come to this—his obligation to pay up. Then, modern day question is: Why couldn’t tell her later when it was time for him to pay off the debt? That is the peculiarity in our culture. The incident highlights the way husband and wife respect each other in our culture. Author never vocalizes this aspect; perhaps at the time it was not even a question.

A prominent critic, R.S. Sudarsanam commented, “Krishna Rao gives high importance to an individual and his conscience regarding performing one’s duty. There is a considerable relevance of Freud’s unconsciousness theory in both the incidents—first, Pullayya forgetting his duty and, secondly, Dr. Vasudeva Sastry’s failing in performing his duty.” He continues to add that Pullayya ignored his duty due to his cowardice and selfishness whereas Vasudeva Sastry took responsibility for the mistake and was prepared to correct it socially. I am not convinced of this argument.

First, let me explain the situation. Vasudeva Sastry invited a local teacher Satyanarayana, his wife Padma and their little child into house after their house had been burnt by one of the factions. While staying in his house, Padma goes to Vasudeva Sastry while he was half asleep and had sex with him. Vasudeva Sastry believes it was only a dream and continues to believe so until Padma tells him that she was pregnant with his child. Vasudeva Sastry suggests they elope. Padma refuses to elope with him. Sastry screams that she was a typical Hindu woman; apparently, he was expressing his “righteous” anger.

To me, the entire incident is a bit dramatic. That Vasudeva Sastry, a doctor by profession and rational thinker, would not know whether he had sex in reality is strange. Secondly, after learning that Padma was carrying his child, he suggests a solution without taking into consideration what effect it would have on Padma’s husband and their child. Is that really a socially responsible, rational suggestion?

Sudarsanam suggests that the author made Vasudeva Sastry his mouthpiece in order to express his own opinions. I think Vasudeva Sastry is just one more character in the story. Author has never made any statements to believe otherwise.

In his preface to this novel, author stated that, “I did not write this novel aiming at any one individual, parties, or upcoming elections. Only artistic appreciation is the main basis for this writing. Only when the reader is willing to forget the passion of party politics, and read it, then only he can achieve the right kind of appreciation.”

Krishna Rao was a seeker of Truth, philosophical commentator. He is one of the very few who have continued pursuit of their literary activities, reflecting on one’s dharma, and total commitment.


A Note: Further discussion of the novel keelu bommalu in audio format, produced by Nidadavolu Malathi and Kalpana Rentala is available on Click here.

(Thanks to Dr. Uma Devi, Krishna Rao’s daughter, for kindly sending me a copy of the novel, keelu bommalu.)

(written by Nidadavolu Malathi has been published originally on, May 30, 2012)

Sivaraju Subbalakshmi, (review) by Nidadavolu Malathi.

Sivaraju Subbalakshmi

Sivaraju Subbalakshmi (b. 17 September 1925) was married at the age of twelve to another famous Telugu writer, Buchibabu [pseud.] (1916-1967), 21 at the time. She hails from Rajahmundry, a town known for its rich literary heritage. She was the second of three daughters and three brothers to her parents. She adopted her brother’s son, who named after her husband, Venkata Subba Rao.

“I am eighty-four,” She said with a charming smile. I visited her at her home in Bangalore, on August 23, 2009. My friend, V.B. Sowmya, was the photographer for us.

After Bucchibabu obtained his Bachelor’s degree, the couple moved to Madras. They started their life together when Buchibabu moved to Madras to do obtain his Master’s degree. In Madras, the couple made friends with several esteemed writers, which contributed immensely to literary pursuits. Subbalakshmi fondly remembers the good times she had with her husband until his untimely demise in 1967.

In 2006, I talked with her over the phone for the first time. She was in Bangalore and I was in Hyderabad. In September 2009, however I happened to go to Bangalore and so took the opportunity to meet her.

She has a pleasant personality. She welcomed us with a big smile, made tea for us, and showed us her room and her paintings. She says Bapu, a highly acclaimed artist of our times, is her nephew (Bucchibabu’s brother’s son) and has taught him how to draw. 

Subbalakshmi started writing short stories in the mid-fifties. She quoted a famous writer, Jalasutram Rukmininatha Sastry as saying, “I like your stories better than that novel [of her husband].” I asked her what that novel was and she replied with a hearty laugh, “By then, chivaraku migiledi (by Buchibabu) had been already published.” Another famous poet and university professor, Pingali Lakshmikantam paid her a charming tribute in his asirvachanam [Blessings] (Preface to one of Subbalakshmi’s anthologies). He commented that Subbalakshmi’s stories came from the heart and she wrote from a perspective that only women could understand and portray. Regarding her style, Lakshmikantam stated, “Nowadays, the stories, published now, are hard to distinguish between the stories written by male and female writers. The specialty in Subbalakshmi’s stories is that, the feeling we would feel; only women can write like this. A man, however talented he is, can describe the woman’s nature only as he percepted it; he can only see through his masculine eyes. It is no surprise that when a woman describes the nature of another woman, the description will be far from exaggeration and closer to truth. We can say the objective of these stories is to hold mirror to the human nature filled with jealousies, intolerance and narrow selfishness; they make our world a better place.” He finished his “Blessings” hoping she would write better stories than her husband.

Subbalakshmi credits her inspiration and success to her husband. She says in her preface to her anthology, Sivaraju Subbalakshmi Kathalu, addressing her husband, “You wrote a story and I wrote one. You painted and I painted.” It would appear they had an ideal marriage.

Subbalakshmi has published four volumes of short stories and three novels. One of the three novels, neelam getu ayyagaru [The owner of a house with blue gate] has received critical acclaim. It illustrates a wealthy family who live in a big mansion with blue gate; it is narrated from the perspective of a maid in the mansion, Ponni.

The author has done a marvelous job in capturing the perceptions of an illiterate working woman. The character comes alive.

In our conversations, Subbalakshmi has mentioned that she has stopped descriptions in order to avoid the possible criticism that she was imitating her husband. I am not sure at what point she has changed her style.

Nonetheless, her creativity is obvious in her stories. For instance, the novel under reference opens with the following lines:

The white rose in clusters presents themselves through the blue gate and make the passersby stop for a moment at least. Far off, Ponnamma, who lives in a hut in the open arena, has been going around looking for work, along with her daughters. She says on that street one half of the houses belong to her.

In the first line, she has established the specialty of a white rose. Ponnamma also is a woman with unique character. She is a little lamp that stays forever in the heart of the owner of the house with blue gate for ever. She is a servant with courage to claim one half of the houses on the street as hers.

In the next paragraph, the author starts with a line that (Ponni) “would not tell the truth” and continues to narrate briefly the previous incidents which landed Ponni in the present position.

As Ponni was about to open the gate to enter, the owner’s dog jumped on her and tore her sari and pulled apart her skin from the bones. In the same moment a car came in. From a fair-skinned and hefty man in white clothes got out of the car and offered to give her money. Ponni refuses to take his money. The man out of his generous nature tells the driver to take her to the doctor, adding, “If she dies, that will visit up on us.”

Eventually, she is taken in as a maid in that mansion. When the owner decides to spend some time in Nilgiri hills for health reasons, he and his wife invite Ponni to go with them as domestic help. She becomes the confidante for the entire family—the owner, his wife, son and daughter-in-law. She listens to all their stories. They all show concern for her wellbeing. When the owner attempts to make a move on her, she cleverly escapes, saying, “You are a like the Lord Rama [man of integrity]”.

The owner in his final days reflects on his life, he cannot but think of Ponni as his mentor. He is convinced that he had seen several servants but there is none like Ponni.

Subbalakshmi however considers another novel of hers, teerpu [Judgment] as her best work. It was serialized in a monthly magazine, taruna.

Subbalakshmi has firm convictions regarding the woman’s position at home and in society. According to her, kitchen is an important place in the house, and woman has a responsibility to take care of the home; she should never leave home, since there is no place for a woman where she can be safe. 

She said at present she has been writing stories when she finds something interesting in the news but does not send them out for publication. She is also writing her autobiography. “This is not just an account like ‘we lived here or there but about my experiences and memories,” she said. She showed us about 12 handwritten pages.

I asked her if she would fair copy them.

“No, I just write as it comes. Too lazy to rewrite,” she laughed. Suddenly I felt nostalgic. Back in the fifties and sixties, that was the way we all had written stories. At the time, there were no computers, no editing and no cut-and-paste facilities.

Subbalakshmi has an amazing memory. At the age of 84, she remembers all the themes and the incidents that inspired her to write in detail. 

In response to the question why one writes stories, she says, “For those who can be happy with what they have, the desire to have this or that is low. Yet, their hearts pine for something special to be recognized about them … that her husband should recognize her identity …”, reminiscing her past. He recalls the times when she and her husband sat on the shores of the River Godavari, and he asked, “What do you think of this ending for this story or that story”,  and the satisfaction that he had respect for her opinion—that leaves an imprint on her mind forever. ..

The preface to her book reads like that and it gave me a feeling that she has lost herself in her memories and the preface in itself is another piece of creative writing.

Most of the stories are anchored around the lives of middle class women, their struggles, fears, frustrations and their inability to extricate themselves from the tough situations they are stuck, and in the end settle for a compromise.

She has pointed out a few of her stories as her favorite stories to me. However, the one story that captured my attention is aadavaalla pettelo prayaanam [Traveling in a ladies’ compartment]. This story brought to the fore her personality as I found during our conversation in September 2009. As I stated earlier, she is full of zest. That is evident in this story. Therefore, I decided to translate it for you. I hope you’ll enjoy the story as much as I did.

Publications of Sivaraju Subbalakshmi:


Adrushta rekha

Neelam getu ayyagaru


Anthologies of short stories:

Kavyasundari katha

Odduku cherina keratam.

Manovyadhiki mandundi

Magatajeevi chivari chuupu

(This article by Nidadavolu Malathi has been published on, March 2010.)

Photo of Subbalakshmi garu by V.B. Sowmya.

Balivada Kantha Rao by Nidadavolu Malathi

Balivada Kantha Rao, a conscientious writer, is a reputable writer from Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India. He was born in Madapam in Srikakulam district, Andhra Pradesh on July 3, 1927. He was eight when the family moved to Visakhapatnam for his education.

While he was in the eighth grade, Kantha Rao acted as the editor of a hand-written, school magazine entitled vidyarthi. He said that two persons by the same name, Suryanarayana—his father and his teacher—had been his inspiration and contributed to shaping his interests to become a writer.

At 17, he started working as a clerk in the Indian navy and soon became a civilian officer. While working in the Navy, he had the opportunity to travel and get acquainted not only with different parts of the country but also different cultures, especially tribal communities. The knowledge he had acquired through these experiences enriched his fiction greatly.

First, let me apologize for this rather brief article, I am aware there is lot more to write about him but could not for want of resources. I hope this will persuade you to find other sources and read more about Kantha Rao.

Probably, Kantha Rao could have achieved greater recognition had he courted some ideology. In fact, that is where his strength lay. He did not commit himself to any one particular ideology and limit his creativity to promote that one ideology. Instead, he took pains to scrutinize life from a wide variety of perspectives, studied them methodically including tribal communities and presented them in his stories. His canvas is not just Andhra Pradesh but the entire country.

Kantha Rao’s first novel Sarada was published in 1947. Regarding its publication, the author says it was rejected by one magazine and then he submitted it to Chitragupta. When asked whether rejection ever curbed his enthusiasm, Kantha Rao commented that the rejections actually made him even more determined to pursue his literary career (Yohan babu. Interview.).

As it turned out, his determination and self-confidence were well rewarded. In his foreword to his anthology of short stories Kantha Rao tells us how the publishing went in the early days: He sent a story to Bharati, a highly regarded literary magazine and they published it not in Bharati but in Andhra Patrika, a popular weekly magazine, run by the same management. Later, he sent another story to the weekly magazine and the editors published it in the monthly magazine, Bharati!

 In his early novels such as godameeda bomma [Picture on the Wall] (1953), and dagaa padina tammudu [The Betrayed Little Brother], (1957) he dealt with familial themes covering shorter period. For instance, dagaa padina tammudu is a story that happened in one decade. In his later novels however he took several generations to illustrate his views on a wide variety of subjects. He says Vamsadhara [The River Vamsadhara located in the author’s village] is a case in point; it extends over a span of three generations. He believes that in order to illustrate the metamorphoses of social change meaningfully, it is necessary to extend over a period of three generations.

At the time of writing this novel, Kantha Rao was living in Delhi. The platform for this novel is his village and covers events for a period of about fifty years, starting from 1918. Since he left his village in 1936, he decided to go back to his village and gather the necessary information for it. Several individuals—his friends and his father’s friends—gave him valuable information which helped him to develop his characters truthfully, and also obtain some of the colloquialisms and nuances, which he incorporated in his story.

Asked by Dr. Yohan Babu for his reason to change the ending in Vamsadhara in his later edition, Kantha Rao said that his friends pointed out the discrepancies between his rendering and the actual events. “I believe that a writer must not be influenced by his own preferences, must not depict events contrary to the truth; and should never rush to conclusions quickly.” It took nine years for him to get it in the form of a book and he was pleased with the final product, he added. He was hoping that the views expressed in it would provoke the future readers into thinking.

The novel discusses several aspects—political ideologies, religious beliefs, social customs, and the lifestyles of various tribes —in unusual detail. The novel could be labeled “the Story of modern day India”, considering its range and depth, commented Dr. Yohan babu.

Delhi majileelu is another major work of Kantha Rao. He says, “It is a well-researched product. After finishing this big novel, I felt like I have received a doctoral degree. It took six years to finish it. Even the format is different in that it includes stories within stories and contains extensive discussions on all walks of our lives—political, social, economic and cultural—from Dharmaraja’s Indraprasthapuram to today’s New Delhi. I am very pleased with it regardless it has not caught the public attention yet. Sales are still low. Maybe, it gets noticed after it is translated into Hindi some day.”

Here are some of the opinions Kantha Rao has expressed in his interview by Yohan Babu:

On current writers – Good writers could become ordinary writers, if labeled as great writers. If writers focus only on fame and money, quality of good writing goes down. There are several writers today who have overcome these limitations and are writing well. They are the ones who would prolong this thread of literature and carry it forward.”

His reason to continue writing short stories and not novels is writing a novel is harder and after writing there is no guarantee that it gets published.

Writers who influenced his style: There are not many he could quote. Bengali writer, Sarathchandra Chatterjee’s influence is evident in his novel, Annapurna. After that, he developed rather the ill-conceived notion that, “If I read great fiction written in other languages, I would be influenced by them and my stories would reflect that influence. However, now I feel I missed out on something—I don’t know what makes a novel great.”

In response to a question whether his education in psychology helped him to delineate his characters, Kantha Rao said he never made a conscious effort to apply his theories to characters since he never studied them from that perspective. After he created the characters however they might have been recast into those theories.

Three novels janmabhumi [The Motherland], punyabhumi [The Pious land] and karmabhumi [The Land of Action] reflect his political views. He, being a government employee, was not in a position to depict prevalent political conditions in his novels, and for that reason created an imaginary country, he said.

He considers tradition to be a “withered branch and change does not happen if one hangs on to the dried up branches. No society can progress without change,” which explains his creation of some characters to be anti-traditional.

Kantha Rao believed in checking the minutest details and being truthful to his characters. In his foreword to his anthology of short stories, Balivada Kantha Rao kathalu, he states that all his stories were based on his observation of real life events and all characters on the people he had come across in real life. The story manishi, pasuvu [Man and Beast] is one such story. It was based on a person whom he had met while he was working in Mumbai. He created strong female characters in his novels for the same reason. He had seen in his village such exemplary women who believed in upright living and depicted them in his stories.

To give an example of his writing, let me discuss the story manishi, pasuvu [Man and Beast]. It revolves round a class IV employee in the office of the protagonist, Sayeba. The man, Patil, never gets to work on time and is drunk most of the time. He spends not only his money on liquor but also harasses his wife for money. He never bothers to find how she was managing to bring the money. Sayeba tries to change Patil’s behavior by giving him money at first and later by lecturing him. Patil justifies his drinking by ranting about the prevalent injustices in society. Sayeba seems to understand Patil’s logic and continues to give him money.

Eventually, Patil shows some change which does not last long though. One day, he overhears two policemen talking about his wife sleeping with other men. Thinking they were rumors, he attacks the policemen for speaking ill of his wife. The policemen throw him in jail. Patil calls Sayeba to bail him out. Later however he learns the truth—that she was prostituting herself to earn the money, he murders her. He goes to Sayeba’s home and tells him that Sayeba was the only person who had treated him like a man.

For me the story is intriguing. It raises several questions. If the author intended to maintain that Patil became a habitual drunk because of the injustices in the society, his attitude towards his wife makes no sense. And to kill her because she was earning money by prostituting herself further complicates the issue and presents him in a dubious light. After much debate, I have come to believe that the author attempted to illustrate the complexity in human nature. Ever so often, human behavior is inexplicable. It never fits into a theory like a hand in a glove. If we are willing to make that concession, we will find some comfort in the thought that the protagonist was able to see some change in Patil.

I liked the story The Truth about Desires (see translation of this story) for a couple of reasons. It is human nature to wish to improve one’s life and work for it. Call it progress, call it better life—we all want something more. However, if the wishing and working for better life changes into a craving for popularity, it could become disastrous.

naalugu manchaalu [four beds] is one of his short novels. It depicts the lives of four persons lying in four beds in a hospital. Actually, it is a story of three individuals drawn together by a fourth person, Sundaram, who connects them to the outside world and also takes care of their business and his own in the outside world. Sundaram could accomplish it by being in and out of hospital for his health problem. It is an interesting concept—how seemingly unrelated people could become entangled in a web of relationships. It is done well.

Kantha Rao quotes three incidents that helped him to develop his technique.

In his childhood days, Golla Ramaswamy, a bard in his village used to narrate wide variety of stories to the audience under a tree. “I learned from him how to make a story interesting to read.”

In his adult years, one day, he saw some children fight and that grow into a squabble among adults. Among them, one woman’s brother was standing, away from them and watching the squabble. Kantha Rao asked him why he did not interfere and stop the squabble. The brother replied that he needed to obtain an unbiased opinion and that would be possible only when he stood at a distance and watched them. “From that incident I have learned that a writer must be unbiased.”

On another occasion, he saw a brief memo about a junior officer’s work. The note said, “Several senior officers have learned about solving disputes between the administration and the labor force from him (the junior officer).” The junior officer was promoted superseding the other senior officers. “From that, I have learned that we get results only when we tell a story straight and succinctly,” said Kantha Rao.

Kantha Rao passed away on May 6, 2000.


Yohan babu, G. Balivada Kantha Rao gari navalalu—oka pariseelana. Visakhapatnam: Dipteja publications, 1995.

Kantha Rao, Balivada Kantha Rao kathalu. Hyderabad: Visalandhra Publishing House, 1994.

Some of the stories by Balivada Kantha Rao are translated into English by Sijata Patnaik, in the book entitled The Secret of Contentment and Other Telugu Short Stories.  2002. ISBN 8120724604. It is available on

 I am grateful to Dr. Yohan Babu and Balivada Kantha Rao for his foreword cited above.


(This article by Nidadavolu Malathi has been originally published on, December 2010)


Dr. Utukuri Lakshmikantamma by Nidadavolu Malathi.

Kalaprapoorna Dr. Utukuri Lakshmikantamma, (1917-1996) was a rare combination of several talents from reciting poetry extempore in Sanskrit and Telugu to martial arts such as fencing, stick fighting and horse riding.

Lakshmikantamma was born on December 21, 1917, in a sophisticated family of scholars and social activists. Her father Nalam Krishna Rao was a reputable poet, journalist, and active participant in the social reform movements of his time. He was the founder-president of Gautami Granthalayam, one of the oldest and highly acclaimed libraries in the state. Her mother Nalam Suseelamma participated in her husband’s activities and was the founder of Andhra Mahila Gaana sabha [Andhra Music society]. One of her distant aunts, Battula Kamakshamma, was founder of Arya Seva Sadanam, which was converted to Andhra Yuvati Sanskruta Kalasala [Sanskrit College for Women] later. Against this background, it is no surprise that Lakshmikantamma became actively involved in political and social movements at an early age.

In her childhood, she used to play boys’ sports along with her brothers and their friends. At the age of seven, she started learning vocal and veena. By twelve, Lakshmikantamma was already an exhilarating speaker. She used to deliver electrifying speeches and sing patriotic songs. Crowds would hold their breath and listen to her speech or singing.

She was married at thirteen to Utukuri Hayagriva Gupta, a lawyer and six years senior. They had their first child in 1935 but the baby lived only for six months. Of the eleven children the couple had, five children—three boys and two girls—grew up to be well educated and well settled in life.

At eighteen, she graduated from the Sanskrit College run by her aunt Kamakshamma and received the degree, ubhaya bhashaa praveena, an attestation of scholarship in two languages, Sanskrit and Telugu. The same year, she was bestowed with two titles, Telugu molaka [Telugu sprout] and vidwat kavayitri [Poet of excellence]. Lakshmikantamma, who had been named “Sahiti Rudrama” [Queen Rudramadevi in literature] by Devulapalli Ramanuja Rao, President of Andhra Pradesh Sahitya Akademi, was the proud recipient of ten more titles including kalaprapoorna (awarded by Andhra University, 1976), Andhra saraswati, dharma prachaara bharati, and sangeeta sahitya kalanidhi, in addition to honorary doctorate. Mention must be made of two felicitations, kanakabhishekam [being showered with gold] and gajaarohanam [Elephant ride], which are normally associated with royalty of the past and rather unusual in modern times. To my knowledge, Lakshmikantamma was the only author to be honored with these two felicitations.

She was actively involved in several literary and social organizations such as Andhra Pradesh Sahitya Academi, Telugu Bhasha Samiti, Andhra University Senate, Viswa Hindu Parishat, Andhra Pradesh Arya Vysya Sabha, Gautami Granthalayam library in Rajahmundry, Stri Hitaishini Mandali [Women’s Welfare organization in Bapatla], Andhra Yuvati Sanskrit College, Guild of Service, Central Sahitya Academi, and and many more. This list is sufficient to emphasize the wide array of her interests and accomplishments.

Lakshmikantamma possessed a versatile and exhilarating personality. In her autobiography, she stated that she would keep laughing always. Pilaka Ganapati Sastry, who became a famous novelist later, was her teacher for a brief period. At the time, he was still young and shy. Lakshmikantamma was amused while he was teaching Sakuntala, a play, and kept laughing. It was disconcerting to Ganapati Sastry. Later, he told her father, Krishna Rao, that, “I used to pick from her laughter, the in depth meaning and beauty of poetry in Kalidasa’s poetry and bless her in my own mind.” (Sahiti Rudrama, p. 43).

Lakshmikantamma’s father was a follower of Brahma samajam, which rejects polytheism and promotes one god theory. Her mother Suseelamma believed in Hindu tradition. However she changed some of her religious practices to please her husband, she wrote in her article pavitra smruthulu [Pious memories] published in Yugapurushudu Veeresalingam published in Veeresalingam Satajayanti sanchika, Hyderabad.

Ever since she was a teen, Lakshmikantamma had been living active public life. She was attending public forums, literary meets and conferences and delivering stimulating and scholarly speeches. Writing and publishing came much later, early 1950’s to be specific.

The circumstances surrounding her first book, Andhra kavayitrulu are interesting. In 1953, Telugu Bhasha Samiti [Telugu Literary Guild], Madras, announced a competition and invited writers to write a book on Telugu women poets. Lakshmikantamma’s husband, Mr. Gupta, and several friends suggested she should write the book. Lakshmikantamma however was not interested. She said, “Reputable scholar Veeresalingam compiled the book Telugu kavulu [Telugu poets] in which he had included about six hundred writers. In it, he mentioned only five or six women poets. If you look carefully, you may find only one hundred poets worth mentioning and possibly one of them would be a woman. I do not want to take that one poet and hold up to the world, and thereby expose that we have no women poets worth mentioning.” (sahiti rudrama, p.81.) Then, one of her close friends, Boddupalli Purushottam suggested that she could at least make an effort to see if there were more women poets. Convinced by his argument, she set out to search for women poets. She traveled to famous libraries in other places like Vetapalem, Madras, and Tanjore, and went through thousands of magazines such as gruhalakshmi, Hindusundari and literally unearthed 264 women poets who had produced excellent works. Lakshmikantamma’s very first book was a first prize winner in a competition held by a reputable literary guild, Telugu Bhasha Samiti.

In the history of Telugu literature, this book Andhra Kavayitrulu is the only comprehensive work on women poets to date. This is being used as a valuable reference tool by research scholars. Arudra, an established writer and researcher, used it as a source for writing about women poets Molla and Mohanangi in his samagra Andhra sahityam.

The second edition of Andhra kavayitrulu, published in 1980, included only 86 poets. In her preface to the second edition, some of the comments made by the author are worth quoting. Lakshmikantamma stated that she herself was not sure if she could revive the enthusiasm and the style she had evinced while working on the first edition. She was somewhat disappointed by the prevalent perceptions regarding education, language and scholarship in the country. In the past, scholarship was respected. Now (at the time producing the second edition) the shrinking respect for classical poetry in the face of growing interest in fiction is discouraging. Lakshmikantamma also mentioned the cost of paper and printing. Personally, I am sad that money should play such crucial role in publishing the second edition. The second edition included only 86 poets as opposed to more than 200 poets (I have only the second edition on hand for reference). In any case, I sincerely hope that Andhra Pradesh Akademi or some other literary organization would undertake publication of the full version before it is lost totally. At this writing, the book is out of print. And it is too valuable to neglect.

Having said that, I need to address a couple of other comments on some entries in this work, Andhra kavayitrulu. One of them is the authenticity of the claim that Krishnadeva rayalu had a daughter named Mohanangi and she authored a book, marichi parinayam. Lakshmikantamma devoted six pages to Mohanangi and marichi parinayam in her book.  Arudra took this information and incorporated in his book, samagra Andhra sahityam [Complete History of Andhra Literature]. However, while writing about Mohanangi, Arudra wrote, “They say Mohanangi was daughter of Krishnadeva rayalu.” By shifting the speaker to an unverifiable “they”, it would appear, he was not sure if that was authenticated. He did not clearly contradict Lakshmikantamma’s statement though. In 2002, I met with two reputable scholars, Dr. Nayani Krishnakumari and Dr. Kolavennu Malayavasini. They both stated that there was no verifiable evidence to show that Krishnadeva rayalu had a daughter, and that the authorship of marichi parinayam had not been established unequivocally.

A second comment on Lakshmikantamma’s work was by Sangidasu Srinivas who commented that Lakshmikantamma had not given full credit to a poet named Kuppambika (Andhra Jyothy September 22, 2008 Vividha page).

My position is scholars usually set parameters for themselves and work within those parameters. Lakshmikantamma went to great lengths, researched all the sources available to her at the time and recorded the data. Other researchers may find more information or different perceptions in course of time. That does not mean that the work done by earlier researcher, whether it is Lakshmikantamma or another scholar, is less significant. It is quite normal for latter researchers to find more evidence or lack thereof and add further to the existing data.

Lakshmikantamma’s works fall broadly into four categories. 1. Classical poetry in Telugu and Sanskrit; 2. Modern poetry; 3. Essays and biography, and, 4. Plays.

In Sanskrit, she authored kanyaka parameswari sthavam, extempore, in praise of the goddess Kanyaka. It is being recited as invocation prayer in the morning in several temples of Kanyaka across the state. (Vijnan Kumar. Personal correspondence, dated September 22, 2008). Another work of her in Sanskrit is Devi sthava taraavali in praise of goddess Devi.

In the book, naa Telugu Manchalaa, [My Telugu Manchala], 98 pages, Lakshmikantamma portrays Manchala as a 16-year old, intelligent woman endowed with remarkable beauty and sense of patriotism. The story is popularly known in Andhra Pradesh as that of Balachandrudu, Manchala’s husband.  His mother, Prolama would want her son to go to war and earn her the title hero-mother (veeramaata) on one hand and, on the other, her maternal instinct would want him to stay home. In a strategic move, she sent him to his wife, Manchala, hoping her beauty would prevail and keep him at home. Manchala on the contrary provoked him in a cleverly manipulative language, and sent him to the battlefield. The verses are written in simple Telugu yet powerful in conveying the various rasas as appropriate in different stages. Lakshmikantamma had mentioned in the preface that there might be some stylistic lapses in terms of meter.

Kanthi sikharaalu is a collection of devotional lyrics, imbibing the tenets of Brahma samajam, which she had followed fervently in her teen years. The author stated in her preface that her inspiration for writing these lyrics was the singing by well-known romantic poet, Devulapalli Krishna Sastry. The language is simple and lucid, which appeal to all, scholars and non-scholars alike.

Okka chinna divve [A Small Lamp] is a collection of seventeen long poems, presented as a tribute to Gandhi. In her preface, she stated that she had the opportunity to participate in Gandhi’s non-violence movementi in her teen years (about 13 to 19 years of age), which contributed immensely in defining her values of patriotism and service. Additionally, she chose the title A Small Lamp to accentuate her respect for Gandhi, although not all the lyrics were about Gandhi. It included other topics such as a Telugu New Year day, Diwali, soldiers, and an invitation to youth. Some of them were written in semi-classical style with complex, descriptive phrases, and others in near colloquial style.

To me, this variation in style seems to point to the shift from classical to free verse that has been taking place at the time not only in her writings but in the country in general.

On a slightly different note, I would like to mention Lakshmikantamma’s comments on language as stated in her autobiography. She stated that while she was teaching maha bharata in Bapatla College, prominent linguistics professor, Bhadriraju Krishnamurthy, attended her classes. Impressed by her scholastic excellence, Krishnamurthy invited her to speak at a literary meet in Ongole. There she went out of the way from lecturing on Maha Bharata and introduced a new argument that Telugu language originated from Dravidian languages. Later Professor Krishnamurthy met with her and obtained detailed information about her argument and incorporated in his course content for second year M.A. (Sahiti Rudrama, p. 92-93).

The title of the book, kanyakamma nivaali, literally means a tribute to the goddess Kanyaka. Inside however, it is a collection of short verses, 3 lines and the caption Oh Kanyakamma. Most of the poems are humorous and/or sarcastic comments on contemporary lifestyle and society. A few of them are serious observations. The author writes in her preface that she was inspired by Koonalamma padaalu written by Arudra.

Saraswati samraayja vaibhavam, [23 pages], is a one-act play, which incorporated some well-known poems from the published works. It presents on one platform nine women poets, who lived at different times from 13 to 20th centuries. Additionally, the author introduces two secondary characters partly as comic relief in step with the practice in stage plays. The poets recite poems from their best works both in Telugu and Sanskrit.

Lakshmikantamma’s works of history and literary criticism include Andhra kavayitrulu [Andhra female poets], Akhila Bharata Kavayitrulu [All India female poets], Andhrula keertana kalaa seva [Service of the Andhra people to music], naa videsa paryatana anubhavaalu [My Experiences during my tours to other countries], contributions to Vijnana Sarvasvam [articles in Telugu Encyclopedia], and numerous articles published in reputable journals. Unpublished works as of 1993: Story of Chandramati [Children’s book], Sahitya vyasa manjari [Literary essays], and Rutambari [prose ballad].

She also translated Humayun Kabir’s essays in English (Our country’s history and the lessons learned), and Hindi dohas by Kabir, Tulasi Binda and Rahim. She edited classical works, Molla Ramayanam and Vishnu parijata yakshagaanam. She wrote more than one thousand prefaces to books by other writers.

In her autobiography, Lakshmikantamma mentioned that at the beginning of her literary career, she published her poems under the pseudonym ‘Krishnakumari’. Soon after, her husband suggested that she should publish her poetry in her own name since they were so good. She did so, although she used yet another pseudonym ‘sukanchana’ for her story, Korala madhya koti swargaalu [Ten million heavens stuck between fangs], included in kathamandaram, an anthology of short stories published in 1968.

I think a brief note on her multifarious involvement in women’s organizations, social movements and public events, is appropriate here. She was a great speaker, fundraiser, organizer of literary meets and associations, active participant in charitable events, and herself a kind and generous individual. She was a driving force in women writers’ conferences at state and national level, had attended international women writers’ conferences, and was a sitting member at legislative council in two universities and various literary organs at the state and national level. She was honored at international women writers meets also. (I had the honor of being on stage with Lakshmikantamma at Andhra Women Writers Conferences in 1968 and 1969 and receive mementoes from her.). Sri Potti Sreeramulu Telugu University, Hyderabad, produced a documentary on her life. University of Toronto, Canada, collected complete works of Lakshmikantamma. Her work had been research topic for doctoral dessertation.

I would like to go on a limb here and comment on her activities in her community. In an age when “caste” is considered a bad word, it is pleasing to note Lakshmikantamma’s involvement and contribution to Arya Vysya mahasabha [Business community in the scheme of societal breakdown based on Hindu beliefs]. She made no apology for being part of her community, and showed how the community spirit could be instrumental in bringing people together. This is particularly relevant in the context of her growing up with her father, who was a staunch Brahmo samaj follower.

In her autobiography, Lakshmikantamma listed some of her writings as “works unable to succeed”. I went through the list of books Lakshmikantamma had listed as “not successful”.

I am not sure what made her come to that conclusion. For instance, in the same list, she stated that Naa Telugu Manchala had received the Telugu University award and had been prescribed as textbook in St. Teresa’s college, Eluru. Her Sanskrit poem, kanyakaa parameswari suprabhatam is being recited in several temples of Kanyaka as daily morning prayers. That being the case, I must assume she was referring to the success as understood in modern times, which would bring me to comment on the definition of success.

In today’s world, success is correlated to sales. A parallel example would be a critically acclaimed movie failing at box office. Probably it is the same with books. Additionally, in Andhra Pradesh, book sales do not always reflect the actual readership. For one thing, buying books is not common in Andhra Pradesh, possibly because of our belief in free dissemination of knowledge, an idea sustained by oral tradition. Secondly, one book bought by one person is read not just by that one person but by other family members and friends also. Thus the number of books sold does not always reflect the number of readers for that one book.

At the risk of repetition, I would like to add a note on Lakshmikantamma’s major works. The books, Andhra kavayitrulu, first edition featuring pen portraits of more than 200 female poets from 13th to 20th centuries, Andhra sahitya vijnana sarvasam, originally compiled by her father, Krishna Rao, and which she later edited with annotations by her, Akhila Bharata kavayitrulu [All India Women Poets], and sahiti rudruma (Autobiography) remain landmarks in the history of Telugu literature.

This article is not comprehensive but a modest attempt to provide a brief introduction to the accomplishments of a versatile poet of our times. To present a comprehensive analysis of her accomplishments is beyond the scope of this article. My hope is to motivate readers to go to the original sources and learn more about this remarkable woman and poet. Those who are interested in further study of Lakshmikantamma’s multifarious personality and work may find the list attached as an addendum to her autobiography, Sahiti Rudrama useful.

Additionally, I believe that publication of Lakshmikantamma’s complete works with annotations and preserving it for posterity would be a welcome undertaking and service to Telugu literary and cultural service. This is particularly vital in the light of dwindling abilities of the current generation to appreciate classical, semi-classical and modern literature produced by our immediate predecessors.

She had been awarded twelve honorary titles, marking her literary achievements.

Once again, I am thankful to Vijnan Kumar, third son of Lakshmikantamma, for kindly lending me the books, which were immensely helpful in writing this article.


Source List (Works by Dr. Utukuri Lakshmikantamma, published by author)

Andhra kavayitrulu. 2d ed. 1980.

Kaanti sikharaalu. 1978.

Kanyakamma nivaali. 1978.

Oka chinna divve. 1980

Naa Telugu Manchala. 1981.

Sahiti Rudrama. 1993.

Saraswati saamrayja vaibhavam. 1988.

Other works:

Samsmruti (In her memory). Bapatla: Smaraka samiti, 1997.

Suseelamma, Nalam. Pavitra smruthulu. Yugapurushudu Veeresalingam. Hyderabad: Kandukuri Veeresalingam smarakotsvamula sangham. n.d. pp. 93-96.


Complete list of her works:

Works by Utukuri Lakshmikanthamma.


Andhra Kavayitrulu. 1953

Akhila Bharata racayitrulu. Sahitya Akademi, 1963

Andhrula Keertana Kala Seva [Andhra People’s contribution to the art of music]

Sri Kanyaka parameswari Suprabhatam [Sanskrit verses extoling the virtues of the goddess, Kanyaka]

Devi stava taravali [Verses praising Devi]

Jathi pitha [Father of the nation]

Sadukti manjari [Book of good words spoken by Hindi poets, Kabir, Tulsi das, and Vinda Rahim]

Bharatadesa charitra, konni guna paathamulu. [History of India, some lessons learned]

Kanti sikharalu. [Devotional songs]

Mahila ikrama suktam

Mana sahiti madhu bharati [Ballad]

Kanyakamma nivali [Poetry, satiric comments on modern day society]

Okka chinna divve [A Small lamp, poems]

Naa Telugu Manchala [Manchala, My Telugu hero]

Lajja kireety dharini [The Woman, who wore shame as her crown]

Naa videsa paryatana anubhavalu [[My experiences of foreign tours]


Articles contributed to Sangraha Andhra Vignana Sarwaswam [Complete Telugu Encyclopedia]


Saraswati samrajya vaidbhavam. [One act play]

Sahiti Rudrama [Autobiography]



Korala madhyana koti swaragalu

Chikati rajyam.


Unpublished books

Story of Chandramati [Children’s book]

Sahitya vyasa manjari [Anthology of literary essays]

Rutambari [Prose ballad]


Molla Ramayanam

Vishnu parijata yakshaganam


Prefaces for over 1000 books

Delivered over 3000 speeches on a wide variety of topics in literature, and Hindu religion.

(This article has been written by Nidadavolu Malathi and published originally on, September, 2008.)

Bucchibabu (review) by Nidadavolu Malathi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His description of  Komali is as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


(The article was originally published on, July 2012)


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

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

—            Nannu marchina pustakam. 1953. reprint.

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

—   Migilindemiti. Vijayawada: Jayanti publications, 1971.