Monthly Archives: April 2013

Chaganti Somayajulu

Choices by Chaganti Somayajulu (Chaso)

It was a great day for Kunti[i]. He earned a bagful of rice; that is almost two pounds. For him, it is a special holiday; the bag, filled with two pounds of rice, was hanging heavily from his shoulder and rubbing against his thigh. His face glowed with content. He would not have to worry about food for the next ten days.

Kunti went to the mango grove on the outskirts, hopping with his crippled legs. He gathered a few dried sticks for fire. He also had three mangoes, stolen earlier. He returned to the shelter, and set three stones for a make-shift stove. He pulled the clay pot from his bag and started cooking.

The red flames surged and enveloped the pot. His body, cold and curled up until now, started to unwind. He lit up a tobacco roll; the smoke filled his heart. He felt the heavy rice bag against his thigh to his heart’s content. The rice on the stove was simmering.

“Erry!” he called out.

Erry and her dad, a leper,  made their home at the other end of the patio. Erry heard his voice and came to him.

“Bring your soup dish, please?”

“What kind of soup? Ho, ho!” said Erry, with bright face.

“What kind? Mango and nelli leaf.”

Erry noticed the heavy rice bag sitting nicely by his side. Hopes filled her head, “Seems like you’ve made a bundle today. Must have seen some lucky face this morning!”[ii] she said.

“Somebody lit up campfire early in the morning. The first thing I saw in that light was your bright face,” he replied.

“Couldn’t you think of something better even the day you can afford? Stupid nelli leaf. Get some fish at least. I would have bought meat, you know,” she said teasingly, staring at the item in the pot.

“Oh, no. The entire bag of rice would be gone in a snap. I want this rice to get me through for a couple of weeks.”

“Why? Won’t you go out tomorrow again? How big a stomach you have anyways? Three cups are plenty. Come on, get some fish,” she said. With that, Erry summed up the entire philosophy of the beggars community—the fundamentals of their economics. All that a beggar needs is three cups of rice to get by on any given day; and any beggar can get that much, if he or she could find one or two generous women on their route. That thought gives a lot of strength to the people in their community.

Kunti got up, and hopped his way to the old woman’s store.

The old woman sells groceries, vegetables, and firewood to the beggars. She gives him some dried fish and other spices for the soup in exchange for a cup of rice.

Erry brought her soup dish.

“Hey, can I ask you something?” she said.

“I know what you are going to ask,” he replied.



“Dad is sick. He could not go out for over three days now.”

“No. I will not.”

“I am not asking you for free. Let me borrow the rice today. Next time you are short, you can take from us.”

“No. I will not.”

“Hey, come on.”

“You go and ask that horse-cart driver. You like him.”

“You idiot! The horse-cart driver has left me.”

“Go away. He lets you sit in his cart, and wields his whip with tussles; you like that. Go to him.”

“He is married now.”

“Then, go to the other bum. I am no good; you think even that bum is better than I. An, you ask me for rice?”

“Do you know what the bum had done? One day, at midnight he got drunk, and came on to me. ‘What would you say?’ he asked me. ‘Give me a rupee,” I said. ‘Do I look like I have a rupee on me?’ he said. Then, I told him to go and get more drunk. He looked around furtively, like he was being vigilant, and then pulled out a rupee. The bums are crooks, you know. They have a lot of money. You tell me, is there anything you had ever given me?”

“What do I have to give you?”

“Whatever you have …”

“If I have …”

“What are going to do with all that rice?”

“Okay, take it. I am telling you, you must keep your word, though.”

That night Kunti begged Erry in any number of ways; he wanted to marry her desperately. He promised her that he would move in with them, and stay with them, if only she agreed to marry him and cook for him. Erry was touched.

The next day, Erry and Kunti cooked their meals together, and sat down to eat. Erry cooked fish soup again. All the other beggars in the shelter relished the fine aroma from her soup. The old man was down with fever; he also was woken by the smell.

“Who is he?” he asked Erry.

“Right from here, you know Kunti,” she replied.

“Why is he here?”

“We did the cooking together.”


“Yes, Maama[iii]. We are together,” Kunti replied.

The old man looked at him, gruffly. “You dirty rogue, get out of my sight,” he shouted.

“Why are you mad? I am not all that bad, you know,” Kunti said.

“I know alright. Get out of my face, you low life.”

Kunti was ruffled. “Are you calling me a low life? I am a Kapu boy[iv]; probably you don’t know. Ha! You are talking like your girl is a princess. She slept with that horse-cart driver. That driver is a Mala boy,” Kunti yells back with a gruff.

The old man stood and and kicked the soup bowl. It turned into a big brawl. The other beggars intervened and calmed them down. Kunti left, hopping away.

“Couldn’t you find a better guy than that idiot? I am going to find a man, the right one for you,” the old man guffawed and left.

Kunti returned. “Did you hear what your dad had said?” he asked her.

“What can I do?” Erry said, weakly.

“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

“What are you suggesting?”

“Come with me.”

“To where?”

“What do you mean where? Anywhere. We have all the way up to Rameswaram[v], our world has no bounds.”

“What about the old man?”

“He is not your problem.”

“What do you mean?”

“Let him take care of himself.”

“Gosh, you scoundrel! You want me to leave the sick man, and fool around with you?”

“Only, if you like.”

“Go, go away,” she screamed.

Kunti curled up in a corner, lay down like a caterpillar, and covered himself with a gunnysack.

Erry poured the soup in a bowl, picked up a couple of peppers as a side dish, and went to Kunti, and woke him up.

“Here, you had better eat it, before my dad came back. I can’t take his hollering.”

“Go away, I don’t want your food,” Kunti said. He did not get up. Erry kept imploring, but he would not listen.

The old man returned, with Guddi[vi] and called out, “Erry, come here.

“Cook for three people, today. Guddi is here; remember him?”

Erry knew him. Long time ago, they all went to Srikurmam on a pilgrimage.

“How are you?” Guddi said.

“What can I say? The old man is sick,” Erry replied.

“Well, he is getting old,” Guddi said, in a matter-of-fact tone.

“Yeah, that is true,” Erry said.

“Erry, starting today, we three are family. Cook for all the three of us,” the old man said.

Erry was ticked off; she was beside herself. She was aware that the old man had brought her into this world, and has been taking care of her; now, he is suggesting her marriage with the blind man; the old man is unable to see that Kunti is a fine man, and that he is crazy about her. The fact that the old man pushing away Kunti annoyed her. She failed to see her dad’s logic. What is the point? She cannot say ‘no’; she has to go along with dad’s proposition. He raised her.

At the other end of the patio, Kunti curled up like a rolled straw mat. He did not eat. She cooked his rice and the thought was killing him.

“Erry, you are really stupid[vii]. I am telling you, you don’t understand, you really are stupid,” the old man said.

Erry was ready to break down.

“You, come here,” the old man took her to a side, and asked her, “Did you see Guddi, I mean, did you take a good look at him?”

Of course, she saw him. She had known him for a long time. His body was dark like a boulder; and he covered his forehead with a huge smack of white paste; his eyeballs, popped up like cotton balls, and hung from his eye sockets; she was scared of his looks.

“Yes. I have seen him,” Erry replied, scratching her thigh.

“You are stuck on Kunti,” the old man said, teasingly.

“I am not stuck on anybody,” she replied.

“Come on, tell the truth. Tell me, really.”

“I don’t know.”

“You want Kunti.”

“Whatever you say…”

“Now, we are talking. That is good; that’s how the world sees it, you know. Listen to me,” the old man said.

Of course, she would listen. What other choice she has? If he says jump, she has to jump; he says take him, she has to take him. She is not free to say ‘no’, even when her heart is set elsewhere. She has no strength to rebel; it is not in her nature. Where is he getting his strength from? An old man, rotting with leprosy and on the verge of death, yet powerful enough to dictate terms to her. The parents who raise children will earn that power over their children. The children show kind of respect toward parents.

“Did I say no?” Erry said.

“You tell me the difference between the two men,” he asked her.

“Kunti is brawny; Guddi looks scary.”

“Don’t I look scary with all these sores? How come you are not scared of me? You have no problem feeding me?”

“You are my dad!”

“I am okay ‘cause I am your dad; well, he will be okay too after you are married to him. You start living with him, and he turns out to be okay. Kunti is no good for you.”

“Why not?” she asked dad.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean is he not good enough to bring home three cups of rice a day?”

“That is exactly my point. Listen to me,” the old man said, and delivered a long sermon, encapsulating the entire philosophy of the panhandlers community in that brief speech:

“I don’t want you to blame me later and say I did not take care of you while I was alive. You will not be happy if you go with Kunti. Listen carefully, and mark my words now. Check them again after a decade or so. When a cripple goes out for begging, people shut the door in his face. Nobody is kind to a cripple. He will be living off of you; he will sell you to other men. On the had, the blind man is a charmer, a prince without eyes. That is the biggest plus in his favor. Everybody will be kind to him. Women are kind to blind men; they will gladly give rice to a blind man. Besides, he is a great singer. He knows so many lyrics. You take him to some street corner, spread a sheet in front of him, and you wander away as you please. When he starts thumping his cymbals and singing, I am telling you, he will make a rupee a day, at the least. That is your proof. You see his body? He is strong like a shovel; he is not like me, you know, no diseases, no problems, not so much as a sneeze. He will have no problem earning enough for both of you. And also, he will be counting on you for help, he has to; and so, he will live by your rules. He will not bother you; no matter where you go, what you do. You can do anything you want, and he could not care less… Do you see what I mean? Wouldn’t you agree?”

“What can I say?” Erry mumbled.

“Just listen to me. Don’t let go of him.”

“Okay, I won’t.”

“Nobody really knows this big secret. All the beggar girls must go around looking for blind men, and marry only blind men, if you ask me.”

“Let’s go.”

Erry and her dad returned to the shelter.

“Hey, Guddi! Erry has agreed. I am sure she will not change her mind,” the old man told Guddi jubilantly. Guddi was ecstatic. For a man like him, to have a woman like Erry is a blessing!

He went to Erry, pulled out the stash he kept tied to his waist, and said, “Erry, here is my bag. Take this money and buy yourself anklets.”

It was a huge bag, filled with loose change. Erry’s eyes dazzled as she looked at the hoard. She did not expect Guddi to be that rich.

“I want red beads necklace,” she said. She had been dreaming about a red bead necklace for a long time.

“Then, you buy the red bead necklace and also silver anklets. That is what makes a woman a woman—her anklets, you know. Anklets adds to a woman’s beauty very much,” he said. The sounds of anklets probably awaken sweet thoughts in a blind man!

“Alright. Let’s go, have something to eat,” the old man said.

Erry served food for all the three, and handed Guddi his bowl.

“That’s my girl. Feed him well, and serve some for me too. You two together, make my day. I am telling you, Erry, do not let go of the blind man. Then, you make me happy as long as I live,” the old man said.




[The Telugu Original, Empu was first published in Arasam special issue in September 1945 and  included in the anthology, Chaso kathalu, 1968. Translated by Nidadasvolu Malathi and published on, June 2002.]

Translator’s note: The story shows us the economic philosophy underlying the beggars’ lifestyle, the choices they make, and their rationalization–a mode of thinking that is normally attributed to the middle class in our society. The author underscores the universality of this theme—the parent’s anxiety about a daughter’s welfare and the inherent desire for a better life in general, present in all human beings regardless of their economic status.

The one sentence in the story, “The old man’s speech is Upanishad for the beggar community: upanyaasam mushTi lokaaniki upanishattu ” sums up author’s perception of their reality.

[i] Literally, a crippled person. The physical disabilities are used as proper nouns in this story.

[ii] A common belief that the first face a person sees in the morning could affect one’s luck for the day. In Telugu: mukha visesham, or, evarimoham chusaano/choosaavo.

[iii] Kunti uses relational term maama, suggestive of proposed marriage.

[iv] Kapu and Mala are subcastes. The speaker is referring to the hierarchy, high and low, within the lower castes.

[v] A temple town in South India.

[vi] Literally Guddi means a blind person. Like Kunti, Guddi is used as a proper noun.

[vii] Erry literally means stupid.

Moments before boarding the plane by Sripada Subrahmanya Sastry


Mallamma stood up and took two steps toward Chelikani Venkaya. Venkaya walked in slowly, feeling crushed by the weight of his task. Mallamma was waiting for him. She was fully aware of his mission.

“Yes, thalli[1]?”

“What is the verdict?”

“Here is the dagger.” He quickly pulled the daggar from the sheath and held it up to her.

“To rip up the royal heart[2]?” she asked taking the daggar from his hand.

“How is that possible?”

“How? Am I not a Velama[3] child?”

“That is a man’s job, thalli!”

“Are you saying the Velama females are incompetent?”

Thalli, aren’t the Velama females asuryampasya[4]!”


“Meaning?!” Venkaya was stunned. Her words sounded like a protest to him.

“What do you mean? Chellamma![5] You are speaking strangely today. You know the protocol. Are you asking me to spell it for you?”

“I am asking you what is your position now?”

“Now or later, any time, there is only one meaning. You should never step outside.”

“That’s great. What happens if I step out?”

“Where is the Velama pride for men, if their women are seen by other men?”

“What a grim life! Women in all other castes, right from brahmins down to mala (untouchable) and madigaa (tanner), they all walk around freely. How come only we, the women in the royal families, are vulnerable?”

“Hasn’t that been the way always, a custom held for centuries?”

“Do we have to stick to that even when the circumstances are screaming for action?”

“How could you talk about circumstances? Where is the room for action, when we are acting with abandon?”

“That is my point exactly. Don’t I have to act with abandon?”

“In fact, it is imminent.”


“In order to carry out the job I am assigned to perform.”

“You mean strangling my throat. Right?”

The spirit in her question nearly choked him.

His head drooped as if in shame.

“Is that right?”

He lifted his head looking sideways.

“Come on, speak up.”

“What do you want me to say, thalli?”

“What would you say? What CAN you say? What a misery! The enemy is at the door, the circumstances are clearly out of men’s control, and you have nothing to say …”

“What are you saying, thalli? What is ‘out of men’s control’ for Velama heroes?” As he spoke his eyes pierced through like a javalin.

“What did you say? Ha?”

“Think I won’t?”

“So, what is your reason for showing up here now?”

“My orders, thalli.”

“I understand that. My question is what is his reason?”

“Fear of defiling your honor.”

“What? … For whom? … For Velama women?” Mallamma’s voice resounded like a thunder. Venkaya was awestruck.

“Had we been to the war zone, do you think the enemy could come up with any words worse than yours?”

“Is this the time for debate, thalli?”

“That’s precisely my point. That Velama women should not step outside is a norm. But when the circumstances get out of control, what is wrong in them stepping in?”

“Has it ever happened in the past? Any woman ever held a sword in any battle fought by Velama kings?”

“At a time when the depravity of the enemies is about to prevail, and the outsiders have the gall to tell us to leave our fort …”

“How can you compare one with the other?”

“Then, let us stop bickering. Who knows why the Velama women in the past did not go to war?”

Venkaya had no answer.

“Besides, where is the proof that the Velama women in the past were confronted with the same situation we are today, that they did not participate in wars, but committed suicide in the palace, that they stabbed themselves or burnt to ashes by their own choice. Who could corroborate all or any of this? Not only that. Possibly they all were hero-mothers (veeramaata,mother of a hero) and hero-wives (veerapatni, wife of a hero). It is also possible that they were not really anxious to be labeled heroic women (veeranganalu). Now, we don’t belong in that category. All the women in the palace are excited and asking, “why not we go out and stab Vijayaramudu?[6] What is going to happen to our bravado (if we don’t act on that)? I am in a mood to pick up the sword myself. At the moment I  have no way of knowing whether I am a hero-mother or not, since my child is still a baby. What else can I do? I have earned the reputation even in my childhood that ‘Mallamma counts for one’ (ennika ayinadi). I have proved myself a match for your king. Now don’t have to prove myself the mahishasuramardani[7]?”.

Her words pierced through his eardrums.

“What would you say, Venkaya?”

He wanted to say something but no sound came out of his mouth.

“After all the efforts of Velama kings have failed … The bravery of Velama kings has been used up, …”

THALLI! What did you say?” His voice reverberated the entire pride he had been cherishing to this moment.

“Don’t be upset. You might as well remember your reason to show up here and then speak. I am referring to a specific moment. When the Bobbili heroes’ bravery is dulled …”

“Please, thalli, I can not take this anymore. If you don’t put an end to this line of argument, my blood boils and …” He clutched his daggar.

“Blood boils? When? So, at the moment it is ice-cold, right?”

“Hara Hara Mahadeva[8]! Chellamma!” He screamed, gritting his teeth, weilding his daggar and looking up as he shouted the battle cry. His body writhed head to foot like a lightning, freeing the entire spirit of royal lineage dormant in him. Then appeared Ranga Rao’s ferocious face in front of his eyes, admonishing him, “What did I tell you to do, and what are you doing?”

His anger was snipped in a split second. His face fell. The teeth stopped gritting gradually. He kept repeating, “thalli, thalli, …” and switched to a series of sighs.

His hand wilted like a stalk of spinach.

Mallamma was disgusted with his sudden outburst and quick cooling off.

“Do you think the enemy would give in for your empty words? You had to thow in the towel in one day, where is the room for the pride of Velama kings? Had the Bobbili kings shown their valor, could the enemy have a chance to enjoy his boot? What a shameful time we have come to!”

Because we are thrown into bad times, the king’s command turned out to be like this.”

“That is not correct. Because it is bad time, the women should pick up the sword. Bobbili king is a hero of heroes and has a handful of gem-like heroes on his side, yet sought the help of the French. He didn’t have the courage to attack us alone. Can’t you see the reason behind his action? Why can’t the Velama kings see that? Why can’t they accept that there is nothing embarrassing in taking the women’s help?”

Venkaya was about to say something. But …

“Besides, this is not about men asking women to help them. It is about women coming forward and offering their help. Can you see the difference?”

“The result, however, …”

“The result? You idiot! The fact that Vijayaramaraju could not fight alone proves that he is effeminate. And guess how beautiful it could be when the Bobbili women take him.”


“Look, child! It is a proven fact that I am the dutiful wife (dharmapatni) of the Bobbili King, Rangarao. Don’t I also have to prove that I am also his sahadharmacharini (equal partner in discharging his familial and social obligations)

“Where is the contradiction?”

“What is left for me? my child! Vijayaramaraju offered three townships as mundabharanam (alimony for a widow). He (Vijayaramaraju) lives on to enjoy his life and I commit suicide.Don’t you see that that would be the worst kind of dishonor for me?”

The term “mundabharanam” slit through Venkaya’s heart. He was irate for the king’s words and for Mallamma repeating them. Several thoughts rose and fell in his head, and the emotional turmoil rendered him speechless. He could neither express them nor contain them. Struggling with his emotions, he did not respond to her query.

“Where is your king?”

“In front of the palace, among the other Velama cheifs. He is preparing for …”

“You go and tell him.”

“I have no orders, thalli!”

“All right. I will go. Who can stop me?”

“Who can stop you, thalli? Whoever has the nerve to stop you? But then, first stab me here,” he said, pushing forward his chest and tapping on the target with his index finger.

“What are you saying? Is that you think of this Mallamma? That is beautiful. If I pick up the dagger I would use it to prod the entrails of the enemy. I will never show my prowess on my own people. Is that clear?”

Her words thrust him like a javelin. He was silent.

“Dear child, did you think that Mallamma is a straightforward, all words-no-action-female hero of sorts, without a sense of discernment? You think I make no distinction between friends and enemies?”

Venkaya’s face turned toward her but his looks were still glued to the carpet.


“So, Venkaya, is it confirmed that I would not see the king again?”

By now Venkaya collected himself. All the education he has received through the years came to his rescue. He said, “After you leave this mean human body, you will reach the much coveted nirvana, thalli!”

“Don’t dish out that dim-witted philosophy to me. It is only this mean human body that carries the revenge and outrage.”

“Is this human body permanent?”

“Is your Velama pride permanent?”

He lowered his head.

“What about the king who came to tear down Bobbili? Didn’t he know that the human body is transient?”

“Only if we don’t crush his body on this soil.”

“Isn’t that what I am saying too? I would finish it?”

He had no argument there. “Could you please stop arguing with me?” he begged her coaxingly.

“You know the stories- the Bobbili business women confused the Golconda businessmen with their measuring weights, and the Bobbili working women crushed the Vijayanagaram chieftains with their pestles. Tell me don’t we, the Bobbili queens, count as much?”

“The king is waiting for me to return, thalli.”

“Why? He won’t attack the king wihout you by his side? And you can’t get excited until you stab your own mothers, sisters and children?”

Venkaya felt like she was pulling out his entrails. He closed his eyes heaving deep sighs.

“What a wretched time we have come to. Satyabhama tucked in her saree tight, picked up the bow and arrow and caused Narakasura[9] to fall. The enemy troops shattered when Rudramma weilded her sword in Orugallu, and Nagamma in Palnadu. Don’t you think the world has to see what happens when Mallamma exerts her daggar?”

“What is the point of conjecture, thalli?”

Mallamma sprang like a cobra, steppedon[10], and spoke, “What? Conjecture?”

“Who knows what happens…”

“Same old line, again? Are those the right words for a Velama warrior to speak?”


“Is the land of Bobbili gone to dogs?”


“If only Tandra Paparayani varu[11] were around …”

“I am not sure if Paparayani varu has heard of the situation here, or how he is holding down his fort.”

“True we don’t know whether Paparayani varu has heard of this or not. So be it. What about Bobbili fort? Do we have to let this go?”


“Paparayani varu is not here. What about others? Venkatarayani varu spoke big but where is the action? Venkatarayani garu is no good. That much is clear. What about the other kings, Rao Chinnarayani garu, Inaganti Narasa Rayani garu, Kakarlapudi Venkataramaraju garu, Vantena Bucchanna garu, …. Where are they all? Not one of them is man enough to come here and convey the message about the King’s sad demise??


“You won’t talk. Of course. What can you say? You came rushing in to the queen’s quarters, wielding your sword. What a great assignment for you! But, my child, let us, the Bobbili Velama ladies have the opportunity at least to stab ourselves, if not the enemies.”


“You know we the women from one hundred Velama families are like whetted swords. All this skill, that should have been put to use in time of need, is wasted like the moonlight in the woods[12]. Does anybody have any idea how deeply distressed these women are about the plight of Bobbili, and how anxious they are to skin the enemy?

Listen, Venkaya, if we are not interested, we would not live even if we had won the battle. You go and get the permission from your king for us–either to kill ourselves or to jump into the battlefield.”

Thalli, I do not have any responses for you. You know that we all respect you as much as we respect Rangarayani garu.”

“Then let us go to the battle.’

“That is defying the king’s command, thalli.”

“Then why this smooth-talk?”

“I am only a servant of the king. How can I defy his command?”

“If that is the command of the king, this is the command of the queen. You go and bring the King here.”

Thalli, I don’t have the permission to show up in his presence, without finishing my task.”

“That’s it. … No matter how much I try to convince you, you give the same song. The world goes on even after we are dead. The world will make a note that the Bobbili Velama heroes could neither kill the king who had committed inhuman acts, nor allow the women to finish the job, when women offered …”



“Yes, thalli.”

“What would you say?”

“We are just wasting time, I would say. There is no point in playing for time, I would say.”

“Of course, that is what you would say. You are a match for your king. I am glad you stuck to your guns at least in this regard. My child, whatever time is lost is lost. You might as well remember this. You go and tell your king that ‘Your wife told me to ask you, ‘how could you turn the sword on your wife, the sword that should have been used to pluck the heart of the enemy?’ Also tell him that I asked, ‘you are so anxious to protect our honor now, why didn’t you didn’t you think of that when the authorities sent you the message?’


“The life-breath hardly fits in a fist. Yet we are wrestling for this very life-breath. In a split second the life-breath disappears and the world will still go on as always. Who could tell how many times this life went through these revolving doors?

Yet I am certain that there has never been and never will be a predicament worse than this. What a shame! The enemy spoke ill words and my husband did nothing. My blood is boiling. Physical abuse is much better, if you ask me.”


“What is the point of mulling over now? What is the point of getting at you? How can I talk about others when unspeakable insults are poured on the wife of a great king like Rangarayani garu. If I, the Bobbili queen, choose to stay alive, Vijayaramudu is offering alimony.”


“What is it, my child? Is Mallamma standing in your way for the display of your valor? Here, I am sending her away. I have been blabbering nonsense all along. And all you see is me blabbering. Nothing more. It is confirmed that I will die without avenging myself on the enemy. Nothing is accomplished by my talking alone. I spoke a lot out of frustration. Please, Annaya[13], forgive me. Please tell your bava[14] garu that Mallamma is capable of discerning the good from the bad, and sought his forgiveness also.”


“Lord Srirama! the Gods Sun and Moon! Here is my last namaskaram to you. Here are my last respects. This is my last prayer. Please, keep an eye on my baby son. I am begging you. Transfer all my remaining lifespan to him. Let the geneology of Bobbili kings continue through him. Credit him with all the valor that is dormant in the Velama heroes who are facing untimely death today. Let him finish the job my husband should have done. That is all I ask of you. That is the blessing I beseech you. That is when I feel avenged. This dagger is sharp. That does not matter though. When one has the courage, even a piece of wet cloth is enough to do the job… Sri Hari! Sri Hari! Sri Ha ..ri…”

Just one stab! The body fell with one thump.

Venkaya’s eyes turned hazy. Everything around looked vacant. In one split second his hands emptied the queen’s palace.




(Published originally in Telugu entitled vimanam ekkabothu… in Bharati, February 1926.

This version, courtesy of Visalandhra Publishing House, is taken from their anthology, Sripada Subrahmanya Sastry kathalu-1. )

Translator’s note:  The story is woven around a famous battle called “Bobbili yuddham” fought in 1757 by prince Venkata Ranga Rao of Bobbili and prince Vijaya Rama Rao of Vijayanagaram, Andhra Pradesh, with military help from the French.. Prince Rangarao of Bobbili lost and sent his envoy, Venkaya to kill the queen by way of protecting her honor, per custom of the times.  The fully-charged questions queen Mallamma raises with the envoy reflect the pride and self-respect women evinced. The use contemporary imagery in the title, boarding the plane, appears to reposition the storyline to appeal to the modern day readers. In all probability Subrahmanya Sastry is raising the same questions as Mallamma on behalf of all the women.

Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on, September 2002.)

[1] It is common practice to address the women in higher strata as amma or talli, meaning mother.

[2] The reference was to the enemy king.

[3] Velama is one of royal castes. They were rulers of Vijayanagaram Empire in the 16th century.

[4] A common phrase with reference to women in higher castes is meaning not seen by the sun, never left home.

[5] Venkaya addresses her as chellamma, younger sister which implies a shift in his position from an underling to protective figure. See Glossary for the intricacies of the interpersonal relationships in the heirarchy in India.

[6] Vijayarama raju, Vijajanagaram King defeated the Bobbili king, Ranga Rao in 1757. Mallamma was Bobbili queen.

[7] Mythology, the goddess Kali killed the demon named Mahishasura. Queen Mallamma implies that she would assume the form of Kali to end the King Vijayarama raju.

[8] Hara, and Mahadeva–epithets of Lord Siva, the God of Destruction. Also a phrase used as a battle cry.

[9] Satyabhama, wife of Krishna, went to war with Krishna. Krishna fainted while fighting, and Satyabhama killed the demon Narakasura.

[10] Telugu phrase: toka tokkina taachulaa... Lit. a viper whose tail is stepped on.

[11] A variant of garu. See glossary.

[12] Telugu proverb, adavi gachina vennela

[13] Older brother. See note 4. He has earlier established that he was older in age. She, in her final moment, accepted his status as older brother and protector.

[14] Brother-in-law. Building on the Annaya, Chellamma relationship, she is referring to the king, her husband as his brother-in-law.

Author Crossing the Gender Barrier by Nidadavolu Malathi

In October 2002, I interviewed one of our renowned female writers, Turaga Janakirani. During the interview, Janakirani made an interesting comment: Men cannot write like women. I understood her statement as saying men cannot write fiction with a female protagonist as narrator.

I must admit I was haunted by the question ever since—whether a writer can successfully create a narrator of the opposite gender. In this age of gender barrier and numerous controversies, maybe, I’m adding one more facet to the fray. By default, authors are skilled in creating a wide variety of characters and, simplicity, they understand human psyche. If this premise is accepted, then the authors must be capable of creating protagonists of opposite gender..

There are two stories published on previously: Wilted Lotus [kamalina kamalam], written by M. Ramakoti, a renowned male writer, and is narrated by a female, uneducated but intelligent nonetheless. The story, narrated by the narrator in the first person and embedded in a heart to heart conversation between two female friends, portrayed a potent issue of naiveté and betrayal—an illiterate but intelligent wife and an educated but hypocritical husband. I think Ramakoti has succeeded in creating the nuance with flair. Then the next question is why did the author choose to create a female narrator? What did he accomplish additionally in doing so?

In the second story, kaasiratnam vine by Malathi, the story opens with a young, educated male narrating it in the first person. The core story however was narrated by an old man, tatha, and his language conforms to the storytelling technique of oral tradition (The Telugu original shows this aspect better than the translation). I do not remember why I chose to make the narrator a male. Possibly, it was a comment on the worldly wisdom, or rather lack of it, of the educated males in the 1960’s era. It is not unusual for authors to choose a narrator to distance themselves from the narrator in order to express a point of view that’s different from their own; and, choosing a narrator from the opposite gender could distance them further.

Another story, My Sister: A Classy Lady, [hundaa], was written by Chaganti Tulasi, a female writer of repute, and with a male character as the narrator. Unlike in kaasiratnam, in this story, the narrator’s humility and his admiration for the moral courage of his sister are predominant factors. Once again, the question is: What is the author’s message? Is it possible that only a female writer could perceive the finer qualities of smartness and sacrifice of women? By using a male narrator, did the author achieve additional depth or breadth?

At this writing, two more stories came to my mind. They are not so much about creating a narrator from the opposite gender but creating powerful characters of the opposite gender. Raavi Sastry wrote a story, “Man – Woman” [mogavaadu-aadamanishi], a story of a young man coming of age. The young man goes to the city in search of a job. While he was waiting at a bus stop, a young woman asks him to drop a letter in the nearby mailbox. He, quite taken by her beauty and her English, jumps to her rescue and obliges her gleefully. She shows her appreciation with a kiss which throws him off one more time. In the evening, when his uncle called him “kurraadaa!” [You, boy], he retorts, “Don’t call me kurraadaa!” I remember seeing a translation of this story under the title, “Thank you, Mohini” (can’t recall where). This story, in juxtaposition with another story, “tanuu – neerajaa,” written by a famous female writer, Malati Chendur, may offer another angle to our discussion. The story, Himself/I and Neeraja, [tanu – neeraja] was narrated by a male character, “tanu” in the story.

Here a brief note on the term, tanu, is necessary. The term tanu is a pronoun, third person, singular, common for male and female, and is unique to Telugu language. In grammar, the term acts like a third person, singular, with verb ending conforming to speaker’s gender, male or female. In fiction, it is implied that the story is being narrated from the perspective of that person, male or female. Recently, I was discussing this term with Saradapurna, editor of brAhmi, and her article, raagicembu [Copper pot] in September 2003 issue. The two-page narrative is the narrator’s lyrical response to a copper pot as a metaphor for friendship and a reflection on her life on a foreign soil. Saradapurna mentioned that she switched from “I” to “tanu” towards the end by way of distancing herself—creating a new “I” on a new ground. That is one example of how the term behaves in our language.

In the story, “tanu – neerajaa,” the narrator is a self-absorbed male, who wanted to marry Neeraja but his pride gets in his way to ask her to marry him; Neeraja understood his position and decided to marry another man, Raghu. In a note to tanu, she explains to him that she decided to marry Raghu since Raghu needed her; he was like a “baby sheep lost in the dark.” Only after losing her, tanu realizes what a grave mistake he had made. The story is significant for two reasons. The story is narrated from the standpoint of the narrator, a male, tanu. Secondly, by giving him no name and by referring to him only as tanu, the male protagonist was reduced to a nonentity.  This is obvious from the female protagonist’s choice of another man, Raghu, as her husband.

Are female authors creating less-than-heroic-characters when they portray characters of the opposite gender? If so, why? Male writers, Ramakoti and Raavi Sastry, on the other hand, created strong female characters. Please, don’t take this is as my conclusion. I am only throwing a few questions to think about. You are welcome to express your opinions.

We can stretch the point and examine also the husband-wife teams who have been writing under female pseudonyms [e.g. Beenadevi and Vasundhara] and raise a similar question: Is there a specific element that could be identified as her contribution and/or his contribution? The stories, “A Piece of Ribbon,” [Beenadevi] and “Diary,” [Vasundhara] are cases in point.

Satya Pappu, an avid reader, mentioned that Sripada Subrahmanya Sastry delineated female characters with superb insight, probably, because he was raised by his mother and thus had a chance to observe female psyche at close quarters. One of his stories, Moments Before Boarding the Plane, is vouches for his shrewd observations of female psyche. He however addresses the the issue from a slightly different perspective—an author’s aptitude to study individuals as humans irrespective of his/her gender.


© Nidadavolu Malathi.

(Published as editorial,, April 2004)



Under the Glowing Moonlight by Dr. Poranki Dakshina Murthy

Suddenly, from out of nowhere, people started pouring into our town; not just a few small crowds, but a multitude of them.

Our shelter was flooded with folks day in and day out. Some had no room anywhere and they started cooking on the front porches of some of the houses. A few others set up tents near the village well. The entire place was a chaos.

 For the town’s storekeeper, it was a blessing. He buried his head in the cashbox and kept counting his earnings; he didn’t have time even to check which way the pin on the weighing scale was leaning.

 Children could not stay home; they went bustling around, looking important and busy. Of course,

how can they stay home while so many people swarmed the town; and were scurrying around, like at a wedding party, with hundreds of new faces, short braids, and tiny hairdos. The children went to receive them with great zeal. They were everywhere, like a shower of  pogaDa flowers, after the tree was shaken.

 For the past four or five days, people started pouring in as if it were a village fair. The town was small, I mean very small. In fact, it can not even be called a town. Originally, a few huts were built by the roadside. And then, during the reign of the Vijayanagar empire,[i] two wells were dug and a few more families found their homes, hoping that the wells would provide water for their subsistence. Then they settled down and started farming the land in the area. That’s how it became a township. Nobody cared to give it a name. The people never needed it. The Revenue department however registered that land under the name of a neighborhood village. The town has one specific advantage though. Since it was located by the roadside. Other villagers, on their way to the city, found it a handy place for stopping briefly and resting.

 On that day, Sivanna, a farm hand, had no time even to breathe. Normally, he was not a sweaty type of man, no matter how hard he worked; and so, he never looked tired. He was busy working, with his head down. He had no time to think. Still, a thing or two kept surfacing in his mind off and on, giving him a jab at his heart. Whoever could have expected that such a huge catastrophe would occur in their town?

 No, nobody could’ve expected it; it is not unusual though, for the Rayala seema[ii] area. There are some dim-wits who’d call it ratanaala seema [diamond ore] but, it’s a rock bed to speak the truth. There are no canals to bring in water for farming in the area; and so, the farmers have to draw water from the wells, breaking their backs. Sometimes, they would have no rains for four or five years at a stretch, causing drought; the wells dry up, and the people have to struggle even for a morsel of food. Often the poor families are forced to leave the land, which they had trusted for centuries. They would go away to distant lands, in the hope of staying alive. That’s when families go away in huge clusters, leaving behind the gloomy townships. That is not unusual. But the people in this particular town never faced it, not until now.

 By the end of the day, the commotion died down. Sivanna finished packing all the stuff that belonged to his landlord in boxes.

He went home and lit up the stove. The splinters caught fire and the flames shot up. He put a pot of water on the stove, added the maize grits and covered it with a lid. Then, he sat in front of the stove, watching the flames. He watched, without batting an eyelid, as the splinters blazed and the flames enveloped the pot. Vapors started oozing out from under the lid; the maize was cooking, hissing softly. He picked up the ladle and stirred the maize a few times, covered it again, and lowered the flames.

While he was sitting there, he made up his mind; he pushed away all the thoughts that were hovering in his head. No matter however much he suffered loneliness in that hut, unlike all others, he would not leave town. His landlord was leaving with his family; he did not ask Sivanna to go with him, not  in so many  words; but his wife said something to that effect. At the time, for some odd reason, he thought it would be nice if he went with them. He waited for his landlord to say the same thing but that did not happen. He was disappointed a little but did not suggest it himself. Then he considered going to some other place by himself, if not with his landlord, and making a new life for himself, as a day laborer or something. After all, he was just one person; couldn’t he manage somehow? He was at the prime of youth and hard-working. Then again, the other thoughts took over—the thought of leaving the native soil, however worthless it was, depressed him. What kind of relationship he has with this soil? Can’t tell! He could not explain it. He never shed a tear in his twenty-years of life; yet, today the thought of leaving this place was agonizing.

 Sivanna told himself, “I am not going anywhere; I will not. The entire townspeople can go away; the town can be deserted totally and all the houses abandoned, but I am not leaving my home.” He convinced himself that all this was great—lighting up the stove by himself, washing and pouring the maize in the cooking pot, and after it was cooked, emptying it into the plate, and sitting down with his food and a slice of pickle, all by himself, and sitting for hours on end like that—all that seemed interesting and pleasurable for him; it even felt like a custom he must not sidestep ever.

 Sivanna finished eating, spread a mat in the open on the front yard, and lay down with his hands tucked under his head. He kept staring into the sky. The moonlight spread sparsely on his face. He dozed off.

 A little after midnight, the commotion stirred up again. Sivanna could hear the noises from the wheels of the moving carts and the jingling bells around the necks of the bulls. He got up quickly, washed up and went to the landlord’s house. By then, the carts were already there, lined up. Sivanna loaded  the boxes in one cart, single-handedly. The landlord’s family got on the other two carts. Sivanna followed the carts to the outskirts of the town, to bid farewell. The landlady said to her husband, “I was hoping Sivanna would go with us.”

“Yes, that would’ve been nice. But I don’t think he would want to leave this place,” he replied, sounding casual.

Sivanna heard their conversation. He knew that those words were not spoken wholeheartedly; he would have felt hurt under different circumstances but he was not worried this time. He told himself again, “That’s true. I can not leave this town and walk away.” The carts went past the boundary line The landlord told Sivanna to turn around; he stuffed a ten-rupee bill in Sivanna’s hand. Sivanna didn’t want to accept it. He pulled back; the landlord called out for him. She said, “Look, Sivanna, this is our pleasure. Don’t say no. I know this is nowhere near all the things you’ve done for us. Yet, please, don’t refuse it. Ayya garu would be hurt. I know you don’t need this money. But sometime later you might want to go somewhere and then you’ll need it. Save it for that purpose. One more thing. Keep an eye on our house.” Sivanna nodded politely.

 The carts moved on. Sivanna stood there for a long time and after the carts were out of sight, turned around and went home. After his landlord left town, Sivanna did not step outside his hut for a couple of days. In the meantime, almost all the houses in town were vacated. Even other villagers who were passing by stopped only for a few hours or a day and moved on. Some were on carts, some on foot, and a few older persons were carried by other men in dolis[iii]; and their animals followed behind them.

 Sivanna came out of his hut on the third day; the sun was going down. He went to the village meeting place—the concrete patio—where people used to gather. He saw the three grimy stones, set to serve as a stove for the passersby. He went farther; he found nothing but a few rags and used papers; all the houses were filthy for want of care. Some of the streets were like dark tunnels; no smell from the animal sheds; no sight of greenery to be found anywhere, not even for sample. Sivanna kept walking, recalling the persons in each house as he passed.

 As he approached the well, he saw something white; it was moving. He went closer.

A cow!

He was taken aback. Poor thing; probably, she escaped from the herd and returned home. “Hum, you are also like me; leaving home breaks our hearts, right?” he said.

The cow lifted her face and looked up. Sivanna patted on its back gently and started walking, with his hand on her neck. The cow, as she followed him, kept looking back towards the well.

“You, silly animal, looking for water? Let’s go to my place. I’ll give you all the water you can drink,” he said. Then something else occurred to him. Where could he get fodder for the cow?

The cow was walking slowly, nibbling on the blades of grass that dropped here and there from the carts that went by earlier. Sivanna chuckled.

 A faint layer of moonlight spread on the cow, and seemed to condense on her. Sivanna was amused that he should find this new life here where humans could not survive. There was no way to know whom that cow belonged to, or which village she came from.

Sivanna was walking, laughing to himself. The cow was walking behind him. Suddenly, some sound was heard from one of the side lanes. Sivanna did not hear it but the cow did and she stopped. She bellowed with pricked ears. Sivanna also stopped and then heard sobs coming softly from the side lane. He was taken aback.

The cow bellowed again.

Sivanna went into the lane. The houses on either side were very close to each other and the lane was too narrow; it was like a dark tunnel. He went farther and heard the cries of a little girl. He moved quickly and found the little girl. She, barely five-years old, wore a skirt and a blouse and standing alone. She saw him and stood there without moving.

 Sivanna’s heart moaned at the sight of her. He could not imagine whose child she was; who could have forgotten here, from which village—no way of knowing.

Sivanna was baffled as he thought of the series of events that were occurring in his life.

He picked up the child and held tight to his chest. He said, “Don’t cry, baby. Nothing to fear. We’ll go to our home. I’ll feed you, sing lullabies and put you to bed. Okay? You’ll not cry

anymore, yes? We don’t have to worry about anything. You, I and our cow—we three will be all right. Let’s not leave this town ever. This whole town is ours now. Let’s not go anywhere any time, ever again. Okay?”

 The child stopped crying but gasping for breath. The cow was walking ahead of them. Sivanna told himself, “It must be a blessing, the fruit of my good deeds of past several past lifetimes. How else can I account for this strange events—this little child coming into my life at a time when the entire country was hit with drought, the entire town starved for food, and deserted the place. I was the only one, alone and scared, to stay back; how could I explain these new relationships in my empty life?”

 He pulled the child’s face closer and kissed on her forehead. The little girl put her two hands around his neck and snuggled her face in his bosom.

The heavenly bliss he felt in his heart at that moment was beyond belief. Only the full-blown moon would know!


 (The Telugu original, vennela pandina vela [Even as the moonlight shone.] was published in Jwala. Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on, July 204.)

[i] Famous empire in the 17th Century.

[ii] Far south region of Andhra Pradesh state.

[iii] A mode of transportation. A sheet hung to a pole and the pole would be carried by men on their shoulders.

Some Reflections on Telugu short story by Dr. Poranki Dakshina Murthy

Every speech community in the world has its stories to tell us. Every story lives as long as a live interest prompts the narrators to tell and the narratees to listen—kathanotsaaham o [the interest to tell] on one side and sravanotsaaham [the interest to listen] on the other side. As the time went on, script was invented by the mankind. Invention of the script is a giant leap in the progress and development of human civilization. Oral communication helped to develop written communication. A tradition for written communication had also made its beginning at a later period. We are really fortunate to possess two traditions, one ‘oral’ and the other ‘written’ for our all round development. We all love to cherish them and nourish them.

We know that every story that is short is not a ‘short story’. It is a specific, well-defined form or genre of modern literature known after we came into contact with the western literature from the third quarter of the 19th century, that is, after the establishment of the three universities in the three presidencies of Madras, Bombay and Calcutta. Stories, we have from the time immemorial, in the oral literature. Written literature also has developed and preserved several kinds of stories in different forms in verse and prose. Story and song are indeed twins. Stories of oral tradition and stories of written tradition have become enriched by influencing or borrowing from each other.

To be brief in my introductory words, I would like to draw your attention to one of the interesting techniques of story telling in the oral tradition. It is the ‘interrogative narrative technique’ of edu cepala katha, a story of seven fish, very popular among Telugu children. You may be having your own versions of the story with the same or varying content, in other Dravidian languages.

The story runs like this:

anagaa anagaa oka raaju  Once upon a time, there was a king.
aa raajuki eduguru kodukulu The king had seven sons.
aa eduguru kodukulu vetaki velliedu cepalu tecceru. The seven sons went fishing and brought seven fish.
cepalu tecchi enealo vesaaru They put the fish in the sun to dry.
vaatilo oka cepa endaledu One of the fish did not dry.
“cepaa, cepaa, enduku endaledu?” “O fish, why did you not dry?”
“dubbu addu vaccindi” “The haystack blocked the sun.
“dubbuu, dubbuu, enduku addu vacchaavu?” “O haystack, why did you block the sun?”
“aavu meyaledu.” “The cow did not graze.”
“aavuu, aavuu, enduku meyaledu?” “O cow, O cow, why did you not graze?”
“aavula kaapari nannu mepaedu.” “The cowherd did not tend me to graze.”
“aavula kaapari, aavula kaapari, [aavunu] enduku mepaedu?” “O cowherd, O cowherd, why did you not tend the cow to graze?”
“avva ganji poyyaledu.” “Mother [mistress of the household] did not give me gruel.”
“avvaa, avvaa, enduku ganji poyyaedu?” “O Mother, O Mother, why did you not give him the gruel?”
“naa pillavaadu edustunnaadu.” “My child was crying.”
“pillavaadaa, pillavaadaa, enduku edustunnaavu?” “O child, O child, why did you cry?”
“ciima kuttindi.” “The ant stung me.”
“ciimaa, ciimaa, enduku kuttevu?” “O ant, O ant, why did you stink him?”
“naa bangaaru kannamlo velu pedite kuttanaa?” “Would I not sting when he sticks a finger in my gold anthill?”


That is the story. The first five lines form an opening. The rest are questions and answers. Every occurrence has a cause and each one throws the blame [cause] on another. The story, in the conversational part, with an effect and ends with a cause. In a reversal order of the events, a flashback, the story gradually unwinds.

Surprisingly, I found the same technique used in one of the nursery rhymes of remote Assam (as quoted by Birendra Bhattacharya, NARRATIVE – A seminar, Sahitya Akademi, 1990). The story is like this:

“The nursery rhyme begins with a flower.

“Flower, Flower, why don’t you bloom?” The flower replies, “The cow has eaten the shoot. Why should I bloom?”

Then the interrogator turns to the cow and asks, “Cow, cow, why do you eat the shoot?” The cow replies, “The cowherd does not tend, why should I not eat?”

It goes on:

“Cowherd! Cowherd! Why don’t you tend the cow?

The cook does not serve rice, why should I tend?

Cook! Cook! Why don’t you serve rice?

The woodcutter does not give firewood, why should I cook?

Woodcutter! Woodcutter! Why don’t you give firewood?

The blacksmith does not supply chopper, why should I give? …”

The blacksmith blames the fireman, the fireman blames the clouds, which were to send rain. When interrogated, the clouds blame the frog, which refuses to croak. The frog defends itself by saying that it is not in its nature. The primitive narrator, who is also the interrogator, is evidently convinced that the frog’s croaking causes the rains. The first event in the nursery rhyme deals with frog; it does not croak. Then the events follow in a certain causal order in time in real life, ultimately compelling the flower not to bloom. The narrator reverses the order and narrates the events as it were in a flashback (p.34).

In all folk narratives, the essential technique of narration (that is, depicting the events in a certain imaginative and psychological order in time) is invariably found.

“A close look at ancient literature may reveal narrative patterns that will give modern writers hints on how to revitalize their art.” (p.34).

Seeing the usefulness of this interrogative narrative technique, I adopted it, some four decades ago in one of my stories written in a satirical way, as a small story within the main story, like box kept in a bigger box—dealing with the drudgery of a proof-reader employed in a private printing press. The small story, like the story of ‘seven fish’ runs in probing reasons for several mistakes and howlers that have crept into a textbook. As the ant given reason for pricking the finger of a child, the English Medium of Instruction blames the Telugu Medium for all the errors printed in the book.

Another important thing I want to share with you, is about a clear-cut specific definition of short story. It is generally said that the prominent theoreticians of Sanskrit Poetics like Dhanjaya, Bhaamata, DAndi, Vaamana, Rudrata, Anandavardhana, Mammata, Hemachandra and Viswanatha, did not pay much attention to the technique of short story that can be found useful for us. Of course, there are varied classifications of prose fiction like paryaayabandham, sankalakathaa, upakathaa, mahakathaa etc. Agnipuraanam (Chapter 337.12) also had mentioned some of them: akhaayikaa, kathaa, khandakathaa, parikathaa tathaa/ kathaanikEti manyante gadyakaavyam ca pancadhaa. Prose fiction is of five kinds, says the author of  AgnipuraaNam. A definition of short story was also given in the same chapter:

Bhayaanakam sukhaparam garbhe ca karuNaarasah

adbhutO ante sukluptaarthaa nOdaatta saa kathaanikaa.

Thus we can proudly say that the credit of giving a clear-cut definition of short story, kathaanikaa, goes to India, through Agnipuraanam.

One more interesting thing worth-mentioning is a rich variety of stories identified by Somadeva (11th century A.D.), the author of kathaasaritsaggaram. He used seventeen kinds of epithets that qualify several stories (as quoted by Prof. Nalini Sudhale in her book, Katha In Sanskrit Poetics, published by the Sanskrit Akademi, Osmania University, Hyderabad-7, pp.555-56.):

  1. ramya: Katha should be pleasing to the mind;
  2. hrudya: It should touch one’s heart;
  3. haariNii: It should be captivating and the listener should be carried away;
  4. citraa: It should have brilliance of content and strikingness of expression;
  5. udaaraa: It should have richness of import;
  6. vicitraarthaa: It should not be monotonous; should have an element of variety;
  7. aarthyaa: It should be pursposeful;
  8. apuurvaa/nuutana: It should be fresh;
  9. svalpaa: It can be short yet delightful to the heart;
  10. divyaa: A supernatural element can make it attractive;
  11. vinodhinii: It should have entertaining qualities;
  12. 12.  Sikshaavatii: It can instruct even as it entertains;
  13. 13.  buddhivibhavasampannaa: It should have the strength of intellect to enrich the import;
  14. 14.  ruciraa: It should be interesting;
  15. 15.  adbhuta vicitra ruciraa: The depiction of wonder adds to its variety and makes it more interesting;
  16. 16.  mugdhaavishayaa: It can have a ‘fool’ for the subject;
  17. 17.  mahaakathaa: It can also be long and can have manifold interests.

Finally, I request that I may be allowed to quote my own definition of short story given in my Ph.D. dissertation, Short Story: Its Strutcture and Nature(1988), after discussing the views of Indian and western theoreticians:


kathaatmaka vacana prakriya kathaanikaa

 (Short story is a form of prose fiction that has only one theme or point of prominence and that is self-contained.)   


[A paper presented by © Dr. Poranki Dakshina Murthy, at a seminar on Dravidian Poetics in Pollachi, Tamilnadu. The theme was “The Tradition of Short Story in South India”. Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on, October 2007].



Kalpana Rentala

The First signs of Women’s identity by Kalpana Rentala.

History will not speak about women. It will make women speak of it” –that is the history we are unaware of. Is there a better definition for the history of women than this? From the earliest times, historical documents have been unjust in recording women’s history, owing to the domination of men. The feminist movement has caught on, and the injustice done to women has been recognized. Until then, there were only a few writings, by some “famous women in history”, but there was no committed effort to identify the actual writings by all women. There is evidence in the records to show that women have participated in people’s movements, struggles, and in the country’s reconstruction programs, but only nominally, in the mainstream history. The history continued to show women only as second line of defense even in the movements where the women were the center of focus. With the advent of feminism, rewriting women’s history has started around the world. This happened in Andhra Pradesh as well.

Normally, documentation of history follows the mainstream, with the middle-class and the high class as primary contributors. To question the traditional policies inherent in the history and social values, and accept the consciousness of the lowest classes, and rewrite an analogous history is a new experiment. One of the characteristics of this new venture is to throw light on the rebel forces that lay dormant, and making use of oral literature for the purpose. One of the accomplishments of the feminist movement in Andhra Pradesh is to bring to light the rebel movements that were ignored by the history up until now and rewrite it from the perspective of the oppressed classes.

The foundations of rewriting rival history

Although the feminist movement contributed to rewriting the rival history, the rival history has originated much earlier in the form of women’s writing in the 19th century. Even before women had learned to read and write, they had started handing down their perceptions on women’s issues by word of mouth, in oral tradition. After the women’s education was put in place, they recorded several topics related to women through letters and autobiographies.

Ever since modernization has caught up with Telugu culture, the world of women’s perceptions has been changing dramatically. Yet, when we read the mainstream history, it is obvious that it recorded only the men’s perceptions of women’s issues but not the women’s perceptions and the changes in their mode of thinking. Now, with the advances made by civilization, it has become necessary to accept women’s thoughts on numerous subjects, as revealed in their writings. Women’s writings on human relationships and contemporary society in the form of letters, autobiographies, travel, and essays published in magazines, have a permanent place in history as testimonials of women’s views on our society and culture. There is a dire need to rewrite our social and political history and movements, based on these accounts.

History as told in letters

Publication of letters recounting the stories of women’s conditions in our country, and the influence of foreign rulers on their mode of thinking started around the period, 1800-1900. They are not just letters. They tell us about several key issues that have contributed towards understanding women’s conditions in society during the said period. Among such letters, the most important one, an anthology, is, “Letters from Madras,” written by Julia Charlotte Maitland (London 1843), under a pseudonym, “A Lady”. Although it was written by an English woman, the book helps us to understand the social conditions of women from various classes, and their struggles to break into the newly emerging social environment under foreign rulers. The letters were written by the author to her family in England, during 1836-1839, while she was living with her husband in Madras presidency. The couple had lived in several towns in Andhra Pradesh. While they were in Rajahmundry, she described at length the rituals relating to pushkaraalu, spread of cholera, drought, caste system, the evil practice of sati, and the practice of thugs who committed murders hiding behind the absurd beliefs of local people.

The Maitland couple understood that the local people were barbaric and there was no escape from the rut unless they had received proper education. Their attempts to set up schools for girls failed due to the opposition from local traditionalists; but they had succeeded in starting a couple of schools for boys. Julia Maitland discussed about the importance of education for girls on numerous occasions. When one pundit commented that education for women would mean death for the entire family, Julia tried to change his convictions. She also mentioned in her letters about troubles she had been through to teach young girls to read and write at her home; the occasion was narrated to one of the followers of Raja Rammohan Roy, who was visiting her at the time. As far as the education of women was concerned, Ms. Maitland was able to succeed in Madras to some extent, if not in Rajahmundry. From these letters, we can understand how the  views about women’s education were taking roots in the society. The Maitlands also opened the first community library in Rajahmundry. She wrote in her letters, not just as wife of a magistrate but also as a woman, constantly comparing her situation to other women and reflecting on the prevalent social and family conditions.

From Maitland’s letters, two phases in the Telugu women’s conditions are noticeable; first, the prevalent conditions as they were at the time; and the second, a profile of the modern woman against the background of changes that were taking place. In one of her letters, she mentioned the purdah in high-class families. She wrote, “I tried my best to meet with the women at their house but could not. I peeked through partially opened doors; I could barely see their white clothes and dark eyes but not clearly.” Notably, she was reacting to the prevalent conditions mostly only as a white woman.

 The first signs of women’s history

After the magazines became popular in our country, women’s magazines came into existence abundantly. There was plenty of support for women’s columns and letters. Telugu women took advantage of the opportunity and wrote about several topics relating to women’s life and social conditions in their writings in ways that were familiar to them. The first signs of women’s writing history were visible even at the end of the 18th century.

That a Telugu woman was the first female historian in the entire country is a matter of pride for all of us. Bhandaru Acchamamba wrote abala saccaritra ratnamala [Biographies of women]. Although it was published in a book form in 1901, it was already serialized previously chintamani, a magazine run by Veeresalingam. This book recorded the biographies of women, who were famous in history. In fact, Acchamamba was planning on bringing out the entire history of women in three volumes: part 1, the histories of eminent women of India; part 2, the eminent women in Vedas and puranas, and, in part 3, notable women of other countries. Acchamamba worked hard for four years and put together the stories of women from Punjab, Kashmir, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Bengal, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh in volume 1. She finished only rough sketches of Sita and Draupadi from mythology, for volume 2 at the time of her death. She died at the age of 30 and left the work unfinished.

Feature columns as torch lights of women’s consciousness

The next memorable event is Sarada lekhalu of Kanuparti Varalakshmamma. The feature column was run by Varalakshmamma in a women’s magazine, Gruhalakshmi, from 1928-1934. Through this column, she voiced her protest against dogmatic beliefs, and presented several women’s issues from a woman’s perspective. Varalakshmamma was the first female columnist among Telugu women. In her Sarada lekhalu, she had discussed several social and political issues; and also topics such as male-female relationship, and the participation of women in the Satyagraha movement. We can also learn about the beginnings of women’s movement from her column.

Some women have attempted to record the social conditions and lifestyles through their travelogues. A young, brahmin widow named Adilakshmi of Eluru (?) wrote about her travel experiences from 1790-1802 – that is, for nearly 12 years—and described the life of Hindu widows (Meckanzie Collection, v. 15). Her life had taken several turns during that period. So also, the places she visited had undergone several political changes. She tried to record those changes, in addition to the male-female relationships at those places. This narrative of her pilgrimage depicts the enormous variations existed in the lifestyles of various social groups.

From autobiographies to history

Autobiography is one more tool in understanding history. Ever since women stepped outside and expanded their roles in society, their autobiographies became the foundation for women’s history. Women started writing autobiographies at the same time as the independence movement. From their autobiographies, we can recognize how the women’s perspectives and their participation had been changing along with their conditions. Significantly, we do not find any evidence of modern historians making note of these writings either before or after the independence movement.

Based on the available accounts to date, Edidam Satyavati, a young Brahmin widow, was the first woman in Telugu to write an autobiography. She has made defiant comments on society and religion in her book, Atma caritram [My autobiography] (Vijayawada, 1934). Yet, nobody else, not even authors of women’s history, has mentioned Satyavati’s Atma caritram. For the first time, Vakulabharanam Rajagopal referred to this book in his article in Indian Economic and Social History Review, December 2003. The book is important in that it would require lot of courage for women to express such opinions during that period.

A vast amount of information, unrecorded in the mainstream history, is available in several other autobiographies published in the next several years. Some of the important works are Appa Rao garu – nenu by Basavaraju Rajyalakshmamma (Vijayawada, 1965), Okka kshanam kalanni venakku tippi chuste by Adavikolanu Parvati (Kakinada, 1979), naa jailu jnapakaalu, anubhavaalu by Sangem Lakshmibai (Hyderabad, 1980), “Chintamani and I” by Durgabai Deshmukh (1980), In love with lif by Dr. Prema Naidu (1990), from pativratyam and to feminism by Malladi Subbamma (Hyderabad, 1991), “Gorato naa jivitam” by Saraswati Gora (Vijayawada, 1992), Nalo nenu by Bhanumati Ramakrishna (Madras, 1993), Sahiti rudrama, autobiography by Utukuri Lakshmikantamma (Bapatla, 1993), janani janmabhumischa by Gokaraju Sitadevi, a prominent freedom fighter(1998), among others. Significantly, while there are numerous historical accounts anchored around women’s issues, but not one of them has taken the women’s writings and their perceptions. The main reason for this is the fixed frame based on which the historical accounts are written.

The feminists questioned the propriety of this paradigm and set out to rewrite history anew. The feminist movement, which started in the eighties, developed a specific form for women’s history. They have smashed the preset format, supposedly ‘unambiguous’ and realistic, in which the history had been written, and began rewriting in an alternative method. This laid grounds to not only reclaim the past but also build new future. Women’s writing shattered the silence, went beyond the limits of oral accounts and moved forward.

This event in Telugu country happened in four stages. The first one was “The history we are not aware of” (Stri Sakti Sanghatana, 1886), which described the Telangana freedom movement from the perspective of the oppressed classes; it showed the way for rewriting women’s history. In the second stage, rewriting women’s history took its direction from literature itself. “Women Writing in India: from 600 B.C. to the present” by Susie Tharu and K. Lalitha remains a most important work in this area. In the third stage, an attempt has been made to identify how women had participated in rebuilding the nation as makers of history and with social consciousness. During this period, the book, mahilaavaranam (Volga, Vasantha Kannabhiran and Kalpana Kannabhiran, 2001) was published. In the forth stage, an attempt was made to define the politics of women’s identity. In this period, one more book that was of historical significance was published. The book, nalla poddu by Gogu Syamala (2002) was focused on women’s self-awareness, and included the autobiographical accounts from the perspectives of oppressed classes. The nalla poddu is sure to remain an authoritative work of the 21st century in the history of Telugu literature. These three books, manaku teliyani mana caritra [The history we are unaware of], mahilaavaranam [Women’s courtyard] and nalla poddu [Dark Dawn] have presented new angles in the experimentation of anthologies in regard to the development of history.

History from the depths of life

The anthology, manaku teliyani mana caritra (Stri Sakti Sanghatana) initiated the work for rewriting women’s history in Telugu in a systematic manner. It was about the actual participation of women in the Telangana armed fight; covered the stories of sixteen women who were out there in person and participated in the armed fight. The publisher, Stri Sakti Sanghatana, tried to highlight the women’s experiences in this fight from several angles. The  experiences of these sixteen women contributed towards expanding the Telangana movement. For the first time, the stories gave us the knowledge that the women’s participation in the freedom struggles was went unnoticed; and that provided an additional dimension to the women’s movements. The Stri Sakti Sanghatana opened new doors; it said, “if we have to a have a comprehensive history, it is not enough to place “men’s history” and “women’s history” side by side. We also need to have a new kind of zeal and humility so we can develop new criteria and new methodologies that is demanded by our new, veritable history.”

Evidence of history in women’s literature

After that, a notable endeavor to assess women’s contribution in literature has been put in place. “The Women Writing In India” of Susie Tharu and K. Lalitha elucidated distinctly how women’s contributions in various Indian languages have defied the social norms, overcome hurdles and taboos, and proceeded forward. The two volumes discussed several important issues relating to gender-oriented censorship and numerous forms of censorship imposed on women in a society dominated by men.

Women’s stature as a collective force

The book, mahilaavaranam is a comprehensive, analytical study describing the Telugu women’s accomplishments as makers of history. The volume analyses in great detail the women’s social consciousness in various fields, both at personal and social levels.  The editors have portrayed, in English and Telugu, the stories of 118 women who had made history in the nineteenth century. The book highlights in bold relief the numerous accomplishments of women in this period, thus invalidating the popular notion that there was no women’s history but only oppression of women.

The parallel voice in the history of the feminism of the oppressed classes

The rewriting of women’s history started with the Telangana armed fight for freedom and advanced to the rewriting of the oppressed women’s history today. This is a notable event in the history female consciousness movement. In the history of centuries-old Telugu literature, the publication of the book nalla poddu [Dark Dawn], delineating the history of the oppressed class of women at this stage is significant. This history-making work caused the present feminist movement to take a harder look at their parameters, which were preset knowingly or unknowingly, and pushed them toward expanding the parameters. This book could serve as a caveat for those who, until now, had believed that they were keen on only eliminating the patriarchal domination. There is no doubt that this book will be a wakeup call for all those who had constricted their work to fighting only caste-oriented, male domination.

More importantly, there is an urgent need to define clearly the purpose of this alternative history. We need to rebuild history from literary sources, oral narratives, and other non-traditional sources. We have to tear down the existing history; and, equally important, to create a history from various written and oral sources produced by women. Only then, we can have an authentic analogous/alternative record that is useful for future generations.


(The Telugu original, telugunaata stri caitanyaaniki toli aanavaallu, was published in bhumika, in 2003. © Kalpana Rentala. Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on, October 2004.)


A Piece of Ribbon by Beenadevi.

 The evening was stretching sluggishly. The sun was tired and left in a hurry but the moon took his sweet time to show up. The breeze was singing softly. The tiny grass blades were waving their heads like esteemed artists.

That was a huge mansion. The lawn surrounding the mansion was filled with several beautiful flower plants. The doctor was sitting on the lawn and watching, entranced, the flowers around him and the gliding clouds in the sky. There were chairs on the lawn but the doctor always enjoyed stretching on the lawn and enjoy the setting. He looked like he was pondering over something but hard to say what it was about. It could be the friends who had not showed up yet. It was past their usual time and getting dark. Or, it could be about the baby he struggled to bring into this world a while ago. Probably none of the above; he was just immersed in appreciating the beauty of the flowers dancing on the tips of the plants at a distance.

Viswam, one of his friends, entered the scene disturbing his reverie, “What’s the matter? Doctor garu is sitting alone, lost in thought?” and added, “I thought I’d be late but I see I’m the first to show up, after all. Anyway, what’s the matter? You lay down here like Sita under the Asoka tree?”[1] Viswam sat down next to the doctor. He believes that he talks humorously. He always boasts of the award he has received for his performance as a comic character in a school play. He speak always things he thinks funny, that’s built into his nature.

Doctor chuckled softly. Viswam said, “What’s it, you are smiling about, doctor garu? Did I disrupt your solitude? If so, I’d go away and leave you alone.” He got up to leave but the doctor stopped him, “No, please, sit down.”

“It’s getting dark so soon now. Where is everybody? This stupid winter, gets dark so soon. By the time we leave office and get home, it’s already time to light up the lamps,” Viswam said again.

The doctor responded only with a chuckle again.

“How come you are so interested in the flower plants? Trust me, even the local parks don’t have this many varieties of plants,” Viswam complimented, watching the plants around.

Siraj, an engineer, came and joined them, apologizing for his delay, “Sorry I’m late. Held up by some stupid contract work.” He crashed next to Viswam. Siraj is well over six feet tall and appears like he is far superior to others, both physically and ethically.

Doctor said, “Oh no. You too are settling down on the ground? We don’t mind, you can sit on the chair. I like to sit on the grass and I’m used to this and like it too.”

“That’s all right. After all, haven’t we been sitting in chairs all day? Let’s relax on the green grass for a while,” Siraj replied, leaning on one of the chairs.

“It seems doctor garu didn’t have much work today. Stretching on the lawn idly,” Viswam commented. Doctor was lying on his stomach and counting the blades of grass. Before he could respond, his wife, Visala, entered like a whirlwind and started talking tensely, “Why wouldn’t he sit there idly? After dumping all his work on me, why not ? No consideration at all! Why can’t he see that the workload is breaking my back? Why can’t he think of helping me out?” She sat down in the chair next to the doctor. She’s used to giving it straight whether it’s right or wrong. The husband and the wife, doctor and Visala, have a very genial marital relationship, despite their contradictory natures.

“You are looking tired,” Siraj said to Visala with concern.

“Tired? I’m nearly dead. Especially these delivery cases, no sense of timing at all. I wish they had a set season or schedule for childbirths,” Visala replied, annoyed.

“Like Gireesam[2] said, maybe you would have less work if we had more child widows,” Viswam said, showing off as usual the sense of humor he never had in the first place.

“Even then, where is the guarantee?” replied Visala.

Doctor and Viswam burst into a big laugh. Before Viswam could understand why doctor laughed, Visala spoke again taunting her husband who was lying at her feet and pleating her saree frills. She said to him, “What’s this, babu! As is, everybody is getting on my case, saying I am chewing you up, treating you like a slave. Please, move away from my feet.”

Doctor ignored her comments and was busy enjoying the jari butterflies cleverly woven into the border of her white handloom saree. “Visala, this saree is really very beautiful. The man who wove this saree must be a poet,” he said with admiration.

“Ha! Don’t I know your crooked mind! How could you see the workmanship of this saree border in this darkness? Don’t you try to flatter me. I know you do whatever you please,” Visala retorted teasingly. Siraj was listening to their chitchat, sitting down with his legs stretched and pulling the blades of grass. Viswam tried to offer his moral support to the doctor, “Isn’t it true that you used to paint in the old days?” Visala cut in, “That’s what I am fretting about, too. You see what it has come down to—he was painting before but stopped after our marriage? Wouldn’t it look like I bungled with his painting career?” Before she could finish, the bald-headed judge garu came rolling in like a ball, and asked, “I heard you say something about painting. What about painting?”

Judge garu and lecturer, Sankar Rao, who came with him, settled down on the ground.

Visala said, “Oh, no. You all are sitting on the ground and here I am sitting in the high chair. I think I should move to the ground too,” but the judge garu did not let her. “Never mind us, amma, please don’t get up. We all were sitting on chairs until our backs nearly broke You, on the other hand, don’t have a chance to sit at all. You do all your work standing on your feet. Besides, we are no strangers,” he persuaded her to sit on the chair.

“It’s so dark, how did you manage to work in that courtroom?” Siraj asked the judge.

“Tell me about it! The whole world is brimming with injustice. The work in the courts equals the volume of injustice in the world. As the sin is mounting so also the work in the courts,” judge said. The judge spent most of his time in the courts yet he could not stand the unfairness. He sees something horrible and new each day.

“Are you saying all you have in your courts are only sin and injustice?” Viswam asked satirically.

“Injustice does not come alone. Fairness and Justice always follow the injustice on its heels. Anytime one person walks in with injustice on his hands the other side brings in justice,” Judge retorted.

Doctor let go of Visala’s saree pleats and started watching her feet from various angles. He asked the judge, “So, judge garu, who do you think is worst hit by injustice?”

“Me,” Visala said abruptly. “Wouldn’t you say marrying a person like doctor garu is an injustice squashed on me?” she asked.

“No, come on, seriously. I think the worst injustice has been done to Rama[1], if you ask me,” Siraj said.

Judge broke into a big laugh, “If you start adoring Rama and Vibhishana,[3] all your people will excommunicate you.” The reference was to Siraj’s religious upbringing which is muslim.

“What else can he do? Here we are highly educated and yet forgetting that it is unfair to attach race and religion to gods,” Visala commented.

“You still haven’t answered my question,” doctor said.

Judge replied, “What do you want me to say? There is injustice everywhere and every action is unjust. Let’s take the case I handled today, for instance. The complainant, about 25-years old and poor; her looks were not bad either. She was educated too, maybe minimally. She was married quite young. After the marriage, her husband never invited her to his house, for whatever reason. She waited and waited until she was tired of waiting. How long could she wait around? Now, after ten years, she filed for a divorce,  demanding alimony.”

“What’s wrong with that idiot of a husband to leave the poor woman like that?” Siraj expressed his concern for the woman, stretching next to the doctor.

“Maybe she has a questionable past,” Viswam commented, showing off that he has made a clever observation.

“That woman must be from ancient times. If I were she, I would have seen the end of him right away,” Visala said angrily.

“That’s not true. Her husband says her uncle did injustice to him.[4] That’s the mentality of some people, I guess. We don’t always need big reasons to call it unjust or unethical. Sometimes what we consider a tiny incident could cause tremendous pain to someone else. We don’t have to hit somebody or even use swear words. Our rude behavior could make a sensitive person suffer,” judge said.

The doctor cut in, “You’re right, every word of it. That reminds me of an episode that happened long time ago.”

“Well, let’s hear it,” Viswam asked.

Visala remarked, “Doctor garu has always stories to tell. I am not even sure why he went into medicine; maybe to hassle me. I think he should be sitting in some corner writing poetry or painting pictures. He can’t even stand it when a patient suffers or his family weeps. He would cry along with them. Luckily, he became a government doctor and gets his paycheck regularly no matter what. Had he gone into private practice, we would be having grass for supper.[5]

“Doctor has a kind heart. He must have done plenty of good deeds in his past life to be born so kind,” the judge said.

“Tell us the story,” Siraj asked anxiously.

“All of you may not like this story,” doctor sounded apologetic.

“Is that meant for me?” Viswam muttered.

“He didn’t say that,” Siraj said crossly.

The doctor began telling his story, “This happened long time ago. I remember the details only vaguely but there is a part in my mind that is indelible.” The doctor stopped for a second and then continued, “I was in my fourth year at the medical college. I always liked solitude and so did not want to live in the dormitory like other students. I rented a room in town. After a while I had to vacate the room, I don’t remember why. Then I started hunting day and night for another room.”

“Probably, that’s the reason you failed one course,” Visala interrupted him.

“No, Visala. That’s not true. My health was not good at the time and so I could not put in enough time into my studies. That was the reason I failed. Do I have to remind you the housing conditions in Visakhapatnam?[6] For want of space, people lived even in garages. I managed to find a room somehow on the second floor of a house. The landlord, a bank representative in some local bank, occupied the ground floor. I hardly felt his presence. God knows when he was in and when out. I saw his wife a lot and his daughter occasionally. The daughter was their first child, and they also had three sons. I never really paid attention to those kids. Very often they’d go out and got beat up; or, stayed home and enjoyed the same pleasure from their mother. The nicknames the mother gave her three sons were: the first idiot, the second donkey, and the little idiot. She did not learn to love her children until after her latter years, I believe. I must say she must have been beautiful in her day, she was fair-complexioned.

“Had she worked on her demeanor and etiquette, probably she would have looked graceful but did not seem like she was bothered about such things ever. She would fix her hair once in the evening and would go around like that until the next day, as if that was not her hair. She looked worried about something or other constantly, always had a dirty dish or a broom in her hand, always on pins and needles, either yelling at the maid or the bank peon. If you hear her voice, all you could think of was the huge drums or the cymbals you would hear normally during sankranti festival. I am not saying she was a bad woman, not any worse than any other woman I’d known. Girl, did you wash the young idiot’s face? Viranna, wake up the first idiot; getting late for school. You, little idiot, don’t touch the milk pan. It’s burning hot; Viranna, go to the market now; otherwise,  you’ll find only rotten vegetables … That was the music I heard everyday for my wake up song as well as for my lullaby at night. I never tried to get involved in their family matters. My only connection to their family was the maid, Rajamma. She used to clean my room.

“It went on for a while; two seasons had changed without any memorable event I could recall or think of. Then ill-health overtook me. Although it was not the kind I should be worried about, it did force me to stay in bed for two weeks. There was no diet problem but a different issue came to the fore. I needed a person to bring coffee and meals from the hotel, and fruits and cigarettes from the store. Rajamma finished the chores in the landlord’s house and my room in about one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. At her own home she had to cook for her husband, a rickshaw-puller. Thus she was in no position to attend to my needs. So, I asked her to find someone else to help me out with my newly developed necessities. She said, “No problem, babu, I will send my little girl.” The next day the little girl, Lakshmi, came. She was dark-skinned but had a bright face befitting her name. An inexplicable beauty in her face and innocence in her eyes added to her charm. She must not be older than ten at the most, I thought.

“Lakshmi was confused a little on the first day, not knowing what chore first and what next. But she had picked up quickly on the second day and there was no need for me to tell her anything after that. She never showed any signs of weariness or frustration for anything. She would finish any and every chore given to her; she was always up and running zealously. Sometimes I would give her a fruit or something to eat; she would take it but leave it behind when I was not looking. I told her to take the leftover food after I was done eating. She took it home instead of eating it herself. For a while, I thought she was shy to eat in front of me and then it occurred to me that she might be taking it home for others in her family. Then I felt guilty which I would not have if she were not that young. I couldn’t help thinking other children of that age in our families. Our children can’t even feed themselves. What was the sin she has committed to deserve that? She was waiting hand and foot on me for the little cash I paid, why? This sort of thoughts pulled me down, although I was feeling better physically.

“In course of time Laxmi became a source of worry for me, a serious problem. Her good nature pierced me through like a shaft. I prayed to thousand gods, wanted her to make some mistake, display some mean trait that is common for all humans. I would’ve felt elated if she had accepted the food I gave her or took it from my container and ate it. I was hurt and it soon turned into a strange and vicious desire to drag her down into a sinful act. Probably the sickly atmosphere in my room was to be blamed. One day, I left some change out in the open where she could see and went onto the terrace hoping she would steal it. She did not touch even one paisa. Assuming that she did not see it, I did the same the following day, put some change on the window sill. She simply moved it to another place on the sill while cleaning the windows. On another day I gave her money and told her to go to a movie. She said she would take it when a good movie came to town.

“I accepted my defeat gladly. I was pleased that the sin of causing her to commit a sin did not touch me. After that, I could not treat her like a stranger anymore. I accepted her as a friend close to my heart and recognized the divinity in her character.

“Days went by like ripples in water. Laxmi was employed by me but the landlady was making full use of her services. In return all that Lakshmi would get was only yelling and cursing from her. I recovered completely but continued to get meals from the hotel, maybe because I was still feeling a little weak or maybe because I wanted to continue paying her whatever little I could. Then came the sankranti festival. I decided to go to my village for the holidays.

“Before I left, the landlady’s daughter showed up along with Laxmi. The landlady’s daughter was all dressed up like a fully-blossomed marigold. She came to show me her new outfit she got for the festival—a bright green skirt and a red blouse. I looked at her and the first thing I noticed was a piece of light blue ribbon in her hair, nicely folded like a butterfly, and visible from both sides. The ribbon also has small bugs with wings on it. I told her that her outfit was beautiful. She left feeling elated.

“After she left I looked at Laxmi, standing there in her tattered frock and shabby hair and I could not forgive myself. That poor child possessed qualities most of us are sadly lacking. She brought my carrier meals from the hotel as usual. I told her I was leaving town and she could take the food. We two went onto the terrace. It was seven in the evening. The night was driving away the evening. The people on the street were roaring like an ocean. While I was locking the doors, Laxmi stood leaning on the wall. I noticed an unusual anxiety and despair in her eyes. I never felt this bad, not even when I left my hometown, leaving my kid sister behind. For a second my heart missed its regular beat. I was even annoyed with myself for leaving my cozy, comfy attitude and getting into this mess. And then my pity for her doubled by way of  reparation for my annoyance. I could not hold back anymore. I stroked her cheeks gently, although the cheeks were smeared with dirt.

“What do you want, Laxmi?” I asked her.

“She looked me with her sad eyes and asked for one half rupee. It felt like I’ve got the heaven in my palm, like the moonlight spreading blindly on the terrace acquired a fine aroma, and that I was blessed. I quickly pulled out one half rupee from my pocket and gave it to her. She clutched it tight in her fist. I walked towards the stairs silently. I was overtaken by the fear that she might spend that money on her younger brothers but my curiosity got the better of me. “What are you going to do with that money?” I asked her as gently as I could. She replied meekly that she would buy a piece of ribbon, like the one the landlady’s daughter had. I felt relieved. I was proud of myself that I could help her to fulfill her only wish. I told her I would be back on the following Monday and that she should bring carrier meals for me that evening. She shook her head, looking very grateful. I thought about her in the train. She did not ask for silk outfit or gold jewelry. All she wanted was a piece of ribbon. I can never forget the ribbon pieces and half-rupee coins I saw in my dream that night.

Sankranti festival came in colorful galore. My entire family was very excited. But I was down as if I lost something valuable. Each time I saw a young girl in new clothes, Laxmi kept coming to my mind. On Monday morning I was getting ready to leave. My mother insisted that I stay one more day since my visits were not that frequent. I left in the evening and for the first time in my life I felt good about leaving home. There were also other things that bothered me as well. Vadina who treated me like her own brother came to the railway station; and, my brother reminded me affectionately that I should come for the christening ceremony of their soon-to-be born child. They were going to have their first baby after ten years of marital bliss. I was touched.

“The train arrived two hours late. By the time I reached my room it was past 8:30. I was climbing the stairs wondering whether my brother and sister-in-law would have a boy or girl. I saw Laxmi sitting next to the parapet wall, curled up; my heart stopped beating for a second. The street lights were shimmering on the stainless steel container next to her. It was biting cold. She was trying to pull together her worn out frock desperately protecting herself from the cold. It never occurred to me that she could sit there waiting for me. I opened the door and asked her why couldn’t she wait downstairs on the porch. She did not reply. I told her that she could wash the dishes the next day and sent her home.

“After that, I got very busy with several functions at our college and so I did not think much about my room. I was totally immersed in the college plays, directing duties, and sports events. I couldn’t help noticing a change in Laxmi’s behavior though. Her eyes were filled with despair and sadness in place of the usual glimmer; the smile on her lips vanished; and she was dragging her feet heavily. It took me four days to realize completely the extent of the change in her. I asked her why she was down and she said there was nothing to talk about.

“Three more days went by. Then I remembered the ribbon Laxmi wanted so badly. “Did you buy the ribbon for yourself” I asked her hoping for the best. She shook her head meaning yes. “Why aren’t you wearing it” I asked her. In response, two drops of tears rolled down her cheeks. “What happened Laxmi?” I asked her coaxingly.

“Laxmi said that her mother was not well on the sankranti day and so she went to the landlady’s house to do the chores. After finishing the chores, she sat down on the front porch and wore her new ribbon in her hair. The landlady saw that, claimed it was her daughter’s and snatched it away from Laxmi’s hands; she called the girl a thief, and even commented that that was the mentality of all low class people. Laxmi tried to tell her that she bought it herself, and the landlady’s daughter was wearing hers which could be verified after the daughter returned home. But the landlady would not hear a word of it.

“I wanted to tell Laxmi, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll get you another piece of ribbon,’ but my college friends showed up out of nowhere like a herd of goats before I could say it. I’ve promised them earlier that I would stay with them in the dorms for the next three days to help out with the college functions. So, I told Laxmi I would not be needing carrier meals for that night and the next three nights, packed some of my clothes and left.

“Look at that! Wouldn’t you say that it was gross injustice? In what way, Laxmi was inferior to the children in our families? Our children cry for chocolate and biscuits and she wanted a piece of ribbon, worth a paltry half rupee. God gave her even the opportunity to fulfill her desire through me. Her wish was granted but she was denied the pleasure of enjoying it. The landlady appeared as Kali and snatched it away like a piece of sacrificial offering. Probably the landlady did not think of it on those lines. Probably, it is only a small, a very ordinary, incident for you all. For a person who earns one thousand rupees a month, one half of a rupee is worth a broken shell. But for Laxmi? Can you say in good conscience that an irreparable damage has not been done to her? I can’t imagine how much mental agony this apparently small incident could have caused her. But can anyone of you say that her trust in humanity has not been killed forever? Wasn’t the action of the landlady unfair? Can we forgive her? Didn’t she have a responsibility to verify Laxmi’s claim before snatching away her ribbon? Even if she had acted rather rashly, shouldn’t she have returned the ribbon to Laxmi after realizing her mistake? Wasn’t her action the same as robbery? Isn’t that unjust and unfair or not? What would you all say?” the doctor stopped, feeling heavy at heart.

Nobody could respond right away. The darkness spread thick. Suddenly a strong wind blew and the telegraph lines at a distance made harsh sounds. An owl on the tamarind tree nearby screeched and flew away batting her wings.

“That’s a strange story,” Viswam expressed his opinion.

“Looks like there is a second part to this story,” Siraj said.

“You have it if you want it, or else, no. Personally I wish this story had ended there,” the doctor said and continued his narration, “On the surface, I was acting very excited, singing and dancing for the next three days but the thoughts about Laxmi kept bothering me. I was anxious to fix the wrong that has been done to her. I would’ve bought another piece of ribbon and ran to Laxmi but I was afraid that my roommates would laugh at me. The dorm felt like a jail cell and my roommates jailors. Finally the day came when I was freed from that jail. I left the dorms, bought a ribbon on my way and came to my room. That day Rajamma came instead of Laxmi. She said Laxmi has been ill for the past three days and assured me that she would bring my meals from the hotel herself. I told her I could eat at the dorms until Laxmi recovered. After she cleaned my room, I gave her the ribbon and told her to give it to Laxmi. She looked out the door for a second, turned to me again and asked me harshly, “Did she ask you to get it for her?” I was taken by surprise, a totally unexpected turn of events. I was scared that she might hurt Laxmi and that made me lie to her. I told her that Laxmi was totally unaware and that I wanted to give something to her.

“Two more days went by. I kept asking Rajamma everyday and getting the same reply—the fever did not go down. I asked her about medication. Rajamma said that the fever was caused by some sort of scare and so she had the soda shop owner recite a mantra.[7] I could treat her but at the time my knowledge of medicine was minimal. I was convinced that if Laxmi had fallen sick out of fear, the entire sin must be accredited to the landlady. What else could I think when she attacked a little, innocent child and called her a thief for no reason.

“But it never occurred to me that Laxmi’s situation could take a turn for the worse. Not until the third day. Rajamma knocked on my door at two in the morning and woke me up. She seized my two hands and started crying. “I’m lost, my world is crumbling down, Laxmi’s condition is getting worse. Please help me, save her,” she said between sobs. I could not move for a few seconds. I did not expect things to go wrong this bad in such a short time. I knew very little about treating patients, plus I had no tools even if I wanted to. I told Rajamma to wait, ran to the next street and got hold of a house-surgeon [resident]. He was a nice person. He immediately followed me with whatever medications he had.

“We two followed Rajamma to her house. After I became a doctor, on innumerable occasions, I ran to save patients who were dangling between life and death but the pain I suffered on the way on that particular day was beyond words. All the roads stretched out dark and endless like adiseshu.[8] Each furlong felt like a mile and my watch seemed to be moving too fast. I cursed my feet for not being able to walk faster. For the first time, I’ve realized that this city had too many narrow paths and they all were very dirty. The streets were empty and quiet like graveyards but for a couple of donkeys standing like statues and representing the patience of the animal world. But this was not the time to describe the surroundings. Laxmi’s house was just one room located next to a sewer. I could not tell where the sewer ended and her house started.

“Two children lay in the mud on the floor like pigs. Laxmi lay on a saggy, jute-rope cot in a corner. She was covered with a tattered blanket. Although she was covered, I could see her two eyes, peeking through the blanket, emaciated and staring at the ceiling with frightened looks. Her face turned crimson and the fever-stricken eyes took over her entire face. They looked like a torch that would start the fire soon and turn her into ashes. She could not keep her eyes on any one spot steadily. The two red eyes were like a swing rocking back and forth between life and death. The dim lamp in the corner was casting ominous shadows. It felt like death was hiding in that dark corner.

“Within a few minutes of our arrival there, Laxmi’s temperature went up further and she started shivering. Although my medical knowledge was limited, I could understand her symptoms. Her two hands and feet were jiggling as if the god of death was dragging her but she was refusing to give in. I hid my face in my two hands and closed my eyes tight. It was like the death grabbed my shoulder and was challenging me that there was nothing I could do, death was waiting for me there. For once, I got so close to death and experienced what our philosophers and intellectuals preach. I came out of myself in that moment and looked at myself the way others and God would look at me.

“Despite all my flagrant display of sympathy for Laxmi, what have I done for her, really? In what way I was better than my landlady? The only difference was she called her names and I did not. Is that a virtue? Didn’t I have a higher responsibility towards the girl’s health and welfare? If I had, did I do my duty? I paid her a few rupees and had her wait on me hand and foot while she was still a child! Was I not accountable for her poverty and despair? How many Laxmis are starving and sacrificing their lives so that I and people like me could enjoy a comfortable life? This is not a matter about Laxmi alone. This is a problem without solution and relating to millions of innocent Laxmis in this destitute world, and to numerous inept people like me who are convinced that they are in fact kind and generous, and women like our landlady who could not recognize the innocence of young hearts. Who knows how many Laxmis need to be ruined before this problem is resolved.

“While I was pondering over the subject, the resident doctor continued to examine Laxmi’s condition. Laxmi’s mother was weeping quietly. An old woman from next door, with one leg in the graveyard, was consoling her. The resident doctor finished examining Laxmi, gave her a shot and told me that we should wait for a half hour and see. At the end of half hour there was no change in her condition. Then he suggested that we must take her to the hospital, there was nothing more we could do here. Laxmi’s father went out to get a rickshaw. I could not control my distress. The next door neighbor brought his rickshaw also.

“After the rickshaws arrived, Rajamma removed the blanket and picked up Laxmi, overcome with pain and sadness. Laxmi’s hands were hanging flaccidly over Rajamma’s shoulder. As I saw the hands my head started spinning and the earth shook under my feet. The ribbon I gave her was hanging down from her hand like the noose of Yama.[9] Poor Laxmi, the only wish of hers—she  got a chance to have it fulfilled, lost it and got it again but never had the satisfaction of wearing it. That piece of ribbon was like a crumpled wick. But she held the ribbon tight as if she was afraid that the landlady would come and take it away from her again.

The two rickshaws started out for the clinic. Laxmi’s father was pedaling the rickshaw and the mother sat inside holding the child. It looked like the God planned it that way—that the two persons who brought her into this world were also instrumental in returning her to Him. The resident doctor and I followed them in the other rickshaw. Normally I don’t believe in omens but my heart flinched when I heard a tituvu bird[10] chirped as we set out to leave.

“The entire world was in deep sleep. A few persons with injured noses and crushed faces were making fire with their fingerless hands[11] to protect themselves from cold. We could bring Laxmi to the hospital soon enough. The physicians and nurses in the emergency room did all they could to help Laxmi through out the night. It was time for the sun to rise. The physician said he could not say anything for certain for another twelve hours at the least. There was nothing I could do. It was not in the hands of the humans anymore, only God could save Laxmi. I returned home at about 8:30 in the morning. Rajamma’s husband was overwhelmed with gratitude and offered to take me home in his rickshaw. I declined politely and rented another rickshaw.


Up until now the doctor was smoking. Unwittingly he swallowed a puff of smoke and choked.

“Oh, Lord Rama! Probably that girl had died! Please, tell us the rest of the story,” said Siraj.

Pch! I wish there was no second part to this story,” the judge passed his judgment.

“I don’t know. I wish there was no story at all, a story of this sort, if you ask me,” Visala said. Although her words sounded satirical, the doctor understood her sensitive thought underneath her comment and stroked on her knee gently but nobody noticed it in that darkness. Actually the reason for their harmonious relationship, despite their apparently conflicting mentalities, was the sensitivity in Visala’s humor and the doctor’s good nature which is appreciative of her humor.

“There’s nothing more to tell,” the doctor continued, “My only thought on my way back to my room was to avenge the injustice done to Laxmi. I had several thoughts like skipping payments of rent for six-months or setting fire to the landlady’s house but couldn’t come up with any plausible plan. As I opened the gate and entered the premises, I saw that the landlady was talking to somebody in a voice filled with kindness I never heard before. She was saying, “Come on, you silly, come. I warmed the milk for you and kept it in the kitchen. Go, have the milk. I was waiting for you.” I wondered who she was addressing, turned around and saw a stray dog. The dog was at the gate, saw the landlady, and walked away with her tail between her legs.

“With that incident, my abhorrence for my landlady rose to a new height. I always hated, even from my childhood days, the women who would talk to dogs and crows. I went into my room and got busy with rearranging my stuff. The landlady’s daughter came in with a magazine she’s borrowed earlier. She was wearing two ribbons in her hair like two butterflies. I could see right away that one of them was Laxmi’s. At once a thought occurred to me like lightning—an opportunity to settle the score. I must seize the ribbon that belonged to Laxmi. Although I believed Laxmi’s story completely, I also wanted to verify the truth on my own. “The ribbons are nice. Did you buy them yourself?” I asked her. “My mother bought one and I bought the other myself,” she said.

“When did your mother buy?” I asked her again. “On sankranti festival day,” she replied.

“I was in a dilemma whether I should grab the ribbon or not. My landlady settled it for me. I heard her shouting, “Viranna! That bitch Rajamma is ‘no show’ today too. She goes on saying that her child was sick and ducks the work here. Stupid child wouldn’t die and the mother wouldn’t come to work. Come on, you clean the dishes.” I was enraged by her language regarding a child who was fighting for her life. I decided to take the ribbon.

“Come here, let me see the ribbons. They are really nice. I want to hold them in my hands,” I said smoothly. She gave them to me without hesitation. “Which one was bought by your mother?” I asked her. She laughed at my stupidity and shrugged, “I don’t know.” Probably she thought I was crazy and ran away.

“I stood there for a couple of minutes wondering whether I should be happy or sorry for what I did. I never gave in to my frustration to that extent, never before and never again. I lost totally my sense of right and wrong. I couldn’t tell what I was doing and what will I do next. In the meantime, the landlady walked in dragging her daughter, like a sacrificial lamb to the temple. I saw her coming and went to the terrace. She said with a smile, “How can you play games with a child? Never mind. Return the ribbons to her.”

“I wasn’t playing games. I took them for real,” I said. “Why did you do that?” she asked.

“You tell me politely which one is Laxmi’s and I will return the second one,” I said. “Are you stealing my child’s ribbons?” she shouted. “How could you steal Laxmi’s ribbon?” I said. “Are you calling me a thief?” she said with her eyes popped out.. “Not just a thief. You’re a highway robber,” I said.

“The landlady’s voice was heard in the entire neighborhood and all the neighbors gathered on our terrace. She saw them and became even more belligerent. We both exchanged strong language. “I shouldn’t have rented the place to a mean thief like you,” she said, with her face turning red. “I shouldn’t have rented a room in the house of a mean thief like you,” I said. “Watch out. I will make you pay for this,” she said. “We’ll worry about it later. If anything happens to Laxmi, I will crush your head for sure,” I replied.

“My landlady got scared by my words. She called out for her husband for support. Up until now I didn’t believe that he could get angry ever. He came upstairs, stood on the last step and said, without raising his voice, nonetheless harshly, “You fool! Swearing at women?” I jumped like a cobra, “And you’re a man? you worthless idiot.” The neighbors held back until then but could not control themselves anymore, I believe. They burst into a big laugh as if a bunch of porcelain cups and saucers flew into the air and fell on the floor. “You don’t know anything. You shut up,” he ordered his wife for the first time in his life. She took his orders for the last time in her life.

“Both of them went downstairs along with their daughter. Our neighbors extended the same kind of support the audience would extend to a stunt hero in Telugu movies and left the scene somewhat unwillingly. I went into my room regretting my unwarranted action. Then came the landlord’s servant. Even amidst all that commotion, I could not help wondering if the landlord thought I was crazy and I chuckled. The servant had a hard time conveying the message from the landlord but the gist of it was I should vacate the premises in three days.

“Why would I stay three more days in this wretched room? Get me two rickshaws now,” I said. He ran out of the room like a race horse. As soon as the rickshaws came, I put all my luggage into the rickshaws, threw the rent I owed them to-date at the servant and moved to a friend’s apartment. From the moment I started walking down the stairs until I got into the rickshaw, I kept waving the two ribbons as a sign of my victory and causing the landlady’s eyes turn red. Leaving that house was like having a refreshing shower. Laxmi also recovered by the grace of god in about a week and went back to her house.” The doctor stopped the story.

“Forget the story. You’ve created a lambadi[12] scene here,” Siraj commented.

“The comic ending is interesting,” the judge said, joining the rest of the crowd in their laughter.

“I knew even from the start that this is how it’s going to end,” said omniscient Viswam.

The doctor was annoyed and said, “Then tell me what happened next.”

“What’d you mean? Is there a fourth part for this story? It’s like the Republic Productions’ 24-part full-length serial movie,” Viswam ducked the challenge.

“Okay, you tell us what happened next,” the judge asked the doctor.

“This part has nothing to do with Laxmi,” the doctor said as he proceeded with the story, “After about 15 or 20 days after I moved to my friend’s room, I was getting ready to leave for school. A young police officer showed up at the door and saluted me. I wondered whatever I could have done to warrant his appearance. He handed me the summons and asked me to sign on a piece of paper acknowledging receipt. He explained that the delay in delivering the papers was due to tracing my whereabouts and the case was scheduled for that very day. He also told me that the magistrate was very strict in enforcing the law and that I should be present at the court at 11:00 a.m. sharp. I asked him what the case about was about. He said that the bank representative and his wife filed a case against me claiming I used abusing language and stole their daughter’s ribbons.

“I was really upset. She called me names and so did I. She took Laxmi’s ribbons unjustly and I took their ribbons openly. The account has been settled right then and there. I was disgusted with their attitude and appeared in court. It was nearly 11:00 by the time I reached there. The court looked like a house after a dead body was removed. The magistrate just learned that he did not get the promotion as expected. His staff and the lawyers were disheartened for him. I stood outside on the verandah, worried that my case should come up at that ill-fated hour. Some police constables stood under the tree smoking cigarettes. Some felons were also there. A couple of old felons were smoking bidis[13] with a greater flair than the police constables. The younger felons looked scared and apprehensive. I did not realize until then that women also were brought to the courts. Some of the female felons were dressed up as if they were on their way to the movies or beach, chewing paan and fooling around with the police constables. The smell of liquor at the court was unbearable and I started feeling sick in my stomach.

“Suddenly, the police constables threw away their cigarettes and the felons their bidis. The women spat out their paans. Everybody turned towards the gate. The magistrate entered like royalty. The peon in front told everybody to make way for the magistrate. An older peon walked behind him carrying a heavy box, and without looking on either side but watching only the magistrate. The magistrate kept walking and waving his hand up and down. I saw the way he was getting respect and I wished I had the job myself.

“The magistrate took his seat as soon as he entered the court. He looked calm and collected. The fact that he did not get the promotion was not showing on his face. The court clerk called out the cases one after another and mine came up after one half hour. The court clerk handed the papers to the magistrate. He looked at the papers, then at me for a second and said, “I am postponing your case to tomorrow. You can bring a lawyer if you want.” I told him that I was going to tell my story the way it happened and therefore there was no reason for a lawyer. After that, I posted bail and got out for the day. I tried to read the court papers but couldn’t understand a single word of it. They must have used a carbon paper that was in use for the past six months. I couldn’t even tell in which language it was written.

“The next day also I went to the court in time like a good boy. My case was called out. The complaint stated that I used swear words with reference to the bank representative and his wife and stole their daughter’s ribbons. The  magistrate asked me, ‘Did you commit the felony? What’d you say?’ I thought I was supposed to give straight answers and so told him, ‘Yes. It was true that I called them names and took their daughter’s ribbon.’ I was waiting for him to ask more questions so I could narrate the entire story. The magistrate looked down and kept scribbling something. After a few minutes, I started getting worried about the sentence I could be handed. I did not know what to do. “That’s not correct, sir. It’s true I took the two ribbons but one of them was not theirs,” I said.

“Then a man in khaki pants and black coat came in, that was the assistant public prosecutor, I was told. He said, “You’ve agreed that one of the ribbons was theirs. That’s enough.” It was like I gave him something. The magistrate delivered his ruling. He stated that I was found guilty under section so and so; this however being my first felony, I was freed on one year probation; and during that one year I must not commit anymore felonies but behave myself.

“Thus ended the story. Does this mean after the probationary period is over, I could go around committing any number of felonies, or even murders and that would not be considered illegal? I wondered. I found a bailer and got him sign my release papers,” the doctor wrapped up the story.

“Are you saying you too had the experience of the heat from our department?” the judge said, laughing.

“So Laxmi escaped death but you lost an eye,[14]” Sankar who was quiet all this while said.

“Can we sing janaganamana[15] now or is there more to it?” Viswam asked as he got up to leave.


(The Telugu original, Ribbanu mukka was published in Jyoti monthly in 1965 and received Rachakonda Viswanatha Sastry award in 1999.

Translated by © Nidadavolu Malathi and published on, September 2003)

[1] The epic hero of Ramayanam..

[1] Female protagonist in the famous epic, ramayanam. The episode under reference is Sita was abducted by the evil king Ravana, and held her captive under the Asoka tree.

[2] A famous character from a Telugu play, “Kanyasulkam.”

[3] Rama was the protagonist in the famous epic, ramayanam. Vibhishana was the younger brother of Ravana, the anti-hero in the same epic, and a devotee of Rama.

[4] The narration is not clear here. My understanding is the uncle under reference is his father-in-law and the woman’s father who probably arranged the marriage against his will.

[5] Eating grass, gaDDi tintaam in Telugu, is a common adage, meaning nothing to eat.

[6] A city on the east coast of Andhra Pradesh. The medical college in Visakhapatnam provided the setting for many stories in Telugu.

[7] Like being possessed by a devil, all kinds of irrational arguments are offered and a mantra is a kind of recital invoking the ruling gods and praying to fix it.

[8]  The thousand-hooded cobra from Hindu epics.

[9] Yama was the god of death in Hindu mythology.

[10] A common belief among our people, the teetivu bird’s chirping brings bad luck.

[11] Possibly lepers.

[12] Lambadi people are nomads, who go around performing on the streets.

[13] Tobacco rolled in a kind of ebony leaf.

[14] A popular proverb, chaavu tappi kannu lotta poyindi, meaning escaped death but lost an eye, normally with reference to the same person. Here the speaker stretched it to include two people, Laxmi and doctor.

[15] India’s national anthem.

So ended the Story by Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao

Gopalam is a well-known story writer. His stories have stuff. But not many seem to have noticed the fact. As for myself, I would read anything and just say “This is good and that is bad”. I am unable to explain why I like or dislike anything I read. I had tried to analyse as to what should have been done to improve the story but my attempts never really took off.

This was because whenever I read Edgar Allan Poe, stories about impossible events seemed be the best ones. Sherlock Holmes stories would make me believe detective fiction was the thing. At other times, romantic stories appealed to me. Jacobs’ stories attracted me to maritime themes. On occasion short stories would interest me and at other times, I felt that stories should be at least forty pages long! With my opinions changing constantly according to the situation, it became impossible for me to come to any conclusion.

Meanwhile our short-tempered friend “Durvasa” met me one day and asked me to introduce him to Gopalam.

“What on earth for?” I asked.

“I have some work with him” said he.

“What kind of work?” I was curious, naturally.

He began to hem and haw.

“No, nothing really…To tell you the truth…Not that I can become a writer overnight…Once you get the knack of it…Gradually one can practise…If you know what I mean…” he dithered.

“No, I don’t” I said bluntly.

At last he came out with it. He too wants to write stories. If only Gopalam could lend a hand, he is confident he can get on with it successfully.

“Oh my dear Durvasa” I exclaimed.

“Don’t you call me names” he said with anger. The poor fellow had never shown temper until he got the nickname. That’s life for you. There is no justice!

There was no escape. We both found a convenient time and went to meet Gopalam. To avoid blame I forewarned him that Gopalam was no ordinary fellow and could land him in trouble

Gopalam lost no time in getting my friend to prattle.

“Sir, I find it devilishly difficult to describe anything in my writings, be it a person or a house” said Durvasa.

Gopalam said, “Please don’t bother. Just go ahead without any description. I too find it a difficult task. So I try to manage without it”.

“Really?” said Durvasa in surprise.

“Please believe me” said Gopalam.

Durvasa was visibly happy.

“There is another thing. For the life of me I can’t find a theme. I tried twice or thrice but it all boiled down to events in my family and my in-laws’. Can’t think of a theme” said he.

“My problem exactly! Neither can I put together a good theme. Perhaps you might have noticed. I just pick up events that I observe here and there and cook up a story”.

“You don’t say?” said Durvasa with a smile.

“Trust me” said Gopalam with a straight face.

By now Durvasa lost all his nervousness. He started believing that he had joined the ranks of story-writers. Only in one respect was Gopalam different. Gopalam has already written some stories while he will be doing so shortly. Imagining himself to be one of the tribe, Durvasa started talking as if he was on par with writers like Gopalam. Having thus encouraged my friend initially, Gopalam started deflating him gradually. Being a fool, my friend could not notice.

“You see, the whole problem lies in the fact that if you take up someone’s life story, you cannot narrate it from the beginning to the end. Life is full of stories that keep happening. The story may end within the day or may continue over a period of ten years. It is not possible to include all that happened during the time in our story. A writer must have the skill to find it out for himself” said Gopalam.

“What was that again? What did you say?” asked Durvasa.

“The writer should know where to start, and what to avoid. Then there are improvements here and there, we could call them changes”.

“Yeah. If we don’t change names and things we may get into trouble”

“You are right. One should also know thoroughly what to change and even how to end the narrative”

“Absolutely” said Durvasa.

“It is more difficult to end a story than to begin it. Some beginners ask me ‘Sir, should we end it when the leading lady gets pregnant or after a son is born and everyone is happy?’ I tell them ‘Why bother about all that, just fade it out even as the hero and heroine start kissing each other’ ”

“That was a very good suggestion”

“Comes with a little experience. Ninety-nine per cent of the readers can tell when the story has ended. In the movies, even the lower class audience starts leaving well before The End title appears”

“That may be true but as for myself, I always feel the movie has ended too soon”

“Never mind that”

“So you think I too can write stories?”

“No doubt. Since you have taken the trouble of coming here all the way, why waste time? Let me show you how stories are embedded in our lives. Just keep prompting me to continue. As soon as the story ends you will simply stop doing that. My story can also serve as a sample”

“Please go on” said Durvasa.

Gopalam started the narration and my friend started responding.

“I had a school-mate named Sankaram. A well-to-do chap. He didn’t really need formal education, or employment. So he stopped with matriculation. His family was dominated by women and he was influenced by that. As you know, our society is riddled with both the masculine and feminine culture.

“As time went by he got married and his wife came to live with him. Sankaram had never read any romantic classics. Forget the romance; he wasn’t even capable of being friendly with his wife. We don’t know about his bedroom manners, but otherwise he used to treat her like a stranger. Wouldn’t allow her to touch his clothes, his things, suitcases etc.  But the lady was fond of teasing him. Having noticed his reluctance, she would frequently indulge in pranks, just to irritate him. If for some reason he stepped into her room during daytime, she would follow him and bolt the door. What would people think?”

Durvasa turned to me “That’s characterization for you. He has already established the fact that the fellow came from a family dominated by women. Please sir, go on”

“What made the girl most suspicious was the fact that this Sankaram fellow would never allow her to open his suitcases. Could some women be writing letters to him secretly? With that thought, her mischievousness turned to grim resolve. One day, in his absence, she opened his most prized box and what did she find in it? The photograph of a good-looking woman.

“All hell broke loose. She was angry and unhappy too. She wanted to tear up the photo at first but, on second thoughts, wouldn’t she relish her husband’s consternation when she confronted him with it suddenly. She put back the photo carefully and repacked the suitcase.

“The same night she dropped the bomb-shell. Sankaram saw the photograph and was totally ill at ease. That confirmed his wife’s worst fears. She started crying; scolded herself, berated him, was herself completely confused and confused him too. In the confusion Sankaram forgot to find fault with her.

“That was their first quarrel. From then on, there was bad blood between them. There was no point now in blaming his wife for having opened the suitcase without his permission. He was aware that she was suffering for no reason. But he wouldn’t dare explain to her about the photo or how it came into his possession. He was scared of sharing that little secret lest she should lose all her respect for him for ever. So he kept mum for a few days.

“Then he had a bright idea. He told his wife it was his sister’s photograph. But she knew he had no sister. He said to her defiantly, ‘You can see the resemblance’. She couldn’t deny that either.

“His wife was really flummoxed. She was ready for compromise; but on one condition. He should tell the truth about the girl in the photograph. But the stupid fellow refused to oblige.

“Well friends, I happened to visit them at that moment. I asked him in his wife’s presence ‘Hello Sankaram, will you play the female lead for our Anniversary or have you lost your old enthusiasm?’ His wife responded at once ‘Oh my dear, won’t you let me watch you in a female role?’ ”

Durvasa was all ears and started prompting Gopalam “Hm, hmmm…”

Gopalam placed a cigarette between his lips and began to fumble in his shirt-pocket for a match-box.

I said quietly “The story has ended. Shall we make a move?”


Telugu original published in Andhra Jyoti, Dec 1935.

[Translator’s comments: It is exactly 25 years since my father passed away in Madras on 17th August. He was about 26 when he wrote this story.
My father’s Telugu stories first made their appearance in 1931-32 when he was about 22. He was barely 26 when he wrote this story. No doubt that resulted in the easy readability and smooth flow of words and ideas. He belonged to a generation that had lapped up the humourous writings of many Telugu stalwarts and English classic writers as well.
As in most of his early stories, technique seems to come to the fore here. Also, the brevity that marked most of his writings shows the influence of British authors like Conan Doyle, Wells et al. The narrator ofthe story is himself reportedly familiar with several British and American authors which indicates the easy availability of good foreign literature in the smaller towns in Andhra region those days.
The main point in this story seems to be the fundamental principle that as any tale is narrated, the listener responds with a sound like Umm which would prompt the story-teller to go ahead. As soon as the story ends, so too does the prompting. That is the most natural way the story would end but it would require proper story-telling and proper understanding on the part of the listener. – Kodavatiganti Rohiniprasad.]

(Originally published on, July 2005)

Futile life by Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao.

Twenty-five years ago Markandeyulu and I studied together. I knew him very well since then. He is intelligent and a good person at heart. In fact, he has nearly everything one needs in life. But he seems to lack something necessary for living happily. All his childhood, everyone gave him the same advice, “why don’t you mind your own business?”. That was one thing he never learnt.

Don’t think he interfered in everyone’s affairs always! He was really not interested in others’ lives and affairs. He only put his head on roll when he felt there was some injustice going on.

When we were both in seventh class in our village school, our school head-master’s son, Nageswaram was in the same class with us. All the teachers gave him marks generously since he was the head master’s son. Telugu teacher lovingly gave him the first mark in the whole class! But the fact was that Srirammurthy was the cleverest boy in the whole class who deserved to be the first in class. (He is now a lecturer in a college!). He and Nageswaram were quite friendly. Once however in the half-yearly tests Nageswaram stood first in Telugu while Srirammurthy scored lower. Srirammurthy was very offended at this. He took Nageswaram’s answer book and compared with his own. There was no comparison between the two! He showed both the answer books to everyone among the friends and we all sympathized with him and left it at that. But Markandeyulu went to the head master with both the papers and complained “Just because Nageswaram is your son, Telugu teacher gave him the first mark while there was someone else who deserved it.” The head master did not bother to see the answer books and instead gave a sound thrashing to Markandeyulu with a warning “don’t interfere in the affairs that are not yours!”

The other outcome of this incident was that Nageswaram and Srirammurthy continued to be good friends and jointly avoided Markandeyulu!


What I don’t understand is Markandeyulu’s utter abhorrence to injustice. He must have inherited that attitude from either of his parents. As far as I know, people remain happy and peaceful if they ignore the injustice that goes on around them.

There is no proof required to say that he did not prosper in life. What is more difficult to know is whether he was happy! I never saw him regret his attitude or his scuffles with people. So, perhaps even if he was not happy and comfortable, he must have been ignorant of that fact.

All through his student life he clashed with fellow students and teachers. One of the principals gave him a transfer certificate and threw him out of the college.

His fight for justice troubled him in several ways. All the people around him not only avoided him, they poked fun at him. If he ever felt the mistake was his, he always apologized sincerely. Just as he could not stand others’ follies, he was equally scrupulous with his own behavior. This also made him the butt of many jokes.

Markandeyulu was not from a rich family, so he had to look for a job as soon as he got out of the college. In profession and work place too he had the same problem. He could not stick to any job for a long time. Slowly over the time he also started fighting for peoples’ rights. He understood the close, subtle relationship between justice and rights and as a result he was always clashing with different people for his rights and those of others.


Markandeyulu got married, eventually. His wife came to live with him as soon as he was out of college. His parents-in-law were not extremely rich but were certainly better placed than him financially. They helped him often as he moved from one job to another, His wife’s uncle worked as a sub-inspector in the police. He one day asked Markandeyulu to attend selection process for the post of sub-inspector in the police force. Markandeyulu critised the entire British raj and the police and finally concluded that he wouldn’t attend the selection process.

“My uncle works for the police. What do you mean by such criticism? What would he think of you?” his wife protested.

“What would he think, indeed? Why, he would think that I hate the police. What else?” replied Markandeyulu naively.

“How can you insult the elderly man who is only trying to help us?”

“”When did I insult him? Do I have to praise the police to show my respect for him?”

“Oh no! You should show your respect to him by critising his job, I guess.”

“Please don’t think that you are the only sensible person in this world. I would not have spoken about the police if he had not advised me to join the force. I believe that police force today is very inhuman. He wouldn’t be working there if he had the same belief. I am just trying to tell him something, which he didn’t seem to know. Why does he have to do such a mean job and expect everybody to appreciate him?”

“He did not boast about his job!”

“Then why did he ask me to get into the police force?”

“What is your problem? You could have just refused without argument..”

“Then he would ask me for my reasons.”

“You could have just said that you do not like it.”

“Then what if he asks me why I hate the police?”

“He wouldn’t ask like that.”

“He would, if he were a real well-wisher.”

“Oh come on! Why should he care about your opinions?”

“I thought he did care and so he was thinking about my job. It looks like he just wanted to get a good name among the relatives. In that case, it doesn’t matter even if I have hurt him.”

“You will argue to any extent just to prove that what you’ve done is right!”

“Perhaps you would be happy if I meekly agreed with you, without any discussion! Tell me, do I never own up if I ever did a mistake?”

During such endless arguments, his wife would stop the discussion out of sheer frustration.


It is very difficult to gauge Markandeyulu’s love for his wife. Certainly, he is not somebody incapable of love. The issue is how far his wife loved him! Indeed, only really loving can be loved. But it is rather difficult to love a person who seems to love abstract principles. Hence the very great artists and people who love principles go about without being loved. There would be nothing surprising if his wife could not love him. It seems he never even felt that she understood him completely, leave alone loving him. The lack of children only widened the emotional gulf between them.

The five and odd years of the war (1939-1945) were really difficult for Markandeyulu. His parents-in-law’s family, however seemed to prosper during this time. His brother-in-law earned heaps of money with their uncle’s help.

Six months after the war Markandeyulu was his usual jobless self. In the past six years he managed to save one hundred rupees, which disappeared quite fast.

One fine day his eldest brother-in-law came to his home and discussed about their future.

“Why do you struggle with these jobs? Come to our home. Help us with our business. You will be well off. Of course, Swamiji is there to enlighten our minds. He is so detached from the world. He never visits anyone’s home. But he comes to our home at least once in ten days.”

Markandeyulu never had a chance to meet this particular Swamiji but he heard a lot about him.

A few years ago on the Krishna-Ashtam[i]i this Swamiji proclaimed himself to be the Lord Krishna and indulged in the “Rasa leela”. As the devotees were deeply intoxicated with devotional singing, he insisted that all the ladies present disrobe themselves like the cowherdesses. Luckily few people had their sense about them and they managed to politely drive him out of the village. Being a Swamiji, he escaped a thrashing from the villagers.

“I believe neither in black marketeering nor in Swamiji. Just leave me alone to live my life my way””, he replied to his brother-in-law curtly. He refused to look at his wife during this conversation. Instinctively he could feel the horrified look on her face.

“Oh, yeah! We know how principled and straightforward you are. Unfortunately you are not alone in your life. My sister happens to be tied to it. I guess you don’t remember that.”

“In our wretched society a woman cannot do anything other than mutely taking part in her husband’s life,” he replied philosophically.

“Exactly! And you are taking advantage of that without doing your duty towards her!.”

“So you want me to discharge my duties by involving in black marketing and cheating!”

“You are calling it as black marketing, but.”

“What would you say about your business?”

“What I would say is why should my sister who can lead a relaxed life at my home should suffer in your home? Your pig headed ness is going to ruin her!”

“You seem to be thinking that I am wallowing in poverty just for the sole pleasure of starving your sister! She is free to go away from here on the day she feels her life as unbearable. I might have not given her physical comforts but I never denied her personal space and rights.”

“That day too is not very far off!” grumbled his brother-in-law


Within a week after the Mahatma’s assassination, Markandeyulu and his wife moved to her parents’ home. A fortnight earlier he had lost another job. Being in that depressed state, he did not protest about moving to their home.

Swamiji also seemed to be living at his parents-in-law’s home. The house was a like a thoroughfare with people coming in to see the Swamiji. Most of the devotees were well employed, well educated and rich. The entire show with Swamiji, his discourses, and the devotees turned Markandeyulu’s stomach. He felt the entire atmosphere revolting. He found the Swamiji’s discourses absurd and ridiculous.

Swamiji would speak only on few issues, and for any length of time. One of them was his super natural power! He said he could reduce anyone to ashes, if he wished to. He declared in front of all the Government officials that it was indeed he who decided that the Mahatma should be assassinated. The other issue he loved to talk about was about the heaps of gold he made with his occult powers. He declared that since he had no need for the gold, anyone who wanted it was most welcome to take it. Strangely, he never seemed to tell where exactly the heaps of gold were and no one ever seemed to ask about them.

But his most favorite topic was women. He could speak untiringly about women, childbirth, breast-feeding and their menstrual periods!

He seemed to think of himself as omni potent who could get the devotees jobs, promotions, money and difficulties if the devotees proved to be less faithful!

First time when Markandeyulu heard Swamiji’s discourse, he wondered if Swamiji though all the people around him are fools! After an hour the doubt disappeared. Indeed, all the people listening to the Swamiji, and believing it without a question were fools, he decided. Whatever Swamiji would blabber, they would receive it, believe it.

“How can people be so ignorant? What happens to their thinking faculties?” He wondered.

After a few sessions he got the answers to his questions. People who go to Swamiji are not going as seekers of knowledge or truth. They have taken leave of their senses and they go for the very worldly possessions of prosperity, fame, etc. Their intellectual faculties are slaves of Swamiji and so they cannot question, criticize or rebel against Swamiji’s commands. Swamiji was a clever man who realized that society has been crumbling, man’s social conscience is decaying and individual selfishness is all set to rule the world. The monk seemed to have understood the reality better than any politician. He has them all in his grip now.

“I am going home. Would you like to go with me?” Markandeyulu asked his wife.

“But we arrived here only today morning. Why leave so early?”

“We can take the night train. If you don’t go with me, I shall leave alone.”

“Tell my brothers about it.”

He did so, adding his opinion of the Swamiji.

“Why don’t you take Swamiji’s permission before leaving?” his brother-in-law suggested.

“How can you believe in such trash?”

“Of course I believe in Swamiji! I have seen his divine powers with my eyes.”

“I don’t need his permission. He is not my guardian.” He replied vehemently.

“He is the guardian of the God Himself! I shall ask his permission for you, if you don’t,” the brother-in-law said and left to ask Swamiji on his behalf.

“Your sister doesn’t have my permission to leave. Soulless bodies may leave if they want to,” replied Swamiji gravely.

“Ï am leaving. What about you? Markandeyulu asked his wife.

“Oh no! I am scared” she replied. Markandeyulu left by train the same evening. On the way to the station he was pelted with stones, which missed him. He was amused to see that Swamiji had enough power to throw stones at him, but lacked the power to make the stones hit the mark!


Markandeyulu’s wife stayed at her parents’home after that. A year ago she delivered a child. His brother-in-law says Markandeyulu came to their home ten months earlier and stayed for a night. He demanded for some money, which Swamiji has given him kindly. Swamiji seemed to have given lot of jewelry to Markandeyulu’s wife.

On the day he came to know about the delivery Markandeyulu came to my home. He told me about all the events in his life, in detail. He borrowed some money and left the next day morning without telling me his destination. Nobody knows where he is now. He did not drop a letter to me. I have no hopes about him. I consider his life as a closed chapter.

“Why does life end up like this?” his question echoes in my ears as long as I live. I wonder if he was thinking about himself when he asked that question.


(Translator’s note: This story titled Vyartha Jeevitam appeared in Andhra Jyothi in May 1950.

What is amazing about this story is it seems to be pertinent even today. Even today we see courageous people who struggle to live their lives according to what they believe is justice while others around them and the life itself are doing their best to pull them down.

Thanks to Sri Rohini Prasad gAru, on behalf of the author, for his kind consent to translate this story from Telugu and publish on Thulika. – Sharada)


(The story has been translated by © Sharada, Australia, and published on March 2005,

[i] The day Lord Krishna was born.

Nonduality by Puranam Subrahmanya Sarma

 Life is a necessary ingredient for story; meaning, a writer must possess a sense of discernment about life. We will know an author’s potential when we pose the question: Did he write the story with a thorough understanding of life or not? That is the easiest way to decide whether a story is functional or not.

A second question a prospective writer must ask is: What is the writer’s role in writing a story? After reading a story, we must be able to establish whether the writer took a stand on behalf of the subject and was pleading its case or hid himself in the background and causing the story to move on, like God. Then we will know whether the author stayed outside the story or submerged himself in it. In some cases, it would appear as if the author put the story in a stroller, like a baby, took it for a walk, and brought it back carefully. Some stories appear to have grown up on their own.

Another important question is whether the story has captured the reader’s attention at the outset or is boring. A reader must have a good feeling after finished reading a story. If a story cannot capture reader’s attention at the outset, there is no question of good feeling. Without proper diction, style and narrative technique, the story fails despite its excellen theme.

We need to figure out for whom the author is writing, is it for himself or the public? Could he resonate the world through himself or is he just using the medium to rub his personal woes on the world? Readers resent the writer who writes to show off how difficult it is to write a story and how smart he is.

A good story must be able to send the reader into a rapture. He must experience bliss. A story must have a purpose and a goal. After reading the story, a reader must be provoked into reflecting on things such as how things should be; should it be like or that?

A good story develops only when imagination and reality go together hand-in-hand like two horses of a cart. Writing a story based on the superficial behavior of the characters is the old method. A story cannot be called “modern” unless it has also psychological insights and portrayal of human psyche. There is one more characteristic without which a good story cannot stand on its own—that is the native spirit. If a reader cannot feel that this is a Telugu story, and that only a Telugu person could write like this, then the ego of the entire race gets hurt.

However, one must be deluded to expect that a story should contain all these qualities. If one of the characteristics is predominantly presented, other characteristics fall into place equitably.

Fiction-writing also is like a great alchemy. A kind of chemical reaction takes place when one writes a story and again when it is read.  Some commentators stated that a story must have nothing but the story. However if we examine carefully, we will notice that other characteristics of other genre do seep into the story. Some stories run like the strands of a top-rated lyric. In some stories, dramatization shows strikingly. A potent story erases all the demarcations and stands out on its own with its own peculiarities. A human being bound by the limitations, morals and tenets created by himself also breaks them occasionally. So also a story surpasses its own code.


Writing a story is a kind of social responsibility. We take the raw material along with inspiration from society and then return the same it back to the society through a literary genre as a finished product. That means the author paid his debt to the society through his writings.

In Recently times, a group of new writers started using the story as a powerful weapon to confront and fight back the injustices and atrocities in our society. Raavi Sastry said youth must seize swords, if not, sword-like pens. Literature has the power of not only desiring a change but also bringing about a change. Why not? A piece of paper, with an imprint of the government has the power to rule the world; that being the case, why can’t the writers, holding sword-like pens, have the power to fight the government and create a new system. Today’s young writers have recognized that the story has a responsibility of not just entertaining the readers but several other duties as well.

This anthology, under the editorship of Nidadavolu Malathi garu, contains eleven stories. All the important elements discussed above can be found in the stories in this anthology. Even as all the children of the same mother are not equally fortunate at all levels, all the stories in any anthology do not evince the same level of competency. Angara Venkata Krishna Rao garu depicted the naked exploitation in great graphic detail in his story “chettu kinda” [Uunder the Tree]. After reading this story and realizing that the person who bought a house was forced to sell the same house, we suffer a host of emotions—fear, pity, resentment, and anger—all at the same time, after reading the story and realizing that the man who bought a house was to become a seller, which was humiliating to him.

The story, “muudu kotulu” [Three Monkeys], reviewed from the perspective of Freudian theory of dreams, comes out as a writing which used psychoanalysis as a shield and tore apart human behavior and human relationships. There is enough satire in the story that could provoke a reader to go out and slap every human being on both the cheeks. In this anthology this one story stands out independently like a flagpole. This is a good story inspired by the movie, “Liberation of L.T. Jones.”

In the story, “Madhura Minakshi,” R. S. Sudarsanam garu states through the central character, “[at the sight of Goddess Minakshi], some unique feeling filled [my] heart as if time froze; as if I drowned into the depths of the ocean of time; as if I went back to some point in history.” He, the protagonist, met Minakshi, philosophy lecturer, at the Minakshi temple in Madhurai. Why the two statures cannot be one and the same? Dissociation means having no preference, that is maintaining an equitable view. Change is one characteristic of creation. Advaitam preaches that we must supersede this change and experience unity. The protagonist in this story came to visit the Goddess Minakshi in the temple and met with another Minakshi in person. This human Minakshi handed him the message—to experience unification of his feelings. She died the same night in a fire accident. In her death, she illustrated the variance between the permanent and transient. But the author states that the humans can attain unity of the permanent and the transient only through what is transient in this world. There is a danger of this story being ridiculed. Some readers might feel that sermonizing after meeting a woman in a temple and enjoying the pleasure of her company is ridiculous.

In Rajaram’s story, “Anamakudu,” [Unnamed person], the expectations of the readers and the characters in the story are baffled by an expected turn of events. The surprising end first brings up a laugh and then pity in the readers.

The story, “manchu debba” [frostbite] is a sad story of a childhood friend who sang the beautiful song dheerasameere at school and later wilted away by a frostbite. One would like to ask why women like Vakula should die? Why not elope with somebody? This story showcases how badly we are treating women and their abilities; and, how we are wasting them away. We need a change that stops murdering women like Vakula. After reading Malathi’s story, my afterthoughts were that our society is rotten and our institutions of family and marriage are screaming for repair.

Among the other stories, “akali”[hunger] by Kolakaluri Enoch stands out as one of the best stories. This one line is sufficient to demonstrate the author’s skill: “Money like a flag that illustrates the superiority of the ‘haves’ and inferiority of the ‘have-nots.” The author displays razor-sharp vengeance in this story. This is a “small” hunger story. In the entire anthology the three stories that maintained a uniform style are “chettu kinda” [Under the Tree], “muudu kothulu” [Three Monkeys] and “akali”[Hunger]. The other stories seem to show that authors’ individual voice and style are not developed yet.

Pulikanti Krishna Reddy’s story, “guudu kosam guvvalu” [Birds for their Nest] depicts the conflicts in the lives of Gurappa thatha who predicts future with the help of a parrot, the parrot, Ramudu, her cage and the son-in-law Rangadu. Krishna Reddy garu deserves compliments on his effort in weaving the meticulous details, local dialect, and his style which is filled with native flavor in his story.

Malathi garu called this anthology nithya jivithamlo vyasa ghattaalu. I must admit that at first vyasa ghaTTam sounded silly to me, like snanaghaTTam. Later, I found out that ‘hard-to-comprehend’ places in a book or a story are referred to as vyasa ghattaalu. Hard-to-comprehend items cause pain. Pain is a synonym for poetry. All activities—from giving birth to writing a piece—are painful. I believe that writing a story causes only pain, not pleasure. Therefore, I think there is a justification in giving this anthology a name that translates as “stories and sufferings.”

There is one more thing I would like to add. Usually we say, “Thus ended the story.” But, to speak the truth, no story really ends. Even when we think that the story is completed, it still leaves a lot more for us to think about. Just like life, stories are also incomplete. Life and fiction are equally unfinished. Each person has a story and that is never ending. Whether one writes or not, stories keep springing up. The unwritten stories are unborn children.

No matter who writes in which language and in what country, all stories contain an element of universality. Each story reminds us that there are no boundaries for literature. I can ascertain without hesitation and full conviction that people who say, “What can literature do? Who wants fiction and such nonsense?” are fools, no doubt.

– Puranam Subrahmya Sarma.

Vijayawada –10

June 25, 1973.


A brief note about this article: In the early seventies, I tried to put together an anthology of short stories and requested Puranam Subrahmanya Sarma, a noted journalist, to write preface for my book. The book never materialized but several authors whom I had contacted during that period kept asking me about the anthology for a long time.

The reasons for my failure are not relevant at this point. However, the preface is still relevant even today and may be helpful to our writers. Therefore, I decided to publish the preface here.

Puranam Subrahmanya Sarma (1894-1979) was one of the progressive editors who were supportive of women writing during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Sarma’s editorial practices were a mix of contradictions. On one hand, he encouraged women writers to write and submit to his magazine, and at the same time, published cartoons ridiculing women writers in the same magazine side by side. He also made statements that seem to contradict his position on women’s writing. Probably the only way one may justify this contradiction is to turn to our cultural values. Humor is an integral part of our daily lives. In our culture, friends and family members tease each other every which way all the time. No offense intended, none taken.

Title: I am not sure why Sarma garu called this preface advaitam. In Hinduism, advaitam is a branch of philosophy that professes unity of soul and god as opposed to dvaitam which differentiates the two. Possibly, Sarma garu meant the same kind of identification between the writer or his voice and the story. I am open to other interpretations.

It was written thirty years back. Thirty years is a long time and some of the references are not clear to me anymore. Therefore I presented only a few paragraphs that made sense to me.

I also need to mention that I am not sure either why I wanted to give the said title to the anthology. Probably, I just learned that word at the time and got carried away.


( Translated by © Nidadavolu Malathi and first published on, September 2003).