Monthly Archives: May 2013

Dr. Arudra by Nidadavolu Malathi

Arudra, a relentless researcher and poet, devoted his life to write for the ordinary people without compromising his integrity.  He proved successfully that poetry in classical meter could be written in colloquial Telugu and produce valuable literature. He did not believe in academic degrees. He researched incessantly and brought valuable information on a wide
variety of topics to the public.

Arudra [Bhagavatula Sadasiva Sankara Sastry] was born in Visakhapatnam in 1925. He moved to Vizianagaram in 1941 for college studies. During this period, he met with literary stalwarts Chaganti Somayajulu and Ronanki Appalaswamy who became powerful forces in molding his literary pursuits and helped to define his literary values in the years to come.

Early in life, Arudra became involved in the political movements. He left college and joined the Air Force in 1943. He moved to Madras in 1947, where he served on the editorial board of a popular magazine Anandavani for two years. Then returned to Visakhapatnam where he was a photographer for a short period. In 1949, he returned to Madras. He always believed that journalism had “adventure value.” He tried for a job in journalism and ended with script and lyric writing in the movies.

Arudra did not care for academic degrees but his incessant thirst for knowledge and acquiring it in the traditional method was notable. When he wanted to learn the fundamentals of Telugu grammar, he went to the highly reputable grammarian, Ravuri Doraiswamy Sarma. Interestingly, at the end of three years, however, Arudra changed Doraiswamy Sarma’s perceptions of the importance of colloquial Telugu. He proved to be a rare student who could convert the teacher and a staunch classicist into an advocate of colloquial language.

Arudra pursued his interest in literature and fine arts on his own and with unusual fervor. He studied not only classics in Telugu literature but also in other languages, and other fields such as dance, music, magic and palmistry. Top ranking artists in music and dance would consult Arudra for interpretation and explanations. He was well versed in the games of chess and bridge. Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati, conferred an honorary doctorate of letters on Arudra in 1978. Andhra University honored him with Kalaprapoorna title. Arudra’s works had been subjects for several doctoral dissertations and M. Lit. Degrees.His sixtieth birthday was celebrated on a grand scale in Chennai in 1985. Marking his seventieth birthday, East and West Godavari districts organized huge literary meets. He was truly a people’s poet in every sense of the term.

Arudra met Ramalakshmi, a well-known writer and critic, while she was working at the Telugu swatantra office as editor of the English section of the magazine. They got married in 1954. They have three daughters and one adopted daughter.

Arudra’s first poem, lohavihangaalu [Metal Eagles] written in 1942 caught the eye of the elitists. During the Second World War, the Japanese airplanes dropped bombs on the Visakhapatnam harbor and people dispersed in panic. Arudra wrote the poem depicting the horrific scene.

Arudra strongly believed in two principles: First, literature must be able to stimulate people, and secondly, it must be written in a language that is intelligible to all the readers, the elite and the ordinary readers. In a personal letter written to me in 1981, Arudra said, “Our ancient poets said people’s tongues are the palm leaves that safeguard the literature. Now the hearts of the people are the tape recorders that preserve literature.” Arudra had experimented and produced valuable works in every literary genre—several techniques in poetry, literary history, short stories, detective novels, stage and radio plays, essays, lyrics and scripts for movies. Several of his lyrics and poems are still fresh in the hearts of the people.

The two most important works that gave him a permanent place in the history of Telugu literature are Samagra Andhra Sahityam [A Comprehensive Literary History of the Andhra People] and Tvamevaaham, [You are I –an aphorism from Upanishads]. The two works left an indelible mark on the minds and in the hearts of Telugu people.

His voluminous literature may be categorized into three areas: 1. works based on research, 2. creative writings (poetry, fiction, etc), and 3. lyrics and poetry written in a lighter vein. Further, his articles fall into the following categories: articles [1] related to the ancient and modern literature; [2] on fine arts and folk arts; [3] social reformers and others worked in the area; [4] movie industry; and, [5] miscellaneous.

Arudra mentioned in one of his essays  an incident that led to working on his major work, Samagra Andhra Sahityam. It was triggered by a brief conversation the author had with B. N. Reddy, a prominent movie producer. Arudra casually suggested to Reddy to make a movie on the famous poet Tikkana. Reddy asked Arudra to see if there was enough material to make a movie.

Arudra, as his wont, started researching the subject, and was fascinated by the enormous amount of material he had come across in the process. The movie did not happen but his research, which extended over a period of sixteen years, resulted in the said volumes. “The information useful for the race [of the Telugu people] must not be put away,” he told himself, and set out to publish it in a series of volumes. The set of twelve volumes speaks of not only Arudra’s thirst for knowledge and tenacity but also his commitment to the Telugu race. Arudra’s commitment is evident from his comment that he quit smoking in order to continue his reading in the library uninterrupted.

The history of the publication of his monumental work, Samagra Andhra Sahityam [Comprehensive Literary History of the Andhra people], is worth mentioning here. In the sixties, M. Seshachalam &Company created a project under the banner “intinti granthalayam [Library in every home]. Under the project, subscribers received books on a monthly basis. The company agreed to publish Samagra Andhra Sahityam in 12 volumes between 1965 and 1968. Arudra worked day and night incessantly to meet the publishers’ guidelines, sometimes modifying the content to fit the size. After the 12th volume, the author realized that there was information for one more volume to cover the modern period. His health however held him back for a while. The first edition of 12 volumes sold out quickly. In 1988, Prajasakti publishers, Vijayawada, undertook to reprint the set. This time the author had the opportunity to include the details he had left out the first time and the volume on the modern period (volume 13). The second edition was published in 1991. Once again, the books were sold out quickly. In 2002, Ramalakshmi approached Telugu Akademi, and they agreed to publish the entire work in four volumes.
At this writing, volume 1 of this set is out of print.

Samagra Andhra Sahityam covering the period from the early Chalukya period (the eighth century to the British rule (the mid-nineteenth century) is not just a laundry list of authors’ names and their works. In his preface, the author mentioned that history of any country encompasses the literary history as well as social history. To that end, Arudra included umpteen particulars about the authors, their works, critiques and the minutiae of daily life in the period under discussion.

An important characteristic of these volumes is the language. Arudra wrote in colloquial Telugu in accordance with his belief that literature is for the people. kavisamrat Viswanatha Satyanarayana was strongly opposed to this view. It would appear that Satyanarayana was disappointed that Arudra did not write them in classical Telugu.

The second book, tvamevaaham [You are I, an upanishadic axiom] is one of the most widely received poetry volume in the history of modern Telugu literature. It is a powerful statement on the atrocities committed by the Razakars under the Nizam regime in 1948. While the people protested against the Nizam rule, the razakars committed unspeakable crimes. It was a hell let loose.

In his preface, the author stated that he was inspired by a news item published in krishnapatrika, under the banner naakaa siggu, naa stritvam enaaDo poyindi [Me, ashamed? My femininity was long gone]. It narrated the story of a woman who removed her clothes in a third class railway compartment in a leisurely fashion. One of the passengers asked her if she were not ashamed to do so. She replied, “Am I ashamed? How can I be? I was tied to a tree for twelve days in this manner by the razakars, the cronies of the Nizam, and was raped repeatedly. You did nothing. You should be ashamed”. Several poets of Andhra Pradesh responded to the appalling incident and the atrocities. Arudra’s poem set him apart from the others for his technique and its commanding tone.

The technique Arudra developed to write his poetry included rhyming couplets and extensive borrowing freely from Sanskrit, English and Urdu to make his point. Unlike other poets, Arudra did not use Sanskrit phraseology to impress the elite. He used them to create a stronger sense of the milieu.

The book in several cantos using the clock-related terminology such as hours, minutes, seconds, water clock, and sand clock, depicts in analogous meter the atrocities and violence that had occurred during that period.

In the preface to the book, Arudra said he originally called it Telangana. When he showed it to Sri Sri for his opinion, Sri Sri said he was very pleased with the poem. Regarding the title, Sri Sri said, “Giving the title Telangana to a book on Telangana is like drawing a picture of an elephant and call it elephant. It does not convey the essential message of the poem.” Arudra then changed it to the current title.

Let me digress here for a moment. Possibly the above incident could be the last when Arudra sought Sri Sri’s opinion. In terms of ideologies, Arudra moved away from Sri Sri soon enough. While Sri Sri remained strictly adhered to his Marxist principles, Arudra studied the Marxist and other ideologies and imbibed the spirit of those principles. He then developed his own philosophy and remained a man of his own convictions.

The book, tvamevaaham, was published in a biweekly magazine, Telugu swatantra, in 1949. I read it in the early fifties. I was not aware of the connotation and I did not understand every word of it, yet I was taken by the ambiance. It was one of my favorite readings at the time. The book has become an important part of history for its political and social context. That I came to know much later.

The public reception of the book was not immediate though. Nearly four years later, in a letter to Dasarathi, Arudra stated that he [Dasarathi] was the first to make constructive comments on the book. Dasarathi praised it as unique for its style and content. The review was published in Bharati monthly in 1953.

Arudra’s second daughter, Lalita, is a writer in her own right. She commented on tvamevaaham and translated one of the poems from the book. I was glad to note that her appreciation of the book was similar to mine. There is a notable difference of course. She is Arudra’s daughter and thus has a better sense of the poetic quality in it. You can find Lalita’s comments and the translation on her blog, Click on the October 2007 folder and scroll down to The Train You Intended to Take.

Among his other anthologies of poetry, koonalamma padaalu deserves special mention. In his preface, the author mentioned that he had come across an article by Veturi Prabhakara Sastry on the eight poems with the caption O Koonalammaa! In Bharati monthly in 1930. Arudra stated, “When I first read them, I was excited; the poems moved me and provoked me. The divine skill imbibed in these poems mesmerized me. … I scrutinized them closely and, after understanding the depth of meaning in those poems, decided to write similar poems and bring them to light.”

Arudra researched further and found that the time when these were written could not be established with certainty. He was however certain that they were being sung in the 17th century. Arudra arrived at two premises: 1. they were probably not written by Koonalamma herself but written by someone else as a tribute to Koonalamma, 2. they followed a particular type of meter that included rhyming the first three lines and ending with the caption, O Koonalamma as the 4t line.  He discussed the meter in detail in this preface to this book. (I would not want to go into that area, since it is all Greek and Latin to me.)

Here are a couple of poems I translated. Of course, the original poems are more fascinating.

Andhra folks’ passion
O ghosh, is a load
That never lives to see the end
Oh Koonalamma.

The debt keeps growing
The shoe keeps stinging
It is a flame unavailable for viewing
Oh Koonalamma.

Arudra’s poetry in lighter vein is equally captivating. His poems under titles, intinti pajyaalu and America intinti pajyaalu illustrate the humorous side of events in our daily lives—his comments on the everyday realities and lifestyles. His humorous side is obvious even in the spelling of the title. His spelling was in step with the prevalent pronunciation at a time when it was not common in written texts.

Arudra is a great juggler of words. It is not an exaggeration to state that his rhyme brought him closer to the vast majority of readers. In his preface to the book, he mentioned that he modeled these poems, intinti pajyaalu, on the poetry of Ogden Nashe. Aptly, he stated,

American poet, Ogden Nashe
Had made plenty of cash,
As for me, all I wish for
Is a nod of sehbash

Here are a couple of poems from intinti pajyaalu.

Cricket match
To tell the truth, I cannot play cricket
Yet, for every match, I buy the ticket
Between Umrigar, Bordey and Desai, I cannot tell the difference
Not even when I’m close by.

That’s why, when our team is fielding
I shout aloud, “Milka Singh”
He wears a turban and a beard
That’s how I remember him well.

History on the move:
The hare and the tortoise made a wager
I’ll tell you how the tortoise won the race
He walked the one hundred miles
While the hare switched two trains

The book, America intinti pajyaalu [Poems in homes in America] depicts similar incidents in the homes of Telugu people in America. Personally, I think the real Telugu humor did not seep through in these poems as well as its precedent. Again, it could be my frame of mind.

Arudra wrote another book of poems, madhyakkaralu, to prove his argument that writing metrical poetry need not be laden heavily with meandering Sanskrit phraseology. Earlier, Viswanatha Satyanarayana published a volume entitled viswanatha madhyakkaralu, which received Sahitya Akademi award. Arudra called his book suddha madhyakkaralu, highlighting that his technique was the pure form and yet intelligible to all readers. His intent was to show that the ancient principles of poetics were just as suitable for colloquial Telugu as the classical Telugu.

In addition to his Samagra Andhra Sahityam, Arudra had written numerous essays over a period of fifty years.Most of them were published in anthologies such as mahaneeyulu [Great Personalities], vyaasapeetham[Articles on a wide variety of topics including history, classics, society, journalism, and movies], Ramudiki Sita Emavutundi [How Sita is related to Rama], temple sculpture, and prajakalalu and pragativaadulu [Folk arts and Freethinkers]. The book, Ramudiki Sita emavutundi is one of his works that explains his mode of thinking. In this book, he takes a popular adage, which implies that the question, how is Sita related to Rama, is idiotic since the answer is obvious; a question nobody in his right mind would ask. Arudra however takes the question seriously, and gives numerous examples from various texts in other cultures and other countries to show that the answer is more complex than appears to be. The book clearly gives a lot for the reader to wonder about and think.

In 1999, Ramalakshmi has decided to publish all the works of Arudra. One of them is a collection of critical essays on a wide variety of topics, entitled vyasapeetham the second imprint. The essays range from Vedic times to the beliefs and practices in modern times—legends and facts surrounding various mythological characters such as Krishna, Sita, Draupadi, various issues as described in Vedas, women’s position in society, customs at various times, persons of importance in the movie industry, the state of today’s journalism, and so on. The volume speaks of Arudra’s tenacious pursuit of knowledge on one hand and his ability to present the topics in a language that is appealing to the widest audience. Arudra excels in capturing his audience’s attention.

In some case, the articles clarify some of the popular notions. Others provide additional information and educate the readers. In his article on what the word putrika meant,  Arudra points out that the word was originally meant to refer to the daughter who had no brothers. He quoted ancient texts such as Manu dharmasastra, Vedas, and modern Vedic authorities (Panchagnula Adinarayana Sastry) and western scholars (Sir Moniere Williams) to support his view. He also quotes from Women in the Vedic Age by Sakuntala rao Sastry, wherein Mrs. Sakuntala rao comments, “After the male domination came into play, the woman without brothers was labeled putrika and declared unfit for marriage. Sayanacharya who had written commentary on Vedas attributed the 14th century A.D. mode of thinking to the Vedic period”. Arudra would append his own
views wherever he felt strongly about the issue on hand. For instance, in the above article, he asked why today’s traditionalists accept the Vedas as authoritative, yet would not allow the same rights to women that had been allowed in the Vedic period (p.58).

Vemanna Vedam is another valuable work of Arudra. Vemana, a 14th century poet, is highly respected for his keen insights into the customs of society and pungent remarks. Arudra interpreted these poems, quoting extensively from the Vedas and other scholarly works. His commentary adds immensely to the study of Vemana’s poems.

Arudra has written books on palmistry, hand gestures in bharatanatyam, people and folk arts, and on chess among several others.

The book, hastalakshanam, is a small book in which Arudra wrote poems illustrating the hand gestures in classical dance. He worked closely with Padma Subrahmanyam, a famous dancer, to explain the underlying philosophy.

In the early eighties, I started working on Telugu writers for a doctoral dissertation (never finished). In that context, I contacted several writers. Arudra was kind enough to respond to my questions. I am happy I could share his thoughts with you at this late date.

Arudra in his own words:
In a letter dated July 28, 1981, Arudra wrote:

1.        Prior to entering the movie industry, I have gained the knowledge of writing good lyrics from the standpoint of literary technique. After getting into the movies, I understood the technique from the standpoint of music. I understood specifically how to use the rhyme and assonance. My technique improved because of the movies, but not hurt.
2.        The movie industry is only a business in the world of capitalist society. Producers make movies only to make money. If a competent director has good taste, he will be able to create a movie that does not fall below the standard. Writer is a part of this team. This is a collaborative effort.
3.        When a writer writes a lyric and publishes in a magazine, a reader reads it, sitting at home. Between him and a moviegoer, there is a big difference. These differences are inevitable in today’s society. As long as there is a difference between the literature that is read and the one that is heard, there will also be a difference between literary technique and the literature of the movies. For example, once, I read a poem aloud in a literary meet. It opens on the lines, “Is this the country where Gandhi was born?”  Later, there was an occasion where I had to write the same as a lyric for a movie. The views were the same but the way it was expressed had to be changed. I did it myself. One of the trade secrets of the artist is to be able to change the technique according to the medium. The difference between the stage play and the screenplay is the same as the literary technique and the movie technique. It is just as crucial.
4.        I have written numerous movie songs. I was never ashamed of the songs I have written for the movies. On the other hand, I am proud of them. I have been working in the industry for 32 years now (1981) that is about 3200 over the years. On average, I have been writing one hundred songs per year, maybe more. Some of these songs have become very popular. A few dozens of them are still being heard from individual singers, and broadcast on radio and television even now. Our ancient poets said that we might call them lyrics only those which act as the palm leaves for the tongues of the people. I am content that I have written songs that are tape recorders for the hearts of the people.
5.        I will not be disappointed if a producer or director asks me to change the lines. Movie songs require fixing. The song must be suitable for the episode and the presentation of it in the movie. Without thinking about the episode, the writer might imagine it in a different way. Then one of them would have to change his mode of thinking. It is appropriate for the writer to modify the song. How can a writer satisfy hundreds and thousands of audience, if he cannot satisfy the producer and the director?
6.        There was no occasion I had to write songs that were not consistent with my outlook.
7.        There were occasions when the storyline was changed based on my song. Director Tilak used to change the storyline based on the songs I had written. Once I wrote a song, raayinaina kaaka pothine [Why I have not turned into a rock at least?] for a private recording. Bapu heard it and was so pleased he created a scene in his movie goranta deepam. They do ask for my suggestions as well.
8.        To entertain the public is also one of the functions of literature. I think this can be attained through movie songs to a greater extent. I was very pleased when I heard one of my songs from the movie premalekhalu, sung by workers at the railway station by coal lines. Same way, when people, whom I’ve never met before, would approach me on the railway platform or some other place and congratulate me for the song muthemanta pasupu. Where is greater joy than knowing that my song has given them on the spot respite for a few minutes? [Sadyah eva nivruthi.]
9.        My ideology is scientific equality. I am including this in the movies whenever possible in an easily understandable, colloquial Telugu and using popular adages, but not with stock phrases. Nevertheless, the producer would allow the premise of equality only if it fits today’s business framework. In today’s template movies liberalism is nil. The views in the songs make an impression only when the entire movie resonates with liberalism. Otherwise, it will be like the juices and solids remain separate

My answer to the question you [Malathi] did not ask:
In the Telugu movie industry, numerous literary stalwarts such as Veluri Sivarama sastry, Viswanatha Satyanarayana, and Viswanatha Kaviraju, have written lyrics. So also progressive writers like Devulapalli, Sri Sri, Dasarathi, Si.Na.Re, and Atreya. Before the formation of Abhyudaya Rachayitala Sangham in 1947, we used to argue that we should write in a language that is intelligible to all the people. Yet we filled our writings with phrases built on Sanskrit phraseology [tatsamabhuuyishtamaina] that was incomprehensible to the people. After joining the movie industry, the language has taken the forms of desyam [native], aicchikam [random], and graameenam [rural]. Nowadays, nobody is writing lyrics filled with Sanskrit phrases, unless it is a purana movie. This is a linguistic revolution.

Second letter dated October 21, 1981:
Writing for the movies is my vocation. Literature is my passion. It is morally untenable to yield to shameful acts in the name of one’s work. For that reason, I will never do anything that is dishonorable voluntarily.

In literature, a disparity between the writer and reader leads to communication gap. That happened at the time of tvamevaaham was published. Even a great poet like Bhartruhari despaired that jeernamange subhashitam. [Good words are lost in oneself for want of receptive audience.]  Kalidasu lost heart and said that puraanamiteva na saadhu sarvam. [Not everything is commendable because it is old]. Bhavabhuti had to tell himself vipulaa ca prithvee [The world is expansive] and be content with it. Chemakura Venkanna was annoyed that ee gati raciyincireni samakaalikulu meccharu gadaa [Contemporaries do not appreciate regardless in whatever style you write].

For those who introduce innovative trends, this problem is inevitable. For the writers who think that they are right and the people are idiots, there is no problem, none whatsoever, for instance, Viswanatha. I am people’s writer. Real writer is a person of the society he lives in [sanghajeevi]. The purpose of literature is inherent in the society’s activities. The elite may hold the same disrespectful view towards the movie writings as their view towards folk songs. The epics live on paper. Lyrics live on the tongues of the people. Songs sung along with pestle and mortars are the songs. Now I am very happy that my writings are within the reach of the ordinary people.

To conclude, I would like to quote the last lines in the volume 13 of Samagra Andhra Sahityam. Arudra stated that in recording any literary history, the modern period begins but does not end.  … In a continuing tradition, the details of movements and the episodes are only comas and semicolons … but there will be no full stops.”

Arudra left his legacy for Telugu people to continue. As long as the history is in the making, the legacy of Arudra will remain in the hearts and on the minds of Telugu people.

Source list.

Arudra Abhinandana Sanchika. Madras: Arudra Shashtipurti Celebration Committee, 1985.

Works by Arudra.

1. Poetry.
Sinivaali. Madras: M. Seshachalam &Co., 1960.
Suddha Madhyakkaralu. Chennai: Stri Sakti prachuranalu, 1999
Tvamevaaham. Secunderabad: Chanda Narayana Shreshti, 1962.

2. Critical works (Books and anthologies of essays)
Mahaneeyulu (pen portraits). Chennai: K. Ramalakshmi, 1979
Prajakalalu, Pragativaadulu. Vijayawada: Prajasakti Book House, [1986]
Ramudiki Sita emautundi. Vijayawada: Navodaya publishers, 1978
Samagra Andhra Sahityam. 4 vols. Hyderabad: Telugu Akademi, 2002.
Vemana Vedam. Vijayawada: New Students Book Center, 1985
Vyasapitham. Vijayawada: New Students Book Center, 1985.

3. Fiction
Arudra kathalu. Vijayawada: Vijayasarathi prachurana. 1966

*Complete list of Arudra’s works is available at

This article by Nidadavolu Malathi has been published on, June 2008.

The Thief by Devarakonda Balagangadhara Tilak

The moonlight was dim. Gopal was walking in the darkness under the trees. Clad in a knee length dhoti, a snug undershirt  clinging to his chest and a small knife tucked under his waist, he felt confident and bold .He still tasted the sour country liquor on and off in his throat. He had taken one glass of it to give him the zest and energy..Gopal was uneducated, but well organized .He always considered the pros and cons of everything he did. There was an inherent  sharpness in him. That was why Somulu and Rattayyah entrusted him with this job. Things worked out smoothly when the duo were not involved. They had only  greed and confusion, no planning.

Gopal observed that man and wife for 2 weeks and noticed the husband never came home before 1’o clock in the morning. The husband  always  sat in the bar drinking expensive liquor and gambled till he was stripped of his last penny. By then his wife had slept alone in the room next to the kitchen in their house. There was an entrance to the kitchen from the back yard. The back yard was pretty large with lot of trees and thick bushes, which would work perfectly for Gopal as it would shield
him from people’s sight. The kitchen window had weathered from sun and rain and the bars were rusty and weak. If he used his strength and deftness he could easily remove three or four bars. Once he entered the kitchen through that window, his
job was easy. He would make a noise at the other door leading to the adjacent room. The woman of the house would open the door thinking it was a dog or a cat in the kitchen. Then Gopal would  threaten  her with his knife, and swiftly snatch the
four stranded thick heavy gold chain from her neck and disappear into the darkness before she realized what happened and called out for help.

Gopal was strolling  leisurely going over this entire plan in his head. The streets were empty except for one or two late night passersby. That was an area away from the main town, not as crowded and bustling as the town was. After the  night show of the cinemas, all the little kiosks and coffee shops in the neighborhood were closed. Many houses were already submerged in deep slumber, very few houses still had their electrical lights shining through the windows. Overall it appeared  as if those empty streets and houses were waiting for Gopal in a quiet solitude in that translucent moonlight.

Gopal had no ethical qualms about his work. He never thought  being a thief  was wrong or sinful. He was doing it just like others worked various jobs for living. He never had the guilt ridden conscience to micro-analyze his deeds  into right and
wrong, in fact he never felt it necessary to think along  those lines. So, he never had a conflict with his conscience. He dreaded getting caught though and was very well aware of the possibility of going to prison if that happened. He always planned meticulously to avoid getting caught. He worked alone, never took Rattayya and Somulu along with him unless it was absolutely necessary. The very thought of them eagerly waiting for him to return successful, gave Gopal a new leash of energy.

That house looked  like a curled up  turtle in the dull moon light. He went  around the house and entered the backyard as per his plan. The back yard  was really dark and unkempt with  full of bushes, scattered coconut and plantain  trees. Gopal
slowly walked up to the kitchen and examined the window bars. Suddenly he heard voices from inside. He was surprised. This was not in his plan. Again he heard the voices, this time loud and angry. Gopal felt curious. Perhaps the visitor might leave now making it easy for his plan to go smoothly, Gopal thought. May be it was her lover, perhaps  she was having a secret  affair, thought  Gopal. He heard some words again from inside, loud and hurried.

There was pain and fear in her voice. Gopal was getting more and more curious. He forcefully  pulled the window bars out, and entered the kitchen. He heard somebody talking again.

“Please,listen to me,”  female voice

“Will you give it or not?”  male voice.

“Why do you gamble and waste money? Since we  got  married  there had been no fun or pleasure. You spent  all the money on gambling. Is it not enough?”

“Stop lecturing  and  give that to me! Or else……”

“If I give you this last  piece of jewelry left, what would happen to me and my child? Please, take a look at him, your own son! Don’t you have a heart? Don’t you feel any compassion for him? Please, leave it. It is midnight now. Please stay home tonight. I am scared to stay all alone by myself in this house. Come, let’s go to bed.”

This time the male voice sounded very gruff,” will you give it  or you want me to strangle you? I will be rid of you!”

“No, I won’t.”

“Won’t you?”

“No, never. This is given by my mom. This is mine, my asset.”

Gopal thought what she said was fair. Her voice was very sweet, faint and tender.

Gopal felt irritated with her husband.

“What did you say? Your asset ? You b….? Did n’t I feed you with my money all along? Give it. Give me the chain.”

“How could you utter these unkind words? Am I not saying all this for your sake, for your own benefit? This is the only piece of gold that we have. Did I say one word when you sold off an acre of my property given by my parents? You drink, you
gamble. You  have no  sense of right and wrong, no feelings for your wife and child.Should I rot in this hell like this forever? I beg you, please, listen to me.”

Gopal heard a sharp slap. Looks like the husband was hitting his wife. Gopal felt a rush of compassion and anger. Her pitiful, sweet and sad voice held him strongly.

“You can beat me! Kill me! I won’t part with my gold chain.”

“Won’t you, won”t you? You bloody b….!” Again sounds of thumping and punching.

She was sobbing helplessly, pitifully and painfully. She wailed. Gopal could hear them tugging and struggling.

“Let go off me! Please! Oh my god … ”

Gopal’s eyes got red. He clenched his fists angrily.

“I will strangle you today. Give me the chain.”

“Why should I? So you can gamble with that and loose it too?” She was talking between heavy sobs.

“You did not even  bring medicine for the sick child. I don’t even have a nice saree. It does not matter to you if I am dead or alive. After this I end up penniless and begging on the streets because of you. ”

“So, you are defying me for this little rascal. Let me strangle him right now!”

“Oh, my god, No! Please do not hurt him.” She started screaming loud. The little one wailed too.

Gopal could not contain himself anymore. He visualized a small kid getting strangled He kicked the door with all his might. It did not open. He kicked at the door forcefully again. The doors flung open. The woman was holding a small boy in her arms and crouching in a corner of the room. She was shaking all over with fear.

“Please do not harm my baby. Here, take the chain,” she  handed her chain to the man who bent over her like a monster. The husband took the gold chain from her hands and turned around and found Gopal standing across from him.

“Who the hell are you?” said the husband.

Gopal punched him on his jaw. The husband jerked forward. Gopal ran at him, held his head down and punched him again with force. He fell down.

“You hit a woman? You are stealing that chain from her? Rogue, Shame on you! hand me the chain now! No, do not move. I will kill you if you move.”

Gopal snatched the chain from him. The man was slumped on the floor, breathing heavy. Wife was too shocked to comprehend what was happening and stuck to the wall wide-eyed staring at them.

“You scoundrel, being an educated man all you do is gamble and drinking? You are stealing your own wife’s jewellery instead of looking after her and the baby?”

The husband was lying on the floor faintly murmuring obscenities.

Gopal kicked him in his side, “Shut up.”

She screamed “No, no, please do not hurt him!”

Gopal walked towards her with the chain. She was slim, fair and slender. Her hair was all undone. Her cheeks were streaked wet with tears. She was hardly twenty-five. She had a look of fear and surprise mingled in her eyes. The boy in her arms was crying.

“Here, madam. Your chain,” Gopal handed the gold  chain to her. The husband tried to pull himself up. Gopal took his small knife out.

“Look !If you move, I shall stab you! you will be no more!”

The man folded his hands in pleading.

“If I ever hear you took her chain or laid your hands on her, I won’t spare you.”

Gopal shook his dagger close to his face.

The man nodded his head  agreeing.

Gopal turned towards her, “Nothing to  worry ,Madam. Stay strong.”

She nodded her head with fear and gratitude.

Gopal tucked  his dagger back under his waist and turned to leave. She asked him in a feeble voice,” who are you ,sir?”

“ME…” Gopal turned  pale.

“I ..I am called Gopal. That’s all,” Gopal averted his gaze, and hurried out to the back yard and disappeared  into the darkness.


sasidhar_vaidehiTranslated by Dr. Vaidehi Sasidhar and published on, August 2008

(The original story, donga, was included in “Tilak Kathalu”, a collection of short stories by Sri. Devarakonda Balagangadhara Tilak. First publication in 1967. .)

The Letter Lasts Forever by Nidadavolu Malathi

The Telugu word for letter [alphabet] is akshamam. The literal meaning is “that which stays forever”.

Due to frequent transfers in my father’s job, I could not finish high school the first time. I passed the mid-year exam and waited the next six months to attend college the following year. During that interim period, I had gotten used to shadowing my mother and learned plenty in the process—more than any education I had received in my school.

Among the lessons I had learned, the most important ones came from Sandraalu, the vegetable vendor, who used to come to our door every day with a basket filled with vegetables picked fresh from her garden in the backyard. She would bring glistening eggplants, tender okra, and the squash which she would not let me touch. She would say that Brahmin women would not buy them if they see nail marks on it.

Sandraalu had a way with words. She was great in telling about the events in her life like an accomplished narrator. Her stories are imprinted on my mind forever, more than any stories I have ever heard anywhere else.

Sandraalu would start with a trite phrase like “nothing stays forever” and then go into a sweeping narration of how she had trusted a Christian father, converted to Christianity, realized that the change had not been for the better, returned home, got an earful from her mother-in-law, hopped on a bus and ended in a neighboring village, Simhachalam. In Simhachalam, she had met with Jigini Saibu who was running a small tea stall at the bus stop on the outskirts of the village. He listened to Sandraalu’s story and invited her into his home.

He said, “You cook for me and I will provide a roof over your head.”

I do not know how many times I have heard this story. Each time it sounded afresh for me. I had never been tired of her stories.

One day, I asked her, “How come you are selling vegetable and not fish?” That is because she had told me earlier that she was a fisherwoman by birth.

As usual, she went into a spirited narration, swaying like a vine on a windy day. That is how I had learned about her stormy life.

On another day, she said, “That is the thing ma’am. Wretched times, wretched thoughts—follow on the heels of each other. My man and I had a great life, like royalty, from the sales of the fish my man had caught. I brought four kids into this world. Then, that white man came to our village and talked his head off; chewed us up. He said, ‘These high and mighty folks are not treating you well. Are you not people like them? Prick them and they also bleed just like you do, right? Not milk or honey? They don’t let you enter their homes, why? I’m telling you. You come with us. We will give you food, clothes, and let you sit with us in our living rooms.’ He mouthed big talk and I got carried away. At first, my husband was okay with it but then changed his mind. He said he would not go. My mother-in-law said, ‘You can go but cannot take the kids.” I went all right … but what did I gain? Nothing. I ended up doing the same thing at his house as had been doing before. One rock is as good as another to knock off one’s teeth.”

I understood Sandraalu’s words, partly though. The rest was Greek to me. All the same, I was fascinated by her eloquence. I wanted to ask her, “Tell me, what school you had been to? I want to go to the same school.”

She continued, “Listen to me, I am telling you. You were born to that nice lady, right? She is goddess Lakshmi herself. Can you switch her for another woman? No. Nobody can replace your mother. You can not. That is the way with religion too. You were born into one religion, you grew up with it, and you stay with it. What is the point of running after things? Nothing. We should learn to find happiness in what we have. That is the real wisdom. You are going to college and getting big education. After that, you’ll go away on an airplane to another country, looking for morsel of food.”

I was amused but the words that I “would go away looking for a morsel of food” pricked at my heart.

“How do you know?” I asked her.

“I know all these things, little ma’am. After I am done with this basket, I wait at the bus stop round the corner. There, people talk all these things. It is like All India Radio, you know,” she said with a piquant smile.

Sandraalu was the mother of four kids. One day I asked her why she did not sent them to school.

“What do we need all that schooling for, madam? Labor is our life. If we don’t put in our day’s work, we can not eat. Unless we eat, we can not work. I earn four rupees a day and the kids bring a rupee each; then we have eight rupees in all. That gets us through the day. For us, the kids are the assets, madam,” she said.

I shut up. I did not have the heart to tell her that education is important and that a person without education is nothing. She is telling me survival comes first. You can accomplish anything only after finding food to live.


Sandraalu had come to her senses. She understood that switching religion did not bring her prosperity. She returned to her husband and the family but it was too late. Her husband had already found another woman and settled down.

Sandraalu, in despair, jumped on the first bus and arrived in Simhachalam town. She ran into Jigini Sayibu, a tea-stall owner, running his stall next to the bus stand. He suggested, “You cook food for me, I provide a roof over your head.” Sandraalu said fine.

Sandraalu could not sit in the hut all day doing nothing. She was not that kind of woman. She decided to plant a vegetable garden and start her own business. Everyday, early in the morning she would pick fresh vegetables and go door to door in the neighboring city and earn a little money of her own.

One day, I asked her, “You say life goes on, and nothing stays forever. You believe that, why aren’t you staying home? Why bother to grow vegetables, take the bus to the city … all that hassle? What is the point?”

I asked because she had said her earlier that Jigini sayibu had asked her the same question. It seems he said to her, “My income from the tea-stall is plenty for both of us. Why sell vegetables?”

In response to my question, she said, “Madam, we are human, right? What did the God Almighty say? He said, ‘you do your duty and I will do mine.’ What does that mean? As a human being, you have a dharma. You do what you need to do. Don’t ask what is this or that. No point in hair-splitting legalities.” She went on for the next fifteen minutes lecturing about the legalities in real life situations. Something in her manner rendered me speechless.


Nearly one half of a century passed by yet the words of Sandraalu stayed on my mind as if they were etched in stone, as if I heard them just yesterday or the day before.

I live in America now. I sat in my office and was watching through the window the discolored sky like washed out dhoti, the Maple trees in skeletal state, more like the sages smeared with ashes, standing on one leg and meditating—the entire atmosphere seemed to hold mirror to time, something like a work in progress.

My brain became numb for no reason. At this time I should be on my couch, curled up and sipping hot coffee or much spicy pakora, and dissolve into the far-off space.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, Sandraalu came to mind.

Thirty years have passed by since I arrived in America. In the past twenty years, I had been through seven computers in a crazy attempt to keep up with the fast changing technology; I had been through all the stuff from 5¼ floppy disks to the ini cds, which would fit snugly in my palm; switched from desktop to laptop, not to the blackberry though. Not yet anyways. I feel like a beat up ferryboat caught in violent floods, I was stuck on idea of using the “new and improved” versions that mushroom the market endlessly. I have to follow them like the groom who repeats the marital vows mindlessly after the priest in the traditional wedding ceremony.

I have changed the Telugu fonts five times to date. I have to follow the dictates of technology for the fear of facing the music of disrepair. All my writings would be lost to the posterity and that scares me. I can not let that happen.

In truth, all this philosophical self-examination originated from the aggravation caused by my boss. Here is what had happened a year ago.

A Telugu-educated American professor decided to start a company for digitalizing the books in Indian languages. He offered to digitalize the books published in Indian languages, reformat them attractively, and save them for future generations for a fee. He suggested that he would take care of the marketing, if I agree to do the work as stated above. I know mine is not a marketing brain. Therefore, I accepted his proposition.

I was not sure why Telugu people could not have this work done at home. After all, most of the software engineers are from Andhra Pradesh. Although I agreed to his proposal tentatively, I was not sure that we would get any business for the same reason, that most of the software engineers are in India and thus it would make sense for them to undertake the project themselves. I was wrong. I do not know how but my boss succeeded in receiving business. To my great surprise, there are people in Andhra Pradsh willing to shell down good money and get the work done in America. Is it the concept of outsourcing that got to them, I do not know. Do they want to be part of this overwhelming globalization? Do they believe the language acquires a new hue in the hands of white folks?

I do not know. It is beyond my wildest imagination but it has happened. We are getting projects for digitalization.

Working on the actual project is a different story. I was shocked by the language in the book I was expected to digitalize. To illustrate this part in English is a task in itself. The vocabulary, the grammar and the sentence construction are horrible. I am lost; no way I can describe the spelling in English for your comprehension. I can not imagine any Telugu man or woman speaking like that, much less writing. From what planet this man or woman has come?

I explained the problems with the text to my boss. “Can we send the book back and ask them to revise and send the correct version?” I asked him politely.

My boss stared at me; he was polite. He leaned forward, put his palms on my desk and said, speaking softly, “Our job is digitalizing whatever we have received. It is not our place to correct their language and grammar.”

I know I am not supposed to correct them but there are places where any person with any respect for language cannot tolerate. And also places where I would have to make judgment call, which possibly is not fair, given the circumstances.

My boss looked at me as if he was pondering over and then said, “All right. I will contact them. In the meantime, you continue your work the best you can.”

“All right,” I nodded. Maybe I offended him by pointing out the mistakes. Maybe he was offended because I was the one that found them.

He added, “Our job is to digitalize whatever we are given, not correcting them.”

My spirits start drooping. Reaching out for a panacea, I start surfing Telugu web sites.

The computer era is permanent, is here to stay. I make no mistake in that regard, no illusions. However, there is a lot that is not permanent within the field of computers.

Suddenly a huge wave of depression surged in my heart. Half of the Telugu bloggers are software engineers. They are busy creating new programs and creating new programs to improve the hardware.

I am also part of that consumerism that is eating us away—constantly upgrading and updating the software and the hardware in my computer. I have run through the storage gadgets from 5½ floppies to palm-sized mini CDs and backup drives. I have upgraded my computer one after another from 80 processors to Pentium IV. The Telugu fonts I had started went out of date long time ago. The time I had spent digitalizing my stories had been wasted for all practical purposes. How many times can I key in my stories? Even PDF files I had created at the time, some of them at least, are not readable on some of the computers anymore.

Samdraalu’s words are ringing in my ears like the bells in the Rama temple. “Nothing stays forever,” she said with conviction. After all these years, it seemed to make sense for me, finally.

I opened the book I was supposed to digitalize and started typing away vigorously.



The Telugu original, aksharam paramam padam, by Nidadavolu Malathi has been published on, and later on The translation has been published on, December 2008.





R. Vasundhara Devi

Mother Deified by R. Vasundhara Devi

I received a telegram informing me that mother was on death bed. At once, I took leave of absence from my college in Hyderabad and left for my hometown. Later however I began to wonder why I went; could not figure out why I went at all. As soon as I had received the news, I felt a kind of inexplicable restlessness and turmoil at heart; it was not grief though. In that mood of restlessness and without much thinking, I headed home. It was true mother was on death bed. She had been dying for a long time and now she got much closer to the moment of death. She would be dead in a day or two for sure.

My younger sister Kamala was living in a town not too far from mother. Therefore, she was able to arrive at our hometown with her husband Ranga and children right away. After they had arrived there, Ranga had sent the telegram to me. I set out at once but I also felt that my trip was unnecessary. From the beginning, there had never been a close relationship between my mother and me. I never had a mother to speak the truth. For mother, Kamala was the only daughter. Then, the question is why did I start right away? I know showing up at the time of her death ritual would be sufficient to please the public.

I arrived at my home. People were scrambling around in a flurry. The house was shrouded in a thin veil of death. Mother lay in the bed. She looked as if she was worlds away; her eyes were half-shut.

Ever since I arrived here, I was feeling cramped. I could not think straight. An inexplicable restiveness took over; it would not let me sit in one place calmly even for a second. The sun was down. I could not stay in the home any more. I told them I was going to the mango grove and left.

“At this time of day? Why?” Ranga asked me in a chiding tone and throwing a strange look at me.

“I’m bored. Why did you ask me to come so soon?” I asked him.

“Why? Well, mother said where’s Sarada? That’s why,” he said.

“Oh!” I said indifferently.

On my way to the grove, I started feeling impatient again; being edgy pointlessly. Then saw Chukkamma, a woman I have known since childhood.

“How’s mother?” she asked. She was ready to break down.

“The same,” I said.

“You’ll be here for how long?” she asked.

“One week,” I said, walking. I know she would not stop. She could go on for any length of time.

“Going to the grove? For what? What are you going to do there?” she called out from behind.

I kept walking, pretending not to hear her, and thinking what would I do? I had done nothing ever since the day I had been born. I just could do nothing!

There was a burial ground next to the grove. It belonged to our family exclusively. It was called Papadi bondalu. For several generations, my family members had been buried in that ground. Father had ended there and mother would end up there as well.

I did not go to the grove to see the place where mother might end up. As a matter of habit, I visited this place often to see where father was buried. In this deserted place, amidst the wild bushes, that pious man had been burnt to ashes. It was over in just one hour, I recalled. I sat there under a mango tree and stared at the cemetery, desperately searching for my father. The thoughts in my heart froze in that moment. It was soothing as if father was present in front of me and there was no dearth for anything in life.

Father had died suddenly. I was not nearby at the time. By the time I came from Hyderabad, he had been consumed by the funeral pyre. It seems, Mamayya, Kamala’s father-in-law, said, “He (father) lived a pious life. It would not be proper to hold his body overnight and let it go stale.”

The words ripped my heart apart, almost. I cried nonstop for one week. I was angry with all those people; they did not let me see my father for the last time. I was so angry; I was afraid I could go crazy. It took three years to convince myself that I would not go crazy. In those three years, I had done lot of things to attain peace of mind. I saw a psychiatrist. I visited a few Swamijis. There was no counting how many general doctors I had visited—all that to no avail.

They all said lots of things but all that was empty talk—tedious, irrelevant, quack philosophy. How could “unrelated” people help? I must be deluded to hope that they could help me, I concluded.

The only person in this world who had loved me was “father”, regardless of who said what. It made no sense to me. How could they cremate father before I saw him for the last time? Nobody had the right to do so, except perhaps mother and she did nothing. Frankly, I was his primary heir. Kamala was not to be counted since she had been married. Maybe, mother did it out of revenge. Then, I remembered that she had not even had the vengeance in her for me. I calmed down.

As far as I could remember, mother and I had never any relationship between us. There was neither love nor hatred. She showered all her affection only on Kamala. I’m not saying she was unjust towards me knowingly. I would say she even tried to be fair and impartial, it’s possible. But, from my perspective, who would want justice without bonding?

She invoked only a feeling of antagonism in me. Maybe it was the egotism in her that was responsible for that. I was not sure if I was to be blamed for that, partly at least. Whatever the reason, the net result was the relationship between mother and I was gone. Like I said, I might be partly responsible:  Even as a little child, I was not prepared to kill my self-esteem in order to win her love and concern. I might have inherited her egotism, come to think of it. As far as I could remember, I never worked to win her affection and praise, although I always looked for them; I never found them.

Mother never shared my pleasure or pain. One time, I fell and was hurt. She sent me to the doctor at once and made sure that the wound was treated. It hurt and I cried. She said, standing a little away from me and without regard for my pain, “Well, you have to bear the pain since you got hurt all by yourself”. Yet another time, I was down with typhoid. She gave me the medicines, milk and soup regularly and carefully. No nurse would have done more to anybody yet there was no empathy. She performed her duty loyally. It was the same when I came first in my class. She said, sounding more like a directive, “Don’t think that coming first once is enough. You must keep it up always. Study hard.” I saw it; no way I could touch her and dropped the idea in course of time completely.

Father was not like that. When I suffered, he suffered. He rejoiced when I got high marks. I am sure he would not have reprimanded me, had I received low marks. He was God. At some point, I was not sure how it happened but I felt that mother was ignoring him; she was not taking care of him. There was really no reason for me to come to that conclusion. Nevertheless, I shouldered the responsibility of pleasing father on my own. Since father had no sons, I decided to fill that dearth. I studied hard as if I was a son. I imagined the job openings I might be eligible for and possible opportunities for promotions, and the government loan I could obtain for the house I might build in Hyderabad; I hoped for them and felt happy about them. Eventually, I took a job—all that because I knew father would be happy about them. I never entertained the thought of marriage, not at all. I told my people unambiguously that I would not get married. How could father have a son, had married and gone? That is how now I became a thirty-three-years old Miss Sarada and vice principal of a college in Hyderabad.

My parents performed Kamala’s wedding with our maternal cousin, Ranganatham. They had three children. He had completed his Ph.D. in America and become professor at the university in Tirupati even at that early age. He was one year younger than I. Next to father, Ranga was the only person who would wish me well in this world. From the start, there had been a brother-sister relationship, innate and empathetic, between us. I was very happy that my sister had got such a fine man for husband. Sometimes however I felt that Kamala was not appreciating her husband’s merit, and that he was being subjected to some kind of injustice.


It was getting dark. I returned home. There was no sign of wailing from inside the house. That meant mother was not dead yet.

“What are you doing alone in the grove so long?” Kamala asked.

“There could be snakes in the dark, you know,” Ranga said with a smile.

“What would snakes do to me?” I said.

Kamala was annoyed. She left the room to feed the kids.

“Shouldn’t you get married?” said Ranga.

He had been giving this advice from time to time. I was amused.

“Isn’t that wrong … I mean is it proper for us to talk about my marriage while mother is on her deathbed? What do people say if they heard it?” I said, laughing and added, “There is one Subba Rao in the Secretariat in Hyderabad. You too know him. He also gave me the same advice sometime back. And he asked me to marry him.” I laughed aloud.

Ranga did not laugh. He thought about it for a few minutes and said, “Who could that be?”  Then he remembered him. He said, sounding anxious “Is that Subba Rao? He had a half a dozen children too. For heaven’s sake, please. Are you thinking of marrying him, seriously? He is a very self-centered fellow.”

I was amused by Ranga’s anxiety. “I am so old where could I find an unmarried man? I know Subba Rao talked about marriage only for my income,” I said.

“Sarada! Please, don’t even think of it,” Ranga said.

In reality, I was not thinking of marriage. I did not pay attention to Subba Rao.

“Have I ever done anything just for my own sake? Just to please myself? Now, I have one opportunity to settle in life and you are saying no. Aren’t you selfish?” I said.

Ranga left without saying anything.

Atta called out from the porch where mother was lying. She called in a low voice, “Girls, Sarada, Kamala, come here.”

I went in. Mother was breathing heavily; it was a struggle for her. She was staring into the vacuum.

Kamala was crying.

I could not cry. I went back into the house.


When I thought about mother, the first thing that came to my mind was: The fact that even in my childhood, she thought I had not needed her advice because I was older of the two, although I was only two years older than Kamala. I never understood her reason for doing so. The other reason was a strange one. It was a surprise even to me that it had set on my mind so firmly. What happened was, during on one summer day:

The school was closed for summer. We sat down after supper one evening. In our family, children were not used to eating paan. For some reason, that I had it. My tongue turned red. I looked in the mirror. It was bright orange color.

Mother was not pleased. She looked at me and said, “With those bright red teeth, you’re looking like a rustic, Tamil girl. why did eat paan after I said no?”

I was humiliated. I looked in the mirror. True, I was looking like a rustic Tamilian with red-colored teeth, resulting from eating paan. But I was hurt by her attitude more than by the words. After that, I never touched paan again.

That incident left an indelible mark on me. When my father suggested a marriage proposal, the first thing that came to my mind was this paan incident. I told him right away that I would never marry. As a matter of habit, he never pressed the issue or forced his opinion on others. He would mention just once and leave it at that. It was the same with the marriage proposal too. After I told my people so, nobody ever again brought up the issue of marriage with me.

After father passed away, my life began to appear meaningless, futile and without support. Now, as I reminisced those events, I was beset with a strange desire to eat paan again. I called Sitayya and told him to go to the store and bring a paan for me. I felt relaxed as I chewed on it. I could hear the people inside crying in a low pitch. I wondered why I could not eat paan all these years. I enjoyed no pleasure of any kind, why? I could do nothing to have good time, on my own, why? – I kept asking myself. Suddenly, a devil possessed me. I wanted to do something bad just to please myself. Subba Rao came to mind. He was past forty yet looked handsome, fair-skinned, and commanding. I wondered what would happen if I accepted his proposal him. “Sarada! Please, don’t marry him,” said Ranga. I wanted to write to Subba Rao at once. If I don’t write now, probably I would never be able to write to him. I wrote to him right away that I was willing to marry him.

I knew that Subba Rao was prepared to marry me only because of my job and money. So what? If it comes to that, who does not want money? I remembered when I mentioned to Kamala that, after father’s death, I might inherit the small strip of land he owned! You should see her face. I felt like laughing. Kamala turned livid. She said, “Why bother? You have no family, no children. And you have good job. Isn’t that enough for you? Why do you care about property?” She was mother’s favorite child and for that reason, I am sure she would inherit the two hundred thousand rupees, saved in mother’s name; Kamala was aware of that. I was upset that she was greedy even for this little property. Yet I told her, “Don’t you worry. We both will share it equally.” Her husband Ranga was on my mind at the time.

Mother said, “Why don’t you buy a nice house in Hyderabad?”

“I am not that blessed. Where would I get that kind of money? My father is a pauper you know,” I said.

I said that probably to hurt her. She was quiet. Maybe, she thought she would have to advance some money, had she spoken.

I folded the letter to Subba Rao and put it in an envelope. Just then, Ranga came. “Come, quick. Your mother is dying and here you’re sitting laid-back and chewing paan. What kind of a woman are you? Up, up, come,” he yelled.

I went into the verandah. Somebody had shifted mother from the cot to the straw-mat on the floor. They gave her a sip of Tulasi water and whispered Lord Narayana’s name in her ear. Mother’s life breath merged into the eternal ether.

Amidst all their wailing, something rose within me—a turmoil that was inexplicable and different from shedding tears.

After the death ritual was over, they showed me the will created by mother. One half of her property was allocated to Kamala and the other half to me specifically to buy a house in Hyderabad, it said.

I was stunned as I heard it. I felt weak as if the entire life force slipped away from me. Why did she do that? Why? I asked myself. I was distressed. It felt like I was cheated and robbed of my property. My life breath froze. Only the stains from yesterday’s paan remained on my teeth.

Feeling weak, I tore up the letter I had written to Subba Rao. I shut the door and sat in my room. An inexplicable fit of sadness broke the barriers and flowed in the form of tears.

Mother died.

… … …

Life started all over again!


(The Telugu original, ‌matru devo bhava, has been published in the author’s anthology, R. Vasundhara Devi kathalu, Author, 2004. Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on, August 2010.)

Telugu short story from early times to 1930s by Dr. K. K. Ranganathacharyulu

(A review by Malathi).In the past nine years, well over one hundred Telugu stories have been translated and published on this site in an attempt to introduce the intellectual richness of Telugu writers to the non-Telugu readers. But for the two stories by Bhandaru Acchamamba, all of them have been written in the later half of the twentieth century. Additionally, a few articles discussing the nature and peculiarities of Telugu story have been published. Nevertheless, up until now, the origin and the development of modern Telugu story have not been expounded. The present monograph, tolinaati Telugu kathaanikalu: modatinunchi 1930 varaku. Telugu kathaanikala pariseelana [Telugu short stories from early years to 1930s: A Study] by Prof. K. K. Ranganathacharyulu fulfills that gap.

This 120-page long monograph is a meticulous study of the origins and the development of Telugu short story in Andhra Pradesh. The author walks us through the significant elements of the short story in its nascent state during the first three decades specifically.

Prof. Ranganathacharyulu has taken great pains to study the subject objectively and it is obvious in these 120 pages packed with valuable information. Even the title so carefully crafted vouches for his commitment. It says “from the beginning” but gives no specific date. The reason for doing so becomes obvious in his discussion on identifying a given story as the first modern Telugu story. I will come to this later.

During my last visit to India, Prof. Kethu Viswanatha Reddy gave me this book. I found it not only interesting but valuable for anybody interested in studying Telugu short story as a genre. While I was in Hyderabad, I asked the author for permission to publish an abridged version of this book in English. However, as I started working on it, I found it impossible to shorten the text. Hence, I decided to quote a few arguments from each chapter in order to give the readers a glimpse into the nature of Telugu story in its early stages. I earnestly hope that those who can read Telugu will read the original in order to benefit fully from this monograph.

The author opens with a brief history of Sanskrit texts. He states that, initially, the short story has been taking brief accounts from the longer Sanskrit texts and retelling them in the form of kavyas and plays. In the process, it progressed through various stages such as adaptations, translations, and finally settled as modern stories, which is narrating current events and occurrences in colloquial language. The topics discussed in this monograph include a preface giving the background, the Telugu short story (magazines, identifying the first short story, the bloom of Telugu story, anthologies, translations, diversity of themes and variations in styles), famous writers of the early times, and a few more notable stories and writers, and critiquing short stories.

The monograph also includes notes, source list, and a 28-page long appendix of the stories examined by the author, with complete bibliographical data for the purpose of this study.

Here is a brief account of Prof. Ranganathacharyulu’s study.


Normally, in a given culture, the short story and the narrative technique would have as long a history as the existence of language itself. In the past, stories had been prevalent in the form oral literature across the world.

In modern times, the changes in production, the industries, and the businesses brought about significant changes in the nature of our lives. Now we have greater latitude in human relationships, experiences, and in our mode of thinking. Printing facilities and magazines made it possible to reach wider range of readership. As a result, the short story attained greater variation in themes, narrative technique and complexity. We refer to the modern story as fictional story because it is a product created by a writer based on his observations of the people and incidents in real life, which have happened repeatedly, and after finding a commonality in his observations.

Like the short story in the other cultures, Telugu short story also has a long history. According to scholars, short story in India has been in existence since the Vedic times. The Bruhat katha written by Gunadhya in the Paisachi language is the first notable writing in Indic languages. Along with Ramayana and Maha Bharata, Bruhat katha also provided writers with anecdotes for kavyas and plays in Sanskrit.

In Sanskrit literature, some stories are entertaining while others are didactic. Vikaramarka charitra, Salivaahana charitra and similar other works are focused on royal families and are imbibed with rasas such as excitement, bravery, and amazement. Stories like Panchatantra and Hitopadesa belong in the category of didactic stories. Usually, they include animals and birds as characters. Most of these kavyas gained circulation in the form of oral literature.

In the Telugu country, there are umpteen stories prevalent only in the oral form. Several scholars such as Gurajada Sriramamurthy, Komanduri Anantacharyulu, Madhira Subbanna Dikshitulu, and Nandivada Chalapati Rao rendered them in the print form. Some of the writers, who are known for their scholarship, put them in pedantic style. A few wrote them in semi-classical style while others wrote in colloquial style. The stories containing romance and ethical values are intended to entertain readers.

In the early years, adaptations from Indian stories into other languages and vise versa are undertaken freely. For instance, chitra ratnaakaram by Gurajada Sriramamurthy is based on Arabian nights. Taking the incidents or events from the original, he modified the names of the people and places as appropriate for Telugu readers.

Whether modern Telugu story has evolved from the ancient works progressively or is it a newly developed form is open for debate. Modern scholars and critics claim that it is not evolved from the ancient works.

The stories mentioned earlier are oriented towards narration. All the incidents and events centered on a single hero. Authors took the story and repositioned it in their own milieu, languages and peculiar styles. On the other hand, modern story is anchored in one theme and also structured. It contains the peculiar characteristics such as opening, organization or scheme, ending, and a distinctive style.  Each writer has a style of his own and each story has a form of its own. Also, the importance of the incidents he creates, the characters he depicts, and the dialogues he develops change according to his point of view and his perception of his audience. The structure in modern short story has no room for expansiveness. Variation in themes, realism, depiction of contemporary life, and human psyche are vital. They belong to the written culture in their entirety. Modern short story is an invented story based on realism. The stories adapted from the oral literature do not belong in this fictional category.

In ancient times, the stories are rooted in the tradition of invoking a sense of amazement in the readers as a whole and taking them into an imaginary world or teaching them the righteous path. The modern story, on the other hand, helps the reader to understand one dimension of truth in real life. Whether the topic is taken from history, oral literature, or mythology, if it contains an awareness of modernity in essence and in perception, it becomes a modern story.

Kolluri Dharmarao identified this distinction between the modern story and the ancient story in his article, “kathaa parinaamam” [evolution of story] published in Andhra Bharati in July 1928. He comments that the stories containing ideas of social reform are harmful to the society. Notably, he believes that the English kept retelling the old stories because they could not give up the didactic nature of the old stories and that the fabricated stories in our society started only after the desire for social reform caught on. Modern story is defined as a story illustrating today’s realism in today’s language as opposed to retelling the old stories in modern language.

Although the modern story belongs to modern times, the name itself is not modern but taken from old times. Ancient grammarians classified the genre of story into five categories: Akhyaayika, katha, khanda katha, pari katha, and kathaanika. Based on the nature of the theme, topic, length, and scheme, each is shown as having a different set of characteristics.

A kathaanika has been defined as:

 bhayaanakam sukhataram garbhe cha karuno rasah

adbhuto[a]sthe sukluptaarthaa no daatthaa saa kathaanikaa.

 These characteristics may be redefined in the context of modern short story as follows:

Bhayaanakam in the modern sense is to create interest in “what next”, suspense, and amazement in the opening. garbhe cha karuno rasah  may be interpreted as including a little sadness, conflict and internal struggle in the scheme of narration. Ending the story with an unexpected twist is adbhutam [Amazement]. Presenting it in a language easily comprehensible to the readers is sukhataram [uncomplicated]. sukluptaarthaa [brevity of diction and meaning or unity of theme] is the same as making the topic brief, and keeping all the elements (the characters, incidents, events, illustration, underlying thought, and conflict) focused on the core theme.

In general, a short story may be defined as one that contains the opening, which can draw the reader in, maintains suspense and curiosity in the reader by describing the internal or external conflict of the characters powerfully, and finishes it with either an unexpected twist or which provokes the reader into thinking. This is only a general statement. Modern story contains more breadth and depth. The critics of the first generation Telugu short story have discussed this subject in great detail.

In modern literature, prose literature has a special place. In the early days, terms such as vachanam and gadyam had been current for some time. In course of time, vachana sahityam became the accepted term. Several terms such as chinna katha,  kathika and kathaanakam were in vogue for a while. Other terms found in magazines are navalika, pitta katha, kalpita katha, and kalpanaa katha. Detective fiction was referred to as nirupaka katha and detective as nirupakudu. Eventually, kathaanika has been accepted and katha became a shorter form for the same genre.

Akkiraju Umakantam is one of the early critics to discuss short story in this period. With his knowledge of English critics like Hudson, and French and Russian writers, he accepted Telugu short story as a separate genre. He adds that Hudson’s theory that the short story originated in order to cater to the readers who are hard-pressed for time is not tenable in our case (Andhra Bharati. July 1918). He further comments that, “A short story gives the same, inclusive pleasure and satisfaction as a play or a novel to the reader. … After reading a story, the reader experiences a suggestion (dhvani). Suggestion is important in a short story. All the elements in the story are anchored in this suggestion.” Umakantam’s validation of Telugu short story, in the light of his scholarship in classics and poetics, is notable.

Andra Seshagiri Rao deserves special mention as a critic from the same period. He comments that, “Readers now live a fast life in cities and have no time to read huge volumes and lengthy novels. Therefore, their interest turned to the short story which can be finished in a short period of time.”

D. A. Narasimham encapsulates the characteristics of a short story. He states that books such as biographies, rajasthana kathavali and Arabian Nights, do not belong in the category since they are not focused on one theme. In his opinion, the important element in a short story is a single topic, which should fill the reader with suspense and imprint itself in the reader’s mind deeply. He makes a special distinction between a short story and a novel and suggests six principles that writer should observe when writing a short story.

1. Short stories also may contain a variety of unusual topics the same as novels.

2. A short story is not a short novel. There is no rule regarding the length for short story.

3. Characterization through dialogues is more difficult than descriptions. However, the best way is to let the reader understand a character through dialogues. With that, the reader understands the story’s environment by himself.

4. Reading a story puts the reader to work. It makes him think. The reader feels satisfied after reading a novel.

5. The reader, who has read a novel, reminisces over it. The short story does not constrain the reader’s thoughts. They (the thoughts) leap forward, and are anxious to befriend new thoughts.

6. Unlike novel writer, story writer gives very little to the reader. He gives ten times more work to the reader than what he has given in his narrative.

Kolluri Dharmarao does not approve of short stories offering social reform messages, although he does comment on short stories favorably. He states that, “There is no other gadget that could goad a reader better than a short story.” Also, he prefers colloquial language as a better means to serve the intended purpose in a story. Regarding the subjects for a short story, he says, “the purpose of a short story is to narrate a topic, taken either from history or fictional social event, and narrate it in a manner that reinforces the traditional Aryan values.”

There are definitive proofs to show that Telugu short story has acquired an independent and significant stature even in its early period.


There is no need to state specifically that magazines have been particularly instrumental in promoting the short stories. Umakantam published his stories in his magazine, Trilinga in 1913-1914. Rayasam Venkatasivudu published his stories in Telugu janaana. Achanta Venkata Sankhyayana Sarma published his notable stories in Kalpalata. Other magazines, which provided platform for short stories during this period, are Suvarnalekha, Sahiti, and Bharati. Between 1916 and 1920, after the First World War, printing magazines slowed down due to the high cost of paper and printing materials, commented Andra Seshagiri Rao. His comment underscores the close relationship between magazines and the progress of short stories. Sujatha is credited with publishing stories by prominent writers such as Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry, Madapati Hanumantha Rao, Oddiraju Sitaramachandra Rao, and so on. In the same magazine, some of the early stories of Chalam appeared. Some critics seem to wonder if other magazines hesitated to publish Chalam’s stories. Along with the stories, the magazines published essays also.

Which one is the first short story in Telugu?

For a long time, critics have been insisting “diddubaatu” by Gurajada Apparao as the first modern short story. Vallampati Venkatasubbaiah states that modern short story should be studied with the assumption that diddubaatu is the first short story. He posits that modern Telugu short story has no infancy and that the short story has come about with full stature, like a well-developed, beautiful figure. And, he believes that diddubaatu contains all the elements of a good story such as brevity, feeling, unity, conflict, and strong structure. However, recent studies indicate that there are other stories published prior to diddubaatu, even though they may not contain all the elements mentioned by Venkatasubbaiah. If we search magazines published in the last two decades of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth century, it is possible to find several other first short stories.

Whether diddubatu is the first story or not makes no difference to Apparao’s status. There are stories before his story is published but there are no models from which he could develop. Notably, in terms of his philosophical perceptions and choice of topics, there are no stories comparable to his stories in the latter years either. That is the peculiarity of Gurajada Apparao’s stories. Sripada Subrahmanya Sastry comments on Apparao’s stories only on their remarkable qualities but not its status as the first story.

Some of the stories published before Apparao’s story, and may be claimed as the first story, are:

Lalitha by Achanta Sankyayana Sarma was published in November 1903 in “Kalpalatha” and is named as the first story by Puripanda Appalaswamy. Setti Iswara Rao states that “the style and the language in Lalitha are classical but not modern. Nevertheless, the short story elements such as opening, development, dialogues, the muse [sphurti], and the narrative technique are modern.” Several others have quoted Sankyayana Sarma as the first writer. In another story by the same author, Apoorvopanyasamu, the author depicts the speeches of social reformers and their associations and the tone is one of sarcasm.

From the sources recently made available, Bhandaru Acchamamba’s name came to the fore as the first writer. Her story, strividya, narrated in the form of dialogues, is taken into consideration as the first story. It was published in Hindusundari monthly. Another story, dhanatrayodasi [The Lakshmi puja Day] also has been considered for the same claim. The story was published in November 1902 in Hindusundari. Rayasam Venkatasivudu stated that Acchamamba had been publishing short stories since 1898. His article was published in 1902 in his magazine, Telugu janaana. According to his article, Acchamamba’s stories, Prema pariksha, was published in July 1898 in Telugu janaana, Eruvula sommu baruvula chetu in September 1898, and Lalithaa Saaradalu in September 1901 in the same magazine. Another of her stories, Beeda kutumbamu  was published in February 1904 in Savitri magazine.

Apart from the language in these stories, dhanatrayodasi and beeda kutumbamu are noteworthy in terms of structure. The opening scenes in these stories are completely modern. Until we find other evidence to prove otherwise, we need to state that the stories written by Bhandaru Acchamamba are the first stories in Telugu. If we compare her writings to the activities of the social reformers who had undertaken the women’s issues, we will find Acchamamba’s writings as advocates of women’s individuality.                                                                                                                                                                       ***

Additionally, Prof. Ranganathacharyulu discusses the early stories in other Indian languages and points out the similarities and dissimilarities between those stories and the early Telugu stories.

In the period under discussion, not only the writers with originality but also people in other fields such as social, political and reform movements and research, have written stories. The list of stories published in this period is indicative of the recognition, the status and the importance of the short stories. Akkiraju Umakantam, Andra Seshagiri Rao, Seshadri Ramana kavulu were all scholars of repute. Sankhyayana Sarma was not only a traditional scholar but also knowledgeable in art, music and dance. He was editor of two magazines, Sujanapramodini and Kalpalatha. Famous short story writers like Sripada Subrahmanya Sastry, Veluri Sivarama Sastry and Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry were well-read not only in Sanskrit and Telugu but also several other Indian and foreign languages. Writers like Panuganti Lakshminarasimha Rao, Adivi Bapiraju, Kavikondala Venkatarao wrote short stories in addition to writing in other genres.

Madapati Hanumantha Rao, Kanuparti Varalakshmamma, and Gummididala Durgabayamma, among others, are known for their participation in politics and social reform, and also as writers of short fiction. Famous story writers Chalam and Chinta Dikshitulu were associated with the field of education. Among others who wrote short stories, Gidugu Sitapati was an activist in the language movement and Giri (Nandagiri Venkatarao) was a judge at the district level. Sri Vasudevarao declared himself as belonging exclusively to Hyderabad, wrote stories, which should be labeled as modern in all aspects such as language, style, and themes.

During this period, we also see several writers writing under pennames. Komarraju Lakshmana Rao wrote under the pseudonym, Ramanujarao (brother of Rama), says Adiraju Veerabhadrarao. Other pseudonyms are Bhasudu, Samgha samskari, rasapipasi, okaru, nenu, oka mitrudu and several others.

Approximately, two hundred writers are found in his search. Fifteen of them are women. More than five hundred stories have been discovered by Ranganathacharyulu. Stories written by such writers as Sripada Subrahmanya Sastry, Chalam, and Minimanikyam Narasimha Rao, who became famous later, were published during this period. In this period, the number of stories written by Sripada Subrahmanya Sastry is the highest, up to forty. Stories by Rayasam Venkatasivudu, Chinta Dikshitulu, and Munimanikyam Narasimha Rao ranged from fifteen to twenty-five. Among the writers who wrote from five to fifteen are Chilakamarti Lakshminarasimham, Kanuparti Varalakshmamma, Abburi Ramakrishna Rao, Viswanatha Satyanarayana, Bhamidipati Kameswara Rao and others. It is hard to state that all the stories under consideration meet the criteria of modern story. For instance, most of the stories written by Abburi Ramakrishna Rao were published in 1923. Among them, Suryarao cheppina kathalu [Stories told by Suryarao] are not stories focused on one topic. Most of the writers wrote only two or three stories yet their stories show the characteristics of modern story at an advanced level. Counting the numbers is meant only to show the extent to which the Telugu story has developed in the first two or three decades of the twentieth century. In the magazines, meant exclusively for women such as Telugu janaana, Anasuya, and Savitri, the stories are woven around the characters from mythology and famous historical women. They are not taken into consideration for this study.

Literary organizations and associations also contributed to the dissemination of the story extensively in this period. Sahiti samiti, Kavita samiti, Sodarasamiti, Kavikumara samiti, Saraswata samajam, and Andhra geervana sahitya sammelam are prominent in this period. Writers suffixed their membership status of these organizations to their names along with their educational qualifications. Some writers developed a separate nomenclature for parts of their stories. One practice was to break the story into rangaalu, adhyaayaalu, prakaranalu, and chinukulu.  Giving names to each part was another practice. We can also see including verses at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of a story, as deemed fit. Those who could not do away with tradition followed these methods. Among the places that were featured extensively in these stories are Chennapatnam, Calcutta, Bombay, Hyderabad, Poona, Visakha, Rajahmundry, Bezwada, Nellore, Anakapalli, Bellari and Konaseema. Some of the cities in Burma and Rangoon are also featured in these stories. (The names of some cities have changed since. I believe the author kept the original spellings as appeared in the stories and I followed the same pattern in this article.)


The fact that there are already notable anthologies in this period vouches for the advanced status of short story at the time. Some of them are anthologies of one writer, Chalam, Sripada Subrahmanya Sastry and Munimanikyam Narasimha Rao for instance, and others included stories of several writers, edited by one writer.


Several critics stated that modern story entered Telugu field, following the introduction of English literature in our country. During the period under discussion, along with original stories, numerous translations also came into existence. Numerous stories are translated not only from English, French and Russian but also from Bengali, Urdu, Hindi, and Marathi. At one point, Krishna patrika published stories under the name of the original author but without the translator’s name. In the early stages, the information regarding the original story or writer was not given in full. Some mentioned the original title while others mentioned the name of the original author only. Some said it was a translation but provided no other information. Several terms such as anukaranam, etti raasinadi, grahimpabadinadi were used to identify a translation. Some called it anuvadam. Among the stories in Indian languages, most stories were translated from Bengali and most of them were the stories by Tagore. In the anthology, trilinga kathalu by Akkiraju Umakantam, six of them were from Bengali. Umakantam does not mention the name but they are Tagore’s stories. Since 1912, several stories of Tagore have been translated without mentioning his name. Among those who translated Tagore’s stories in great numbers, the name of Karumuri Vaikuntarao stands foremost. He and Sobhadevi translated several stories and published under the title, katha guccham. Among the stories translated from Marathi, only Sri Vasudeva Rao’s name appears.

Among the translations from foreign languages, Russian stories appear prominently. Jayanti Brahmanandam (Pseud. oka haindava yuvati) and Kurma Venugopalaswamy in collaboration with Seshubai translated several Russian stories. Ponaka Picchireddy wrote some stories based on French writer, Balzac, and called them anukarana.    

Multiplicity of themes

Telugu story has gained strength in structure as well as in the range of themes in the first three decades itself.

In the early stage, the stories mostly featured woman-centered themes and women’s reform movement. Among the woman-centered themes, widow-related issues are prominent. Child marriages, their consequences, problems faced by widows, their status in the family environment, their experiences, and remarriages are themes for many stories. We see quoting ancient works such as smruthi in order to rationalize the widow remarriage and the Sarda Act opposing child marriages in the stories written by female writers. Some stories depicted parents as coming forward to arrange marriages for their widowed daughters, or widows themselves getting married under the auspices of Veeresalingam or Brahmo samaj of Calcutta. Another important aspect relating to women is education. Promoting women’s education, Bhandaru Acchamamba (women’s education) and Gurajada Apparao wrote stories. Another theme is the identity of prostitutes and their marriages.

Muslim women, women as ideal individuals in a family, women subjected to oppression, suppression, deception, and those who put up with the oppression silently, their tragic lives—all are portrayed in the stories at this time. The names of Muslim women are used as titles for some stories. Bhandaru Acchamamba portrayed women as cherishing self-esteem, strong will, and also capable of mending the moral weaknesses in their husbands. This kind of portrayal of women is not evident in the stories that came after Acchamamba. Chalam’s stories show women from a variety of social strata. Sripada Subrahmanya Sastry depicted courageous and worldly-wise women, wiser than their husbands. We see widows dreaming about motherhood and the conflict between motherhood and love in Chalam’s stories. There are also stories depicting women as ideal housewives. In some stories we see educated, self-disciplined women carrying themselves on equal status with men liberally. We need to make a special note of women in zamindar families, their poise, determination, ego, and their sense of self-worth as depicted in some of the stories.

Several stories depicted the hardships of individuals from several angles within the family and the marital status of couples. Husbands suspecting wives and wives suspecting husbands are treated rather lightly. Often, the suspicions of the wives turn out to be unfounded. The problems arising out of marriages with considerable age difference, subsequent suspicions in the man and his mental struggle are the themes in some stories.

Many stories depicted the conflict between generations. In these stories, we see the youth questioning child marriages and exposing the dishonest attitudes of adults, who claim to be upholding tradition. This appears to be a struggle between the tradition and the modernity. Several stories depicted modern educated youth as ideal. The bridegrooms insisting on meeting the prospective brides is a new trend in these stories. Another new trend is the young men marrying a girl of their choice and without their parents’ intervention. Young men, who go abroad for education, return home with new values, and their altered attitudes—all these figured into the stories. Writers’ own values also are worked into the choice of topics.

Stories of unusual love and romance are also numerous in this period. They included both categories—happy endings and tragic endings. Some of them featured platonic love, successful love, and poetic element in the romantic tradition, while a few others dealt with failed love and broken hearts.

Most of the stories illustrating the economic problems and the changes in the economic world are limited to the middle class. Some of the female writers depicted the families once rich and later ruined, ensuing problems because of their penury and the manner in which the women handled their situations. So also, the problems relating to jobs, loss of jobs, preference of starting a business and living independently as opposed to working for somebody, the high style of zamindars and the lazy lifestyle of the men in Agraharams [endowments bestowed on worthy Brahmins by royal families] are depicted.

Many writers included literary discussions in their stories whenever possible. The works of Kalidasa, Shakespeare, and other English novels found their place in these stories. Stories also take a shot at romantic poetry. Women in these stories appear to be well-read in classics. There are husbands who encourage their wives to read English literature. Similarly, the language issues are also discussed in the stories.

At some point in this stage, self-delusion seeped into the stories. Especially, we see this aspect in Gurajada, Chalam and Sripada. After Gurajada, no writer dealt with the folly of religious beliefs. There are stories with World War I, national and non-cooperation movements as background.

Very few stories discussed politics. Also, stories depicting farmers, their relationship to the land, and the land ownership issues are not found. The only story found by the author is chacchinanta kala gante … There are no stories featuring the oppressed and their issues, not as much as expected at least. In short, the stories published up until 1930, represented only the middle class. At this stage, stories illustrating the delicate angles relating to human nature, their depth, and their inner struggles are next to none.

Variations in structure

The diversity, multiplicity, and the signs of structure, which are common in modern stories are prevalent even in the first two or three decades. In this period itself, the stories have acquired the modern form in language and style. Even when the language is classical, the narrative technique is modern. In course of time, some of the writers developed their individual styles as part of their creativity. Chalam, Sripada Subrahmanya Sastry, Veluri Sivarama Sastry, and Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry developed their own styles. Gurajada Apparao’s stories illustrate density in expression, depth (nirbharata), brevity, and simplicity blended with gravity. We should make a special note of the writing based on pronunciation by Gurajada and Chalam.

Another feature peculiar to style of this period is moving away from the straightforward narration and toward complex narrative technique. We see a wide variety of characters from simple to complex in this period. Also, some stories are told in the first person while others are told in the third person. That the writers are able to narrate the story in the first person even in this period indicates that the Telugu story has developed to a great extent by then. In this period, most of the stories with strong structure are told in the first person. The narration in the first person allows the reader get closer to the writer. We see this first person narration in the stories written by Bhandaru Acchamamba and Kanuparti Varalakshmamma. At times, we see the writer interfering in the narration to comment on the relationship between two incidents or events; so also to comment on the characters. Some writers like Acchamamba and Sripada have used dialogues exclusively to narrate a story.

In terms of opening, construction, and ending, the stories display as much diversity as possible. Also, during this period, we see the titles given to the stories indicative of the nature of the theme and the narrative technique. Some of them are single words like darjaa, bolta, veli while others are two correlated words such as nenu-jonna rotte, aame-eeme.  Some of the titles are complete sentences. For example,  karmamitlaa kaalindi, menarikam tappaledu. Such descriptive and expressive titles indicate how the story proceeds and how it is going to end. They vouch for the writers’ talent.   


Further elaborating on these insights, Prof. Ranganathacharyulu discussed some stories by following writers individually under the caption “Prominent writers of early times [tolinaati pramukha rachayitalu].

They are: Bhandaru Acchamamba, Achanta Sankhyayana Sarma, Gurajada Apparao, Madapati Hanumantha Rao, Akkiraju Umakantam, Sripada Subrahmanya Sastry, Gudipati Venkata Chalam, Chinta Dikshitulu, Veluri Sivarama Sastry, Rayasam Venkatasivudu, Kanuparti Varalakshmamma, Viswanatha Satyanarayana, Adivi Bapiraju, Munimanikyam Narasimha Rao, Mokkapati Narasimha Sastry, Bhamidipati Kameswara Rao, Vempati Nagabhushanam, Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry, Sri Vasudeva Rao, Nandagiri Venkatarao, Oddiraju Sitaramachandra rao, Oddiraju Raghava Rangarao, Siriguri Jayarao, Panuganti Lakshminarasimharao, Chilakamarti Lakshminarasimham, and Abburi Ramakrishna Rao.

Critiquing stories

Akkiraju Umakantam has enunciated the importance of the genre of prose in literature in no uncertain terms. He stated that the genre of fiction has the same important place as novel and drama in literature. Andra Seshagiri Rao is the one critic to study a single story of a single writer and analyze it thoroughly. In his criticism of Sripada Subrahmanya Sastry’s stories, he wrote a comprehensive review of the story in which he gave a brief note about short story as a genre, commended the book and the writer, and the purpose of the book. Then he proceeded to analyze the various elements such as classification of themes, structure, and the improprieties in a couple of places as well. While paying tribute to the writer as a social reformer and preacher, Subrahmanya Sastry’s themes are classified into four classes—widow remarriages, post puberty marriages, promoting the idea that business and farming are better than working for somebody, and family life.

Modern critiquing techniques are present in Seshagiri Rao’s analysis. He balances the positive and negative aspects while analyzing the author’s complete understanding of all the elements, his taste in good writing, and his technique. He then summarizes the elements of a short story. He ascertains the relationship between an author’s personal life and the writer contextually. He points out the impropriety of the setting in one story. He believes that variation in the settings in general contributes towards authenticity for readers.

In 1928, an article on the specifics of a short story was published in Bharati. D. A. Narasimham wrote some articles discussing the structure and the nature of short story extensively. He states that literature changes along with the environment, time and conditions, and that, among the literatures, which evolved after the introduction of English literature, the gadya kathaanakamulu [prose fiction] gained in popularity. He also admits that he became knowledgeable after reading short stories published in Bharati and Andhra patrika magazines. Based on his extensive reading of the contemporary stories, Narasimham postulates six tenets. He believes that a short story should be able to penetrate into the reader’s mind deeply as a veritable fact. He also believes that a good writer will have the skill to stay behind the characters and make them narrate the story.

Notably, by 1930, Narasimham studied all the elements and explained them with examples supporting his conclusions.

In reviews of the time, Chalam’s stories stood second to Sripada Subrahmanya Sastry’s stories. His story, Sasirekha (1921) is written in pedantic language yet the theme has created a sensation. Thallavajjhala Sivasankara Sastry wrote the preface to the book dwelling on its philosophical and rational aspects. Arikapalli Lakshminarasimha Rao and others criticized both Chalam and Sivasankara Sastry for their position in 1926. Kolluri Dharmarao is another critic who rejects the modern progressive views prevalent in the stories and criticizes Chalam in strong terms for promoting uninhibited love. He, along with a few other critics, set Munimanikyam Narasimha Rao as a deliverance from the literature created by writers like Chalam. Narasimha Rao’s Kantham kathalu did not receive the status of serious literature during this period, it would appear.

The monograph includes source list, notes and, a list of the stories with complete bibliographical details, the author has reviewed for this study (28 pages). This is a remarkable work.

It is published by Dr. Madabhushi Rangacharya smaraka sangham, Hyderabad. 2008.Also available on

(Review by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on, April 29, 2010)


Kalpana Rentala

Putting an end to the boilerplate literary history by kalpana Rentala

(See note at the end.). We have one thousand years of literary history. Up until now, there had been an effort to portray women’s literature only as a part of the mainstream history; women writers were mentioned only sporadically, one Molla or one Timmakka. Our history is a male-dominated record that has been accustomed to record women’s participation only as a measly strand.

Ever since westernization started influencing our culture, women’s awareness also started changing. That is reflected in the fields of literature, science, and sociology. The massive changes, which are taking place in men’s perceptions, are noted; but there has been never a systematic attempt to note the changes that are taking place in the perceptions of women, the mode of development in their participation in the academy, and their mode of thinking.

Today, a concrete attempt to question this boilerplate documentation, and rewrite a different kind history has begun. This is not limited to a handful of persons or books. They are examining the women’s consciousness from several angles and in various fields. Until now, women’s contribution has been recognized only partially, and limiting to a few writers or a specific period. A few responsible writers however departed from this tradition in an attempt to study women’s writings in a larger context. Nidadavolu Malathi is one of them.

In this book, Malathi examines the history of Telugu fiction and women’s fiction from a completely different angle and from the existing records.

In general, whenever women’s fiction is mentioned, the writers are invariably presented either as novelists or feminists, who came to be known in the 1980s. But there has never been a better, comprehensive discussion on the subject. The number of female short story writers was much higher during the time the freedom movement and women’s education movement peaked; but it was not so after the declaration of independence.

This is particularly obvious, when we consider the availability of printing presses, awareness of women’s identity, and other several amenities available for women to write; the number was however much less comparatively speaking. A famous critic, Racapalem Chandrasekhara Reddy raised the question, “Should we attribute this decline in the number of female writers writing short fiction to their preference such as writing novels instead?” (Telugu kathakulu – kathanareetulu, part 3. 111).

Contradicting that stance, Malathi has shown, quoting several examples, that women writers have not written only novels but also several excellent stories; she has also discussed at length their themes and technique. Malathi’s detailed analysis of their themes and technique in this book can be considered a milestone in the literary history of Telugu women.

Malathi did not use the term “feminism”; yet she has pointed out clearly that women’s awareness of identity did not start with the feminists in the eighties; but it was evident even in the nineteen fifties fiction. Her detailed analysis of stories like eduru chuusina muhurtam by P. Saraladevi, depicting women’s awareness of identity enhances our respect for writers of the past.

The history of Telugu fiction, which often quotes diddubaaTu by Gurajada Appa Rao as the first short story in Telugu gave very little importance to women’s writing. The histories speak extensively of Gurajada, Malladi, and Sripada, and very little about Bhandaru Acchamamba, Kanuparti Varalakshmamma, Kommuri Padmavati, Illindala Saraswatidevi, P. Sridevi. Adimadhyam Ramanamma, Sivaraju Subbalakshmi and several others. Nobody discussed the works by these women writers.

As far as the discussion on the fifties writings is concerned, reference to women’s writings appears naamke vaasthe [nominal]. If we see the books and articles written so far on Telugu short story, we find only one or two unqualified sentences limited to three or four women writers and an all-inclusive phrase “and others”. We have no evidence of anybody paying serious attention to these women’s stories, their themes, and techniques; much less critiquing them in detail. On rare occasions, we might find a complete article on women writers. But nowhere have we seen a complete analysis of women writers’ contribution as a part of mainstream literary history. I have no doubt that Gurajada, Malladi and Sripada are great writers. But, my question is: Don’t we have to study the women’s fiction in detail and in the same light in order to assess their works, and to see how they stack up?

When we examine the story, diddubaaTu of Gurajada in juxtaposition with the stories, strividya and khana, written by Bhandaru Acchamamba, we will understand that the latter two stories are in no way inferior to Gurajada’s story. Acchamamba, who had been educated as early as 1900, had written women’s biographies and several stories; yet her writings are ignored. No literary historian of Telugu fiction bothered to make a note of Acchamamba’s stories.

One of her stories, khana, for instance, narrates the social conditions of her time and her ill-fated life. Khana was wife of Mihira, an astrologer in king Vikramaditya’s court. The story vouches for the women’s awareness of their conditions as early as 1900s.

Yet another example is the story kuteera Lakshmi by Kanuparti Varalakshmamma. The story depicts the aftermath of the Great War, the manner in which large-scale industries such as the Manchester Company caused the ruination of the local handloom industries, and the significance of our nationalist movement. Once again, very few literary historians made a note of this story.

It sounds harsh but the reality is throughout the history from the earliest to date, the literary historians stated women’s writings as “by women and for women only” but made no serious attempt to give it its due place in history and examine it as an intrinsic part of the mainstream literature.

Women have always been perceived as a part of the movements—women’s, social and education—but there is no other attempt to place them contextually. History made a special note of women’s education only for the purpose of women’s role at home, for their contribution to the family’s well-being, but not for assimilating them into the mainstream. The social reformers intended women’s education only to make her a better housewife. There is no evidence to show that they wanted women to become better persons. Malathi pointed out this biased view of the reformers in her book.

The period immediately following the achievement of independence, namely 1950-1975, was a significant period. That was the time when major changes were taking place in all the fields—political, sociological, and literary. And most of the literary historians dismissed that significant period, labeling it the age of novels or romance fiction.

During that period, several significant novels have been written. Several novels have illustrated sensitive issues relating to man-woman relationships, and important familial issues.

Yet even a senior critic like Puranam Subrahmanya Sarma could not make a valid comment on this fiction. In his article, “telugu katha, samaajika spruha” [Telugu story and social consciousness], he wrote, “Many women writers were able to depict a woman’s life to the extent it was correlated to a man’s life. However, one can see from their writings that women knew absolutely nothing about the man’s world. There is no brainpower. They are hopelessly poor in their command of language. They do not read at all. They are lifeless cutouts submerged in self-aggrandizement, slandering others, and egos. This confounding state, which the women have created, pulled down the level of Telugu readers, and turned the clock back to fifty-years.” (Telugu katha: vimarsanaatmaka vyaasa sampuTi). Strangely, the same Subrahmanya Sarma registered his protest in 1976, when Andhra Pradesh Sahitya Akademi eliminated the fiction category from their list of various genres for presenting awards.

On the same lines, a famous fiction writer and notable critic, Kethu Viswanatha Reddy commented, “Women writers did not care about short story as much as novels. … Even writers like Sridevi, Saraladevi, Turaga Janakirani, Kalyanasundari Jagannath, Vasireddy Sitadevi, Achanta Sarada Devi, Pavani Nirmala Prabhavati, Nidadavolu Malathi, Ranganayakamma, have not developed any notable technique in short story writing, the reason being women are still lagging behind in their perception of the modern day consciousness. And what is even worse misfortune is they cannot write even in simple Telugu [bhashaa saaralyam kuda ledu].” (Viswanatha Reddy. p. 73).

These few examples should suffice to show how the criticism in the field of Telugu fiction has been changing, based on the perceptions of individuals during different periods. Up until now, Telugu people have gotten used to seeing only this kind of literary criticism, which is subjective.

Malathi’s book, for a change, takes up a significant part of the contributions made by Telugu women in the field of fiction for a period of twenty-five years and presents it from a refreshingly new angle. Malathi, positioning them in their social and historical context, analyzed the themes, genres and their technique effectively.

I have no doubt that this book will be a valuable contribution to the true history of Telugu literature.

Kalpana Rentala

September 27, 2004

Madison, Wisconsin.

Editor’s Note:

This is foreword by Kalpana Rentala for the book, Telugu Women Writers, 1950-1975, a critical study. published by Malathi Nidadavolu, author in 2006. Later this book has been published by Potti Sreeramulu Telugu University, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, under the title, Quiet and Quaint, Telugu women writers, in 2010. – Nidadavolu Malathi

The book may be downloaded for personal use only. Click on Telugu Women Writers, 1950-1975






Women in Telugu Folklore by Dr. S. Saratjyothsna Rani

If you say, “I’ll tell you a story,” nobody is going to say “I’ll not listen.” Folktale captivates everybody’s heart. Primordial man contributed to developing the story while sharing his experiences with the people around him. He kept adding minute details to make his experiences more enchanting and thus developed the technique of storytelling. The rustic folks sat in the yard at night and listened to the stories for relaxation after the day’s tough grind. A skillful narrator tells the story in a manner that captivates his audience. For that reason people used to gather around and lsiten to him.

References to aphorisms such as katha kanchiki, manam intiki [The story returns to Kanchi and we to our homes[i]] and kathaki kaallu levu, munthaki chevullevu[ii] [story has no feet, pot has no ears] only reaffirm that story has been around for a very long time.

We may find storytellers and listeners even in the remotest corners of the world. There is not a soul in India who is not interested in stories. For that reason, India is considered the natal home for story. We have evidence of the seeds of story even in the Vedic period. Folktales prevalent among the populace are included contextually in the epics of Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavata purana. Pancatantra told by Vishnusarma also includes a few folktales. Bruhatkatha by Gunadhya can be termed an anthology of folktales. Jataka stories of Buddha contains stories of birds and animals. Ancient texts on poetics such as kavyadarsa and sahityadarpanam define story as a fictitious or made up account. Manusmruti defines ‘katha‘ as dialogue.

Evidently, ‘katha‘ meant an account and includes a few real-life incidents. Folktale belongs to the genre of prose. Janapada katha, folktale in English, may be defined as a mode of communication from mouth to mouth, and from one ear to another in a set tradition and down the generations.

Spith Thompson defined the term “folktale” broadly and stated it as tradition-bound, prose narrative. We however need to make a distinction between a folktale as defined above and the folk epics and folk histories (chronicles). When we talk about a folktale, we must seperate these two genres. From the perspective of themes, the three genres appear to be comparable. However, the folk puranas and the chronicles are different from folktales, if we take into account the time, the place, and the individual perspectives of the narrators. Fictional literature features two traditions:

1. that of the elitists, and,

2. that of the folks in general.

In the case of folktales, it is hard to establish the date and the author. The written literature on the other hand is made available necessarily keeping in mind the criteria of its patrons, regardless from which part of the world they came. In that, oral literature has greater freedom than the written literature. For the same reason, oral literature has the capability to obtain the approval of all the people in a given society. They all are in a position to share the same experiences as narrated in those folktales. Folktales are based on the people whose lifestyles also enhance the amount of its freedom and become even more influential in creating that literature. For instance, the day laborers possess economic freedom as well as individual freedom, and freedom to live their lives as they pleased. Their stories reflect that freedom in the expression of their thoughts and mode of thinking.

Story is a mechanism that projects the social set up from the past into the present and from the present into the future. We may classify folk tales into the following categories: epics, chronicles, classics, humor stories, long stories, issue-based stories, stories of crooks, fantasy, parables, and social stories.

The story that grew out of a society is capable of molding that society. Therefore, the individuals in that society, their mentalities, religion, beliefs, customs, and minute details of their daily lives are featured in those stories. For that reason, they would say, “The folklore is a mirror of culture”. Society is the basis for ideal life. Men and women play important roles in the prosperity of that society. And family is the primary basis for individuals. Woman plays a key role in the prosperity of the family. Man participates in social activities while woman is more rooted in family matters.

There is no story without a female character whether it is a folktale or modern day story. Even when the society in general respects women, stories often depict woman as a weak indiviudal. There are also writers who depict woman as an incarnation of sakti while in real life abuse and humiliate them in every possible way. Also we read stories where the message is no woman deserves independence. Today, we still read stories, which emphasize that chastity is important for woman, and chastity is valued higher than beauty. We must admit that these stories are actually undermining woman’s position in our society today.

Netheless, there are a few writers, inspired by the progress taking place in the society, present stories that drum up woman’s greatness.

Woman appears in a variety of forms in folktales. She is portrayed as a mother, daughter, younger sister, daughter-in-law, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, co-daughter-in-law, co-wife, aunt, niece, cousin, queen, maid, and/or witch. The entire literature of folktales may be divided into three categories:

1. Folktales depicting domineering mother-in-law;

2. Folktales depicting domineering daughter-in-law; and,

3. Folktales depicting woman’s situation at home and in society.


1. Domineering mother-in-law.

In family environment, mother-in-law’s role appears to be an important one. There are numerous folktales depicting mother-in-law’s dominance. Some of them depict the mother-in-law as cruel towards her daughter-in-law while a few other stories show her as kind-hearted. Let us first review the stories, which validate the popular proverb, woman is woman’s enemy. These stories invariably present mother-in-law as domineering and her role as central to the story.

i) Mother-in-law and daughter-in-law stories.

Once upon a time there was a mother and a son. The mother got her son married and brought the daughter-in-law home. She was a wicked person. She would give the daughter-in-law only a glass of rice broth for food while she and her son had sumptuous meals everyday.

They had a strip of land on which they were growing eggplant and enjoying the profits from the produce. And also they had an palmyra tree in front of their house, from which they were making arrack[1] and drinking.

One day, the daughter-in-law told the old lady living next door about her hardships. Following the neighbor’s advice, she waited until the next day when the mother-in-law climbed the palmyra tree to extract sap. While the mother-in-law was on the top of the tree, the duaghter-in-law removed the ladder. Then she went inside, helped herself a plate full of rice and eggplant curry, and said three times, taunting, “Attaa, the food, the food.”

The mother-in-law saw the daughter-in-law with the food plate, was upset, and threw down the pot she was holding at her. While doing so, she slipped, fell down and died. The son was sad for his mother’s death. The daugher-in-law was glad, thought that her mother-in-law deserved it for all the suffering she had caused to herself (daughter-in-law).

This story describes the bad things that could happen to mothers-in-law who ill-treat their daughters-in-law. This story is a lesson for every mother-in-law in our society.

ii) The mother-in-law who became a donkey.

There was an old kaapu woman in a village. Her husband died and she was living with her son. She arranged his marriage with a young woman from the next village. After the daughter-in-law moved in, she wanted to get rid of the mother-in-law one way or the other. She told her husband, “Your mother is getting old. She has a good appetite but is no good with the chores around the house. You send her away or else I’ll go back to my mother’s house.”

The son was hurt by his wife’s remarks and he told his mother the entire story. His mother was a smart one. She told him to take her to the forest and leave her there. He found a place by a well, put up a hut for her and left her there. He also gave her provisions enough to last for a while. And then, returned home and told his wife that he had left his mother in the forest. His wife and her mother were happy. They both started ill-treating the son. The son took their abuse without complaint.

A war broke between the three gods, god of rain, god of fire and the god of wind. They were fighting to determine which one of them was the greatest. They saw the old woman in the forest and asked her the same question.

The old woman told them that all the three were very important for the world. They were happy to hear that response, and they blessed her with a life of a twelve-year old girl forever.

The son went to see his mother, found her to be young girl, and conveyed the same news to his wife. His wife wanted her mother also turn into a young girl, and so, asked him to leave her mother also in the forest. He did so.

The three gods came to her (wife’s mother) and asked the same question again. They became angry with her answer and cursed her to turn into a donkey. The son brought the donkey back to their home, and tied her to the pole in front of their house. The villagers suggested that it was appropriate only for washermen to have a donkey in front of their house but not a kaapu person. Then he sold the donkey to a washerman.

The message in this story is that good befalls those people who live examplary lives and uphold the path of truth and dharma. On the other hand, those who follow the path of evil will come to their downfall as is evident from the wife’s greed and the unfounded wish for her mother’s transformation as a young girl, which resulted in the woman turning into a donkey. In this story, the son’s devotion to his mother and the plausible attitude towards his mother are also portrayed well. Some incidents in the story appear to be far-fetched but they are necessary to convey the message of common good. Also, this story includes two mothers-in-law, one portraying the admirable qualities in a woman and the other suggesting that greed is inappropriate for a woman.

iii) Mother-in-law’s statue.

A mother was living with her son in a village. After the son came of age, she married him to a girl from the neighborhood village and brought her home. The daughter-in-law was very obedient, was always seeking her mother-in-law’s permission for everything. After her mother-in-law died, she could not live alone and told her husband so. Her husband made a statue of his mother and gave it to his wife, and told her to consider it as her mother-in-law. The wife was happy. One day, she wanted to go to the village fair in the neighborhood village and as usual she asked the statue for permission. She did not get any response from the wooden statue, and so she took it along with her. On the way, she saw a Hanuman temple. She left the statue by the temple and went to the fair. People passing by saw the statue, mistook it for a goddess, and left gifts by the statue. The daughter-in-law returned from the fair, saw the money, and she returned home with the money cheerfully.

Next day, the entire village came to know that the wooden mother-in-law went to the fair and brought plenty of grains and money.

The next day, the daughter-in-law went to the fair again and did not return until it was very late. Therefore she decided to stay in the temple for the night. That night a few robbers came to the temple for disbursing their loot among themselves. The daughter-in-law was scared and cried and called out for her mother-in-law. The robbers thought that the statue might be sanctified with some mantra and gave it a part of their loot. The woman took the money, came home and told her husband about the money.

Her neighbor heard about it and asked her husband also to make a similar statue for him. Then, she went to the fair, and spent that night on a tree with the statue. She saw the robbers who were sitting under the tree, got scared and dropped the statue. The robbers saw her, became angry for dropping the statue on them, beat her up and robbed her of her possessions.

In this story, one daughter-in-law proved her love for her mother-in-law whereas the second daughter-in-law was greedy, wanted to earn money by unfair means, and lost everything in the process. We also find comparable mother-in-law characters in the stories such as etthuki pai etthu, and illarikam alludu. These stories highlight folk woman’s psychology through the mother-in-law characters.


2. Daughter-in-law in folktales.

Let us review woman’s position as depicted in the daughters-in-law character in folktales.

i.  Smart daughter-in-law.

A father performed his only son’s marriage with a young woman from a neighborhood village. His father however was not happy. He thought that the woman was not taking good care of his son and so decided to test her intentions. The woman failed the test and was sent away to her mother’s home. Now the father and son were alone again. Father decided to teach his son a few tricks of his trade. He gave a sack of sesame seeds and told him to sell in it in the next village fair.

The son asked him, “At what rate?”

Father said, “Use the same measure to sell the sesame seeds as to buy the oil.”

“You mean cup for cup,” he said and went to the fair and sat down to sell his goods.

A smart woman came to him, and used an item as a measure which could hold plenty of sesame seeds but not oil. Father was impressed with her brains and made her his daughter-in-law. After that, he handed over the jewelry business to his son. The son went and gambled away all the jewelry to a woman and became her slave per terms.

His wife came to know about it, put on man’s clothes, hid two rats in her pocket, and went to the other woman’s house and challenged her to gamble with her. While the game was going on, the wife let the rats out slyly. The gambler-woman’s cat ran after the rats creating a commotion. The lamp went off, and the gambler lost in the game. She had to let go of all the men in her custody.

Thus, the wife saved her husband and brought him home. The father was convinced that his daguhter-in-law was smart and capable, and handed over the family matters to them, son and daughter-in-law.

The message in this story is a smart woman is always patient, clever, courageous, and also capable of taking on any challenge. The story also depicts a folk woman as a strong character, despite her lack of education, and capable of running the family; she is up to any challenge.

ii) What kind of authority a daughter-in-law has?

Neelamma was walking on the road hiding her hands behind her saree palloo.

Sangamma saw her and asked her wherefrom she was coming.

Neelamma said, “I am coming from your home to borrow buttermilk.”

Sangamma asked, “What happened there?”

Neelamma said warily, “I don’t know. Your daughter-in-law said it was not ready yet.”

“What right does she have to say that, let’s find out. You come with me,” Sangamma said.

Neelamma followed her to their home. As they approached the house, Neelamma stopped at the porch steps.

Sangamma said, “Come in. Did you bring a dish for the buttermilk?” So saying, she took the dish from Neelamma and went into the kitchen and returned.

Neelamma was about to thank her kindness and say, “May god bless you and your family for umpteen years.”

Before she could open her mouth, Sangamma said, “Here’s your dish. The buttermilk is not ready yet,” and handed her the empty dish.

Neelamma was disappointed and left, telling herself, “I’ve heard it before, that was true.”

Mother-in-law believed that the daughter-in-law had no right to say even the obvious, that the buttermilk was not done yet. This story is realistic and a good example of everyday events in our homes.

iii)  Your actions may not always yield the results you have hoped for.

In the following story, we find a folk woman in the character of a daughter-in-law, who would not accept her mother-in-law’s dominance.

A mother got her son married and brought the daughter-in-law home. From the minute the daughter-in-law set foot in the home, the two women were wrangling with each other. The young woman wanted to get rid her mother-in-law with the help of her husband.

One day her mother came to see her. After supper, they all went to sleep. The mother noticed her daughter-in-law’s evil thoughts and was watching her. The young woman (daughter-in-law) tied a rug to her mother-in-law’s foot, and told her husband to take the woman in the rug and throw her in the river.

In the meantime the mother-in-law untied the rug from her foot and tied it to the foot of the daughter-in-law’s mother. Unaware of this swap, the son wrapped up the woman, from whose foot the rug was hanging, took her out and threw her in the river. Both husband and wife were happy that their problem had been resolved.

They returned home and saw the mother sweeping the front yard. The son was surprised to see his mother. He could not figure out what had happened.

This kind of stories illustrates that if one tries to hurt someone out of malice, he or she could end of losing one of her own. The story also conveys the message that negative thoughts like anger and jealousy, which are so common in women, can be destructive to one’s own life. Mother’s character illustrates qualities like worldly wisdom, cleverness, and timely action in folk women.

iv) Settling the score:

A mother-in-law decided to kill her daughter-in-law and told her son about her plan. The son agreed and told her to carry out the plan herself.

The mother-in-law got angrier and decided to burn the daughter-in-law alive and the son agreed to that too.

She set up the pyre in the graveyard and laid the daughter-in-law on the pyre. She forgot to bring matchbox and so returned home to fetch it. In the meantime, the son felt sorry for his wife, untied her, and told her to climb a tree and abide her time. In her place, she put a rock, and covered it with a sheet. His mother returned with matchbox, set fire to the pyre and, they both left.

A few robbers came there to share their loot and sat under the tree on which the wife was hiding. They heard the rustle from the top of the tree, were scared that it might be a ghost and ran away leaving their stolen goods. The wife came down, took all the money and returned home. Her mother-in-law saw her, was scared at first mistaking her for a ghost. The young woman said that she in fact had died, gone to the heaven and found her father-in-law there. she said he had given her the money and jewelry for their use, and promised more after they had been used up.

The mother-in-law believed her story, decided to go to the heaven herself and bring all the money her husband had. She went to the graveyard, set up a pyre, and set herself afire and died in the flames.

Thus the mother-in-law’s greed led to her own death.


3) Woman in folktales.

In today’s world, women appear on the surface to have achieved progress in all fields, including positions in legislature. Yet several women are being driven to suicides and deaths arising from disagreement over dowry amounts. The reason for such atrocities is woman herself; one woman is the adversary of another. The second reason is in our country we still have parents who consider “being born as a woman” is a curse. I think it is despicable that a mother should despise her own daughter, and set different standards for sons and daughters. It is also reprehensible that, on one hand, woman is respected for all appearances, and at the same time allow the conditions demeaning to women to exist. In today’s society it is a reality, and the same conditions are reflected in folktales as may be seen. The folktales, passed on to us as fiction, do clearly illustrate the dominance of men over women in those days. Let us review some of such stories. Stories such as Mynavati, Abheda, Four daughters, Pativrata Sangamma, and Daughter of a thief are cases in point.

The story of Abheda goes as follows:

A couple had a son and a daughter, Abheda. In those days, religion, devotion, trust, and beliefs were deep-rooted and the folks gave in to those debilitating tenets and lived accordingly. They all believed that there were powers beyond the scope of humans, and people lived their lives anchored around those customs and beliefs.

Abheda’s parents were told that a single daughter would bring bad luck to the family, and so, they left her with a drifter and went away. Abheda grew up, submerged herself in a life filled with pujas and bhajans. This went on for twelve years. The drifter noticed that Abheda’s way of life would do no good to her and so he sent word to her parents.

Her brother came and convinced her to go with him to a forest. In the forest he tried to kill her but could not. He left her there alone and went away.

Abheda stayed under the tree and continued her meditation. In course of time, a sandhill formed around her. A king passing by heard her bhajans and had the sandhill dug up. He found Abheda and married her.

The point is although her parents had left her as an ill-fated woman, she got married to a king because she was blessed.

The next story about a king who was about to beat up his wife:

A king saw a young woman and noticed that she was very smart. He put her to a test. He put a jasmine garland around her neck, told her that that she should dig up a tunnel and a well, grow a garden of coriander and fenugreek. He said all this should be done before he returned and before the garland in her neck withered. The young woman agreed.

She dug up the tunnel and well. And then, she put on man’s clothes and went in to the city. She heard that the princess proclaimed that she would marry a man who could make a horse walk on the water. The woman took up the challenge and succeeded in making the horse walk on water. According to the condition, the princess was supposed to marry the man. However, since the woman was not a man, she got the princess married to a sword, per custom, and returned to the king’s palace. There she danced in the court, and spent two days with the king. She took a ring and a sheet from the king as tokens of her being there and returned to her place.

The king returned to her place and was surprised to see that the woman had completed her assignment. However he was not sure the child was his; he was about to beat her up for lying. The woman produced the ring and the sheet she had obtained from him. The king was impressed with her ingenuity and took her to his palace.

This story once again proves that women in folktales were depicted as intelligent, courageous, and capable of carrying out their mission.

In a vast majority of folktales, we see importance given to woman and her conditions. Some stories depict woman as inferior to man. Folk women, even though illiterate, are portrayed as perceptiive of their social and familial conditions and shared their experiences with each other through stories and songs. Folk women believed in religious traditions, worshipped village goddesses, and were keenly drawn in to irrational beliefs and customs.

In addition, they were also afraid that, if they had not followed tradition, bad luck would befall them. Some of the stories such as maaruti kuuthuru  and Padmavati’s story indicate that not only they showed shrewdness in resolving their problems, but they also showed enormous amount of patience. But for a few stories which depicted women as capable of heroic deeds, most of the stories depicted the woman’s position as inferior to that of man.




(Paper presented at the National Conference on Folk literature at Osmania University, Hyderabad, November 2000, and included in the anthology of essays, Vyasa jyothsna, by Dr. Saratjyothsna Rani, 2002.

Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi, and published on, October 2006.)


[1] Cheap liquor made of palmyra sap.

[i] The proverb appears to have its origins in dasakumara charitra. Since most of the stories had originated in the town of Kanchi, it had become common to end the story with the line that it went back to Kanchi. Possibly, it was also the time when poeple would gather under a tree and listern to the stories and then return homes..

[ii] A proverb implying stories are not often logical.

Pawning the Sacred Thread by Dr. Kolakaluri Enoch

The caste differences did not stop Sastry and Obilesu from becoming good friends. Sastry was a
Brahmin and Obilesu an untouchable. They had been friends since their childhood. They went to
the same school, and started working in the same junior college; both were confirmed in their jobs.
Sastry was teaching Telugu and Obilesu teaching English.

Obilesu was confused when Sastry asked him for a loan of ten thousand rupees. He did not look up
to see Sastry’s face; did not say yes or no. Sastry went to his class. Obilesu sat down in the staff
room without budging an inch.

Taking loans had been Sastry’s habit, not paying them back was common for him, dodging the
creditors his destiny, and forgetting his debts his rule.

Sastry had no bad habits, never smoked a cigarette or a beedi, never played cards, or gambled on
anything for that matter. He did not bet on horses, and never cheated on his wife; had been an
avowed monogamist all his life. He had only a couple of children and he did not have to incur huge
expenses on their education either.

Yet he could not live within his means. Nobody knew except Obilesu why Sastry was borrowing
money and what he was doing with it.

Obilesu was aware of Sastry’s habit of borrowing a ten or twenty and forgetting it. One thing for
sure, there had been times when Sastry asked for a hundred or two, but never thousands. He knew
that Sastry would ask for new loans without settling the old ones. And he kept borrowing from
whomsoever he could. Sometimes the creditors would remind him of the loan; then only he would
have a recollection of it, and he would assure them that he would get back to them on it.
Eventually, it became harder for Sastry to raise new loans. The pressure from his creditors to settle
the old debts was increasing. The loans taken in the past five years added up close to ten
thousand rupees. Obilesu wondered if Sastry wanted a new loan to pay off the old ones.
Sastry and Obilesu were drawing the same salary. Yet Obilesu could save some money from his
income whereas Sastry fell short always. The entire income of Obilesu’s wife went into savings. In
the past twenty-five years, each time a lecturer’s position opened up, Obilesu said that Sastry’s wife
should apply for the job.

In response, Sastry would go into a fit of rambling, “Work is slavery. I come from a highly esteemed
ancestry. I had no choice but degrade myself with this low life. Do I have to put my wife also through
this humiliation? In our families, women don’t go out to work; they don’t even step outside the front
door. For what anyways? To rule the country?”

Sastry and his wife Sarada had been classmates in the M.A. class. Sarada got first class and Sastry
finished in second class. Theirs was love marriage. It was performed like an arranged marriage
nevertheless. The horoscopes were checked, and the dowry and other gifts were paid per custom.
“Our ways matched,” Sastry said.

“Your mentalities should match,” Obilesu said. There was no change in Sastry’s family set up.
Sarada turned into a woman consigned to the kitchen and the delivery room odors as if God had
created her only for that purpose.

One day, Sastry invited Obilesu and his wife to dinner to his place. Sastry wanted to show off his
epicure. Obilesu felt sad as he noticed Sarada’s worn out sari and the sumptuous food served.

“Why so many items? For whom?” Obilesu said.

“Who else? For us only,” Sastry said.

“Tomato chutney and yogurt are enough to make me happy. Why so many items?”

“There is plenty to eat but I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Digestion problem.”

“How come?”

“In my childhood days, we didn’t have enough to eat. And so gotten used to not eating much.”

“And now?”

“Now I have plenty but just can’t eat.”

“That’s hard, isn’t it?”

“We don’t need to eat this much to live.”

“I need them.”


“Yes, each and every day.”

“So many items, just for one person?”


“Isn’t that too much?”

“Just about enough.”

True it is a blessing to be able to eat so much. Obileseu understood the reasons underlying
Sarada’s filthy sari and Sastry’s borrowing spree.

Sastry wanted to show off his love of food. His wife took the day off from her sewing class, stayed
home, and spent the entire day in the kitchen making all these items—several varieties of sweet
and spicy dishes.

“Is that all?” Sastry belched loudly and asked his wife.

Obilesu was not surprised but Sarada was baffled. “I thought it would be nice to cut down for one
day,” she said.

Sastry gave Obilesu and his wife new clothes per tradition and sent them home.

After this experience, Obilesu could not decide whether we live to eat or eat to live. On his way to
the bank, he recalled the comments his fellow lecturers had made about Sastry. They would say,
“Sastry is a good eater; we can go to his house any day and have a feast.”

Next day, Obilesu was on his way to his class. Sastry stopped him and asked, “Where’s the money?”
Obilesu gave him one hundred rupee bill. Sastry did not take it.

“Ten thousand.”

“What for?”

:”To settle an old debt.”

“What about this debt?”

“I’ll take care of this too.”



Sastry came to realize that he could not raise new loans any more. His creditors started squeezing
him for the outstanding debts. Obilesu was the only one not to do so. For that reason, Sastry
approached him again.

“Money,” Sastry said.

“That’s a big sum,” Obilesu said.


“How do you think you’d pay off?”

“From my salary, on installments.”

“You know you don’t make enough.”

“I’ll manage.”

Obilesu was surprised and elated. “I’ll give you ten thousand rupees, if you pawn something.”


“Yes, you.”



“I can give you an IOU.”

“I don’t want an IOU.”

“What do I have to pawn?”

“Think of something.”

Sastry had nothing worth pawning either on his person or at home. Whatever little he had, had
been burned away in the kitchen.

“What do I have worth pawning?”

“Whatever you have.”

“I’m telling you, I have nothing to pawn. Just say you won’t give me the money.”

“I will give you money.”

“What do you suggest I can pawn?”

“Your sacred thread.”

“The sacred thread?” Sastry was stunned, fingering the thread on his shoulder. He glared into his
friend’s face. He was excited that he did have something to pawn.

“Really? My sacred thread?”


“What value this thread has?”

“Maybe nothing.”

“What’ll you do with it?”

“”Keep it as collateral.”

“What if I renege?”

“I’ll have your jandhyam.

“That’s a just thread, worth ten paise.”


“What do you think you can do with it? You’re not going to realize even the interest on the loan with


Sastry gaped at his friend, Is he out of his mind? The thread was sanctified with mantra. It was a
symbol of his status as twice-born, and that he had been through the ritual, upanayanam; it was a
reminder of his duty to protect the vedic traditon and secured by gayantri mantra; it was supposed
to bring about his nirvana, and help destroy his enemies. The more he thought about it, the worse
the turmoil he found himself in.

Obilesu sat there without uttering a word.

“What’s this for?” Sastry asked again.

“I need collateral.”

“What for?”

“I want something that you have and I don’t have, and the thing that is standing in the way of our

“You don’t need this.”

“This sacred thread—either we both have it or both don’t have it. It is preventing us from being
brothers, and creating a disparity between the two of us. We’re not on par because of this thread.
It’s separating us.”

“If I remove it and give it to you, will you wear it?”

“No, I won’t wear it.”

“So, what do you do with it?”

“I’ll keep it with me”

“And what do get out of it?”

“Neither of us will be wearing the sacred thread. That makes us equal; we can be brothers. That
makes us even and helps us to unite. No more conflicts between us, discrepancies, no social order,
or the inequalities.”

Sastry was quiet for a few seconds. Obilesu did not speak either. Suddenly Sastry said, “I can’t
pawn my sacred thread.”

“That’s up to you.”

“I can’t remove it.”

“That’s up to you.”

“Removing it throws away my status as a Brahmin into the Ganges.”

“No, that’s a sin.”

“No, that’s redemption.”

“No, it’s a fall out.”



“That’s up to you,” Obilesu said.

They both sat silently for a while. Sastry broke the silence, “Do you have the money with you?”

“I do.”

“Got it from where?”

“From the bank.”

“To give it to me?”


“Then, give it to me.”

“Give me the collateral.”

“I can’t.”

“That’s up to you.”

Sastry looked around. It was past three and most of his colleagues had left. They had understood
that Sastry was asking Obilesu for a loan, and Obilesu was not willing to do so. Some of them left,
preempting any attempt by Sastry to approach them. And a few others left on other errands. They
all were scared of being caught in an unsavory situation. The remaining few did not notice Sastry
and Obilesu.
Sastry asked again, “This’s just a cotton thread. What’d you want to do with it?”

“Not just a thread, it’s jandhyam..”

“So, you’ll not give me the money until I pawn it?”

“Correct, I won’t give you the money.”

“You won’t return my jandhyam to me until I paid the entire amount and the interest?”


Sastry started thinking, Is it proper to remove the sacred thread, which he was required to wear until
his death? He did not remove it. But he needed the money, and for that reason, he must take it out.
… it was sanctified with mantra; he must not remove. While it was on his body, it might just be a
sacred thread. If he removed it, it would be worth ten thousand rupees. The thread had that kind of
value. The thread had its own value as jandhyam. While worn, the man had gotten such a
commanding value. If he removed it, it got cash value. And he needed cash.

“What if I give you my sacred thread as collateral, and buy another thread to wear?”

“That won’t be the same as the jandhyam pawned.”

“What if I do so without your knowledge?”

“You can’t.”

“They’re only a bunch of threads. I can get new ones.”

“You can’t find a jandhyam. I’ll have your it. No matter how many threads you get, they’re not going
to be the same. You’ll not wear them.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“I have faith in you.”

Sastry was happy about his friend and the trust he had in him. And, also about the cash he was
going to get. The only problem was the sacred thread; it hurt him to think that he had to pawn it.
“Do you believe that I’ll pay you back?”

“I believe so”


“I trust your word.”

“What if I don’t pay you back?”

“You will.”

“What if I don’t?”

“You won’t get back your sacred thread.”

“What if I don’t get it back?”

“You won’t have a jandhyam for the rest of your life.”


“You won’t have the Brahmin status?”


“Then you’re like me, just another person.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ll be my brother.”


“A Brahmin.”


“A friend.”


“Not a brother.”

“We’re unequal.”

“There’s no unity, no brotherhood.”

Sastry was quiet. Obilesu did not move. He did not pull out the money from his pocket, did not give
the money to Sastry.

You give me the money, and I’ll give you my sacred thread.”

“You put it down first, and then I’ll give you the money.”

“Wait here. I’ll get it,” Sastry said and stood up.

Obilesu also got up. Both of them proceeded towards the lavatory.

“Will you tell others that I pawned my sacred thread?”

“I won’t.”


“Nobody will know except you and me.”

“Where’s the guarantee?”

“The sacred thread itself.”

There was no water in the lavatory, the stench was unbearable. Obilesu covered his nose but not
Sastry. Sastry removed his shirt. The stink. The toilet was not flushed for want of water. But people
didn’t care, they all were using it one after another; the choking stench did not stop them. … Sastry
removed his shirt and handed it to Obilesu. … the smell … no breeze … the smell would not go away
… no water … The people who came in would not go without stirring up more stench. … The bad
smell pervaded like a swarm of honeybees. They stung the nostrils, skewed their faces.
Sastry and Obilesu came into the lavatory for a reason; it had nothing to do with the lavatory. The
purpose for which they came there was not accomplished. … It was getting delayed because
Sastry’s hand was shaking. Jandhyam. … his hand shook. The odor was getting worse, spreading
all over. Nine threads. Nine was an absolute number, three times three, three-fold universe, three
million gods, three supreme deities—all pointing to the significance of the nine threads in the
sacred thread. Sastry’s hand shook.

Obilesu did not rush him but the odors were. His trust permitted Sastry to dilly-dally. People always
take off the sacred thread and put it back, but not like this, and not here … not for this reason.
History in the making. … Sastry’s hand was shaking. A person, who had not had the ritual of
upanayanam, and worn no sacred thread, would not be eligible to perform the vedic rituals. Should
he reject the vedic tradition or honor it? Sastry was shaking all over, from head to foot.
It is demeaning to pawn the sacred thread, and buy a piece of thread to wear from a store, a thread
that will be used for all kinds of things. He would not break his promise. But then, the times
changed. The practice of spinning the thread for making the sacred thread using takilil had gone.
dharma had strayed away. Everything had been changing rapidly. Only man had not changed. The
hunger he would have had not changed but on the rise.

Sastry held the sacred thread in his hand. He shut his eyes, with tears rolling down his face. His
hand shook; he moved it to the other hand. Still shaking, he leaned against the wall. … dirty smell.
Revolting walls. Sastry’s bare back propped up against the wall of the lavatory.

Tears fell on his bare stomach; did not roll down all the way but made the stomach wet. The sacred
thread rolled in his tears as he slowly removed it. The thread that had been accustomed to his
sweat until now embraced the tears. It slid all over his stomach, rolled on it, and bid a final farewell
from its native place. The sacred thread, which was a flower in his crown, an incense stick in the
puja room, a flag flying high on his stomach, traded places.

The sacred thread that had come in handy to scratch his back was being torn from his back and the
itch. The jandhyam that was a symbol of his Brahminical tradition now turned him in to an ordinary
human. The thing shifted its position from his shoulder to his palm.

A piece of thread that had not cost him even ten paise had the power to earn ten thousand rupees.
Sastry was surprised. He crammed it into his fist, picked up his shirt, and put it on.

“Here,” he said. No shivering, no tears. As he said it, there was a little quiver in his tone, and the
hand seemed to have shaken slightly.

“Keep it.”


“I’ll tell you.”

They both returned to the staff room. It was nearly empty. A couple of staff members sat there in
the room with their legs stretched on to the tables in front of them.

“Take it,” Sastry said.

“I will.”

“Give me the cash.”

“I will.”

Obilesu did not give him the money nor did he take the sacred thread.

“Take it,” Sastry said again.

“I don’t want it”


“I’ll not touch it.”


“It’s untouchable for me. I will not touch it.”

Sastry was shocked.

Obilesu said, “Nobody touches you or your sacred thread. That’s untouchable. I’ll not touch it.”
“But we two hang around, have always been together, aren’t we?”

“That’s true. But not with the sacred thread.”

Sastry was hurt. “Did I ever say that you’re an untouchable?” he said.

“You didn’t say that.”


“I’m saying it.”

“Saying what?”

“That it should not be touched.”

“Who should not touch it—you or me?”



“That’s untouchable.”

“I never said you’re an untouchable.”

“No, you did not. I came to your home.”


“I ate in your home.”

“I invited you to my home.”


“Then, why can’t you touch this?”

“For your sake.”

“For my sake? You mean to save my sanctity and the sanctity of this sacred thread?”


“So, you’re keeping me at a distance in the name of sanctity.”

“That’s not it.”

“Then, why don’t you take it?”

“That’s dirty.”

“Dirty how?”

“Because of your body.”
“The sacred thread did not become dirty because of my body; it was sanctified. An ordinary thread
turns into a jandhyam when I wear it. The thread is sanctified. That’s the reason you valued it so

“Your jandhyam may be sacred and valuable but to me it is a dirty piece.”

“In what way?”

“Think about it. You change your shirt and underwear regularly. But you never change that sacred
thread, except on rare occasions.”

“”So what?”

“Look at that; smelling of sweat and soil.”

“What do you mean?”

“Probably it was like jasmine flower when you first put it on but now it looks like a worn out rag.”

Sastry did not reply.

Obilesu said again, “Smell it, the smell of urine.”

“That’s because I removed it there.”

“It’s the same wherever you remove it.”

Obilesu told him to put it in an envelope and seal it. Sastry did so.

“Sign it.” Sastry did so. It felt like an encore for his brahmin existence. He put the envelope on the
table in front of him. The tears in his eyes dried up and his vision was foggy.

The envelope with the money was sitting on the envelope with his sacred thread. If the envelopes
were removed, money on top and the sacred thread below. Sacred thread was the thing pawned off
and the stack of cash was the cash for the thread.

“Take it,” said Obilesu. His voice was calm, tender, and amiable.

Sastry picked up the envelope containing the cash.

“Check it” Obilesu said.

“Not necessary,” Sastry put the envelope in his pocket.

Obilesu pushed the other envelope toward Sastry and said, “Take it.”

“I won’t.”

Obilesu said, speaking clearly, “Why not?”

“I don’t want it.”

“You keep it with you.”


“Because that’s yours.”

“But I put it down as collateral.”


“Shouldn’t you be keeping the item as security?”

“What difference does it make whether I keep it or you keep it?”

“Are you asking me to keep the sacred thread with me?”


“Can I wear it?”

“No, you must not wear it.”

“Why not?”

“Because that’s a pawned item.”

“But I have it with me.”

“Yes, you have it.”

“What if I wear it?”

“You won’t.”

“For how long?”

“Until the debt has been paid off.”

“What if I never paid it”

“You’ll never wear it.”

They left the staff room and walked towards the crossroads. As they approached the junction where
they were going to go their separate ways.

The tower clock as his witness, Obilesu said, “Sastry, I will not be distressed even if you don’t pay
back the loan.” He stopped for a second, and said, speaking clearly, “I’ll be happy still.”


Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on, July 2006.

(The Telugu original taakatu was published in an anthology entitled Asprusyaganga. 1999.)

Lamps on a dark night by Madhurantakam Rajaram

Sivaramayya had been waiting for the city bus for the past half-an-hour in that bus stop near “Arundhati Finance Corporation”. His slippers, though well worn out, still protected his feet from the heated pavement loyally, on that swelteringly hot afternoon. However, since he did not carry any towel or an umbrella with him, his bald head was completely exposed to the heat. Anyway, he arrived long ago at the philosophical conclusion that God has given us a body just for torturing us. To show his full concurrence with the conclusion, he refused to wipe the sweat on his forehead and was staring at the end of the street for the bus.

On enquiry he found that 12E has left just five minutes ago. The arrival of the next bus is entirely dependent on the luck of the person waiting!

With lorries coming like demons, cars flying past, cycles, rickshaws, people crossing the road, the road looked like a turbulent sea that afternoon.

Well-fed people coming out of  “Everest Hotel” did not mind the afternoon heat and felt it as pleasant as moonlight.

Children were running back to school after lunch recess.

On the roadside, small bunks, textile shops, every where business was going on, as usual.

In all that commotion, his life was the only immovable vehicle like a car that broke down in heavy traffic, thought Sivaramayya, bitterly. All his efforts to push it forward are yielding no result.

In a few minutes a 17 numbered bus went. Chasing it went a 11C. Close on its heels were a 6, a 21 and a 33D. Many more buses came and went. But 12E was nowhere in sight.

The road went quiet for a few minutes, suddenly. A motorbike came zooming in the gap. A young man was seated on it confidently, as if he alone knew that trick to conquer both time and distance. When the motor bike approached him, Sivaramayya was startled. A beautiful face shone from behind the shoulders of the young man.

The motorbike passed him by. The girl sitting on the pillion seat turned to look at Sivaramayya. Her eyes fluttered for a second. Sivaramayya gritted his teeth. The girl bit her lip. Sivaramayya’s eyes turned red. He turned his face away.

A bus glided to stop in front of him. It was a 12E. He got into the bus.

He was rather disturber from morning, and the sight on the road made him all the more agitated.

So this rogue had a motorbike, he thought. Or it would have come for repair and he is posing on it. Shameless guy! And this girl! Where is her sense gone? Instead of being ashamed at what she has done, she is roaming with him on his bike!

With his thoughts running along these lines, it would be right to say it was his feet that took him home, out of habit.

Paravati gave him a glass of water. She was confused at his absent-mindedness and asked hesitantly ” Is the job done?”

He stared into her face absently for a while and then replied, “Job? Oh yes, it is done!” Parvati was oblivious to the discouraging tone of his answer. She seemed to be relieved, saying, “Thank God, it is done”.

Sivaramayya glanced around the house to confirm that his daughter Sarvani was not there and continued bitterly, “Do you think it was easy? They have taken a house worth twenty five thousand as mortgage and gave me fifteen thousand rupees, at the rate of 1.5%. It amounts to a hundred rupees per month. We can happily spend the rest of our lives paying that interest. If we stop in between, they shall simply sell our house, take their money and will throw the remaining crumbs at us…”

“Please don’t talk like that. If the children hear it they will be disturbed.”

Sivaramayya felt too tired after an untimely lunch. He dozed off in the armchair. When he woke up he saw that Sarvani returned from typewriting institute and was talking to her mother. She got coffee for her father.

He looked at his daughter. No doubt, Sarvani is a beautiful girl, and is a good girl too! He stopped her from studying further, but otherwise she would have been well qualified too. What is the use? In the marriage market, without dowry and other expenses, a girl is not even a girl. In such a world what is the point in girls being well qualified or talented?

He finished his coffee and went to the reading room. He returned late in the evening. It was almost dark. The atmosphere in the home seemed to have changed.

Sujata too seemed to have returned from college. Her books were lying on the table. Sarvani’s shorthand notebook too was lying on the table. Mother and daughters seemed to be talking in low voices in the kitchen.

He waited for a while and inquired what the matter was.

“What is the matter Parvati? Why can’t you share the secret with me?”

She came into the room hesitantly. Like a bird scared in a cyclone, she clung to the wall and asked him

“Did you see Srilekha on the road, today?”

Sivaramayya’s face turned red in rage. His fragile body could not withstand the intense anger and started shaking.

“Parvati, don’t ask me idiotic questions. I see many people on the road. So what? I told you million times that I have just two daughters. Don’t talk of her in front of me again. This is the last warning.”

“Of course, I will not talk about her. You asked me what the matter was!” Her eyes were brimming with tears. It is not that her daughter was living in some far off place. She was living in the same city and she has not seen her for the past four years. A father was considering his happily living daughter as dead! She felt it extremely cruel and in the emotional pressure continued further.

“You can do it, cut off all parental love and call a living daughter as dead! That poor girl went to Sujata’s college today. “Why is father looking so weak?” she asked. She saw you in the afternoon hot sun. You were sweating with your head unprotected and she felt concerned about it. She went straight from her office to college. Hereafter I shall not take her name in this house…”

He knew that Parvati would starve herself for the night. When she was deeply hurt by something, she starved herself.

He too ate half-heartedly and went to bed though it was not nine p.m. The atmosphere and weather seemed stifling. He could control his body, but his mind refused to obey him. He heard the sea roaring in his mind.

He wished Parvati had picked up a huge quarrel with him instead of torturing him with her silence. The topic that she vowed she would not start again with him started eating his brain.


Srilekha came to him with her S.S.C results and surprised him with “my number is in first division, father”. When he further knew that she topped the school with her marks, he was really terrified. He realized that he need not spend any money on her education since she won a scholarship. She completed her graduation in due course.

The next stage in a young girl’s life is of course marriage. That was when he knew of the sharks that infest the marriage market.

A simple graduate expects ten thousand rupees as dowry. A lecturer’s rate is fifteen thousand, an engineer demands twenty five thousand and a doctor commands fifty thousand rupees!

He was nevertheless making attempts to get some decent alliance. But she somehow seemed to trust the employment exchange. She managed to get a job and started working. Meanwhile he looked harder for a suitable groom for his daughter.

Many proposals almost materialized but slipped out of hand in the last moment.

She suddenly gave him a shock.

Srilekha, a rank holder in B.Sc., married an illiterate motor mechanic. That too in a civil marriage (as good as eloping!)! His only qualification being- no expectation of dowry!

He seemed to be related to them and was visiting once in a while.

He felt he has been gravely insulted among his relatives and friends.

But Parvathi saw it from a different perspective.

“To get her married as you wished meant an expense of fifteen thousand rupees at least, We would have no doubt borrowed that money. Now she has saved us from being caught in a debt trap. I can’t understand what harm she has done to us!”

His close friend Ranganatham, went a step ahead and said Srilekha showed a way to the young generation.

“Come on Sivaramayya! Don’t be ridiculous. Times and traditions are changing. This is twentieth century. Now if we see someone marrying a five-year-old girl to a twenty five-year-old boy, we no longer keep quite. We came this far because of social reformers like Veereshalingam. The thorn bushes of tradition cannot be just wished away. To clear them we need people with courage and vision. We all know that dowry system is sucking blood of our families. What is the point in talking about it in meetings and lecturing? We need to walk the talk. Your daughter indeed, has taken a very wise decision. She considered the dowry-demanding highly educated boys as cheats and preferred a labourer who did not expect dowry. We do accept intellectual men to have illiterate wives, don’t we? So what is wrong with what she has done?”

But still, no amount of convincing and reasoning could assuage his hurt feelings.

Clock struck ten. Immediately there was a knock on the door.

Sujata came into the hall and switched the light on. “Who is it?” she called.

Again there was a knock on the door.

“Open the door and see who it is” said Sivaramayya.

“Why don’t you say who you are” grumbled Sujata as she opened the door.

“Who is that at the door?” Parvati woke up.

Srilekha entered the house silently. Parvati could not believe her eyes. With effort she could open her dried lips.

“How long it has been, child! At last you remembered you have mother alive!” All the sorrow in her heart burst breaking a dam.

Sarvani too woke up at the commotion, and hugged her sister.

“Why did you come alone, sister? Where is your husband?”

“Come on Sarvani! Whether you accept it or not, he is the son-in-law of this house and he won’t come uninvited. He is waiting for me at the end of the street, near the park.”

“Will he wait for you till you go back?” Sujata asked innocently.

“I too will leave quickly, mother. I came to tell you something. I know father has retired. I saw him near the Finance Corporation in the afternoon and felt very disturbed. If you mortgage this house, how will you manage in your old age? It is a joint decision from both of us. I have ten thousand rupees. Please take it from me. You can give me back whenever you can. Please don’t borrow money for Sarvani’s wedding now.” She pleaded with her mother.

Parvati did not know how to respond to this proposal.

“Mother, why don’t you say something?” Sujata reminded.

“What can I say in this house? Who cares for what I say?” Parvati declared!

Sivaramayya was still motionless in his room.

Sarvani suddenly clung to her sister, “I will jump into the well to die, but will not agree to give dowry. Akka, can you help me to get a job? I will clear the type writing examinations in March.”


Translator’s note: The characters that live and are having on the stage of live have a right to chart their lives according to circumstances. It would have been ideal if we could end this story with a note that the above fact at last shone in Sivaramayya’s mind like a lamp on a dark night. However, it suffices to say that the fact remains valid and undisputed, in spite of his ignorance about it.

The Telugu original entitled cheekatlo chiru divvel has been translated by © Sharada (Australia), and published on, December 2002.

My Song by P. Sathyavathi

I checked my appearance in the mirror and felt satisfied. The sweet face that looked back at me was indeed, enticing. I was about to embark on a journey on to the other bank of the river.I was inexplicably happy that day, perhaps due to my youthful energy, or due to an imaginative mind that always desired for the moon. Armed with a confidence that I could get that moon if I wanted to, I was on the clouds. I picked up my colourful bags, three of them, made with coloured beads, bright flowers and colourful threads. Of course, I wouldn’t leave my friend behind, the ever present song on my lips, would I? In fact, I cunningly extracted a promise from the song, never to leave my lips.

Thus equipped to face the life, I stood on the bank of the river, watching the sun rise, awe struck. A small boat came along. It looked a pretty sight, swaying in the mighty, dignified river. There was a man in the boat.  He had a smile fixed on his lips and looked very handsome, indeed.

“Do you want to jump in?” he asked.
“Now, what are those bags?” he enquired further.
“These bags? My friendships, my memories, my ambitions, my likes, my talents and many things that define me,” I replied.
“I see! Ok, jump in. Don’t forget all those bags. You might bring that song on your lips too. Do you need to hold my hand to get into the boat?”
“Of course not! I can get into the boat all by myself, thank you. In fact, I know how to row the boat, as well. By the way, where are you off to?”
“Nowhere in particular. I will row as long as I can and stop when I feel tired. You can get down
where ever you want to get down,” he replied flippantly.
The idea appealed to me and I jumped into the boat.
“Welcome aboard,” he said as he looked into my eyes with a smile. I saw the light in his eyes and felt an inexplicable thrill.

The river flowed silently, displaying all her moods and colours. The blue hills along the banks, the greenery in the fields, the clear sky above, my song on my lips, the lively whistle of my friend, his witty talk, everything made me blissful. He told me about all his dreams, opinions and desires Lulled into a drowsy sleep with his songs accompanied by the ripple of the river, I hoped the journey would go on forever! In that happy, carefree moment I invited the young man into my thoughts and my heart. I shared everything with him, all that I called mine. I felt richer by the experience. I sang in ecstatic abandon. We vowed under the beautiful moon that we shall travel together always.

Up to that moment we had been taking turns in rowing the boat. But then he said, “Darling, you look tired. Your bright eyes are drooping with sleep. Why don’t you take a rest while I do the rowing?” I was proud of the love I inspired in him.

I closed my eyes listening to one of the songs he composed for me. Then he disappeared. I woke up in fright. My song on my lips called him loudly. He returned panting.

“Where did you disappear?” I asked in fright.
“My dear! I realised we have a long way to row before we settle down. It is going to be a tiring, boring job. I am trying to make a machine that will row this boat automatically.” He replied earnestly.
“Oh yeah? What will you do if the boat is going all by it self? Look into my eyes all the time, I suppose!” I teased him.
“My poor baby! We are young now. Do you want to spend the entire life rowing the boat? Don’t we need to settle down? Don’t we need to live happily ever after, like kings? I can’t have you rowing this stupid boat for ever! That is why I am slogging now, so that we can reach the other bank quickly, then build a nice big house and settle down comfortably.”

“What is this comfortable living?” I asked curiously.
“We will discuss that later, but now get me some food.” He became impatient.
“Did you not bring anything to eat with you?”
“No, I am going to be busy for a while with that machine. Here after it is your business to organize food for both of us.” He declared.
I got up yawning. I plunged into work. My friend, the song got bored. It said, “Hey, you seem to be too busy to notice me. I am going for a walk in the woods.” So saying it left me to go for a stroll.
“Don’t leave me now. I find it easier to work when you are with me,” I begged. “Don’t be silly. I will be back,” it replied hurrying out.

Eventually my lover found that he had no time to listen to my song. Nor did he have time to adore me.  When I stopped the boat near the bank to cook food, he searched in the nearby bushes to gather some material and filled the boat.  He demanded that I organize all that material and clean the boat to make it look nice. He began hoarding material.

His focus and hard work got to me. I admired his determination and strength. He is so strong and loving, I thought happily. I decided to make him happy and keep him free of worries, at all times and by all means. I cooked for him with more devotion; I shared his work to give him some free time and relaxation. I insisted on taking turns with rowing. I did all this with love and sincerity.

The boat started to get filled with different kinds of things. Just for the sake of reaching the other bank and settle down to live happily ever after he accumulated lot of material. The boat also started to be filled with different kinds of noises. Hammering, sawing, drilling nails and all kinds of mechanical jobs made peculiar, unfamiliar noises in the boat.

One day, I was startled when I remembered that my song had left me long ago. “Where did it go for such a long time? How could I stay for such a long time without my best friend?” I wondered. I called my song loudly. It came after a long time, reluctantly. I missed the affection in its voice which was always there.

“Where were you all these days? I had to call you loudly, to bring you here,” I complained. “What else could I do? I couldn’t bear the noises in this boat any more. In the beginning I found some rhythm in his hammering, sawing and drilling. I tried to join them. But slowly I started hating that sound, so I left. I cannot stay in this cacophony. I will come and visit you once in a while, if you want me to,” the song said defiantly. I did not know what to say. “Come on, let’s go for a small walk in the trees,” my song invited me.

“I can only come once in a while to comfort you. I cannot live on your lips any more, I am sorry!” so saying my song left me.

I lost the man who invited me into the boat with brightly shining eyes, the man who offered to help me into the boat, and the man whose face seemed to be fixed with a smile. I saw him only at meal times. All that laughter, that chattering, those songs, that love, everything disappeared. He seem to spend all his time and energy filling the boat with material and machines. I saw him working at something new one day. I asked him about it. He said that it was a weapon to protect us with.

I felt restless. I thought I will open my bags and look at my friendships, memories and my belongings. But I could not find my bags. I searched everywhere on the boat. Looking under the bricks, inside the tool box, under the hammers and every other inch of the boat yielded no result.

“My bags! I have lost them. My talents, my memories, my experiences, everything is lost. Where are they? How could I have lost them?” I wept inconsolably. Did I forget myself in my love for him? Have I lost everything that belonged to me?

He took my grief very lightly. “Oh, don’t make such a big fuss. We must have chucked it out of the boat some day while cleaning. But, first come and see what I have got for you.” He led me into his work shop. “At last, I have finished what I had started. This machine will run the boat automatically. You need not work hard any more. Take rest, here after. Look at yourself. Your hair started to turn grey. Your skin lost its lustre. You can leave the rowing and spend time looking after yourself. Make yourself beautiful as before. I still have some more things to finish. I don’t know if I have accumulated enough things to live happily ever after. Here, press this button. Throw those miserable oars into the river. I am making many more machines like this to make life easy for you. All that you’ve to do is to press the buttons.”

I pressed a button. The boat sped up. I sat down. I lost my song. I lost my beaded bag with flowers. I hardly see my beloved. Now I don’t even have the job of rowing the boat. What do I do with myself?

“What shall I do now? I lost all my talents. Can I work with you in the work shop?” I asked him eagerly one day.

“Oh no!  You take it easy and look after your beautiful figure. Cook for me. Look after me. That will be sufficient.”

I looked at my reflection in water. My lips looked dried after the song left them. The innocent sweet face with which I jumped into the boat looked jaded and tired. The boat went speeding, cutting the river. It suddenly seemed to be getting heavier.

I did not know what all things he filled the boat with, for us to live like kings, for a future full of riches. Strangely, right from child hood I hated riches and kings. To live like kings we need to feel superior over others, which I disliked. I detested equally riches and treasures. What can we do with all the treasure in the world, except buying more and more meaningless stuff, I used to think.  My beloved harped on those two words which began to annoy me.

My best friends and my song left me and never returned. I lost my man whom I loved above everything else. Why did I stat this journey and where am I going now, I wondered. What is my destiny? Why did I fall in love with him as soon as I saw him? Why did I jump into this boat upon his invitation? I lost all that I shared with him. He mesmerised me with his eyes, with his smiles and with his love. He threw away all my belongings when they annoyed him. He promised to make a beautiful world for me. I surrendered my heart and my soul to him. Where has he disappeared?

I heard a small groan. I was surprised and got up to look. In this boat it is only both of us living. Then whose voice was that? The boat was still running. Whenever the boat complained of increasing burden, he threw away old stuff. He threw away old memories, old habits and everything else he felt useless. Only the machines remained.

Then I heard somebody laugh. I was more surprised. Who groaned and who laughed? “Yes of course, it is me who laughed. Could you figure out who groaned?” asked the rowing machine.  It paused for a while and said, “I think it is time for you to jump out of this boat. I cannot stand your weight any more.”

“First let us call him. Both of us will jump out of this wretched boat together. Or even better, we will kill you and row the boat with our oars as before,” I replied angrily.
“Call him? He won’t be able to come. He is stuck among those machines that he made and those he plans to make. He is never going to make his way out of those desires in his mind,” the machine laughed cruelly.

“Oh no! That is not going to happen. I am going to free him from those monstrous machines. All these days I was in a kind of trance. He always managed to convince me into obeying him. Why did I listen to him? Why did I not convince him? Why did I not save him from these meaningless desires? Why did I not hold on to my bags? How did I loose all my belongings? How could I be so careless? I want all those back, I also want my man,” I lamented.

“He is beyond your help now. You lost your song too. Who will help you in getting him out? Forget about him and jump out of the boat. Otherwise I am going to sink under all this weight.” The boat warned me.

Who cares about this miserable little boat, I thought. But I am not the one to give up like that. I raised my voice and called my song. I put my heart and soul into it. Of course, the song was my best friend. It came rushing to my aid. It settled on my lips as always. Together we set out. To get him back, with the things that he loved.

To get back my man who invited me into this boat, to make new beaded bags, to throw away all the rubbish we accumulated in this journey, to keep only what we needed and liked, to live a life fully with some work, some creativity, some imagination, lot of love and to spare some thought for others, to fill my beaded bags with values, I set out with the help of my song. With my best friend on my lips, I was confident of a victory.

(The Telugu original, nenostunnaanu, was published in Andhra jyoti.

Translated by Sharada, Australia, and published on, August 2008.)