Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Truth about Desires by Balivada Kantha Rao

In the final days of his life, Ramayya was thinking of the events in his life. It felt like they had happened just yesterday or the day before.

Exactly thirty years back, he had come to this town wearing a threadbare dhoti and a filthy shirt and searching for a way to fill his empty stomach. He went around for a week until his feet nearly wore off.  At the end, a contractor gave him work which earned him six annas[i] per day. “That is good,” he told himself and was content. He worked with determination and as if he was working for himself.

One day, he was resting under a banyan tree on the outskirts of the town along with other workers. Then he had a wish; wouldn’t it be nice if he got the job as a clerk in the manager’s office instead of sweating in the sun and rain like this? The manager noticed Ramayya’s skills and gave him the job as a clerk.

He found an opportunity to prove his ingenuity, modesty, and new methods that would bring profits directly to the owner. He wondered why he could not be the manager; he was smarter than the manager. It did not take even four years before that wish had been fulfilled. In the meantime, God only knows how fretful he had been!

After that, profits started pouring in and he thought it would be great if he became a contractor himself—car, two-storey building, higher education for children, better proposals for daughters …

It did not take many years for that wish to materialize. The owner gave Ramayya a small share in his company. He kept increasing that number of shares and after sometime he left the entire responsibility to Ramayya and went away to visit other countries. With the profits he had earned, Ramayya built a two-storey building, and bought a car. His children were going to college in the car. Now, the status of his friends and relatives, whom he was gathering, was totally different.

His lifestyle and the food he was eating had changed. It became necessary for him to eat on the table. His feet were refusing to move without car. By the time the contractor returned home, Ramayya had assumed all the responsibilities and become the proprietor himself. Big name contractors were inviting him to some meeting or other and honoring him. Despite his seemingly vehement protests, people were praising him and putting him down in the books as a great benefactor. A building for local high school was built in his name. He became a great leader in that town. He started out as a council member and soon became municipal chairman.

His eldest son grew up and started looking after the business matters. All Ramayya had to do was to put his signature wherever he was asked to. A few other businesses like a clothes mill, two rice mills, and salt production were opened in his name in quick succession. Even as the businesses kept growing, generosity in his heart also kept getting bigger. He was constantly on tenterhooks and looking for ways to give.

One day he was in bed with fever. Another wish came to his mind but the stark reality also struck; he knew that it would work. That led to another wish. The days accumulated into years and the signs of old age started setting in. His health was deteriorating. He grew a beard.  He was certain that nobody could recognize him as the same Ramayya who used to be a few months back. Under the circumstances how his wish to live very long could be granted? No, that’s not going to happen. Therefore, he had entertained another wish.

He had been generous to many people in so many ways. He could say with his hand on his chest, with confidence and satisfaction, that he would be leaving behind enormous fame and respect in the community. There were poets who had praised him as a patron and compared him to Karna, the great benefactor in Mahabharata. Ramayya was excited at the idea; wanted to go into the town disguised as a beggar, and watch with his own eyes all the respect the public had for him, listen to what everybody said about him and die happily and contently. The thought grew stronger by the minute and settled in his heart strappingly.

Within a few days, he gathered all the necessary tools for his plan. He collected enough strength in his body to walk a few furlongs. He told the people around him not to approach him and bother him for anything. The home had always been in a festive mood—always filled with the hullabaloo his children’s friends and relatives had been creating. He wanted to pick a day when everybody was busy with such festivities, leave home by the backdoor, and return to take them all by surprise. How wonderful it would be to see their faces when they find him in the disguise of a beggar! He was quite tickled by his idea.

That day came. Everybody in the house retired to the third floor. There was a marriage proposal for his younger daughter. The party came to see the would-be bride. A huge party was arranged in their honor. After the party, a bharatanatyam performance was arranged. He could manage to go upstairs. However, he told them he was feeling weak and could not go upstairs and sent them away.

All the conditions were favorable to him. The entire sky was filled with dark clouds but there was no sign of rain though. “I can’t find a better opportunity than this. If they see me, they will not let me go. Maybe, I could return before the rain hits if I leave right now,” he persuaded himself thus and changed clothes quickly. He looked in the mirror in front of him and was surprised at his disguise himself. He was looking exactly like an old beggar; ready to fall at the slightest blow of a wind.

He looked around, made sure nobody was watching, and hit the street through the backdoor. He bent forward and started walking with the help of a cane. He saw somebody on the road and called out, “Babu!”

That person said quickly, “I’ve got nothing to give, go away.”

Ramayya was irate yet remained calm and followed him, “Babu, I just came to the town for the first. I see some noise in the mansion up there …”

Even before he finished the sentence, the other person said, “Of course, brouhaha in his mansion, ha, where else if not in his mansion.”

“What do you mean, babu?”

“So many people are dying for want food, and he will have birthday parties even for the cat.”

“Who’s he, babu?”

“They call him Ramayya.”

“Oh, you mean that Babu? In my area, people say he is a generous man.”

The other person laughed and said, “Did he give even a piece of cloth without imprinting his name on it? A school without his name on it? What do you know about him? Ask him when he is alone and see if he drops a paisa in your palm. Ask him when he is surrounded by a few people, and he will throw you a ten rupee note. He is ripping us off and donating generously to cover those sins. We are the crazy ones, not him, old man!”

On hearing those words, Ramayya was silent; no word could come out of his mouth. The man walked away. Ramayya looked at him in the street light. He was no other than the man that had poured praise on him at a huge gathering previously.

After a while, Ramayya set out again. He saw several people walk by. His heart was sinking at the thought of what he might be forced to hear, had he asked them the same question. As he kept walking, he suddenly noticed that he had walked quite far and arrived at the person’s home he had met the very first time he had come to town.

That man finished his supper and sat on the porch, chewing paan and reciting poems. He had praised Ramayya on several occasions at several meetings, calling him Lord Indra and Lord Chandra. “He is a poet, a representative of the people’s minds. I will hear a few good words about my Lady Fame and will return happily to my home. Maybe I can’t walk for long. But then again, which rickshaw driver will take me, looking like a beggar in these rags? I wish I had stuffed a rupee in my pocket before I left home,” he thought.

Fearing that man might recognize him, Ramayya spoke in a trembling voice in order to hide his identity, “Babu!”

The man said without even looking at him, “Go away. We’re done eating.”

“Babu, I heard about some Ramayya babu. I understand he is so generous. I would be committing a sin if I don’t ask him. That great man’s name is reverberating across the entire country. Can you please tell me where his house is?”

The man turned around, looked at Ramayya and laughed.

Ramayya was tired and could not stand anymore.  He sat down.

The sky was dense with dark clouds. Off and on, cold wind was blowing. The man yawned and said, “About Ramayya? You want to hear about him.”

“If you please.”

“Everybody thinks he is enjoying heavenly lavishness now but where is the happiness he had enjoyed when he first came to this town in rags? I am telling you the truth. There is not a man on this earth who is more blissful than you are. Do you know why? You have no desires. You beg for the minimum necessities like food and clothing and you’re done. Do you hear me? Do you understand what I am saying?”

“Ah!” Ramayya moaned.

“You see that banyan tree there? The same Ramayya used to sleep happily under that tree after working hard, rain or shine. I knew him in those days as well, such a fine gentleman. He used to help others without expecting fame, even when it was a little hard for him. … and now? … Whatever he does, even giving you a paisa, he is doing it only for fame. Therefore the Ramayya of the old times is the one who is valued as a human being but not the Ramayya of today. I am talking some big talk. Do you understand what I am saying?”

Ramayya was almost in tears. He had to struggle even to say “um”.

As the wind kept blowing and making him feel good, the other person continued to display the personality he had concealed up until now. “If you ask me who has been cheated most in this world, I’d say, ‘Ramayya’. Let me tell you something. You’ve seen the world. You tell me if this is fair. You came and said you’re hungry. I gave you not only bellyful of food to eat but also nice clothes to wear. I treated you like family. I trusted you and went out of town on some business and returned. Then you showed me phony accounts and ripped me off of my house and the entire property. Do you see? For all the things I’ve done for you, you stabbed me in the back, isn’t it so? Ramayya became a demon with all his greed. The demon ate up the company. No matter how many cars he has, how many mansions he has, no matter how many donations he has made; how can he be an icon for truth and justice? How can a creep like him be recognized as a great man by the public? A man who gets carried away by superficial praise is a low life if you ask me. Had he stopped for a second and thought how a devil like himself be Indra or Chandra, he would have left all this wealth and luxuries, felt remorse for his wrongdoing and retired to some woods and become a sansyasin. Because of his desires, he ruined the human life, which is attainable only after doing plenty of good deeds. I am sure he is going to pay for his sins.”

Those words pricked at his heart like needles. His heart sank; he could not stay there anymore; he ran away from that place. As he walked, his legs started trembling and eyes blurring. He could not focus. He continued to walk aimlessly. It was dark—he could not see the road. The banyan tree was looking like a demon.

He felt like he was hit by a thunderbolt. It was scary; he felt like somebody was following him like a shadow; he was scared to turn around and look … ear-piercing yelps … huge fangs …somebody is getting close to him… who’s it? Devil or an envoy of Lord Yama?

There … he is piercing through his …he is laughing and tearing Ramayya’s stomach into two … he is yapping ha, ha, and saying something. .. what’s it?

Ramayya shut his ears yet he could hear them… “You’re so naïve! God grants you what you wish for and along with that, also what you’ve not wished for. If you wish for fame, he will include disgrace. If you wish for comforts, he includes discomforts as well. You did not understand this simple truth.”

A lightning flashed. He saw heaps of stones strewn all over on the street. After that, the area looked like a graveyard in that night. He wondered how arrived to this place where there were no human beings and the atmosphere was frightening. Probably, the relationship between the banyan tree and his life brought him here. He was a little annoyed that he did not come in the daytime; it would have been so much nicer. Rain started pouring and huge winds were blowing. The earth was shaking with thunder and lightning. Anxiously, he bent forward and was eager to reach the banyan tree, with the stick as his support. Heavy winds were blowing hard and the branches were making noises. A branch might fall on him and kill him, he thought. He might even be bit by a snake and die, squealing with pain.

“Oh, god! Why did I come out instead of staying in my mansion comfortably? I’d better run back to my home. How about getting back on to the road… by now, they all could be looking for me in their cars. They may not believe that I am Ramayya, seeing me in these rags. Will they let me get into my own car? Maybe, I can’t even make it to the road. .. my heart is giving in. Oh, God, don’t let me die here…”

His Legs were refusing to move forward. “There! I see my mansions, wife and children. I’ll die here watching them all. In the midst of this havoc, can the results of my good deeds come to my rescue? Please, bring me to my home. If I die there, the entire village will follow me to the graveyard. There will be drums and trumpets. Entire country will weep for me. Father, please don’t accord me a nameless death in this place and in these rags.” He kept howling and beating his forehead.

His legs refused to walk even one foot more. The heavy winds were causing him to shiver. The sky was howling. Rain was pouring fiercely and winds were blasting off.

A huge branch broke off from the banyan tree and fell. Ramayya shirked and bounced into the air and the next thing he knew he fell on a heap of rocks. His forehead split, nose broke, and the face was mangled. Blood was flowing all over. “Oh, Father, I am dead,” he shrieked. His shriek was swallowed by thunders. The tears were submerged into the rain.

The ritual burning of his body was performed by the police at the expense of the government under the category “the body of an old destitute beggar.”


(The Telugu original, korikala satyam was published in Bharati, 1961 and included later in Balivada Kantha Rao kathalu, published by Visalandhra Publishing House, 1994,

Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on, December 2010.)








































[i] One anna is one sixteenth of a rupee.

Balivada Kantha Rao by Nidadavolu Malathi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kantha Rao passed away on May 6, 2000.


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

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

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

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


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


Ravuru Venkata Satyanarayana Rao

Wedding Garments by Ravuru Venkata Satyanarayana Rao.

 Puttanna owned a hut with two center beams. He put up the two beams to provide a shade over their heads. Actually, the husband and wife had been the two beams for that hut. Puttanna and Sitamma were of the same height not only physically but also at heart. If you see them you would wonder if the Creator had split one soul into two, created bodies for them and sent them into this world, saying “go, play for a while and return.”

Puttanna was a weaver by profession. But for a few hours a day, he would keep throwing the shuttle in his hand all day, weaving the cloth in the frame. Sitamma would never leave the spinning wheel. Working by the side of her husband, her job was to separate the yarn, winding it on the bobbins, starching the cloth when it was spread, and brushing them. They never felt like that they were slogging. They had accepted their work as a yajnam. Sitamma’s eyes bloomed each time she finished rolling one bobbin. Each time Puttanna wove a piece of cloth, a smile spread on his lips like snake gourd flowers.

In front of their hut, there was a ganuga tree. Their cow was tied to a pole under the tree. The cow was a sight, sporting a discolored ocher, the two horns straight up and joined at the apex, and the heavy udders down by their generous nature. That ocher-colored cow had a white baby ox. The baby ox was tied to a pole far away from the mother cow. The mother cow would look at her baby and moo often. At other times, she would crane her neck and watch the village. For her, the baby ox was not the only baby, she had many adopted children. From them, each morning there would be an inflow of spouted pots. Puttanna would milk the cow, fill those pots, and return home with his empty pot. If you see him at that moment, you would notice moonbeams on his face. The reason for that light on his face was his gratification that his cow’s milk was being used for the little ones in the village.

Puttanna’s ancestors had lived in that village for a very long time. Cherishing the good relationship which had been handed down from generation to generation was an important goal for him. Whenever a wedding took place in any home in the village, he must weave the special garments, madhuparkaalu,[i] and give to the bride and groom. During the wedding season each year, he would spend days and nights at the loom. Sitamma would not lift her hand off the spinning wheel or so it would appear. They would not accept money for madhuparkaalu. The bride and groom would wear those clothes, sit on the wedding planks and pour talambralu [rice smeared with turmeric] on each other’s heads. Watching the event and shedding tears of joy—had been a custom for Puttanna and Sitamma for a very long time

Puttanna had no desire for charity from others. Good deed and duty were his fortress that needed no assembly. Sitamma had not asked for anything beyond that either. However, the cow had to be fed. Therefore, the people who came with spouted pots also would bring feedstuff and sesame slabs, a by-product in sesame oil production. During the thrashing season, one farmer would bring hay after thrashing was done, without Puttanna ever asking for it. Another would bring bales of jute stalks and throw them on the roof for the cows to chew on. They would not listen if Puttanna objected. “Your cow is the kamadhenu, the heavenly cow,” they would say, smiling, and go.

Anyway, with all his money going into making madhuparkaalu each year, his entire income disappeared eventually. He was too proud to ask for a loan. He would say to Sitamma, “Ayya [his father] used to say better to kill oneself than ask for a loan.”  Sitamma would agree, “Would I accept loan? How could I bear even to consider that? Isn’t it like the big eagles eating up the little birds in the nest?”

While things were being like this, a wedding came up at the house of Papayya, the village alderman. Usually, in their village, weddings would not be performed in the Sravana[ii] month. However the family were worried that Papayya’s mother was losing her sight. She said, “wouldn’t you let me see my granddaughter’s wedding?”. Papayya was moved by her words and set the date for the wedding. And they decided to perform it in five days.

Sitamma went to the well and on her way back, she saw Papayya. He said, “Sister, we’ve set the date for my girl’s wedding next Saturday. Tell bava also.”

“Yes, annayya! You’ve given me good news. I’m going home with water, will come to your place later and talk to vadina,” she said and left. At hearing the news of wedding, smiles rose on her face but after walking few steps they gone. She quickly went home and put down the pot. She passed the news to her husband. At first, he laughed and then the laugh was squashed like a lamp lit in the wind.

“We can bear physical labor but where can we get the yarn?” he fretted.

“Maybe, just for this once …” Sitamma said and stopped.

 “Just for this once … what? Do away with custom—is that what you’re saying? I cannot do away with custom. I would rather do away with my life,” he said, struggling to control himself.

“I did not say do away with custom.”

“Then what did you say?”

“Maybe, a loan.”

“Don’t say that to me. If we take one rupee on loan, the man who gave us would get a sway you can’t even imagine. Now we have good sleep for a while at least. Even that would be gone. When I remember the loan, can I remain steady and weave the woof? I will not take a loan no matter what,” he said, dabbing his eyes with his uttareeyam.

Sitamma felt bad inside for bringing it up. “Yes. Don’t borrow,” she said.

They both kept quiet for a long time. Then Puttanna closed his face in his palms and said, “Maybe, the cow …”

“The cow?” said Sitamma.

Silence fell between them once again. They both felt unutterable pain in their hearts.

“What can we do? Instead of letting go of the custom, handed down from generations, isn’t it better to let go of the cow? Enough if we give the clothes in time for this one wedding. We can go away from this town, by next wedding season, if that’s what it takes. The custom does not follow us to the next village, right?” he said.

“If we sell the milk cow, what happens to all those who are coming for milk every day?” she said.

“What else can we do? So be it. Let’s sell it right here in town. All the families with babies can go there and get the milk,” he said.

“Would they have that kind of sense?” said Sitamma.

“We can think only so far, not beyond. I will put the cow on the market today itself. After I am done eating, I will go the city and bring the yarn,” said Puttanna.

“All right,” said Sitamma.

Puttanna dabbed his tears hard with his uttareeyam, untied the knot on his head, shook the hairs and tied up again and left.

The rays of daylight were rising just then. The moon was showing up on the top end of the ganuga tree as if it was stuck there. The cow lowed as Puttanna stepped into the yard. Puttanna could not control his grief. He went and embraced her neck. “Are you angry with me? Are you hurt that I am selling you? What can I do? I’ve got to do this for the sake of custom. Wherever you are, I will come and visit you everyday. I have been worshipping you like goddess. If not you, who else can save me now?” he said, wiping her entire body with his uttareeyam. Hardly able to leave her, he left.

Next morning, he broke a branch from the ganuga tree and brushed his teeth The sun on the east rose halfway up; the rays were shrouding the village. Birds, still in their nests, were wiggling their wings. The spouted pots arrived at Puttanna’s home. There was no cow. An old woman asked, “Puttanna, where is the cow?”

“I sold it, amma!” Puttanna said, without turning back.

Ayyo! You’ve sold it? What happens to our babies now? Because you are pouring a mouthful for them, they’ve been sleeping well, and going into fits,” the woman said.

“What can I do, Amma? It’s the times! When I sold, I told Acchanna, the buyer, to continue giving milk to the children,” he said.

The people with spouted pots stood there looking despondent.

The local priest was one of the people who came for milk. He came forward and said, “You are a saint, you’ve made a sacrifice for the children. Because of that, so many stomachs were filled and the babies slept well, so many mother’s eyes were grateful.”

“What can I do, Babu! I wouldn’t have sold the cow if it were for my livelihood only. I had to sell it to save my standing in the village,” said Puttanna.

“That is our ill-luck,” the priest said.

Just then, Sitamma came out. She said, “Here, listen, I’m going to Acchanna to hand over the kuditi[iii] pot to him.”

“Go ahead. Starting today, and with that kuditi pot, our ties with the cow are cut off forever,” Puttanna said.


Papayya’s wife came with two new bed sheets, showed it to granny. Granny was braiding the bride Parvati’s hair and asked, “Pinni! Which one between these two should I use?”

Granny held Parvati’s braid with one hand, fingered the two sheets with the other and said, “Both are so so. Use one and fold the other and leave it on the head side of the bed.”

Parvati’s mother took Parvati’s face into her palm and asked, “Which one you would like?”

“You are asking her, what for? All she cares is her man is good, what does it matter how everything else?” said granny.

Parvati’s mother went inside with the sheets. Granny said, “Parvati! Never mind all this teasing. You’re going to meet your husband for the first time. One life is going to become two, and the two lives will become one. This youth and love are not going to last till you win him over. The only things that stay forever are sacrifice and dharma. You two keep that in mind. I’ll tell you a story. If he asks you to talk, tell him this. This is not from some far off place. You know our Puttanna, this is his story. This is not from longtime back but the present. Do you know what a great sacrifice he had made.” So saying, she narrated the entire story—how he had sold the cow to make madhuparkaalu for them.

Parvati heard it entirely and kept thinking. From that reflection, the thought that she should help Puttanna somehow rose like a ball of wool.

Granny tightened the braid and finished it with kuppelu[iv]. Granny sat there playing with the warped flowers, left after the braid was done.


In the bedroom, Parvati stood next to the bed. Rammurthy, the groom, smiled and pulled took the coin, navarsu, from his pocket and reached for her sari palloo. She quickly stepped back.

“Gold, gold,” he said. Let us assume he was calling her by that name. He knotted the sari end with the gold coin and said, “You may spend this as you please. On the first night, a man should not accept a woman without tendering gold.”

She was drawing lines on the floor with her toe.

He seized her hand.

The incense sticks burnt to ashes half-way through.

She started telling him the story—how Puttanna sold his cow to make ‌madhuparkaalu for them.

Rammurthy lay back on the pillow and listened to the story, holding Parvati’s kuppelu in his fist. At the end, he said, “We have to bow to Puttanna for making such a great sacrifice. He did his duty and we should do ours.”

“What is our duty?” asked Parvati.
”We will return the cow to him.”

“Will Puttanna agree to that?” Parvati said, looking into her husband’s eyes.

“I’ll think of the details. By daybreak, the cow must be in Puttanna’s yard. By the way, where is Acchanna’s house?” he asked.

“The house just next to Rama mandiram!”

“If so, I will be there by the time the rooster crowed. Pay him the money, and tell him to hand over the cow to Puttanna.”

“But, if I buy the cow with this gold …”

“Is there a better deed than that, Parvati! You told me about a magnanimous man on our first night. Youth is like a white horse in our lives. No doubt there is a pleasure in riding on it. Yet there is a great commentary in traveling with our eyes on an objective. Let us not fare like all others blinded by youth. Let us fare with greater good as our goal. You’ve convinced me that you will be my arthangi [half of oneself] in achieving that goal. The belief that our lives will be blessed has showed up in my mind,” he said, rearranging Parvati’s curls.

”What else can I ask for but walking in your steps and share an unwavering life with you?” Parvati said with boundless joy. Rammurthy drew her head towards his chest. Her heart clung to his soul like the dharma to sacrifice. Just then, the rooster crowed. She jerked. He laughed and held her tighter to his heart.

Puttanna and his wife stayed focused on their duty until the madhuparkaalu were delivered to the wedding party. That job was done. The weight in their hearts lightened. But they missed the cow most. Somehow they consoled themselves and fell asleep. The cow appeared in their dream. Puttanna heard the cow bellowing. He got with a jerk, pulled some hay from the top of his hut and took it to the tree in the front yard. He saw the empty pole standing sadly. His heart felt like it sustained cracks and a few pieces fell. He went in and lay down, could not sleep. Felt like the cow came, rubbed her face against his stomach, was asking him to scratch. He sat up suddenly. His eyes were piercing through the roof and the heart into the void. He remembered the words of the priest, “the children were sleeping without hiccups because of the milk, you had poured.”

Then followed the cries of the children, came haunting. He shut his ears tight and called, “Sita, Sita.” He told her about his feelings. “Why worry about the things past. We have to think about what is next,” she said. “Did God think of the things to come? All we can do is only to feel sorry for what happened,” Puttanna said and went out.

The beams on the east were spreading. Puttanna could not look at the pole, he bent his head. “Moo,” he heard the cow bellow. He thought that was also his imagination and looked up. The cow was standing under the ganuga tree. He ran to her, embraced her neck, called “Sita, Sita!, the cow freed herself and came back.”

“What do you mean ‘freed herself’? Wasn’t she tied to the pole as always?” she said.

Both of them were awestruck. Who would have brought and tied her to the pole? Maybe, she freed herself and was wandering on the streets. Probably a passerby saw that, being unaware it was sold, tied it to this pole.” Puttanna said and started wiping her horns with his uttareeyam. He felt like he had heard one horn say, “you taught us to sacrifice” and the second horn say, “How can we achieve your sanctity?” as he wiped them.

“It was time for milking. Let’s drive her to Acchanna’s home,” he said, untying the rope from the pole.

“We can take her there after letting her eat a sheaf of janapa,” the wife said.

“Let’s take the bunch also there. Babies’ parents might be there for milk,” he said. He untied the rope and started to walk with the rope in his hand. The cow did not move. “No other way. We have to hand her over,” he said. The cow started walking as if she had heard his words. She walked forward. Sitamma followed them, holding the janapa pack. They barely walked a few yards; they saw Acchanna. He said that Papayya’s son-in-law gave him money and so he brought back the cow and tied to the pole in their yard.

The couple looked at each other. “What do you mean he gave you the money?” asked Puttanna.

“Maybe it was a loan,” Sitamma said.

“We’ll turn in the cow and ask him. Let’s go,” Puttanna said and turned to Acchanna, “You keep the cow at your place, Bava!

“I’ve got the money in my bag,” Acchanna said.

Husband and wife brought back the cow and tied her to the pole under the ganuga tree, and went to Papayya’s house.

Papayya’s son-in-law was sitting on a plank, decorated with silver flowers and brushing his teeth. Next to him was a silver jug. The father-in-law was standing by the patio and was waiting just in case his son-in-law would say something; he was ready to respond if the son-in-law asks. Papayya’s wife came to the window, saw the son-in-law, pulled the sari palloo over her shoulders and smiled at her husband. He stuck out his tongue, meaning she should go in.

Puttanna and his wife came.

Bava! Showed up so early in the morning, what is the matter? Thinking of leaving my sister at her maternal home?” asked Papayya.

“Do I have to come if that is the case? My Peddamma used to say that no need of permission for daughters-in-law to go to parents’ home and for blackbirds to coo,” Puttanna said.

Papayya was tickled but did not laugh, reminding himself that his son-in-law was there. He cast a glance sideways at his son-in-law.

Rammurthy was about gurgle but could not control his laugh. He spit it out.

“Our Puttanna bava. He is the one that had made madhuparkaalu for you. Not just you, for any wedding, he is the one that supplies them but would never accept a paisa. He is that generous,” said Papayya.

“I know,” Rammurthy said.

“What I do is generous? What? Did I have temples built? Or, temple tops? Or had built chowltries? I came to ask your son-in-law a question,” Puttanna said.

“What is that?” Papayya asked, surprised.

“I sold the cow to Acchanna. Your son-in-law bought it and brought to my home back and left it in my yard.”

“Ha? Your cow?”

“Yes, I tied it in your place. I’ve got the education from you only. You sold it as your dharma. And I bought it for the same reason and brought it back to you. Can you say that it is wrong for us young people to learn about sacrifice and dharma?”

“I am not saying it is wrong. … But I am asking why donate the cow to a person like me? If you give it some family who has children, then you’ll reap the fruit but not to me …”

“I know, thatha. If you have the cow at your place, ten babies would be fed each day. If I give to somebody else, only their stomachs would be filled.”

“Probably that is true. Yet it is not right I should take the cow from you. I will give you an IOU.”

“You will write an IOU, thatha? You’ve given us madhuparkaalu for what IOU we have given you? Has ever been a time when you have given madhuparkaalu that can be settled with an IOU? These promissory notes have been put into place only because of lack of sense of cooperation and dharma. The god had signed one promissory note to the entire human kind, which said it is only fair that the haves should pay off the notes signed by the have-nots,” said Rammurthy.

Parvati, standing by the window, was listening the entire conversation. Puttanna stood there without uttering a word. The words spoken by his son-in-law sounded like a shower of nectar to Papayya. He was peeking into his son-in-law’s heart through that windows of his words. He thought it was his luck that he should get such a fine man as –son-in-law; “no, no, it was the good deeds my Parvati had done in her previous birth.”

“So be it, Thatha, think that that cow is not yours, you are its trustee. Keep donating the cow’s milk to the children in the village.”

Puttanna’s joy knew no bounds. “If that is my job, I would do it, dancing. They say there is plenty of goodness in helping the people in rank and file, and the service rendered to children is the same as service to God. If you give such work, anybody would accept it happily. Then, let me take leave of you. I do not know how to bow to you. Whenever you visit this village, you should come and visit me and the cow.” So saying, he walked two steps, turned around and said, “You are young yet have a good heart. The adage is one should live under the roof those who have good thoughts. I will stand by this patio up until you left. If you have any more good words, please let hear it.” He was ready to leave.

“Thatha!,” said son-in-law.

“What is it Babu! More good words occurred in your mind? Tell me, Babu.”

“Yes, I’ll tell you. How can be dearth of good words when I see you and your zeal? Listen, I am saying. I have plenty of wealth. My father-in-law signed of two acres of land per custom. Because he called it ‘gift’, I could not say no. I thought to whom should I gift it. Now I know. You are the great donor who had been giving madhuparkaalu to newly-wed couples. I will sign off those two acres of land to you. I call it madhuparkaalu trust. You keep weaving madhuparkaalu and giving to all the newly-weds in future, with the income from that land to pay for the madhuparkaalu.”

“That is a gift? Madhuparkaalu manyam? If I accept that, how can I call it service? No, I do not want it,” Puttanna shouted.

“Thatha, do not speak like that. However much you get from it, it would barely suffice for the yarn. Still there is plenty of work to put in to produce madhuparkaalu. Your pure soul is reflecting in your woof and warp. You are not only worshipping the idyllic weaving trade but also donating your labor. Yours is a great soul. It is only through people like you, our culture sustains its ancient form. Who else are patriots and thyagamurthulu[v] if not the supporters who are patronizing these professions; you are like beams of moonlight for the rural life. The village is like a tent of flowers and people like you are the flowers in it. Thatha! I will have the papers drawn this very day.”

Puttanna was chocked with pleasure and he stuttered. He had no words to say, went around in circles and finally said, “All right, babu. I will see you soon.” He ran to his home. The village accountant was also very surprised. He followed Puttanna.

Parvati, who was standing by the window, threw a marigold on to her husband. He turned around. “thyagamurthulu!” she said.

“Who’s taught me that?” he said. He poured some water from the silver jug into his palm and splashed it on her. Those water drops glimmered on her face like pearls of snow on lotus petals just blossomed.


For articles of Ravuru Satyanarayana Rao in Telugu, click here.

(I am grateful to Srimati T. Jnanaprasuna, author’s daughter, for sending me a copy of the Telugu original, madhuparkaalu. The story has been published originally in Krishnapatrika.

Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on, December 2009.)

[i] A pair of specially made garments for bride and groom to wear on their wedding day, usually given by bride’s parents as a gift..

[ii] The fifth month in lunar calendar.

[iii] Liquid mix of ground cereal crops for animals.

[iv] A ball of yarn, usually held together with a gold cap. It is used to finish the braid.

[v] Persons who make sacrifice for common good.

The Sculptor by Bommireddipalli Surya Rao

Gangayya woke up early in the morning, took bath, put on ash patches on his body, the kumkum dot on his forehead, picked the machete and stepped outside into the street. He was facing the only problem—must earn the day’s wages, and fill his stomach. There was nothing more he would ask for. But then, that was the toughest problem. He set out to find a solution for that one problem.

He felt a little cold, since it was winter and he did not have enough clothes to cover his wrinkled body. Suddenly he recalled his past in one sweep.

He was sturdy in his younger days. No matter how cold it was, he would wake up at four in the morning and take a bath with cold water. He never felt this cold. After a clean bath, he would put on the ash stripes on his arms and chest, say his prayers, and walk into the street leisurely, twirling his moustache while his red silk upper garment wavering in the wind. If somebody stopped him on the street and asked him “to where”, he would say that he was going to work either in a factory or at a building site. He did not just say it; he worked and proved to the world that he meant what he said.

One time, he got into an argument showed it to his opponent by building the entire mansion of an attorney in the city single-handedly. He could finish alone the workload of four men. When he removed his shirt and sawed the porch plank as his body glistened in the sun with beads of sweat.. The sinews cracked like a bamboo stick. He made two or three rupees by the end of the day.

Stupid money. He made one rupee if held a machete and two if saw. When he planed, any type of wood shone like a mirror. “When I planed, you can see your shadow on the plank. That I would call workmanship. Workers nowadays can do nothing,” Gangayya told himself.

Why say all that? He was watching his own son work. He had only one son and that too after long time. Gangayya strived hard to make the boy the best carpenter among all the carpenters in the entire region. But his wife fussed over him and spoiled him. Idiot! The son turned wicked. Mother started harassing; claimed the boy would come to his senses after marriage. So, Gangayya performed the son’s wedding. Right away, the son moved out with his wife. The old woman [mother] lost her sight as if she could not watch her son wandering away.

Now, Gangayya’s body was wrinkled and all the strength in it gone. His sight was failing too. It was getting harder and harder to live. The old woman was lucky; went away quickly. The son, on whom he pinned his hopes, was no good anymore; nobody to count on. He was lonely. For him, it would be enough if he could earn a quarter or a half-rupee. And even to earn that became hard.

Gangayya set his machete on his shoulder, and arrived at the Rama mandir, which stands at the four-way junction of the town. He turned towards the lord in the temple and said his prayers.

Just then, he saw Venkadu. He was skinny and tall, like the vegetable, drumstick. One could easily recognize him as Venkadu, even from distance. Gangayya pretended not to see him and took a turn and walked hastily. But then, Venkadu caught up with him, and seized Gangayya’s arm from behind.

“What is the matter, Gangayya? You’re avoiding me. Don’t you think you should repay the money you’d borrowed from me? Planning to call it off or what?”

“I’ll settle it, you fool! You stop me in the middle of the street for that tiny bit of a loan? What kind of a gentleman are you?”

“You mean whom? You or me? You came to me, begged me for that tiny bit of loan. If it is such a small bit, why don’t you give it back to me? Tiny bit, he says! Ha, tiny bit. Did I get it freely? Come on, pay it up,” Venkadu raised rumpus. Poor Venkadu was not a bad person. Who would want to throw away money though! “This is going on long enough. Put away your games, they don’t fly with me,” he said and snatched the machete from Gangayya’s shoulder.

Nayanaa, nayanaa. God bless you, please, let it go. If you take my machete, how can make money? I promise, I will bring your money by dusk,” Gangayya begged him,

A few people gathered to watch the bickering. They all felt sorry for Gangayya.

“What does he have to give? Why hold him?” said one man to Venkadu.

“No? What do you mean he does not have? He has to sit in the club and drink tea,” said Venkadu.

Sometimes Gangadu would sit in the club on the street leading to the city and pay one anna for a cup of tea. He did that when he had no money for rice. But for many people in the town, sitting in the club and drinking tea was a pastime. Gangayya did not like telling them that he was drinking tea only because he had no rice to eat. He implored again that somehow he would manage to settle the debt by evening, and for now Venkadu should let go of his machete. The people who gathered around got them to an agreement. Gangayya would get back to Venkadu with money by evening, and Venkadu would let go Gangayya for now.

Gangayya started to walk with his machete on his shoulder again. He must earn one quarter of a rupee today and pay back the loan. How could he get a work for one quarter in this stupid town? There were only four Brahmin homes, two or three homes of kshatriya, and business communities. Rest of the families belonged to kapu, golla, weavers, goldsmith, washer, haircutter, mala, and madiga castes. What kind of work they would have to pay a carpenter and get the job done? They were struggling for food themselves. How could they help others? Let’s say he would go to a kshatriya home. What could he find there? Their houses were big, no question. But they lost all their assets and they were barely making it themselves. All those mansions were disappearing fast enough and they were living discreetly. The tiles were falling off from the roofs. And the walls were cracking, causing plants to grow from the cracks. Alas, that was their state of affairs. The only hope was in the Brahmin homes. There is proverb: Go to the Brahmin’s colony, if you have nothing else to do. They could give a chore anybody who appeared at their door. They would want you to work for them but squirm to pay though. If you beseech, they might give you food or gruel. But Gangayya needed some money to pay off the debt and some more to fill his stomach. Today he must earn two quarters, but how could he? Obviously, it would not possible in this town. He should go to the city, which was three miles from his town. Would it be possible for him to walk three miles, work there and bring back his earnings? It was already quite late in the day. He told himself to go to the Brahmin homes and try first and proceeded.

He could find no work in the first three homes. He went to the fourth house. He felt the winter sun prickly on his skin. Gangayya was exhausted. He squatted on a nearby patio, hoping to rest for a while. His stomach was empty since last night. He was hungry. Gangayya could not think straight. There was no thought, none whatsoever in his head. Whenever he thought, he thought only about himself. There was blistering fire in his stomach. He should put something in it. That was all he was thinking—the only thought on his mind. Nothing else mattered to him.

At a distance, a few people gathered under a neem tree. Nothing in particular. A sheep was slaughtered. That was it. They peeled off the skin, and hung from the tree within their reach, sliced the meat and doled out their portions. Each one of them took their share of raw meat in a banyan leaf and was on their way home. One of them took the head and another man its legs. The tanner came to take the skin and begged for a bit of the meat. Gangayya kept watching the scene keenly. It was quite sometime since he had a taste of meat. One must eat the sheep’s meat! What a taste! His mouth watered. The meat distribution came to an end after ten minutes. All of them were gone.

Gangayya got up, and slowly went into the house and stood in the hallway. Somebody was sleeping in the bedroom on the west side.

“Amma, Narasamma garu!” Gangayya called. Narasamma was in the kitchen. She did not come out but Kantamma, the daughter-in-law, came from the next room.

“Gangayya, you are here, for any reason in particular?” she asked, as she sat down on a cot in the sun and started unbraiding her hair.

“Nothing in particular, Amma. Wondering if you have any job for me?” Gangayya said, came into the room past the hallway, and sat down.

“Oh, no. We don’t have any work in our house. Did you not go to other places?”

“No, amma. I did not go anywhere. Nothing to do since yesterday. Tell me, amma, if there is anything to be done. I will do it.”

“No, nothing to do in our house.”

“What do you mean? Why say no work. Please, call the old lady. You may not know,” Gangayya said, scrutinizing the cots in the yard, just in case any of them needs fixing. He told himself, “There are four young boys in the house. Not one of them breaks a cot.”

“Amma, Narasamma garu!” he called again. Narasamma came from the west side room. She was her daughter-in-law sitting in the sun and said, “What is that, Amma, sitting in the yard? Winter sun is not good for the body. Go, sit in the porch.”

Kantamma stood up and went into the porch.

“Gangayya, what is new, you came here?” Narasamma asked.

“Nothing, Amma. Please, let me have a sip of coffee,” Gangayya said, leaning on the pillar. Hunger was chewing him up.

“That is good, naayanaa, coffee at this time of the day? We are done eating dinner,” Narasamma said.

“Are you crazy, Gangayya? How can we have coffee at this hour?” Kantamma said, staring at the hair that stuck to the comb. Then she said to her mother-in-law, “Look, Attayyaa, how I am losing hair.”

“Yes, you are not taking care of it. You are just three weeks pregnant. And you are already everything as you please. Don’t you have to eat proper food? Don’t you have to take care of your body? You know you are not a child,” Narasamma reprimanded her.

Kantamma did not understand the relevance between falling hair and eating right but kept quiet.

Gangayya was dozing. He thought, “These people are worried about losing hair while here I am losing my life. Stupid hair. Who cares if it is gone. Why not let it go, saves oil at least.

Narasamma looked at him. “Probably the fool is hungry,” she said to Kantamma.

Kantamma laughed.

“Gangayya, Gangayya,” Narasamma called.

“What? Coffee?” Narasayya woke with a jerk.

“No, no coffee. There is some leftover rice. Want to eat?”

“Ccha. What kind of question is that? Up until now, in all my life, I never had even sip water except in the house of my own caste. I am from a man of my caste. How could you suggest that I eat yesterday’s gruel in your house?”

“Enough of that confounding caste. Come over to the backyard. Sit by the well and eat. Nobody is going to know about it,” Narasamma said.

Kantamma laughed aloud. “Why wouldn’t eat, Atta. In this village, they all eat even meat, I heard.”

“Ccha, I swear on Veerabrahmam, Amma. Maybe some casteless idiots ate but you cannot say the same about everybody. Nice way to say that.”

“That’s fine. I will give you a job. Finish it, and eat and lie down on the porch,” Narasamma said.

“Good. Tell me, what is it?” he picked up the mettele.

“Oh, no. Nothing to do with mettele. Day after tomorrow we are going to have the naming ceremony for our baby.

“Do you want me to make a cradle? Any baby, who sleeps in the cradle I had made, will become a great man. All the children of the inspector in the city slept only in the cradle I had made for them. See how great they had become—one of them is a lawyer, another tahsildar, and yet another is in some very big job. That sweet mother says even now that ‘Ganga, it is all in your blessed wrist.’ When one works, the wages are not going to stay for ever but the name does.”

“We don’t need any such work at this point. There is a little job. Can you do it?”

“Tell me, amma. For an expert, no job is impossible.”

“Day after tomorrow, we are going to have barasala for our grandchild. Pick a few coconuts from the tree.”

“What? You want me to climb a coconut tree? I can’t. You will have to call the tree-climber.

“Nayaanaa, nayannaa, please, do me this favor. That idiot has gone to his mother-in-law’s home. He will not be back for another ten days, I was told.”

“Amma, you are asking me to climb a tree. That is not my vocation.”

“Babuu, babuu, I will pay you two annas. Monkeys are ravaging the fruits. And the naming ceremony is coming up in two days.”

Gangayya was tempted. A bowl of rice would fill the belly nicely. It would taste great with a pickle on the side. A wad of meal now would help him to go even without water for rest of the day. The old woman also promised two annas cash. That would get him a cup of tea tonight and the next day as well. Oh, no. What about Venkadu’s loan? Well, he would worry about it later, after receiving the two annas from the old woman.

“Okay, amma. Let me have a wad of rice.”

“Why don’t you first pick a bunch of coconuts? You can eat later. If you eat now, you will lie down and rest. After that, no way you would pick the fruits. After all, it is only a five-minute job,” Narasamma piqued him. She thought, “Yes, of course, I would have to be strict with him. Or else, the idiot would not go up the tree. On needs to be skillful in getting work done by idiots like him.”

“At least, let me have a little buttermilk,” Gangayya said.

Narasamma went in, returned with a can of buttermilk and poured into his glass. Gangayya finished the pot of buttermilk, burped loudly, went into the backyard and stood under the coconut tree. The tree was tall, and smooth like a pillar. “To hell with this tree. See how tall it is,” he told himself. Gangayya never accepted defeated when it came to job on hand. He had lot of trust in his own abilities.

He put on the rope on his feet and the waist, and started climbing the tree. He put the ax on his shoulder since he did not have the right kind of knife to cut the coconuts. He was not used to this kind of work. It was hard at first. But there is nothing impossible for those who are stubborn. He reached the top and cut a few fruits.

Narasamma, waiting on the ground, picked them and put them in a basket. And then, she shouted, “these are enough. Come down.”

Gangayya was exhausted. He was thirsty. He stopped for a split second and looked around. He could see the entire village. He could see the fields and silos at a distance. Farmers, sitting on the lakeshore, were eating gruel. Gangayya remembered the warm food and pickles. That was it. His eyes went dark. He could see nothing—the village, the fields, silos, nothing. He screamed, “Oh, ammaa!”

His head rested on the rock on the ground. His face was peaceful. He did not let go of the ax in his hand. Gangayya died. However, Gangayya was a creator. What is death after all for a creator?


(The Telugu original has been published in bharati monthly, April 1953.

Translated by Nidadasvolu Malathi and published on, April 2009)

Dr. Utukuri Lakshmikantamma by Nidadavolu Malathi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Andhra kavayitrulu. 2d ed. 1980.

Kaanti sikharaalu. 1978.

Kanyakamma nivaali. 1978.

Oka chinna divve. 1980

Naa Telugu Manchala. 1981.

Sahiti Rudrama. 1993.

Saraswati saamrayja vaibhavam. 1988.

Other works:

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

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


Complete list of her works:

Works by Utukuri Lakshmikanthamma.


Andhra Kavayitrulu. 1953

Akhila Bharata racayitrulu. Sahitya Akademi, 1963

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

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

Devi stava taravali [Verses praising Devi]

Jathi pitha [Father of the nation]

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

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

Kanti sikharalu. [Devotional songs]

Mahila ikrama suktam

Mana sahiti madhu bharati [Ballad]

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

Okka chinna divve [A Small lamp, poems]

Naa Telugu Manchala [Manchala, My Telugu hero]

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

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


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


Saraswati samrajya vaidbhavam. [One act play]

Sahiti Rudrama [Autobiography]



Korala madhyana koti swaragalu

Chikati rajyam.


Unpublished books

Story of Chandramati [Children’s book]

Sahitya vyasa manjari [Anthology of literary essays]

Rutambari [Prose ballad]


Molla Ramayanam

Vishnu parijata yakshaganam


Prefaces for over 1000 books

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

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