Chataka Birds part 22

Part 22

Ma.Te. meeting was arranged in a well-known hotel. Reputable writers, politicians, businessmen, were musicians were invited to the function. An actor, who had received the President’s award, was special guest. The local mayor was to be honored for his impeccable services to the community and contribution to promoting cultural diversity. Nearly one hundered participants from other countries such as Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Great Britain, and India. A few other Indians, who were in the U.S. for reasons of their own, also attended the meeting. Then there were a few others, who were visiting sons, daughters, granddaughters, and relatives. For those days, the meeting site looked like a mirror site of Andhra Pradesh, with all the humdrum of a wedding ceremony at a rich man’s house.
On the first day, after idli and vada breakfast, the priest from Pittsburgh temple, inaugurated the event with Ganesh puja, broke the coconut and finished with aarti. A famous singer from Chennai sang the Indian national sang and local high school cheerleading team sang American national song.
The Mayor praised the contributions of the Indian professionals to America. The president of Ma.Te. expressed his gratitude to the Mayor for his services to keep the community safe. He presented the Mayor with a memento and an ivory elephant. The Minister for Education, India, admired the contributions of the NRIs to various organizations in India and requested for their involvement in making India great. The morning session concluded with thanking everybody and announcing the lunch location.
In the afternoon, various sessions were held in various rooms. There was a pamphlet describing the locations and topics. Lately, one name had stuck out among writers for her radical feminist ideas. A young, aspiring poetess called Durbhara, meaning literally unbearable, was the main attraction for many, Geetha observed.
Authentic Andhra dishes were served at lunch. A few guests found the arrangements were not authentic enough, but nobody paid any attention to them.
The afternoon started at 2:00 in various rooms. The room that got the biggest audience was 105, where Durbhara read her poetry. It was full of atrocious, ferocious words with a few scathing comments about the evils of male domination and their oppression by men. Then she switched to the offensiveness in literature, in temple sculpture, classical songs, and what not. She went on giving examples, but no analysis or interpretation. Some of the audience looked at each other, as if asking what she was talking about. Some kids with minimal Telugu language skills were asking their parents what she was talking about. Parents avoided answers and escorted them out to another room. At the end, the rest of the audience enjoyed it fully and clapped enthusiastically.
In the next room, where Anantham garu was speaking on nuance in modern Telugu poetry was scheduled. Most of the room was empty, a sharp contrast to the room where Durbhara delivered her juicy poetry.
Earlier, at the dining table, Geetha had a chance to meet her favorite poet, Anantham garu; it was an unexpect boon for her.
She said politely, “I had read your stories during my high school days. I liked them a lot.”
Anantham garu smiled. “I am surprised you remembered my stories, and even more so, you recognized me.”
“Of course, I remember you. Everybody remembers you. As they say, good stories are timeless. This group invited you because they remember you, isn’t it?”
Anantham garu shook his head, a gesture hard to interpret. Geetha did not know how to take it.
“I haven’t seen your stories in any magazine for sometime now. Did you stop writing?”
“If you mean you have not seen my name in magazines lately by saying ‘stop’, I would say yes. But, a creative mind never stop; it continues to work, nonstop.”
“Alright, I will rephrase my question. Tell me why you are not publishing your stories.”
Anantham garu laughed again. “Are you interviewing me?”
Geetha said sorry and continued, “Not that, sir. I miss discussing the stories of those times, I mean, particularly, your generation writers here. I truly enjoyed your stories. I went to great lengths to find them. I also wanted to meet you. So, now I’ve gotten the opportunity, how can I pass?”
“Alright. Ask. I came because they have invited me, but I don’t see anybody seriously interested in my writings. Now, I see you are interested, how can I pass? Ask,” he said, smiling.
“What do you mean? They invited you only because they respect you, isn’t it?”
“Seriously? Look around.”
Geetha looked around. All the guests dispersed into small groups. At the center of each group, there was a political persona, a movie star, or a business magnate. Some young writers, wrestling with some kind or other of ‘isms’, were trying to make their way into stardom. Obviously, writers, who wrote honestly would not get the kind of attention those politicians, movie stars, and so forth were getting. Geetha understood that. She also saw that Anantam’s eyes wandered, stopped on Durbhara for a second, and turned to Geetha. Durbhara was surrounded by a huge crowd.
“I am just confused with so many gurus and Babas nowadays. Which stories you would say illustrate cultural values?”
“You are right. There are so many interpretations of cultural values, to start with. In my opinion, any story that illustrates human values, which are cherished regardless of times and places. I don’t mean rehashing the hackneyed phrases like ‘Rama was a great ruler,’ and ‘Harischandra was a veracious king.’ In recent times, fiction is submerged in aggressive and combative spirit. It has become normal to attack a prominent person or caste or some ideology as evil, mostly to vent personal grudges or to draw attention. Some critics even considered it an admirable quality. Those writers are receiving awards now.”
“Are you saying the stories written about social equality and justice, or illustrating injustices in society, do not stand the test of time? Are they momentaneous?”
“No, I am not saying that. Literature has certain bounds. In a street fight, people spew bad words, which are not acceptable in polite society. For instance, the same person who gushes forth expletives in public might not use the same words in front of his parents or grandparents. Now, some writers are using them in stories; they call it being realistic. Another way to bring about the same effect is by indirect means and descriptive phrases. That is why our ancient sages had created Alankara Sastra, the science of figures of speech. That is what distinguishes literature from life. Literature must reflect not the society, per se, but also a mode of thinking that provokes thinking that is beneficial to the society. I should say, particularly the people who are vulnerable and need a direction.”
“Let’s take an example of crude language. I think it started with Digambara kavulu, who made a point of harsh, impolite language, to incite the public into radical thinking. Can you justify their poetry in that context?”
“No, I can’t. To be frank, they have used some figures of speech in it. In my opinion, they appear to be following the adage, ‘remove a thorn with a thorn.’ They believed that when a malaise eats up the country, the medication needs to be strong. The more critical the malaise the stronger the dosage; more like a shock treatment for an intense healthcare problem. In my opinion, a good writer understands the issue on hand, scrutinizes keenly, and presents several angles of the issue in a cogent and appreciable manner so readers will have a chance to absorb it, contemplate on it, and draw their own conclusions. It need not be repulsive. If writers want to incite people to action, they need to give people the ability to think about their responsibility and make their own decisions, not decide their responsibility for them. But, the theories, as shown by writers, do that, decide for the people. They write to promote their own convictions; those writings are monolithic and devoid of plausible reasoning.”
Geetha tried to understand his logic. She could not absorb his thoughts fully. “So, are you saying there is no merit to her writings?”
“You are asking me about the abusive language in her writings?”
Geetha looked toward the room in which Durbhara was delivering her highly charged speech. The room was crowded. All the chairs were occupied. A few were standing by the walls.
Anantham continued, “I do not believe that you can cleanse the evils in society by cursing and raising a rumpus. There have been such writers in all generations. In the 30s, Chalam did it. In the 60s, Digambara kavulu did it. Did those writings have any impact on society? Has the society changed? No. If it had changed, there would be no more need to write such poetry again. Those writings served only one temporary purpose; that is causing readers to get excited, to overreact, or be disgusted. Beyond that, nothing happened. The writings did not survive the test of time, but remain a topic for discussion among scholars. But, I believe they cannot bring about the change in people’s actions and mode of thinking. In our literature, suggestion and indirect communication are significant parts of literary style. A writer expects readers to recognize the underlying meaning, contemplate on it, and enjoy the beauty of it, Readers may even come up with new ideas. The kind of language Digambara kavulu and Durbhara are using has only momentous shock value. Eventually, the shock wears off, and there is nothing for the reader to think about.”
Geetha looked around and said, “Oh, no. Everybody has left. Let’s go into the verandah. We can sit there and talk. There is one more question I have to ask you.”
Both went into the verandah and settled on the chairs in a corner. “I would like to know your opinion on women writers. You know they had enjoyed phenomenal success in the 1950s and 60s.”
“I think they have done a wonderful job within the purview of their abilities. From what I’ve seen, one general comment is, those writers did not have social consciousness. I don’t agree with that perspective. They wrote about everyday family-oriented problems. Those families included mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents, and grandchildren. They have portrayed their lives and did so in a simple, straightforward language. Those stories and novels were successful because the readers could relate to them. I don’t see anything wrong with that. Let’s what male writers wrote about. Male writers did the same too. Lawyers like Ra.Vi. Sastry wrote court stories and doctors like Venugopala Rao wrote stories based on his experiences as a doctor. We don’t have to hold it against them. If we have to hair-split, I will add that, women’s works were subjective to some extent while men’s writings were sociological. I am not saying this distinction is rigid. There is a crossover, like in any other field. To understand our society fully, we need both perceptions and interpretations.”
“What do you think of style in women’s writing?”
“That is an important question we need to address. It started during the British rule, but lately, it has reached an untenable level. In the past 3 or 4 decades, our critics became addicted, I can’t think of any other word, to Western critical theories and started evaluating Telugu writings by their standards. They have forgotten that we have a different cultural values, traditions, and customs. They forgot that, basically, our literature flourished in oral tradition. Our women writers literally “told” the stories, meaning they wrote like the readers in front of them. That is one of their strongest suits. They did not lecture, like some of our elitist male writers are doing. They did not seek to be teachers or preachers, especially because women writers of 50s and 60s were not familiar with Western literature, which turned out to be both a boon and a curse.”
“Thank you, sir. I have learned a lot from you today. I am so glad I came to this meeting. Seeing you and talking with you is worth it,” Geetha said, getting up to leave.
“I am glad to meet with you, too. This is not a common occurrence for me anymore, you know,” he said, smiling. He was thinking of the days when readers were eager to speak with him.
Geetha took leave of him and looked around for Hari. Several attendees split into small groups and were discussing current affairs in various fields. A few feet away, she saw a gentleman pacing; he looked familiar. He was a well-known movie star. Two decades back, his fans adored him. Had this been in India, they would have crowded around him and suffocated him. Today, he was pacing up and down the verandah, and nobody seemed to mind him. Geetha could not help but wonder how the times had changed. Like Hari would say, the power of location!
The secretary announced that there would be a dance program by a child prodigy from Chennai. He said she had been giving performances all over the world and received accolades; she had shown her dancing skill even at the tender age of two and given her first performance at five.
The dancer walked on to the center of the stage. She had a charming countenance and looked dazzling in alluring attire and brilliant jewelry.
Geetha and Hari sat in chairs close enough to the stage to get a good view. People around them were watching zealously. A woman next to Geetha was praising the girl non-stop. She was so cute; her dance was beyond this world; she was almost like the dancer from heaven, and so on. Geetha said, “Yes, she was beautiful,” and the second time, she said, “Yes,” and then, she could not keep up with the lady anymore. “You know her?” she asked. The lady went into a rapture, “Oh, yes, she is one of us.”
“She is a Kamma girl.”
Geetha was aghast. She coughed and got up to get a sip of water. There were a few small groups engrossed in heated discussions, such as who should be the next president, whose nomination would benefit whom, and where the next conference should be held. Geetha was amused to see them so intensely involved in the discussions; it was like their decision could change the course of Sun and Moon.
“Let’s give it to the South,” one of them suggested.
“How can we give it to them? The local president married a Brahmin woman,” somebody raised an objection.
“So what? He leans toward our plans. He respects Godavari Naidu’s word.”
“He may even bring Brahmin support to our association,” added another member.
Geetha spotted Hari at a distance. He was waving at her. In that moment, she felt like God Hari himself appeared in front of her. She quickly walked toward her husband. Hari said goodbye to his friends and joined Geetha.
Both of them walked toward the Art Exhibition hall. Artwork by reputable Telugu artists, Pydi Raju, Damerla Rama Rao, and Bapu, were hanging on the walls, reminding viewers of Telugu people’s artistic excellence. Geetha spent hours viewing those pictures. She was overwhelmed; for the first time since he had arrived in America, she felt the pride of her heritage.
The following day, she attended a few sessions again. Hari introduced her to several of his friends.
In the evening, entertainment followed dinner. Geetha lost interest after last night’s experience. Hari persuaded her, telling her that night’s show was by youth, who were born and raised in America. She might learn something about how some children have overcome and kept our arts alive.
She followed him half-heartedly, but was not disappointed. First, four children sang classical South Indian music impressively. The second item was a Bharatanatyam by a young woman and a young boy. They performed the Lord Siva and Parvati dance. It was awesome. Then, four children performed a play called Bhakta Prahlada, in which, a child prince proves existence of God to his non-believer father and king. Geetha was more than impressed. She could not believe that all these kids practiced and gave such an impressive performance. People talk about pressures. What about these kids? How did they manage school and peer pressure, not to mention the pressures from parents to succeed in society?
At the end, a young dancer, a student of renowned Kuchipudi dance guru, Vempati Chinna Satyam, performed. Geetha learned that the dancer was a medical student and learned dance from her Guru Chinna Satyam by traveling to India during the holidays.
“I am glad I came,” she said to Hari.
“Yes, we should give it to them. These kids are amazing,” he said. He knew what a tremendous pressure their parents would have put on those kids.
“I wouldn’t have believed there is so much talent in our kids here in America, had I not seen it with my eyes,” she said. “You are right. There is a lot I need to learn.”
“And unlearn.”
“What do you mean?”
“You have to, we all have to, overcome the misconceptions about America, American lifestyle and American mode of thinking.”
“I guess,” she said, heaving a deep sigh.

(November 21, 2022)

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