Editing My Translation: My Struggle for a Perfect Translation

“There is always room for improvement” is a common precept among the elite.
Does that mean there is no such thing as a “perfect translation”? That may be true. But, in reality, we have to stop somewhere and say, “I am done. This is my best version.” I arrived at that juncture regarding my translation of my novel, Chataka Birds, A Story of Immigrant Experience, and posted it on my website, thulika.net, recently.
That translation took me 11 months to finish. It is only 144 pages; should have finished it in 3 to 4 months. But, for a few months now, I was going through my old translations and found they could use editing. In the past one year, I became better aware of the little differences in sentence construction in English. My recent translation reflects those nitty-gritty details. So, I thought it would be a good idea to share my experiences here. You may know some of them. However, in view of some of the translations I had received, I thought I should mention them again.
Translating stories for readers from other states within India is different from translating for readers who are not knowledgeable of our traditions, customs, and intrinsic cultural values. In the latter case, translators should be aware of how readers from other cultures would receive the translation. They may not consider our jokes as jokes because of the cultural differences. What is normal for us may sound abnormal to them; or vice versa.
Let us start with changes in the content.
Possible changes needed/useful
In my novel, I made some changes in conversations, both in the conversations among Indians, and in the conversations between Americans and Indians. In the conversations among Indians, I diluted some lines that might sound awkward for those who do not know our culture. A story should not be treated as a sociology class. However, giving some information minimally does not hurt. One example is the use of relational terminology. I did not go into an elaborate description of the principles of how one addresses the other in our culture, but mentioned it is common in our culture to use the relational terminology to address others as a way of respect and in interaction with others. In America, people do not use terms like uncle and aunt the way we do; not even the words like brother and sister, except in close-knit groups and under certain circumstances. Translators should check if they are using the words in the correct context.
I like proverbs. I have used them in the Telugu version. Some of them are not really add to the content. So, I deleted them in the translation. In the past, I had given the Telugu proverb in footnotes, as some English-speaking Telugu readers asked for them. In a short story it was alright, but in a novel I found they increase the number of footnotes. So, I dropped that idea. My point is, while it is nice to cater to the needs of the students of English medium schools, it is also important to design the text to suit the primary target audience’s interests.
Even more intriguing are the relational terms like చిన్నన్నయ్య, మామయ్య, అత్తయ్య, తోడికోడలు etc.; they are hard to translate. చిన్నన్నయ్య would be younger older brother! Instead, I used the Telugu terms as proper nouns, with a footnote the first time it occurred in the story. So also, మేనరికం is a term I had to struggle with. Not only because the word has no equivalent in English, but also because the practice of the marriage between cross-cousins is not acceptable in the western world.
Culture-specific words like mangalasutram and pellichupulu needed some attention. I searched on the Internet to see if there are words in English already in use, before I coined my own terms. I found out that thali for mangalasutram is in use in English texts. Until now, I thought thali meant only a plate. For pellichupulu, I did not find a word in English. So, I used the same term, and gave a brief explanation in a footnote.
Sometimes, I put the explanation in brackets in the text itself. e.g. Pullareddy Sweets (A famous store in Hyderabad). That way, the need to go back and forth between the text and the notes would be less. My point is do not go overboard with footnotes. Too many footnotes would be frustrating; they ruin the joy of reading a good story.
Another major cultural difference is in the perception of privacy. Historically, privacy is not a moral or ethical value in our country. It may have originated from conditions such as living two or three generations under one roof. Population is a major contributory factor in developing cultural norms. In recent times, the western educated people are taking privacy seriously. However, the age-old practice kicks in even among the educated and so-called “cultured” groups. I tried to point out this anomaly in my novel. But, I also tried to water it down by using one character to provide an explanation. You are welcome to tell me whether I succeeded or not in my attempt.
Basically, I focused on giving more information on topics which non-native readers are not familiar with and/or have questions about. That includes customs, traditions, viewpoints, and misconceptions. I tried to illustrate the views or misconceptions which exist in both America and India without prejudice. Sorting out those notions and presenting them in a logical manner took plenty of my energy.
I checked on the Internet for grammar, sentence construction and vocabulary every step of the way. This is something I had not done before, and found it paid off richly. Also, another reason it took so long to finish it.
2. Editing
Having a good command of diction is only a first step. A good understanding of both cultures is important. One Telugu reader commented it was not proper for Geetha to receive suitcases from a stranger. In my opinion, that is a false sense of morality, and hypocritical to some extent. I would not take such comments seriously.
The translator is responsible for the language in the translation. Do not tell the magazine editor they may make changes as they please, and that you would not mind. It is not fair to the original author either.
It is not the editor’s job to correct or make changes. Also, every translator has their own vocabulary. Only the translator knows what he/she intends to interpret the author’s view by using a suitable word or phrase. This is particularly true of linguistic variations and sentence construction. Editor’s understanding of the story, if he reads, may be different from yours. Thus, editor’s attempt to change can mess up the entire translation.

3. Grammar and spell check.
I must admit that my translations are not perfect, despite my long record of translating work. In my early translation adventure, I used to ask my American friends for their advice. I found something interesting in the process. What one reader considered a mistake was acceptable to another. Thus, I realized that there are always going to be variations because of individual reader’s perception and education; that I might not get a perfect version ever.
I was not aware at the time, but now I found some free software on the Internet for checking spellings and grammar. They are not perfect, but were helpful in double checking my text. Check thesaurus also helped a lot. Everybody has his or her own vocabulary. That might not be enough. Each word has a slightly different connotation. I check thesaurus regularly for the word, which suits best in a given context. It never hurts to double-check if you are using the correct word in the context.
Finally, as the editor of my website, thulika.net, I would like to address a few issues from the editor’s perspective.
1. I mentioned it earlier. It is not proper to tell the editor they can change the text as they please, and that you have no objection. Here is why:
a) The editor may not have read the original in Telugu. Even if he did, his understanding of the story may not be the same as yours. That requires the editor to compare the original to your translation, and rehash the translation as needed. That is as good as doing the translation himself.
b) Every person has his own vocabulary. The words he uses may not be in your vocabulary (personal dictionary), and that could lead to misinterpretation of the original. That goes for the colloquialisms, too.
c) It simply is not the editor’s job. You have undertaken the translation; it is your job to prepare a good translation to submit.
2. Language. Be consistent. Formal, informal, scholastic, colloquial, urban – whatever you choose, be consistent. Using colloquialisms, acronyms, abbreviations, buzzwords, like sis or bro, may not work well in a translation. We are not Americans and no point in pretending to be.

4. Footnotes and formatting.
I never thought I would have to say this, but, after seeing some submissions from highly educated writers, some even with doctoral degrees, fumble on footnotes and formatting, I thought I would mention it.
There is a difference between notes and footnotes. Notes would work when the translation is 3 or 4 pages long. For a longer translation, footnotes is a better choice. Consider it from the standpoint of a reader having to scroll back and forth. If you are providing notes, put the numbers in brackets following the word for which the note is meant.
Formatting is important, irrespective of who your audience is.
a) Paragraph breaks. Insert a space between paragraphs. In conversations, each dialogue is a paragraph.
b) Double-check where two words are hyphenated and where two words become another word independently. For example, copyright is one word, not two words. Whiteman could be a proper name, but a person of the white race is a white man, two words.
c) Capital letters, Italics, and Bold have different connotations. Do not use them as you please. Check on the Internet, if you are not sure. Using italics for more than 2 or 3 sentences is not a good practice.
Last, read a few English short stories, paying close attention only to the formatting. Trust me, it improves your translation immensely.
Translation guidelines.
DownloadableEditiing a translation, my struggle(1)

Nidadavolu Malathi
February 8, 2023.

Telugu Women Writers, 1950-1975, An Analytical Study

The Telugu Women Writers achieved a phenomenal success in the first quarter of the post-Independent India. This book examines the historical, familial and sociological conditions which contributed to their never heard before success.
This book has been published originally in 2008. The current version includes several revisions, based the new information which came to my attention.
– Nidadavolu Malathi.


Review by Veluri Venkateswara Rao here

Malathi Nidadavolu
January 25, 2023

Lead me to Light! by Vasireddy Sitadevi.

“Is that Gopalam? Why are you walking away as if you’ve not seen me?” Rama Sastry called out.
Gopalam was startled. He was lost in his thoughts; did not pay attention to whereabouts. He turned around and saw a vague outline, short, stout, and rounded as if three balls were stacked up. The man who addressed him was of fair complexion and wore no shirt. He wrapped a green silk shawl around his shoulders, and his tummy was peeking through its folds. He wore a dhoti up to his knees, lion-headed bracelets on his hands, and big red dot on his forehead. Gopalam felt like laughing but did not.
“You’re looking at me as if I am a stranger. What’s new? How is father?”
“Oh, no, no. I got distracted; thinking of something. Yes, father is fine. He talks about you sometimes.”
“I’d like to see him. I’ve been so busy lately, no time at all.”
“Of course, I understand. I’m sure you’ve heard about our conditions at home after father’s retirement,” Gopalam thought.
Rama Sastry was a well-known priest. So, he would get calls for all festive occasions in the houses of high ranking officers and ministers. He had no match in drafting horoscopes. He made good money and earned some clout in social circles. All his children recieved good education and landed good jobs.
“How is father’s health? Are you done with your schooling?” The concern in his voice sounded unnatural.
“Father’s health is not good. I finished B.A. in first rank. I’ve been trying to get a job for the past six months. That is one more worry for father,” Gopalam said sadly.
“What’s the point in worrying? Father knows that is the way life is; Why worry about such small matters?” Sastry’s face glimmered with his philosophy.
Gopalam was irritated. He wanted to tell Sastry to recall the life he had had when he first came to this town. At the time, Gopalam was just twelve. He could still visualize the day Sastry had been sitting there, looking desperate. Gopalam’s father had cheered him up.
“Wouldn’t there be problems for people who are knowledgeable about life?”
“Of course, there will be. But, does it help if you beat yourself up? Praptavyamartham labhyate manushyah. Devopi tam langhayitum na saktih,” Sastry said, with partly closed eyes and waving his hands in the air.
“I don’t know Sanskrit. Can you please tell me the meaning?” Gopalam asked, irately.
“Certainly, listen. It means man will receive whatever he’s supposed to receive. Even God cannot prevent that,” Sastry replied, submerged in the thought.
“Are you saying that whatever we’re destined to receive, will come to us on its own? And even God cannot do anything to change it?”
“That’s correct, Gopalam,” Sastry replied proudly and with a smile.
“That means God cannot save a man. So, tell me what is it that God can do?” Gopalam, smiling, asked him.
Sastry was baffled. He took out the gold-plated snuff box from his waistband and sniggrf a pinch. “Where’re you going?” he changed the subject.
“From zero to infinity,” Gopalam replied, watching Sastry keenly.
Sastry missed the sarcasm in Gopalam’s words. He burst into a laugh. “You speak strange, Gopalam. Where did you get this vocabulary?” he said and finished the rest of the snuff in his palm. He wiped his nose and hand on his shawl.
“And you? From where to where?”
“Me? I’m coming from the collector’s house. He got a son, the savior of his lineage, after four daughters. I drew up his birth chart. He is an extraordinarily fortunate boy. That is the chart, that’s the way one’s a chart should be. He’ll live ninety years; enjoy a royal life. Let’s go, we can talk on the way.”
Gopalam followed him without questioning whereto. Today, Gopalam did not want to let go of Sastry that easy. He set out without thinking where he would go to; just wanted to kill time. Thoughts about future were eating him up inside, like a bug.
“So, Sastry garu, you say collector’s son is a blessed boy. What if your chart were …” Before he finished the sentence, Sastry cut him and said,
“Oh, no, How could you say that! Are you questioning the chart I’d drawn?” Sastry’s voice was sharp.
“Maybe you’ve forgotten but you said the same thing about me to my father. You’d drawn an extraordinary chart for me, too. You’d written that I would attain a high status,” Gopalam said, staring into Sastry’s face.
“Yes, I said. Are you suffering hardships now? How much you’ve seen in your life that you should question my chart? Just watch. You will soon enough the Lady Luck comes to embrace you,” Sastry chided Gopalam.
“Lady Ill-Luck embraced me long since,” Gopalam mumbled, as if he was talking to himself.
Both of them kept walking silently. Gopalam asked, breaking the silence, “So, you’re sure that the collector’s son will live ninety years as you predicted.”
“Yes,” Sastry replied in calm and steady voice.
“What if the boy dies in a day or two?”
“No way that can happen. No matter how many dangers he encounters, he will live to be ninety,” Sastry said firmly.
“Then, Guruji, can you tell me what do people mean when they say akaala mrutyu?[1]
Sastry felt cornered. He pretended to be looking at something far away and not listening to Gopalam as kept walking.
“When time comes, nobody can evade death, that’s what you’re saying, right?” Gopalam was persistent.
“Yes. It has been prescribed in our texts, na kale mriyate kaschit praapte kale na jivati[2].
“That means if I am down with fever and am destined to die, even a million attempts to remedy me are sure to fail.”
“That’s true, my boy. What is in our hands? We are simply human. How can our attempts stack up against the decision of that inexplicable Lord?”
“But you took your sick son to Dr. Nair a few years back, why? I heard that you were down on your knees and begged him to save your son. You claim to know everything, yet groveled in front of another human, begged him to save your son’s life, why?”
Sastry was stuck like a rat in a cage.
udyoginam purushasimham upaiti Lakshmi. Boy, we must do the best we can.”
Gopalam broke into a big laugh. Sastry stopped walking.
“Keep walking. We can talk while walking,” Gopalam said, smiling.
Sastry thought, “There is nothing more stupid than debating these young fools. Modern day youth! Oh Lord Rama! The world is going to the dogs, no fear of god at all! What kind of education they are getting? Atheists are growing in number by the minute.”
“What’s it, Guruji? You are lost in a reverie. Look, the baby goat in the arms of that little girl, a charmer, isn’t it?”
“Yes, yes,” Sastry said, unable to figure out Gopalam’s approach.
“Let’s say that she is destined to die in six months per her horoscope. You’re saying nobody could kill her in the meantime.”
“As the proverb goes, even an ant will not sting without an order from Lord Siva.”
“All right. I’ll kill her right now while you’re watching. What can you say for that?” Gopalam looked into Sastry’s face. He thought this would dries up Sastry’s mouth.
Sastry’s face was lit up with a mix of smile and solemnity. “If she is destined to die today, Lord Siva would cause you to think of it,” he replied, and took a pinch of snuff and rubbed his nose with his palm. The sight made Gopalam feel sick in his stomach.
“You mean our brain makes us to act per our destiny.”
“Correct,” Sastry said zealously.
“That means our brain does not act independently; and man is not responsible for his actions. That means man does not have to account for his good and evil deeds. All the dharma sastras and legal canons, which stipulate rules, are meaningless, I suppose.”
Sastry continued to walk, looking around. He hastened his steps. Gopalam also hastened his pace. He said, “Sastry garu, I have a small doubt.”
“What?” Sastry growled.
“Man’s brain does not act independently but follows the lord’s command. If that is so, why does not God make all people do only good deeds?”
Sastry was upset. He was baffled for want of a good response. He asked, “Gopalam, Have you ever made the mistake of going to the temple?” He was disgusted.
Gopalam laughed a big laugh. “Why are you upset? You’ve not given me an answer to my question. Let it be. I’ll give you my answer to your question. I used to visit the Anjaneya temple along with my mother in my childhood days. Do you know why? For the prasadam.[3] I’d never been to any temple as an adult. My heart is still pure. There is no need for me to go to the temple and wash off my sins,” Gopalam spoke fervently.
“So, in your mind, all those people who go to the temple have committed sins?”
Gopalam was shocked by the ire in Sastry’s tone, stopped for a few seconds, and then, continued walking. He said, “I didn’t say that. But I do think that most of them are that kind. Some people go to have their wishes fulfilled, and a few others to have their hardships cleared. You tell me how many go there simply with a sense of devotion and only devotion?”
“How do you I know? You tell me that too,” Sastry said, stressing each word as he spoke.
Gopalam felt like laughing but did not; he pursed his lips tight. He was afraid of Sastry getting further annoyed. “Today, I’ve learned a very important lesson from you. I’ll remain grateful to you for the rest of my life,” he said, sounding casual. But Sastry noted a streak of sarcasm in it.
“What is that?” Sastry asked.
“The man who has sinned need not be afraid, nor he be afraid of god.”
Sastry stopped suddenly. He was surprised; he looked into Gopalam’s face for a second, and said, “Oh, Lord Rama, did I say that?”
“You’ve said it just a few minutes ago. You’ve said the brain is not independent and that it acts as preordained. Whether the lord made the man perform good or bad deeds, man need not be afraid of it.”
“I don’t know how to respond to atheists like you. We’ve believed our guru’s words. We never raised gawky questions like you are doing now,” he said, unable to come up with a better answer.
“Oh, no. We’ve come too far, while chatting. Come on, let’s go to the public gardens. We will sit there for a few minutes,” Gopalam said. He was feeling down; this would be good pastime, he thought.
“What for? So you could kill me with your questions?”
Gopalam giggled to himself.
Suddenly, they came across a dead body on a stretcher. The carriers were chanting ‘Hare Rama, Hare Rama’. Some of them looked sad. The dead man’s son was walking ahead with a pot on his head.
“Don’t walk in front of it, come here,” Sastry grabbed Gopalam’s shoulder and pulled him to a side. Then, he stood to a side, closed his eyes and prayed to the lord, “Oh Lord, may his soul be blessed with peace.”
Gopalam stood there watching Sastry. Several questions about life and death rose in his mind, “What is that life has and death does not have? How does the life’s inner stream, that has been alive up until then, dry up so suddenly? How does that consciousness freeze abruptly? The issues and hardships, which pervade life, do not exist in death. But, why is man afraid of death? Is it because he is afraid to imagine this world without himself in it?”
Sastry commented ardently, “Today is mukkoti ekadasi.[4] He must have done many good deeds to die on this day!”
“Sastry garu, you’re so happy as if you that attained status yourself,” Gopalam blurted and regretted it in the next second.
Sastry eyeballed Gopalam. Gopalam turned away, as if he did not notice Sastry’s displeasure. “So, Guruji, you believe those who died today would go to the heaven straight.”
The question threw Sastry into a spell of ecstasy again. “Yes, Gopalam, today all the doors to the heaven are open. One can go straight to the feet of Lord Vishnu.” Sastry closed his eyes partly and was overwhelmed by the heavenly beatitude.
“Then, Guruji, do you believe there is something called Atman?”
“What kind of question is that? There is of course Atman in this temporal body. Atman has no death; it is immortal. This body is like a shirt on our bodies. When the shirt is dirty, we’ll remove it and wear a new one. The Atman discards the decayed body the same way.”
“But sometimes it also discards a child’s or youthful body, how come?”
Sastry was furious; he knotted his eyebrows. “That’s because of their actions in their previous lives. Each one lives in this world only to settle the account, based on their good deeds or evil deeds in the previous lives, and then they goes back,” he said.
“Some people die as soon as they are born; they enjoy nothing. And then there are others who are born dead.”
Sastry’s was getting angrier by the minute. He kept walking without a word.
“You’re angry with me, I think.”
“What for?” Sastry said.
“May I ask one question?”
“Will you leave it there if I say no? Ask.”
“What does Atman mean? Will it be affected by the little annoyances the body suffers? Will the Atman also suffer along with the body?” Gopalam asked him, with a show of humility.
Sastry’s face reddened with irritation. “Way to go,” he told himself, his face was solemn.
“There is something beyond body, senses, heart and mind, and a manifestation of Truth, Beauty and Beatitude. That is Atman. Atman is a self-created bliss. It has no pain. Atman is simply another manifestation of the Lord. It will not be touched by the affliction the body suffers from.” Sastry went on a sermon.
“Is the Atman in you the same as the one resident in me?”
“Exactly. In you, me, and the Atman resident in all the animate things is the same one. It is a fragment of the Lord. Since it is covered by illusion, the Atman forgets its original form, and craves for corporal pleasures.”
Gopalam looked at Sastry while he was lecturing like a great philosopher. He smiled.
“What are you smiling about?” Sastry asked, annoyed.
“I am smiling at your arguments, which seem to cross each other out,” Gopalam replied with a smile.
Sastry felt like he was thrown on to a bed of burning coals.
“Come here, let’s sit on the bench,” Gopalam headed toward the park bench near the gate, without looking for Sastry’s response. Sastry followed him mechanically. His mind was hovering around Gopalam’s question. This nut had always been like this even from his childhood. There had been one incident when Gopalam was eight-years old.
Sastry was telling Gopalam’s father about somebody’s death. Gopalam sat on the floor and was cutting pictures from his picture book. He stood up and came near his father and asked him, “How do people die?”
“They just die, that’s all,” his father replied, not knowing how else to answer.
“What does it mean to die?” Gopalam asked again.
“Go to bed, you and your stupid questions,” his father yelled at him. Gopalam did not move.
“Dying means the life leaving the body,” Sastry replied.
“What do you mean by life leaving the body?”
“Life leaving the body means the person cannot talk or walk; he becomes stiff like the bat you play with. Then he is burned to ashes,” Sastry replied.
The little boy’s face was filled with fear and curiosity, one after another. “How does the life leave the body?”
“It flies away.”
“Does the life have wings like a bird?” Gopalam asked him, with surprise, and glaring at him.
“No. … Yes. …” Sastry was perplexed and did not know how to answer.
“Where does life come from?”
“From god,” Gopalam’s father replied.
“Where will it go again?”
“To the same god.”
“Will the god take it back himself?”
“Yes,” Sastry replied.
“Do the lives of people in Japan and America also go to the same god?”
“Yes,” Sastry said.
“Is the same God causing wars?”
“Does that mean god is not a good person?”
Sastry and Gopalam’s father stared at each other. A little puppy appeared in the front yard. Gopalam ran quickly to the puppy, forgetting everything else. That had happened long time ago.
Gopalam brought him back to the present with his question, “Guruji, what’s it? You seemed to have been lost in deep thought. You didn’t answer my question.”
Sastry returned to the present and thought, “I couldn’t answer your question on that day; and certainly not today.” He turned to Gopalam somberly and replied, “You say that my arguments are contradicting each other, right?”
“Yes, sir. On one hand, you’re saying Atman is a manifestation of beatitude and is independent; it will not be touched by ordinary problems and evil. At the same time, you’re also saying the Atman is shrouded by illusion, and thus, craving for carnal pleasures. How can the Atman, independent and a fragment of the Lord, be shrouded by illusion? Earlier, when we saw the dead body, you’d prayed for the peace of Atman. What is the point of praying for the peace of the Atman, if Atman is already a manifestation of Truth, Beauty and Bliss? You’ve also said the Atman would go straight to the heaven since he had died on the mukkoti ekadasi day. The Atman had already been a part of the Lord, where else would it go if not to Him? Better yet, life and death are only physical attributes of the body; that being the case …” Gopalam stopped abruptly, looking into Sastry’s face.
Drops of sweat were glistening on Sastry’s face, like pearls. His face turned crimson. He took the remaining snuff and snorted. Gopalam felt sorry for him. “He is senior, why bother him? He has his beliefs, why not leave him alone?” he thought. But the problem was such people would try to rub their beliefs on others and that’s what bothered him.
“Please, come to my house. Father is thinking about you,” Gopalam said, changing the subject.
“I’ll,” Sastry said, feeling relieved.
“Shall we go to the exhibition grounds? Today, a sixteen-year-old boy, doused in kerosene, will set himself on fire and jump into a three-hundred-yard deep well,” Sastry said, in an attempt to preempt Gopalam from reverting to the earlier topic.
Gopalam was surprised. He looked into Sastry’s face, “You have such interests too?”
“Just for fun,” Sastry laughed aloud. Gopalam could not understand his humor.
“That’s true. For many people, watching others in danger is a pleasure,” he said.
Sastry could not understand Gopalam’s comment; he frowned.
Gopalam continued, “Guruji, why do people get excited about watching things like boxing, circus, and or somebody standing amid lions and tigers, and poking at them? Why people want to watch them?”
“What do you mean why? That’s fun and pastime. Why do you consider it as watching people in danger?” Sastry was getting vexed with him.
“Don’t be annoyed with me. I am just asking. Why don’t the same people show the same enthusiasm, if it was playing with dogs or cats? But they buy tickets and go to watch someone jumping from a ten-foot-high structure? Why would anybody go there? What is special about it?”
“Don’t ask me what is special about it; say where is the danger in it?”
“Are you saying there is cruelty in wanting to watch these sports?”
“In a way yes. This is the proof to say that the humans evolved from beasts. Actually, you can see the animal qualities in human beings. In some, they are dormant. Man needs to satisfy his animal instincts.”
“I don’t know, Gopalam. I don’t understand your logic. Just tell me, are you going to the exhibition grounds or not?” Sastry asked.
Gopalam, by nature, was not interested in watching such shows. In his childhood, he could not watch the dommari girls tumbling on the top of long poles; he shut his eyes then. His friends called him a coward. But today, Gopalam was feeling down. Spending time with Sastry was a welcome pastime for him. “I’ll go with you, let’s go,” he said.
It was dark by the time Sastry and Gopalam reached the exhibition grounds. The entire area was splendid with dazzling lights. People were pouring in. Gopalam was surprised to find that the number of women and children to be higher than he had expected. He wondered why children should be brought to this kind of shows.
They both bought tickets and went in. People had filled the seats closest to the well. Gopalam did not like people gathering so early there either. In fact, he did not even like watching that spectacle. He wanted to see the young performer. Sastry’s eyes were looking for someone. They both kept walking and chatting. They saw a small crowd at a distance and walked toward the crowd. There were about ten to fifteen people gathered there, and a young boy in khaki knickers. He was zealously answering their questions. Sastry and Gopalam understood who the boy was. They both elbowed into the crowd.
Suddenly, a man with bushy moustache walked into the crowd and suggested to disperse. He saw Sastry, folded both hands respectfully and greeted him. Sastry’s face opened up like a fresh blossom.
“Sir, come on, come here. I sent for you earlier this morning,” he said. His name was Yadagiri. He was very happy Sastry had come to his show.
“Yes, I’ve got your message. I could not meet you in the morning. That’s why I came now,” Said Sastry.
“You should not have bought the ticket. Had I known I’d have come to fetch you personally.”
“No problem. This young man bought the tickets. He is a good friend of mine,” said Sastry. Yadagiri greeted Gopalam with folded hands. Gopalam also joined his hands in namasthe. Yadagiri escorted them and the boy away from the crowd. Gopalam was trying to figure out the connection between Sastry and Yadagiri.
All the four disappeared into the tent that was ten-feet away from the well.
“The reason I’ve sent for you is, I would like to perform the Satyanararayana puja at our new house the day after tomorrow,” Yadagiri said.
Yadagiri has been conducting the merry-go-rounds, lucky-dips, and other stunts, at village fairs and other places. He had entertained people in several ways and earned one hundred thousand rupees. He had a new house built. He invited Sastry for all the pujas and rituals. He was not afraid of hell but believed in god.
“Sure, I’ll perform the puja for you,” Sastry replied. He thought of the gifts he would get on the occasion. His eyes, however, were fixed on the boy.
The boy looked at Sastry with curiosity and joined both hands in reverence. The boy was fair-complexioned and chubby. His features were well-defined and attractive. In his eyes under the bushy eyebrows were splarkling with several hopes and ideas. A dark line over strong upper lip seemed to highlight his youth, and also was prepared to take over his body. The signs of childhood seemed to leave the charming face rather reluctantly.
Yadagiri left them in the tent and went away. He told them he would be back soon.
Gopalam’s heart shook at the thought that crossed his mind, “What if this boy died in the flames?”’
Sastry asked the boy with curiosity, “What’s your name?”
“Nagesh.” His voice sounded like a puff of wind came out of a broken bamboo stem. Gopalam was amused by the voice; the voice at that age would sound strange.
“How long have been performing this feat?” Gopalam asked Nagesh.
“This is the first time,” he replied.
“First time? Aren’t you afraid?” Gopalam asked again, pitying him and gazing keenly into his eyes. What a charming face; looked like he was educated.
“Afraid? Why?” Nagesh answered with a question and a smile. Gopalam thought if he had asked the emperor, Sikinder, who was on a mission to conquer the world, he probably would have answered the same way.
“Who taught you this act?” Sastry asked him.
“Nobody. This is our family vocation,” Nagesh replied.
“Are you saying your father also performed the same feat?” Gopalam asked him, anxiously.
“Yes. Not only my father but also his father and his grandfather were in the same business,” Nagesh answered with renewed enthusiasm.
“Is your father around?”
“No, sir. My father died while performing the act in Pune last year.”
Gopalam cringed and looked deep into Nagesh’s eyes. He could see nothing in the boy’s eyes; they filled with tears at the thought of his father.
“How did your grandfather die?” There was pain in Gopalam’s tone.
“My grandfather was also performing the same feat for a long time, and eventually died while performing.”
“And then, what about his father?” Gopalam’s concern was escalating. Sastry was tired of this line of questioning.
“He died of natural causes. He fell sick and died, I was told,” Nagesh replied with a smile.
Gopalam sighed. “You are aware of all this, and yet, are willing to perform?” Although it was intended for Nagesh, it sounded more like he was asking himself. He tried to look far into the future of Nagesh.
Nagesh broke into a hearty laugh. Gopalam looked at him, with a stupid expression.
“Sir, let’s say your father and grandfather had died at work in an office. Would you be scared to work in the same office?”
Gopalam did not know how to respond to that question. Surprised, he kept staring at the boy for a second.
“How can the two instances be the same? Anyway, why didn’t you learn the feat from your father?” This time, it was Sastry’s turn to raise the question.
“My father did not like my going into this profession. He did not even allow me to watch his performance. A couple of times, I sneaked in and watched him. Later he came to know about it and beat me up.”
“What did your father want you to be?” Gopalam asked him, curiously.
“He wanted me to go to school, study well, and take a good job.”
“What did you study?”
“I finished high school two days back.”
Both Sastry and Gopalam were shocked to hear his response.
“You’ve finished high school, and still want to pursue this profession. Why? Why don’t you find a job, as your father wanted?” Gopalam said.
Nagesh laughed a funny laugh, like a veteran thinker. He said, “Babu, you don’t seem to understand the situation. Nowadays even people with M.A. and B.A. degrees are scrambling for jobs. Who would give me a job, especially without a recommendation. Haven’t you heard of a recent incident? An engineer went for a lower division clerk position and the officer turned him down. Probably, the officer had a B.A. degree and got the job, based on recommendation from a politician. Possibly he was afraid to take a better qualified person under his supervision.” Blood shot to his cheeks as Nagesh spoke ardently.
Gopalam was surprised by the boy’s knowledge.
“So, after all that education, are you going to settle down in the same profession?” Sastry asked him.
Nagesh looked somber beyond his age. He was thinking quietly. And then his eyes flashed; the glow overtook the somberness in his face.
“No. I will study further, pass the I.A.S. exam and will become a collector,” he said, looking far into the horizon. The words sounded like he was making the decision for himself.
“You sure can become a great man, boy! Your face is radiating with signs of royalty. Look at that forehead, Gopalam. What a superior forehead that is!” Sastry said zealously.
“Sastry garu, read his palm,” Gopalam suggested.
Nagesh, out of curiosity, looked at Sastry, and then toward the almanac under his arm, and stretched his hand toward Sastry.
Sastry took Nagesh’s hand in his own, studied it, and said, “Vow, extraordinarily fortunate boy you are! You’re sure to become a collector. When you do, you must reward me with a pair of dhotis.”
Nagesh blushed. He opened his wallet, gave a five-rupee bill to Sastry, and touched his feet seeking his blessings. Sastry hesitated to take the bill for a second. He said no but took it anyway and stuffed it at the waist, next to his snuff box. Gopalam felt bad for a second. He looked at Sastry resentfully. Sastry was not embarrassed; he did not notice Gopalam’s resentment.
Suddenly, Gopalam got a brilliant idea. “Sastry garu, tell me how long he will live?”
Sastry examined the boy’s palm carefully and said, “No doubt, he will live eighty years, at least.”
“Pay look closely,” Gopalam asked him nervously.
“I did. See this line? Straight as an arrow. There is not even a single crossline. Anyway, Gopalam, you don’t believe in such things. Why now?”
“I feel like believing now,” Gopalam replied. On any other occasion, Gopalam would not have believed it. Now, haunted by several feelings, he wanted to believe, just for a change. He turned to Nagesh and asked him, “You said you wanted to pursue further studies. Can you afford it?”
“I am free for two months. I will perform during these two months and make money. Today’s earnings already reached five-hundred-rupee mark. I will get hundred rupees atleast as my share.”
“Who gets the rest of it?”
“Some of it goes to cover the expenses. Contractor Yadagiri garu and I split the net proceeds. He takes care of the arrangements.”
“After that?” Sastry asked.
“I’ll earn three thousand rupees atleast during these two months. The income is big since I am young. I have an older sister, and my mother is worried about her marriage. I will arrange her marriage. I will earn the money needed for my education by performing whenever I get a break from school,” Nagesh was talking with great fervor. Imagine several Niagara water falls that could make up for the outburst in Nagesh!
“But you did not learn this technique from your father. How could you perform? What if …” Gopalam’s voice registered a note of discord.
“I will not face any danger. Look here, a locket with Anjaneya swamy picture. My father used to wear it when he performed and so also my grandfather. You see, now I am wearing it. Nothing is going to happen to me,” so saying, Nagesh unbuttoned his shirt and showed them a palm-sized copper locket hung around his neck by a black thread. It contained a distinct picture of Anjaneya holding up the sanjiva mountain in his palm. Nagesh brought the locket up to his eyes humbly, let it down on his chest, and buttoned up his shirt again.
Sastry looked into Gopalam’s face pompously.
“What about the day your father had died? Did he not wear it?” Gopalam asked him. The question enraged Sastry very much.
“No, he didn’t. He had forgotten it. That morning my mother had polished it with tamarind mush and worshipped it. My father forgot about it and went away. My mother talks about it and weeps every day.”
“Even if that is the case, I am sure that locket alone is not enough to save you. I am sure there are some guidelines specific to the feat, and the clothes also might be of a specific kind. Why don’t you ask your mother about them?” Gopalam suggested; his heart was sinking.
“My mother does not know about this. I told her that I was going to visit a friend in Hyderabad. Had she known, she would never let me go, not on her life,” Nagesh replied, peeking through the tent.
Gopalam became nervous. He said, “It’s not a good idea for you to perform without proper training and knowledge of the art. Postpone it for today. We’ll figure it out later.”
“How is that possible, Babu?” Nagesh said wistfully.
“Why not? Just return their money to the audience. We can ask the contractor to explain them that you fell ill,” Gopalam suggested.
Sastry cut in quickly, “Do you think this crowd would let go of Yadagiri alive, after all this humdrum? Anjaneya swamy is blazing forth splendidly on his chest; Why fear? Atheists like you do not understand the powers of the swamy. Besides, look at the lines in his hand, so perfect! He will live for eighty years, no question. He has a great future.”
Beams of light filled Nagesh’s eyes. Life flowed in each particle of this body wholly. Gopalam watched the boy without batting an eyelid. Commotion started in the crowd by the well at a distance. Nagesh cringed and looked in that direction.
Contractor Yadagiri’s voice resounded through the mike. “Quick, come on quick! In about five minutes, there is going to be a world-shaking performance right here. The entry fee is just one quarter of a rupee! Twenty-five naya paise! Quick, Come on, time is running out!”
Nagesh stood up.
Sastry got goose bumps.
Gopalam shivered.
“A performance nobody has ever heard of in the entire world! Come and watch a raw, sixteen-year old boy turn into a ball of fire and jump from a height of three hundred feet into the well of death. Just for a quarter! Well of death for the price of a cup of coffee! The cost of two balloons! Twenty-five naya paise. Hurry, the show will begin in a few minutes! Well of death!” Yadagiri’s voice shouted at a high pitch.
“Well of death.” The voice was ringing in Gopalam’s ears. His head was aching. He stood up, approached Nagesh, and grabbed his hand.
Sastry’s heart wobbled.
Nagesh spoke, “Babu garu, don’t be scared. Time for me to go. I’ll be back in a half hour and meet with you. Don’t go away without seeing me again,” he said, bowed to both Sastry and Gopalam, and rushed out.
Gopalam followed Nagesh and stood there. He kept staring keenly at Nagesh. He was standing at the foot of the ladder by the well, a little away from them. Sastry tapped on Gopalam’s shoulder and said, “let’s go. Let’s watch the show.”
“I’ll wait here. You go,” Gopalam said; his voice sounded like it came from the bottom of a well.
Sastry stared into his face with surprise and went away, cutting through the crowd.
Two minutes went by. Nagesh started climbing the steel steps. Thousands of eyes were following the boy up the ladder, step by step. They all were watching him holding, their breath.
Gopalam looked up, straining his neck. Nagesh looked like a moon amidst stars at the top of the steel frame under the expansive sky and clusters of black and white clouds. The sixteen-year-old Nagesh looked small, more like a five-year old.
The crowd around the well was so thick, specks of sand would not seep through. They were anxiously looking up. A pregnant woman in her second trimester and with an eighteen-month old baby in her arms, was staring at the boy nervously.
Nagesh pulled out a bottle from his pocket. People shouted, “petrol, petrol.” Nagesh doused himself with the liquid and threw down the bottle into the well. He pulled out a matchbox from the other pocket and showed around to the audience. Everybody understood what he was showing, although the matchbox was not visible.
Sastry was sweating slightly; the almanac under his arm and the five-rupee bill at his waist were dampening. He wanted badly to have a pinch of snuff, but what if the show opened at that precise moment? He could not sniff!
“Grappling with death! Well of death!” Yadagiri’s voice stopped instantly. A big bell rang at once.
One! Two! Three!
The fire broke lose like the hunger of a poor man. Along with the blazing flames, a desperate cry came out exploding even more ghastly. The sizzling form came down twirling and fell not into the well but on the heads of the crowd!
The gathering scattered in all directions in panic. Some of them caught fire. They ran away, stomping on each other, unmindful of the others, young and old, men and women, alike; it was a huge rampage. The only dharma in that rampage appeared to be saving oneself even if it meant walking on the people on the ground.
Gopalam’s heart broke; balls of fire flared up in his mind. In the next moment, darkness enveloped him. Indistinct shapes hovered around. He was not aware of his surroundings until Sastry came and pulled him by the shoulder. Gopalam came to his senses, stood up, shook off the dust, and walked out, holding on to Sastry.
The exhibition ground, which was bubbling with enthusiasm, excitement, and crackling up until a few minutes back, turned into a terrible sight, and was crammed with desperate wailings. Sastry and Gopalam saw it and left the scene mechanically.
Gopalam was walking on a paved street; was dragging along as if he was walking on sand. By his side, Sastry’s feet were hitting the ground furiously. Silence stood between the two like the Himalayas. Gopalam’s brain was in a very cold place suitable for solidifying. Sastry’s brain was like a snowball, ready to melt.
Gopalam heard something, stopped, and without thinking. Sastry also stopped, watching him.
They both heard the bells coming from the Anjaneya swamy temple. Since it was Saturday, the temple was packed with devotees. The chanting of Anjaneya swamy prayer was clearly audible from sanctum sanctorum of the temple.
Gopalam could not see anything; it was all dark. Darkness inside and outside. He folded his hands and entered the temple premises, as if drawn in by a supreme power.
Sastry watched him with astonishment. He was about to take a step in that direction but stopped, like a machine after a power failure. He felt something soft under his foot; he heard a feeble screech. That could be a baby crying for milk or a fetus from the full-term mother he had seen earier!
Sastry shook his head vigorously, opened the almanac, and studied it for a few minutes. His eyes were burning like lamps. He tossed it on the dog that was rolling in the garbage by the temple walls. He pulled out the five rupee bill from his dhoti folds and gave it to the blind beggar at the temple entrance. He sniffed two pinches of snuff. He shook his head as if he had a revelation and left hastily in big strides and past Anjaneya swamy temple.


Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, January 2006.
(The Telugu original, tamaso maa jyotirgamaya, was published in Jayasri, 1967)

[1] Untimely death.
[2] Nobody dies when it is not time, and nobody lives after reaching the time to die.
[3] The food offered to god and distributed to devotees.
[4] A special holiday. Hindus believe that death on that specific day helps the soul to go to the heaven.

V.V.B. Rama Rao. Fragrance and Flowers of Many Colors: Balasahityam (Children’s literature)

Fragrance And Flowers of Many Colors:
Balasahityam in Telugu and some considerations about children’s literature.

Authors of children’s literature are circumscribed only by the experiences of childhood, but these are vast and complex, for children think and feel; they wonder and they dream. Their lives may be filled with love or terror. Much is known but little is explained. The child is curious about life and adult activities. He lives in the midst of tensions, of balances of love and hate within the family and the neighbourhood. The author who can fill all these experiences with imagination and insight, and communicates them to children is writing children’s literature.
–P.A.K. Mathew

To see the world through the child’s eye means to see it with clarity and directness. All childhood experiences are fist experiences and, therefore, in the nature of miracles. And writing for children will be literature only if it reflects universal truths as seen through the clear unclouded eyes of a child. — Shanta Rameswara Rao

Children’s literature is never a miniature form meant for elders. It is a peculiar type itself, it exists and it has got an identity of its own. It has gas hot rational form and scientific basis in most of the forms and individual cases. It has got a social purpose. To speak the truth, children’s literature does more for the betterment of the society than does literature for the adults.
— D. Sujatha Devi

At last Dodo said, “Everybody has won, and all must have prizes.” Lewis Carroll – Alice in Wonderland

All children are lovable and each child is a unique flower. The best gift for a child is a storybook. Child heroes and heroines leave lasting impressions on children and adults alike. Children’s Literature is a literary genre in no way inferior or less worthy of the attention of scholars and critics. Panchatantra, Hitopadesha, etc were basically fable-cloaked for moral edification and unveiling the ways of the world. They are food for children’s thought and entertainment. Down the ages, this literature has come down but never had the status of a discipline of study. It is time it received adequate scholarly and critical attention. Its methods, techniques and devices are unique creative stimuli. Every language in our country has a treasure of this genre. Eminent intellectuals have been exercising their minds on Children’s Literature. Here is K.S.Karanth’s seminal statement: “We in India have seldom bothered to delve deep into the inexhaustible treasures of nature. How many of our poets and literary men are bird watchers, wild life enthusiasts and lovers of nature in all aspects? There is no dearth of material for writing for the young, but when we elders lack experience and appreciation of the above-said repository, very little will come through our pens. … This basic drawback has come from our lack of proper education. We have made childhood a sort of vessel, which has to be filled up, by elders and teachers with material that the consider useful, or worthwhile….”[1 ]1

Children’s literature plays a vital role in shaping the individual’s personality in the formative years. With an impressionable, plastic mind, a child looks around the world and goes on slowly acquiring understanding and insight. Children grow anyway but aiding them to grow in a happy and enlightening way needs proper tending. While education has a big part to play, reading is one of the most important inputs for the mind to mature into ever-widening vistas of thought and action. The ability to respond positively depends on a child’s exposure to rational and well-considered choice of action with right attitudes in pursuing and achieving goals worthwhile. This form of literature is drawn from the native ethos, from the family, the nation and basic human nature. To begin with, the elders around, most importantly the parents and elders in the family and the incidents, make the child imbibe habits and values. Each of our languages is a product of a constituent culture within the diverse yet unified grand, national culture. The role that literature the child reads or introduced to being vitally mind shaping, writing for children needs to be a carefully designed, purpose-oriented activity. This genre with many forms has not received significant attention from critics and literary historiographers.

Comparative studies of the writing for children rooted in national ethos and culture would be a valuable exercise what with the erosion of values that our intellectuals find all around. With so much of Children’s Literature extant, no systematic or sustained effort has gone in to analyze it comparatively with a view to understand the achievements in our various languages. A project designed for this could well be a beginning.

Story for a child came into being from its mother, granny or grandpa right from the times of the cave man. Children’s Literature is a unique component of a nation’s cultural languages blossoming. A nation’s uniqueness rests squarely on its culture and its nobility and pervasiveness. The children’s literature produced in a country like ours has multiplicity not merely in its various languages but also in the way the forms of that branch of literature, which flourished down the ages. The languages and genres may vary but the cultural ethos remains the same with small regional variations. The variety and vibrancy of literature in a particular age in a particular age varies.

Writing for the young minds is a unique component of a nation’s literature since
it is an index of the cultural development of a nation. Just as a country has a history, it also has a history of its children’s literature. In our country there are thousands of languages but as many as twenty-four have been identified as widely spoken, or ‘major languages’. Our literature has been growing reflecting the widening of our horizons and sharpening our awareness of the contemporary reality besides universal values, particular after our Independence. Democratization has come to be total in the area of freedom of expression and writing.

Apart from this, our efforts to promote inter-language and inter-regional understanding, Comparative Literature has come to be an important aspect of literary studies. There has been widespread encouragement for studies in comparative literature.
But among these, Children’s Literature does not seem to have engaged the attention of scholars and researchers. With the availability of translations, thanks to the encouragement literary translation has been receiving, comparative studies have come to be less formidable now. Though it is true that the heart of Indian Literature is the same whichever language it was it has been produced in. The regional varieties and qualities of their respective uniqueness deserve to be investigated and analyzed. This kind of studies help us to draw conclusions about the state of affairs in the field helpful to the present practitioners in the field. A systematic effort has to go into collection, classification and comparison would be of immense use to practitioners all over the country to widen their horizons.

In this context, a comparative study of excellence of literature, meant for children in various forms, must be recognized to be of great practical utility. In the languages unique artifacts are being produced. Not all are along the same lines. Though we can readily agree that all are meant for children, nowadays we see that children of specified age groups have come to the target readers.

Identifying unique and insightful literary creations and honoring high flyers with awards has become a tradition now, after independence. Earlier, Zamindars and Maharajas of yore discharged this function.

For quite long children’s literature though written centuries ago exclusively for children. Panchatantra and Hitopadesha, still are read avidly since they teach all developing expedience tempered with moral sense. Down the centuries moral stories have been the staple reading/listening for the young. With the advent of the printing press and periodicals illustrators became as important as children’s writers.

Children’s literature that has been produced in Languages has great potential for comparative study, which would provide impetus to writers to give their best to our children today. Every Language is coming up with periodicals especially for children. We have realized the importance and the potential of this form. Children’s stories may be classified and analyzed according to a set of formulated norms.

In Telugu a language widely spoken in the South there have been story- clusters like Vetal Stories, Bhatti Vikramaraka kathalu, Marydaramanna Stories, Paramanandashishyulu stories.. To cite a brilliant example in Telugu periodicals, there has been CHANDAMAMA for six decades which has constantly been growing both in demand and supply, being published in as many as twelve languages and go to many countries.

Writing for Children in Telugu came in a big way during the last century with the emergence of children’s corners in periodicals and whole monthlies devoted exclusively to children’s stories, songs, and so on, more importantly in the 1950s. In Telugu besides CHANDAMAMA mentioned earlier there were BALA, BALAMNITRA, BALA JYOTHI to name only a few. Organizations of writers in that field began to come up. Telugu Balala Rachayithala Sangham [Association of Child Writers] came up in 1952. Even earlier there were smaller groups in various Telugu-speaking region. In the Telugu speaking area even in towns association for children’s writing came up, though no systematic study of that aspect has been made. The objectives of writing for children, mainly are: aiding recognition; helping them understand the ways of the world; making them familiar with life styles and cultures; exposing them to various new / unknown ways of children; stimulating thought processes; motivating further reading/thinking/ absorption of values and beliefs. These are only provisional and may need to be further expanded or fine tuned to make the list exhaustive.

Principles of comparative study and evaluation should inevitably start with setting up of points of comparison. The following list may be useful as points of comparison between the products in two different languages:
Entertainment value, the capacity to engage and enlighten the young plastic minds Sustenance and gentility of exposure to various things around
Stimulation of reader interest it (what next – the suspense motif is basic):
Simplicity and ease of putting across concepts and ideals
Building a pleasant passageway between the known and the unknown
Reducing slowly and securely the divide between the young world of wonder inquisitiveness, imagination, intriguing actuality and the adult world
Provoking a healthy, rational sense of enquiry

The study should also include the institutions, and organizations in various languages as for example A.P. Balala Mahasabha, Balananda Sangham, Baalala Academy, Bala Sahitya Parishat in the case of Telugu.
Notable events Gidugu Sitapati Childrens’ Writers’ Training 1960, Baala Academy (Children’s Literature Training Camp )with 100 children and many writers) in 1979 in International Children’s Year Celebrations etc.
Periodicals carrying writing for children before and after 1950, Bala, Balamitra, Balajyoti, Chandamama, Bala Prapancham etc. The following is list of the veterans of yesteryears (before 1950) Chinta Dikshitulu; Chalam, Tekumalla Kameswara Rao, Voleti Parvateesam, Kavi Rao, Narla Chiranjivi, (Nastik Kendra); Nyayapati Raghava Rao, Medicharla Anjaneya Sarma, Yedida Kameswara Rao. Veterans still writing and highfliers and distinguished among those writers after 1950 both living and departed
B.V.Narasimha Rao, Balabandhu Madduluri Ramakrishna, Miriyala Ramakrishna, Vejendla Sambasiva Rao Vejendla Sambasiva Rao, Challa Radhakrishna Sarma, Velaga Venkatappiah; Ravoori Bharadwaja, Balantrapu Rajani Kanta Rao, Dr P.Tirumala Rao, Menda Prabhakara Rao, Menda Suryanarayana, Palanki Venkata Ramachandra Murty, Reddy Raghaviah, Gidugu Rajeswara Rao C.V. Sarveswara Sarma, D.Sujata Devi, among many others. Among these there have been specialization of individual genres: science; historical personages, primarily informative biography, popular science etc., for designed for children. Basically personality-shaping themes receive encouragement for we all believe that child is the father of man. We try our best in the area of literature, not written alone but for oral narration, performance.

With Bapu illustrating and Mullapudi writing the content, an extremely diverting hero has come up comparable to Denis the Menace the cartoon strip character. Next to pathos, karuna, aardrata, the most captivating emotional experience is drawn from humour, haasya in our terminology. This humour may be more to the enjoyment of the adult, but the visual cartoons are a joy for all.

The shift of focus in the very recent years is from mere fancy to rationalistic, scientific, knowledge enriching themes and incidents. This aspect has to be carefully analyzed on the basis of dependable data

Different forms in Children’s Literature in prose and verse, right from cradle songs
Lyrics (geyams in Telugu)) for tiny tots for recitation and listening in classrooms and elsewhere on other suitable occasions, story poems and songs, short plays (both on the Radio and Children’s school functions etc) and most importantly, narratives short and long including serializations in periodicals.

Presentation-wise many categories could be set up. The following is a tentative list:

Traditional: Episodes in adaptation from our puranas and classical literary texts
Culture oriented proving exposure to the tales laid in other cultures and countries.
Message oriented pieces for moral edification, entertainment and exposure to the ways of the world and the behaviour patterns of the good, evil etc.,
Language specific creations and fantasies

Modes of illustrations in colour and line drawings can also be classified as shown below: :
1. Period specific and culture specific pieces
2.Apparels of outlandish / imaginative characters and situations
3.Aids for the understanding of Life styles: Fabulous, Realistic, Humorous, Fantastic

Besides these categories, more can be set up based on the analysis of the themes, variety of subjects, narratlogical devices as in string stories, stories within stories, story clusters round personalities; imaginative variety and conceptualizations.

Scholastic preoccupations need not blunt us the ground realities and our responsibility to the tender, affectionate, thinking minds. Here is the prayer of Madduluri Ramakrishna,[2 ]2 a Telugu writer, who has been veritably leading a crusade for the recognition of the child’s claim to joy in a busy business-engrossed adult world.

“Where there is nothing like a school,
Where play is learning,
Where kids never know force,
Where they live sweetly as birds
Where kids are understood by adults
Where adults themselves can become kids,
Father, in that world, let me be born.”

Ramakrishna, born slightly after General Dyer’s diabolic action in Jallianwala Bagh, a frontline fighter in our struggle for Independence, has been drawn to children and their joyous world. He became a schoolteacher. He has been veritably leading a crusade for the recognition of the child’s claim to joy in a busy business engrossed adult world.
Now an ailing, incapacitated writer soon to become a nonagenarian, he continues to be his cheerful self with kids, now mostly with his own grandchildren.

1. Introduction, p.1148 Comparative Indian Literature, Pt II Children’s Literature, Ed. K.M.George. 1984, Macmillan
2. Nenu Naa Baala Sahityam, Ed Kavi Rao et al, Telugu Baala Rachayitala Sangham Vijayawada 1986
What is Children’s Literature, The State Institute of Children’s Literature, Tiruvananthapuram, 1982
Children’s Literature in Indian Languages, Ed. Dr K A Jamuna, Publications Division, 1982
Aspects of Children’s Literature, Vol II Ed Manasranjan Mahapatra and Dwijendrakumar, National Book Trust 2006
Baala saahitya Nirmaatalu, Reddi Raghaviah, Telugu Baalala Rachayitala Sangham, 2002
(This has been published several years back on this site. However, during change of server this got lost. Found now and reposted. 12.21.2022. My apologies for the mishap.)

Six Blind Men (A Sketch) in Telugu

This might be could interesting to those who understand Telugu but cannot read the script. I have noticed that Telugu people, especially those who had not learned to read and write Telugu script, are visiting this site.

This is an audio of the Telugu version of a story I have written back in 1978 entitled Six Blind Men.

Nidadavolu Malathi
September 22, 2022

Nidadavolu Malathi Rachanaa Sourabhaalu by Seela Subhadra Devi

A book on Nidadavolu Malathi’s contribution to Telugu literature, entitled Nidadavolu Malathi rachanaa sourabhaalu has been released at Sirikona Award ceremony is now available on Amazon.com
Here is the link https://www.amazon.in/dp/B0BFQSKFRN/

Also, the link to the awards ceremony on Sept 10, 2022


Nidadavolu Malathi
September 21, 2022

Sarayu Blue’s speech at Award Ceremony

At the Sirikona Awards Ceremony on September 10, 2022, Sarayu Blue, Malathi’s daughter and Hollywood actress, gave a heart-warming speech.
Malathi has been honored cy Sirikona literary group and Koduru Parvathi Commemoration Committee. She was awarded a pure silk saree and a plaque on the occasion.

Here is Sarayu’s speech.

I’m so very honored to see my mother’s brilliant work, and lifelong career recognized. Thank you to the Sirikona Group, and to all who comprise it, for this important and invaluable distinction. Many of you know her as a highly revered scholar, writer, and a woman passionate about carrying on the legacy of Telugu women writers. I know her for another role I revere equally highly, my mother. So, while I’m not qualified to speak to you as a fellow scholar, I will speak to you about her impact on me as my mother.

My mother’s journey was not an easy one. You may or may not know, she moved from India to Wisconsin at 36, having never seen snow! America from India is culture shock enough, let alone trudging through mountains of snow in a sari and boots. Regardless, snow or not, nothing ever stopped her. The word that comes to mind when I think of my mother is “resilient.” With every plot twist, turn, and curveball life threw at her, my mother found her way, and somehow, she always did so creatively as well. In fact, I don’t remember my mother ever experiencing “writer’s block.” I’m sure she did, and just didn’t talk about it. She’s never been one to spend much time wallowing.

Through the years, I’ve seen that no matter where she is, or who she’s with, people flock to my mother. Malathi Nidadavolu is revered, by not only those, like this wonderful group who recognize her talents, but also, by all she meets. When my mother speaks, people listen. And who wouldn’t? She’s thoughtful, full of wisdom, she’s charismatic, and most of all, she’s genuine. She’s very honest with her boundaries- make no mistake- but she’ll never turn a blind eye to anyone in need.

Perhaps the quality I admire the most about my mom though, is her integrity. My mother will never lie, she’ll never cheat, she is steadfast in her honesty, and her work is always impeccable. She is diligent in making sure her translations honor the writer, the story, the language. And while her translations are perfectly meticulous, her stories are heartfelt and poetic.

I’ve always known my mom to be a magnificent storyteller. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve seen firsthand, why- she’s relentlessly curious. On any walk, she’ll stop to appreciate a tree, to photograph a flower, she sees a shape in the clouds and it becomes a whole new world, a story. She’s also relentlessly curious about people, and why they behave the way they do. She cares passionately about humanity, and there is little that infuriates her like injustice. So much of who I am, is because of her. I hear her voice in mine when I advocate for someone’s rights. I feel her heart in mine when I get lost looking out a window, staring at the trees and daydreaming. I know the reason I became an actor was because of her. Ultimately, acting is just my version of storytelling, telling the story of whatever character I’m playing.

I’m overjoyed to see the legacy and work of my mother recognized, and while from the outside it might seem as though I have not followed in mother’s footsteps, to quote a line from E.E. Cummings’ poem, I carry your heart with me(I carry it in), “whatever is done by only me, is your doing.”

Hollywood Actress. Sarayu Blue.
September 10, 2022.

Koduru Parvathi Commemoration Award for Malathi's achievement in Telugu literature.
Silikona Award for Malathi's accomplishment in Telugu Literature


(September 14, 2022)

Nidadavolu Malathi honored

Award Ceremony.

Nidadavolu Malathi will be awarded Koduru Parvathi Memorial Award at a meeting on September 10, 2022, organized by Siricona Whatsapp and Koduru Parvathi Memoria Award Committee.

Also, a book, Nidadavolu Malathi Rachanaa Sourabhalu (Fragrant writings of Nidadavolu Malathi), an analytical study of Malathi’s writings during past 7 decades, by Seela Subhadra Devi will be released on the same occasion.

Readers, who are knowledgeable in Telugu language) are invited to participate in the meeting.

Nidadavolu Malathi
September 4, 2022

Lakshmi Puja Day by Bhandaru Acchamamba

(Translator’s note: The Telugu original, dhanatrayodasi, by Bhandaru Acchamamba(1874-1905) has been published, originally, in Hindusundari monthly, November 1902. Reprinted on www.bhumika.org in 2006.

My translation has been published in 2009 on this site, and included in the anthology, Penscape, An Anthology of Telugu Short Stories. The art work on the cover has been created by highly acclaimed artist, Seela Veerraju garu. It reflects the theme of this story. – Nidadavolu Malathi, translator.
The day of the festivity occurs two days before Diwali day, and celebrated by Hindus seeking health, wealth and prosperity. Also, referred to as Lakshmi Puja Day.



Lakshmi Puja Day

Around 7:00 in the evening on the day of Dhanathrayodasi[1]Two days before Diwali day, the Festival of Lights, Dhanathrayodasi(Lakshmi Puja) day is celebrated in some communities, the entire city of Bombay was celebrating the festival exuberantly. There were not as many lamps as on the deepavali day, but each house was glowing with the little lamps in clay dishes, enough to display the contour and the beauty of the house. Firecrakers were making huge sounds from every corner. People adorned Goddess Lakshmi with gold and diamond jewelry, and performed the Lakshmi puja per custom.

In one home, however, there was no sign of the festival. It could be called not a home but a hut. That hut was located between mansions of two rich business persons. It was like the Goddess Jyeshta, [2]Goddess of poverty, came to watch the celebration of her younger sister, Lakshmi[3]The two goddesses are considered sisters in Hindu mythology. Jyeshta is the goddess of poverty and Lakshmi is the Goddess of wealth. People in the neighborhood were happy, on one hand, to see the cleanliness and tidiness of the hut; on the other hand, they were upset because the hut was ruining the beauty of the wealthy neighborhood. My dear sisters!(neighbors), you are upset, probably, because I am narrating the story of a poor family instead of the rich on this festive occasion in this great city. Sisters! If you stop being annoyed and listen to me carefully, you would know that the story of this hut is extraordinary.

I have stated earlier that there were two great mansions on either side of the hut. Those mansions lit several lamps all around their homes, but the hut in the middle had only one lamp shining brightly at the center of it. Vijayalakshmi, the lady of the hut, was sowing a blouse, which she had agreed to make for another woman, for a little cash. A four-year-old girl and a cute three-year-old boy sat next to her. They were showing her their toys and asking questions. They made her happy.

Vijayalakshmi finished cooking, and was waiting for her husband to come home. Her husband, Venkataratnam, was working as a clerk for a rich business owner, Setty. She knew it was Dhana trayodasi day, and her husband would be home only after the puja at his boss’s house had concluded. Therefore, she fed the children and ended the state of madi[4]A person is considered being in a state of madi during puja and cooking time. During that period, usually one or two hours, the person takes bath, wears freshly washed clothes and avoids physical … Continue reading. She sat down to work on the blouse again. Ah! Her face was glowing with the signs of awaiting her husband‘s arrival. Only those, who had seen her with their own eyes, could appreciate it but not everybody. Her physical eyes were focused on the blouse, but her mind’s eye was on her husband’s coming home.

Her cute son threw his arms around her neck tightly, calling for her attention. Up until then, she was answering his questions with a brief “ha” or “um”, without paying attention, as she continued to work on the blouse. The sweet little boy held on to her neck so tightly that she had to put aside her sowing and take him into her arms. She said softly, “Nayanaa! [5]Literally, dad. Also used as a vocative to address a male child What do you want? You have been playing with your sister. Go, play for a little longer. I have to finish this sowing.”

The cute little boy followed her suggestion and went away. Outside, he saw the bright lights from the fireworks in front of their neighbor’s house; he clapped and laughed gleefully. He said to his mother, in his baby-like words, “Look, Amma, it is so beautiful. May I go there and watch the fireworks?”

It was not too far away from their home. Therefore, Vijayalakshmi called her daughter, Rukmini, and said to her, “My little girl! you take Ramu to watch the festivities at our neighbor’s home. Be careful, don’t go too close to the fireworks, and don’t fight with anyone there.”

The two children went to their neighbor’s home. As the mother watched them leave, her eyes were filled with tears, and her grief was hard to handle. Poor woman! Probably she remembered the first day of the festivities. It was the day of fireworks. Children had wanted to light fireworks; she managed to calm them down somehow. After that, the children never asked for them again. Now they asked for her permission to watch it at their neighbor’s home. She could not help but think of their remarkable behavior; she felt sorry again that she did not have the money to fulfill the wishes of such well-behaved children. The thought was even more painful to her. She was distressed that they did not have a good home to live in, good clothes to wear, and no sumptuous meals even on a special holiday. She was spending her days happily in the company of her worthy husband, despite several hardships they had been facing each day. However, when she thought of the pain of her children , her grief was enormous. She grieved for her children’s suffering especially because she had experienced unlimited wealth in the past.

Both Vijayalakshmi and Venkataratnam had been wealthy in their childhood. Venkataratnam was the only son of Mallayya, a prominent man in Kolakaluru village. Therefore, his wedding was celebrated on a grand scale. He was ten-years- old at the time. A sum of fifteen thousand rupees was spent on the ceremony. Oh, God! The couple, on whose wedding, fifteen thousand rupees had been spent, were not even in a position to lay their eyes on such a big amount of money now. Maybe, it is no surprise for those, whose agraharams[6]An endowment of a small township had been ruined. Anyway, Mallayya’s agraharam had been pawned partly even before Venkataratnam’s wedding took place. Yet, they continued to take out more and more loans and celebrate more and more events. Under those circumstances, Mallayya thought the time for his only son’s wedding was slipping away fast.

Mallayya took out one more loan and performed the ceremony. Venkataratnam and the family suffered unbearable, adverse circumstances. There was no food in the house. The couple were devastated as they watched the children suffer because of their poverty. During Mallayya’s time, creditors had not bothered them. But, immediately after his death, All the creditors came together and collected their dues from what was left of Venkataratnam’s assets, at the rate of one half of one rupee. Poor Venkataratnam, he had to experience the travails resulting from either the stupidity or cleverness of his ancestors. Venkataratnam was an honorable man. Although he had lived the rich life as the son of an agraharam owner, he had not acquired their bad habits, such as egotism, conceit, and indolence. The pecuniary circumstances were painful, yet he was managing because his wife was also bound by the same Dharma as he. By the time his father died, he had passed the Entrance exam. Although he was young enough to continue his studies and improve his qualifications, he had no money to do so. The time was not in his favor. He had to find a job. He joined as a clerk under Setty, a business owner, for ten rupees per month. They were managing barely with those ten rupees. It is only natural for them to worry about the children under the circumstances.

I have stated earlier that Vijayalakshmi was worried about her children’s plight. The recalled the rich life they had enjoyed previously; the way it had been destroyed, and the hardships the children had been through. She was struggling to keep her uncontrollable sorrow in check.

Just then, she heard Ramu’s cries. She stood up quickly and went to her neighbor’s house. She reached their home and saw that her neighbor was beating Ramu. She asked what had happened. The woman said that Ramu had taken a firecracker with no wick, broken it into two, and put them next to the lamp. The lamp was put out as a result. In reality, the neighbor’s child beat Ramu and Ramu started to cry. The boy was afraid that his mother might beat him. So, he turned around and said Ramu hit him first. The boy’s mother believed her son and hit Ramu as if she was beating not a little boy but an animal. Even those mothers, who usually beat their own children, would not take it, if somebody beats them like that. Imagine how difficult it was for Vijayalakshmi, who never beat her children, to see somebody beat her child. She was angry beyond words, yet, controlled herself, and brought Rukmini and Ramu home. She consoled the two children, but could not control her own grief. She was heartbroken; she told herself that her children were suffering only because of their poverty. She ran her fingers over Ramu’s bruises tenderly, and shed tears incessantly. There was nobody to comfort her. If Venkataratnam was there, he would have comforted her. Look! Even now, she was thinking of him kindly only.

Vijayalakshmi heard her husband’s footsteps, hid her sorrow, and put on a happy face. Oh! Vijayalakshmi! Who can count your fine qualities? You are so considerate of your husband’s feelings; you hide your sorrow, wipe your tears, and appear before him with a happy face, and the baby in your arms. If all women cherish similar values, imagine how our country could prosper?

Venkataratnam came home. He did not look happy and pleasant as he used to; he was sad and down. He was sweating all over. Usually, he would come home, speak to his wife with a smile, kiss the baby and then he go into the next room to change. But today, he went in, without speaking to his wife or kissing the baby.

Vijayalakshmi thought he, probably, had overworked and was tired. She started dabbing the sweat off of his face. The baby in her arms was sleepy. She went in, put the baby to bed, and returned to give him fresh clothes to change into.

Venkataratnam changed his clothes, handed the old clothes to his wife and sat down, leaning on the rolled bed on the floor. Vijayalakshmi watched his behavior, and wondered if he had a headache. He went close to him, put her palm on his forehead, and asked, “Why are you quiet today? Do you have a headache? Is it hurting bad?”

Venkataratnam said he had no headache.

She was not convinced. She asked again, “If you do not have a headache, why are you so quiet?”

Venkataratnam looked at her, and felt sad. He asked her, “Are you thinking of our misfortunes, and worrying?”

As she heard his words, Vijayalakshmi recalled the grief she had suffered a few minutes back, thought her husband might be worried in the same manner, and stifled her own grief. She put on a happy face, and said, “Is that all? Why would I worry for such a small matter? I am not worried even in the least bit.”

“Ha, you are amazing! When I think of the wealth we have had before and the miseries we are subjected to now, I feel very sad. We had a great life in the past. Now we are living in dire poverty, and that is hard. Today, all the others have put their valuable jewelry together and worshiped it. You had worn several valuable gold and diamond ornaments. But today, you do not have even one piece of jewelry on you. Are you not troubled about it, at least a little?”

Vijayalakshmi, said, “I am not troubled, not even a little bit. You are worried that we do not have riches, right? I would consider our situation the best, when I watch the egotism and the lack of judgment in some of the rich people. Had we been wealthy, we would not have had this superb pleasure, which we are enjoying by following the righteous path. As for me, I would not consider any other kind of riches other than your affection.”

Venkataratnam heard her words and cringed. The expression on his face showed the scare in his heart. He, who had been virtuous so far, showed signs of fear in his face. He was surprised; he was not sure how to respond to his wife. Finally, he picked up the courage and said, “Dear wife! What would you do with wilted affection?”

Vijayalakshmi did not notice the change of expression on his face but was distressed by his words. She said, “You are causing me only pain by such talk.”
Venkataratnam: If so, I will not speak at all. Do you not worry about our children’s sad plight a little, at least? While the others’ children wore fine clothes, ate sumptuous meals and set off fireworks merrily, our children stood there with miserable looks on their faces. Does that not bother you?

Vijayalakshmi: Why would I feel sad for that? I do not have even a little bit of sadness in me. Let it be. Why are you saying unnecessary things today? You are creating problems which are not there to start with, and then, worrying about them, why? Did our children ask for anything ever, big or small?

Venkataratnam: That is the reason I am even more depressed.

As he spoke, he chocked with sadness, “If I tell you something … never mind.“ He bit his tongue. His face looked as if he was going to say something horrible but he held back. Poor woman, Vijayalakshmi noticed his behavior; she was lost for words. After a while, she came to and asked, “You were going to say what?”

Venkataratnam collected himself, and said, “Nothing. Let it be. You spoke the truth. Why should we dwell on unimportant things and worry?” Nevertheless, while he was saying those words, the expression on his face indicated that he was hiding a secret. But Vijayalakshmi, being naive, could not understand his secrecy. She believed his words.

He said, “I am hungry. I worked hard today, and it is frustrating. Let us eat quickly and go to bed.”

Vijayalakshmi went into the kitchen, and changed into madi sari. She served him food. She ate after he was finished, cleaned the kitchen, and went to bed. By then, Venkataratnam was asleep. It was getting late. Therefore, Vijayalakshmi also decided not to continue to sew, and went to bed straight.

Since Vijayalakshmi was guileless, she fell asleep as soon as she lay down. But, Venkataratnam, being worried, could not sleep but pretended to have fallen asleep. The incident that had happened earlier at work kept him from sleeping comfortably.

Earlier that evening, Setty had performed Lakshmi puja, and Venkataratnam stayed there longer than usual to help them. At that time, the senior clerk, Krishnamurthy, pulled him to a side and said secretly, “Venkataratnam, I am asking your help since you are smart. You promise me that you will tell not anybody about what I am going to tell you.”

Venkataratnam had known the old clerk to be a good and trustworthy person, and so, promised him to keep his secret.

Then, Krishnamurthy said, “Venkataratnam! Did you see all this valuable jewelry they had taken out from the chest for the purpose of Lakshmi puja? This jewelry is nothing to them. In their store, they have jewelry that is thousand times more valuable. You do not know about this, do you?”

Venkataratnam could not follow where the clerk was leading, He said, “Yes, I know.”

Senior clerk: Since you know, you should also know that the entire money is in my custody.

Venkataratnam: Yes. Setty garu trusts you, immensely. Therefore, he gave you the keys to the chest.

Senior clerk: Because they have that kind of faith in me, I am engaged in an activity that will not fail them, I am sure.

The Senior clerk’s words gave rise to a little suspicion in Venkataratnam’s mind. Yet he kept quiet, waiting to hear what else he was going to say.

Senior clerk: Since they have so much money, it is not wrong if we take a little from it. And it is not going to be a big loss for him, either. For us, it rids the Lady Poverty of our lives. I am a senior clerk and my salary is only fifty rupees. And for you, it is only ten rupees. You know, it is impossible for us to run our families on such small income. You need not worry that the secret might come out. I will take care of it. This suggestion of mine must be carried out before the year-end accounting is completed. There are only two more days left for us to act. What do you say?”

As the senior clerk continued to talk, Venkataratnam became irate, and his eyes turned red. He wanted to stop him, but swallowed his irritation and kept quiet since that person was his senior and more powerful. After the senior clerk finished his speech, Venkataratnam said, “Sir! Krishnamurthy garu! If you are suggesting this to me for fun, that is all right. If it is real, your suggestion is absolutely not acceptable to me. Since I have given you my word, I will not reveal this to anybody else, though.”

From Krishnamurthy’s demeanor, it was obvious that his enthusiasm had been curtailed by the powerful argument put forth by Venkataratnam. Yet, the senior clerk was determined, and so, continued to persuade Venkataratnam.

Venkataratnam was aware of the enormous wealth of Setty, but remained steady in his stance.

The senior clerk recounted the pecuniary circumstances of Venkataratnam and the hardships his wife and children were suffering from.

Tears started flowing from Venkataratnam’s eyes as he heard his own heartbreaking plight, aa narrated by the senior clerk, who was well seasoned in business dealings. He had been around for a very long time. The senior clerk saw Venkataratnam’s tears, and said, “Venkataratnam, what is it? Am I not correct in describing the conditions of your family?”

Venkataratnam: (Wiping his tears) Yes. It has been like that for sometime.

The senior clerk: If so, why would you not take my advice?

Venkataratnam: Chi. Krishnamurthy garu! Do not speak to me like that anymore. Your words cannot change my heart.

The senior clerk was well aware of human nature. He knew that if a person’s heart turned to evil, even a little, it would be very hard to bring it back to goodness. He thought it would help if he gave him some time to think. He said, “All right. Let it be, for now. I will not talk about it anymore. You think about it all night, com to my home tomorrow, and let me know your decision. Today, it is Deepavali festival, and probably, you have nothing at home to celebrate. Therefore, take this one-hundred rupee bill. Do not say you do not want it.” So saying, the senior clerk put the bill in Venkataratnam’s pocket.

On his way home from the store, numerous thoughts rose in the mind of Venkataratnam, a family man committed to his Dharma. Should he or should he not do as the old man had asked him to do? The question was troubling. His conscience was saying that such action would ruin his good family name. At the same time, the preaching of shrewd Krishnamurthy was coming back and encouraging him to accept the clerk’s proposition. Venkataratnam reached home with that mindset. You, the intelligent readers, probably had guessed by now that it was what Venkataratnam wanted to tell his wife yet was hesitant to do so.

Venkataratnam closed his eyes and pretended to be sleeping but could not. As stated earlier, several thoughts beset him. He could not decide what he was going to do though. He noticed that his wife had fallen asleep; he got up from the bed, and was pacing back and forth. He suddenly remembered the one-hundred rupee bill, the senior clerk had given him, took it out from his pocket, went closer to the lamp, and examined it. He had come to a decision. He told himself, “Yes, I will take his advice. He said it was only to help me. Is it not so?” He turned around and looked at his wife. Then the words she had spoken a few minutes back came to his mind. He forgot at once the decision he had made earlier and told himself, “Chi. I would never do such a thing.” He looked at the children, who were sleeping next to his wife, and the sight drove away the good thought he had entertained a moment ago. He thought, “I cannot see the miseries of these little children. Besides, nobody else will know what I am going to do.”

Just then, Vijayalakshmi woke for some inexplicable reason, and sat up.

Venkataratnam was dumbfounded, and leaned back on the wall. From his hand the bill fell on the floor.

Vijayalakshmi was not aware what had happened in the past few minutes. Surprised and worried, she approached her husband and asked, “What is this? Why are up still, at this hour? What are you doing at this time of the night? You seem to be worried since evening. Can you not tell me what is bothering you?” Then she saw the bill on the floor. It broke her heart. She said, almost crying, “Sir! What is this? From where did you get it? Can you not tell me, your wife, where from you have gotten this? Today, I have seen several bad omens. I pray, please, explain this to me.”

Venkataratnam was clever, and was influenced by the senior clerk’s words. He e tried to persuade his wife but to no avail.

Vijayalakshmi shuddered at the thought, and was anguished by his words. She was angry beyond control; her eyes turned red, and started shedding tears. Even in her anger, she did not think she should keep quiet because he was her husband. She was convinced that, if she ignored it now, he would take to evil ways, and that would ruin him. It is her duty to stop that from happening. Thus, she decided not to keep quiet. She said harshly, “I suspect you did not earn this money by fair means. What is your reason for doing so? Have I ever bothered you for jewelry or fine clothes? Have the children ever pestered us for something or other? If that is the reason for harboring such evil thought, I swear on your feet[7]a phrase, similar to ‘swear on my mother’s grave’ that I will never ask for anything, and make sure that children will not ask for anything. Please, be kind to us and stay away from evil path. You may say that others would not know of your action. Nevertheless, can you deceive the omniscient Lord and pursue your plan? If you do so, do you think your poor soul will be at peace as before? Can we have the same happiness with this stolen money as we do with the hard-earned ten rupees? Does it not bother you each time you touch it? Does it not remind you that you’ve gotten it through deception? Oh God! I cannot stop your plan. I cannot enjoy the happiness I have been enjoying so far from the present poverty.” She could not control her sorrow anymore. She wept pitiably.

Venkataratnam looked at her, pulled her close to his bosom, and said, “Oh, you are the best sati(wife). Your good words have dispelled the darkness of ignorance from my mind. I will never do a bad deed again. We will stay poor and enjoy the pleasure the righteous path bestowed on us. Oh! Only because I have a wife of impeccable virtues like you, I am redeemed from a huge sin. You are the very personification of the best in my life! The name Vijayalakshmi suits you very well. Today, I have earned the victory in the true sense of the word. A little while ago, I was worried that I did not have Goddess Lakshmi to worship, while the entire world was worshiping her. I have you, the very personification of Lakshmi right in front of me. Why should I worry about a Lakshmi made of metal? Today, I will worship only this Lakshmi.” So saying, Venkataratnam worshiped her and hugged her, who had no gold jewelry on her person but was decorated with impeccable virtues.

In that moment, Vijayalakshmi was elated and, unwittingly, leaned on his shoulder. She was worried beyond words that she had blamed her husband for no good reason. After a while, she said calmly, “You would not commit such act ever again. Is that right?”

Venkataratnam embraced her again and told her he would never do so again.

She snuggled by his fee; felt that her husband had been redeemed from a huge mistake and returned to her. Venkataratnam picked her up. They both spent the rest of the night in a hearty sleep with a clear conscience.The second day, it was Naraka Chaturdasi day[8]The day between Dhanatrayodasi and Diwali. So, they woke up at the crack of dawn. Vijayalakshmi made Rukmini offer harati[9]A piece of camphor put on a plate, lit up, and waved in front of a person or God in a circular motion, implicitly seeking their blessings. Same as ‘aarti’. to her father and brother. They all washed their hair and celebrated.

Venkataratnam received a piece of jaggary, his wife had given him, wore clean clothes, and went to Krishnamurthy, put the hundred rupee bill in front of him, and said, “I will not accept your proposition,” and turned around to leave.

Krishnamurthy stopped him, asked him to sit, and said, “You wait here until I come back,” and went into the house.

Venkataratnam sat there thinking about Krishnamurthy’s behavior; He was confused. On the previous day, Krishnamurthy had been disappointed when Venkataratnam refused to go along with his plan. Today, the same Krishnamurthy was happy about it. Venkataratnam kept thinking about the events while waiting for the senior clerk. Krishnamurthy returned along with Setty. Venkataratnam stood up respectfully.

Setty approached Venkataratnam, patted on his shoulder, and said, “Venkataratnam! You did the right thing!” Then added, “You are smart , honest and, you work hard. I wanted to test you to see if you are equally righteous. I asked Krishnamurthy to test you. You passed the test, and also your unbearable poverty. Yesterday, your heart wavered a little, I think. That was the fault of poverty, not yours. A man, who tried to commit an evil act but moved away from it, is a much greater person than the man who had never entertained an evil thought. It is possible to commit a sin by the first person but the second person will never know if he would commit an evil act. You have earned the hundred rupees you had received yesterday by sticking to your principles. I will also promote you as an assistant to Krishnamurthy with a salary of 20 rupees per month.”

Venkataratnam heard Setty’s words, and could not remain silent anymore. He did not like the praise that was being poured on him. He told them the conversation he had with his wife the night before.

Setty heard his story and was very happy. He sent for Vijayalakshmi. Setty told her, “Amma! You are Vijayalakshmi in the true sense of the term. You are like a daughter to me by virtue of your principles.”

Thereafter, Setty continued to treat Vijayalakshmi as his daughter. Venkataratnam loved his wife and treated her like a goddess. The couple enjoyed the riches they had received as a result of their courage and strength of dharma for a very long time.

Related articles:
Bhandaru Acchamamba. The Outstanding Life and Work of Bhandaru Acchamamba.

Bhandaru Acchamamba’s Stories. A Review

Bhandaru Acchamamba. First Telugu Story Writer

(Revised. June 6, 2022.)


1 Two days before Diwali day, the Festival of Lights, Dhanathrayodasi(Lakshmi Puja) day is celebrated in some communities
2 Goddess of poverty
3 The two goddesses are considered sisters in Hindu mythology. Jyeshta is the goddess of poverty and Lakshmi is the Goddess of wealth
4 A person is considered being in a state of madi during puja and cooking time. During that period, usually one or two hours, the person takes bath, wears freshly washed clothes and avoids physical contact with others
5 Literally, dad. Also used as a vocative to address a male child
6 An endowment of a small township
7 a phrase, similar to ‘swear on my mother’s grave’
8 The day between Dhanatrayodasi and Diwali
9 A piece of camphor put on a plate, lit up, and waved in front of a person or God in a circular motion, implicitly seeking their blessings. Same as ‘aarti’.

Evolving Values by J.P. Sarma

(The unpublished Telugu original, Ammamma Uttaram, translated by Dr. Suguna Kannan.)

Grandmother’s Letter:

Dear Chiranjeevi Lakshmi Sowbhagyavathi(1) Kamakshi,

This is your grandmother Narasamma writing to you…

We do speak every day over the phone, but there are some things one cannot share over the phone so, this letter. Our neighbor’s son has promised to post it to you. Tomorrow, I will call the boy when you ring me up and you can share your postal address so he can write it down.

Anyway, my reason for writing to you is this …. in my youth, the auspicious month of Sravan2 used to fly by on golden wings. On Tuesdays and Fridays, our home would overflow with female friends, and the festivities would keep us all busy and engrossed. To add to the hubbub, would be the brouhaha caused by the occasional tiny showers common during this season. It would make the ladies worry about their silk saree getting wet. Unlike the present times, there was no craze among the ladies to deck themselves in costly grand sarees and expensive gold jewelry. Everyone dressed according to their capacity. Whether affluent or impoverished, their concerns were only about…. performing the pooja with reverence, visiting each other’s homes to receive the blessings and prasad (offerings to God) … inquiring about each other, and exchanging greetings and news… our lives were limited to these, and time passed by with no problem! By night, the whole house, covered with yellow turmeric, would appear golden. The sight would be gratifying to the heart. Maybe N.T Ramarao3 chose yellow as his party color hoping it would make Andhra Pradesh golden! Now neither the turmeric nor my husband is there in my life… What is the use of thinking about them?

By evening, about three kgs of the prasad(soaked chickpeas) would accumulate. I would grind it with salt, chilies, and some onions to make vadas (savory fried snacks native to South India) since your grandfather was very fond of those. I used to make them for four or five days after that and he would polish off half a dozen vadas after his afternoon nap while reading a book. All that revelry and merriment has vanished from this house. I see a few ladies visiting each other for the pooja but their faces are more likely to be colored white rather than yellow. Your grandfather’s departure to heaven has prevented them from coming to this house.

I was reminded of all this, my dear – I don’t know, why? Your uncle married as per his wish but what was the use? Your aunt could never see eye to eye with him on any issue! It is ten years since they left…. I don’t even know where they are! Maybe he does not even remember me! Okay! I got over that too … since your mother was in the same town…you are her only daughter…and what did she do… unnecessarily she sent you to America for further studies! You got married as per your choice…white or black what does it matter…he is not ours, No? So, where is the scope any longer for…Sravan month, poojas, and gaiety? I could not fulfill my yearning with your mother…. nor with you!

My mother used to perform the pooja with me and when I used to pay obeisance before her, she would bless me, “May the years of my lifespan be added to yours, and may you live happily for 100 years”. Finally, I seem to have taken the years from my parents’, your grandfather’s, and even your mother’s lifespan. I am still alive but there is no life in me.

By writing my thoughts, I feel unburdened, the tears that had long frozen in my eyes have melted. They flow down my cheeks providing me some relief. I know that memories are sorrowful but I have no one to share them with except you.

Take Care, dear!
Your Loving Grandma,

Granddaughter’s Response:
Dear Ammamma(4),
Your granddaughter Kamakshi offers her namaskarams(5) to you through this letter.
We are all fine here and hope you are safe and sound there. After reading your letter, I wanted to reply to you. Ammamma, your letter reminded me of all the advice given by my mother as well as you and that is what inspired me to pen this letter. For me, it is a first …. I have never written to you earlier… I did not even know how to address you in a letter so I searched on Google for a long time. Pshaw! …. great Google had not the faintest idea… as if it could even think of such a thing! So, I thought …. I would write just as I talk to you on the phone!
Ammamma…. If I had stayed in our place, I might not have learned as much about Telugu as I have learned after coming here to New Jersey! Only after coming here, did I realize the value of our language (as they say the grass is greener on the other side). My first boss was from Andhra and he told me, “In our office, three-fourths of the employees are from Andhra. If you know Telugu, you will learn the job easily.” Those days the only language I heard was Telugu so I began to improve and refine my Telugu usage, which I had avoided earlier. My love and respect for the language grew. You always insisted that ‘distance makes the heart grow fonder’…now it has been proven …QED as they say in Geometry. My thoughts about our language and you have undergone a sea change!
In this place, there is an organization called Silicon Andhra Manabadi(6), which teaches Telugu to children. These children have a greater grasp of Telugu compared to me. I learn from them without any embarrassment.
Incidentally, here also pujas are performed during the month of Sravan grandly with greater reverence and ritual purity. Here it is not just a formality to be completed but done with great interest and dedication. I met a lady doctor in the local hospital, where I had gone for my first formal medical check-up. I did not realize that she was from Andhra but she spoke in Telugu after seeing my name. She invited me home to her place and I went.
You cannot believe how much I have learned from her…she came here some fifty years ago. On my first visit to her home, I was surprised to find her looking just like you in a simple handloom saree with a long plait. It was quite contrary to the Western image I had formed of her in my mind. In their house, one whole wall is covered with a big bookshelf filled with volumes ranging from Ramayana to the latest Telugu books of poets like SriSri(7). I gained a lot of knowledge about Telugu culture but she very modestly says, ‘I learned all this only after coming here. Through her, I have become acquainted with many like-minded people. I have heard you say that in your youth, Andhras went to all other Indian states for employment; so, you will not be surprised to hear that now we find a multitude of Andhras in other countries too – so much so that at times I feel that I have not left our town. I am very surprised by the change in my thought processes during the past five years that I have been here. Doctor Aunty said that I would look nice in a skirt and half saree because I have a very adolescent appearance and look. I bought a skirt- half saree set online and wear it for festivals and special occasions. For the Varalakshmi Puja, she came home and instructed me on how to perform the puja. She had meals with us and praised my cooking a lot. After tasting the Gutthu Vankaayi (stuffed brinjal) I had made, she was surprised and said, “No matter how I make it, it never tastes so good”.
So, Ammamma, don’t worry! It is not as you imagine… our language and festivals are better respected and cherished here; as they say, “Farther from Temple, nearer to God”. My African-American husband has also learned Telugu. On festival days, when I wear silk sarees, he wears the traditional dhoti and kurta and looks like Veereslingam Pantulu(8). Ammamma, you know though he is dark, his heart is white and pure.
Incidentally, that Doctor Aunty has an only daughter…born and brought up here…she is in a live-in relationship with a South African and has gone off to some foreign country …. it’s been ten years…Aunty does not know where the girl is!
This seems to be the outcome of a free society. “World is a family” does not mean this, does it?
Poor lady! Whenever she sees me, her eyes fill up with tears but I can see a sort of happiness in them. I see my mother in her.
But one thing, Ammamma every family has a feeling of sorrow and success… it is unavoidable, isn’t it?
Bye then
Your affectionate granddaughter

Foot Notes:
1. Chiranjeevi Lakshmi Sowbhagyavathi – In Indian vernacular, elders while writing a letter to a younger person began traditionally with a blessing of long life (Chiranjeevi) and prosperity (Lakshmi Sowbhagyavathi)
2. Sravan – Sravan is the fifth month of the Hindu Lunar calendar and is considered its holiest. It is choc-a-bloc with festivals and auspicious occasions.
3. N.T Ramarao – Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao popularly known as NTR, was an Indian actor, filmmaker, and politician who served as Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh for seven years over three terms.
4. Ammamma – Grandmother
5. Namaskarams- means “I bow to you.”
6. Silicon Andhra Manabadi- a global Telugu language learning platform.
7. SriSri – was an Indian poet and lyricist, famous for his works in Telugu literature and films.
8. Veeresalingam Pantulu – A famous Telugu social reformer and writer considered to be the father of the Telugu Renaissance movement.

(June 1, 2022)