Category Archives: Analytical articles

Radha’s debt by Mullapudi Venkataramana: A Review by Nidadavolu Malathi

The third story in this series on Telugu humor features younger couple. The story opens with the couple, Radha and Gopalam, chatting while Radha is cooking supper. Gopalam says ostentatiously that he will be telling her a story. Radha teases him that he has changed his habit by shifting from reading the newspaper aloud for her to telling a story. Her comment becomes clear a little later when we read Gopalam’s comment, “God gave you so much beauty, so many plausible qualities but not the sense to read the daily paper.” Radha is not interested in reading the newspaper, and Gopalam wants her to read the paper. (We see similar incident in Kantham story.)

The setting in itself – his habit of reading the newspaper aloud for her benefit while she cooks–is not funny but the way it is said brings up a smile. It is a cheerful setting anybody would like to see in a middle class home. This scene is comparable to the family atmosphere in Kantham story, and we notice a historical development in the nature of conjugal relationships in our society. Up until nineteen fifties, the male and female areas were definitively separate. By early 1950s, the atmosphere started changing, and males and females started assuming more supportive roles of each other.

Gopalam ignores her sarcasm and continues with his story. As an aside, we need to remember that the author, Venkataramana, lives in Madras, and has been familiar with the movie scripts. He makes Gopalam mimic the artificial language common in the movies. With this in mind, read the following three pages, and see if the humor has come through.

“If I tell you a story, will you listen?” Gopalam asked.

He put down his coffee cup and pulled out a cigarette packet from his pocket.

“What? You want to tell me a story? What about reading the newspaper?” Radha said. She sat down with the vegetable basket and cutting knife.

“Will read that later. Let me finish the story first. I’ll be brief. It’s called Sasirekha swayamvaram. Sasi was the heroine, the setting was: a rainy night, and time nine o’clock, that’s when the six o-clock show had end, place was the front porch of a dozy house with clay-tiled roof.”

Gopalam stopped and lighted a cigarette. “Say uum,[1]” he said, blowing a cloud of smoke.

Radha finished peeling the green banana. She cut it into cubes, and threw them into a bowl of water. “Uum, and then,” she said.

“Okay, first the hero came on to the stage. He didn’t like getting drenched in the rain, and so, stood on the verandah. Within a couple of minutes, Sasi, the heroine, showed up at the same place. No more characters in the story, just the two of them.”

“Forget the story, go back to your newspaper, please,” Radha said.

“No, you listen, it’s almost over. The young man stopped staring at the neem tree, the yellow building in front, the house with clay tiles, dark clouds, the hazy moon, and the young woman next to him. He was just gaping into the void in front of him.

“What’s wrong, poor thing,” said Radha, without raising her head.

“Sudha, the woman on the porch, also thought of the same thing. She recalled that she’d seen him somewhere.

“The young woman stared at him for a brief second, and her eyes turned to the wavering curls on his forehead painfully.”

“Poor thing, what’s the matter?” Radha said with a smile.

“Sudha asked the the same question. And he said that he was heartbroken and had lost all his faith in the entire female populace, after watching the movie in which the hero’s heart had been crushed into one thousand pieces; his heart had been filled with love and his eyes with tears; he was also the victim of a local woman’s deception, and thus his hrudayakunda [heart jug] was also broken, …

The phrase, “hrudayakunda” is a hybrid term derived by combining two words in two languages, Sanskrit and Telugu, to ridicule the contrived language in the movies. The original phrase commonly used is hrudayabhaandam, a Sanskrit term, and in case the reader misses this play upon words, the narrator makes it clear through Radha’s comment.

“What is ‘heart jug?’. That’s silly,” Radha said.

In the rest of Gopalam’s narration, satirical comments on social norms abound.

“The young man on the porch quickly finished his story and continued to watch his curls, breathing heavily. The young woman felt an urge to caress his curls.”

Radha laughed. “That’s ridiculous. What’s she thinking? How can she think of caressing a stranger’s hair? and, in an open place at that–on the porch of a clay-tiled roof house?”

“Who knows? Didn’t Shakespeare say that woman’s heart is deep? Maybe not, I’m not sure. Anyway, you just listen. Guess what the woman said? She said, ‘Okay, my boy! Hand me those pieces [of the broken heart]. I’ll put’em together, fill them with life, if that’s you want.'”

Gopalam broke into a roaring laughter, pleased with his own ingenuity.

Radha touched the tip of her nose with her index finger in astonishement. “How could she talk like that with a stranger,especially when she had not seen his face or nose in all her life?” she said.

“That’s nice. Maybe her face and nose are not like yours; they do not stand out like yours, I suppose. Hers is a very ordinary face.”

Obviously, the narrator is sidetracking the issue for the fun of it. Radha refers to the face of the hero in Gopalam’s story, and Gopalam turns that into an issue about Radha’s face and nose. The phrase mukkuu moham eragani vaadu in Telugu is normally used in reference to a total stranger. Radha  continues to play along instead of correcting him about his digression.

“Why drag my face and nose into this. Go on with your story.”

“What story? It is over, almost. That young man said that he would never trust a woman again, no way. The young woman protested vehemently, turned away and burst into tears. And then the man looked at her and asked her name. She said ‘Sudha’ and asked, ‘what’s yours?’ He said ‘Mohan’, and continued to call her name, ‘su … dha …’. The word came, piercing through his heart, you know. And then, she also called out his name, ‘mo …ha …n.’ That also came out, piercing through her heart.”

“So, both the names came piercing through their hearts. That’s good. And then?” Radha said. She had scored two notches higher than Gopalam in math.

“And then what? Like you don’t know,” He said.

Radha expressed anger, “What do I know? Only you can say things like ‘Oh my heart,’ or ‘oh, my love’, and then ridicule others. You can call their hearts ‘heart jug’ and such. Remember the proverb, like calling the skipper ‘kapot Mallayya’ after reaching the shore.'”

The last line is the second half of a popular proverb – “Addressing the skipper ‘captain Mallayya’ before boarding his boat, and ‘kapot Mallayya’ after reaching the shore”. In other words, showing no respect after one was done with the other person. Gopalam changes his tone.

“Don’t be angry with me, Radha. All I’m saying is …”

Radha said with a pout, “You can say whatever you please. That is the way always.”

Gopalam burst into a big laugh and said, “Alright, my girl. I did not cross the river in any boat and called nobody kapot Mallayya. My father and your father met in Vizag, decided to marry us, and they did so. … We’d never met before, nor fallen in love with each other.”

The reader comes to understand that the story Gopalam was narrating was their own story, which annoys Radha. She picks up an onion from the basket. Gopalam finds one more reason to tease her, and also bring up the subject of her debt, she supposedly owed him.

“I don’t like onions, put it back. … Also, because you said I don’t have a heart. Therefore, pay up my debt.”

This is the first time the core theme, debt, comes up, which is a surprise both to Radha and the reader.

“What debt?” Radha said, squinting her eyes.

“The establishment charges incurred prior to our marriage.”

“What establishment charges?”

“Come on, don’t pretend like you don’t know. You’ve said it yourself that I had written umpteen letters to you. You pay me the cost of those letters.”

They both continue to argue for a while. Gopalam threatens to sue her father, claiming he was responsible for the expenses on her behalf.

Radha laughs a stunningly beautiful laugh, and says, “your proposition is silly.”

Gopalam is knocked down by her gorgeous laugh and calmed down. And then comments, “God’s given you so much beauty, great qualities, and gorgeous heart but not the interest to read the newspaper, that is sad. So be it. Don’t listen to the news. You may add onions to the vegetable dish. I’ll just sit here and hum a tune.”

Radha cringed at the thought. “Oh, no. Look at me. It’s okay, you can read the paper. I can’t ignore your words.”

Through out the story we see this technique–of switching the subjects–the author uses to highlight the frivolous nature of the couple’s arguments.

Just in that moment a friend, G.V. Murthy comes to visit them. Gopalam thinks “it’s not nice on the part of any G.V. Murthy or S.K. Rao, to show up in the mornings when the couple are having coffee and engaged in a playful chitchat.”

Despite his displeasure, Murthy is asked to mediate their quarrel in regard to a debt Radha supposedly owed Gopalam. Gopalam provides a list of items such as the bet he had lost to his friends whether Radha would show up in a saree at a wedding, and the money he had spent on various items in order to get her attention.

— Eighty rupees total spent on numerous items during the fifteen days prior their wedding day;

— There must be twenty-five greeting cards, I’d sent you, that’s twenty-five rupees;

— And the letters. I sent them in special envelopes, that’s twelve rupees.

“Did I ask you to send them?” Radha asked.

“You don’t have to. I could see right there; you laughed each time you saw me on the street. What would any man think?”

“What do you want me to do if not laugh? Make faces at you? You showed up every day on my way to school. Let it be. How do you account for the rest of the fifty rupees?”

The friend intervenes and adds a list of Gopalam’s worries in those days:

— Whether you would show up on the street or not;

— You would show up, and may or may not look at him; and,

— You would look at him and may or may not smile at him.

While waiting at the paan shop and worrying like that, he used to buy betel nut packets and cigarettes for Murthy. Murthy adds that Gopalam spent so much that the shop owner could buy a used car. According to Murthy’s account, Gopalam was also taking his friends to the movies, if Radha had appeared in a white saree and black blouse.

Radha stopped them and said, “Okay, listen to what I have to say. According to my calculation, you owe me seventy rupees, after deducting what I owe you from what you owe me. Let me have the money, I’ll go to the store in the evening and buy myself a saree.”

Gopalam stared at her suspiciously, “Are you saying I have to pay you and not the other way around?”

And she gives him an account of the money she had spent in order to please him.

“You wrote to me that you like green georgette saree, and so I borrowed thirty rupees from my aunt, bought a green saree and wore it for your sake. … I washed my hair, wore katuka on my eyes, anklets – all because you liked them. …

“On Sundays, I bought pakodi for my friends, each time you had showed up at the beach; bought chocolate for my younger sister each time you had sent a greeting card to me; … so often I had to spend on busfares and cofee for my friends. …”

Gopalam was stunned, touched by Radha’s love for him, and sat there for a while staring down. “Do you really have such strong love for me?” he said.

Radha dropped the onion she was holding, stared at him, and said, “Are those words also coming piercing through your heart, like you had said earlier?”

Gopalam and Radha get to the point of making up.

The friend screamed from outside, “This rupee is counterfiet.” Gopalam yelled back, anxiously, “Take another rupee from my shirt pocket. Or, take the pocket itself, just go away.”

In a way, the story is about a young couple, continuing their romance after they got married. The couple may be in their early twenties but, from today’s standards, it is juvenile. That is part of the reason for the enormous popularity of this anthology–the element of childlike charm and romance in this story. I repeat that that is not only part of the charm. The real captivating part for readers then and now is the author’s command of diction. A story like this does not lend itself for transcultural translation.


(Review by © Nidadavolu Malathi, published on, March 2006)




[1] A sound usually children make, as a sign of their interest in the story.

Bhanumati’s Story of a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, review by Nidadavolu Malathi

This is the second story of the series in my analysis of Telugu humor.

The story opens with the mother-in-law (Attagaru) proposing to pay a visit to the Lord Venkateswara in Tirupati. She says that the lord appeared to her in her dream and was angry of her indifference.

My Attagaru [mother-in-law] insisted that we must go to Tirupati on that very day and pay a visit to the Lord Venkanna. My husband, who said he would not be able to go with us, and suggested to postpone the trip to the following week. Frankly, he has nothing to do yet never free to do anything, as the saying goes.

“Blasphemy, blasphemy,” Attagaru said, touching her two cheeks per our custom.
I was amused but did not laugh. Nevertheless my two hands touched my cheeks gently and reverently, and my lips muttered ‘blasphemy’ instinctively.

“So, what’d you say?” she said. She was observing madi at the time. She touched  the door curtain inadvertently but moved away quickly, probably thinking I did not see it.

“You go with Kodalu. We can all go together later,” my husband suggested.Attagaru went on insisting, “How can we go without you? That’s blasphemy. You shouldn’t even utter it.”

“What can I do? I have several urgent files to attend to. I can’t leave for another week at least. How would I know about your plans? You laid it on me out of nowhere. Did you think I have dreamt of it?”

“Now that you mention it, actually I had a dream; I saw the lord Venkanna in my dream. How do you think he appeared in my dream? He looked exactly like our elderly neighbor Purushottamacharyulu. His body was smeared with red kumkum, and he was holding a silver-lined cane. He was standing on the other side of our door and called out ammanni. I was so stunned, was not sure why He was angry with me. I was in the kitchen. I dropped the pan right there and ran into the hallway. By the way, it did not look like our hallway, nor the kitchen like ours. The kitchen looked like the one in my grandfather’s house and the hallway like that of my uncle’s.”

My husband finished his breakfast to his heart’s content and got up to leave. “Alright, alright. So be it. Are you done? I’ve to go,” he said.

“There again you are being disrespectful. Do not talk like that. The old man with a forehead featuring red kumkum was no other than Venkanna himself. As soon as he saw me, he yelled, ‘Ammanni, What has gotten into your head? You have not  paid a visit in a long time. You seemed to have forgotten even my existence. What a nerve,’ and he started beating me up with his cane. Trust me, there was a such huge swelling on my head. I knew even then that Venkanna was angry with me because I did not pay my respects to him, and I was being punished for it.”

My husband laughed and said, “What a nice God! He beat you up and made you decide on a trip to his temple.”

“No respect, I’m telling you. How can you joke around with Venkanna. What do you know about Venkanna anyways. He will slap you with his shoe if you are disrespectful toward him. My Attagaru told me that He had beaten her with a silver sandal in her dream; that was a very long time ago though. I am lucky, I was wearing the madi saree. So, he smacked me with his cane only on my head …”

This short dialogue between Attagaru, her son and the daughter-in-law [Kodalu] sets the stage for a long trip in their car from Madras to Tirupati–the trip of Attagaru, with Kodalu, their driver and a Malayalee as an errand boy.

The list of items they took with them shows author’s eye for details. The author shows her love of humor in itemizing the list in an irreverent fashion. The driver brought a kerosene tin filled with all the things he had been collecting to offer to the lord over period of time–during his wife’s and children’s sicknesses, strands of hair from his children snipped according to Sastras and kept “in stock”, etc.

It was a fierce struggle for him but he made sure that nothing else was put on the top of that tin box. Our errand boy, a Malayalee, sat in the front seat. And he put his leather bag, containing his clothes, on top of the driver’s tin box. That caused the driver to wiggle as though the life was squeezed out of him. He said quickly in his half-baked Tamil, “That tin contains items avowed to be offered to the Lord. You can’t put a leather bag on it, that’s disrespectful.”

Those two never got along to start with. The Malayalee boy yelled back, “Where else can I put my bag? On my head?”

Then the narrator continues to tell us the precautionary measures Attagaru had taken before leaving the house: My Attagaru locked each room – the kitchen door in the back of the house, the paddy room, the storage room, the puja room in numerical order. She left unlocked only the hallway in front of the kitchen for the cook’s use. It was like donating the Sahara desert. She alerted the gardener to watch the house, and told him to move the buffaloes to the cowshed in case it rained and then, came out and sat in the car, along with the palm leaf basket containing her items avowed  to the Lord. In the meantime, I locked all the rooms upstairs and returned to the car.

This is the strength of Bhanumati’s style. In describing the actions of Attagaru, she does it in exasperating detail, and in her own case, sums it up in one sentence. After all the detailed explanation, it is not over yet. Attagaru says they need to hand over the keys to her son (narrator’s husband). Kodalu assures her that they can drop them off at his office on their way.
The car made a few miles and the tire on the side my Attagaru was sitting burst with an earthshaking sound. Attagaru was stunned. “Oh god, where is that blast coming from?” she asked, clutching my arm tightly. I was not sure whether I should laugh or curb it. “Don’t worry, Attaa, just the tire burst,” I said, struggling to hide my laugh.

Here the author is setting stage for another incident with similar connotation to follow later. If it is not humorous for the reader at this point, it will be soon. The driver puts on the spare tire and proceed to their destination. While they are on the road, Attagaru goes into a rambling about all the relatives they had in Tirupati. Kodalu says that is one of the reason she wished her husband was with them. If he had accompanied them, they all would go straight to the temple, and return home. Without him, Attagaru insists on visiting her relatives and Kodalu cannot say no. And the next question is whom they should visit. Both Attagaru and Kodalu have their own preferences.

For those who are not familiar with Indian customs, and conditions particularly in the sixties era, here is something you need to know. First, the relatives may be cousins twice or thrice removed, and secondly, a family can always show up at the relatives door unannounced. Also, the length of the visit can be anywhere from one hour to a couple of days. Bhanumati cashes in richly on all these aspects of extended families to bring about humor in her stories.Thus Attagaru decides to visit one of her relatives. They go there only to find a big padlock on the door. Apparently, the prospective host family went away on a tour of their own. The same thing happens with the second choice of Attagaru. After running out of all her options, Attagaru agrees to visit the family her son had suggested earlier, which happens to be the choice of Kodalu also.
There once again the figure [size] and the temperament of Attagaru come to surface, much to the chagrin of Kodalu.
The doors were small and narrow. Attagaru lowered her head cautiously and turned sideways and entered the house. My todikodalu [co-daughter-in-law] was surprised, put her hand to her cheek; her eyes opened wide and were rolling as she said, “Who’s that? Atta, is that you?”

“What’d you mean who? Have I changed that much that you can’t even see who I am?” Atta said, pulling her saree palloo over her shoulders, to avoid evil eye.

“Oh, no. Nothing happened to you, only your body … just a little …” my todikodalu said.

As can be expected, the comment from todikodalu triggers a rampage of heated argument. Here is one such description, where Attagaru teases todikodalu and the rebuttal from todikodalu.

“That’s what I’m saying too. Maybe you looked like a twig in your day but now who can miss your body type? The same people who laughed at me in those days are laughing at you, aren’t they?” todikodalu said.

“Let them laugh. It seems it is my karma I should take this banter from you.”

“Nobody said anything madam. I am the one who’s taking all the banter here. Only you said that my people were penniless and murky; You poured insults on my family; You made fun of my nose;

Only you said that my husband had taken to bad ways because of me; You’re the one who called me garish and wicked.”

Readers need to remember difference in the two forms of the second person pronoun–nuvvu and meeru. While Attagaru uses nuvvu, todikodalu uses meeru. The implicit element of respect in the use of meeru fades away in instances like this.
Despite the attempts of Bavagaru [todikodalu’s husband] to break them up, Attagaru and todikodalu get into a verbal exchange, dredging up the insults each poured on the other in the past several years.

Next morning Kodalu and the daughter-in-law of todikodalu are surprised to see the same two women engage in a friendly chitchat as if nothing happened the day before. Attagaru and Kodalu set out for the temple and they invite the host family to join them. That includes Bavagaru, his wife [todikodalu], their son, his wife and the baby. The car starts looking like a woman in her third trimester.

The tire on attagari side bursts again. Attagaru cringes, screams ‘Oh lord’ and clings to Kodalu. Bursting the tire on the same side twice, why? Kodalu wonders, suppressing a smile. Even todikodalu cannot contain her laughter and covers her face with the palloo.

Todikodalu and Attagaru engage in a round of verbal exchange once again. This time it is about modes of conveyance each of them enjoyed in their younger days—horse- drawn carts, cars, and such, they or their families had owned in the past. Bavagaru tries to shut up his wife. But her mouth works as a piece of machinery–an “automatic system”. She has no control over her vocal chords.

Eventually, they finish the darsan to the lord and go to the traveler’s bungalow. After eating the food served in the temple, Attagaru rests for a while and todikodalu lies next to her.

Kodalu (narrator) and the daughter-in-law of todikodalu go to see the rose garden. Their hearts jump at the sight of the flowers and are disappointed at the thought that they are not allowed to pick the flowers. Even if they had picked, not allowed to put them in their hair–that would be a sacrilege. It is interesting how often Kodalu is reminded of what is sacrilege and what is not. By extension, we the readers are also warned of the same.

Eventually they return to the bungalow, apprehensive of the kind of scene they might be walking into. Contrary to their fears, they find Attagaru and todikodalu in a boisterous mood. Both of them are laughing loudly, teasing each other, and saying to each other, “Go away, Atta,” and “You go, jackass.”

They notice the two daughters-in-law [Kodalu and the daughter-in-law of todikodalu] back from their walk, and speak in unison, “Come on, girls, we’ve good news for you. You two are going to have a huge feast soon,” meaning, they have arranged a wedding between todikodalu’s brother’s son and attagaru’s older sister’s grand-daughter.

Before the actual marriage takes place. however, Attagaru and todikodalu get into one more round of verbal exchange. The young daughter-in-law takes on Attagaru to calm down while Kodalu takes on todikodalu to appease. That is a strategic move. Kodalu knows that she cannot work on Attagaru and so sends the young daughter-in-law to Attagaru. This is one of the instance where the author’s knowledge of human nature and the negotiating skills come to the fore.The narrator comments, “Like two hostile planets moving in one combat zone, those two (Attagaru and todikodalu) will meet again in one place for the wedding that is going to take place in the month of magha [the eleventh month per lunar calendar].”

Reader can visualize the narrator bracing herself up for the impending event. Bhanumati was knowledgeable in astrology, which she used in her stories often. One more interesting angle in Bhanumati’s stories is the naming practice. In traditional Telugu families, it is common to refer to people by their relationship rather given names. Like most of her stories, Bhanumati always refers to people only with kinship terminology. So one has to remember the context, who is saying what and with reference to whom, to understand words like son, daughter-in-law etc. It is confusing on one level, yet it also makes a powerful social comment on the interpersonal relationships in the Telugu homes.

This article by Nidadavolu Malathi has been published on, April 2006.




Kantham and I by Munimanikyam Narasimha Rao

Since humor does not lend itself to crosscultural translation easily, I decided to bring out the highlights of three short stories and then summarize in a separate article again. Here is the first story, Kantham and I in the series.

The story opens with a monologue of Kantham’s husband, Venkata Rao, expressing his anger. He is upset since Kantham’s laughed at him the night before, and for that reason decides not to eat at home, by way of punishing his wife.

“You can give me a thousand reasons why I should but I still will not eat at home today. Forget the food, I will not even drink a glass of water here. You’re way out of line. How long do you think I can put up with your misconduct? I am in no mood to eat at home today. I’m determined to go to the hotel.”

“Please, forgive me. What’d I say, anyways?”

“I don’t want even to hear the word forgive. I  can take any number of insults in the privacy of our home but not in front of my friends?” I said. The humiliation I suffered last night is fresh in my mind. Boiling inside, I went to the hotel. I kept to myself all all the insults she poured on me until now but for long can I put up with her misconduct? Can you say I’m being irrational?

He continues to explain the reason for his annoyance: You might say ‘Why bicker with Kantham, just forget it. How can I? She’s not only showing the respect I deserve as her husband but she was calling me by name, Venkata Rao, in an undertone.
Stupid, she thought I could not hear her. I was willing to let go of it but then she burst into a big
laugh, watching my turban. That is the real issue. She called him by name and laughed while watching at his unsuccessful attempts to wear a turban properly. His refusal to eat at home sets the stage, and the description of his struggle with his attempts to  wrap the turban around his head is hilarious. I never made the mistake of wearing a turban during my student days. I started it after I’d entered the teaching profession out of necessity. It never turns out right for me. Sometimes it looks like a turban sitting on the top of a pestle, or turns into a Tamilian’s headgear. When I take a lot of trouble and try to wrap it around my head, it takes the form of a snake charmer’ turban. In Greek mythology, there was a cowherd, who could predict future. There was however a snag; if a person seized him, he’d transform into a petrifying figure, and tries to scare them away. Only if that person remained calm, and not be frightened, then the cowherd returns to his normal figure and predicts the future for that person. I suspect that my turban is a reincarnation of that cowherd. It keeps taking any and every form except its natural form as a school teacher’s turban.

There I was struggling to wrap it around my head correctly, and she, instead of helping me, was
standing by the door and laughing at me. You tell me how should I feel? The reader can see why it was amusing to Kantham. One person’s misery is hilarious for another, that’s human nature. It’s amusing how the author tied in a cowherd from Greek mythology to his own turban problem. His reference to a Tamilian’s headgear seems a little far-fetched. There is however one difference. The author used a different word, talagudda, a piece of cloth worn on one’s head as opposed to talapaga, a turban, reflecting one’s sophistication. Possibly it could be a reference to the Tamilian, hotel server, who’s going to appear later in the story.

The story was written in pre-independence era. In those days teachers were required to wear a
turban, even with three-piece suits. Apparently, that was not a winning experience for all teachers.

The next episode is a comment on women’s lack of interest in acquiring knowledge and keeping
abreast of current events. (The author of Radha and Gopalam story also makes similar comment.)
In the current story, the husband rushes home with the latest issue of a highly respected literary
magazine, parishat patrika. I rushed home holding parishat patrika zealously. I was hoping Kantham would read the magazine and become knowledgeable in current matters. I said, “Here’s parishat patrika. Read it, it contains plenty of new information.” She took it, and as soon as I turned my back, used it to cover the soup dish  I came back, noticed it and was sad. That cracked her up again. What can I say? Historically, it was the time when the women’s education movement reached its peak, and in several families, men encouraged women to learn to read and write. Possibly men felt that women had not been responsive to the movement with the same zeal as men.

On a side note, this reminds me of another story, stri vidya [women’s education] by Bhandaru Acchamamba written in 1887. In Acchamamba’s story also, like in Kantham and I and Radha Gopalam, the protagonist’s husband tries to pursuade his wife to learn to read but the wife ignores all his arguments. Eventually, he is arrested as a freedom fighter and thrown in jail. And then, the wife realizes that she needs to learn to write in order to keep in touch with her husband and learns to read and write. Maybe women are pragmatic in their approach and are prone to acquire the necessary skills only when there is a good reason for doing so. It is also possible that, from the perspective of women, the current education system is not addressing the women’s issues in a meaningful way, and thus fails to capture women’s attention.

Despite Kantham’s apparent lack of interest in the day’s events, Venkata Rao starts to read the
journal aloud. Kantham stops him, saying the text was not in Telugu (neither did I, to be frank). She said, “Wait, that’s not Telugu; it sounds more like a Tamil women’s song. I know a few Telugu women’s songs. You don’t have to read that to me.”

Venkata Rao tries his level best to explain that it was not a Tamil song but Kantham was not
convinced. He has no choice but to laugh along with her. Thus, Venkata Rao believes that he has been ridiculed one too many times, and it is getting to a point when he cannot take it anymore. He is itching to prove that he is right for once at least, and watch her lose for a change. He abides his time.

One day Venkata Rao was seriously engrossed in a matter relating to exams at school. Kantham
came in.



“Listen, I’ve a question.”

“Huh, now? What?”

“Why don’t you listen to me?”

“I’m busy. What’s it anyways?”

“Just tell me what do you want me to do?”

“About what? Don’t you see I’m very busy?”

“If you snap like that, what can I do? All I want to know is whether I should make okra curry or
soup with okra? Or, make the soup, forget the okra. Or, forget both, and grind lentil chutney with

I was upset with her at that moment. I pushed the books to a side and thought for a second. I was
not sure what to say. “If you skip the okra soup, what’s the curry going to be?” I asked her.

“If I don’t make okra soup, we’ll have okra curry,” Kantham said.

Oh, gosh. What a mess. I chased her away, saying, “That’s all very confusing to me. Take it to your brother, have it converted into a ‘simple equation’ , and bring it back to me.” I was happy that I won the first round.

He revels in his success but that turns out to be a short one. He faced with another loss the same

Kantham starts coughing. He gives a herbal root and tells her to keep it in her mouth. Here is a
rough translation of the dialogue between husband and wife:

“Here, tuck this herbal root in your cheek. It cures your cough,” he said.

“I don’t want it.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t like the taste of it.”

“What taste? It’s medicine. Just take it.”

“I’m telling you, I don’t want it.”

“No, I won’t let you not have it. If you don’t take it, how do you think your cough goes away. You
and I both will be sleepless all night.”

“I won’t.”

“Don’t you give me the lip. Take it,” I shouted.

“Do I have to?”

“Yes, you have to. Or else I’ll be very angry. Doesn’t a man have that much right over his woman?” I said harshly.

That got to her, it seems. She was afraid that I would be upset. She took the root.

This sounds rather harsh. Would a man, who is so stuck upon his role as a “man” would verbalize that sentiment in so many words? To me, the author was being sarcastic, aimed at the men “full of themselves”.

Secondly, the author continues to narrate that the husband is elated that he succeeded in making his wife do what he wanted her to do; he recalled his grandfather’s words, that a man should keep his wife in line one way or another. He is however confused when he saw Kantham smiling. Why is she smiling?

Here is why. He goes to her bedside and looks at her keenly. Kantham is lying down on her bed
with the root in her palm, holding next to her cheek.

“How could you be so stupid?” I asked.

“You said ‘tuck it next to your cheek’.”

He did not say whether it should be tucked in from inside or outside! Just a play upon words. She
is not stupid, just playing him. He is humiliated one more time. And then comes the final blow when one of his friends came to visit him. The couple invite the friend to stay for dinner. At the dinner time, Venkata Rao tries to impress his friend by making excuses for not serving a huge banquet.

The ships did not arrive at the port; there were no fresh potatoes in the market. All the other
vegetables were rotten. There was a snake gourd in the kitchen, but it was picked so long ago, I am sure it’d gone bad. I’m afraid you’d get sick, if we served it to you. You may think that this rice and chutney  is a meal for a recuperating patient, but trust me, we’re doing you a favor and saving your health. … The chutney is prepared with gongura from Guntur, the place known for its gongura fields in the entire world. …”

Kantham was in the kitchen. She sneaked in as if she’d nothing better to do, and said, “When did
we get gongura from Guntur?”

My friend was suspicious about my ramblings, and now he was convinced that I was bluffing. He burst into a big laugh.

Venkata Rao tries to bluff his way one more time. “Didn’t your sister bring it from Guntur?”. And Kantham says, “Yes, I forgot”, but her tone sounds more like no. That sends the entire household into a sidesplitting laugh. Venkata Rao has no way out and so joins them in their laugh. That is when he has decided not eat at home anymore. He goes to a hotel, run by a Tamilian. The author once again makes fun of the Telugu language spoken by Tamilians. Most of the words are Telugu words with different meanings. Probably, a rough translation reads like this.

“Is food served here?”

“Yes, [we] drop it.”

“All right, drop it then.”

“Buy ticket first.”

I bought the ticket and sat down in front a leaf plate.

“Should I drop a morsel?” he said.

I was ticked off. What does he mean, ‘drop a morsel?’ Am I an invalid or what? Is he going to give me a measly morsel, like I can’t digest a full meal? I was racking my brains. He came in and
dropped two morsels of rice in my plate literally. The first serving was not even enough to eat with chutney. I shouted again, “rice.” He held out two morsels in my face, and asked, “Should I toss all this?”

“Yes, toss the entire lump and bring three more servings. Don’t kill me,” I said.

After that, he brought the ghee dish. It’s true, he has a ghee dish in his hand, that’s all I can vouch
for. Beyond that, God only knows whether there’s ghee in the dish or not. Probably it is easy to
discover what is at the bottom of the Bay of Bengal but no one can tell what is at the bottom of that dish. … Into the dish, he dipped a ladle with a long handle and pulled out with extraordinary skill, lifted it nearly a mile above my head, and tilted it. For a second, I was under the delusion that something would drop into my plate, like the ganges from the top of the Himalaya mountain. That did not happen.

The server goes through similar gestures while serving other items. Venkata Rao returns home, with a half-empty stomach. He tells himself that it served him right.

At home, he finds Kantham lying on the floor in the kitchen with her head on a sitting plank. She
sees him and sits up. He can see remorse all over her face.

“Did you eat?” he asked.

“No. How can I, without you,” Kantham said.

“What does it matter if I’m not home. Can’t you eat?”

“My heart will not allow me to.”

“All right. Eat now.”

“I won’t unless you eat too.”

“What if I’d eaten at the hotel?”

“Then I’ll wait until evening.”

That was enough to let me know how strong her love for me was. At the hotel, I had only half a
meal. So, I told her to serve for me too. I persuaded her to sit down with me, and serve for both us. We both enjoyed a hearty meal together.

The author makes his point with the last line. Couples agree, disagree, fight and make up.
Nevertheless, there is an interesting twist at the end in regard to the husband’s attitude. He acts like he was doing her a favor; he could not admit that he didn’t have enough to eat at the hotel, and was still hungry!

One question I have is: Did Kantham guess as to what could have happened at the hotel and
decide to play along – a pragmatic approach to marital bliss? In the final analysis, the entire story appears to be about taking a jab at the attitudes of men and women in the nineteen forties decade.


(© Nidadavolu Malathi. The story is taken from an anthology by the same name, Kantham and I, written in the forties. This review has been published on, March 2006)

Dr.Nayani Krishnakumari’s Poetry : An Overview by Dr. Vaidehi Sasidhar

Dr. Nayani Krishnakumari garu has been a popular and well known name in the literary as well as academic circles of Andhra Pradesh. Being the daughter of an illustrious poet, Sri. Nayani Subbarao garu and having been nurtured in a home environment that always bustled with the prominent presence of famous contemporary writers and poets like Viswanatha, Krishna Sastry, and Bapiraju  perhaps laid a solid literary foundation for young Krishnakumari during her earlier years.

Since details of Dr. Krishna Kumari’s  education, honors,  books and academic positions she held were given in Malathi garu’s article at length, I would not mention them to avoid repetition,  although I would like to add that her multifaceted talents and active involvement in various academic and literary fields certainly make an impressive mark on the readers. The scope of this article is focused on a brief overview of her poetry, namely, her free verse  anthologies.

Dr. Krishnakumari has three anthologies of free verse to her credit. It is interesting to note this prolific writer had taken her time in publishing these three books. First one was Agniputri published in 1978, followed by Emi Ceppanu Nestam in 1988 and the third one Soubhadra Bhadra Rupam“ was published in 2006, twenty five years after the second one.

Agniputri, her  first anthology of poems is dedicated to her father Sri. Nayani Subbarao garu on the eve of his eightieth birth day celebrations. Dr. Krishnakumari’s love, affection, pride and her immense adoration for her poet-father is pleasingly conspicuous in her writings.

The poems in Agniputri chronologically  range from 1960’s-1978. The poem Vihasimche vidhi”1951) , Kaveri kanneeti pata (1966) are written in geyam (lyric) style. The influence of the then popular style of Bhavakavitvam (romantic poetry) is very evident in  the soft sounding words that were chosen and the lilting rhythm. In Kruddha Prakruti, another  poem written in 1966, the poetess succeeded in bringing out the fury  of nature in front of our eyes through her descriptions and with her effortless ease with the traditional style of writing. The rightful influence of Nayani and Viswanadha is noticeable in these earlier poems in her style and language.

The poems she had written in  early 70’s to late 70’s slowly evolved into total prose poetry, her style of expression more direct, language less traditional and ideas less grandiose. It is an interesting evolution perhaps denoting the changing face of contemporary poetry writing.

In Agniputri  Dr.Krishna Kumari’s poems consist of a lot of introspection of her own emotions, feelings, ideas ,experiences and her responses towards  life. She had written few  poems like   Suptamandiram (1971) Pudami Polika“(1974) Manasu Chilaka (1974)  that suggest her out look  towards issues of spirituality  and divinity. Especially Pudami Polika has a mystic and romantic appeal that we find in Tagore’s poetry ,which was a very powerful style from 60’s to mid 70’s.

Still you are somewhere!!
Stacks of clouds are in the far away northern sky!
Freshly and freely hurrying Sweet  dewy breeze!
Did the moment That makes the jasmines bloom
Not wake you up yet?! ..

Dark thick clouds in the sky
Shrieks of water birds with
The pain of separation
And the undying love nestled in my heart!!!   (Pudami Polika)

Another poem in the same style,

It is thy exquisite form
That taught the sunlight the art of reflection!
And thy comforting touch
That gave coolness
To the embracing winds!!  (Gali Pidikili)

Another popular poem in this anthology “Visakha Na Necceli” talks affectionately about her associations, memories and loving connection  with Vizag during her university education  in a nostalgic vein.

Wedged by high rising waves
Surrounded  by gigantic mountain rocks
On this sea shore
In this city of destiny  my foot steps
Trace back years and years!!

The beauty of those shorelines
Along which I strolled
Still shining in me.
I am standing in front of you.
Still fragrant with the sandal scent of knowledge
That was applied here.   (Visakha Na Necceli)

“Emceppanu  Nestam” is Dr.Krishnakumari’s second anthology that was published in 1988. This book is dedicated to the memory of her dear friend ,writer, Dr. Sridevi .The title poem is written when her unfortunate, untimely and tragic demise saddened Dr.Krishnakumari very deeply.

The poems in this anthology are more of her responses to and observations of the society, people, surroundings around her in contrast to Agniputri where her poems are more of an introspection of her own feelings and emotions. Her poems in this anthology are noticeably confident and  bold expressions of her convictions, ideas  and understandings of the contemporary social scene. The stimulation for these poems came straight from the social, economic and political  arena of her times .I am impressed with her openness and courage of conviction that was clearly shown in many of her poems  in which she did not  hesitate to differ with the then popular “social awareness” concept and even firmly talks about sensitive and controversial issues like communalism, Marxism, Naxalism  and separate Telangana.

The antidote to Naxalism is nationalism
Did you all hear?
Let us  grow the nationalim into internationalism!
Push naxalism into the back stage
And let humanism flourish!
And then we shall see
What happens to our idealogical differences!!!

A good number of poems in this anthology show her profound, passionate and all embracing love for our country. Her patriotic fervor is unmistakable in poems like (Naa Desam Marricettu, Amma Odi, Aagipovalani  and many more where she is moved with choking emotion talking about every small detail about our country. At the same time she does not fail to express her displeasure and righteous indignation for the bureaucracy and burning problems of India.

I am the pure whiteness on the mount Kanchana Ganga
I am the sand of Gganges and the beauty of  coconut groves on her banks
I am the running river Godavari and flowing river Krishna
I am the passionate strength of feeling  that can not separate
Myself from my country even in my imagination
Each molecule in me is imprinted with my country’s form
And my whole existence is the pride of my independence !!   (Agipovalani)

In the poem “Paade Koyilalu”  she  talks about the issue of child labor and unprivileged children  with great compassion, affection and anguish.

These are the  small rusty nails in our country’s
Gigantic machine that crawl under our cars oozing oil
And condition all our engines!.
These are the little candles that
Slowly burn  their life away
Carrying coffees in our colleges and offices.  (Pade Koyilalu)

I must make a mention of a poem called Boggu Pulusu Gali (CO2).This poem is written in the context of a callous remark made about her ,calling her  Boggu Pulusu Gali in a scornful way. She wrote this poem as an answer to that remark in which she affirms herself and her peace loving nature with great dignity turning the derogatory remark skillfully into a powerful positive human quality.

I am carbon dioxide, yes, I am
The same carbon dioxide that
Extinguishes the envious fires
Emanating from human hearts
I rain furiously on the
Igniting fires of insults
Springing from the ugly corners
Of people’s minds…      (Boggu Pulusu Gali)

Overall this anthology contains poems on diverse  topics with a keen insight into the contemporary social scenario. Dr.Nayani Krishnakumari is a pure humanist at heart. It is very refreshing to see that she did not constrain her creativity to any ideological  isms or dogmatic theories. She wrote freely with an open mind when her imagination was aroused and her poetic instincts inspired. I personally believe propagandist poetry when written just for the sake of an ism or an ideal gets it’s boundaries of imagination constricted due to the poet’s self-imposed limitations.

Soubhadra Bhadra Rupam The third anthology of Dr.Krishnakumari  is published in 2006, which was dedicated to the memory of her mother Hanumayamma garu. Her warm affection ,love and respect for her mother is touchingly evident  in more than one poem in this anthology.
Did you notice  that the sweet time
When we played mom and child
Was so ruthlessly snatched away
Slapping hard across my face
Swinging me out of your lap
And took you far far  away !

When my heart laments to see you
There is a full moon
Under the closed eye lids.

In the chirping sounds of birds
I hear your sweet voice
The early morning summer breeze
Flowing  warmly like your smile … (Amma Needa)

One of the poems I liked in this anthology is Krishna Manassu in which the beauty, tranquility and serenity of the  river Krishna is very well captured in scenic imagery.

The rising gentle breeze
Spreading itself in  ripples on the  water’s body
Like a baby’s soft smile.
On the pretext of the water birds drying  their wing
The river is expressing her own heart desire.
The crazily rustling  lemon trees on the banks¼. (Krishna Manassu).

There are few other poems with beautiful imagery and metaphors as well.

The humming bird starts singing in the garden
The jasmine bush exhales agonizing fragrance
The sky  softly sparkles like a mattress of summer clouds.  (Chakranemi Kramam)


There the jasmine bush hid itself
In a flowery veil
Spreading sweet fragrance all  around

And also in the poem Anasakta she writes

It is raining!
The golden sunlight
Is weaving a shiny border
To the green splendor of the foliage!
Oh! The summer rain!

The poems in this anthology are also of diverse topics, Vedukulata is a poem with a philosophical angle , “Gaayapadina Rekka” is about the tenderness of a mothers love towards her offspring and “Ongolukonda’ is about sweet child hood nostalgia  and so on.

Overall the poems in this  anthology are more compact with an ease of expression, diverse and less lengthy.

Even though the purpose of this article is a brief review of Dr. Nayani’ Krishnakumari’s poetry, I must mention another book Kashmira Deepa Kalika  for its outstanding  metaphorical beauty of poetic expression. It is a travelogue describing the details of  her journey to and experiences in scenic Kashmir..This book is written in an amazingly effortless style, almost feels like an extempore poem or a sweet song sung in a single breath!! This book makes a highly enjoyable reading with the informative  flow of narration enriched with exquisite poetic expression and imagery. She  seamlessly integrates highly metaphorical descriptions in simple prose without interrupting  the flow of narration and more over without sounding superfluous or out of place.

She describes the beauty of a lake in Kashmir with a photographic detail,

“The lake is still with no rippling waves like a silver sheet glued to the ground with great dexterity. The myriad pieces of blue and white clouds scattered in the sky are reflected in the still waters. The lake is gorgeous like a sheet of silver studded with sapphires and pearls. The reflection of a row of hills with their pine trees upside down in the serene lake  gives an illusion of the hill being submerged in the waters.”

“The sovereignty of nature is beautifully suggested in those shining gigantic rocks on the mountain tops that look like  bejewelled thrones  laid for the master of the universe.” She describes her train journey  and the sights of nature ,..”The gramophone flowers  in bloom fencing the fields is a captivating sight. There is an innocent charm about the shyly smiling flowers with their  slanted soft petals reminding the delicate cheeks of a  beautiful damsel.”

And also,

“The stones on the river banks half covered with water shine like a bunch of jewels that were generously showered by the almighty. The river appears like a brown king cobra twisting, turning, hissing and biting every rock in its way with it’s sheer force…

“Far away the mountain tops are all covered with snow shining under the bright sun looking like a group of young and pretty maidens standing shoulder to shoulder and giggling in delightful abandon…..

There are many more beautiful and poetic descriptions in this book which truly make a delightful reading.

Dr.Nayani Krishna Kumari is no doubt, an eminent writer, successful academician and poet with multifaceted talents and perhaps inspired many women writers of her times to pursue literary interests in various fields. Her all round contribution to the field of literature and her humanistic approach and outlook towards life, society and literature is commendable. It is not quite often that we find an illustrious father having an illustrious daughter, but that we  find in the case of Sri. Nayani  Subba Rao garu who has been a core model of a literary celebrity for Dr.Krishnakumari.


(The article, written exclusively for, has been published originally on, June 2008. © Dr. Vaidehi Sasidhar.)

Author Crossing the Gender Barrier by Nidadavolu Malathi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


© Nidadavolu Malathi.

(Published as editorial,, April 2004)



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

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

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

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

The story runs like this:

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


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

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

“The nursery rhyme begins with a flower.

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

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

It goes on:

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

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

Cook! Cook! Why don’t you serve rice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bhayaanakam sukhaparam garbhe ca karuNaarasah

adbhutO ante sukluptaarthaa nOdaatta saa kathaanikaa.

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

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

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

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


kathaatmaka vacana prakriya kathaanikaa

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


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



Kalpana Rentala

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

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

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

The foundations of rewriting rival history

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

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

History as told in letters

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

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

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

 The first signs of women’s history

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

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

Feature columns as torch lights of women’s consciousness

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

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

From autobiographies to history

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

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

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

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

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

History from the depths of life

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

Evidence of history in women’s literature

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

Women’s stature as a collective force

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

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

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

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


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


Nonduality by Puranam Subrahmanya Sarma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Puranam Subrahmya Sarma.

Vijayawada –10

June 25, 1973.


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Elements of Oral Tradition in Telugu fiction by Nidadavolu Malathi

In the case of an oral narrative, the audience gather at a specific place, away from other distractions, and are presumably in a receptive mood. The narrator addresses live audience. He has an opportunity to use visual tools like gestures, draw on local and from immediate occurrences for props. In print most of these details are replaced by other kinds of illumination.

In Andhra Pradesh, like in other parts of India, print became a medium for fiction just about a century ago. Custom dies hard in any walk of life and storytelling is no exception. While numerous experiments are introduced in rendering fiction in print, some traits of the traditional narrative style lingered on.

I am not sure exactly when Telugu critics embraced the western literary critiquing tools as the standard and began to evaluate Telugu fiction accordingly. Currently, it has become the rule. Our  critics quote western fiction writers to as the benchmark for a good story. Consequently, our writers make a conscious effort to follow the same criteria in writing fiction. Workshops and seminar are being held to teach story-writing technique on the same lines. In the process however, the elements peculiar to centuries-old fiction, that are specific to Telugu, are ignored.

The story A Piece of Ribbon (Beenadevi) opens with a small group of individuals from affluent section of our society, who gathered on the lawn of a rich doctor to spend a leisurely evening. The main theme, a story of a poor girl’s longing for a piece of ribbon, as is evident from the title, comes up during their chitchat. The opening scene with a lighthearted exchange of teasing comments by the doctor’s wife and friends is consistent with typical Telugu chitchat among a group of friends. After a few minutes, the main theme is brought up with a typical line, “Oh, that reminds me …” This is very similar to a preamble in our harikatha in oral tradition. The casualness with which the main story has been opened belies the profundity of the central theme—a  poor girl badly wanting to have a piece of ribbon to put in her hair. The tribulations of the doctor at the turn of events, first his satisfaction of being the benefactor, and later his failure, his insatiable thirst for revenge and, at the end, the punishment he was handed down for his mindless action were delineated in great detail.

Examined from the standpoint mentioned above, the criteria of the the western storytelling technique, this story lacks unity and compactness if it were to be read as a story of a little girl and her disappointments/hardships. On the other hand, judged by the stamp approval of Telugu readers on this story, we have to assume that Telugu readers and critics accepted this flaw[?] and appreciated the story as much for its traditional elements as for the core message which is the point of the title. That is evident from the award the story received in 1999. The story was originally published in 1965, and received Ravi Sastry award after 35 years of its publication.

Readers who are familiar with oral tradition are accustomed to ignoring embellishments and going straight to the core thought. For a majority of Telugu readers, this is a story of a poor girl who could not afford a piece of ribbon. I would read this story as an ego trip of the doctor (a prototype of our social reformers?) who was riding high on his generous nature rather than the poor child’s pathetic economic conditions. Against the backdrop of his self-indulgent journey into his past, the little girl’s agony fails to measure up.

Elements like humor (wife teasing husband) and irreverent comments by friends are all part of our daily lives, intended to establish the environment—again, something irrelevant to the little girl’s story.

One of the significant features in live performance is the delivery of dialogue. In a live performance, the narrator is a ventriloquist as well. He performs the characters on the stage and the audience will have no problem identifying which dialogue was spoken by which character. In The Ants, (Nayani Krishnakumari), the story was narrated as a reflection of the protagonist in his head; not only reflections of the past events but also his present responses to the past events. In print, in the Telugu original, the sentences were put in double quotes. In such instances, in English italics are used but Telugu language has no such feature. If this story were narrated in the presence of a live audience, the audience would recognize at once that the protagonist was addressing the other characters only in  his mind. In translation this needed further elucidation.

Another important element is the use of metaphor. The story revolves around the main character’s ego, or, rather his inability to take charge of his own life. Ant is a metaphor for a small, insignificant life on one hand and a symbol of  communal strength on the other. This story actually draws on both the angles. On one hand, the ants as a group could drag a piece of meat bigger than themselves into their hole. On the other, the protagonist sees them as his antagonists, the people who dragged him down, and so he crushed them under his foot, a symbolic victory for him. In translation, this again needed verbal clarification.

Long-winded sentences with adjectival phrases and nonfinite verbs are very common in Telugu fiction, particularly in older stories. This is interesting in the context of recent trends—courses being taught in short story workshops (Ramulu, pp.20-21). Here is a classic examples of traditional writing in the opening paragraph of Meaningless Union. (Puranam Subrahmanya Sarma). The first sentence runs to 14 lines. The original text, broken into individual phrases, reads roughly like this:

When Srihari got down at Howrah station with a suitcase full of suffocating ideals; when he saw buses running in all directions like rows of ants; as he walked with a renewed enthusiasm at the thought that this is my country, this is our wealth; as he saw the pure, cool, ennobling Ganga river flowing through the heart of the city peacefully; which was shimmering with a touch of the golden rays of the sun; the same Srihari who walked ostentatiously; after going around the offices in Garden Reach; as he was worn out after realizing the worthlessness of his recommendation letters; gritting his teeth; ate puffed peas and drank water; while trying to fret away the night; caught by the police and beaten with their canes; cursed the system; underwent hardships; went around dragging his suitcase; accepted the “Calcutta jute mills’ invitation”; the city that inhales people in the morning and exhales live corpses in the evening; Srihari moved on cursing the country.

In my translation, I moved the last part to the beginning of the paragraph for the purpose of lucidity and also broke the paragraph into several shorter sentences. Once again, like in the case of Piece of Ribbon, this long sentence was never a problem for Telugu readers.

Unlike adjectival phrases, a long sentence with several non-finite verbs like chuusi (after seeing  or having seen), adigi (after asking or having asked) imply a list of sequential actions and could be used to bring about a specific effect. I used a similar long sentence in Madras to Tirupati to register the impatience of the travelers in a bus. The travelers were waiting for the driver to start the bus. Instead,

…the driver opened the door, got off the bus, closed the door, walked straight to the tea stall, took out the wallet from his pocket, took some money, put the wallet back in his pocket, drank coffee, returned the cup, walked back to the bus, took out a matchbox from his pocket, took a beedi, lit the beedi, held it tightly between his teeth, opened the bus door, sat in his seat, checked the door one more time whether it was closed tight or not, and started the engine. The passengers in the bus were waiting for that moment. They all heaved a long sigh of relief in unison as if it was pre-planned.

Additionally we must note that each of these phrases have only 2 to 3 words in Telugu as opposed 2 to 8 words in translation. That again contributes to the growing impatience of the passengers. Unlike in the earlier instance, I kept the last line to the last to create that sense of impatience in the passengers. I did not see any need to change the order in the latter case.

Flow of thought in Telugu stories is not always as consistent as in English. It could be confusing if translated as is. For instance, a passage from “non-duality” (Puranam Subrahmanya Sarma) ascertains my point.

Writing the story for whom, himself or the public? Could he vibrate the world through his writing or is [he] just using [it] to rub his personal woes on the world? Does he understand how strenuous writing a story is? If an author tries only to show off his brains to the world, readers resent him. Readers lose themselves in a good story, get carried away. A story must have a purpose. After finishing the story, a reader must be prodded into thinking—this should be like this or that.

In this passage, several views are stated, sounding disjointed at times. At the risk of repeating myself, I must add that the views are very clear for a person who is knowledgeable in our culture. For others, the translator need to reword/reorganize the structure.

Yet another aspect of sentence structure is the use of nonspecific subject. Generalization in Telugu is achieved by using a verb form like chuudaali [must see], cheppaali [must say] without specifically stating the subject. In such sentences, an all-inclusive ‘we’ is implied. Use of pronouns inconsistently also are in the nature of narrating a story in the presence of a live audience. When a narrator uses ‘he’ or ‘she’, or, totally ignores the subject, it does not bother the live audience. They place themselves mentally in the moment and visualize the setting. In print, the story loses part of this ability to carry the audience into the moment unless the author is very skillful and the reader is knowledgeable in the culture. For a foreign reader, it becomes that much harder to transpose himself /herself into the setting. For a reader who is willing to pick up on the nuance, it is educational.

In the story, He is I, [Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry], the author’s use of pronouns are not consistent. The story opens with one person, taanu, as the narrator. The pronoun, a reflexive, indefinite, third person, singular, and non-gender specific, is peculiar to Telugu language. After Swamiji is introduced, most of the story is narrated by Swamiji using the first person singular, nenu[I]. Towards the end, Swamiji says, “We [memu] were waiting for the other train to arrive.” Telugu has two forms of third person plural, manam [all-inclusive] and memu [excludes listener]. Significantly, in the story, the second term, memu is used. Thus implicitly the pronoun “we” includes the listener, the young man [taanu], and, puts the reader/audience in the shoes of a listener.

Usually figures of speech, proverbs and references to epics and mythology are built into a story as props. And Telugu fiction is no exception. Here are some examples of how they are manifested in Telugu fiction.

Proverbs are sometimes do not contribute enormously to the story in that the story moves on without the proverbs. However, they do reaffirm the author’s point. At other times, they just are introduced since they sound beautiful. For instance, notice the rhyme in atta meeda kopam dutta meeda chuupinaTTu. Atta and dutta rhyme. Translation closest to the phrase reads like “You are angry with your mother-in-law and taking it out on the bull.” To make it readable, I had to keep the term atta, which is used in the story Yearning [Kalipatnam Rama Rao] several times. I translated it as “Upset with attamma  and so beat up the bull?” The original proverb is a rhetorical statement. In translation, I had to change it to a question in order to bring about the original spirit.

In short, there is a vast amount of cultural nuance in our language which requires special attention and care in transporting it to the translation. This article barely scratches the surface. Readers, writers and translators need to examine this area carefully.


(Published by Nidadavolu Malathi as editorial, September 2003 on


Ramulu, B.S. kathala badi. Jagatyal, Andhra Pradesh: Vishala Sahita Academy, 1998

Venkatasubbaiah, Vallampati. Katha silpam. Hyderabad: Visalandhra Publishing House, 1995

Narayana, Singamaneni, Comp. Telugu kathakulu, kathana reethulu. V.3. Hyderabad: Visalandhra Publishing House, 2001.

Venugopal, N. katha sandarbham. Hyderabad: Swetcha Sahiti, 2000



Bilingualism in Andhra Pradesh by Nidadavolu Malathi

After my story;Bilingual Kid;had been published on, I received comments from young Telugu youth; stating that the situation in English medium schools in Andhra Pradesh was just as bad.

And, here in America, some professors in my college pointed out to me the English teaching methods/policies put in place in America in the early nineteen hundreds. That made me think and examine the topic further. To my surprise, the information I found was shocking.

The BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] started schools to teach [American] Indian children with the sole purpose of “civilizing” and “assimilation” of the children of the native tribes [American Indians] into the white world. Simply stated, it was meant to make young American Indian children to accept the white men’s beliefs and value systems. Their stated policies included uniforms appropriate for the white men’s world and punishing children who spoke their native tongues [emphasis mine].(The link to the page under reference,, is dead now. 2/5/2022)

The similarities are strikingly obvious. However, the difference is even more appalling: In America, the above dissension was between two races, the white America and the native Indians [American Indians]. In Andhra Pradesh, it is just one race—the Andhras. The imposition of English in Andhra Pradesh schools is not from outside. To me, that seems unconscionable!

In June 2001, I commented on the sorry state of or rather lack of Telugu language skills among today’s youth. In response, V.V.S. Sarma, Bangalore, sent me an 8-page article, pointing out that the problem lay in the poorly written, elementary school textbooks. During my recent trips to Andhra Pradesh, I have noticed Americanization in every aspect—the children’s toys; education, attitudes, clothing, electronics, aspirations, pursuits, careers, not to mention the language, which is a curious mix of Telugu with heavily accented Indian English and so on.

Until now, I was priding myself on the fact that in my country, even the illiterate could speak two or three languages at functional level. It appears the situation is strangely different now. The illiterate still could speak two or three languages while the children in schools are being taught to speak only one language and that is English!

During my Intermediate years [first two years of college at the time] I opted to learn Sanskrit. The teacher was a traditional scholar, but not educated in English. Therefore, he taught us the Sanskrit language in Telugu. However, English was the medium of instruction and as such, we were required to write the exam in English. In other words, the language I was learning was Sanskrit, the medium in which we were taught Sanskrit was Telugu, and our expertise in Sanskrit was tested in English! And, none of us questioned the propriety of this system, nor were we outraged, much less complained. Today I am glad I took that class and happy I know at least a little Sanskrit.

Having said that, let me refer back to the article on BIA schools. The Bureau and the parents eventually realized that it would not work and decided to revise their policy. In 1926, the Merriam Report’s recommendations included among several others:

  • Do away with “The Uniform Course of Study,” which stressed only the cultural values of whites.
  • The Indian Service must provide youth and parents with tools to adapt to both the white and Indian world.

“The Depression had finally benefited Indian people, not because of their unique plight, but because they were at last a part of a national plight. … Indian education should be rooted in the community and should stress the values of native culture,” commented the author. “Children learned through the medium of their own cultural values, while becoming aware of the values of white civilization. …  [American] Indian schools introduced Indian history, art and language,” he further elaborated.

My question is what does it take for the school administrators, parents, the elite and the government of Andhra Pradesh to realize that they can teach children the English language along with their mother tongue Telugu, which is also the state’s official language, and not to the exclusion of?



American Indian Education Foundation. “History of Indian Education in the US.” ( Downloaded 2/22/2003. Update, currently the link is unavailable, dated 2/5/2022.

Reese, Debbie, et al. Fiction Posing as Truth. Rethinking Our Classrooms.A Critical Review of Ann Rinaldi’s My Heart is On the Ground: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose, a Sioux Girl. Downloaded 2/20/2002.