Category Archives: Analytical articles

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.

Tenneti Hemalata by Nidadavolu Malathi

In Andhra Pradesh, in nineteen fifties, Tenneti Hemalata, better known as Lata, entered the field of Telugu fiction with her novel, gaali padagalu, neeti budagalu. “I can proudly say I am the first sensational Woman Writer of the present age of Telugu literature,” she said in a letter addressed to me. (Personal correspondence, dated August 28, 1982).

Hemalata was born on November 15, 1935, in Vijayawada, to Nibhanupudi Visalakshi and Narayana Rao. In his book, Sahitilata, the author Anjaneya Sarma noted the year of birth as 1932 while Kondamudi Sriramachandra Murthy wrote in his article, chalaaniki Arunaaachalaaniki Madhya Lata noted it as 1935, which appeared in other sources as well. Her full given name was Janaki Rama Krishnaveni Hemalata.

She wrote about herself in Uhaagaanam 56, partly in jest, I suppose: “At the time God was making me, his hand must have needed rest. After resting for a while, probably he looked for clay to complete the form but did not find it and then he grabbed an aravinda flower and a bunch of flames available at hand, put them in me and turned the key on and let me to go to live the life I had received. But, Oh God, this flame is burning the delicacy of the flower.” (p.154).

Lata’s ancestors enjoyed a zamindari lifestyle, and Lata was raised as a favorite child in her family. Her father had inherited considerable wealth which he squandered on women, liquor and gambling. He also, it would appear, entertained literary gatherings at home. Lata spent most of her time with her father at these gatherings sporting liquor and literature. Her father used to offer her a sip from his drink occasionally, wrote Anjaneya Sarma. In her later years Lata was criticized by purists for her drinking habit, which she defended in her book, antarangachitram (1965). She wrote about liquor in her novels, not as a plausible habit, though. More on this subject later.

Her father died when she was 32. At the time, her mother was pregnant with her brother. Lata stated that, in deference to her father, she supported her little brother’s education with her income from writing. It is important to note that Lata was one of the few female writers to earn a substantial income from their writings in the sixties.

Lata lived an unusual lifestyle in many ways. At the age of nine, she was married to Tenneti Achyutaramayya, 16. Her husband’s incurable medical condition, two difficult deliveries, (first son in 1956 and the second in 1963, both cesarean) and financial troubles—all seemed to have given her rare insights into the perplexities and complexities of life. Against these insurmountable odds, it is no surprise that she had learned to take a good hard look at life and the meaning of life and develop a sardonic humor.

In her antarangacitram, [self-reflections], she talked about some of her struggles in life, which inspired her to write the stories. The book, antarangachitram itself  reads like a meandering stream of incoherent thoughts, confusing at times and profound at other, and records the pain she had suffered, and the questions she had been provoked to raise about life and god.

In this article, I will try to present my understanding of Lata and her writings against a backdrop of the little data available to me, and you may discern your own conclusions. Also, please note that I have not read the entire literature produced by Lata. That is beyond the scope of this article. I am recording only my impressions of her writings only from what I have read and/or known personally.

Lata studied extensively Telugu, Sanskrit and English classics at home. She started her career as an announcer at Vijayawada radio station in 1955 or 56. She took to acting while she was there, played notable roles in radio plays and on stage. She was also a singer and a staff writer of radio plays. In a letter addressed to me, Lata wrote “I have written 100 novels, 700 radio plays, 100 short stories, 10 stage dramas, 5 volumes of literary essays (Uhaagaanam), 2 volumes of literary criticism (Vishavruksha khandana, and Lata Ramayanam) and one volume of Lata vyasaalu, 25 charitra kandani chitra kathalu, poetry …”.  This letter was written in 1982. Possibly she had written a few more between 1982 and her death in 1997.

Her awards included: Gruhalakshmi Swarnakankanam in 1963, and an honorary doctorate [kalaaprapuurna] by Andhra University. She was honored as “Extraordinary woman” in 1981 by the Government of Andhra Pradesh. She was a member of Andhra Pradesh Sahitya Academy for over 20 years. She was “the only elected woman member to the academy”, She stated in her letter.

Ghatti Anjaneya Sarma, a mechanical engineer by profession and an avid reader of Lata’s writings, published a book, Sahitilata, in 1962, wherein he quoted profusely from letters she had received from highly reputable male writers and elite like Bucchibabu, Malladi Narasimha Sastry, Achanta Janakiram, B. Gopala Reddy and Toleti Kanakaraju.

Several writers and readers drew parallels between Lata’s characters and the characters in works by famous western writers like Hemingway, Shaw, Maugham, and C. Scott Fitzgerald. Whether one would be willing to accept these comparisons for what they are worth is beside the point. The fact remains renowned Telugu writers and critics noticed Lata’s talent and accepted her as a notable writer. And they wrote personal letters to her. An interesting factor worth mentioning here is she started receiving them within a decade since she started writing and publishing, which in itself is a tribute to her status as a writer.

Lata started her career as an announcer at the Vijayawada radio station. Soon after that, she started writing plays for the radio. Kondamudi Sriramachandra Murthy mentioned that her first radio play was silaahrudayam [stone heart] broadcast on Deccan Radio in 1952. Ghatti Anjaneya sarma stated that Lata’s first radio play was mahabhinishkramanam, [The Great Exodus], but did not give the date of broadcast. Regardless, the fact remains that Lata launched her literary career at a radio station.

By early nineteen thirties, Telugu fiction was gaining ground as a literary genre. The newly emerging story technique incorporated some elements of the earlier writing style; the stories were suffused with vestiges of Sanskrit poetic diction as well as the western story-writing technique. The Romantic poetry of the British writers like Robert Browning, Elizabeth Browning, Byron and Keats influenced Telugu fiction writers in the forties and fifties. And Lata, like several other writers, had read several books in English and was influenced by them. We see the effects of Lata’s avid reading in her writings.

Among other things, she also tried to write detective fiction, without success though. She admired Arudra and Kommuri Sambasiva Rao. She particularly wanted to write like Arudra. In her own words, her detective stories turned out more like propaganda material—the thief turned into a man of distinction and the detective into a thief by the time she finished it, as she put it.

Lata also tried to paint which again was not a success story. She realized fairly early that she had no talent for the brush. It is notable that later she compared writing to painting, and writer to a painter. She drew a clear distinction between photography and painting. In photography, you click the camera and it captures the scene as is. On the other hand, in painting, the artist adds with each stroke of his brush, a new meaning and a new perspective gradually.

Lata’s language is quixotic, awash with imagery and earthy at the same time, with heavy slang. It filled with metaphors, sensuous imagery, and even luxurious poetic verbosity at times. She was an admirer of famous singer and song-writer, Mangalampalli Balamurali Krishna. She wrote a few lyrics, for which Balamurali Krishna composed tunes. We find this musical quality in such books as antarangachitram and mohanavamsi, wherein separating the author from the work is impossible.

On another occasion, Lata lying on a hospital bed, while waiting for her second son to be born, she describes her thoughts as follows: “In this scanty life of mine, I have been through numerous experiences—hardships, tears, suffering, happiness, love, and duty; temptation and desire. While grappling with my life and financial problems—amidst all this—I would still travel in first class in airplanes, watching the beauty beyond description and ugliness beyond words—how many times I’ve seen it in this life? My life is small yet it is puffing up with my experiences, lightening and floating in the air like a balloon. Probably it will burst today.” (antarangachitram. p.13).

Her knack for imagery is amazing. Whether it is her sparkling enthusiasm for life or antipathy for the injustices in the society, it is always entrenched in a combination of sarcasm, sharp wit and uncanny humor.

Some of her convictions are a mix of tradition and innovation. Lata possesses a peculiar sense of the anomalies in life, which go beyond the bounds set by any single conviction. In some ways, she would fall right into the category of Telugu romantic/idealistic writers like Tallavajjhala Sivasankara Sastry, Devulapalli Krishnasastry, and Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry, to name but few. And in other instances, she is confrontational like Chalam and Ranganayakamma.

I believe that the anguish Lata had experienced in her personal life set her apart from many writers of her time. Her experiences or anguish defined her perception of life and her technique of storytelling. While other writers used the flowery language to describe their idealistic dreams, Lata used it to drive home the ruthless realities of life.

Lata believed in mystical somewhat platonic love. That is what we see in Mohanavamsi. She claimed that she was speaking in abstract terms in mohanavamsi; she was not Radha but the concept of Radha [p.106]. She further explained, “My Krishna is a human being. … My Krishna should not be an egotist … People may label me immoral, still I would have gone with him, defying all the familial ties. … I have made plenty of mistakes. Maybe I would stay away from these mistakes if my Krishna were human. … But my Krishna is anantanaariihrudayavarthi [One who wanders in the hearts of innumerable women]. … Extremely selfish… Am I jealous? No.. I am worried only about the selfishness incorporated with pain. … How can he be god if he knew only to take but not give? … He is good to be worshipped only without asking for returns. … Maybe I am worshipping him all the same. ..  The same thing happened for a second time. It was the fault of the circumstances. The same circumstances would call my love prostitution. … That is why I turned around and came home. ..But I set fire in that person’s heart before I returned. [antarangachitram. p.106].

Her usage of diction and metaphors are elusive even when she is speaking in a book, supposedly nonfiction, about herself. She barely draws a distinction between her fiction and her reality. An episode described in her antarangachitram, describes this ambiance in her perceptions. She wrote that a local businessman approached her for sex in a rather forthright and primitive fashion. At first, she was surprised; she teased him for a few minutes as was her wont, and then sent him away. She took the situation to make a categorical statement about the life on Vijayawada streets (which apparently was the reason for the man to approach her in that manner).

“In this Vijayawada city, this kind of requests and mediations is quite common. There is no evidence of any woman rejecting any man either. Underneath this scenario, money is dancing garishly. … In fact, that is the way the topography of Vijayawada—surrounded by the river and hills, and streams—they all make it a unique city in the entire state of Andhra Pradesh. I don’t think there is another city like this in the entire state. … And the people of Vijayawada are matchless in making the shorelines of these streams unbearably ugly. “The roads are always crowded. Most of the pillars of society in our town have amassed wealth by running brothel houses only. …. “The second problem in our city is the lorries. There are plenty of lorry drivers who stop them anywhere they please, crawl under the vehicles and fall asleep. … It is not an exaggeration to say that our roads are laid only for the purpose of those lorries and lorry drivers; they stop their lorries everywhere for repairs, and for others to die freely under those vehicles. …
On top of all this, there are brothel houses… in each corner of every street … They are referred to as “companies” respectfully. All these companies are invariably owned by women with rowdy protectors by their side. …”

I quoted this passage to highlight the fact that this account in her nonfiction book is a replica of her description of the Vijayawada streets in her novel, gaalipadagalu, neetibudagalu. This may be a simplistic example but I believe that it does point to the authenticity in her novels. She used the same setting and situations as she saw them in the life around her. She seemed to have put her heart and soul into her writings whether it is fiction or nonfiction.

Achanta Janakiram was one of her harshest critics to disapprove her style. Referring to his disapproval, Lata wrote, “He [Janakiram] was annoyed by my abrasive and candid language. But what I’ve written is the truth. He told me several times not to write like that. Probably he was repulsed by my gaalipadagalu, neetibudagalu [Kites and Water Bubbles]. I don’t think he has forgiven me for that even after I had published Mohanavamsi and  Umar Khayyam. I heard that his nonfiction books, naa smrutipathamlo [Down my memorylane] and saaguthunna yatra [Journey in Progress] contain more poetry than actuality. In my opinion, Authenticity is more beautiful than poetry.”(antrangachitram. p. 147).

Lata claimed that, contrary to the public opinion, she was not writing about sex and there was no discussion of sex in her books except gaalipadagalu, neetibudagalu. She added that, “Even in that book, it was meant to cause disgust in the readers but not fondness. Whatever it is, there is plenty of falsehood in his [Janakiram’s] theory of beauty. And I resent falsehood.” (antrangachitram. p 147).

Contrary to her statement however, Lata did write another novel, raktapankam [Quagmire of Blood], on the same subject as gaalipadagalu, neetibudagalu. The second book is a longer version of the same story. The difference lies only in the event that instigated her to write. The basis for gaalipadagalu, neetibudagalu was her observation of the brothel houses round the corner from her home in Vijayawada. For the second novel, raktapankam, the basis or inspiration was a stack of letters sent to her by a woman who actually lived the horrific life and requested Lata to write the story. The woman’s friend who brought the letters to Lata told her [Lata] that the friend (the main character in the story) was moved by Lata’s earlier novel, gaalipadagalu, neetibudagalu [Kites and Water Bubbles, 1953], wanted to meet the author personally but could not. For that reason, the woman wrote her story in the form of letters addressed to Lata. And Lata decided to write this novel, defying the angry reprimands of several writers and critics. In the preface to the book, Lata said she had written as it was told in the letters, and changed very little.

Several critics compared her to Chalam for writing these novels. From my perspective, the comparison is not tenable. While the writers dealt with sex in their novels, their approach and their perceptions are distinctly different. Chalam’s views were rooted in his ideology and in that sense his novels were mono-directional. His characters are two dimensional. Readers will know nothing about the characters beyond their engagement in sex. In Lata’s novels, on the other hand, sex is only part of a bigger picture. Her characters are alive; they eat, talk to each other, have children, and worry about other things in their daily lives. Her stories tell us stories we all know, and raise questions we are confronted with on a daily basis. Her stories are closer to the life her readers could relate to. A word of caution. Chalam’s novels may not be out of this world but they are monolithic at best.

About the same time as the two novels mentioned above were published, Lata also started writing a series of feature articles in Andhra Prabha weekly, under the running title, Uhaagaanam [musings] from 1958 to 1963. Its success was unbelievable. Lata became a household name and the readership for the weekly magazine escalated immensely. In a way, it could be her salvation for writing gaalipadagalu, neetibudagalu. Earlier, I mentioned about the umpteen letters she had received from prominent writers and readers. I believe that Uhaagaanam convinced them that she was a gifted writer.

The volume I used for this article is a single volume containing 197 articles in 600 pages, and published in 1978. The publishers stated at the beginning that the book covered umpteen topics such as the poetry and the style of Rabindranath Tagore, Shakespeare’s tragedies, Tolstoy’s humanism, Maupassant’s love scheme, Krishnasastry’s heartening lyrics, social philosophy of Chalam, maro prapancam [Another World] of Sri Sri, and several others. Her selection included Telugu, Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, English, translations of Russian and Persian writers and Vedic texts. She also drew on her experience in the movie industry and contacts she had developed  as a writer and actress (I think she acted only in one or two movies). (See her comments on acting noted earlier). The publishers also added that this book included all the issues of the entire world abundantly, and potent questions like: What does “society” mean? In what way the society is related to you?

Each article runs from two to five pages. Basically, the format is: Take a quote from a well-known book or a popular axiom, explain, comment, and describe one or two occurrences from everyday life we all are familiar with, and finish it with a brief recap. In these articles, Lata comes out as humorous, caustic, santarangachitramastic, ponderous and rambling incoherently at times. They captured a wide range of readership for that very assortment of topics. I, for one, was fascinated by all those quotes from the great books I’d never heard of, the wisdom they contained and the manner in which she illuminated a view or a thought. For me, it was the second best thing for not being able to read the originals.

In this weekly feature, she proved her abilities to put two seemingly incoherent situations in juxtaposition and hold them up for the readers to see the underlying commonality. In the process, she could be impulsive, pondering, confounding, ridiculous, and santarangachitramastic all in one breath.

For instance, in Uhaagaanam 129, Lata opens with a popular poem from the great epic, Maha Bhagavatam [The Story of Krishna] and goes on with her mystifying questions about God. Then she shifts the somberness to levity as she describes an event from everyday life. It is about a husband trying to learn to cook while his wife was out of town. He turns the radio on for instructions and the next few lines are just hilarious. He is unaware that the radio is broken and it is broadcasting two stations simultaneously.

The result is,
1. Add water to the dal. After it is cooked, … put your hands on your waist and take two feet forward.
–He did so per instructions.
2. Put a pan on the stove, add oil, … stand on one foot, look sideways playfully.
–He did that too.
3. Walk three feet poised, lean forward, smile… drop little lumps of dough in the hot oil.
–He followed the instructions.
4. Hop back three times …

As expected, the outcome is a disaster and he writes to the radio station that the instructions were messed up. My [Lata’s] point is, our lives and the universe are comparable to the two broadcasts. That is why I want to tell god that, “Look Mister, your management is hopeless. Why don’t you stop creating for a while. Then we all can have peace for some time.” But He is not listening and letting the Judgment Day happen. He hides in a corner, and keeps broadcasting two shows simultaneously and tells us to live the best we can. What has he got to lose?

The Uhaagaanam articles featured her humor on one level. At another level, she was also capable of initiating challenging dialogues among the elite on topics such as god, traditional values, and religion. On one occasion, she received a letter from an avowed nonbeliever, Tarakam, in which he stated that Lata’s convictions about god in one of her Uhaagaanam articles was out of character for her. Lata responded saying that they both (Tarakam and Lata) were on the same page since their objective was the same except for the terminology. “You are calling it Truth and I am calling it God,” she said. Then, another prominent writer, Bucchibabu, wrote to Lata further elaborating on various conjectures of the same subject. The fact that Lata was able to involve the elite of her times in a dialogue on critical matters speaks for her strength as a writer.

Her novel pathaviheena.(1971?) is about the disparity between woman’s chastity [pativratyam] and humanism. In the novel she discusses her views on pativratyam [wife’s unflinching devotion to her husband] and claims that, unlike in other countries, pativratyam is overrated in India.  She said she had received 7000 letters during the time the novel was being serialized in Andhra Prabha weekly.

In the same preface, she talked about another famous writer, [late] P. Sridevi (of kalaateeta vyaktulu fame) and added that Sridevi died because of a mistake she had made. The next comment of Lata is noteworthy. She said, “many people expected me to make the same mistake. But I am a devotee of beauty. …  That is not the reason I did not make the same mistake. I also have soul. …  I have not sacrificed my soul … I have desires … and part of it is mischievous like everybody else’s  … I am a writer but that does not mean I am not a woman.” [antharangachitram  p. 105]. This passage seems to indicate that Lata had her share of heartbreaks in real life. Secondly, I am not sure if her comment on Sridevi is tenable but then probably it is irrelevant here.  In her preface to this book, antharangacitram, Lata said she spoke only good things about her friends and left out bad things on purpose. Should we give her credit for being discrete? What does it say about her character? And about her sense of propriety and by default her wits? Why did she mention Sridevi at all?

This style of speaking in conundrums is rare in her novels. Beating around the bush is not her style. She was not afraid to take on any writer, male or female. One notable episode involving two prominent writers was about their versions of the great epic Ramayanam. Ranganayakamma, a reputable Marxist writer, wrote her version of the epic, entitled Ramayana Vishavruksham [Ramayana, the poisonous tree] rewriting the characters in a different light. Then, Lata published her version, Ramayana Vishavruksha Khandana, [Rebuttal of Ramayana Vishavruksham]. The two books created a huge commotion in Andhra Pradesh in the eighties polarizing readers, male and female, around each of these writers. Further discussion of this literary event is beyond the scope of this article but would suffice to say that Lata never hesitated to jump into the fray if occasion called for it.

Lata held strong views about acting and actresses. “I am not used to suggest even in acting,” she commented. She said she had to struggle a little when she had to play the wife of another man in a radio play but managed to go through with it. She refused firmly when she had to cry for her (stage) son. “I cannot cry, even in the name of acting, for a child while I have a son in real life.” She would not tolerate doubletalk in the name of art either.

She later had come to realize that “the obstacles for actors and actresses to act are only their own sentiments but not their family life.” (antarangacitram.  p.30-31). Woman remembers her duty to the society and family only after her profession as actress. On the other hand, she who aches for fame and to show off her well-formed figure while grappling with her own insecurities may shroud with morals like sugar-coated pills but can never be an actor. (antarangacitram. p.31).  “Actors and actresses who cannot pronounce aspirated sounds come to participate. No matter how many times Banda garu told them the phrase was avinaabhaavasambandham, [inseparable connection] they still say avi naa baava sambandam [that is my relationship with my cousin], … [We announcers] will have to put up with unbearable sounds in the name of classical music,” she commented. (antarangacitram. p.79).

Regarding the relationship between the writer and the writing also, Lata held unambiguous views. She said, “Usually a novelist will be guided not only by the society in which he is living but also by his own insights and conscience [antharyam]. Yet, his experiences, memories and the conclusions drawn from his experiences—all come together and create a common ground of acumen for him and the readers. It will act as telepathy or a telephone wire. That telepathy is the connection between a first rate writer and a well-informed reader. Additionally. An artist’s imagination may change the proportions and the form of the incident he had seen, rework on the connotation and the display. … All novels and musings depend on reality to some extent.

I will not accept that a great writer would write for entertainment or fame. He also would aim at making the life and his goal as well broader in perspective. There is nothing wrong if he uses his book as a moral sword in his attempt to achieve his goal. … I believe that there is no writing, never will be one, which is free of the author’s agitation. … A writer without talent is worse than ordinary person. Nowadays the ordinary person is turning into a writer, which is one more problem.

Once a friend showed two pictures of elephants to a great artist. Both the elephants were the pictures of angry elephants. The artist said, “this is great art since the sculptor  carved it with not only the trunk but also the tusk raised. The second one as ordinary and so there is nothing peculiar about it. There is no display of one’s perception. … If some brainless man called it [the first] as lacking in realism, that is his problem [antarangachitram. p.93-94].

Look at any Telugu novel that is not successful, you would notice only a series of aspirations, love, a couple’s movie dialogue, an overbearing gentleman, struggles in a rental property like in a display of dolls …    Life might be like a novel but a novel is never like a grocery store.   [98]

She categorically disapproved the pretensions of women who would blame their family life for their failures on stage. She said only second rate women actors live under the delusion that acting was immoral, while in fact the problem was their own lack of talent.

Lata covered a wide range of topics in her novels—harmony at individual or social level, underlying principles of caste, marriage, traditions in other parts of India, beliefs such as ghosts and predictions based on horoscopes, and so on. Here is then the main question: Can we find a common philosophy of Lata from these novels?

Her themes ranged from to streetwalkers, to ghosts, to imaginary coup by gods, to philosophical or theological debate. Lata explained in her prefaces the incidents that lead to her writing the novels. Each novel was inspired by either her own observation, a book by a famous writer or a brief conversation with another writer of repute. For instance, the much needed changes in society in tiragabadina devatalu,[Gods that rebelled] was based faintly on Time Machine of H. G. Wells, whose characters defy time, distance, and dimensions of life. Brahmana pilla [A Brahmin girl] is about reverse discrimination. She stated that she was not advocating restoration of brahmin superiority but highlighting the negative impact of the eradication of caste system on poor brahmins who needed help. Niharika is about the institution of marriage; she questions the acceptance of man having two wives but not woman having two wives in our society..

At the risk of digressing for a moment, I would like to comment on writers in general. Often the writers who write to advocate their ideological perceptions, are deeply rooted in their ideology. (Like Chalam, for instance). All their writings point solely to that one view. And then there are writers like Lata who take each topic and stay focused on that topic, attempting to present several angles of that one topic, offer a more balanced view of the topic and pose potent questions for readers to think. Chalam appealed to the elite and maybe readers fascinated by his portrayal of women’s sexuality. Lata reached out a much wider audience with her technique (which included humor, santarangachitramasm and plain talk) as well as her points of view.  Here are some of topics in her novels. Closer to home: Jeevanasravanti. Her father’s financial problems, his use of morphine and his lifestyle were the basis for this novel, she stated in her Antarangachitram (p.34). Mohanavamsi: Her personal journey.

Stories inspired by her readings and per perception of cultural values: Bhagavantudi pancaayati [God’s court] was inspired by a novel by Somerset Maugham. She said she took some of the characters Maugham had created. She understood only after reading Maugham, that the human nature is not the same as usual at the time of war. Wherever and whenever war happens, the result is always the same—bloodshed and death. In this novel, she depicted the Tibetan traditions, and environment at the Himalaya mountains. She also apologized for any topographical errors she might have made in regard to the area.

Dayyaalu levu? – “In general, I don’t believe in ghosts. Premchand wrote in his novel, Nora, that he believed in the theory of rebirth. Tagore expressed his belief in ghosts in his Hungry stones. Chellapilla Venkatasastry wrote that he believed in the grahas and had personally suffered from their displeasure. … The reason I am saying all this is, we may assume to be real what we are calling baseless fantasies and unreal. We have gotten
used to think that the things we don’t know don’t exist.” (preface )

On Religion and philosophy Edi Nityam [What is Eternal]? Tried to establish that humaneness is more important that religion.  It was about a woman writer, Radhamma, who was labeled a “prostitute” regardless she lived righteously. “In reality, I am partial to men; I support women. In this novel, Rajamma’s life is heartbreaking.”  This is a confusing statement. Is the word “men” in the first part a typo? She did mention about the typographical errors in her books. She quoted her husband saying that she became famous only because of the typos in her books.

Saptaswaraalu [The Seven Musical Notes] “Once I heard a story that supposed to have happened in a sanitarium in Mangalagiri. Some of the characters in the story resembled the characters in a story, “Sanitarium” by Maugham. Similarly, some of the incidents in Shaw’s Man and Superman. … “
Prominent composer-singer, Balamurali Krishna often mentions that the seven notes are the foundation for one’s spine, lyrical composition and the harmony in life. I have come to understand that life also reorganizes the notes and sometime strikes a discord and life is a stream of dissonance and harmony. A novelist has no choice but surrender to his own creation: he needs to forget his own existence and become the character in the course of creating each creator. The characters he created turn him into a puppet in their hands. In that play, he will need the help of the seven musical notes. We can’t say whether dance of destruction or eternal bliss is but it continues to agitate him to the end. This saptaswaraalu reflects that agitation of mine.

About Tulasivanam, Lata said prominent writer Gopichand and she were sipping coffee at a local coffee shop and listened to the story from a woman. Gopichand asked if Lata were interested in writing the story and Lata said he should write it. Eventually, Gopichand died without ever writing the story. Lata’s story explores the belief that tulasivanam is present wherever a woman is present. She takes her cue from a mythological character, Tulasi, wife of Jalandhara, who was a cruel demon king. Gods tried to kill him but to no avail. He was shielded by Tulasi’s pativratyam and invincible. The only way he could be killed was to seduce Tulasi. Therefore, Vishnu, pretending to be her husband, deprived her of  her moral code [pativratyam]. Later Vishnu granted her a boon; and she became a plant to be worshipped by women seeking exemplary life eternally. Now the question , it is true that money matters but is it justifiable to grow marijuana in a tulasi patch? Marijuana sedates the senses, numbs the conscience. It may provide a temporary solace but no  healthy remedy. Tulasi on the other hand has medicinal value, it is wholesome.”

Her experimental writing: Love stories. By her own admission, she wrote some sort of love stories like vaitariniteeram in the beginning. Later she divested herself of the western influence. But she wrote Vaitariniteeram in response to a suggestion from younger generation readers, who had gotten used to reading the novels by other female writers, who were lifting stories from Herald Robbins, Barbara Cartland and Mills and Boon (Lata noted it as ‘Bouquet’ but I believe Boon is the correct word.). It was serialized in sowmya monthly. Lata said her characters lead her to the conclusion; they appear in her dreams and tell their stories. In the case of niharika [Mirage] it took a couple of months before the main character, Saradadevi told her the complete story. Within those two months, lying on bed in a nursing home, she had finished two more novels, bhagavantudi panchayati and Omar Khayam.

All the five novels carry the publication date of 1963. To me, writing five novels with a so wide range of themes is remarkable. Then the question is: In doing so, did she succeed in becoming an esteemed writer? I have no statistical data, but in view of her renown, I’d say yes, she remains an important writer of our times.

In a final note, I would like to quote Lata’s comments on contemporary female writers, that, “Many female writers are afraid that they’ll be forgotten if they don’t keep publishing but I don’t have any such fears,” she said. And to substantiate her belief in herself, I would like to quote a prolific, well-informed writer, J. K. Mohana Rao. After learning that she passed away, Mohana Rao wrote, “I am saddened to hear the demise of Tenneti HemaLATA. In the golden days, in the late fifties and early sixties, I was introduced to Lata through Andhra Prabha. She used to contribute a column called UhaagaanaM. It used to be down-to-earth and yet poetic. … I can call her a mix of Bucchi Babu and Chalam.

She fought for the one half of the oppressed in society, viz., the women. … She always used to write with a certain enchantment and elan that is not easy to surpass or imitate. Lata reminds me of my youth, my return to Telugu literature (particularly novels) after a break, and my rethinking about women, relationships and a sense of poetry in many activities of our daily lives.” I cannot think of a better tribute to a writer who took the world by the horns in the early nineteen fifties.


(Originally published on 9/23/2009 on Factual error corrected, 9/16/2013.)

Anjaneya Sarma, Ghatti. Sahitilata. Vijayawada: Sri Vani Prachuranaalayam. 1962.
Hemalata, Tenneti. antarangacitram. Vijayawada: Vamsi Prachuranalu, 1965.
Sriramachandra Murthy, Kondamudi. “Chalaaniki Arunaachalaaniki madhya Lata.” Andhrajyoti Sahitya vedika. Sunday
supplement. May 24, 1981.
Prefaces of the novels mentioned in the article.
Hemalata, Tenneti. Personal correspondence dated August 28, 1982.

Telugu women’s writing, 1950-1975 an analytical study by Nidadavolu Malathi.