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Dr. Arudra by Nidadavolu Malathi

Arudra, a relentless researcher and poet, devoted his life to write for the ordinary people without compromising his integrity.  He proved successfully that poetry in classical meter could be written in colloquial Telugu and produce valuable literature. He did not believe in academic degrees. He researched incessantly and brought valuable information on a wide
variety of topics to the public.

Arudra [Bhagavatula Sadasiva Sankara Sastry] was born in Visakhapatnam in 1925. He moved to Vizianagaram in 1941 for college studies. During this period, he met with literary stalwarts Chaganti Somayajulu and Ronanki Appalaswamy who became powerful forces in molding his literary pursuits and helped to define his literary values in the years to come.

Early in life, Arudra became involved in the political movements. He left college and joined the Air Force in 1943. He moved to Madras in 1947, where he served on the editorial board of a popular magazine Anandavani for two years. Then returned to Visakhapatnam where he was a photographer for a short period. In 1949, he returned to Madras. He always believed that journalism had “adventure value.” He tried for a job in journalism and ended with script and lyric writing in the movies.

Arudra did not care for academic degrees but his incessant thirst for knowledge and acquiring it in the traditional method was notable. When he wanted to learn the fundamentals of Telugu grammar, he went to the highly reputable grammarian, Ravuri Doraiswamy Sarma. Interestingly, at the end of three years, however, Arudra changed Doraiswamy Sarma’s perceptions of the importance of colloquial Telugu. He proved to be a rare student who could convert the teacher and a staunch classicist into an advocate of colloquial language.

Arudra pursued his interest in literature and fine arts on his own and with unusual fervor. He studied not only classics in Telugu literature but also in other languages, and other fields such as dance, music, magic and palmistry. Top ranking artists in music and dance would consult Arudra for interpretation and explanations. He was well versed in the games of chess and bridge. Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati, conferred an honorary doctorate of letters on Arudra in 1978. Andhra University honored him with Kalaprapoorna title. Arudra’s works had been subjects for several doctoral dissertations and M. Lit. Degrees.His sixtieth birthday was celebrated on a grand scale in Chennai in 1985. Marking his seventieth birthday, East and West Godavari districts organized huge literary meets. He was truly a people’s poet in every sense of the term.

Arudra met Ramalakshmi, a well-known writer and critic, while she was working at the Telugu swatantra office as editor of the English section of the magazine. They got married in 1954. They have three daughters and one adopted daughter.

Arudra’s first poem, lohavihangaalu [Metal Eagles] written in 1942 caught the eye of the elitists. During the Second World War, the Japanese airplanes dropped bombs on the Visakhapatnam harbor and people dispersed in panic. Arudra wrote the poem depicting the horrific scene.

Arudra strongly believed in two principles: First, literature must be able to stimulate people, and secondly, it must be written in a language that is intelligible to all the readers, the elite and the ordinary readers. In a personal letter written to me in 1981, Arudra said, “Our ancient poets said people’s tongues are the palm leaves that safeguard the literature. Now the hearts of the people are the tape recorders that preserve literature.” Arudra had experimented and produced valuable works in every literary genre—several techniques in poetry, literary history, short stories, detective novels, stage and radio plays, essays, lyrics and scripts for movies. Several of his lyrics and poems are still fresh in the hearts of the people.

The two most important works that gave him a permanent place in the history of Telugu literature are Samagra Andhra Sahityam [A Comprehensive Literary History of the Andhra People] and Tvamevaaham, [You are I –an aphorism from Upanishads]. The two works left an indelible mark on the minds and in the hearts of Telugu people.

His voluminous literature may be categorized into three areas: 1. works based on research, 2. creative writings (poetry, fiction, etc), and 3. lyrics and poetry written in a lighter vein. Further, his articles fall into the following categories: articles [1] related to the ancient and modern literature; [2] on fine arts and folk arts; [3] social reformers and others worked in the area; [4] movie industry; and, [5] miscellaneous.

Arudra mentioned in one of his essays  an incident that led to working on his major work, Samagra Andhra Sahityam. It was triggered by a brief conversation the author had with B. N. Reddy, a prominent movie producer. Arudra casually suggested to Reddy to make a movie on the famous poet Tikkana. Reddy asked Arudra to see if there was enough material to make a movie.

Arudra, as his wont, started researching the subject, and was fascinated by the enormous amount of material he had come across in the process. The movie did not happen but his research, which extended over a period of sixteen years, resulted in the said volumes. “The information useful for the race [of the Telugu people] must not be put away,” he told himself, and set out to publish it in a series of volumes. The set of twelve volumes speaks of not only Arudra’s thirst for knowledge and tenacity but also his commitment to the Telugu race. Arudra’s commitment is evident from his comment that he quit smoking in order to continue his reading in the library uninterrupted.

The history of the publication of his monumental work, Samagra Andhra Sahityam [Comprehensive Literary History of the Andhra people], is worth mentioning here. In the sixties, M. Seshachalam &Company created a project under the banner “intinti granthalayam [Library in every home]. Under the project, subscribers received books on a monthly basis. The company agreed to publish Samagra Andhra Sahityam in 12 volumes between 1965 and 1968. Arudra worked day and night incessantly to meet the publishers’ guidelines, sometimes modifying the content to fit the size. After the 12th volume, the author realized that there was information for one more volume to cover the modern period. His health however held him back for a while. The first edition of 12 volumes sold out quickly. In 1988, Prajasakti publishers, Vijayawada, undertook to reprint the set. This time the author had the opportunity to include the details he had left out the first time and the volume on the modern period (volume 13). The second edition was published in 1991. Once again, the books were sold out quickly. In 2002, Ramalakshmi approached Telugu Akademi, and they agreed to publish the entire work in four volumes.
At this writing, volume 1 of this set is out of print.

Samagra Andhra Sahityam covering the period from the early Chalukya period (the eighth century to the British rule (the mid-nineteenth century) is not just a laundry list of authors’ names and their works. In his preface, the author mentioned that history of any country encompasses the literary history as well as social history. To that end, Arudra included umpteen particulars about the authors, their works, critiques and the minutiae of daily life in the period under discussion.

An important characteristic of these volumes is the language. Arudra wrote in colloquial Telugu in accordance with his belief that literature is for the people. kavisamrat Viswanatha Satyanarayana was strongly opposed to this view. It would appear that Satyanarayana was disappointed that Arudra did not write them in classical Telugu.

The second book, tvamevaaham [You are I, an upanishadic axiom] is one of the most widely received poetry volume in the history of modern Telugu literature. It is a powerful statement on the atrocities committed by the Razakars under the Nizam regime in 1948. While the people protested against the Nizam rule, the razakars committed unspeakable crimes. It was a hell let loose.

In his preface, the author stated that he was inspired by a news item published in krishnapatrika, under the banner naakaa siggu, naa stritvam enaaDo poyindi [Me, ashamed? My femininity was long gone]. It narrated the story of a woman who removed her clothes in a third class railway compartment in a leisurely fashion. One of the passengers asked her if she were not ashamed to do so. She replied, “Am I ashamed? How can I be? I was tied to a tree for twelve days in this manner by the razakars, the cronies of the Nizam, and was raped repeatedly. You did nothing. You should be ashamed”. Several poets of Andhra Pradesh responded to the appalling incident and the atrocities. Arudra’s poem set him apart from the others for his technique and its commanding tone.

The technique Arudra developed to write his poetry included rhyming couplets and extensive borrowing freely from Sanskrit, English and Urdu to make his point. Unlike other poets, Arudra did not use Sanskrit phraseology to impress the elite. He used them to create a stronger sense of the milieu.

The book in several cantos using the clock-related terminology such as hours, minutes, seconds, water clock, and sand clock, depicts in analogous meter the atrocities and violence that had occurred during that period.

In the preface to the book, Arudra said he originally called it Telangana. When he showed it to Sri Sri for his opinion, Sri Sri said he was very pleased with the poem. Regarding the title, Sri Sri said, “Giving the title Telangana to a book on Telangana is like drawing a picture of an elephant and call it elephant. It does not convey the essential message of the poem.” Arudra then changed it to the current title.

Let me digress here for a moment. Possibly the above incident could be the last when Arudra sought Sri Sri’s opinion. In terms of ideologies, Arudra moved away from Sri Sri soon enough. While Sri Sri remained strictly adhered to his Marxist principles, Arudra studied the Marxist and other ideologies and imbibed the spirit of those principles. He then developed his own philosophy and remained a man of his own convictions.

The book, tvamevaaham, was published in a biweekly magazine, Telugu swatantra, in 1949. I read it in the early fifties. I was not aware of the connotation and I did not understand every word of it, yet I was taken by the ambiance. It was one of my favorite readings at the time. The book has become an important part of history for its political and social context. That I came to know much later.

The public reception of the book was not immediate though. Nearly four years later, in a letter to Dasarathi, Arudra stated that he [Dasarathi] was the first to make constructive comments on the book. Dasarathi praised it as unique for its style and content. The review was published in Bharati monthly in 1953.

Arudra’s second daughter, Lalita, is a writer in her own right. She commented on tvamevaaham and translated one of the poems from the book. I was glad to note that her appreciation of the book was similar to mine. There is a notable difference of course. She is Arudra’s daughter and thus has a better sense of the poetic quality in it. You can find Lalita’s comments and the translation on her blog, http://lalitalarking.blogspot.com. Click on the October 2007 folder and scroll down to The Train You Intended to Take.

Among his other anthologies of poetry, koonalamma padaalu deserves special mention. In his preface, the author mentioned that he had come across an article by Veturi Prabhakara Sastry on the eight poems with the caption O Koonalammaa! In Bharati monthly in 1930. Arudra stated, “When I first read them, I was excited; the poems moved me and provoked me. The divine skill imbibed in these poems mesmerized me. … I scrutinized them closely and, after understanding the depth of meaning in those poems, decided to write similar poems and bring them to light.”

Arudra researched further and found that the time when these were written could not be established with certainty. He was however certain that they were being sung in the 17th century. Arudra arrived at two premises: 1. they were probably not written by Koonalamma herself but written by someone else as a tribute to Koonalamma, 2. they followed a particular type of meter that included rhyming the first three lines and ending with the caption, O Koonalamma as the 4t line.  He discussed the meter in detail in this preface to this book. (I would not want to go into that area, since it is all Greek and Latin to me.)

Here are a couple of poems I translated. Of course, the original poems are more fascinating.

Andhra folks’ passion
O ghosh, is a load
That never lives to see the end
Oh Koonalamma.

The debt keeps growing
The shoe keeps stinging
It is a flame unavailable for viewing
Oh Koonalamma.

Arudra’s poetry in lighter vein is equally captivating. His poems under titles, intinti pajyaalu and America intinti pajyaalu illustrate the humorous side of events in our daily lives—his comments on the everyday realities and lifestyles. His humorous side is obvious even in the spelling of the title. His spelling was in step with the prevalent pronunciation at a time when it was not common in written texts.

Arudra is a great juggler of words. It is not an exaggeration to state that his rhyme brought him closer to the vast majority of readers. In his preface to the book, he mentioned that he modeled these poems, intinti pajyaalu, on the poetry of Ogden Nashe. Aptly, he stated,

American poet, Ogden Nashe
Had made plenty of cash,
As for me, all I wish for
Is a nod of sehbash

Here are a couple of poems from intinti pajyaalu.

Cricket match
To tell the truth, I cannot play cricket
Yet, for every match, I buy the ticket
Between Umrigar, Bordey and Desai, I cannot tell the difference
Not even when I’m close by.

That’s why, when our team is fielding
I shout aloud, “Milka Singh”
He wears a turban and a beard
That’s how I remember him well.

History on the move:
The hare and the tortoise made a wager
I’ll tell you how the tortoise won the race
He walked the one hundred miles
While the hare switched two trains

The book, America intinti pajyaalu [Poems in homes in America] depicts similar incidents in the homes of Telugu people in America. Personally, I think the real Telugu humor did not seep through in these poems as well as its precedent. Again, it could be my frame of mind.

Arudra wrote another book of poems, madhyakkaralu, to prove his argument that writing metrical poetry need not be laden heavily with meandering Sanskrit phraseology. Earlier, Viswanatha Satyanarayana published a volume entitled viswanatha madhyakkaralu, which received Sahitya Akademi award. Arudra called his book suddha madhyakkaralu, highlighting that his technique was the pure form and yet intelligible to all readers. His intent was to show that the ancient principles of poetics were just as suitable for colloquial Telugu as the classical Telugu.

In addition to his Samagra Andhra Sahityam, Arudra had written numerous essays over a period of fifty years.Most of them were published in anthologies such as mahaneeyulu [Great Personalities], vyaasapeetham[Articles on a wide variety of topics including history, classics, society, journalism, and movies], Ramudiki Sita Emavutundi [How Sita is related to Rama], temple sculpture, and prajakalalu and pragativaadulu [Folk arts and Freethinkers]. The book, Ramudiki Sita emavutundi is one of his works that explains his mode of thinking. In this book, he takes a popular adage, which implies that the question, how is Sita related to Rama, is idiotic since the answer is obvious; a question nobody in his right mind would ask. Arudra however takes the question seriously, and gives numerous examples from various texts in other cultures and other countries to show that the answer is more complex than appears to be. The book clearly gives a lot for the reader to wonder about and think.

In 1999, Ramalakshmi has decided to publish all the works of Arudra. One of them is a collection of critical essays on a wide variety of topics, entitled vyasapeetham the second imprint. The essays range from Vedic times to the beliefs and practices in modern times—legends and facts surrounding various mythological characters such as Krishna, Sita, Draupadi, various issues as described in Vedas, women’s position in society, customs at various times, persons of importance in the movie industry, the state of today’s journalism, and so on. The volume speaks of Arudra’s tenacious pursuit of knowledge on one hand and his ability to present the topics in a language that is appealing to the widest audience. Arudra excels in capturing his audience’s attention.

In some case, the articles clarify some of the popular notions. Others provide additional information and educate the readers. In his article on what the word putrika meant,  Arudra points out that the word was originally meant to refer to the daughter who had no brothers. He quoted ancient texts such as Manu dharmasastra, Vedas, and modern Vedic authorities (Panchagnula Adinarayana Sastry) and western scholars (Sir Moniere Williams) to support his view. He also quotes from Women in the Vedic Age by Sakuntala rao Sastry, wherein Mrs. Sakuntala rao comments, “After the male domination came into play, the woman without brothers was labeled putrika and declared unfit for marriage. Sayanacharya who had written commentary on Vedas attributed the 14th century A.D. mode of thinking to the Vedic period”. Arudra would append his own
views wherever he felt strongly about the issue on hand. For instance, in the above article, he asked why today’s traditionalists accept the Vedas as authoritative, yet would not allow the same rights to women that had been allowed in the Vedic period (p.58).

Vemanna Vedam is another valuable work of Arudra. Vemana, a 14th century poet, is highly respected for his keen insights into the customs of society and pungent remarks. Arudra interpreted these poems, quoting extensively from the Vedas and other scholarly works. His commentary adds immensely to the study of Vemana’s poems.

Arudra has written books on palmistry, hand gestures in bharatanatyam, people and folk arts, and on chess among several others.

The book, hastalakshanam, is a small book in which Arudra wrote poems illustrating the hand gestures in classical dance. He worked closely with Padma Subrahmanyam, a famous dancer, to explain the underlying philosophy.

In the early eighties, I started working on Telugu writers for a doctoral dissertation (never finished). In that context, I contacted several writers. Arudra was kind enough to respond to my questions. I am happy I could share his thoughts with you at this late date.

Arudra in his own words:
In a letter dated July 28, 1981, Arudra wrote:

1.        Prior to entering the movie industry, I have gained the knowledge of writing good lyrics from the standpoint of literary technique. After getting into the movies, I understood the technique from the standpoint of music. I understood specifically how to use the rhyme and assonance. My technique improved because of the movies, but not hurt.
2.        The movie industry is only a business in the world of capitalist society. Producers make movies only to make money. If a competent director has good taste, he will be able to create a movie that does not fall below the standard. Writer is a part of this team. This is a collaborative effort.
3.        When a writer writes a lyric and publishes in a magazine, a reader reads it, sitting at home. Between him and a moviegoer, there is a big difference. These differences are inevitable in today’s society. As long as there is a difference between the literature that is read and the one that is heard, there will also be a difference between literary technique and the literature of the movies. For example, once, I read a poem aloud in a literary meet. It opens on the lines, “Is this the country where Gandhi was born?”  Later, there was an occasion where I had to write the same as a lyric for a movie. The views were the same but the way it was expressed had to be changed. I did it myself. One of the trade secrets of the artist is to be able to change the technique according to the medium. The difference between the stage play and the screenplay is the same as the literary technique and the movie technique. It is just as crucial.
4.        I have written numerous movie songs. I was never ashamed of the songs I have written for the movies. On the other hand, I am proud of them. I have been working in the industry for 32 years now (1981) that is about 3200 over the years. On average, I have been writing one hundred songs per year, maybe more. Some of these songs have become very popular. A few dozens of them are still being heard from individual singers, and broadcast on radio and television even now. Our ancient poets said that we might call them lyrics only those which act as the palm leaves for the tongues of the people. I am content that I have written songs that are tape recorders for the hearts of the people.
5.        I will not be disappointed if a producer or director asks me to change the lines. Movie songs require fixing. The song must be suitable for the episode and the presentation of it in the movie. Without thinking about the episode, the writer might imagine it in a different way. Then one of them would have to change his mode of thinking. It is appropriate for the writer to modify the song. How can a writer satisfy hundreds and thousands of audience, if he cannot satisfy the producer and the director?
6.        There was no occasion I had to write songs that were not consistent with my outlook.
7.        There were occasions when the storyline was changed based on my song. Director Tilak used to change the storyline based on the songs I had written. Once I wrote a song, raayinaina kaaka pothine [Why I have not turned into a rock at least?] for a private recording. Bapu heard it and was so pleased he created a scene in his movie goranta deepam. They do ask for my suggestions as well.
8.        To entertain the public is also one of the functions of literature. I think this can be attained through movie songs to a greater extent. I was very pleased when I heard one of my songs from the movie premalekhalu, sung by workers at the railway station by coal lines. Same way, when people, whom I’ve never met before, would approach me on the railway platform or some other place and congratulate me for the song muthemanta pasupu. Where is greater joy than knowing that my song has given them on the spot respite for a few minutes? [Sadyah eva nivruthi.]
9.        My ideology is scientific equality. I am including this in the movies whenever possible in an easily understandable, colloquial Telugu and using popular adages, but not with stock phrases. Nevertheless, the producer would allow the premise of equality only if it fits today’s business framework. In today’s template movies liberalism is nil. The views in the songs make an impression only when the entire movie resonates with liberalism. Otherwise, it will be like the juices and solids remain separate

My answer to the question you [Malathi] did not ask:
In the Telugu movie industry, numerous literary stalwarts such as Veluri Sivarama sastry, Viswanatha Satyanarayana, and Viswanatha Kaviraju, have written lyrics. So also progressive writers like Devulapalli, Sri Sri, Dasarathi, Si.Na.Re, and Atreya. Before the formation of Abhyudaya Rachayitala Sangham in 1947, we used to argue that we should write in a language that is intelligible to all the people. Yet we filled our writings with phrases built on Sanskrit phraseology [tatsamabhuuyishtamaina] that was incomprehensible to the people. After joining the movie industry, the language has taken the forms of desyam [native], aicchikam [random], and graameenam [rural]. Nowadays, nobody is writing lyrics filled with Sanskrit phrases, unless it is a purana movie. This is a linguistic revolution.

Second letter dated October 21, 1981:
Writing for the movies is my vocation. Literature is my passion. It is morally untenable to yield to shameful acts in the name of one’s work. For that reason, I will never do anything that is dishonorable voluntarily.

In literature, a disparity between the writer and reader leads to communication gap. That happened at the time of tvamevaaham was published. Even a great poet like Bhartruhari despaired that jeernamange subhashitam. [Good words are lost in oneself for want of receptive audience.]  Kalidasu lost heart and said that puraanamiteva na saadhu sarvam. [Not everything is commendable because it is old]. Bhavabhuti had to tell himself vipulaa ca prithvee [The world is expansive] and be content with it. Chemakura Venkanna was annoyed that ee gati raciyincireni samakaalikulu meccharu gadaa [Contemporaries do not appreciate regardless in whatever style you write].

For those who introduce innovative trends, this problem is inevitable. For the writers who think that they are right and the people are idiots, there is no problem, none whatsoever, for instance, Viswanatha. I am people’s writer. Real writer is a person of the society he lives in [sanghajeevi]. The purpose of literature is inherent in the society’s activities. The elite may hold the same disrespectful view towards the movie writings as their view towards folk songs. The epics live on paper. Lyrics live on the tongues of the people. Songs sung along with pestle and mortars are the songs. Now I am very happy that my writings are within the reach of the ordinary people.

To conclude, I would like to quote the last lines in the volume 13 of Samagra Andhra Sahityam. Arudra stated that in recording any literary history, the modern period begins but does not end.  … In a continuing tradition, the details of movements and the episodes are only comas and semicolons … but there will be no full stops.”

Arudra left his legacy for Telugu people to continue. As long as the history is in the making, the legacy of Arudra will remain in the hearts and on the minds of Telugu people.

Source list.

Arudra Abhinandana Sanchika. Madras: Arudra Shashtipurti Celebration Committee, 1985.

Works by Arudra.

1. Poetry.
Sinivaali. Madras: M. Seshachalam &Co., 1960.
Suddha Madhyakkaralu. Chennai: Stri Sakti prachuranalu, 1999
Tvamevaaham. Secunderabad: Chanda Narayana Shreshti, 1962.

2. Critical works (Books and anthologies of essays)
Mahaneeyulu (pen portraits). Chennai: K. Ramalakshmi, 1979
Prajakalalu, Pragativaadulu. Vijayawada: Prajasakti Book House, [1986]
Ramudiki Sita emautundi. Vijayawada: Navodaya publishers, 1978
Samagra Andhra Sahityam. 4 vols. Hyderabad: Telugu Akademi, 2002.
Vemana Vedam. Vijayawada: New Students Book Center, 1985
Vyasapitham. Vijayawada: New Students Book Center, 1985.

3. Fiction
Arudra kathalu. Vijayawada: Vijayasarathi prachurana. 1966

*Complete list of Arudra’s works is available at http://en.wikpedia.org./wiki/Aarudhra.

This article by Nidadavolu Malathi has been published on thulika.net, June 2008.

Three Million Rupee Bet by Arudra

The seasons for childhood games are distinct. Each one – Tops, kites, stump and stick – has its own season. It is easier to count the sides of a circle than to list the properties of all these seasons. Once it happened in my childhood in Visakhapatnam that a new season was born – that is the game of cigarette boxes.

It is difficult to find out who invented this great game. It’s even more difficult to say with any certainty that it was invented in our town. There is some chance for the probability that the game was imported from Vijayanagram or Anakapalle. I feel the tremendous responsibility to explain first how this game is played – so, here we go.

There are two faces to a cigarette box. The sides are torn away to leave these faces like Rupee notes. Values are assigned to these notes, sort of like playing cards, based on the brand of cigarettes –  Wills is 1000, Players is 1000, Scissors is 500, Passing show is 100, Bears is 50, Charminar is 5 – like this. I can only recall approximate values – I don’t remember the actual values.

Every player must first accumulate some of these notes. The players draw a large circle in the earth and place their bets within it. Oh, I forgot – another important piece of the game is the Bettu – this is a flat stone some 4- 6 inches in diameter, typically a piece of raw granite. Once the bets are placed, the first player stands on the edge of the circle and throws his bettu parallel to the ground straight away from him. The other players take turns to throw their own bettus from the circle, aiming for the first player’s. Whoever can hit the first player’s bettu wins the bet. If the second fellow can not hit the first player’s bettu, his own bettu stays on the ground, and the third fellow has the choice of aiming for either one. So on it proceeds till all the players in the game get a chance. If no one can hit the first player’s bettu, then the game proceeds into the second stage.

The first player stands where his bettu was and now aims it on the money pile in the center of the circle. If his bettu touches the pile of money, he wins the pot. If he does not, each player tries his luck – one wins whatever money one can knock out of the circle. The game proceeds till the last note is knocked out of the circle.

While we were playing a game like this in Ukam Street one day, Prasadam came by and showed us a new kind of cigarette box rupees. We never saw such a thing before in our lives. He declared that it is valued at 100,000 in Bombay. We didn’t object. He also said that his elder brother brought it from the military. Since it was a military cigarette box, we unanimously decided that it can be valued at 100,000.

We humbly petitioned Prasadam that he distribute one to each of us. He did not oblige. He had 30 of those. Therefore, we all condemned his miserliness in not sharing his wealth with us. But would he listen?

Finally, he made a proposal – we get one chance to win all of his 3 million in one game. Of course, we didn’t agree. Even if we pooled all our resources, it did not amount to 3 million. So, we suggested that bets be placed in multiple steps, like 250,000 or so at a time. He didn’t agree to this. Just then, Garuda Nannaya let it out that Wills is valued at 10,000 in Chinnam Street. Our currency values go up and down, depending on the need of the moment. Prasadam objected that this was unfair, but Wills was instantaneously elevated to the exalted value of 10,000 based on the approval by the rest of us.

Even with this new valuation, our combined pool came to only 2.5 million. We chose Prakasam to play against Prasadam in this big bet. He is the acknowledged expert of the game. He has many tricks literally at his finger tips in both throwing the bettu and in the knack of knocking the notes out of the circle. Prakasam agreed. But there was credit crunch – the needed capital was in short supply.

We humbly petitioned Prasadam to loan us half a million. We were confident that Prakasam would win. However, Prasadam was adamant, and refused point blank. Okay, we said, let’s keep the bet at 2.5 million. He said my way or the highway, much like Jinnah in his heyday.

Left with no options, we sent emissaries to neighboring territories for financial help. The news spread to Chinnam Street and Pappula street. The greatest players from both streets were present on the occasion to witness this mega contest. Chinnam street people agreed to give the loan on one condition. If Prakasam wins, they get ten of the new 100,000 notes. If he loses, we have to repay them a total of 1.5 million within three days. We all pledged ourselves to this agreement – our word was as good as our signature.

At last, when the bet amounts were placed inside the crease circle, Prasadam inquired the Nagulakonda boy from the Chinnam street as to the value of Wills in their street. When the fellow replied that it usually went for a 1000, Prasadam threw a tantrum that we were cheating (by counting Wills as 10,000). The external witnesses also expressed the opinion that Wills is worth only a thousand.

Feeling that it’s a waste to call off such an exciting game at this stage, Panuparti Venkat Rao from Pappula Street came forward to fill up the shortfall, if we let him play. Of course, we did not agree – why? Because the fellow doesn’t have any skill at all. So, he said he won’t give even a lousy Charminar. He also prevented anyone from the Pappula Street coming forward to give.

Meanwhile, Nannaya accused Prasadam of cheating us ‘cause his Bombay cigarette box is not worth 100,000. We could not digest this truth. We too agreed with Prasadam on how a Bombay military cigarette box could not be less than 100,000.

Somehow, at last, Prasadam agreed to let the game proceed with only the capital we had. The game started. In excitement, Prasadam through the stone first. We were hoping that Prakasam could hit it quite easily, and win the game. Prakasam didn’t hit it. In the second play, Prasadam was able to hit the pile of currency in the crease, thus winning the game and the bet.

In that joy, he twirled his (non-existent) mustache, slapped his thigh and sang an insulting nonsense rhyme at us. Prakasam was incensed at this and he jumped on Prasadam. We too jumped on him. We tore up all the cash in his hands. We threw him down and tore his shirt. The witnesses, Nagulakonda from Chinnam Street and Panuparti from Pappula Street joined us with their gangs and put an end to the fight.

With his face flushed beet red, Prasadam shouted, “My name is not Rambhotla Prasadam, if I don’t shoot you with my soldier brother’s gun,” and limped away. His shirt was all torn and his body was full of bruises.

That was the end of the season for the cigarette box game in our town for that year.


Translated by © S. Narayanaswamy and published on thulika.net, June 2008.

(The Telugu original, mupphai lakshala pandem, was published in the anthology, Arudra kathalu, 1958.