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The Truth about Desires by Balivada Kantha Rao

In the final days of his life, Ramayya was thinking of the events in his life. It felt like they had happened just yesterday or the day before.

Exactly thirty years back, he had come to this town wearing a threadbare dhoti and a filthy shirt and searching for a way to fill his empty stomach. He went around for a week until his feet nearly wore off.  At the end, a contractor gave him work which earned him six annas[i] per day. “That is good,” he told himself and was content. He worked with determination and as if he was working for himself.

One day, he was resting under a banyan tree on the outskirts of the town along with other workers. Then he had a wish; wouldn’t it be nice if he got the job as a clerk in the manager’s office instead of sweating in the sun and rain like this? The manager noticed Ramayya’s skills and gave him the job as a clerk.

He found an opportunity to prove his ingenuity, modesty, and new methods that would bring profits directly to the owner. He wondered why he could not be the manager; he was smarter than the manager. It did not take even four years before that wish had been fulfilled. In the meantime, God only knows how fretful he had been!

After that, profits started pouring in and he thought it would be great if he became a contractor himself—car, two-storey building, higher education for children, better proposals for daughters …

It did not take many years for that wish to materialize. The owner gave Ramayya a small share in his company. He kept increasing that number of shares and after sometime he left the entire responsibility to Ramayya and went away to visit other countries. With the profits he had earned, Ramayya built a two-storey building, and bought a car. His children were going to college in the car. Now, the status of his friends and relatives, whom he was gathering, was totally different.

His lifestyle and the food he was eating had changed. It became necessary for him to eat on the table. His feet were refusing to move without car. By the time the contractor returned home, Ramayya had assumed all the responsibilities and become the proprietor himself. Big name contractors were inviting him to some meeting or other and honoring him. Despite his seemingly vehement protests, people were praising him and putting him down in the books as a great benefactor. A building for local high school was built in his name. He became a great leader in that town. He started out as a council member and soon became municipal chairman.

His eldest son grew up and started looking after the business matters. All Ramayya had to do was to put his signature wherever he was asked to. A few other businesses like a clothes mill, two rice mills, and salt production were opened in his name in quick succession. Even as the businesses kept growing, generosity in his heart also kept getting bigger. He was constantly on tenterhooks and looking for ways to give.

One day he was in bed with fever. Another wish came to his mind but the stark reality also struck; he knew that it would work. That led to another wish. The days accumulated into years and the signs of old age started setting in. His health was deteriorating. He grew a beard.  He was certain that nobody could recognize him as the same Ramayya who used to be a few months back. Under the circumstances how his wish to live very long could be granted? No, that’s not going to happen. Therefore, he had entertained another wish.

He had been generous to many people in so many ways. He could say with his hand on his chest, with confidence and satisfaction, that he would be leaving behind enormous fame and respect in the community. There were poets who had praised him as a patron and compared him to Karna, the great benefactor in Mahabharata. Ramayya was excited at the idea; wanted to go into the town disguised as a beggar, and watch with his own eyes all the respect the public had for him, listen to what everybody said about him and die happily and contently. The thought grew stronger by the minute and settled in his heart strappingly.

Within a few days, he gathered all the necessary tools for his plan. He collected enough strength in his body to walk a few furlongs. He told the people around him not to approach him and bother him for anything. The home had always been in a festive mood—always filled with the hullabaloo his children’s friends and relatives had been creating. He wanted to pick a day when everybody was busy with such festivities, leave home by the backdoor, and return to take them all by surprise. How wonderful it would be to see their faces when they find him in the disguise of a beggar! He was quite tickled by his idea.

That day came. Everybody in the house retired to the third floor. There was a marriage proposal for his younger daughter. The party came to see the would-be bride. A huge party was arranged in their honor. After the party, a bharatanatyam performance was arranged. He could manage to go upstairs. However, he told them he was feeling weak and could not go upstairs and sent them away.

All the conditions were favorable to him. The entire sky was filled with dark clouds but there was no sign of rain though. “I can’t find a better opportunity than this. If they see me, they will not let me go. Maybe, I could return before the rain hits if I leave right now,” he persuaded himself thus and changed clothes quickly. He looked in the mirror in front of him and was surprised at his disguise himself. He was looking exactly like an old beggar; ready to fall at the slightest blow of a wind.

He looked around, made sure nobody was watching, and hit the street through the backdoor. He bent forward and started walking with the help of a cane. He saw somebody on the road and called out, “Babu!”

That person said quickly, “I’ve got nothing to give, go away.”

Ramayya was irate yet remained calm and followed him, “Babu, I just came to the town for the first. I see some noise in the mansion up there …”

Even before he finished the sentence, the other person said, “Of course, brouhaha in his mansion, ha, where else if not in his mansion.”

“What do you mean, babu?”

“So many people are dying for want food, and he will have birthday parties even for the cat.”

“Who’s he, babu?”

“They call him Ramayya.”

“Oh, you mean that Babu? In my area, people say he is a generous man.”

The other person laughed and said, “Did he give even a piece of cloth without imprinting his name on it? A school without his name on it? What do you know about him? Ask him when he is alone and see if he drops a paisa in your palm. Ask him when he is surrounded by a few people, and he will throw you a ten rupee note. He is ripping us off and donating generously to cover those sins. We are the crazy ones, not him, old man!”

On hearing those words, Ramayya was silent; no word could come out of his mouth. The man walked away. Ramayya looked at him in the street light. He was no other than the man that had poured praise on him at a huge gathering previously.

After a while, Ramayya set out again. He saw several people walk by. His heart was sinking at the thought of what he might be forced to hear, had he asked them the same question. As he kept walking, he suddenly noticed that he had walked quite far and arrived at the person’s home he had met the very first time he had come to town.

That man finished his supper and sat on the porch, chewing paan and reciting poems. He had praised Ramayya on several occasions at several meetings, calling him Lord Indra and Lord Chandra. “He is a poet, a representative of the people’s minds. I will hear a few good words about my Lady Fame and will return happily to my home. Maybe I can’t walk for long. But then again, which rickshaw driver will take me, looking like a beggar in these rags? I wish I had stuffed a rupee in my pocket before I left home,” he thought.

Fearing that man might recognize him, Ramayya spoke in a trembling voice in order to hide his identity, “Babu!”

The man said without even looking at him, “Go away. We’re done eating.”

“Babu, I heard about some Ramayya babu. I understand he is so generous. I would be committing a sin if I don’t ask him. That great man’s name is reverberating across the entire country. Can you please tell me where his house is?”

The man turned around, looked at Ramayya and laughed.

Ramayya was tired and could not stand anymore.  He sat down.

The sky was dense with dark clouds. Off and on, cold wind was blowing. The man yawned and said, “About Ramayya? You want to hear about him.”

“If you please.”

“Everybody thinks he is enjoying heavenly lavishness now but where is the happiness he had enjoyed when he first came to this town in rags? I am telling you the truth. There is not a man on this earth who is more blissful than you are. Do you know why? You have no desires. You beg for the minimum necessities like food and clothing and you’re done. Do you hear me? Do you understand what I am saying?”

“Ah!” Ramayya moaned.

“You see that banyan tree there? The same Ramayya used to sleep happily under that tree after working hard, rain or shine. I knew him in those days as well, such a fine gentleman. He used to help others without expecting fame, even when it was a little hard for him. … and now? … Whatever he does, even giving you a paisa, he is doing it only for fame. Therefore the Ramayya of the old times is the one who is valued as a human being but not the Ramayya of today. I am talking some big talk. Do you understand what I am saying?”

Ramayya was almost in tears. He had to struggle even to say “um”.

As the wind kept blowing and making him feel good, the other person continued to display the personality he had concealed up until now. “If you ask me who has been cheated most in this world, I’d say, ‘Ramayya’. Let me tell you something. You’ve seen the world. You tell me if this is fair. You came and said you’re hungry. I gave you not only bellyful of food to eat but also nice clothes to wear. I treated you like family. I trusted you and went out of town on some business and returned. Then you showed me phony accounts and ripped me off of my house and the entire property. Do you see? For all the things I’ve done for you, you stabbed me in the back, isn’t it so? Ramayya became a demon with all his greed. The demon ate up the company. No matter how many cars he has, how many mansions he has, no matter how many donations he has made; how can he be an icon for truth and justice? How can a creep like him be recognized as a great man by the public? A man who gets carried away by superficial praise is a low life if you ask me. Had he stopped for a second and thought how a devil like himself be Indra or Chandra, he would have left all this wealth and luxuries, felt remorse for his wrongdoing and retired to some woods and become a sansyasin. Because of his desires, he ruined the human life, which is attainable only after doing plenty of good deeds. I am sure he is going to pay for his sins.”

Those words pricked at his heart like needles. His heart sank; he could not stay there anymore; he ran away from that place. As he walked, his legs started trembling and eyes blurring. He could not focus. He continued to walk aimlessly. It was dark—he could not see the road. The banyan tree was looking like a demon.

He felt like he was hit by a thunderbolt. It was scary; he felt like somebody was following him like a shadow; he was scared to turn around and look … ear-piercing yelps … huge fangs …somebody is getting close to him… who’s it? Devil or an envoy of Lord Yama?

There … he is piercing through his …he is laughing and tearing Ramayya’s stomach into two … he is yapping ha, ha, and saying something. .. what’s it?

Ramayya shut his ears yet he could hear them… “You’re so naïve! God grants you what you wish for and along with that, also what you’ve not wished for. If you wish for fame, he will include disgrace. If you wish for comforts, he includes discomforts as well. You did not understand this simple truth.”

A lightning flashed. He saw heaps of stones strewn all over on the street. After that, the area looked like a graveyard in that night. He wondered how arrived to this place where there were no human beings and the atmosphere was frightening. Probably, the relationship between the banyan tree and his life brought him here. He was a little annoyed that he did not come in the daytime; it would have been so much nicer. Rain started pouring and huge winds were blowing. The earth was shaking with thunder and lightning. Anxiously, he bent forward and was eager to reach the banyan tree, with the stick as his support. Heavy winds were blowing hard and the branches were making noises. A branch might fall on him and kill him, he thought. He might even be bit by a snake and die, squealing with pain.

“Oh, god! Why did I come out instead of staying in my mansion comfortably? I’d better run back to my home. How about getting back on to the road… by now, they all could be looking for me in their cars. They may not believe that I am Ramayya, seeing me in these rags. Will they let me get into my own car? Maybe, I can’t even make it to the road. .. my heart is giving in. Oh, God, don’t let me die here…”

His Legs were refusing to move forward. “There! I see my mansions, wife and children. I’ll die here watching them all. In the midst of this havoc, can the results of my good deeds come to my rescue? Please, bring me to my home. If I die there, the entire village will follow me to the graveyard. There will be drums and trumpets. Entire country will weep for me. Father, please don’t accord me a nameless death in this place and in these rags.” He kept howling and beating his forehead.

His legs refused to walk even one foot more. The heavy winds were causing him to shiver. The sky was howling. Rain was pouring fiercely and winds were blasting off.

A huge branch broke off from the banyan tree and fell. Ramayya shirked and bounced into the air and the next thing he knew he fell on a heap of rocks. His forehead split, nose broke, and the face was mangled. Blood was flowing all over. “Oh, Father, I am dead,” he shrieked. His shriek was swallowed by thunders. The tears were submerged into the rain.

The ritual burning of his body was performed by the police at the expense of the government under the category “the body of an old destitute beggar.”


(The Telugu original, korikala satyam was published in Bharati, 1961 and included later in Balivada Kantha Rao kathalu, published by Visalandhra Publishing House, 1994,

Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, December 2010.)








































[i] One anna is one sixteenth of a rupee.

Balivada Kantha Rao by Nidadavolu Malathi

Balivada Kantha Rao, a conscientious writer, is a reputable writer from Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India. He was born in Madapam in Srikakulam district, Andhra Pradesh on July 3, 1927. He was eight when the family moved to Visakhapatnam for his education.

While he was in the eighth grade, Kantha Rao acted as the editor of a hand-written, school magazine entitled vidyarthi. He said that two persons by the same name, Suryanarayana—his father and his teacher—had been his inspiration and contributed to shaping his interests to become a writer.

At 17, he started working as a clerk in the Indian navy and soon became a civilian officer. While working in the Navy, he had the opportunity to travel and get acquainted not only with different parts of the country but also different cultures, especially tribal communities. The knowledge he had acquired through these experiences enriched his fiction greatly.

First, let me apologize for this rather brief article, I am aware there is lot more to write about him but could not for want of resources. I hope this will persuade you to find other sources and read more about Kantha Rao.

Probably, Kantha Rao could have achieved greater recognition had he courted some ideology. In fact, that is where his strength lay. He did not commit himself to any one particular ideology and limit his creativity to promote that one ideology. Instead, he took pains to scrutinize life from a wide variety of perspectives, studied them methodically including tribal communities and presented them in his stories. His canvas is not just Andhra Pradesh but the entire country.

Kantha Rao’s first novel Sarada was published in 1947. Regarding its publication, the author says it was rejected by one magazine and then he submitted it to Chitragupta. When asked whether rejection ever curbed his enthusiasm, Kantha Rao commented that the rejections actually made him even more determined to pursue his literary career (Yohan babu. Interview.).

As it turned out, his determination and self-confidence were well rewarded. In his foreword to his anthology of short stories Kantha Rao tells us how the publishing went in the early days: He sent a story to Bharati, a highly regarded literary magazine and they published it not in Bharati but in Andhra Patrika, a popular weekly magazine, run by the same management. Later, he sent another story to the weekly magazine and the editors published it in the monthly magazine, Bharati!

 In his early novels such as godameeda bomma [Picture on the Wall] (1953), and dagaa padina tammudu [The Betrayed Little Brother], (1957) he dealt with familial themes covering shorter period. For instance, dagaa padina tammudu is a story that happened in one decade. In his later novels however he took several generations to illustrate his views on a wide variety of subjects. He says Vamsadhara [The River Vamsadhara located in the author’s village] is a case in point; it extends over a span of three generations. He believes that in order to illustrate the metamorphoses of social change meaningfully, it is necessary to extend over a period of three generations.

At the time of writing this novel, Kantha Rao was living in Delhi. The platform for this novel is his village and covers events for a period of about fifty years, starting from 1918. Since he left his village in 1936, he decided to go back to his village and gather the necessary information for it. Several individuals—his friends and his father’s friends—gave him valuable information which helped him to develop his characters truthfully, and also obtain some of the colloquialisms and nuances, which he incorporated in his story.

Asked by Dr. Yohan Babu for his reason to change the ending in Vamsadhara in his later edition, Kantha Rao said that his friends pointed out the discrepancies between his rendering and the actual events. “I believe that a writer must not be influenced by his own preferences, must not depict events contrary to the truth; and should never rush to conclusions quickly.” It took nine years for him to get it in the form of a book and he was pleased with the final product, he added. He was hoping that the views expressed in it would provoke the future readers into thinking.

The novel discusses several aspects—political ideologies, religious beliefs, social customs, and the lifestyles of various tribes —in unusual detail. The novel could be labeled “the Story of modern day India”, considering its range and depth, commented Dr. Yohan babu.

Delhi majileelu is another major work of Kantha Rao. He says, “It is a well-researched product. After finishing this big novel, I felt like I have received a doctoral degree. It took six years to finish it. Even the format is different in that it includes stories within stories and contains extensive discussions on all walks of our lives—political, social, economic and cultural—from Dharmaraja’s Indraprasthapuram to today’s New Delhi. I am very pleased with it regardless it has not caught the public attention yet. Sales are still low. Maybe, it gets noticed after it is translated into Hindi some day.”

Here are some of the opinions Kantha Rao has expressed in his interview by Yohan Babu:

On current writers – Good writers could become ordinary writers, if labeled as great writers. If writers focus only on fame and money, quality of good writing goes down. There are several writers today who have overcome these limitations and are writing well. They are the ones who would prolong this thread of literature and carry it forward.”

His reason to continue writing short stories and not novels is writing a novel is harder and after writing there is no guarantee that it gets published.

Writers who influenced his style: There are not many he could quote. Bengali writer, Sarathchandra Chatterjee’s influence is evident in his novel, Annapurna. After that, he developed rather the ill-conceived notion that, “If I read great fiction written in other languages, I would be influenced by them and my stories would reflect that influence. However, now I feel I missed out on something—I don’t know what makes a novel great.”

In response to a question whether his education in psychology helped him to delineate his characters, Kantha Rao said he never made a conscious effort to apply his theories to characters since he never studied them from that perspective. After he created the characters however they might have been recast into those theories.

Three novels janmabhumi [The Motherland], punyabhumi [The Pious land] and karmabhumi [The Land of Action] reflect his political views. He, being a government employee, was not in a position to depict prevalent political conditions in his novels, and for that reason created an imaginary country, he said.

He considers tradition to be a “withered branch and change does not happen if one hangs on to the dried up branches. No society can progress without change,” which explains his creation of some characters to be anti-traditional.

Kantha Rao believed in checking the minutest details and being truthful to his characters. In his foreword to his anthology of short stories, Balivada Kantha Rao kathalu, he states that all his stories were based on his observation of real life events and all characters on the people he had come across in real life. The story manishi, pasuvu [Man and Beast] is one such story. It was based on a person whom he had met while he was working in Mumbai. He created strong female characters in his novels for the same reason. He had seen in his village such exemplary women who believed in upright living and depicted them in his stories.

To give an example of his writing, let me discuss the story manishi, pasuvu [Man and Beast]. It revolves round a class IV employee in the office of the protagonist, Sayeba. The man, Patil, never gets to work on time and is drunk most of the time. He spends not only his money on liquor but also harasses his wife for money. He never bothers to find how she was managing to bring the money. Sayeba tries to change Patil’s behavior by giving him money at first and later by lecturing him. Patil justifies his drinking by ranting about the prevalent injustices in society. Sayeba seems to understand Patil’s logic and continues to give him money.

Eventually, Patil shows some change which does not last long though. One day, he overhears two policemen talking about his wife sleeping with other men. Thinking they were rumors, he attacks the policemen for speaking ill of his wife. The policemen throw him in jail. Patil calls Sayeba to bail him out. Later however he learns the truth—that she was prostituting herself to earn the money, he murders her. He goes to Sayeba’s home and tells him that Sayeba was the only person who had treated him like a man.

For me the story is intriguing. It raises several questions. If the author intended to maintain that Patil became a habitual drunk because of the injustices in the society, his attitude towards his wife makes no sense. And to kill her because she was earning money by prostituting herself further complicates the issue and presents him in a dubious light. After much debate, I have come to believe that the author attempted to illustrate the complexity in human nature. Ever so often, human behavior is inexplicable. It never fits into a theory like a hand in a glove. If we are willing to make that concession, we will find some comfort in the thought that the protagonist was able to see some change in Patil.

I liked the story The Truth about Desires (see translation of this story) for a couple of reasons. It is human nature to wish to improve one’s life and work for it. Call it progress, call it better life—we all want something more. However, if the wishing and working for better life changes into a craving for popularity, it could become disastrous.

naalugu manchaalu [four beds] is one of his short novels. It depicts the lives of four persons lying in four beds in a hospital. Actually, it is a story of three individuals drawn together by a fourth person, Sundaram, who connects them to the outside world and also takes care of their business and his own in the outside world. Sundaram could accomplish it by being in and out of hospital for his health problem. It is an interesting concept—how seemingly unrelated people could become entangled in a web of relationships. It is done well.

Kantha Rao quotes three incidents that helped him to develop his technique.

In his childhood days, Golla Ramaswamy, a bard in his village used to narrate wide variety of stories to the audience under a tree. “I learned from him how to make a story interesting to read.”

In his adult years, one day, he saw some children fight and that grow into a squabble among adults. Among them, one woman’s brother was standing, away from them and watching the squabble. Kantha Rao asked him why he did not interfere and stop the squabble. The brother replied that he needed to obtain an unbiased opinion and that would be possible only when he stood at a distance and watched them. “From that incident I have learned that a writer must be unbiased.”

On another occasion, he saw a brief memo about a junior officer’s work. The note said, “Several senior officers have learned about solving disputes between the administration and the labor force from him (the junior officer).” The junior officer was promoted superseding the other senior officers. “From that, I have learned that we get results only when we tell a story straight and succinctly,” said Kantha Rao.

Kantha Rao passed away on May 6, 2000.


Yohan babu, G. Balivada Kantha Rao gari navalalu—oka pariseelana. Visakhapatnam: Dipteja publications, 1995.

Kantha Rao, Balivada Kantha Rao kathalu. Hyderabad: Visalandhra Publishing House, 1994.

Some of the stories by Balivada Kantha Rao are translated into English by Sijata Patnaik, in the book entitled The Secret of Contentment and Other Telugu Short Stories.  2002. ISBN 8120724604. It is available on Amazon.com.

 I am grateful to Dr. Yohan Babu and Balivada Kantha Rao for his foreword cited above.


(This article by Nidadavolu Malathi has been originally published on thulika.net, December 2010)