Malapalli, chapters 13- 23

 13. Burning issues and the starving poor.

The following day, early in the morning, Sangadasu got down to work. Asked Venganna if Chowdarayya returned home. Venganna told him that Chowdarayya and the munsif of Palem were on their way to a meeting in the neighboring village.

The munsif and Chowdarayya were conspiring and finding ways to shortchange the laborers of their wages. One suggestion was to offer money instead of grains. Sangadasu also understood that Chowdarayya was keeping him under his control in his household. He thought of informing Rama Naidu but changed his mind, thought it might his feelings.

Rama Naidu learned from Sangadasu about his father’s plans to swindle the laborers and avowed his support to Sangadasu in his fight for worker’s rights.

Rama Naidu offered to go to the field to learn farming. At the field, Rama Naidu asked for food. Sangadasu said that, unlike the bosses, not everybody would have three meals a day and snacks in between to eat. Rama Naidu was even more determined to join hands with Sangadasu for improving the conditions of the poor.

14. Splinters

Sangadasu was pondering over Rama Naidu’s commitment and the possible consequences. Rama Naidu could offer plenty of help but that would create problems between him and his father. He might even lose his share of the family’s wealth.

On his way home, Sangadasu stopped by a small store selling daily necessities. There he saw the poorest of the poor buying the daily necessities with the smallest change they had and begging for a near handout. Sangadasu was devastated. “How could I ask them to go on strike?” he thought. He came home and the conditions at home appeared to be heavenly compared to the sight at the store.

During the chitchat, Malakshmi told him that Subbalakshmi was beaten and had fallen seriously ill due to lack of medical attention. Sangadasu went to see her. Subbalakshmi begged him to take care of her son, Appadu. She also told Appadu not to befriend bad people and stay with only Sangadasu.

Sangadasu promised her to take care of Appadu and also offered to admit her in a nearby hospital. She asked to let Appadu go with her. Sangadasu agreed.  Later he went to the courtyard by the neem tree and joined the group who had gathered to chat.  He asked them how they were doing, and plans to build roof over their heads, etc.

Veeradasu said he changed his mind about the house. He said his son was planning to buy a cart and transport stones. Sangadasu discussed the logistics of the business, and offered to help financially. He reminded them not to start drinking again.

Punnanna raised the question about the wages. Sangadasu told them that munsif was offering cash instead of grain but was not sure how much.

Muthadu told them that munsif was offering a quarter of a rupee, which was much less compared to the amount of grain they were receiving.

Veeradasu suggested strike. Rangadu said that would hurt the laborers more than the owners and it they should work but refuse the pay until the owners paid reasonably.

Sangadasu said both the arguments had merit. Rangadasu suggested the path of dharma and the owners might come around and seek the same dharma. Punnanna on the other hand suggested the hero’s path.

Veeradasu commented that the dharma path would not yield results in a short period of time and the hero’s path, strike, could get the owner’s attention quickly.

Sangadasu said that most of the workers were in favor of strike. He told some of them to go to Chowdarayya’s farm and the others to munsif’s farm. That way, they might force both the owners to come to an understanding.

15. Harvesting

 The next morning Sangadasu went to see Munsif and discuss the situation of the farm workers. Munsif asked Sangadasu whose side he was on. He was sympathetic to the workers’ issue but was not willing to disobey Chowdarayya.

Munsif and Sangadasu argued about the workers they had hired. Sangadasu said the workers were determined to go on strike.

Sangadasu went to Rama Naidu and told him and informed him of the latest developments in the workers’ situation. He also advised Naidu to eat before going to the fields. Rama Naidu said he would eat along with the other workers.

Rama Naidu asked why Sangadasu was not coming inside the house. Sangadasu said he would explain it to him later. As they all started going toward the fields, Naidu noticed that he could not keep up with even female workers.

Seshayya, one of the workers told Naidu that Munsif had paid four days’ wages in advance and some workers went to work for him. Sangadasu asked him how in what manner he should pay them. Seshayya replied that he would leave it to Sangadasu’s judgment. Sangadasu said he would follow Chowdarayya’s orders.  They all were aware that things would get rough.

The workers hung their food vessels to the tree branches and started reaping. Rama Naidu, being new to manual labor and to this type of work, was having hard time. Soon, he was tired. Akkalakshmi brought food for him in a silver dish. Sangadasu told the workers to eat their meals. Naidu wanted to take bath but changed his mind since he did not have towel with him. He watched as the workers ate with their right hand from the food placed in their left hands. To him, it was amusing. After finished eating, Rama Naidu fell asleep.

It was past midday by the time he woke up. He saw that the workers were already in the field reaping the grain. Sangadasu stopped reaping and came to Naidu and asked how was he. Naidu said it was totally new for him and asked if they would be eating light meal in the mid-afternoon. Sangadasu said there were no light meals in this world and offered to pick some fresh cucumber from the field.

Naidu ate the cucumbers and baby grains [uucabiyyam] and asked him to bring water. Sangadasu said Naidu should fetch the water himself, fearing that the workers might fuss about it. He also told him how his aunt, Subbalakshmi was beaten up.  He then explained to Naidu how the hunger debilitates the workers and it would not be in the best interest of the owners. They both decided to fight for the reinstatement of Dharma, even if it meant Naidu going against his father’s wishes.

16. The Sowkar.

This chapter provides a detailed account of the Nallamotu lineage. Chowdarayya’s father, Ramanna Chowdary had amassed wealth in the form of land and buildings in several ways. He had the workers under his leadership revolt against then the British government, refused to pay the taxes, and continued the strike for a very long time. By the time he died, he owned two hundred acres of low land and one hundred acres of high land. After his father, Chowdarayya expanded their affluence by buying land cheap and auctioned property, and through questionable lending practices. In his time, the land expanded to five hundred acres of low land, three hundred acres of high land and also three lakhs cash.

In their village, Mangalapuram, there used to be old type mansion with high-raised walls. He bought additionally the house across from his and owned by a powerless brahmin family. Chowdarayya wanted to build a separate shed in the place of that brahmin’s house but Lakshmamma argued that the cowshed should be part of the house they were living; that would bring good fortune.

Chowdarayya had a two-storey mansion built. But Lakshmamma always stayed in the old house. Rama Naidu was using the entire upstairs. Dowstairs, Chowdarayya was using the south room as his bedroom and the hallway for meeting friends. His older brother’s son, Venkatayya would sleep either in the mansion or the cowshed as needed.

Chowdarayya was a good businessman. He had learned to read and write. Pantulu was his right hand man. Sangadasu was in charge of the farming. He was getting 15 rupees per month and food.

Chowdarayya asked Lakshmamma about Rama Naidu. He was worried about his son’s friendship with Sangadasu and their visit with a brahmin guru. Lakshmamma said that the father brought him [Sangadasu] into the house and the son took him upstairs.

Chowdarayya asked her to send him away to find a job but Lakshmamma was not sure that Naidu would listen to her or anybody else for that matter. Chowdarayya was also not happy that Lakshmamma was generous to the poor.

In this chapter, I came to know for the first time the relationship of Venkatayya to Chowdarayya. Venkatayya was introduced earlier in chapter 10. There he addressed Lakshmamma as pinnamma which led me to believe that he was her stepson. It is however in this chapter the actual relationship, that Venkatayya was Chowdarayya’s brother’s son, was mentioned. This again brings us to the stylistic variations in Telugu narrative.

17. Wages

Chowdarayya was worried that his son was drifting away, and that his friendship with Sangadasu was to be blamed. Nevertheless he would have to ensure Sangadasu’s support since he had lost the support of the munsif.

Chowdarayya discussed the wages with Sangadasu. Sangadasu did not want to ruffle his boss, but did not want to shortchange the workers either. Sangadasu pointed out that the tradition of paying in the form of the grain on which the workers had worked had its value. It was a way of survival for the workers. Chowdarayya argued that he was willing to pay cash, saying it was not always possible to pay in kind. He cited the example of construction work. Sangadasu countered  saying the custom of paying in cash came into existence only because of that kind of labor but it did not apply to the farm work. He went on to elaborate the various types of ownership and wages.

Chowdarayya was adamant. He was not concerned so much about the subsistence of the workers as his own profits. Sangadasu argued that the workers would not be able work effectively on empty stomachs. He was able to convince Chowdarayya to pay as usual at least for now.

18. An old woman from Mutarachu.

The workers were waiting outside while Chowdarayya and Sangadasu negotiated in the hallway. At Chowdarayya’s suggestion, Sangadasu asked Seshayya, Veerayya and Rangadasu to come in for further talks.

Chowdarayya inquired what they would be doing on that day and told them the grain they would be receiving as their wages was stored in a silo. He would give them the following day. Seshayya insisted that the workers needed food for that night. Chowdarayya agreed.

Sangadasu assured other workers that the other landowners in the village also would come around since Chowdarayya agreed to their terms. The strike was stalled temporarily at least.

Rama Naidu admired Sangadasu for his strategy. Sangadasu quoted the four ways of strategy—sama [compromise], dana [bribe], bheda [divide] and danda [assault] and said there was a fifth way which was to ignore.

It was getting dark. Adam Sayibu was measuring and giving the grain to the workers.

Rama Naidu and Chowdarayya returned home. There Rama Naidu witnessed a scene that caused his heart to thaw out.

An old woman was begging his mother for food. Lakshmamma asked her why she had to beg for food, if she had no family. The old woman told her piteous story. Lakshmamma took pity on her and gave her some rice. Chowdarayya called the old woman a swindler. Rama Naidu was moved by the woman’s story and the conditions that drove her to near death situation.

19. (This chapter was not given a subtitle).

Rama Naidu went upstairs but could not sleep. He came downstairs and noticed that the light was still on in Sangadasu’s room. He invited Sangadasu into his room upstairs. Sangadasu replied he would not be comfortable going upstairs. But Naidu insisted and they both went upstairs.

Chowdarayya saw them and thought of waiting to see what would happen.

Rama Naidu told Sangadasu about the old woman who had fainted in their yard earlier. Sangadasu said he had seen it and continued to explain the hardships the poor had been suffering in the village. He also told about his aunt, Subbalakshmi who had beaten by a sowkar and died. Naidu asked why it was not reported.

The doctor had taken the statement from Subbalakshmi on her deathbed but the Naidu’s father paid five hundred rupees and had the doctor rewrite a statement that she died of pneumonia.

Rama Naidu said that he was being disheartened by the minute. Sangadasu talked at length about the loopholes in the system and possible solutions.  They both talked about the upcoming meeting by workers union to fight the landowners’ atrocities. Actually, Sangadasu explained in elaborate detail the entire system of land ownership, land tenure and agrarianism.  Chowdarayya had heard their decision to leave town the following day. He thought that it might actually help him to turn things around in his own favor.

In this chapter, we see the author going to great lengths to highlight. Sangadasu’s scholarship and Rama Naidu’s ignorance. Rama Naidu had received college education and in preparation for an administrative position in the government. (His mother said he was qualified to be a tahsildar and his father wanted him to take a job outside his village). That being the case, it is strange that he should learn the entire philosophy of agrarian system from Sangadasu.

20. Food polluted by madiga presence.

Sangadasu and Rama Naidu go to Vijayawada to attend the Adima Andhra Conference. The munsif saw them eating at the same table. The news reached the village and Chowdarayya was beside himself.

21. Caste distinctions

 At the conference, Sangadasu met with the organizer, Venkata Reddy and other prominent members of the party. Once again, Sangadasu explained in detail the origins of the caste-oriented vocations and the eventual distribution of wealth based on caste system. He then suggested the need for reform and the method of achieving it.

22. The Knowledge of the Aryans belongs to one and all.

 The president and Sangadasu sat down to draft a proposal summarizing the conclusions drawn at the meeting the day before. Chowdarayya joined them. Somayajulu was also expected. He joined them a little later.

Here I need to make a brief comment about names. This Chowdarayya might not be the same Chowdarayya, earlier identified as Rama Naidu’s father. Several variations of similar sounding [names also very common in this novel. For instance, Venkata Reddy, Venkatadasu (Ramadasu’s eldest son), Venganna (hired hand at Chowdarayya’s household), Venkatayya (Chowdarayya’s brother’s son)—seem to be taxing our memory from the perspective of today’s readers. And it gets worse as the initial syllable is used in conversations. The reader need to remember the individual participants in specific instances.

 23. Reconstruction of the society.

In nine pages, the president’s speech on the societies in the west, Bolshevik revolution in Russia, and the reforms in England and the evils in our society described exhaustively. And then the recommendations of the panel drafted by their hero, Sangadasu, were passed.


Let’s review from the perspective of the questions I had raised at the outset. The story is supposed to be about the lives and problems of the mala community and possibly of all the disadvantaged castes in a larger context. At first, the archetypal hero is supposed to be Ramadasu and not Sangadasu, and even he is a dasari, a brahmin of sorts within the community. He is very knowledgeable and yet humble enough to ask the guru for answers. Sangadasu, who is supposed to be the protagonist is killed in this first quarter of the novel. Assuming that his goals have been accomplished or the path to accomplish them has been identified, yet the question remains is: How much have I learned about the day to day lives of the mala people? I don’t feel I have learned to justify the title, “Malapalli.”

The language may be colloquial at the time of writing this novel, but now requires a lot of education. Possibly, the rewriting of Marupuri Kothandarama Reddy has filled that gap.

I am beginning to believe that there is some merit in Rajagopalachari’s comment the novel is a “long and tedious piece of literature”. To me, it looks more of the author’s idea and the ideal rather than the story of people living in the hamlet and facing the horrendous odds everyday. We see that in a small episode involving Ramadasu’s sister Subbalakshmi. She was beaten for just walking along the path next to the fields of a rich landowner and died of wounds and for want of proper medical care. That is a reality for most of the low class people. Not the lectures of Sangadasu nor the hardships of Ramadasu in his later years.

I am beginning to believe that there is some merit in Rajagopalachari’s comment that the novel is a “long and tedious piece of literature”. To me, it looks more of the author’s idea and the ideals rather than the story of people living in the hamlet and facing the horrendous odds everyday. We see that in a small episode involving Ramadasu’s sister Subbalakshmi. She was beaten for just walking along the path next to the fields of a rich landowner and died of the wounds and for want of proper medical care. That is a reality for most of the economically disadvantaged class people. Not the lectures of Sangadasu nor the hardships of Ramadasu in his later years matters in that context.


Resource list:

In English

Kesavakumar, P. Emergence of dalit novel. (posted on Internet)

V.V.B. Rama Rao. Unnava Lakshmi Narayana. Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2002.

In Telugu:

Bangore [psued.] Malapalli nishedhaalu. Vijayawada: Visalandhra, 1979.

Venkarasabbaiah, G.: Sangha samskarta Unnava. Hyderabad: Desi Book Distributors, 1977. Unnava Lakshminarayana. (posted on Internet)
© Malathi Nidadavolu.