The Telugu World Column No: 17
The Telugu people are said to be less clannish than most other ethnic groups, always making sure that they do not favour anyone from their own group. It is said that if there was a Telugu person at the top with the power to recruit, he/she will see to it that no other Telugu enters the organization. I remember my father meeting the Telugu principal of a science college in a town in Maharashtra for the admission of a distant relation. He was told to go to another institution as his admitting a Telugu boy, though qualified and deserving, may be misunderstood. Had his Maharashtrian wife been in that seat, she would not have hesitated. My experience of an editor of a ‘national’ daily and the news editor of another in Delhi, both Telugus, telling me that they could not take me simply because I also spoke the same language, explains why there are fewer Telugu people in national journalism than those of other languages such as Malayalam or Bengali, though at one time Telugus were in a majority in English newspapers. In pre-Independence India, from National Herald in Lucknow to Sind Observer in Karachi most English newspapers had many Telugu journalists. The most respected Hindi daily once, Aaj of Benaras (Varanasi), had a Telugu editor, Vidyabhaskar. His own brother, Bhishm Arya, was the de facto editor of Nav Bharat, Nagpur (its proprietor was officially the ‘editor’). The south Indian film industry was once dominated by Telugus in all main branches – acting, direction and production. Not anymore.
As far as the claim of being least clannish is concerned, all linguistic groups in India may claim the same. No one would admit it, but Telugu peope take pride in disunity.
In my hometown in Maharashtra the Andhra Association always had only one drama staged (always because it had no women, as few were ready to act 50 years ago. Also, perhaps, because no other script was available). As the curtain rose, you see a man alone on the stage, weeping loudly for several minutes. Then another man comes and asks for the reason. “Our man is getting better” (మనవాడు బాగుపడిపోతున్నాడు రా) was the reply he gets. Pulling down another Telugu person going up is our favourite pastime.
The rest is forgotten; the point made is that a Telugu cannot stand another doing well. The people who fought for India’s first linguistic state do better outside their own states, pose no problem of integration with other groups, most cannot read or write Telugu and two regions speaking the same language could not get along. AP had to be split. the Telugu people’s sub-nationalism was aroused or revived by the Telugu Desam Party only to be politically exploited. Maharashtra remained one even after the first States Reorganization Commission headed by Fazal Ali suggested it be split into two – Maharashtra and Vidarbha. But decades later Andhra Pradesh was split to suit political designs of one party. The two states may make English the only medium of instruction in schools and colleges as both are in the race for jobs in the USA, more important to them than their heritage and culture.
Saint composer Thyagaraja may be considered the brahma (creator) of Carnatic music, but the great school of singing is kept alive by Tamil Nadu whose signers, from the great M. S. Subbalakshmi and R. Balasaraswati to today’s Hariharan sing his Telugu songs with devotion though they understand very little of Telugu. Kuchipudi dance style of Andhra may be as great as Bharatanatyam of Tamil Nadu, but it had to be revived and kept alive by Mrinalini, the Malayali wife of the great Gujarati scientist Vikram Sarabhai. But for her, it would not have been known outside Andhra. The Andhra art of leather puppets, Tholubommalata, is on its death bed. And so are the traditional folk arts Burrakatha and Harikatha. Raja Ravi Varma of Kerala has become world renowned but not Damerla Rama Rao of Rajamahendravaram in Andhra. The art gallery in his name is mostly closed and badly maintained. Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna, born at Sankaraguptam, East Godavari district, and considered next only to Thyagaraja, was so disgusted with the Telugu people’s neglect of classical music and craze for film songs that he vowed to not sing in the Telugu states. He preferred to be considered a Chennai man. Itwas Madras Music Academy that awarded him the Kalanidhi title.
A Telugu poet, Tanikella Bharani, said in a post that he would like to be born a poet again, but not in the Telugu states whose greatest poet Sri Sri (Srirangam Seinivasa Rao) is known only as the lyricist who wrote the songs of a film, Alluri Seetaramaraju. It was Sri Sri’s nephew Arudra (Bhagavatula Sadasiva Sankara Sastry) who wrote the most comprehensive history of Telugu literature. But I know no good political history of the states except one that was supposed to be a biography of former CM, K.B. Reddi, Brahmananda Charitra.
Telugu Talli (Mother Telugu) is today standing in a cinema tickets queue. Telugu-speaking people seem to live to see films – their tool of escapism. Will they all die if there are no films?