The Telugu World Column No: 27
An Ocean of Creative Writing, Poetry
The Telugu world is an ocean – a very big world whose limits we cannot see. We have read about many great scientists and academics from the Telugu world, though the list is not exhaustive.
I remember a meeting with the not-so-sober revolutionary poet Sri Sri where some others were also present. The famous Telugu writer Rachakonda Viswanatha Sastri showed me to a dark, short man clad simply in a dhoti and shirt who volunteered to go out and get soda for the great poet’s whiskey. He asked if I knew who he was. I replied that being an outsider I did not know any Telugu celebrity. Then ‘Raavi Shastri’ introduced him. “He is Kalipatnam Rama Rao, a writer of great eminence equal to the world’s greatest like Dostoevsky or Tolstoy, but known only to the Telugu world as no one has translated him. His ‘Yagnam’ is a classic. No seminar or symposium on the art and craft of Telugu story can be complete without his participation.”
Kalipatnam Rama Rao, a leftist and a teacher in a village in Srikakulam district which (then) may not have even been electrified, later gave me in writing authorizing me to translate the book into English. I had taken it earlier from a friend to read, but to translate I wanted a copy. None of the bookshops I contacted had it. Some had not even heard of it. Then in the Communist-oriented Visalandhra Book Depot I got a copy of the thin, small, book. A second reading convinced me that translating ‘Yagnam’ would be a yagya by itself, far beyond my capacity, taking years and requiring me to resign my newspaper job. I dropped the idea. I understand the National Book Trust has now brought out a translation of the book.
When he retired as a teacher a few years ago, I am told, his admirers pooled money and built a house for him in his village for he did not have one. I understand he lives in a small portion of the house and the rest is converted into a free library!
Leftist ideology has a big impact on Telugu writing. Telugu writers are now divided into many ideological groups such as the Revolutionary Writers Association and the Progressive Writers Association etc. In Goa in the 70s I found a left-oriented Konkani writers group holding a seminar on Sri Sri’s impact on Konkani poetry, remembered only as the lyricist who wrote the songs for a film on Alluri Seetharama Raju, a tribal freedom fighter . It is for you to decide if it was due to the obsession of Telugu people with films or with politics!
The list of great Telugu creative writers and poets is very long and cannot be exhaustive. There are bound to be many left out, some too recent to be put in the list of celebrities. Besides epic writers such as Bammera Potana, his brother-in-law Srinatha, Vemana, Nannaya Bhatt, Molla (one of the few women to write Ramayana) Annamacharya and Paravastu Chinnayasuri, they include Tirupati Venkata Kavulu – the duo Divakarla Tirupati Sastry (1872–1919) and Chellapilla Venkata Sastry (1870–1950) who were acclaimed as the harbingers of modern poetry in Telugu, author and reformer Kandukuri Veeresalingam 1848–1919) who worked for widow remarriage and women’s education and was honoured by the British government with a Rao Bahadur title and Gurajada Venkata Apparao, playwright, dramatist, poet, and writer known for his 1892 play Kanyasulkam, perhaps the most staged drama in Telugu history. He was conferred with the titles of Abyudaya Kavitha Pithamaha and Kavisekhara. He is also famous for his patriotic song “Desamunu Preminchumanna” that says the country is not its soil but its people. He was the first to use spoken (vyavaharik) Telugu in books, which earlier had only ‘grandhik’ language.
Among the more modern writers are Gyanpeeth awardee Viswanadha Satyanarayana, revolutionary poet SriSri (Srirangam Srinivasa Rao), poet Devulapalli Krishna Sastry, Chilakamarthi Lakshmi Narasimham, Tapi Dharma Rao Naidu who was also a film writer,Garimella Satyanarayana, Vamsi, Tirumala Ramachandra, Gudipati Venkatachalam who shocked his generation with erotic literature before he turned spiritual, lyricist and Gyanpeeth award winner Dr. C. Narayana Reddy, poets Dasaradhi, Gurram Jashua, Boyi Bheemanna, revolutionary poet of Telangana Kaloji Narayana Rao, novelists Kodavatiganti Kutumbarao, Nidadavolu Venkatarao, Ravoori Bharadwaja, ‘Buchhibaabu’ and Devarakonda Balagangadhar Tilak, to name just a few.
More contemporary are Mullapudi Venkataramana famous for his humour and film writing, Vasireddy Seethadevi, Tripuraneni Gopichand, journalist writer Suravaram Pratap Reddy, Atluri Pitcheswara Rao and Malladi Venkata Krishna Murthy.
Being an ancient and very well developed language, Telugu has many many great writers. It is unfortunate that with the craze for English medium studies and for jobs abroad, most Telugu youths today are unable to read Telugu and the language, slowly, may remain a mere spoken language… till it is forgotten.