The Telugu World Column No-30

Few Telugu Writers Known Internationally

As Indians speaking different languages we are familiar with many Indians who write in English, the international language common to all of us.  Some of them have achieved world fame. In fact there is a genre of English literature called Indian authors in English. When we see any such name we unconsciously think of what could have been his or her mother-tongue as most Indian names indicate linguistic community, religion and even caste though in some cases this can be wrong (who, not familiar with her writings, could have guessed that Arundhati Roy is a Malayalee and not a Bengali?) 

Surnames of people in all Indian languages indicate the caste and that was the reason some leaders like Jayaprakash Narayan and Raj Narain dropped their surnames.  A few  surnames like Reddy/Reddi (common to Telugu and Kannada) Joshi, Shastri, Sharma and Mishra (common in many states) or names from other states taken due to hero-worship, which is common in India, may not indicate language. I wrote of names earlier

So it is futile to surf the worldwide web for names of great Telugus who wrote in English. 

One book that moved me much and is a classic is ‘Kantapura’ by H. Raja Rao,  who lived in France and later the USA. He is a Kannadiga but often mistaken for a Telugu (his father H.V. Krishnaswamy taught Kannada at Nizam College in Hyderabad and Rao was proficient only in Kannada, French and English). When I met him in the ‘80s at the World Kannada Conference at Mysore, it struck me that his was a bilingual family for in 1975 I knew his real sister, a Telugu-speaking officer of the AP government in Delhi. When he autographed my copy of his most famous book, The Serpent and The Rope, I felt he did so in Telugu. Settled abroad (he died in Austin, Texas, USA) he ran to his room many floors above in the hotel to bring a magazine that wrote that Sanskrit language suited computers most.

Raja Rao (1908 – 2006) considered the most significant writer of novels and short stories after R.K.Narayan, won the Sahitya Akademi Award  (1964) and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 1988. Rao’s wide-ranging body of work, spanning a number of genres, is seen as a varied and significant contribution to Indian English literature, as well as world literature as a whole.

Many Indian writers like R.K.Narayan, Mulkraj Anand, Vikram Seth, Kamala Markandeya, Salman Rushdie, Kushwant Singh, Amitav Ghosh, Anita Desai, V.S. Naipal, Kamala Das (who later converted to become Suraiya), Upamanyu Chatterjee, Manohar Malgoankar, Anita Nair, A.K. Ramanujan, Ashvin Sahni, Nayantara Sehgal, Kiran Nagarkar, Jerry Pinto, Amish (Tripathi), Manoj Das and Anand Nilakantan, are some among many authors who had earned fame as English writers, some are known all over the country as they wrote in Indian languages.  Some  had their books translated, like Amrita Pritam, Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay or Jainendra Kumar. Surprisingly Telugu writers could not be found in both categories. The only names of   writers in English who could be (or may not be) Telugus, are Shankar Vedantam and Harini Reddi, both American citizens. Shankar, an engineer who turned journalist, was a correspondent and columnist of Washington Post daily whose very interesting in-depth articles on social sciences I had been reading for decades. Now as its science correspondent, he hosts a podcast on donation-financed National Public Radio (NPR). Called Human Brain, it can be accessed on most podcast platforms and is broadcast over 250 US radio stations. He also wrote two books, a collection of short stories called The Ghosts of Kashmir (2005) and Useful Delusions (2012) a non-fiction book on the strange ways of the human brain.

Rishi Reddi is an American author, born in Hyderabad, India who grew up in the United Kingdom and the United States.  She was a graduate of Swarthmore College, and the Northeastern University School of Law. In 2001, she earned a master’s degree in creative writing from Boston University. She has also been an attorney for the state and federal environmental protection agencies a lawyer for the Massachusetts Secretary of Environment. Her book Karma and Other Stories received the 2008 L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award. Rishi Reddi’s work was also chosen for “Best American Short Stories” 2005, featured on  NPR’s “Selected Shorts” program, and got an honorable mention for the 2004 Pushcart Prize. A Fellow at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, she received an Artist’s Grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Kalipatnam Rama Rao’s ‘Yagnam’ which I mentioned elsewhere, has been translated and published by the National Book Trust recently but has not created any waves, perhaps because of its leftist orientation.

Another, reason, as I wrote earlier, may be the Telugu people’s habit of ignoring the achievements of other Telugus.  Despite that ideology it did not help that I told Mrinal Sen, a leftist film-maker of Bengal, about his and Rachakonda Viswanatha Sastri’s books he could use for filming. I did that so many times that he remembered it whenever we met again. I may not have done that had I been a ‘true Telugu’ man and not ‘pravasi’ who settled outside.  

It is like Indians being more nationalistic when abroad. 


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