lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Nostalgia of the literary kind

It started as an ambitious plan of re-enacting a drive we'd undertaken ages ago- driving from Madras all the way up to Vizag and beyond, in a leisurely week of new sights around every corner.

But common sense prevailed, and we decided to fly to Vizag and Madras and spend a few days revisiting old haunts. We did drive to Annavaram and Simhachalam and other places, and that went a small way to relive the earlier drive.

For me, the drive to Annavaram, Kakinada and Rajahmundry was poignant and nostalgic for another reason.

I had never visited Kakinada, and Rajahmundry was only ever seen from windows of a train, the majestic Godavari always an eagerly awaited sight. But I knew all about East Godavari district. Every town and small settlement felt as familiar as Madras and Calcutta. I'd read all about them and roamed the streets, through the writings of great storytellers in Telugu.

On the drive to Annavaram, it began. Each signpost triggered memories of books read. Tuni, Yelamanchili, Kadiam, Pithapuram, Ramachandrapuram, Vizianagaram, Dakshaaraamam, Srikakulam- all flooded me with remembered wonder. Each town name resonated with an author or a poet, a story, a novel or the classics.

I suddenly understood exactly what George R. R. Martin meant when he said the setting becomes a character in its own right.

On the way to Annavaram, we'd stopped to take pictures of signposts to Tuni and Yelamanchili, places our parents hailed from. After visiting the temple, we decided on impulse to drive to Kakinada. We could take pictures of McLaurin High School, and PR College. We'd heard so much about them, after all.

If the drive to Kakinada was on the spur of the moment, so was the visit to Dakshaaraamam (I refuse to call it Draksharamam). The temple was lovely, the entry from the south, which is uncommon. We had an entertaining young priest to guide us through the temple complex and tell us garbled stories about how the temple came to be.

But for me, the stories were already told by Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry, who wrote two lovely stories, Kanaka Veene and Ravichandrika, about Sreenaatha's last years. But it was when we decided to drive to Rajahmundry and passed through Ramachandrapuram that it hit me. Sripada Subramanya Sastry, one of the greatest short story writers in Telugu literature, made the district so familiar to me that it was homecoming.

I knew Ramachandrapuram; I almost looked for Mahendravaada, a Brahmin agrahaaram in the vicinity, and remembered the story, Goodu Maarina Kottarikam. It is a simple tale about homesickness warring with passion in a newly wed young woman's heart, and her parents' missing their daughter fiercely.

Each time we passed a small town, I thought of the stories set there. And Rajahmundry, well I knew the place. Alcott Garden, Dhavalesvaram, Innespet, Kotilingesvara temple, Bobbarlanka- they were all familiar names. Sripada made them so.

Sripada was a rebel. Born into a family that kept to kulavidya of Vedas, he learnt Sanskrit, the Vedas and the classics of Sanskrit. He wasn't allowed to consider the Telugu literature, and was forbidden from dabbling in it.

In his autobiography he wrote poignantly of the persecution his well-meaning father and brother heaped on him, how he wrote in secret, and how he slowly discarded the stilted classical style in favour of the vernacular spoken style, and more.

His conversational prose and style was unique, and he had no influences on him other than the Pancha Ratnas, the famous five dramas in Sanskrit, and the memorised rote-learnt Vedas. He had no English, and while he regretted that he never read the great authors of the language, he escaped the inevitable influence.

After Simhachalam, we decided to drive up to Arasavalli. Lunch at Vizianagaram had me feasting on memories of Kanyaasulkam, Gurazada Appa Rao's path-breaking play. Again, all the names of the streets and areas seemed utterly familiar.

In Srikoormam, a garrulous priest told us how the temple came to be in a highly entertaining fashion, in English. We dared not glance at each other lest we burst out giggling. But it was in Arasavalli that my literary nostalgia peaked and my cup ran over.

In Annavaram, Dakshaaraamam, Simhachalam and Srikoormam, the priests recited the mantra pushpam. The priest in Annavaram blessed us in clear Telugu. In Simhachalam we were blessed generally, with Sanskrit hymns. But the priest in Arasavalli, after reciting the mantra pushpam, raised his voice in that Saamayika hymn, ShubhikE, shira aaroha shobhayantee mukham mamaa.

I thrilled to hear it. ShubhikE, Shira Aaroha was the title Sripada used for a brilliant short story illustrating the differences of culture, prejudices and jingoism of people everywhere. With razor sharp wit, he seethed against the blind denigration of the Telugu culture by misguided youth preferring to ape the North, or the West. That was written in 1942!



Anonymous Ash said...

No mention of Kanyaakaale yatnaa dvaritaa I see, or Vadlaginjalu. Why? You did not pass by Peddapuram?

Do tell more about the Srikoormam priest and his story, it sounds promising.

8:40 pm  
Anonymous Tivi said...

Tortoise Narayan! I cannot get that description out of my head -keep giggling when I think of it.

11:43 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nostalgia is all very nice, but do a crosswords post, please.

10:07 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Ash- We never passed by Peddapuram, and that is a lovely story, but quite untranslatable. I dislike Kanyaakaale anyhow. Very well written, but still, I don't like that story.

Tivi- Yeah, 'Lustful glances' and Narada's website, indeed. I keep chuckling over it.

Anon- Yessir. Crossword post coming up, sir.

11:16 pm  

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