Kumaari Dantu Ramasita veelunaamaa
My persistence pays off, once in a while.
In my youth, there used to be a slew of Telugu magazines, weeklies mostly, and some monthlies. There used to be a rich and varied lot of contemporary literature, scholarly articles, poetry and stories to read. There were the 'Andhra' magazines, Prabha, Jyoti, Patrika, Bhoomi, all with 'Andhra' tacked on, and there were the monthlies Yuva and Jyoti. Bharathi was a scholarly magazine where literary research and critical reviews stood out.
Being who they were, my parents were sent complimentary copies of all these magazines, and we kids used to compete for the magazines that arrived every week, shouting "I first," and grabbing them from the postman.
All these magazines published short stories and serialised novels, and encouraged budding poets and cartoonists. My first poem was published in Andhra Jyoti magazine, and my first short story, too.
It was in these magazines that I read the satirical column 'Vantinti Kaburlu' by Puranam Seeta, the moving 'Amaravati Kathalu' by Sankaramanchi Satyam, and 'Bhoo Matsya Gundra', the brilliant satire of Prasanna Kumar Sarraju. It was from these magazines that I discerned the trends in contemporary literature, like writing in dialects, the unfortunate dalliances with badly composed haiku in the genre of mini-kavita( where I sinned myself by composing a tanka about it), and the idea of a complete novel as a supplement with monthly magazines and more.
When living in Delhi, I used to try and keep in touch by buying the magazines from Madrasi pockets of civilisation. In Calcutta too, I kept in touch with the literary scene through the magazines.
But there was a slow and distressing change. Illustrations got vulgar, poetry lost depth, short stories and serials became unreadable, being peppered with transliterated English and badly constructed sentences. New writers seemed unable to write without imagining their work being optioned for film rights. Descriptions were more like screenplay directions and scenes unfolded like cinema, not literature. Serials had to have a cliffhanger ending for each instalment. It got pathetic. And then it got worse.
Most magazines seemed to fold, they became erratic, or maybe it was only their arrival in Calcutta that became erratic. The number of magazines I bought came down, and I found myself buying only two - Andhra Prabha and Swati weekly. I don't read the monthly version of Swati; it's more priggish and sanctimonious than I can stand.
Prabha still had some nice features, like the Bachelor's Kitchen, where readers sent in quick and easy recipes for singletons. They had lovely serials like 'Varshini' by Dr. C Ananda Ramam in 2002, which is one of the best novels in Telugu I ever read. Then Prabha stopped, too. Hasam, a magazine devoted to humour and music, had a brilliant beginning, faded into ordinariness and died after a couple of years.
There is only Swati now. And their offerings range from ordinary to grossly bad: the agony aunt column where Malathi Chendur pontificates, the mandatory 'everything you always wanted to know' column about sex education, pages devoted to mental health and marital problems, tips for housewives- the usual stuff. Plus that irritating classification, sarasamaina katha, which is nothing but an excuse for publishing stories that are written around a bedroom scene and the accompanying illustration in bad taste.
They do have political commentary and some regular columnists who can string two sentences in Telugu without resorting to English, but these are aberrations, not the norm. And then there are Bapu's cartoons, which seem caught in a time warp, however brilliant they are.
I still buy the magazine and read it, more in despair and occasional disgust than in any real hope that things may change for the better. But, once in a while, there comes a great short story. In Swati's latest issue, dated 30th March, I read this gem of a story by Vamsi, Kumaari Dantu Ramasita Veelunaamaa.
Set in coastal Godavari villages and written in beautiful illustrative prose, with a story line that seems quaintly old-fashioned even as it holds a mirror to contemporary reality of prawn hatcheries and commercial fishing, this story is brilliant. Not perfect, it could have done with some editorial intervention(if there is a gun mentioned, it should fire before the story ends, remember?), but it is one of the best stories I've read in Telugu in recent times. The accompanying illustration by Bapu is perhaps not vintage Bapu, but it is evocative all the same.
Swati is not available online, so I can't give you links, but I urge any and all my Telugu readers to read this story. So long as there are stories like this, there is some hope for Telugu literature.
This is the reason why I still read Telugu magazines.