lalita larking

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

Location: Kolkata, India

Monday, March 26, 2007

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.



Anonymous Ash said...

What editorial intervention? The story is brilliant. Don't quibble, Lali.

11:39 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Ash- I quibble; therefore I am.

That bit about bhoota vaidyudu was undeveloped, and lovely as they were those descriptive lines were extraneous and they just jarred.

9:45 am  
Anonymous Tivi said...

Was bhoo matsya the story where he asks 'Igura? Pulusa? '? I have been trying to remember the the name of the story & the writer. One of the funniest we ever read.

8:01 am  
Blogger Lalita said...

Tivi- Yes! That's the one. Brilliant story. Remember the bit about the director directing the star ant? And selling bajji in film festivals?

9:51 am  
Anonymous Tivi said...

I really don't recall all the detailsbut do remember us cracking up

4:49 am  
Blogger Lalita said...

Tivi- Hah. I think I will translate the story. I will have to get the author's permission of course, but it is a great piece of satire, which might very well carry over into English rendering. Like Kamaraj used to say, Paarkalaam.

2:24 pm  
Blogger rajanikrishna said...

Good to see some discussion online about Telugu stories. I loved all the sarraju stories. Actually these are available online - go to\granthalaya. You need to register and login ofcourse. But it is worth it. You should read his other stories as well. Uttara kshetram, energetic weekly are really humorous and uttara kshetram is my favourite of all. I want to read the story you said. Can you tell me in which issue of swathi i can find this. Is it the current issue or the previous one? I am really hungry for humorous telugu stories. I was actually searching online for humorous telugu stories and found this. Cant help but intrude in.

5:30 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Rajanikrishna- Thank you for commenting. I have a copy of Sarraju's short stories that came out in 1999, published by Kavya Publishers based in Hyderabad.

uttara kshEtram is a marvellous story, as is the 'Energetic Weakly'. He is a brilliant writer, and thanks for the link you provided.

bhoomatsya gunDra was first published in Andhrajyoti weekly, 27-4-1979.

Have you read sensaaram sensaaram prEmakathaapooram?

9:32 pm  
Blogger rajanikrishna said...

Thanks. I am really delighted with ur reply. I didnt see that this article was of 2007 and when i saw i didnt expect any reply to it. No Lalita, i didnt read samsaaram premakathaapooram. Where and when is it published? and also where can i find kumari dantu ramasita veelunama. I will try writing to swathi magazine to get it.

10:57 am  
Blogger Lalita said...

Rajanikrishna- sensaaram was in the same collection of short stories. I suppose you could find back numbers of Swati weekly, though I doubt it.

8:41 am  
Blogger rajanikrishna said...

Read this story 'samachara viplavam'. It is very humorous.

2:49 pm  
Blogger Prasanna Kumar said...

i am prasanna kumar sarraju..the writer whom you have been discussing is my mail id:

9:19 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

ప్రసన్నకుమార్ గారూ, నమస్కారం.

It is such an unexpected pleasure to find the author one is talking about joining the discussion. I am a major fan. :-)

4:35 am  
Blogger Prasanna Kumar said...


1:36 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Prasanna- The pleasure is mutual, I tell you. :-)

Thanks for the mail address, I will write soon.

9:31 pm  
Blogger Prasanna Kumar said...

lalithaji where are you? prasanna

2:03 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...


In and out of clinics, I am afraid. I have been diagnosed with cancer. The last stages, and inoperable. That also explains why I have been so erratic in blogging or replies in the last two months.

How are you?

12:02 pm  
Blogger Prasanna Kumar said...

felt blank for few days.all my life i have been experiencing ironies in different levels.and got used to it.u ll be alright soon.well i am little busy in composing tunes for s v krishna reddy a reputed film music director in telugu.and ofcourse i perform hindi ghazals and old melodies of rafi talath hemanth k l saigal mukesh etc exclusively for my audions like scientists at defence lab northindian get-togethers phylosophically elivated group to mention a few.i am a solo performer with a harmonium in my hand and a tabla player to support me.i have two children.boy is in b.arch fourth year and girl is in bio-technology third wife passedaway in 1997.from then on i am their only this is my brief. i wish i could be of any help to you.we are watching zindagi as a cinema with no remote in our hands. zidagi khwab hai e hamey bhi patha,par hamie zindagi pe bahoth pyar tha-sukh bhi thay dukh bhi thay dil ko ghere huye kahey kaisatha rangeen sansaar tha.aagayithi shikaayath labon thak magar kis sey kehathe tho kya kehna bekaar tha-chalpade dard peekartho chalthe rahey-haar kar baitt jaanesey inkaar thaa. there is onemore staanza.but by now i have strained you.take rest-prasanna

1:19 pm  

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