These short stories translated form the Telugu language tell of experiences of ordinary middle class people caught in the crevice between traditional and modern ways of life. Against a backdrop of feverish modernization and fast-paced globalization. These stories depict the crumbling social structure rural and urban, and redefine the family and social values of the people of Andhra Pradesh-the middle class, farmers, streetwalkers and the lower strate of society.
The thematic threads in these stories include changing values in the face of strenuous economic conditions; traditional courting and marriage mores: relationships within families under the pressure of increasing westernization, the woman’s role as mother, wife and worker; the man’s traditional role as provider; and the fear of death. The stories invite readers unfamiliar with the culture of Andhra Pradesh to appreciate its centuries-old traditions in the face of change.
Malathi Nidadavolu, born in Andhra Pradesh, moved to Madison, Wisconsin (USA) in 1973. An anthology of her critically acclaimed stories (written in Telugu and translated into English), entitled Nijaanikee Feminijaanikee Madhya was published in 2005. She runs a website www.thulika.net,devoted to publishing translations of eminent Telugu fiction. She teachers Telugu at the South Asia Summer Language Institute (SASLI) at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Malathi Nidadavolu has done me an honour by asking to write the foreword to this superb anthology of the Telugu classic stories. I humbly accept this invitation.
Although I have been living outside India since early nineteen seventies, I visit India frequently and keep in touch with various changes and developments. Fortunately, I happened to meet some noted Telugu writers and had long conversations on the phone with many other writers to understand the developments in Telugu story- writing traditions. Currently, the emphasis is more on an easy-to-understand prose and on themes that appeal to younger readers. Perhaps the latter emphasis is due to the marketing needs of the publishers of magazines and I do not mean to downgrade market constraints. However, as a result, we seldom come across stories that are likely to become classics. Many stories are read and forgotten rapidli for these reasons, some age-old classic stories, written by some great writers of a past generation, have become even more valuable and truly convey the Telugu values and our way of life. Malathi Nidadavolu has selected such classics for inclusion in this anthology. She has also been translating and publishing many such classics in the now popular webzine Thulika. One of her main objectives is to encourage the tradition of good translation, especially among the younger writers.
With a large second generation Non-Resident Indian (NR1) community, the need and desire to understand Indian values and culture through the literary medium, by the younger English speaking readership is increasing rapidly. Even in India, a majority of children are educated at English medium schools. Although these children have a working knowledge of their mother tongue, they would welcome stories in English in contemporary idiom and prose. This is true perhaps all over India. Telugus are no exception. In addition, there is also a sizeable non-Indian community; keen to read and understand literary works in the Indian languages.
What I mean by all this is that the market for good English translations of the literary contributions in Indian languages is growing and will grow faster in the future. In my view, the initial slow progress of this market was partly due to the unsatisfactory and highly literary style of translations. Now comes Malathi Nidadavolu with many superb translation skills and a great style of contemporary English prose. Added to this, the fact that she is also a great Telugu story writer, since some fifty years. Malathi Nidadavolu has started a new revolution by bringing into the English language some classic Telugu literary contributions, not only in Telugu but also, indirectly, in many other Indian languages. I think, whether this anthology is read be a Telugu or a Bengali speaking reader, he or she will remember Malathi Nidadavolu as a trendsetter of transition work of Indian language stories into English. I wish her all the best and congratulate the publishers, Jaico Books, for accepting Malathi Nidadavolu’s book proposal
without am’ hesitation.
Those of us who have lived our lives in the cradle of Big Macs and Barbie dolls can have a difficult time seeing the impacts of westernization on other parts of the world.
N. Malathi, born in Andhra Pradesh, South India, and living most of her adult life in Madison Wisconsin, brings an uncommon perspective on what westernization continues to mean in South India. It is this impact on her people, on the cultures and values of India, and on Indians living in the West that led Malathi to contact writers from the Andhra Pradesh. These writers have explored the confounding changes ordinary people faced, as the meaning of independence spread across India from the 1 950s onwards and as westernization gained clout.
Traveling with a small group of college students, Malathi and I visited Andhra Pradesh in January of 2001. The trip provided a glimpse into some of the traditional values still present in this part of rural South India. Women and men, including the teachers and director of the school and orphanage where we lived, cared for us.
They had our meals prepared for us and served to us too. The dirty dishes were carried away. Our laundry was done for us by hand. We were entertained and taught dances and encouraged to play with the children in the orphanage once their daily exams were completed. Traditional customs and values were displayed. We experienced nearly overwhelming hospitality; the centrality of family and relationships, cooperation among women and men, humor as a response to struggles, an ability to compromise, love for children, respect for maturity; education as a priority; segregation by caste, a rigorous work ethic, taking care of each other, and a passion for stories.
These same values are reflected in the Telugu short stories Malathi has translated and studied — stories like those told at the well or by the vegetable vendors or under auspicious Mango trees. The short stories used localized dialects and common language. Traditional courting and marriage mores; relationships within families; women’s roles as mother, wife and worker; and men’s traditional roles as providers were described in these stories. The tales — often romantic —are experiences of ordinary middle class life caught in the crevice between the traditional and the new ways.
The tension and confusion faced by the fictional women and men are evident as they sought to make sense of increasing western influences on their daily lives and values. And what was most telling about the stories, which were often serialized in local magazines, was how popular they were. Magazines were shared, Malathi explained to me. Ten magazines sold may have meant hundred magazines read as they were passed from family member-to-family member and friend-to-friend. The serialized stories captured people’s attention and interest because they represented real life struggles. The popular stories helped make sense of the change and even offered possible reactions.
N. Malathi has completed and translated representative stories. She has done this to provide an opportunity for writers and readers to understand better the tensions and confusions brought about by the changing values after independence. It isn’t that Malathi is espousing a return to the old ways — although one can imagine the dangers in a country of one billion people with limited land as they move away from traditional values of cooperation and compromise toward a valuing of competition and win! lose. What Malathi is suggesting is that today’s Indians and non-Indians need to be aware of the earlier struggles. Instead we need to be conscious of the changes happening in a deep-rooted, traditional system of rural life. She offers us a glimpse into what has, and continues to change as westernization flows over India.
At the outset, I would like to clarify a couple of things. Andhra Pradesh is my state and the language we speak is Telugu. I used ‘we’ and ‘our’ in this book to mean Telugu people. This is my perspective of ‘our’ people. The purpose of this anthology is to bring Telugu fiction to non-native speakers, especially readers from other cultures. Generally speaking, Asian Indian literatures are prominently featured across the world; both in the academy and on the Internet, but Telugu literature has not received its due recognition. South Asian diaspora is strewn with the names of Indian writers — from R. K. Narain, V S. Naipaul to Bharati Mukherjee, to more recently Kamala Das, Arundhati Roy and Jhumpa Lahiri — but Telugu names are conspicuous by their absence. I visited Andhra Pradesh in October 2002 and contacted about one hundred writers and they shared my sentiment. Several of our writers have emphasized that Telugu fiction is in no way inferior to any of the world literatures and that it needed better exposure.
In the past 3 decades, few anthologies featuring Telugu terms have been produced. However, the anthologies did seem to have reached the western audience to the bezant they deserved. In several translations, implicit is the assumption that readers are knowledgeable of our culture mad the peculiarities of Indian English which often reads like an academic exercise. I on the other hand, believe in presenting our stories in a commonplace language that is ineligible to ordinary readers without referring to a deanery or a native speaker.
Most of the websites created by Telugu IT experts are catering to the needs of Telugu people and the discussions on these sites are carried on with an implicit knowledge of Telugu literature and culture. Some of the websites created by non-Telugu authors included misspelled names and the erroneous data. One male writer was listed as female writer!1
I have always believed that basic human values are the same across cultures and the differences lie only in the way these values are manifested in each culture. By the same logic, human suffering is the same across the world but the differences lie in the manner in which each person would respond to his or her situation and deal with it. While sociological and anthropological studies provide two-dimensional characters, just a broad outline, individuals come alive in fiction. Authors take real people from real life and present them in a manner that makes sense for cultural interpretation. I’ll elaborate further on this topic later.
This anthology covers a period of five decades from the 1950’s to the present; and, includes male and female writers of repute. My priority in this selection was based on themes and new insights shed on human nature rather than the authors’ reputation per se. My objective was to choose themes that defied prevalent stereotypes or shed new light even when the theme was old. The stories in this anthology present a broader spectrum of umpteen human conditions and emotions at various economic and sociological strata in my state. In doing so, my goal is to highlight, not the disparities in material possessions but the dissimilarities in the mode of thinking of the protagonists. I tried to present a variety of topics and perspectives of our cultural and familial values, and the basic human psyche that transcends these geographic and cultural bounds. They range from middle class lifestyles with all their aspirations and daily struggles to physical and emotional concepts like space, control, hunger and even beyond, to economic, communal and family values.
I also took into consideration the technique of storytelling that is peculiar to Telugu culture. I tried to keep as close to the original diction as possible, making only the slightest changes to make it readable and Tran culturally intelligible and provided annotations wherever occasion called for it.
Having said that, I must state the facets or new angles that provided the basis for this grouping, while highlighting the cultural peculiarities. They are:
Human conditions: Hunger, need for space, and desire x control;
Community spirit as reflected in our sense of humor, immodest, personal names and relational terms;
And, the regressive element in the advancement of our crilizauon.
These elements are neither mutually exclusive nor cornartmentalized into airtight sections. Each story is infused with several angles of our perceptions in an intricate web. Each story projects some general idea and/or a point of view — changing family values in the face of strenuous economic conditions (Rama Rao. Yearning), the losing battles or traditional values and the lost message (Rajaram. Drama, 4Life), our sense of humor interwoven with our everyday struggles (Venkataramana. Middle Class Complex), fast disappearing customs and poverty-stricken psychics who would predict the future for a day’s supply of food (Prabhavati. Village Pychic), breaking away from the tradition of pursuing family trade (Ramakrishna Rao. God’s Work), interpersonal relationships and family values (I’ulasi. Mj’ Sister), basic human condition forcing us to see the variance in our mode of thinking (Kameswari. Hunget), concept of space (Sathyavathi. Shrinking Spaa, Bhargavi Rao. A Place called Home); the human urge to control (Krishnakumari. Ants; Vasundhara. Bugs), strong female characters among the working class (Viswanatha Sastry Illusion), and the fear of death (Kavana Sarma. The Man Who Never Died). The intended, aggregate effect of these stories is to encapsulate the rich culture of Andhra Pradesh for the foreign reader. Each story reaffirms or challenges our beliefs in the basic goodness of human nature. Each story holds a mirror to our values or beliefs from a different Protagonists from the middle or working class, including anti-heroes;
Themes: Multi-layered — concentric or interwoven stories;
Traces of oral tradition: Symbols and embedded local anecdotes; Perspective.
Briefly stated, I attempted to bring a coherent and decipherable perspective of Telugu fiction encompassing our culture from several angles and the cultural peculiarities of our people to the western audience. Let me further elaborate on the literary and cultural values as depicted in the stories included in this anthology.
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