Tales Made In Kadapa
Unlike Walter Scott’s man with soul so dead, Vempalli Gangadhar loves and lives for his land, Rayala Seema is his land, after all; no matter it is arid, parched and furrowed. He wears so many hats that it is difficult to tell what he is not—short-story teller, poet, playwright, novelist, columnist, critic, journalist, academician, and what else? Gangadhar and I haven’t met, separated as we are by seven seas. That was before I had happened to read his prize-winning story Sprouts Festival. That story epitomized for me his art, his credo and the world that his stories construct.
Before me are three of several anthologies he is the author of, containing 38 stories –Molakala Punnami, Gtreeshma Bhoomi Kathalu and Devara Sila. The short story Molakala Punnami, which won for him the Sahitya Akademi’s Yuva Ppuraskar, stands out. It is the tragic tale of unconsummated adolescent love and blind faith, very tenderly told. At a very young age Gangadhar has joined the celebrated pantheon of literary lights invited to stay at Rashtrpati Bhavan as the President’s guest and apprise him of the Telugu literary scene.
He belongs to a young generation of Kadapa writers, waiting to step into the shoes of a generation headed by Kethu Viswanatha Reddi. As Gunturu Seshendra Sarma says his stories radiate the fragrance of the Kadapa earth. I will discuss a few randomly picked stories to convey the essence of his artistry and manifesto. The story Molakala Punnami puts all other stories in the shade. This and Mandavyam show how rural communities are under siege of superstition and obscurantism. The author refuses to sermonize from a pulpit in high dudgeon. Emotionally, he shares the agony of the Seema people denied the essence of life: water. Water, in fact the lack of it, becomes the arch stone of his descriptive craft and a powerful metaphor. It reminds me of Virginia Woolf whose adjectival arsenal is full of allusions to water, water bodies, the sea, the river, the brook, the lake, the runnel, the cloud and even the puddle. But Gangadhar’s entire writing is a heart-wrenching elegy on water famine in the Seema region and the destitution it brings in its wake.. The thinking, behavior, the lifestyles, the literature and the music of the people are linked to their thirst for water.
Every story of his has a Kadapa connection. He surprises me by referring in a couple of stories to the savagery of human sacrifice, appealing to Gods and Goddesses to ensure the success of an enterprise. It shows a people’s sense of resignation, a fatalistic trait that legitimizes inertia, absolves extreme cruelty to animals symbolized by his story Sila Bandi. The greater tragedy is the indifference of the media to this tale of human suffering. How much of Seema appears in our media today? What appears is its bomb culture.
All his stories are written in the Kadapa dialect full of rustic power and purity. The Molakala Punnami collection opens with a scholarly prologue on Kadapa dialect by the well-known iinguist Boodaraju Radhakrishna. It is the language of the region that is the ballast of his works. It is as simple as the people whose lingua franca it is. Sila Bandi demonstrates how the landed gentry get their underlings indulge in such butcheries as the impalement of animals even as women and children gathered lapse into innocent ecstasy.
In their totality the stories create a portrait of Rayala Seema, its terrain, its waterlessness and its people and their bizarre plight. Yamayyasami Gurram recalls a story that appears both in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, of Rishya Sringa bringing rain wherever he goes. I agree with the critic who faulted Gangadhar for an overdose of poetic rhythm in his prose. Such exercises diffuse the focus of his message.
This batch of collections documents an ongoing and silent social upheaval that should induce a re-examination of our social and cultural values trampled in the name of development.
A couple of stories have a zero ending which is not a new phenomenon in Telugu short fiction. Mandavyam depicts a revolting system of beliefs in the effectiveness of self-immolation or human sacrifice as a means to appease forces of nature. A village witnesses its worst water famine. A do-gooder in the village believes it is the result of the anger of the village goddess. A woman possessed by the village goddess says that the goddess wants human sacrifice. At once a boy is killed. Still, not a drop of water. People believe it is the do-gooder’s new bride who is the cause of the drought; the bride kills herself thinking it would pacify the goddess. No result. The do-gooder too kills himself in the end. Readers from other regions would treat this story with disbelief: that such things happen in the 21st century.
A similar story of human sacrifice is Toorupu Kommalu. Government sanctions digging of left canal as part of Penna project. Winning the tender, a Mumbai contractor outsources it to influential people in villages around the project. Work begins with the execution of a small school-going girl. She happens to be the missing daughter of a labourer working on the project.
Some stories read alike. But his engaging narration makes up for any inadequacies in the storyline. There is a moving story (Oorini marchipogaaku o‘rabbi) of a son fondly remembering his father and his times. Khadeer Babu (My Artless Father) and Rahamtulla (Ba) too wrote such soul-stirring reminiscences. So much acclaim, awards and accolades behind him, Gangadhar still has decades of writing before him.