Sunday, March 3, 2024

Ka.Ra., torchbearer of Telugu short Story

By Duppala Ravi Kumar

The highest tower of Telugu short story has collapsed. One person in the entire literary world who created a home for short story is no more. The teacher who visited the nook and corner of  the two Telugu states in search of young story writers and encouraged them has ended his purposeful journey. Kalipatnam Rama Rao alias Kaaraa Maashtaaru (Ka.Ra.) has left this world on Friday in his 97th year.

Life’s mission

Kalipatnam Rama Rao who was born on 9 November 1924 at Murapaka in Laveru mandal of Srikakulam district worked as secondary grade teacher in Kalingandhra district. He was teaching mathematics. He had abiding love for Kalingandhra literature. He was encouraged to write by Kodavatikanti Kutumba Rao, SriSr and Ravi Sastr, three tall literary figures. But he was not very keen on writing. He was more eager to collect and save the Telugu short stories for posterity. He was introduced to the world of Telugu story when his first story, Platforamo, was published by Chitragupta.  His stories were published by respected magazines such as Anandavani, Chitrangi, Andhra Patrika and Bharati. However, he was not satisfied with his own writing. He thought there is a lot of difference between the literature he has been reading and the stories he has been writing. He did not write a word for eight years since 1956.

Kalipatnam sarted penning stories again with ‘Tiirpu’ (judgment) in 1964. The story ‘Yagnyam’ that was published in 1966 created quite a storm. Viplava Rachayital Sangham (Virasam) which was just unfolding gave a lot of hype to this story and became popular with the story. However, the story is a subject of debate even today, after about six decades of its publication. The best years of Kalipatnam’s output as a story writer were between 1968 and 1972.  Ka.Ra. was declared winner of Kendra Sahitya Academy award in 1974 for his story ‘Yagnyam’ but he declined the award as he became a revolutionary writer by then.

At about this time he took up the mission of spotting and encouraging story writers. He organized features like ‘Neti Kadha’ (Today’s story) in Andhra Bhoomi daily. He tried to publish some compilations of short stories through RK Publications. He wrote foreword for many a book. He planned a mega effort to dedicate his life to short story. It has manifested in ‘Katha Nilayam.’ His idea was to collect all the stories published so far and put them at one place. It gave handsome results. Ka.Ra. who was till then not prepared to collect donations for any purpose suddenly found himself involved in fund raising exercise in a big way. He started accepting cash awards and invested every rupee in his dream project. Though he did not get Jnyanapith award, the people had created Janapith award and flooded him with donations. Some lakhs of rupees were collected. With that amount he founded Katha Nilayam Trust and got a two-storied building constructed. Almirahs, computers and volunteers were organized methodically and a great institution was established in 1997. Famous artist Bapu had drawn a caricature of an eye for Katha Nilayam’s logo. On third Sunday of February every year the anniversary celebrations are conducted by Ka.Ra. in a creative manner to make his admirers happy. He published his last story, ‘Annemma Nayakuralu’ in 2006.  Till his last breath on 4 June 2021, he was toiling hard for Telugu short story.

Ka.Ra’s literature

Asked why he did not write for almost a decade, his answer was, “One may have power to observe, but without a perspective, nobody can produce great works. Great writers do not write on the experiences of the people known to them or incidents that occurred. They take ideas from the reality according to their world perspective. To express their ideas they create characters and plots. Though it is fiction, their writings would appear as natural as life. He stopped writing because that perspective was lacking in him. There are those who organized food and clothes to all but cannot have anything for themselves. Some cannot recognize their strengths and weaknesses even after being told. Even if recognized, they would not be able to  find time or energy since they are busy fighting day to day battles. Eighty out of one hundred persons would be of this kind. The hapless lives they live like parasites have to be the subjects of short story. I don’t say there are no such stories in Telugu. But they are few and far between. With this view he penned the second phase of stories. He said he wanted to write after reading and reading a lot. He studied not only literature but keenly observed the highs and lows of life. He got used to studying the class relations in villages with a discerning eye. He could understand the lives of the downtrodden because of his association with Ravi Sastry, a great narrator himself. He had the philosophical realization that the destinies of the people are decided by the core economic relations. He understood that the main obstacle to the human progress is not just the dark side of the human beings but the established evil practices in society. He tried to prove this point in his short stories

Ka.Ra. I know

I met Ka.Ra. for the first time at a workshop on short story in Srikakulam town hall when I was 18. When I asked him “How to know that there is a writer in oneself?”, his counter response was, “Have your written a card to anyone. If you did you are a writer.” Our association started on that not grew up to a stage where he would select some books for me and make a call asking me to go to Katha Nilayam to pick them up. I read reviews on three annual day celebrations of Katha Nilayam from Visakhapatnam station of All India Radio. I fetched ‘kaara killi’ at a remote corner in Sultan Bazar in Hyderabad and presented to him. I remember to have written some records at Katha Nilayam. There used to be a programme called “Cheeyuutha (helping hand)’ organized by local TV channel JKC. When I suggested that Ka.Ra could be invited for this programme to answer questions posed by the viewers our MD Jallepalli Sridhar had happily welcomed the proposal but he had his own doubts about the audience reception to a literary personality. Our MD and I were surprised when Ka. Ra. was going on answering questions and the half an hour programme went on for an hour and a half. The popularity enjoyed by Ka. Ra was established beyond doubt. Ka. Ra’s admirers were concerned when he appeared crestfallen when his wife Sita passed away. When Chalasani Prasad left this world, Ka.Ra commented that it is difficult to digest this kind of news. He was always looking at word puzzles. He used to flash a toothless smile and say he was indulging in puzzles to improve his memory. He would take any trouble to collect the books by Pullela Ramachandrudu and celebrate like a child whenever he could secure one.

Ka. Ra used to like Dasari Ramachandra Rao very much. Dasari gave a lot of importance to Katha Nilayam. When it comes to writers, Ka. Ra. used to like Bammidi Jagadishwara Rao (Bajara) immensely. He used to get angry when Bajara could not shed his shyness. He also liked Kavana Sarma and Vivina Murthy who left their  busy schedules behind for a few months and stayed with Ka.Ra to work for Katha Nilayam. He used to tell us that there is a lot to learn from them.  Ka.Ra’s son writes short stories with pen name ‘Kesari.’ Ka. Ra. told me to encourage his son. But I could not do much. Ka.Ra. gave me many books by writers whom I do not know. He used to express high opinion on every book. He gave me the biography of Kandukuri Veeresalingam and made me do an exercise to make sure that I read that book. He encouraged the idea of Sikkolu Book Trust and divulged the secret of marketing which is vital in book publication business and which is not known to writers.

The void created by Ka. Ra’s demise in the literary world can never be filled.  The Telugu story has lost its benefactor who provided it a roof. Kalingandhra literature has become a destitute. These are the most painful moments for literati.

Telugu original Dappula Ravi Kumar’s ‘Telugu Katha Deepadhaari Astamayam,’ published in

English Translation: K. Ramachandra Murthy

K. Ramachandra Murthy and Nagasuri Venugopal with Kalipatnam Rama Rao at Katha Nilayam in Srikakulam


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