Sunday, September 19, 2021

Multifaceted Scholar Velcheru Narayana Rao Gets Sahitya Akademi’s Highest Honour

As the din of the panchayat elections in the district was gradually fading away, a welcoming news greeted Koppaka, a village within earshot distance from Eluru, the district headquarters of West Godavari, this weekend.

The news that Kendra Sahitya Akademi, whose recognition is highly sought-after by the literati, conferred its prestigious honorary fellow on Prof. Velcheru Narayana Rao, spread though the village quickly, thanks to TVs and internet. Prof. Velcheru Narayana Rao returned to his village Koppaka from the US after teaching American students Telugu for about five decades since 1971.

Prof. Rao is a renowned critic of Telugu literature of all times. An author of several books, he translated prose, poetry and plays of other Telugu writers, particularly of the classical writers, into English. He along with his friend David Shulman, Professor of Indian Studies and Comparative Religion at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, did an extensive research on Telugu literature and remained seminal figures in the field of translation and literary criticism.

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Guide to foreign language enthusiasts

Born in Ambakhandi village in Srikakulam district and grown in West Godavari district, Narayana Rao did his BA in CR Reddy College at Eluru followed by MA and PhD in Andhra University in Visakhapatnam. Later, he joined Wisconsin University, Madison to teach Telugu on the invitation of the University. Serving in various positions at different universities, he remained an invaluable guide to many a foreign language enthusiast. He introduced Telugu literature of different genres to non-Telugu students.

“Professor Narayana Rao has been demonstrating the power and importance of Telugu literature for years, offering deep insights into a wide range of genres through his extensive body of work…” wrote Jamal Jones, a student of Prof. Rao in University of Chicago in the special issue of https://eemaata.com (Jan 2013) brought out to celebrate Prof. Rao’s literary contribution.

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Criticism from contemporaries

Academic achievements aside, Prof. Rao drew a lot of criticism from the other literary figures, which fact he himself acknowledged in one of the interviews conducted by Prof. C. Mrunalini of Potti Sriramulu Telugu University. His critique “Telugulo Kavithaa Viplavaala Swaroopa Swabhaavaalu” and the afterword for his English translation of Gurazada’s ‘Kanyasulkam’ (He named it Girls for Sale) came in criticism from many literary figures as both these works went against the tide. He observed that the Indian literature traversed through different stages such as Aasu, Puraana and Prabandha and he referred to each milestone that brought about the shift from one state to another as kavitaa viplavam. He was of the opinion that the Indian intellectuals who got influenced by the colonial Britishers condemned Indian literature of those times grossly.

Indian modernity different

As for Kanyasulkam, he observed it was not a play that attempted to bring about reforms in the rotten society rather it was a play which presented against the colonial modernity. He maintained that the Indian society had already attained modernity which was different from the one imposed by the colonial rulers. These propositions shook the Telugu literary world to the core and fueled fierce debates. Despite this, literary persons of various schools hold him in high regard for his contributions towards Telugu literature.

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Srinivasa Rao NN
Author is a freelance journalist and a translator. Is a post graduate in Journalism and Mass Communications.

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