Asthitwanadam aavali teeraana, the volume winning the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2006 for Telugu short fiction, proved to be an important contribution to the genre of Adbhut. The author’s subtitling the volume ‘Magical Realism Kathalu’ stung a writer/poet to write a piece debunking the writer. The conclusion of the title story and, generally many other stories too would be the beginning of cerebration in the perceptive, careful, reader. The stories are reflections of the intellectuality compounded with metaphysical insights and dream logic - all drawn from the beliefs and tenets of Sanatana Dharma. For readers familiar and conversant with our puranas and classical writing, this intellectuality is a source of enthusiastic appreciation.
Aardrata is the most distinguishing aspect of great literature – no matter the genre. The best of the litterateurs have always moved readers to tears and compassion. Oriental aestheticians believed compassion to be the most ennobling rasa. The Sanskrit poet of yore Bhavabhuti said ‘eko rasah karuna Eva’. Karuna rasa is the fountain head of aardrata, a term which defies translation. But ‘wetness’ of the heart describes it. The tears in the nature of things inspired and gave impetus to creative minds all over the world down the ages.
Munipalle Raju (b.1925) has four volumes of short stories: munipalle raaju kathalu; pushpaalu-prEmikulu; divO swapnaalatO mukhaa mukhi and then the Award winning novel asthitwanadam in 2002. He has been a columnist too. Had he chosen to be a journalist he would have scaled peaks there too. He brought out jarnalisamlO shrujana raagaalu, a miscellany of his writing for the papers. Besides these he has given his readers two volumes of distinctive poetry: vEroka aakaasham and alasipOyina araNyakaalu. He wrote the story too for the famous Telugu film poojaa phalam.
Mr. Raju’s stories stem from anubhuti leading to creating and giving a local habitation and a name to ratiocination and an introspective state of mind. First there is an incident, then a justified cerebration and finally the flash of a wondrous realization. This is not momentary – it ushers one into the state of peace that passeth understanding. The protagonists are ‘human’ to the core right from the beginning to the very end, given to cerebration, familiar and very conscious of the basic Indic ethos, always in quest of peace, the supreme goal of living.
The abstractions and the execution of Mr. Raju’s stories, in many cases are not easy to absorb and internalize. Possibly, for this reason, a very celebrated poet wrote an essay on Munipalle Raju the writer as the one who twisted the wooden pounding pestle round his neck. Generally ambling with zigzag backward and forward movements thrown in, there is harsh actuality and deep insight into the tears in the nature of things, lacrimae rerum. There are delicate, seemingly mischievous and metaphysical flashes in the narration. In an essay published in August 1987 Munipalle unlocks the details of the various influences that shaped him as a writer and the personae and incidents that left a stamp on his personality. An avid reading of the piece: ‘Why did I Write’ with a subtitle ‘A story that is not a story’ brought to my mind two similar, though longer works: Graham Greene’s Why do I write, 1937 and American story writer Paul Gallico’s Confessions of a Story Writer, 1966. It is not surprising that all the three writers have been, besides other things, insightful journalists with powers of clinical observation.
Long years of work in the Armed Services, no matter in which rank, renders a person introspective and cerebral. When such a one takes to writing, the resultant creation would be unique. There is kind of psychological discipline even in creative thinking. Against the bleak scenario devoid of humanistic values, thoughtful reading and rumination has a salutary effect on personality. There are a number of stories about crumbling values and villages like vaaraalabaayi and savati thammudu in munipalle raaju kathalu the very first volume of his stories. Even in these apparently traditional stories, the traces of deep cerebration are clearly evident. There is compassion too at the core. The old institution of poor boys getting food in seven different houses on the seven days of week forms the background for pathetic story which stings us into thought. Savati htmmudu is a story which blows to smithereens the common belief that the step brothers are hated. The army officer Murty, who has been exposed to the hardship and heartlessness of the life at the battle front, emerges as a basically kind-hearted person who goes to see his stepbrother, though he faced the heartless cruelty of his step-mother. Munipalle has a distinctive style of his own: almost an alchemist’s blend both of the levels of expression and regional variants of our language.
He has a flair for harnessing Sanskrit and learned expressions to his writing. This wins the appreciation of readers who are knowledgeable and capable of getting at the subtle nuances, compounds and turns of expressive devices.
This first volume of Munipalle’s success led to his coming out with a second and the third too. The secret of his instantaneous success lies in his delineation of character and temperament against an authentic background very familiar to the reader and his technique of clever and competent juxtaposition. His firm grounding in and plentiful familiarity with our scriptures and laakshanika texts lends a scholarly fragrance both to the content and the style.. Compassion is akin to aardrata and one of the prominent features of Munipalle’s writing is this and then there are his fully internalized scenes, incidents and places in his long career in the air force. The success culminated in coming up with a dialectic too in his fourth volume. The hardships, the loneliness and his own tribulations in childhood lend authenticity to his stories. But then there is a query too. Do hardships and misery make the mind of one both perceptive and imaginative? In and by themselves in exclusion or isolation they don’t make a person empathize with pain and suffering. In many cases they harden the person and turn his mind into a veritable devil’s den. A thinking mind and exposure to good literature makes lots of difference. Another very important aspect of his achievement is the realization that violence, many a times, yields desired results. Judging by these one may think that he is a Leftist. If the term has to be used, one must in the same breath say that he is Leftist with a difference and dialectic of his drawn from intense humanism.
In the second volume pushpaaloo - premikulu – pashuvulu, the story mahaabOdhi chaayalO can be viewed as a microcosm of Munipalle’s creative genius in its complex blend of various elements: incidents, episodes, juxtaposition, rousing expectation, maintenance of suspense, presentation of life, realistic as well as imagined, mastery over language and command over native expressions, to name only a few. There is a very thoughtful use of epigraphs and in the latest novel quotations from the writings of others or his own either to prepare the reader’s mind or to sum up with an insightful flash. There are many stories which distinguish themselves contributing to the writer’s instant as well as enduring appeal. There is “Nativism’, which has emerged as a theory with total adherence to the ways of the native land, characters, incidents and, most importantly the world vision projected with a definite leaning to imaginative mysticism. Kolli Seshayya of ‘mahaabodhi..’ in the very first volume of Munipalle’s stories is a case in point. (Unnava’s novel Malapalli in Telugu and Gurdial Singh’s Punjabi novel Parsa, both available in English now, plentifully illustrate the concept.) There is a sociological concern for environment, social and economic equality too.
In terms of the evolution of the creative artist’s vision of life, the third volume divOswapnaalatO mukhaa mukhi, evidences a leap wherein the writer is drawn towards the ambiguities and dichotomies of life and existence. The title story of the volume comes at the very end of the volume. The cerebration on the complexities of existence is brought into sharp focus in the principal character Subrahmani and his mentor glimmering in the background. Writing poetry and successful life do not go together. The Poet-Telugu teacher turned Swamiji offers a kind of counterpoint at the beginning and as the story advances the thickening uncertainties slowly resolve bringing the normal joie de vivre in the meeting of the protagonist with a literature-loving young woman with means to transform the two men the teacher and the young man, to the more pedestrian way of living. The title of the story is pregnant with significance: most of it happens in the interior monologue mode oscillating between dream and reality. It is an interface between day, wakefulness and dream.
Munipalle called his intro piece to Magical Realism Stories, the subtitle to his award winning collection, Clarification of the story teller and headed it ‘Shruti is your mother and Laya your father’. He went on to note: “Some of the stories in this volume, I believe, have come as answers to the unseen questioner’s queries.” The queries are mind-boggling, putting thinking minds to pain and anguish in the twilight between changing eons, one dead and the other yet to be born. He goes further and explains his mystique of Magical Realism. A rough rendering into English would go something like this. The two aspects of man’s consciousness, sociological awareness, and awareness of life would be inner space travel in the long, broken dream life’s night. Magical realism is an attempt to give expression to these secret vibrations. To cite a single example, veerkumkuma in the third volume divOswapnaalatO mukhasamukhi, is the story of horrible exploitation of the poor crowned with the humanitarian act of an ‘animal’ Pullanna, an ox nurtured by a farm hand It brings back the dying master lifting him to its head with its horns. The dead man’s wife, ran her hand gratefully on Pullanna’s hump with affection, touched a drop of blood of the bleeding husband, and put it as a vermilion mark of heroism and collapsed dead. After an ellipsis we are told:
That night Raju breathed his last. Before the last breath, radiance of life flashed on his face. “Chittee! Go home! Mother, wearing the vermilion mark of heroism on her forehead, is calling you!
Adbhuta rasa, the result of something happening wondrously is part of the imaginative portrayal of life on this earth very commonly in all our epics. Magical Realism, adbhut, or what you will, this genre is capable of transcending the limitations of Time and Space. This is not ‘troubled intellectualism’. This is not, as surmised by some, anarchism either. Not Nihilisim either. This, the wondrous realism, is a means, a tool, for excavating the hidden supra-worldly behind the actualities that are visible to the physical sight. Only in the structure of the style of maaya vaada and chaayaavaada, its natural form would be visible. This would not imitate the ways of empty slogans of literary ways. This dialectic leads to the writer’s conclusion that this genre has emerged as a sequel of the tyrannical, dictatorial trends of the special political set ups in Latin America. All this withstanding, as though anticipating the insightful readers’ objections, it is hastily added that Magical Realism is nothing new in our ancient literatures as adbhut, really a rasa rather than a genre of literary creation, while paying rich tribute to Sage Veda Vyasa, as the true creator of Magical Realism.