The Easel | A Collection of Telugu Short Stories Rendered into English | RS Krishna Moorthy & NS Murty | EMESCO. 2015 | ISBN 978-93-85829-15-4 | Pages 184 | Rs 200
The Easel is a collection of 15 Telugu short stories translated into English by NS Murty and his maternal uncle RS Krishna Moorthy. It is the second of the tetralogy that they had contemplated. The first one The Palette had already been released. The Easel is the second one and it was out in October 2015. The third one would be The Canvas, and the final one would be The Painting.
If a story itself is difficult to craft, it would be much more difficult to infuse artistry into it. But it is what NS Murty has in his view when he selects a story for his translation. That is how he has named the parts of his tetralogy as – The Palette, The Easel, The Canvas, and The Painting.
The competence of NS Murty and RS Krishna Moorthy, the translator-duo, has long since been proven with the Katha-British Council South Asian Translation Award for 2000 covering them.
There are two stories each by Munipalle Raju (Sahitya Akademi Awardee, 2006) and Datla Narayana Murty Raju; and one each by Allam Seshagiri Rao, Beenadevi, Ghandikota Brahmaji Rao, Gudipati Venkata Chalam, M Ramakoti, Ravi Kondala Rao, RS Krishna Moorthy, Seela Veerraju, T Gopichand (Sahitya Akademi Awardee, 1963), Dr V Chandrasekhara Rao, and Dr Vipparthy Pranava Murty.
The selection of the stories in the collection are not based on any ism but only on their quality, and they “can stand rigorous scrutiny and evaluation by scholars and critics,” as says the book’s preface (Apology). Chosen as they have been from about eight decades, the stories present a fair enough canvas of the societal evolution in the Telugu land.
Whatever other parameters they have set forth for himself, as can be seen in the Preface which NS calls Apology, they have satisfied them in full measure.
Now let is have a peep into some of the stories.
‘A Crazy Wish’ by Ravi Kondala Rao (also a noted film actor)
The story puts us throughout on tenterhooks; our hearts pound, and we get tense. A person seeing that his dead colleague is showered with heaps of condolatory praise, longs for such goodwill for himself and hits upon an idea to receive (and hear) advance condolatory tributes, even as he is alive, by feigning death. How a man with wife and children can act out of his mind for the sheer pleasure of personal sensation is in itself crazy.
‘Poor Krishna Moorthy!’ by RS Krishna Moorthy (co- translator of The Easel)
How some people like PK Moorthy – Pichchi Krishna Moorthy – turn crazy, and act bizarre, because of some heavy blow received in their lives, but otherwise behave well. A young couple occupy his house without his knowledge, and the husband makes a humble appeal – to let them stay and that he would pay proportionate rent. A thaw sets in PK’s heart and he tries to be friendly and even helpful to the couple, but the closer he wants to get to the couple, the more distant they push him away. What people like PK need is not continued indifference, but a little bit of care and understanding. The protagonist’s husband promises to pay the rent, but he does not, and the rightful occupant doesn’t ask for it either. And when PK dies in an accident, he doesn’t have anyone, not even a relative, to shed a tear for him and arrange his funeral. It is only the tenant’s wife that gives away her remuneration as a writer for his funeral expenses when nobody was prepared to foot it. The ‘P’ in PK Moorthy stands for the surname ‘Pichchi’ which means crazy.
‘A Pan of Musk’ by Munipalle Raju
A powerful story with a multi-layered significance. The want of business acumen in the Brahmin families, the property feuds and litigation they have amongst them, and yet how some of them lend a helping hand even to those who are responsible for their economic plight, when in crisis. Value of friendship is a vignette in the story. A friend of the protagonist re-establishes a long lost contact at a time when the latter’s wife is up for delivery and he has become impoverished to the bones for a long time. On being written to, the friend promptly sends him money. The story also bares the stratagems of the needy astrologers to wheedle something out of the believers, even at a most inopportune time. I t also demonstrates how it would be too late before we make amends for our past behaviour, even when the signs for reconciliation are visible and propitious to pick up and act upon. We witness the ordeals of an impoverished Brahmin family, where the husband makes a virtue of fast out of necessity. Still his wife is endowed with some uncanny foresight to put by some ten rupees for the rainy day of her childbirth. The great story is full of tender emotions.
‘Postscript’ by T Gopichand
It is the case of one Koti Reddy, who though helpful and respected, turns greedy the moment he tastes the attractive interest he earns on his new moneylending business ; he is only too keen on earning more and more money, even by pinching himself and working very hard, and even at the cost of his infant daughter’s health. Save the money for the rainy day, is his advice; but what more rainy day could there be than his own little daughter who has been drenched in the cyclonic rain and caught a high and fatal fever because of his folly; and he doesn’t bother about her treatment. Later on when he writes a letter to his married daughter who lives in Madras, he does not at all mention the sad news of his younger daughter in the text of the letter, but only adds it as a non-descript postscript.
‘Thanks for the PM’ by Beenadevi
This story is an example of rich, striking and superb imagery, but without choking and wearying the readers. It exposes a caucus of unethical, cold-blooded and scheming doctors but with a very suave exterior and a helpful veneer. The doctor goes on treating a dead child, hoodwinking the mother into a belief that he is doing his best to save the baby’s life. Be ready to digest a heart-rending ending.
Let us have some taste of the imagery and the felicitous language in the translation, in this particular story.
That row of bungalows was like an array of cement cakes. The lazily spread road in front was like a line drawn by God forbidding poverty to cross it. And the beach further ahead resembled a dune of moonshine. The moonlight over the sea was like a vapor of Silver. The 13 numbered bungalow and its surrounds measured six acres.
On that cold wintry moonlit night, the trees stood like statues… and not a leaf stirred.
The garage beside the bungalow was like a cake of soap just unwrapped. The three cars parked in the portico were like three iron birds that had drawn their wings close.
The narrow footpaths through the garden up to the house were like the thin plaits of a very lean girl. The red earthen pots on either side of them were like the fists of new-born babies. The bowing bowers under the weight of flowers were like desires fulfilled.
The mosaic steps in the front of the building were like slabs of frozen milk, while the doormat on the top-most step was like a cake of sponge. (p 124)
‘The Medicine’ by Dr Vipparthy Pranava Murty
This story shows that there can still be a cure, from alternative medicine, for a disease given up as incurable and terminal by qualified experts, and that sure cure could come from the most unexpected and earthy and simple looking folks – here a semi-naked Sadhu, who revived Susan, whom the specialists diagnosed of Uraemia and ‘Acute Glomerulonephritis’… a very serious kidney problem; and declared that she cannot live for more than a fortnight hence. The Sadhu however treats her matter-of-factly with amazing results in two hours; and he proclaims that she would be blessed with twins. Her husband Governor Raffael insisted on paying him in return; and the Sadhu only tells him to name the twins Ram & Lakshman. It also holds out a lesson that mere degrees and clothes don’t make a man.
‘Ananda Sankaram’ by Dr V Chandrasekhara Rao
There are people who are extremely shy but with a great potential they are not aware of. The moment they shake themselves off and come out of their cocoons – prodded either by an internal epiphany or by a sudden external motivation, they prove themselves, and their exuberance comes to the fore. The wise, the elders, the friends, the family have a role in encouraging such defensive and withdrawn people.
Let us quote a few lines for the beauty of narration and translation.
Ananda Sankaram was not at all interested in attending that function. But, how could he help it? His Professor Gangadhar had threatened that he would put zero against internal assessment for all absentees. So he had to attend the function disinterestedly, out of compulsion, and great unease.
And it was Ananda Sankaram’s nature!
He was scared of the changes that come up in life. He was afraid of walking into morrow. He was so fond of mother’s lap, father’s pampering, and relatives’ entreaties, that he still coveted that wonderful childhood of yesterday. He came into the world of youth as though he was suddenly pushed into it. God! How many responsibilities! And the most unbearable amongst them all … was the necessity to live in a group. He had to face people; shake hands with them; had to create an amiable atmosphere by exchanging views and opening up his heart. They were all beyond Ananda Sankaram. He felt very insecure and tense to trespass the safe enclosure of “I”. (pp 9-10)
Vice Chancellor Rammohanrao walked up to the dais. With gray hair and eyes so radiant, he looked like the light of knowledge.
“Fear is more dangerous than death itself. It’s cancer that terminates all our good traits. There is so much of happiness in this world.
Hubbub and activity, arresting beauty, sweetness of friendships and the colorful spectrum of togetherness. But all these things, this fear can deprive us of. The youth that should fly to the limits of horizon fearlessly like the hawks is behaving like hens pushed under a basket. Forgetting that they encompass enormous energy within, they are trying merely to exist like ‘despicable, and in an unseemly and unbecoming way…” Ananda Sankaram started, and even wondered if the Vice Chancellor was speaking, keeping him in his mind. “If you can break these shackles, the world will prostrate before you!” The words reverberated in his ears. (pp 13-14)
‘Suseela’ by Gudipati Venkata Chalam
The mental turmoil in the characters – Narayanappa, Suseela and Suleman – with a deep analysis of the psychological goings-on, especially in Suseela – has been effectively captured. Though Narayanappa and Suseela are very liberal by modern standards, loving and respectful to each other, she drifts away to the young Suleman; and how the circumstances of her broadminded, noble, patriotic and sacrificing husband make her finally spurn Suleman, come out of the love-triangle, and stay back for good with her husband to heal him and serve him.
‘Thank God, The Trains Are Restored!’ by Ghandikota Brahmaji Rao
The rail track on the Araku hills gets washed away by a flash torrent and the small railway stations on the hills – that have an outside link with the world only through the trains – are now marooned. The situation lasts for three months, and imagine the difficulties that the public as well as the railway staff have to undergo at these isolated places.
So, after a full three months’ break the first train was seen passing by. No wonder our spirits were high, since the trains were the only link between us and the outside world. (p 42)
There are, however, a few instances here and there, maybe remnants of proofing oversight, for improvability in the next edition. But for these minor exceptions, the language in The Easel is easy flowing and engaging, with a right proportion of evocative idioms and phrases.
And it would perhaps be a good idea to give at the end of the story the original Telugu title and also its date of original publication – so that the readers can read the stories from a historical perspective.
Kudos to the translation duo – RS Krishna Moorthy & NS Murty.
(Note: A much smaller version by the same reviewer was published in The Hans India daily on April 17, 2016, with intrusion of some typos)