Venugopal Ammangi, Faded Leaves and Fireflies, Translated by Elanaaga, Jayamitra Sahitya Samskrutika Vedika, Hyderabd, June 2016, pp76, PB, Price Rs30/-
Academic and poet Venugopal has been writing poetry for five decades in Telangana, an erstwhile domain of the Nizam. People of that region has suffered miserably and even after the formation of a separate state for Telugus. The forty-three poems in the slender collection were written between the years 1967 to 2015. Elanaaga (Dr.Surendra), professionally a very busy paediatrician, is by passion a poet himself and a literary translator. He rendered these poems for the benefit of the non-Telugus. We can say that medicine is his profession but poetry is his lady love.
Social realism is the poet Dr. Venugopal’s preoccupation and forte. The hollow and heartless soulless smouldering contemporary actuality bothers many but mostly more to poets in Telangana now called Telanganites. Professor Laxminarayana who wrote in his foreword (not called so in print) hit the nail on the head asserting that a single line forms an epitome of real life in the region: The sky is vast in our village. This speaks volumes of the poet’s creative sense and sensibility. True, the cultural scenario is contaminated by the value degradation. In his note the translator that the poet is endowed with profound sensibility and gifted with poetic idiom besides a clear and painful understanding of our people’s social maladies.
Sorrow, pain, gloom – that the area Telangana has been. Life is a shadow, a long wail. The earlier rulers and the money bags now with power are leeches sucking the blood of the poor.
… my eyes are cadavers
Wilted blossoms they are
Filling myself with your scanty sympathy
and inhaling your breath all the time
how long shall I stay alive like this
by forgetting such a hard truth? (Life’s Shadow in Gloom, p.14)
The very heart of people is crushed:
Gloom and light played hide and seek
In the womb of glow worm that was swimming in wid.
Over yonder in darkness appeared electric lamps like flowers sans stalks
Amidst the scents spread by several spectacles
The blossom of my heart got crushed. (The Crushed Heart, p.15)
Penury and helplessness are every where. Even condition of educated and money earning women is dismal:
And you arrive walking
On the lascivious looks of bramble-eyed lechers
You strain the syllables through carbon ribbons
And learn life’s platitudes. (Lady Typist, p.18)
This is the state of the hear in deep distress:
Gone are the days when wounds made blood ooze,
Granted tears with kindness
Now pain alone is left for me. (A Distressed Heart, p.19)
The great man who suffered and taught the people in Telangana region is remembered with an admiring tribute:
He is a Himalyan peak
with straw on head.
At times of wounded politics
His personality becomes a knife’s edge
Speech is a breath of life for struggle
Comment is a reflection of mirror
a poet’s heart that is.
Be it thundering as a cloud
or unleashing an onslaught
he does it only for people’s sake
Filling his own eyes with tears
or penning a poem
he does it only for society’s folk.
Telengana is his place
Telengana is his second name (Kaloji, p.21)
There are a couple of poems honouring the little villages: Our Village (in a Dream) and another Our Village (When Eyes Opened)
The sky is vast in our village
… ... … … … …
Our village is like the reply of a lover’s dream
It is a peacock tail
the brush of a painter that is (p.22)
Our village is like a crop
Devastate by plundering cattle
It’s like a fruit tree
Defiled by demon of death
…. ….. …… …
Now ours is stifling village
for it is filled with foul air
Sooty sun rendered my village gloomy.
With the burning huts illuminating the big buildings
the sky in our village is filled with billowing smokes. (When Eyes Opened, p.23)
The farmers, actual tillers of the land, are reduced to abject poverty:
Have you sighted any one
with shadows in his dusky eyes?
Spotted anyone with hunch back
holding some soil in hands that give life to earth?
Seen anybody leaving his blood tinged footprints?
…. …. …. …
If he tills the land and sows seeds
only his hands sprout.
When you wanted to gobble hot rice meal
Have you seen a beggar
at your threshold with severed hands?
Brother, he is my farmer. (Beggar, p.24)
There is another poem on the city now which weeps about the helplessness of the rural folk who are mere coolies:
Does it remember the tears of crops
Suppressed by scorching sunlight and freezing cold?
Is a small village fasting amid
haystacks remembered by this city?
This city has conceit
in heart’s place (City, p.25)
….. …. ….
Once you were a fountain of oxygen
A path leading to verdant fields you were.
… … …
Multi-national serpent bid the wind
International stratagem encircled the land
Everyone knows who’s spraying the poison on fodder
Who is flinging pollution net onto humans
Is there no way out of this, is a question
Should these clouds rain acid, is a poser
But should every industrial area
Become a Bhopal, is not a question!
A big burrowing anguish it so (Patancheru, pp28-29)
The cruelty of humans is painfully expressed by a tree:
I don’t know who my mothers
A hapless tree I am
… …. …
Had I possessed legs
Sure I would have gone with her (the new bride)
Becoming a parasol over her head
…. … ..
Smoke I’ll become, only to blend in wind
Rising high, I’ll become a raindrop in clouds
Sooty, with the sky come, with my soul’s anguish.
Before mingling in nature’s elements
I’ll resolve: “Never shall I trust man.” (The Solitude of a Tree, pp 31-33)
Super powers wish to dominate all and every nation with business techniques;
When all the empires unite to assail man,
Ensues the final battle.
Making the battle look not a battle
Is itself a new stratagem
The word nation applies only to super power
Rest of the world is rendered a market. (The Final Battle, p.35)
There are several poems on Telangana. The angst of the people there has been won over. The battle, at last, is won over but not till the fights reached their zenith.
I am a Telanganite
World-war forms my back drop
Farmers’ struggle lent me guidance
I don’t stop strumming a lute
Even when strings are snapped
I don’t lose heart even amid battle of Telangana
I am a Telanganite (Life is but a War, p.36)
Passion, anger, utter helplessness and disgust- all went for the lasting struggle. The emotions were expressed in a myriad ways:
Someone hurled a stone on a female pup
She mistook it for a meat piece,
Smelled it wagging her tail!
A mother with her daughters
Is staging a dharna before a police station
The daughters posed with a smile to the pressmen. (Innocence, p.39)
Telengana is deeply indebted to the Batthina bothers who distributed ‘fish medicine’ to the victims of asthma in a particular period called Mrigashira. The philanthropic brothers give the tiny fish to the sufferers with tact and gumption. The act is one among the uniting factors of the people in the region as comers for distant parts of the country.
Bitter has become the fish-medicine
That had ruled the drug world for a century
Had the remedy that extended the life-span
Of patients from all places fell silent just with Mrigashira
… … … …
My fish-medicine hails from Ayurveda
It’s sometimes a science of alchemy in a way.
… … …
Humbleness it is, that comes to the rescue of have-nots. (Fish Medicine, pp. 40-41)
A step- mother could never be a perfect substitute a mother. The people of Telangana lived long under a step mother, an unwilling parent. Here is the resounding wail:
Exiled were we by you to jungles.
How can a woman called own mother
If she deprives her son of livelihood?’
I am searching for my mother who was lost in
The fair on my state’s birth day. (Mother, dandam to You, pp 43-44 )
In an area where mosquitoes rule the roost and reign with great skill and power it is not just humour – it is a bleak whimper:
Ubiquitous you are, for you are seen everywhere
Forests, deserts, sea shores
Gutters, tanks and municipal wards
Wherever searched, you are sighted
You are flies with omnipresence. (Mosquito Era, pp.45-46)
Venugopal is a consummate poet and a story teller too. There is a piece which reads like a story, call it a story poem in a light vein. The conclusion of the poem is a very happy ending.
At once your teeth flashed like lightning amid clouds
They sank into my leg engraving “I love you” perhaps’
When doctor linked my safety with your being alive
I offered prayers to a hundred gods,
Beseeched them to keep you alive.
O, dog, Black dog!
You bit me my Shuni, my honey. (To Shuni with Love, pp48-49)
There are poems on the travails of the people like the scarcity of potable water causing severe fluorosis, diseases of the bones and teeth, A Mother from Nalgonda- and in lighter vein poems like Ice Cream. Moralising is also there:
There’s a nation between you and me
If fondness flourishes
Brothers we are
But if hatred is harboured
We become prisoners of war. (Between You and Me, p.56)
Natural disasters which devastated vast areas are also subjects of poets everywhere in all languages, Tsunamis is a case in point and Earth Quake another. The hardships of life are expressed with ardrata: Eko rasah karuNaEva, averred the great poet Bhavabhuti. Here is a poem on the life of a bull – Bull’s Misery. Serious ways of hardship like Diabetes drew the attention of this poet Ammangi Venugopal as seen in the poem ‘Without Sugar’. Paucity of rain and drought for long periods make the farmer bow his head in dismay:
The sky has to arrive in rain sprig and tank
It must bow its head before dust feet of the farmer (Must Bow its Head, pp 73-74)
This slender volume is a captivating collection. Both the poet and the translator have done their best. The portrayal of the travails and the forbearance of the people of the Telangana region must make the powers that be act with understanding and concern. The book would surely go into several editions and I only hope it gets good editing and competent copy-editing.