Book Reviews

Salt of the Earth and Other Stories

Translated from Telugu by U.Atreya Sarma
Salt of the Earth and Other Stories by Dr. Mallemala Venugopala Reddy
Vijaya Printers, Hyderabad
Pages 160  Price Rs.200/- US $10

Unveiling the intrinsic goodness of human nature
Sixteen stories. Narratives that travel in an unwavering trajectory from the writer, Dr. Mallemala Venugopala Reddy’s heart to the heart of the reader. Each story set in a different milieu, has one common thread at its core – the firm faith of the writer in the intrinsic goodness of human nature. In a world that bemoans degradation of ethics, these stories bring a soothing wave of social awareness, unobtrusively blending contemporary issues with life-enhancing values that lubricate the cogwheels of society.
Dr. Reddy, a leading surgeon and a renowned Telugu writer, brings out the human predicament in diverse situations with insightful empathy, without being judgmental or pontificating. His protagonists and characters rise above the hardships and dilemmas life flings at them. Through them he explores the various aspects of relationships, the allure and starkness of existence in a quiet, simple, yet charismatic style. At times they fall apart in significantly decisive moments of life; for others such interludes become unifying factors.
The characters endear themselves to the reader in their earthiness and vulnerability; in them one immediately senses the deep understanding and compassion the writer has of and for mankind.
As one fluid story follows another, one forgets that these have been rendered into English from the original Telugu, thus establishing U Atreya Sarma’s skill as a translator. He has done a marvellous job even in the titles of the stories, which he has not translated literally.  One of my favourites is “Mothering Heights” – it elevates the theme of the story to its rightful position. Championing the cause of surrogate motherhood in this story, the doctor talks deftly about the progress Gujarat has made despite genocide, communal riots, natural disasters. With sensitivity and knowledge he brings home the truth of the giant strides made by medical science and alludes to Dr. Nayna Patel, Medical Director, Akanksha Infertility and IVF Clinic, Anand.     
The first story, which is also the title of the book, rises from the debris and havoc of the earthquake that shook Gujarat on Republic Day, some years back. It revolves around an old couple living in an interior village of Kadapa district. Their only son, his wife and child, with whom the only mode of communication is through occasional letters, are in Gujarat at that fateful time. The parents hear about the devastation only on the second day, through the morning papers. Their anxiety is relieved when a telegram arrives informing them of the son’s safety and return. The reprieve turns to inconsolable grief when only the son and daughter-in-law return home. The grandson had perished under the debris of his school. The son hands over to his aging father a cheque for a large sum he received as compensation from his company.  The good father boosted the value of the money by the use he put it to.
Being a medical doctor, there are bound to be stories related to disease and medical intervention. Adeptly and sensitively, he touches upon topics like AIDS, kidney disease, surrogate motherhood and mercy killing. One such story is “Have mercy...grant me Death”:  A very straightforward recounting of the travails of a young woman diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Being in the third stage, it cannot be treated by surgery, so she has to undergo radiation and chemotherapy with its excruciating fall outs. Lovingly looked after by her husband, in-laws and an uncle/aunt doctor duo, she braves her ordeal stoically till it becomes insufferable. Then she pleads to be relieved of her agony and to drive home her point asks her uncle to read those pages of her diary wherein she has detailed with great concern the suffering of a cow in an ashram she once stayed in. The story flows effortlessly unlike her suffering and one gets so involved in the emotional turmoil of the situation that one reaches the climax unaware of the lump in the throat and tears in the eyes. The poignancy, the urgency of her appeal to be administered euthanasia and the quandary of the family are portrayed skilfully, gut-wrenchingly, but without melodrama leaving the reader to deliberate over the controversial issue of euthanasia.   
The Maid, the Mistress, and the Master is a tongue-in-cheek drama that unfolds in the form of subtly humorous dialogue between the three people  - a good looking, highly efficient maid; an invalid mistress who needs to be taken care of and a husband, the Master, who doesn’t really know what drives his wife’s suspicions.  Their interaction brings out an unexpected twist in the story. The writer brings to the fore the insecurities of the mistress’s mind and leaves the reader with an ironic smile at the end. 
“The story that missed the bus...” is a tale of two stories. A story within a story, that makes for engrossing reading. The doctor gazes with a compassionate eye upon the realities of human frailties; whether it is “Drums of Glory”, “Bonded Love” or “Beyond Religion, the writer uses his craft with incisive dexterity and intuition. He writes to uplift, to console, to educate, to converse intelligently with his readers. It is an elevating experience to read these heart-warming, very well translated stories, easy to read but with a lot to ponder on.
My congratulations to Dr. Reddy and gratitude to U. Atreya Sarma for giving us this enriching pleasure which would have otherwise been unavailable to non-Telugu readers.    

(First published in HansIndia, Sunday 29 September 2013) 


More by :  Shernaz Wadia

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Views: 3481      Comments: 1

Comment Thank you so much, Shernaz, for the wonderful review.

U Atreya Sarma
12-Oct-2013 16:41 PM

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