Literary Shelf

Harbinger of Dawn

– Regional Andhra Novel Malapalli of Unnava

Long before social awareness called saamajika spruha (Sociological Awareness) and desheeyata (Nativism) came to be the watchwords of almost all the writers in Telugu seeking creative self-expression, in the early years of the last century of the last millennium, Unnava Lakshminarayana, in his Malapalli had both these powerful forces at play in his writings. Unnava a barrister by training was a humanist to the very core of his being and an ardent advocate of social equality and human dignity. Malapalli, literally Harijan Quarter, was surreptitiously written in jail and smuggled out in installments. It has in it both sociological awareness and Nativism abundantly before these became ubiquitous in all our Bhasha literatures. This paper attempts to showcase the twin forces behind the writing, nearly a century ago in Telugu, when India was under foreign yoke. The novel is the first among many firsts in Telugu literature that has been brought out in English translation. Sahitya Akademi got it rendered into English by this writer in 2008.

Location and Time specificities are basic to literary artifacts. Any literature is produced in a geographic location and at a particular point or period of Time. Parochial, local, regional and national interests connote and even limit geographic extensiveness. Time factor is extremely relevant for the understanding and appreciation of a work of literary art. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are difficult to be put into a pointed date in the time frame. All epics, no matter the language in which they are composed, have a time and space specificity in their conception and execution. The Hindu, you can say Indic to exclude religious connotation, ethos permeates these epics and what is more, they very clearly show the shift in certain behavioural patterns. Shifts not withstanding, there are certain eternal values derived from the matrix of national ethos. Nativism is a concept that is derived from this broad concept of nationalism, which is the sense of belonging of a person to a nation.

Nativism in literary masterpieces reflects the value system as the most important aspect in terms of behavioural patterns and value systems cherished by the personae. Times may change, Time does change, but the personae belonging to different times still cling to the basic ethos: this is the central point of Nativism. Nativism is one of the concepts, though by no means new, that has come to draw the attention of our litterateurs to be placed topmost on our literary agenda, creative preoccupations and insightful priorities. A broad understanding of the essence of the still very fluid and yet formative concept of Nativism helps us to appreciate the necessity to look into our texts with deep insight to evaluate our creative writers afresh

Nativism is one of the concepts that have come to draw the attention of our litterateurs to be placed topmost on our literary agenda, creative preoccupations and insightful priorities. A broad understanding of the essence of the still very fluid and yet formative concept of Nativism helps us to appreciate the necessity to look into our texts with deep insight to evaluate our creative writers afresh. The following article is just an attempt to examine the concept and a novelist’s typical achievement. Unnava Lsksminarayana’s Malapalli (1920s)

Nativism is related to the broad concept of regional culture, and, as said earlier, not to the aberrant narrow parochialism, or self-seeking regionalism or short-sighted localism. It has come to be a literary category in Indian literary aesthetic. The emergence of this is a part of large-hearted and open-minded rationalism. The reading of a few of the statements culled from its exponents--mainly, Bhalachandra Nemade, the Marathi writer, and its explicators like G.N.Devy, Makarand Paranjpe, Anand Patil and Rajee Seth would be adequate to appreciate the broad but yet tentative premises of Nativism.

  • It is expected that native perceptions naturally express themselves in any literature. (1)

  • Nativism would recognize the uniqueness of the works of different regions. (2)

  • Nativism is a response of the people to the past and also to the future. It is the life style of a whole group, of past and future society’s collective power of reflection and emotion as expressed through nativism. (3)

  • The concept of nativism demands that we should refuse to receive standards other than those we have evolved ourselves. I think we Indians, being members of the oldest living civilization in the world, are the most eligible to establish the native principle as an essential and fundamental requisite of human existence. (4)

  • Nativism means a return to the roots. This is the call of the self-awareness of a country that remained a colony for a long time. The histories of civilizations tell us that the human race has a tendency to go far away from its societal and cultural axes and return to its centers again. It is an emotional need of the human race. (5)

  • We need the grand narratives of emancipation and enlightenment which would be known as distinctly Indian master narratives. One way out of this is to develop a new indigenous aesthetics of fiction. (6)

  • Indian literary critics today are faced with a surfeit of intellectual choices. (7)

  • Nativism is rather an attitude, movement or outlook. It is difficult to extract a definite set of evaluative criteria for it, but it helps situate a work in such a manner that its cultural affiliations are revealed. Thus nativism emphasizes the locus of a work and enables the critic to place it vis-a-vis a particular country or society. (8)

Aestheticians of the West and aalamkarikas of Bharat are not just the same in their outlook in evaluating literary artifacts. While the former related their propositions and theories to all art forms, our sages of yore have been theoreticians basically with a strong metaphysical stance, aadhyatmic, altruistic considerations relating and applying them to literature, which is called both saahitya and saaraswata, that which is salutary and that which is the blessing of the goddess of learning. Literature inhered ‘values’ which are related to humane, solicitous, ennobling attitudes. These values are treasured as goals worthy of human pursuit. Adhering to our basic ethos is important and aberrations are looked down upon or sought to be corrected to annul negative consequences. A literary work is produced in a milieu, an observation of reality, physical and psychological. A consistent world view is projected with imaginative intensity and artistic élan. The artist and his contemporary actuality cannot be totally severed

Unnava Lakshminarayana wrote Malapalli while serving a jail sentence as convict 6657 during 1920-21 in two parts. In 1935 two more parts were added. This work, considered a mega epic in Telugu was later abridged by Maruvuri Kodandaramayya and published by Sahitya Akademi. The present text under study was the abridged version.

Unnava had the Mahabharat in his mind that he called the parts cantos. Part one centres on Sangadas, Ramadas’s son. With his death the second part Ramanaidu begins. The third part is named after Takkela Jaggadu, the assumed name of Venkatadas, Ramadas’s another son. He dies at the end and in the fourth part is named after the central character Ramadas.

Ramadas has three sons and one daughter the youngest being the infant son. He is humble, coming from the untouchable caste of mala dasaris, wandering minstrels of he fifth caste. Ramadas is devout and contented always thinking of the higher things of life and seeking the company and enlightenment from mystics like Tungadurti Buchayyagaru. In his interior monologue Ramadas tells himself:

  • “... ‘the worldly’ is only a step to the ‘other-worldly. It all depends on how one uses the step. A ladder can be used either to reach heaven or to go down into hell.”9

He thinks that his son, though virtuous has not found stability.

Sangadas is a close friend of the landlord Choudarayya’s son, Ramanaidu. They are progressive. They attend the Aadiandhra Convention at Bezwada and are seen eating “untouchable food”. Sangadas is devout like his father and he believes in justice and wishes to fight injustice. He has his own dialectic. He has a long dialogue with the president, Venkata Reddy, of the convention before the meeting. “

  • “It is my opinion that the entire Hindu society has to be reconstructed…Though we can not work for the welfare of all, the measures we adopt for the welfare of the child should not be detrimental to the welfare of the mother. Besides this if everyone were to attempt to work for the welfare of small societies the larger one might suffer as it’s problems get pushed into the background and are neglected…Efforts that are not directed towards the welfare of society as a whole, soon come to nothing…”10

He re-iterates to the president what he had said earlier to his friend Ramanaidu:

  • “Dharma, the sacred law always demands sacrifice. Socrates drank poison to carry out the sacred law. Jesus Christ was put on the cross. Prahlada had to go through so many trails. Harischandra sacrificed everything he had. Amara was beheaded. A disciple of Ramanuja went blind…Tilak the great was imprisoned for life. There is no sacred fire with out the killing of a sacrificial animal and of all the animals for sacrifice is the selfish one.”11

By the time Ramanaidu and Sangadas returned to their village, the labour trouble with the farmhands demanding a rise in their wages intensified. Choudarayya kills Sangadas when he organizes a strike of the farm-hands at the time of harvesting his crop. Sangadas dies with the last words “We will win.”

Moneybags, caste power, corrupt and inept judicial system and an alien rule brought misery to the poor untouchables. Beastly power leads to violent rule. Violence forges ahead. But, among the thinking, a realization dawns, that hard work must be paid just wages.

The Hindu Dharma, the Hindu way of life and the Hindu faith would make the world a happier place to live in. The novel progressively leads us to realize this. There are episodes in this novel that present vivid contrasts. In matters of love, there are two pairs Jyothi and Appadas and Mohanrao and Kamala. While the former just sacrifice themselves in sublime love that transcends the physical, the later drive themselves to unforgivable sin. Towards the end, however, Kamala realizes her folly and in expiation dies serving her own son and husband as a domestic help. Mohanrao, a totally transformed man, gives away all his money to the Vijaya College.

Jaggadu in the third part is none other than Venkatadas, Ramadas’s son. He does not believe the story of Prahlada. He does not feel that dacoity is wrong. Disgusted with the heartlessness of the rich he comes up with dialectic and a model of bringing in equality by robbing the rich and feeding the poor. He calls his burglaries dharma kannaalu, just burglaries.

  • “Burglary in the house of anyone, who accumulates more than what he needs, and hoards it with out it useful to others, or anyone who is spending money on wrong things is lawful burglary. This kind of service to the world is called the service of Thirumangaiyyalwar according to the elders and the learned ones… I am the theorist. Garimella Gangaraju is our guru. Ours is Thirumangaiyya gothram. Our Rishis are Thiru Mangaiyya , Kancharla Gopanna and Sarva papadu… People are getting enlightened. The tyrant’s power can not go on. Perhaps your god wants this tyrant to continue for he builds temples and celebrates in praise of your god. Your god is corrupt. He accepts bribes. Perhaps he has to be sacrificed along with all the snakes. If he wants to stay on he should become selfless. Your god teaches that one should follow the law with out expecting any reward. In stead he rewards as per the deeds of the past births. If it is so who is greater, you or your god? Your gods must be rid of the vampires of the wealth.”12

Jaggadu’s vision is no vision because of the violence involved in it. His is only passion. In contrast, his father has a vision, drawn from the tenets of our Dharma. The Sanatan army raised by Jaggadu kills one of the British officers and creates a lot of trouble for the officers. In spite of Jaggadu’s commitment to his cause, he could not escape the law. In the court he tells the judge about his concept of justice. When the judge asks him if he is a philosopher he tells him that, if a philosopher is one who tries to put an end to the belief in Vedas, he is one. He ends with a peroration:

  • “At the beginning of the creation there was nothing like right or ownership…Everyone had to work…Everyone was rich and there was no poverty. There was a heaven on earth. Then Eswar came. He said the whole world was his. .. With a large number becoming poor, some have become rich. Riches for the rich and poverty for the poor has come to be taken for granted… The rule that comes in handy to the rich is the law. Everything else is crime. ..This sweat and blood of the poor man is the rich man’s wealth, this, the Drama of the current era… It has been my very sincere attempt to establish the empire of the gods again on this earth… If the rich do not change their behaviour, the poor will change the very laws and establish heaven on earth. To make this law, this Dharma win, we will accept compassion, truth and cleanliness as our means.” 13

Badly wounded and almost towards the end of his life, Jaggadu is allowed to see his father. He asks his old father as to how he played his part in the play that is coming to a close. And Ramadas tells him:

  • “Yours is a new play The rules of the play are yours too. You have trodden a new path. I’m the one who has taken the much trodden, ordinary path. I cannot say that yours is not a correct path – It remains to be seen where it leads if everyone were to follow it. Even your way is bound by principles. There principles are sublime many people wonder whether it could not be difficult to put them into practice.” 14

It is no wonder that those tribals, sanatans, who have been targets of cruelty and misrule believed in Jaggadu as a saviour.

Wickedness and villainy are present even among the rulers. The henchmen of the Christian missionaries coerce the poor untouchables making use of the Criminal Tribes act. We learn through Kannappa, the jail mate of Ramadas, about the pathetic condition of our people under the system of justice as administered by the Whiteman in those days.

Ramadas of Part Four is the ultimate winner in the win that his son predicts at the moment of his death. With the money that Jaggadu has stored, a college comes up. Balance is restored. In the struggle between the good and evil, good could withstand tribulation. The just always would emerge victorious.

Malapalli has a tolerant, understanding and a joyful view of life drawn from the ethos of the native to our land. A societal awareness and a humanistic approach tempered with realism firmly rooted in our ancient native wisdom are the common points in Ramadas. Both approximate to the condition and stature of a Sthitaprajna.

Writers in the advanced West have been dallying with anti-heroes, trying to glorify weakness and human frailty to which the spirit of the times is no small contributing factor. The electrifying power of our sustaining meta-narratives is thoughtfully harnessed by Unnava making his characters all of a piece with our classical heroes with unswerving, unfaltering commitment to dharma and karma, thus elevating themselves to the highest peak of personality achievement envisaged by the Oriental mind. Samadrishti leads an aspirant to become a sthitaprajna. Ramadas has in him the celebrated positive qualities of our traditional nayaka: dhirodaatta. What matters is being a dhira. The capacity to come out of the encircling gloom of fading values comes only out of a self-acquired equanimity.

The highest literature anywhere in the world has carried the message of truth and goodness in its myriad hues and variations. The noblest minds down the ages have been conveying the same message, in our Mahabharata, Ramayana and so on. Saints and sants bless us to endeavour just to be justly human. Unnava’s Malapalli initially had to face rough weather under the alien rule but that proved to be for the good of both the novel and the novelist. All is well that ends well. We have the first epic scale novel in Telugu in Malapalli. Universal has always been the appeal of the literature of the highest order and one of the universals of literature produced anywhere is the primacy of nativism.

Works Cited

  1. Nemade Bhalachandra (1995), Nativism in Literature (Trs. by Dixit Arvind Ed. by Paranjape Makarand,) Nativism Essays in Criticism, Ed. Paranjape Makarand, Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 1997, p.234
  2. Ibid., p. 240
  3. Ibid., p. 251
  4. Ibid., p. 254
  5. Seth Rajee Nativism: The Area of Introspection, Nativism Essays in Criticism, Ibid., p.102
  6. Patil Anand, A Comparative Study of Nativistic Intertextuality in Indian Fiction, Op.cit., p.207
  7. Devy G.N, Desivad, Keynote Address, op.cit., Nativism Essays in Criticism, op.cit., p.12
  8. Paranjape Makarand, Preface to Nativism, Nativism Essays in Criticism,, op.cit., p. xii.
  9. Lakshimnarayana Unnava, Malapalli, Triumph of Sanga English Translation, Dr Rama Rao V.V.B., New Delhi, 2008,Sahitya Akademi. p. 14
  10. Ibid., pp. 103 -104
  11. Ibid., p.91;
  12. Ibid., p.204-206;
  13. Ibid., p.341-344;
  14. Ibid., p.370

This essay was first published in a slightly different form in Panorama of World Literature Ed. Arvind M. Nawale, Authors Press, New Delhi, 2012


More by :  Dr. Rama Rao Vadapalli V.B.

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