Jun 10, 2023
Jun 10, 2023
Dr. G V Krishnarao (1914-1979) published two anthologies of short stories in Telugu: Chaitraradham with seven stories and Udabinduvulu with five stories. All the stories in Chaitraradham were written during 1939-42, while the stories in Udabinduvulu were written in 1947 except the story, “Udabinduvulu”, which was written in the year 1963. GVK, a Marxist turned Royist , but essentially a rationalist, choosing local incidents, crafted his stories that articulate universal themes. His characters might be rooted in the Andhra region but they are the prototypes of the suffering humanity across the planet.
His stories mostly depict the life of ‘ordinary people’ eking out their lives as lower middle-class farmers, peasants, farmhands or people living in the margins or the village folk that have migrated to the urban locales in search of greener pastures. A few of his stories examine the irrationality being perpetuated by religious zealots in different segments of the society. There are also stories that expound the spread of new ideologies/esoteric concepts in the society, particularly among the urban intelligentsia and the other side of their assimilation for practice vis-à-vis articulation.
The storyteller, being a crafty wordsmith, provides his characters with unpretentious quality of dialogs—they are ordinary, of the street and never pop up bizarrely and this enables the characters just to get on with life as naturally as one sees it in real life. There is no melodrama, no grand statements, just a quiet focus on the life as a given and of course that makes the whole edifice look so natural that it tweaks our nerve chord—at times makes the heart squeak. A quick glance through his stories leaves an impression that ‘rationalism’ runs through all his stories as an undercurrent rather than irritating the reader as a rude intrusion.
Man is the Architect of his Fortune
Take, for instance, the story, Chesukunna Karma—Performed karma. It is basically a story of conversation between four individuals. The dialogs were intermittently interspersed with their soliloquies—soliloquies that sound more as man’s interaction with god. The principal character was Venkayya, a middle-class farmer; Lakshuvamma was his wife. They had two sons: Chantodu  and Peddabbai.  And the fourth character was that of son-like Raghavai, their paleru—farmhand hired on an annual basis. Everyone loved Raghavai—right from Venkayya to the he-calf in their cattle-yard looked at him with affection. Raghavai too had an equal sense of attachment towards the family. Their relationship was cemented by mutual love and trust.
The story begins with the arrival of Pullai, father of Raghavai, at Venkayya’s house for re-negotiating the annual wages for his son. As Pullai sought a rise in the annual wage for his son, Raghavai, the debt-ridden Venkayya expressed his inability and instead advised him to place his son with those who are ready to give higher wage, of course, without any acrimony. But to the surprise of the whole village, Raghavai refused to leave Venkayya’s family.
As time rolled on, Venkayya became scary of his mounting debts. Indeed, the very thought of debts shook him violently. On one such occasion late in the night, he rued on his karma thus: “I have not transgressed my varna dharma—the eternal laws of my caste. Why this ill-fate to me? And why such ‘fortunes’ to the village shavukar?  What ‘good’ he has done? Hasn’t he ruined many families? I have not cheated anybody. Yet why fortunes to shavukar (village money-lender) and this ill-fortune to me? Might be… he did pious deeds in the previous janma, birth! Does it mean, karma rides over even god! Why, then… god? Oh! Am I to ridicule god?”— and suddenly shuddered by that very thought, praying god to forgive his foolishness, Venkayya questioned himself: “What should I do now?” And finally, he did sell the land and cattle and cleared the debts.
Shell-shocked by the news of Venkayya selling even cattle, Lakshuvamma stood motionless for a while. After a while, recouping herself, walked into the cattle shed and sitting a little away from Raghavai, told him, “Seems, your dora  sold away the bullocks.” Blowing her nose, she narrated to Raghavai the plight of the family and soliloquized, “After all, what can he do, when our karma is like this? Our plight has quite worsened. How can anyone stop it?...”
That night, Raghavai too spent a sleepless night brooding about his own karma: “Why have I been staying with Venkayya all along? What is the outcome of my sweating out for all these years? Even asami didn’t gain anything. Nor did I!” That made his empty stomach twirl and he murmured. “Why… then… this labor? What if, had it been under someone else? What extra would it have resulted in? Why this laboring unmindful of one’s own wellbeing? Just for belly’s sake? Is it merely for the belly? Is that what I lived for? What if, I don’t live this life at all? Which god will cry? What is that I am craving for? After all, isn’t it for bullocks and farming? No doubt about that. Isn’t it the selling off of the young bull that I fed and trained, which had terribly disturbed me? It means, all that I need is the bullocks and a handful of farm that is productive. I can be content working with them. My life could then pass off happily. Despite selling my labor and my independence, how is it that I am not getting what I am interested in?” Finally, Raghavai too, throws the blame for his current plight on his karma!
However, the shackles that have been holding him with Venkayya’s family for all these days had simply broken without he being aware of it. Completing morning chores, he put on washed clothes, packed the soiled clothes and hanging them to one end of the staff, walked straight to the house and called Lakshuvamma. They all came out. “I am Going amma!” said Raghavai. “Where?” asked Lakshuvamma in a surprised tone. “Haven’t thought of it, yet.” “Will you go to your father?” asked Venkayya. “No! I won’t.” That made everyone speechless. As he started, stopping him by holding his hand, Lakshuvamma said, “Eat food and then go, maa nayane (my good boy)… Last night too you haven’t had anything.” As he started to leave, saying, “No amma, you have asked, that is enough for me”, Chantodu cried at once. He-calf bellowed. Led by the calf, all the cattle in the yard mooed in chorus. Yet that day, all that bellowing and the crying of Chantodu could not lay shackles on Raghavai’s legs. And thus ends the story.
The storyteller, being a philosopher, expounded the multi-layered nature of karma through Venkayya, Lakshuvamma and Raghavai, who undergoing an intensive and penetrating examination of their own beliefs and motives, identified their true svabhava, nature, and undertook an action that answered their inner needs. In the process, their action was depicted more as a lakshana, trait, rather than a sadhana, a discipline undertaken in the pursuit of a goal. And through them the writer, perhaps, wants to say that life is a constant self-creation, unless one lives in inertia, and the ultimate bliss for man lies in his using the mind, life and body as his apparatus to surpass the karma.
Awake to Will!
As the reader comes out of the uneasy calmness that reading of “Chesukunna Karma” engulfed him with, there is yet another equally interesting story ready to take him round the life of a farmhand in a rural ecosystem that was besieged with many conflicts. Here too, the name of the farmhand was Raghavulu and he was just like that of the Raghavai of the previous story, but the treatment meted out to him by asami was different—indeed it was inhuman. For, after all, no two individuals are alike and the world is neither wholly good norwholly bad! Here too, the young farmhand was totally devoted to his asami’s welfare.
Raghavulu had big dreams: wanted to become an able and skilled worker in every aspect of farming and its allied activities; aspired to excel even Ramigadu who was known in the village for his competence in controlling even unruly bullocks—indeed, he dreamt to become a better farmhand in the whole village. Driven by such aspirations, he was, obviously, so devoted to his asami’s welfare that he even once offered to break four coconuts before his deity, all with his money, if the asami’s cow gave birth to he-calf.
He had to tend such rogue cattle which, once untethered by this young boy, like the then Congress leaders shuttling between jails and power centres, would rush to the haystack and if hawked from there would rush into the cattle shed making it a hell for him to get them all out of the yard on to the road to fields; and ironically to tend such a unruly lot, his asami won’t give him even a proper shaft.
On one such day, as he was hawking cattle to the farm, watching school-going kids of his age-group on the road, Raghavulu, suddenly triggered by his natural inquisitiveness, wondered innocently thus: “Why not I to go to school and study like all of them? Could as well sit happily under the shade with legs crossed and merrily sucking the thumb too…!” In the meanwhile, one of the cows pulling down the gourd twines hanging from the compound wall ate them fast. Noticing it, the lady of the house abused Raghavulu for letting his cattle pull down the creeper, in the foulest language. At this, his intuitive jignasa, inquisitiveness, made him rue thus: “Is this to receive such filthy curses that his parents delivered him to the world? What if, these curses, truly materialize … could this world survive? Why do people utter such curses at all?” Immediately, he ponders: “… Well! … am I not cursing cattle? Am I, then, an animal? Perhaps, so! What way, after all, my fate is better than theirs!” The rationality behind these innocent questions makes every reader empathize with Raghavulu instantly—indeed makes one to pause for a while, being overawed by a certain melancholy. What we must appreciate here is the ability of the author to skilfully combine the right ‘local color’—that attempts to harmonize the details of setting and character with the actual conditions of a given time and place—and the right ‘atmosphere’—that harmonizes the setting and character with the feelings of a character in a certain time and place (Clark, 1922)—and presenting it as the backdrop for Raghavulu’s musing so that readers could fully empathize with the character.
Of course, his asami does not know what empathizing is! After a long day’s struggle with such unruly cattle in the fields, as Raghavulu returned home, asami, accusing him of letting the daughter of Busigadu take away the cow dung, beat him with his shaft on his ankle. Crying awfully, Raghavulu tumbled down. Yet he continued to beat him like hell. As Raghavulu bellowed, the bullocks, driven skittish by the cacophony, dragged the cart on to a mound. Noticing it, the asami ran to the cart and seizing the opportunity—opportunity to exercise his will—Raghavulu ran away from the yard. Winding up the story here, the writer suddenly presenting himself requests the reader to tell Raghavulu, if ever he happens to meet him, thus: “There is no better life than what he had lived in those days. That alone is Ramarajya!” A perfect satire on the inhuman asami! Indeed, naming of the story, ‘Ramarajyam’, clearly reflects the writer’s contempt for such inhuman system itself. By presenting a few such true to life incidents, the author succeeded in not only drawing the attention of the reader but also stay it focused on the very character of the relationship between Raghavulu and asami and thereby made every reader to heave a sigh of relief as Raghavulu ran away from the “sordid necessity of living for” his diabolic asami.
These two stories collectively recreate the life in the countryside of Andhra of the 1940s and the 1950s, that too, in a language of rasardrata—heart-rending—sans rhetoric. They also make two important revelations, albeit subtly: one, to love something—as Raghavai and Raghavulu had shown—one need not have to own it; two, however miserably one might be dealt with by the life, one can’t but keep aspiring for better prospects, for hope and aspiration are the very grease of the wheel of life. These two stories presenting the man as “an architect of his future” make a profound suggestion: “that the man has the choice for his actions” and he/she could and should ‘will’.
Living is to Experience the Divine
Moving away from farming community, we have a story, “Shastipurti” (celebration of 60th birthday), that narrates the plight of an old man who felt that his existence had become irrelevant to his own kith and kin. So long as Seshayya remained a father, he had let his power rule the roost in the house. He indeed lived like an emperor, while his wife and son lived more like colonies. But as he graduated into grandpa status, that power had slowly slipped out of his hands. It steadily got transferred into the hands of his son and daughter-in-law. This, obviously, was not to his liking. He cribbed that no one had concern for him and his advice was no longer needed by anybody. Feeling the discomfiture of leading a redundant life, he wondered: “What if I don’t live this life that matters to none?” Thus, one night he decided to end his life. But many reasons rose against it. Interestingly, even in that despair he undertook a kind of rational discourse on the benefit of his proposed suicide: “Listening to his attempt at suicide, religious mongers, arguing that because of waning faith in god people are resorting to suicides, would aggressively work for the spread of religion; arguing that this disease is an outcome of the imperialist practices and deciding it as the right time for socialist revolution, socialists would revolt; even his going to jail by resorting to Satyagraha—observing non-violent resistance—might not be of any use to the country, for such movement, as M N Roy said might result in fascism”, and thus overawed by many conflicting thoughts Seshayya ends up in a sort of confusion.
At this stage, we learn from the author that Seshayya, by virtue of his western education and the resulting progressive outlook that he had acquired, could have comfortably separated from his son with simultaneous division of property, though it was much against the then societal practice, but there was nothing left with him worth dividing, as inherited property. Day by day the discomfort of living as a parasite on his son and daughter-in-law became unbearable. One night, Seshayya decided to hang himself to death. But remembering his younger granddaughter, he wondered if she could live without seeing him. Missing him badly, he was afraid, she might become sick. Her cute face … that laughs and chatters all the time … if withered … it became unbearable for Seshayya to imagine further. Without making noise, placing the rope and stool at their respective places, he slept.
After a few days, when he came to know from his younger granddaughter that his elder granddaughter’s marriage was fixed, he wondered: “Shouldn’t they inform me about the alliance! Did I become that inconsequent! … True, who am I? Am I their benefactor? Nurturer? Why should they tell me?” Thus, feeling that his life has become meaningless, he resolved to end it by jumping into the village well. Accordingly, late in the night he came out of the house. But again, on the way, so many reasons popped up dissuading him from his chosen act: “If I die now, the child’s marriage might get postponed. His son might complain: ‘If he had to die, shouldn’t the wretched fellow wait, at least, for these fifteen days to elapse?’” These thoughts automatically made the stride slow down a little. He fell into a deep thought: This is the only well for the whole village; if I die jumping into the well, the villagers might as well reprehend him for making the water unfit for their drinking. As the thought struck his mind that his death though of no use to him was certain to harm the interests of the villagers, he stood still for a while. Then he remembered the poetry that he had been writing. He felt that it would not be alright for him to die without finishing it. So, he must finish it …must get it published! For, he hopes that the society might celebrate his 60th birthday by publishing his book of poetry. In the meanwhile, the child’s marriage will also be over. Thereafter, he thought, he could die leisurely. So, he turned home-ward. The author wound up the story here questioning: “How could Seshayya die when there are as many as four solid reasons not to die?” Ending the story with this question, the author, perhaps, wanted to suggest: no rationally-thinking individual can resort to suicide.
While capturing the disillusionment of the aged and widowed Seshayya arising from lack of property worth claiming as his own and lack of personal income that cumulatively reduced his living to that of a parasite which had resulted in his becoming an alienated person within the family system—simply put, the frustrated aspirations of old age, and the resulting existential anxieties—which have incidentally become a common feature among today’s upward moving families across socio-cultural and geographical segments of India, the author, perhaps wanted to suggest that death is not the answer to the problems of living; rather one should invent one’s own ways and means to make existence more meaningful within the given constraints. For, to live the life meaningfully and bravely is to experience the Divine!
The Underlying Irreligiousness of the Religious Acts
There are a couple of stories such as “Maya”, “Vedanti”, “Karmabhumi” wherein the writer being a known rationalist vented out eloquently his aversion to the pseudo-vedantists, their metaphysical preaching, and the karma theory that they rubbed on others making mockery of religious faith. It is, perhaps, to mock at the irreligiousness of some such practices that GVK composed the story, “Karmabhumi”, with spiders as representatives of this clan of vedantists and the dark cave as their tapassala—place of penance. It was in this dark cave that spiders [karmayogees] wove temples and temple-tower like structures within their cobwebs. As and when the lesser mortals like ants, mosquitoes moved hither and thither in that cave, they got struck in these silken temple-like traps and lost their lives, which the karmayogees, spiders, interpreted as the mere loss of physical existence while their souls were blessed with eternity. Once in a while, karmayogees, in their anxiety to prove their supremacy, stood in the ‘space’ above the cobwebs and preached about the greatness of nishkamakarma—working with no expectation for the reward—to these lesser creatures. In between if any mosquito flew shouting: “Yes, yes, your temples are all nishkamakarma! No doubt of it”, yogees would immediately say, “Every birth should end in death, shouldn’t it? When no one can escape death, isn’t it better to die for god in these silken temples?” The fascist scorpions would then shout, “Karmayogees jai; down with atheists!” As life in the cave was thus going on smoothly, one day hornets entered the cave to sell their music. With the arrival of wasps and their high-pitched drone, the penance of karmayogees got disturbed. Spiders and their followers asked wasps to vacate their karmabhumi, for they are disturbing their peace/penance. But the wasps, saying that the universe is no one individual’s property, challenged the propriety of their killing the innocent mosquitoes and other lesser creatures by trapping them in their silken temples. This disturbed the supremacy of karmayogees. So, they encouraged their inmates to collectively fight against these intruders who were challenging their religion and its faith. Day by day the visits of wasps increased. In the resulting mêlée, a war became inevitable between them. The story ends with a statement that a cable was awaited from the crab, the war-correspondent, about the commencement of war. Thus, with a tongue-in-cheek satire, GVK, using wasps as rationalists, questions the irreligiosity of the religion being spread by spiders, the so called karmayogees.
There is another story named “Vedanti” in which its protagonist, Venkanna, always preached that life on this earth had both iham, here, the immediate material world and the param, here-after, the ethereal world. Hence man must strive to practice the traditions prescribed by our ancestors who already synthesized the immutable knowledge. Once, when his wife was suffering from acute fever and cough that could not be remedied by the ayurveda doctor, his son, Subbulu, suggested to take her to a practitioner of modern medicine. But Venkanna turned down the proposal saying, “Do you think doctors are gods? What anyone could do when the prarabdham, the inherited karma, has willed differently?” Later she died. Since then, Venkanna, becoming more of an ascetic, started preaching everyone that this life is midhya, ephemeral and jnanam, knowledge, alone is eternal.
As it was going on like this, one day Venkanna noticed a carbuncle on his chest. Over a period, it grew bigger and the pain became unbearable. All the treatment given by a traditional doctor could not provide him any relief. Not being able to contain the pain any more, one day he called his son and asked him to get the practitioner of the new medicine. Then, his son, replied, “Nannagaru!  Are doctors gods? Who can change anybody’s karma? Can anything be aspired afresh without first annihilating the prarabdham?”
Not being able to put up with the pain, Venkanna continued to plead with his son thus: “Have mercy on this poor creature that gave birth to you and nurtured you this far! At least, to fulfill ‘putradharma’— your ethical duty as my son—go and get the new doctor.” The son then reminded him of what Shankara Bhagavatpadula preached: “There is no greater illusion, maya, than to think , ‘That is my father’; ‘This is my son’; ‘That is my enemy’.” Hearing him, Venkanna did not utter anything further. After five days, the story came to an end as Venkanna saying, “Ore Subbulu! This world is illusion; to think of me, mine and my son—all this is vyamoham—a mere carnal desire”, died.
The author, by so vividly narrating the duplicity behind the preaching of the so-called religious practitioners—to be precise, juxtaposing what Venkanna preached to others along with how Subbulu, perhaps in his anxiety to make his father realize the folly of his preaching, paying him back with the same irrationality—rocks the readers’ conscience. For, Subbulu, despite knowing the truth, behaved more inhumanly towards his father. And no rational being can condone Subbulu’s crude behavior, however much we may despise Venkanna for warping his character, which is what the author perhaps wanted to highlight through the story.
Ideologies Appeal More to Talk About!
There are a couple of other stories such as “Swechhapranaya”, “Bommarillu”, and “Athadante” that deal with the then fast catching-up ideologies/esoteric practices among the urban lot. In the story, “Bommarillu” (Dollhouse) that was written in 1941, the author offered a fine dialog—that “produces the effect of human talk as nearly as possible the effect of conversation which is overheard” (Bates, 1896)—between a mother and her young son, without usual binding interjections from the author to convey a sharp idea about socialism that was just then taking roots fast among the intellectuals of the coastal Andhra. In the course of conversation, the boy innocently questioned his mother as to why Venkanna’s son was not sent to the school. The mother replies that because of lack of money they could not send him to school. “How money comes”, questions the boy. “By laboring,” replied mother. “My dad is not working. How then are we getting money?” questioned the boy. As the rational discussion thus continued, the boy suddenly aired a thought: “Suppose, I make money irrelevant!” Mother laughed at it. “Why are you laughing?” questions the boy. “If you annihilate money, then everyone has to work, including you”, said mother. “Oh! Yes. I would also give chocolates, coffee, toys… I will give everybody, all that they want”, replied the boy. “Suppose, skirmishes arise amongst you people!” questions mother. “Why fighting at all when I distribute chocolates and toys equally to everybody—no small toy to one and a big toy to the other; all are equal”, replied the boy.
As the conversation was thus going on, the school bell rang. Listening to the second bell, the boy, picking up the big slate, hurried up for the school. Staring in wonder, his mother questioned: “Why are you taking the big slate? What about your akkayya , then?” “I don’t care!” replied the boy. “What did you say till now? Leaving that big slate for your akkayya, take the small one”, said his mother. “What did I say? Haven’t I said that all are same!” replied the boy. Caught in bewilderment, all that the mother could mutter was: “Oreyi! Oreyi!”—an expression that connotes the surprise and the displeasure of the mother at his mischievousness.
By scripting a pretty five-page dialog of short and cogent nature between a mother and an inquisitive son that logically progresses from ordinary caressing words to why some one could not be sent to school for want of money; how money is generated; what if there is no money; making money irrelevant and distributing everything that people required in equal amounts and finally when it culminates into exercising individual choice, the boy running away to school with a big slate unmindful of his akkayya’s genuine requirement for a bigger slate, the author compels the reader to draw his own conclusion—talking about an ideology is the easy part; to stay binding with its order is the hard part.
Interestingly, naming the story as “Bommarillu”, GVK, who was known to be an admirer of Russian story writer, Chekov, perhaps taking his advice—“For special problems, we have specialists; it is their business to judge the community, the fate of Capitalism, the evil of drunkenness…”, which Somerset Maugham too endorses—appeared to have left to the readers and to the specialists to check if Socialism is a dollhouse or an ideology that stood on a strong foundation like a real house, or whatever he thinks appropriate. A typical style of the author to encourage the intelligent reader to probe for his own truth!
Hypocritical Value Systems
“Anirvachaneeyamina Khyati” is a story of a woman called Usha of colonial India. She was abandoned by her husband as her parents could not pay the promised dowry. Undeterred by it, and capitalizing on the freedom thus dawned, Usha participated in India’s freedom struggle. In the process, she had undergone imprisonment for two years. After release from the jail she headed for home. On the way in the train, the innocent woman dreamt in many ways: wondered that people would welcome her in the station with garlands and conduct meetings in praise of her patriotism. But as the train reached the platform, to her utter surprise, there was no one to receive her, nor was there anyone with a garland on the platform. She was, of course, not put down by the missing adoration, for she thought no one might be aware of her release. Finally, coming out of the station, and recalling Gandhi’s preaching for practicing austerity, walked all the way to her home, which is five miles away. Reaching home as she knocked the door, her brother opened it. He was shocked to see his sister. He told his coughing father, “Your daughter came”. The old man pronounced, “My daughter died long back.” In their view, she was a debased woman. Indeed, her brother said it in so many words on her face. All that the poor lady could do was to protest against it politely. Pulling her gumption, Usha also said: “I haven’t come to your house. I’ve come to my father’s home… As I took-part in our struggle for freedom, I was sent to jail. Is it a wrong deed? Is it stealing? Is it debauchery? It is in response to the call given by Mahatma Gandhi that I went to jail. Like a feeble woman, you stayed home. It’s because of worthless creatures like you, women had to come out.”
All her right reasoning, however, fell on deaf ears. Instead, her brother, raged by her rational argument, attempted to push her out of the house. But Usha, grasping her father’s legs tightly cried with eyes weighted down with tears: “Nanna, Nanna… let me in…” All her tears could not move the old man, instead he yelled: “Go away. Long back we announced to the villagers your death at aunt’s house out of an incurable disease. Get lost! Go and stay with whomever you had been living thus far.” Holding his legs more tightly, she cried more in desperation: “Nanna, nanna…” Like tigers, her brother and other inmates of the house pounced on her. Perplexed, the old man stared blankly. Together they battered her. The already-weakened woman could not stand their beating. And the swan flew away… Next morning, the canal passing by the village overflowed. And the Sun, of course, rose in the east as usual.
Thus Usha—the doubly marginalized woman—who, despite being deprived of marital bliss, undeterred, sculpting a new meaning to her life, chose to fight against the British-rule, underwent imprisonment and upon release all that she looked for was for someone to say a good word about her patriotic act, but ironically her life came to a naught—smothered by her own kith and kin, all in the anxiety to hypocritically uphold the external lineaments of middle-class respectability. All this was so realistically crafted that as a reader comes to the end of the story a chill-wave is sure to pass through the spine … snow-balling into a question: Are we any better today? And, for sure, it commands readers to ponder over it!
No Man is Excluded from the Possibility of Salvation
The last story written by GVK was a family-centric story, “Udabinduvulu”. It is the story of a typical mother who knows only ‘giving’ but not asking for anything in return. At a very young age, Subhadramma lost her husband. She brought up her two sons well in life. Her elder son, Ramayya, was a good-hearted fellow. Second son, Lakshmayya, was, of course, a little greedy for money. He was working as teacher in a nearby town. Retaining two acres of land for herself, Subhadramma distributed the rest of the property between her sons equally. Her unlettered elder son, Ramayya, cultivated the whole farm including his brother’s. Ramayya used to send the sale proceeds of the crops harvested from his brother’s land very religiously—year after year. One year, the crops were damaged by a disease. He informed the same to his brother. Lakshmayya, then wrote a letter to his brother enquiring about what the other tenants did. This treatment—of equating him with a sharecropper—terribly hurt Ramayya. He informed about this letter to his mother. She too was terribly disturbed by it. Angered by it, Ramayya immediately sent the money whatever that was estimated to be due to Lakshmayya. Realizing his folly, Lakshmayya returned it, but Ramayya did not accept. Nor did he take up tilling up of his farm. But Subhadramma, knowing the obstinacy of Ramayya, and being a mother could not afford to let Seshayya’s farm remain fallow. So, she arranged for transplanting paddy seedlings with the help of an old farmhand in Lakshmayya’s field.
This made Ramayya more furious about the whole episode. This suddenly made the past look differently to him. He confirmed to himself that his mother was fond of only his brother—it was this exclusive love for him that made her divide property equally between them though good amount of money was spent on his brother’s college education. In that anguish, he separated from his mother too, forcing the old lady to take care of herself. Subhadramma was shocked by his decision. As the atmosphere was turning bad, knowing the obstinate nature of her elder son fully well, and hoping that her absence might make good sense prevail upon him, Subhadramma went to her second son.
Here, the storyteller presents a beautiful dialog between Subhadramma and her daughter-in-law. As Subhadramma went to her daughter-in-law to take her leave, Gouri, crying, utters: “Leaving me in what abyss are you going away…attayya ?” In a lightening speed, Subhadramma, with a reddened face replied: “Nenu biddalni kannanegani, gaddalni kanaledu—I gave birth to children; not to stones.” That is her Swabhiman—self-respect! And that reply, obviously, made daughter-in-law to keep her mouth shut.
With no peace around even at her second son’s house, one day, Subhadramma, saying goodbye to her daughter-in-law, Syamala, started walking out of their house. As Syamala attempted to resist her move, Subhadramma gave her a bit of her rational mind: “Look, it’s no good for me to stay here when you both [you and your husband] cannot live alright together. I cannot put up with the agony of being a cause for that separation. Forget about me—the woman who is aged enough to kick her ghost—think of yourself… how ridiculing it would be for you to live separately from your husband? That aside, raising children is a great responsibility! We are human beings amma, not beasts.” Obviously, listening to her rationale, Syamala became nischala deepasikha—a stilled crown of a lamp.
Later, renting in a small accommodation in that very town, she eked out a life, all by herself running a small retail outlet. This arrangement was of course known to her grandson, Raghu. In the meanwhile, money order came in her name from the village. This made Lakshmayya and his wife realize that Subhadramma had not gone to their village. As Syamala felt sorry for the whole episode, her son Raghu revealed to her about grandma’s stay in that very town. On hearing it, she at once rushed to Subhadramma. There she, finding the old woman in semi-conscious state owing to high temperature, got her admitted in a hospital.
Here, the author creates a very touching scene. When the examining doctor inquired who she is, Syamala replied at once: “A destitute!” This reply of Syamala, who is otherwise known to have a kind disposition towards her mother-in-law, is sure to disturb a reader. One may even jump to conclude that the urban culture of Syamala came in the way of her owning up mother-in-law. But reading the orientation of the author all through the story suggests differently: he might have wanted Syamala to be brutally frank about her haplessness—yes, she had immense love for her mother-in-law but what use was of it, when the old lady had to live on her own, while they all stayed away from her leaving her literally as a destitute! Realism at its finesse!
A few days later, Subhadramma died. They took the body to their village. Ramayya, being so obstinate, did not take part even in her funeral rites. Finally, as his brother came to him asking to make good his share of expenses, Ramayya handed over the bank passbook to him saying all the money that was due to mother was credited in that account. The story, of course, ends with Raghu, son of Lakshmayya, reading the letter—his grandmother had entrusted him to pass on to Ramayya—as asked by him thus: “Peddabbai! All that your grouse is about how me, being a mother, could be partial towards the younger! And isn’t it your other grouse is about my dividing the property equally between you both without taking the expenditure on his education into consideration? Hoping that you both would live happily with no skirmishes, I did it, but had been deceived. Mere qualifications would not ensure good character. The younger one failed to notice your goodness. Whatever happened had happened. The recent 10 years income from my share of land is yours. The younger one would not get even a pie from it. Won’t you at least pardon me now?” As Raghu, finishing its reading, looked at his uncle, he saw tears flowing in streams from his uncle’s eyes… of course, for no avail. Taking the letter from his nephew and getting his assurance that he would not tell about the letter to his father, Ramayya tore it into pieces. Baffled by it, Raghu stood in silence for a while… recovering slowly … saluting his uncle, moved away. Crafting such a moving scene as a finale to the story, the author, who is well entrenched in Sanskrit poetics, particularly, doctrine of Dhwani, perhaps wanted to suggest: no matter how selfish and obstinate or ignorant one might be, one is never excluded from the possibility of emancipation.
That aside, GVK’s explorations of Subhadramma’s grit and determination to stand on her feet, even when she was desiccated-enough to be looked after by somebody—her progeny that had literally disowned her—“… even more and get hurt even more, love some more until it hurts no more” makes a reader pass a while and salute the universality of Subhadramma’s motherhood in silence. Watching the characters bid for their release from the filial embarrassments that were so nicely traced through the nitty-gritty of conflicts and their resolutions in a language breathed with softness and innocence makes readers feel sorry for Ramayya, Gouri, Syamala and even Lakshmayya rather than getting angry with them at their leaving Subhadramma as “a destitute” at that ripe age that too after her passing through such travails, while a sensitive reader’s heart is certain to quiver journeying through the experiences of Subhadramma of caring but not being cared.
In his anxiety to highlight this fact, the author appeared to have named the story as Udabinduvulu (drops of water), in tune with an axiom—“No one is around even to sprinkle udabinduvulu on our corpses”—that was doing rounds in the country-side of Andhra of the 1940s and the 1950s from where youngsters emigrated to far plunge cities in search of greener pastures.
In all, reading of GVK’s stories is indeed an intense, disquieting and exhilarating experience, for they are—though few in number—serious and concentrate on human relations highlighting thwarted desires, patriarchal expectations, hypocrisy of middle-class respectability and the defects in socio-cultural moorings of Andhra region of the 1940s and the 1950s and their underlying dynamics. He had indeed chosen motifs of diverse nature—multi-tonal and touching on a host of intersecting issues—but all having a social bearing. His characters—by virtue of his intense exploration—obviously emerge out as our next door neighbors.
The growth of his stories and his articulation are quite ‘organic’. The reader could well see the author handling all his stories logically to their fullness by discerning the underlying socio-cultural tensions and developing all his thoughts/expressions purely based on truth and interestingly, in most of the times, letting the reader draw his/her own ‘ratiocination’.
His stories recreate the ‘immediacy’ of life that Haggart (1968) talked about. They recreate the pressure of value-laden life as is faced by Venkayya and Raghavai in “Chesukunna Karma”; Raghavulu in “Ramarajyam”; Seshayya in “Shastipurthi”; Usha and her family members in “Anirvachaneeyamina Khyati”; Subhadramma et al. in “Udabinduvulu”, and as readers we could experience what it would have meant to them “to live and make decisions in that time and place.”
Rationalism is all pervading in his stories—voicing its concern on issues ranging from personal and the poetic to the stridently harsh religious and political nature—by virtue of which these stories are sure to be relevant even to readers of today. Some of his stories such as “Bommarillu”, “Maya”, “Vedanti”, “Swetchapranaya”, “Athadante”, etc., go beyond the narrow confines of ideologies to help reader meditate and deliberate on the most basic issues of human existence across the boundaries of culture, space and time.
Though GVK is not that known as a short story writer—not in want of quality and integrity in his stories but because of the greater fame that he acquired for his creations in other genre such as novels, plays, playlets, poetry, literary criticism, philosophy, poetics, etc.—the likes of characters: Usha, Subhadramma and her son Ramayya, Venkayya, his wife Lakshuvamma and his farmhand Raghavai, that inquisitive child, Raghavulu, Seshayya that he had created are sure to live along with the time so long as the world of stories remains alive, for they portray how forces beyond their control or calculations tripped up even their best of efforts—and finally made their life a tragedy.
1. Bates Arlo (1896), Talks on Writing English, Houghton Mifflin and Company, Boston, New York.
2. Glenn Clark (1922), A Manual of the Short Story Art, Macmillan Company, New York.
3. Hoggart Richard (1966), “Literature and Society”, The American Scholar, Vol. 35, No. 2, pp. 277-289.
4. Somerset Maugham W (1977), “The Short Story”, Points of View, p. 173, Ayer Co Pub.
 A known follower of M N Roy’s ‘human radicalism’ is called a Royist.
 The affectionate way of referring to younger son.
 The affectionate way of referring to elder son.
 Village moneylender.
 A way of addressing the employer by the servant.
 A respectful way of addressing dad.
 Elder sister.
More by : Gollamudi Radha Krishna Murty