I do not know Suraparaju Radhakrishna Moorthy garu. Nor have I ever seen him. But I have seen his photo once… and, at once felt of him the kind of a bhadralok â”€ a man of the elite class.
The other day, while conversing with my friend Dr Ramachandra, I came to know that he has recently passed away. My heart queered! Yes, death is, of course, inevitable, yet, certain deaths disturb us. And his is one such.
I gather that he was born in Ooguru, a village in Prakasam district of AP on August 15, 1935; evinced a keen interest in reading books right from childhood; while studying BA in English literature at Madras Christian College he was said to have spent more of his time reading books in Higginbothams bookstore than in the college; later obtained MA in literature from Banaras Hindu University; taught English in colleges for about 40 years; finally retired as an English professor, poet, translator, and literary critic.
Literature and philosophy were said to be his favorite subjects, obviously. But what is not so obvious is: he wrote critical essays on Western literature â”€ existentialism, Shakespeare, Elliott, Baudelaire, Kafka â”€ in Telugu. And, all of them compel us to read, for such was his Telugu â”€ so sweet and pleasant to the ear.
More than the sweetness of the syntax, what is amazing about his Telugu essays on western literature is the ease with which he integrates Eastern philosophical thought with that of Western literature and presents an altogether new perspective to the reader. Reading such narration simply affords a ‘WOW’ experience to readers.
For instance, look at the beginning of his essay on Kafka’s novella, The Metamorphosis. Referring to Kafka’s statement, “There are only two things. Truth and lies. Truth is indivisible (“Ekam sat”), hence it cannot recognize itself; anyone who wants to recognize it has to be a lie”, SRKM states that Kafka is talking in the language of Upanishads: Ekam eva dviteyam (One without a second); Satyam Jnanam Anantam Brahma, which means, the state of there being no jnata (knower) and jneya (knowable) is known as Brahma. In support of this statement he even cites Kenopanishad: “Yasyamatam tasya matam matam yasya na veda sah / avijnatam vijanatam vijnatamavijanatam (Kenopanishad 2.3) â”€ He by whom Brahman is not known, knows It; he by whom It is known, knows It not”.
Citing the article, “Samsa and Samsara: Suffering, Death, and Rebirth in The Metamorphosis”, by Michael P Ryan, and relying on the argument put forward by that article: “Samsa (protagonist of the novella) is not merely Kafka, and nothing else … Samsara is very possibly the root word for the family name Samsa in The Metamorphosis”, SRKM, stating that “Samyak Sarateti samsaraha”â”€that which runs eternally is samsara, goes on to convert the vision of Kafka’s story into philosophic counters and restates it in terms of philosophy thus: Samsa being a salesman of clothes â”€ Vasamsi jernaniâ”€ is an eternal traveler â”€Samsare nitye satata yaini (Sri Vishnu Dharmottara Purana).
Moorthy garu appears to be enamoured of Kafka’s writings. In another interesting article, he, piercing through the chaos of all ambiguity that pervades Kafka’s much-critiqued story, The Judgement â”€which, of course, is the common feature of all his writings â”€ presenting kaama (desire) as the central theme of the story, states that kama in Sanskrit denotes both artha (wealth) and kaama . Continuing his argument, he further states that in the Indian culture there is no love, only kaama and in its expression, it may morph into Prema, love. He goes on to say that the revelation of Upanishads starts with kaama: “So kaamayata” (Prajapati desired); “Ekaaki naramate” (alone cannot make love); “Sa dviteyamichhat” (he desired a partner). Having traced that, he says, “if Stree (woman) is not by the side, life gets bored (na ramatee) and then in a subtle humor, wonders: it’s only on a lady coming to the side that one would come to know what it really engenders, be it for the Adipurusha (the first male, Prajapati) or to the Adhunatana purusha” (modern male). And the beauty of his narration begins here when he says, “this is the beginning of the dvaividhya (duplicity): a woman is needed. But nothing is got for nothing. Yet he cannot forgo anything of him for her sake. And it is this eternal dvaividhya of the man that appears not only in the story of The Judgement but also in all of Kafka’s writings. See, how seamlessly the eastern thought flows along with his critiquing … no jarring effect, that is the beauty of his narrative style in Telugu.
It is necessary for me to say here that he translated the story The Judgement into Telugu and posted it on his blog (srkmoorthy.blogspot.com). The translation is so beautiful, one would enjoy reading it as though reading a story from Chandamama. That aside, he makes another interesting observation about Kafka’s storytelling style: “His style of storytelling makes the reader realize experientially the truth that there are no answers to the questions in life.”
This observation incidentally reminds me of my revered professor of Entomology, Dr Ranga Rao (shall write about him in detail later). In the early 70s, the sugarcane crop in Nizamabad Dt of AP suffered extensive damage for unidentified reasons. At the initiation of the then flourishing Nizam Sugar Factory, Bodhan, I along with my professor Dr Rao, toured the district for three days and collected samples of dried cane stalks, soil samples, etc. On the penultimate day, we assembled at one of the circuit houses of NSF at Dichpally for a discussion with plantation officers of the factory over a cup of tea. One of the officers posed a question: “What are your findings?” The professor looked at me. I explained that the preliminary examination of the samples reveal that it is the attack of scales, Melanospis Sp., Fusarium bacteria and white grubs, Helotrichia Sp. that cumulatively ruined the cane crop. Hearing me, he then aired another question: “So, what control measures do you suggest?” At it, interjecting himself into the discussion, my professor, with a pleasant smile, or should I say with a playful smile, said in a soft tone: “For certain questions, there are no readymade answers in life. We need to work out…” Perhaps, professors are all like that… eternally looking at the questions that life poses and working towards their answers…
Anyway, let me now revert to Moorthy garu and his books on Western literature. He had published six books on Western literature in Telugu: Asthitvavaá¸a Sahityaá¹ (Introduction to Existential Literature), The Divine Comedy—Dante, Prakruti oka alayam—Baudelaire, Kafka Parichayam (Introduction) and Shakespeare Sahityalokam (literature).
Introducing Baudelaire, the French poet most known for his involvement with Symbolism, to Telugu readers, he said that Baudelaire poetry is known more for structure and symmetry than the ‘modernity’ that some attribute to him. He translated some of his poems and presented them with his usual aesthetic commentary. Saying that his poetry is full of darkness, rather has an urge for light, and translating the lines from a poem: “pushing the slanting sun / the dark night establishes itself” into Telugu thus, “valutunna suryunni tosesi / chekatlu chikkabadi sthirapadatai” SRKM makes a brilliant comment on it: “the forces that hate the light, shoving away the sliding Sun, establish their kingdom, as though it is now theirs to rule. It is the explicit meaning. But there is another dimension to it. For a world that has no external light, it is a dark night, but for a Samyami â”€the person who deserted sense gratificationâ”€ that is the glow of atma, soul. Seeing the path in his own glow, he walks… “Na tatra suryobhati na chandratarakam…”â”€no sun blazes there; no moon, no stars (Kathopanisad). He thus offers in his book an extensive analysis of Baudelaire’s poems.
Of all his books on western literature in Telugu, it is his Shakespeare sahityalokam that presents him at his best as an aesthetic critique. In this book of about 300 and odd pages, he commented about six plays: Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, The Tempest, and Pericles. As the author himself claimed, these essays are a kind of free discourse on Shakespeare’s plays, which is enriched by his attempt to compare and contrast/integrate them with Indian literature. We also come across many poets of different languages, and their texts juxtaposed with his commentary on the plays under discussion. All this cumulatively presents the reader with the multitudes of Shakespeare in its full bloom. It’s a rare kind of literary exploration in Telugu, reading which is a rich experience.
I have seen translations of Shakespeare’s plays by eminent scholars of the past such as Prof Somayajulu garu, Prof. Amarendra, etc., but unlike theirs, SRKM’s narration of incidents from these plays and his commentary thereof simply slides into the mind like a knife passing through the butter. Such was the beauty of his language and its aesthetics.
For instance, drawing the reader’s attention to Macbeth’s reaction to the news, “The queen, my lord, is dead”, see how ardently SRKM summarizes Macbeth’s state of mind: “We cannot look at his crimes, their pettiness, and their unimportance, from such a high vantage point from where Macbeth saw. His is the sight that pierced through the end of space and time. In that sight, the life of a man became a mere “brief candle” for him. In that dry response of Macbeth to the news of his dear wife’s death, we also sense anaardrata, a lack of tenderness. Is that all in that response? No, it is not mere non-tenderness… there in it embedded are the Jevitamu (life), Jevitaasayalu (life’s goals), and their pettiness. It reminds us of a poem from Bhagavatam: “Kaare Raajulu rajyamul kalugave Garvoonnithin chendare vaareeri”…(Aren’t there kings.. Haven’t they ruled kingdoms… Aren’t they proud of that … [then] Where are they?). These words that emperor Bali uttered are not out of the necessitated Vairagya (renunciation) of Bali but emerged out of the infinite time’s experienceâ”€ ‘To the last syllable of recorded time’â”€ and Macbeth too experienced that very feeling. Hearing, ‘The Queen, my lord, is dead’, Macbeth is uttering, ‘Where are they? Aren’t many queens died? Aren’t many got widowed?’ In that minute Macbeth (Macbethku anantya darshanam ayindi) viewed the infinitude.”
My God, What an insight! The essay is indeed full of such thought-provoking observations. As Ross said about critics, SRKM, bringing into the open the philosophy that lies obscured in the plays, indeed created another work of literature. What a misfortune! I never had an opportunity to meet him, sit before him, and listen to him talking about Shakespeare.
Coming out of that trance, I must now say that this English professor is equally, if not more, an erudite scholar of Indian philosophy. He wrote many books, of them I must mention a few here: Sri Madbhagavat Geeta – Sankara Bhashyam, Esopanishad, Kena Upanishad, Gurucharitra (all in Telugu); The Upanishads – insights into infinity, and Krishna Calling: The Bhagawad Gita in English.
To give you a taste of his scholarship and his skill for communicating the philosophy expounded in these doctrines to even a layman to understand, I wish to quote a few lines from his introduction to his book Kena Upanishad. Questioning, “Is it possible for householders to practice renunciation”, he answers it thus: “Yes, it is possible, if a householder treats his wife and children as the gift from God, their protection as the responsibility assigned to him by God, and rendering service to the family as his offerings to the God, then family becomes a bondless relationship. And that is renunciation”. Won’t you think he had simply decocted the whole of Geeta’s essence into those few words?
Nevertheless, this section of his writings calls for another post else it may become too long for the reader to relish. I, therefore, close it here offering my Shraddhanjali to the departed English mastaaru ...