Translations of Telugu Short Stories
Edited and translated by Dasu Krishnamoorty and Tamraparni Dasu
2010 by Rupa Publications
265 pages, short story anthology
This collection features never-before translated Telugu short stories by a wide range of authors, including what is considered to be the first Telugu short story published in 1902.
The stories address the struggles and travails - as well as the beauty - of life at all its stages, from the birth of a child to friendship and romance at old age. At the same time, they paint vivid pictures of social problems and changes to society during the course of the 20th century.
Since the Internet is lacking in a description of the stories contained in this book and their authors, I have provided a list with short descriptions of each work. After that, I analyze a few of my favorite stories from this collection.
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1947 Santoshabad Passenger and Other Stories
"The Vow" (1933) by Kanuparthi Varalakshamma (1896-1978)
A progressive-minded man tricks his wife into promising that she will be the first woman to act on stage, then has doubts after she obeys.
"Playing with Death" by Raavi Kondala Rao (1932-)
After the death of his friend, a man decides to fake his own death in order to hear what people think about him.
"The Red Topee" by Tadigiri Potharaju (1937-2015)
An election official finds he must provide food for all of his assistants while running the polls, all while dealing with a smart-mouthed policeman many years younger.
"Talaak" by Syed Saleem (1956-)
When a Muslim playwright acts in a play with his wife, questions are raised over whether there is a difference between illusion and reality.
"A Woman's Wealth" (1902) by Bandaru Achamamba (1874-1904)
In the first Telugu short story, a man tries to convince his wife to learn how to read and write so they can write letters while he's away on business.
"1947 Santoshabad Passenger" by Madhurantakam Narendra (1930-1999)
A man takes the decrepit passenger train on the way to an interview in a distant town and meets a varied cast of characters.
"He Who Died" by Gandham Yagnyavalkya Sarma (1937-)
Two friends discover that an old friend who they thought had died may still be alive.
"The Bier" by Sodum Jairam (1936-2004)
A member of the landowning classes dies, but it is raining and the leaders find it difficult to convince the laboring classes to fulfill their traditional duty of performing the burial.
"Adventure" by Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao (1909-1980)
Shortly after moving to a new house, a teenaged girl receives a love letter addressed to the daughter of the former occupants, who has the same name as her.
"The Coral Necklace" by Achanta Sarada Devi (1922-1999)
A woman remembers her childhood and the way her parents treated a poor family that she was friends with.
"The Funeral Feast" by Bandi Narayana Swami (1952-) translated by Vakati Panduranga Rao
An old man dying during a famine is denied his final wish, to eat a dish of mutton before he dies.
"The Nurse" by Kethu Viswanatha Reddy (1939-)
A community sends for a midwife to help a woman deliver a breech baby.
"Company" by Volga (1950-)
A widower becomes friends with the newly-widowed woman next door, and begins to question things he hadn't thought about before.
"Sheshamma" by Chalam (1894-1979)
A widow has degraded to the point where she is no longer capable of anything but hatred.
"Yaatra" by Turaga Janaki Rani (1936-1914)
After finding that he will finally receive his back pay, a retired man wishes to live the good life rather than giving it to his family.
"Don't Die, Please" by Seela Veerraju (1939-)
A man rushes to his in-laws' house when he receives news that his wife is in the hospital, but no one will tell him what happened.
"Divorce" by Kavana Sarma (1939-)
Tired of the terrible treatment she has endured from her expat husband, a woman returns to India and seeks a divorce.
"The Mango Tree" by Rachakonda Viswanatha Sastri (1922-1993)
An old man tries to take sole possession of the mango tree that is growing in his yard but whose branches provide others with shade and fruit.
"The Spate" by Satyam Sankaramanchi (1937-1987)
A flood washes away an entire town, leaving the occupants to find a way to survive.
"Thieves" by Boya Jangaiah (1942-)
A goatherd tries to wade through the bureaucracy preventing him from obtaining a loan with which to increase the size of his herd.
"My Artless Father" by Mohammed Khadeer Babu (1972-)
The narrator describes reminiscences about his father, an electrician who always treated everyone fairly.
"The Morning Star" by Palagiri Viswaprasad (1963-)
A woman has to choose whether to get involved in a village feud after the retaliatory death of her husband.
"Five Stars at Last" by Abburi Chaya Devi (1933-)
When a poor man needs heart surgery, his friends take him to the five-star hospital outside the city in the hope that he will receive better care.
"Vigilantes" by P. Sathyavathi (1940-)
Pressed by a traditionally-minded friend, the patriarch of a family attempts to keep his children on a tight leash, but finds his efforts thwarted by his wife and children.
Love and Family
What does love mean, and where does the family come in? What should people be required to do out of love or familial responsibility?
In "The Vow," the woman promises on her husband's life to act in the plays. She considers this the most sacred vow that she can make. But then she is torn between the vow and taking care of her children, and her husband resents the fact that she has to propose love to another man (who is playing the male lead). In the end, the family seems to be torn apart by the the vow that her husband forced her to make.
On the other hand, "Company" is about finding the freedom to do what you want when you are loosed from constraining family ties. The widower in the story is bereft when his wife dies - but is that because he misses her, or just because the room is dusty and no one is there to feed him? His friendship with his neighbor forces him to confront this question, as she uses her freedom after the death of her husband to learn the violin and do other things she enjoys.
Many of the stories also deal with societal issues. The one that occurs most often is the importance of caste, a much debated type of social differentiation that is relatively prevalent in the Telugu-speaking region of India.
For example, "The Nurse" describes how a young midwife who works at a major government hospital is able to save the life of a village woman and her baby. After she performs this medical feat, the elderly villagers pester her with questions in the attempt to determine what caste she is from. The story demonstrates how ridiculous these sorts of questions are, and implicitly advocates for equality regardless of caste.
"The Spate" is much more direct about demonstrating the follies of the caste system. After the townspeople escape from the flood, the first thing that must be done is to find food to eat. Food taboos are a major way that caste is performed in daily life, with members of higher castes refusing to eat food cooked by members of lower castes. In the aftermath of the flood, everyone sits together and eats from the same pot, and a brahmin even asks for food to be served to him by a member of a lower caste.
Corruption in and out of government
Corruption and the need for bribes is another social problem that these stories bring to light. This is true in both the government and in non-government-run services, and increases discrimination of the poor and powerless.
"Thieves" follows a poor goatherd in his attempt to attain a loan. He submitted the paperwork six months ago, but as nothing has been done he personally comes to investigate. At every stage in the process, he is asked for a bribe; since he has no money, he is forced to give each person a goat before they will approve his loan. Meanwhile he lives on the street in the strange city while he waits for his money, powerless to do anything more.
"Five Stars at Last" demonstrates the kind of treatment that people can expect from non-governmental, luxury hospitals: the same sort of treatment they get from the government, but it costs more. The patient, his family and friends must pay for the bills out-of-pocket; they are charged a tremendous amount for the stay, even when the AC, TV, and everything else breaks in the room he is given. Then, when there are problems during the operation, the family is not given any information about his condition. They are left to worry while the operation continues for much longer than it was supposed to. And so on as the corruption of the system is revealed.
The importance of time
While I thought this was an excellent collection filled with a variety of stories from an equally varied group of authors, I found one aspect of the collection extremely frustrating: all but two of the stories were undated! Not only were they undated, but judging by the authors' birth and death dates it was obvious that they were not in chronological order.
Why did this bother me so much? Dates provide a huge amount of context for the story. Does this take place before or after Independence? How much is 10 rupees actually work? If this police officer wants a 100 rupee bribe, what does that mean compared to living cost?
It's impossible to figure out the time period in which most of these stories are set based on just reading the story. I would have been grateful to the editors if they had included a date for every story, even if they had not provided any more context.
Do you know when any of these stories were published? Please leave a comment below to help figure this out!