An impeccably authoritative and authoritarian phonetician of high repute, and an unsparing stickler for the rules of grammar and idiomatic usage of both Telugu and English, R M Challa, was sought-after for his reviews and commentaries on AIR entitled ‘Let us tune in R M Challa’. The programmed used to pose a threat to the ‘reputed professors’ of Telugu and English, and chastise them whenever they ‘erred’ in matters of usage and pronunciation. It is also said that many a self-styled scholar used to cover his tracks and avoid facing him on the dais. For instance, in one of his radio commentaries, R M Challa said, ‘just as ‘capacity’ put to use is ability, so is marriage performed is ‘wedding.’ Referring to the expression ‘Samaikyata Bhavam often used in TV Talks, he said, “It is a misusage for the correct ‘Samaikya Bhavam’. While presiding over a college function, he said that the expression ‘Chief Guest’ is ‘Indish’ and it should be substituted for ‘Guest of Honor.’”
R M Challa’s absolute knowledge and mastery foreign languages, such as German, English, Persian, and Polish, is astonishing. His deft translation of the Rig Veda into French and German reminds one of the scholarly contributions like those of Max Muller who were fascinated by the cultural, literary, philosophical and the civilizational grandeur of ancient India.
He also translated the Bhagawad Gita into Telugu which, in the words of his biographer like T Siva Rama Krishna, is comparable with Lok Manya Tilak’s ‘Gita Rahasya in Marathi. Another translation of great eminence is the profound Vedic scholar Uppuluri ANPATHY Sastry ‘Vedasara Sangrahm.’ Besides, he showed a rare competence in his masterly translation of the veteran scholar D S R Anjeneyulu’s ‘Anjeneya Ramayanam’ into Telugu. Critics are unanimous in hailing it not simply as translation but as transcreation, since it shows a rare interpretative genius without tampering with the pristine grandeur appeal of the original. A peerless exponent of Advaita, Sri Challa authored a treatise in which he made a comparative study of Advaita, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and Jean Paul Sartre’s existentialism.
Sri Challa’s translation of the select works of Austrian poets like R M Rilke and Hoelderlin, as well as those of French poets like Boulderlaine, into English is a rich contribution to the world of literature. His translation of Tilak’s ‘Amritam Kurisina Ratri’ is commendably faithful to the original Telugu poem, while his ‘Lalitha Sahasranama Stotram’ (a hymn to Cosmic Energy) more a transcreation than a translation. Kalidasa’s ‘Megha Dootam’ is another iridescent transcreation of R M Challa while ‘Lillies in the Lake(1950) is an acclaimed translation of the select poems of the renowned Telugu scholar and poet Sri Pada Krishna Murty Sastry.
R M Challa’s poetical works are known for their freshness of thought, philosophy and intellect. He wielded a fecund pen and produced a prolific number of poems in Telugu and English. His famous works in English include Thorns of Flowers (1948),Poems in Europe (1949),Red Dawns of New Life and New Love (1953) Sonnets to Eve (1953), Passion and Philosophy (1954), Buds of Red Blood (1961), Lotus of My Heart (1961), Beauty and the Poet (1967), and ‘The Eternal Flame’ in memory of John F Kennedy. His vast output in Telugu contains such memorable poems as Kokila, Pranaya Sandesam, Vuha Nivaasi, and Ambaram.
His death on 29 April 2014 deprived the world of enlightened criticism, review, creative scholarship and extensive study of contemporaneous literature in the East and West is orphaned. When will such a gigantic scholar be born again in our midst?