A colossus dissolves into sunset...

A colossus dissolves into sunset...

The passing away of Rayasam Venkata Tripurantakeswara Rao (RVTK Rao), endearingly known as 'Tripura', reminds us of another great writer Ajanta's...

The passing away of Rayasam Venkata Tripurantakeswara Rao (RVTK Rao), endearingly known as 'Tripura', reminds us of another great writer Ajanta's title of a poem which has now attained the cult status of majoring into a literary phrase in Telugu literature "the spectacle of collapsing trees" (Chetlu kooluthunna drusyam).

Born on 2nd September, 1928 at Purushotta puram, Ganjam District, Orissa, which was then part of the Madras province, and densely populated by Telugu-speaking people, he had his schooling and collegiate years at Visakhapatnam; went on to study Agriculture B Sc at Benares Hindu University (1950) and in 1953 he emerged from the same hallowed campus as the University First in MA English ( 1953). His teaching career took him to places like Varanasi, Mandalay (Myanmar), Madanapalle, Visakhapatnam, Jajpur, and finally he had a 27-year stint in Tripura, joining the Maharajah Bir Bikram College, Agartala, as Professor in English, and retired from the same institution as the principal in 1987.

Having spent a major part of his life in Tripura, he adopted the pen name Tripura. Influenced by Aldoux Huxley, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Franz Kafka, Graham Greene, Saul Bellow, Albert Camus, Jean Paul Sartre and Sri Sri, he remained a voice distinct with elan and dignity, exploring the charmingly grotesque of human life and recording it. For this, he had the company of past masters like Franz Kafka, whose style of writing earned the sobriquet Kafkaesque in world literature, and it is the voice of Tripura, that developed a strong streak of such writing in Telugu.

His wide travels across India, gave him divergent background to infuse his characters with life, hope, despair bordering on anger, and his story 'Bhagavamtam Kosam', is a very abstract story, located in Visakhapatnam. One will remember the two-character drama of Samuel Beckett 'Waiting for Godot'" in which the two principal characters Estragen and Vladimir wait in vain for a character named Godot to come ( Beckett leaves a doubt, whether they were actually waiting for God?), and going one step ahead, Tripura, in this masterpiece of a story created only one nameless character, who will wait endlessly for Bhagavamtam.

Taking on the critics who conjectured that Godot was perhaps the extended acronym of God, Beckett said, had he intended to name the character GOD definitely he would have done so, but he clarified that the name was in fact from a French word Godillot, which means a Military Boot ( Jack boot), and perhaps Beckett was indicating that people, irrespective of their waiting, knowingly or unknowingly are destined to receive the roughshod treatment of military regimes only. He wrote the story in 1953, and this has heralded the era of post-modernism, in theatre in a never before manner.

Tripura's path-breaking story was written exactly10 years after the appearance of this absurd drama. Written in 1963, this was published in Jyothi monthly (January, 1964). A Tripura is known in Telugu literature more for quality than quantity. The first bunch of his stories were written during the period 1963 to 1973. There was a gap thereafter. Again a bout of stories during the decade 1980-1990.

A close friend of Vakati Panduranga Rao, Vegumta Mohana Prasad, Abburi Gopala Krishna, Attaluri Narasimha Rao, and a legion of talented writers, he always remained shy from public gatherings and events. Highly sociable in the company of a chosen few, when I read out my translation of his poem Vyatha oka Katha ( Grief - a Story) the English Professor in him was satisfied and he had one or two good words about my effort of translation.

The poem appeared in the Mosaic first volume which comprised English translation of more than 40 Telugu poets in 1998 or so. Abburi Gopalakrishna fondly remembers him and reminisces that on the occasion of his book release function Tripura mysteriously disappeared, and such was his modesty!

An intense thinker in private conversations in evenings extended into young nights, a well-read person, his phrases like transparent darkness, poisonous smile (vishapu navvu), would give his stories a persona hard to forget. Tripura often said that he liked the local dialect of Visakhapatnam region, and reminisced about a meeting where he started to speak in Telugu for 10 minutes, and after three hours of eloquent speaking there remained only three persons in the audience.

Writer having fascination to use different colour stationery, he once said " I am just now becoming aware that 'I' means two persons". Attaluri Narasimha Rao, who made the first publication of his stories a reality, tried successfully a unique way of a different writer presenting every story in the volume, and thus into the project came, famous writers like RS Sudarsanam, Chaganti Tualsi, Abburi Gopalakrishna, Nikhileswar, Kadiyala Ramamohan Rai, P V Krishna Rao, Vakati Panduranga Rao, Bhamidipati Rama Gopalam (Bharago), Vaddera Chandi Das, V.Mohana Prasad, Smile, and finally Saripalli Kanaka Prasad, who added an insightful account into the 'Secret life of Tripura' by naming it Guruprasada Sesham. One of the stories of Tripura was named as Subbarayudi Rahasya Jeevitham (Secret life of Subbarayudu) wherein he fantasizes his role as a military man on the Indo-China Border.

His Poetry Segments (translated into Telugu as Sva- sakalaalu by Vegunta Mohana Prasad) and other works are worth in platinum. Tripura knew very well that fame is the short cut to restlessness and disturbance as Ramana Jeevi said in his prefatory words to the recent publication, he thoroughly remained a solitary person valuing his privacy, and he remains forever etched in the literary consciousness of the Telugu writers of this century, for his journey across various ideological streams from Marxism to Zen Buddhism which made him a peripatetic and rootless monk who always marveled at the cosmic irony.

We will be surprised beyond a response to know that Tripura's fame, however he detested it, landed permanently and regally on his shoulders for only a few hundreds of pages he turned into black, and only 13 stories during a life of eighty five years. Like the character waiting for Bhagvantam, in which we know only the two names, one is Bhagavantam, and the other one is the Hotel server a Malayali, Unnithan, and the place Visakhapatnam and the time pre-sunset hour of four forty six pm.

The person is having with him only a letter purportedly written by Bhagavamtam some 15 years ago, stating about his arrival at some future date and time. After waiting for some unspecified time that should have been sufficient to drown three cups of coffee, and for two city buses to go by, the character rises to leave the hotel and says this to the manager of the hotel. " I drank only three (cups of coffee). But paid for four. That is the way of the world. The balance you could return when we will meet in purgatory. No time now. Tell Unnithan also. Bye. Bye". RIP

Tripura is credited with giving a new dimension to Telugu short story by breaking away from the traditional way of story telling. He developed a distinct style of writing with the imagery of a poet and communicated his message with remarkable brevity of A words. His works have allegorical references to various religious symbols and philosophical thinkings of Zen A Buddism and Christianity as well

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