past forward : 'Mana Shakespeare' Rentala
There is no Shakespeare, my late sister, Sitabai, would tell me, without Bradley or Sherlock Holmes without Dr Watson or Samuel Johnson without James...
There is no Shakespeare, my late sister, Sitabai, would tell me, without Bradley or Sherlock Holmes without Dr Watson or Samuel Johnson without James Boswell. A I may venture to add to this list: there is no Shakespeare without Rentala Venkata Subba Rau's commentaries Who, pray, is this Rentala Venkata Subba Rau?' one may ask. Old timers familiar with his writings consider him one of the great interpreters, Indian or the English, of the Bard's texts. They put Subba Rau, who had practised Law at the Madras High Court a hundred years ago, in the same league as Prof. Andrew Cecil Bradley, but for whose interpretation of the characters of the Bard of Avon, students of literature would not have deciphered the complex metaphors that punctuate Shakespeare's dramas. Forbes periodically brings out the list of the world's richest, powerful or influential men and women. I feel sometimes that if the Forbes guys were to come up with a list of collectors (not necessarily, readers) of the world's most valuable books, I mayvaguely figure somewhere in it. I am a proud owner of Rentala's magnum opus 'Othello Unveiled' (1906), two copies of volume one of 'Hamlet Unveiled' (1909) and 'Kamala's Letters to Her Husband' (1903). The price on the hardbound jacket of 'Hamlet Unveiled' read 'one hundred pounds,' I repeat, 'one hundred pounds.' A staggering sum those days. I owe the treasure to the charity of my late uncle, Banda Kanakaraju, a leading advocate of Gudivada and a relative of Rentala, who gifted it to me four decades ago. Kanakaraju uncle had successfully and single-handedly edited and published The Law Journal, a bi-lingual monthly, and serialised the exploits of Sherlock Holmes in Telugu. People who had nothing to do with monotonous legal subjects waited for the journal to read how the ace detective cracked murder mysteries. Subba Rau's niece, Ramayamma, was married to Desoddharaka Kasinadhuni Nageswara Rao. It was Subba Rao who passed on the formula to make Amrutanjan to Nageswara Rao who made a fortune on it. Each page of 'Othello Unveiled' and 'Hamlet Unveiled' bears the stamp of Subba Rau's genius. The original texts of the two plays run into about 45 pages each, while Rentala's Othello Unveiled has 700 pages and Hamlet Unveiled 400 pages. One fourth of each page has the text in big font while the author's interpretation, annotations and footnotes in smaller font fill the rest of it. That gives the reader an idea of Rentala's profound knowledge and understanding of the complex nature and psychology of Shakespearean characters. He described Hamlet Unveiled, which was then in gestation, as 'revealing the true picture of the magnificent tragedy for the first time in three centuries, and presenting the characters in their genuine beauty and symmetry which have escaped the perception of world's greatest intellectuals and critics. 'The work will contain a reprint of the FIRST QUARTO and the SECOND (the modern text), together with ANNOTATIONS and a NOVEL EXPOSITION which, opening the play with the key of Shakespeare, will be in the nature of an intellectual demonstration, at present scarcely credible and conceivable.' This was not an idle boast but a measure of his supreme self-confidence. Rentala kept his promise. The readers and the critics alike were floored. The British journal, Reformer, in its review of Othello Unveiled said 'The book bears on every page of it, marks of a thorough and consummate scholarship��.and shows how completely it is possible for an Indian to assimilate and absorb the highest culture of the west and write and think in a manner, of which the most refined scholar and savant of the west need not feel ashamed'. Kamala's Letters to Her husband. One is surely reminded of Jawaharlal Nehru's letters to his daughter, Indira Priyadarsini. Rentala Subba Rau wrote Kamala's Letters (1903) a clear 25 years before Nehru's famous Father's Letters to his Daughter. In her letters, Kamala, a notional character, provides insights into the manners, customs, ceremonies of the Hindu society in vogue in South India a century ago. The Hindu review recommended that 'the book ought to be in every hand that can pay for it and it must be rendered into and read in every vernacular in the land. The style is racy, flowing and graphic � often rising to the dignity and grace of poetry'. The Times, London, wrote: 'A remarkable book, well-written�. The condition of the Hindu wife is the gist of the book. In the guise of fiction, the author has set out plainly the one burning question of modern India (reforms of marriage laws and customs). The highest praise is due to him for the sense and moderation with which he treats it��'. Major newspapers across Britain and India lavished praise on Rentala's scholarly works. He also wrote 'Bhaja Govindam' in Telugu. It is said that a saint is seldom honoured in his country. It is a pity that neither this darling son of the Telugus nor his monumental work is known to or remembered by the present generation. A silver lining is that the century-old classics 'Othello Unveiled' and 'Hamlet Unveiled' have been reprinted in paperback a few years ago. (The writer is former Chief of Bureau, The Hindu, Hyderabad) Email: [email protected], [email protected]
28 Jan 2020 3:45 AM GMT