An enlightening journey
From meeting his favourite short story writer Rachakonda Viswanatha Sastri, looking very much like a character out of his stories and having dinner...
From meeting his favourite short story writer Rachakonda Viswanatha Sastri, looking very much like a character out of his stories and having dinner with Chaso to meeting the many famous writers of Kalingandhra along with Kalipatnam Rama Rao, Madhurantakam Narendra emerges transformed
It is essential for a writer to travel to new places and meet all kinds of people. Being a writer you shouldn’t say that you have not seen Kalingandhra. You should come to Vizag during the next summer holidays,” Kalipatnam Ramarao, the doyen of Telugu literature told me when he came to Chittoor to attend a function conducted by Gangadharam Sahithi Kutumbam, in 1986. I had just joined the Department of English, Sri Venkateswara University as a lecturer a few months ago. No sooner did the summer holidays began, I left for Vizag and went directly to Kalipatnam’s house from the railway station.
He was staying in a small house, typically a middle class abode, surrounded by vast empty space flanked by a small compound wall. We set out the next day and he had with him his cloth bag filled with Karakillis (A special pan popular in the region, Karakillis have become popular also because of their association with Kara, the abbreviated name for Kalipatnam Ramarao). He took me to the Port, Yeradakonda, Ramakrishna Beach and Andhra University. We went to the local court where I saw for the first time, my favourite Telugu short story writer, Rachakonda Viswanatha Sastri in a lawyer’s black buttoned up coat along with a group of clients very much like a character in his stories. With half closed eyes, he told us that he slept very late last night and so was feeling drowsy- he appeared to be annoyingly brooding over the injustices that crept into the judicial system. M Ramakoti, another noted writer who was also a lawyer, reviewed his association with English classics.
Then we went to a suburban colony where Balivada Kantharao, a reputed Telugu fiction writer stayed. He wrote stories and novels that were set in places to which he was transferred to as a civilian officer in the Indian Navy. Kantharao was very much nervous as an immigrant even in Vizag. Allam Seshagiri Rao who is famous for his stories connected to the forest, invited us to a dinner afterwards. He was living in Railway quarters and could be easily mistaken for a hunter in a traveler’s bungalow. Then I met the writer couple, Aduri Sitharama Murthy and Aduri Sitadevi in Sithammadhara; KV Ksheera Sagar, my childhood friend in Gajuvaka; KVN Varma who took me on a pillion-ride into the interiors of the city and Arnad and Athaluri Narasimha Rao, whom I knew only through journals until then.
It was Kalipatnam who helped me have the privilege of walking on the land of the great Gurajada Apparao; Vijianagaram. Chaganti Somayajulu’s (Chaso) wife served me sumptuous food. I was then witness to how Chaso enjoys an after-meal Cheroot.
The next day we proceeded to Srikakulam where we visited Arasavilli and Srikurmam. As a fitting finale to my literary pilgrimage, Kara Master took me to Murapaka, his native place around 20 miles away from Srikakulam, which was the setting for his most popular story, ‘Yajnam’. He showed me places and people and said, “I can write a story on every one of them. But I don’t. I write only when there is a need to write.”
By then I had written around 25 stories and most of them were written only to fulfill my ambition to get my stories published in journals. It was then I realised that Ramarao had been teaching me a lesson for the last 3-4 days. I had been fortunate to have had many great teachers in my life, beginning from my father who not only encouraged me to have literary pursuits but also gave extraordinary freedom to gain a voice of my own. But what I leant from Kara Master is something that gave a new turn to my literary journey and the way he got it ingrained into my character is something remarkable.
He had invited me to the inaugural function of the Kathanilayam, a library that he established exclusively for the Telugu short story books in 1995. I went there along with Vallampati Venkatasubbaiah, a renowned critic. Kathanilayam was established in small house in the outskirts of Srikakulam, in Visakha-A colony. Kalipatnam used to reject the awards from government and also from the capitalists in the beginning. After the establishment of Kathanilayam, he started accepting all the awards, but every paisa of it was spent for the development of the library. The money he got from the publication of his complete works was also given to it. He chose a group of people with similar dedication and commitment and registered a trust consisting of BV Ramarao Naidu, Yagalla Ramakrishna, Dasari Ramachandra Rao and Kalipatnam Prasad. The help rendered by Vivina Murthy, another renowned writer, in the digitalisation of the old stories is not only remarkable but also unique.
Now, Kathanilayam has become a treasure house of Telugu short stories. Writers who lost their stories can find them here. Once the digitalisation is over, readers can get access to everything related to Telugu short stories on the internet. According to a recent data, the library houses more than 12,000 books. It is here that one can get to see many of the old journals published between 1900 and 1910. Securing the photos and the publication details of Telugu short story writers has been one of the priorities of Kalipatnam since the establishment of the library. Even now, when a story from a new writer appears in any journal, he wastes no time in making a call and getting the necessary information about the writer to add to the data collected. Telugu Academy compiled a ‘Who is Who’ of Telugu short story, ‘Kathakosam’ in 2005, only with the support from the library.
After his superannuation as a teacher, Kalipatnam focused his attention on two things alone: Kathanilayam and book reading. He keeps abreast of all the developments of Telugu literature. Now he is 88-years-old and the secret of his health is his continuous and selfless hard work. He is a true Marxist who asserted that life should be a manifestation of ‘Nishkama karma’.
But life has its ups and downs. He lost his second son 30 years ago, another son a few years back and his wife, Sita, who had been his source of strength for more than seven decades, two months back. I couldn’t speak to him for many days as I didn’t know how to console him. Finally, when I gathered some courage and called him few days back, he simply steered away my conversation to the new arrivals in Telugu short story collections. He reminded me to send the story volumes that I promised to Kathanilayam, soon.
When I met MT Vasudevan Nair the Jnanpith award winning writer of Malayalam literature in Tirur, a town in Kerala during the yearly Thunchan Festival in February this year, he said, “Writers alone should initiate cultural festivals like this and establish literary institutions like ‘Thunchan Memorial’ as government would never come forward to take up such important things. It’s the responsibility of the men of letters.” However, the writers who realise this responsibility are very rare. We, the Telugu people, are fortunate enough to have at least one such visionary of Telugu literature, Kalipatnam Ramarao.
(The writer is a bilingual short story writer, novelist and poet, who writes in Telugu and English)