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Enoch-The Epoch Maker

Enoch-The Epoch Maker
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Enoch-The Epoch Maker. When I saw him for the first time, I didn’t know that he was also a short story writer. It was around 1970 and I was studying...

The first volume of Kolakaluri Enoch’s short stories I read, Bhavani, illustrates the many ways of his experiments with the themes and forms of short story and hence it serves as a textbook to young writers who want to learn the art of short story. But the real Enoch got unfurled in his second volume Oorabavi which marked not only the arrival, but also the vitality of Dalit movement in Telugu literature


When I saw him for the first time, I didn’t know that he was also a short story writer. It was around 1970 and I was studying in high school. He came to our house which was in a small lane in our native place, Damala Cheruvu, a bigger village in Chittoor district. He was clad in impeccable white dothi, kurta and angavasthram. Six-feet tall, his entry into our street, an out and out Muslim locality, was like Vishnusarma coming to a madrassa. I heard the long discussions he had with my father though I didn’t remember any of it now.
The second time I saw him was in a writer’s meet held in Tirupati in 1973. Then I was studying in a college in Tirupati and I accompanied my father. Many eminent writers like Kaluvakolanu Sadananda, Nidadavolu Maalathi and Pulikanti Krishna Reddy participated in it. He read a story titled ‘Yemundi Naaku?’ It was the story about a person who never gets married but finds out that his niece, his sister’s daughter, passed through all the phases of the life humbly and nobly. At every phase of her life, even from the day she was sleeping peacefully in a cradle as a child to the final day he found her on a bier after becoming a grandmother, he observed her smiling enchantingly. The writer wrote a refrain to describe her smile in that lyrical story. I do remember those sentences even now: “Her cheeks were dimpled. Her eyebrows fluttered. Rani smiled slowly and gently without moving her lips” Thus his story and his name left indelible influence on me from then onwards. He is Kolakaluri Enoch.
The first volume of Enoch’s short stories I read, Bhavani, illustrates the many ways of his experiments with the themes and forms of short story and hence it serves as a textbook to young writers who want to learn the art of short story. But the real Enoch got unfurled in his second volume Oorabavi which marked not only the arrival, but also the vitality of Dalit movement in Telugu literature. The five stories included in it, Thalenodu, Pindikrithasaati, Paschaadbhoomi, Oorabavi and Aakali can be considered the artistic manifesto of Dalit literature.
The stories Enoch wrote before 1968 celebrated humanism and the stories he wrote afterwards introduced new themes and characters to the Telugu short story. They are undoubtedly propagandistic but the genius of Enoch is revealed in the way he made them exquisite works of art. What would be more propagandistic than Anna Karenina and Srikanth? And for that matter, even The Mahabharatha and Ulysses? Those five stories of Enoch are powerfully propagandistic as well as magnificently artistic. That is something which a master craftsman can only achieve.
The life depicted in those five great stories of Enoch is not merely unglamorous, but also abominable. The pariah who peels off the skin of dead oxen, dries it up, and stitch different kinds of chappals; the old washer man who washes the soiled clothes of the village, the scavenger who cleans the public toilets, the barber who has to shave all the men of the village and a tiny little lass who begs for a fist of food- what would be glamorous in the lives of those marginalised outcasts?
The story, Oorabaavi, begins with a sentence, “People swarmed around the village- well.” After focusing the attention of the reader on the carcass of the ox that fell into the well, the writer skillfully makes the reader to be puzzled with the question, “Who did it?” When the reader is thoroughly obsessed with that question he narrates the entire story of the village and takes him to a state where he would not get satisfied by a mere answer of that question. Similarly the incidents he relates in each of these stories serve as a picture that finally becomes striking because of the background it slowly gets unrolled behind them. Enoch knows where to narrate and where to dramatise the story. The similes he uses get perfectly synchronised with the mood and tone of the story.
If Oorabavi becomes a journal of the cobblers, Pindikrithasati is the history of washermen, Paschaadbhoomi is an analytical study of the scavengers, Thalalenodu is a directory of barbers and Aakali is an encyclopedia of hunger.
Thalalenodu describes the plight of a barber, Nagalingam who suffers a long litigation in the court to regain the land which the landlord, the village headman, Veeranna grabbed by duping him. Veeranna takes a vow not to shave his beard till he wins the litigation and finally when he wins the case; he employs Nagalingam himself to shave his beard. The story begins when Nagalingam starts shaving the beard of Veeraiah and the entire story comes to a conclusion when the razor of Nagalingam reaches the Adam’s apple of Veeraiah. What happens afterwards remains a question unanswered. In one of the seminars, a participant asked Enoch to tell him what happened afterwards. He replied that he too didn’t know. Yes, that was the right answer and there lies the genius of the writer as an artist as well as a propagandist. These five stories of Enoch assert that the art disappears in great works of art.
I had the opportunity of translating his play Munivaahanudu into English along with our colleague and teacher Prof. MAK Sukumar. It is a play which falls into the line of his great stories which are at once works of art and propagandas. It is a privilege for any literature to have a writer like him and I had the rare privilege of studying him from a close quarters.
(The writer is a bilingual short story writer, novelist and poet, who writes in Telugu and English)
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