Poetically yours, Devulapalli Krishna Sastry
Devulapalli Krishna Sastry was a voyager, carrying in his hold – love, torment and tonnes of grief. At every port, he has shown this luggage without...
Devulapalli Krishna Sastry was a voyager, carrying in his hold – love, torment and tonnes of grief. At every port, he has shown this luggage without shame and without any sense of embarrassment.
Devulapalli, a product of Pithapuram, located on the eastern flank of Godavari, started to build ‘Wing of Night’ (Krishna Pakshamu). His poetry is a robust self-defense.
The arguments he presents on his behalf. In yet another shade of meaning, it is the dark fortnight of a month, which is a common and ubiquitous experience of every human being, anywhere in the world, as all the people on the earth see only one moon.
Giving this threefold to his small book of verse, towering scholar Tallavajhala Sivasankara Sastry in 1925 wrote a foreword for it. Krishna Sastry was a young man of 27 years, and these songs started to surface from 1917-18 onwards.
His poet friends then were Basavaraju Apparao, and Nandoori Subbarao, and this triumvirate hoisted the flag of Bhavakavitvam (romantic poetry) in Telugu.
All three were unpublished before 1925. Only Rayaprolu Subbarao had published some poetry then. The season till 1933 before the emergence of Mahaprasthanam poems from Visakhapatnam, was dominated by Bhavakavulu (romantic poets).
Abburi Ramakrishnarao, Rayaprolu, Basavaraju, Devulapalli, and Nandoori Subbarao among others. In their works, one can see the compilation “Vaitalikulu” by Muddukrishna.
Abburi was declaring his sincerity of platonic love – in his poem titled ‘Unavailable Heartthrob’ that he has no desire to kiss her, and no desire to spend intimate time on her bosom, and he would be just content with her thought.
Rayaprolu too went on to record in his early works like ‘Trunakankanamu’, the intimacy of the hero and heroine is more emotional and not much inclined towards going physical. Into this came three divas from the trio of Basavaraju, Devulapalli and Nandoori. Basavaraju Apparao sang about Jagadrani; Devulapalli about Urvasi, and Nandoori about Yenki.
The trio spent hours together irrespective of day or night in Madras, and in Kakinada, of course, both places being near to the sea coast. In the wild nocturnal hours the trio used to sing their poems, and of the world poets, in an inspirational frenzy.
Devulapalli in his foreword to the poetry of Basvaaraju Apparao (1894-1933 ‘Basavaraju Geetalu’), which was published posthumously, recollects fondly the poetic tempo of those bygone days. In a very intimate foreword Krishna Sastry says about his poet friend, that his song had a blood strain, and while singing full throat, he was a like a giant banyan tree, of which every leaf was joining the song.
Krishnasastri altogether wrote in this three thin volumes not more than hundred poems, and for this little oeuvre, his fame rested on the timeless Everest of modern poetry. ‘Krishnapakshamu’ was such a word, that was never used in the poems.
His mighty influence on later day poets was immense, and in a self-acknowledgement, Sri Sri said it was a quite a strenuous effort for him to come out of the word splendour for Krishna Sastry.
Interestingly, both the poets wrote about birds - while Krishna Sastry’s bird is caged and ruing the captivity imposed by the world “being a bird, can sing and roam in the lanes of love, you broke my wings, caged me intending to rob my song and life”.
Whereas to Sri Sri, the bird is a symbol of human effort to scale the heights, and he records it in a poem ‘Aah!’, he wrote: “When I fly spewing fire into the skies stunned, they say… When I crash vomiting blood to the ground, heartless, they say…”
Krishna Sastry’s works reveal the influence of Shelley and Tagore. He wrote drawing inspiration from William Blake and Sappho, the Greek poetess of the 7th century, who is known for her poems about love and women. He is credited with the usage of unique terms in Telugu poetry while describing the love, lover’s torment, pain, loss and pathos of universal life, which burdens the man.
The words are mostly untranslatable in their tone and tenor, and only the equivalent in English may perhaps convey the poetic wealth only in an inadequate manner. The function of romantics in poetry is to replace the royal life and daredevils from the literary realm and to write about the common folks like Wordsworth, who wrote eloquently about a shepherd boy Michael.
This was liked by and influenced Gurajada, father of the modern Telugu poetry, and he mentioned to this effect in one of his prose works. Likewise, the poetic trio Basavaraju, Devulapalli, and Nandoori are heavily inspired by the democratic vision of Gurajada Appparao.
Krishna Sastry is known for many famous lines in poetry, however, his total work is very slender. He says very profoundly, “It is my will and what is to fear” (Naa ichchaye gaaka naaketi verapu). Pastoral greens ask him to stay, and natural splendour renders him, a fearless, shameless aficionado of song majestic, and as a poet, he celebrates its freewill and indomitable character.
In his towering grief, he declares: “I have no new years and nouveau dawns, I am the wintry dark spell, to me the time is one black shape like my life, like me”. His songs of merry, melancholy and human majesty against the tyranny of time are memorably and originally packaged and preserved.
About Urvasi, for whom he had so much agitation and yearning, Krishna Sastry summarised in his essay on Urvasi: “Thus an Andhra poet wandered in the dark fortnight like an exile searching for Urvasi, enquired every beauty he came across, and greeted every heart that passed by, and concluded that there is no such beauty or heartthrob in the world, and suffering in the pit of depression, he entered a hell, where there are no new years and new dawns and at the end of the penance, becoming calm he created his own darling.
How? He gathered every smithereens of grace that had thrown light on him, and every fragment of beauty that greeted him in his listless wander, running across wide swaths, and putting them all together he built her painstakingly!” What does it mean? The poet has a unquenchable fire, insatiable thirst. After the dark fortnight, and exile are over. Now Urvasi and Kartiki!
Krishna Sastry has brought grace and mellifluous appeal to the cinema songs as a lyricist. Writing lyrics since 1951 starting with ‘Malleswari’ he wrote hundreds of songs in more than 70 movies. His songs carry a distinct stamp, and the quality of lyric matching the contextual intensity be it mirth or philosophical muse, or lovers torment; Krishna Sastry like a pleasant giant gave the thoughts and ideals, a feather touch with lightweight words.
More than his literary works, writing film lyrics has made Krishna Sastry a household name in Telugu homes, since All India Radio announces every day while airing cinema songs at least six times a day, “Sahityam – Devulapalli”.
One song comes to mind immediately is the “Gorinta poochimdi komma lekundaa – muripala aracheta mogga todigimdi ( the henna plant has bloomed without a bough and budding on the pretty palm)”. Building on the transformational times, he chaired the sessions of Progressive Writers Movement in the 1940s, won Sahitya Akademi Award, went on to receive the honour of ‘Kala Prapoorna’ from Andhra University in 1975, and Padma Bhushan from the Union Government in 1976. He translated revered Alwar Andal’s ‘Tiruppavai Paasurams’ into Telugu. He also wrote several essays on diverse aspects of literature.
He was a producer with All India Radio, Madras, and produced many quality works for this vibrant medium. In the Sataka poems of Sri Sri – fondly referring to the huge popularity of Devulapalli, wrote: “Why shame to a Bhavakavi, why wig to Krishna Sastry and why a rangoli in front of Tajmahal?”
Coming to Kakinada, after he suffered loss of voice in old age, Krishna Sastry delivered a written speech on August 11, 1966, in which he cited four places as his favourite towns one is Pithapuram since he was born there; Kakinada, for making him what he is; Madras, the centre of learning, culture, wisdom and arts, and also Hyderabad, where he was staying around 1966.
He concluded the written address with a stanza he wrote in the day after he underwent an operation at a hospital in Bombay, which goes like this: “When the first red rays come inside from the window and touch my eyes, I welcome them, when the morning breeze caresses my face I smile in response, when the fragrance of a flower from backyard greets me, I nod my head, but when from the yonder mango bough bending onto window, the cuckoo coos in a roulade, I simply cannot answer! Now, I simply cannot answer”.
Krishna Sastry is a star among lyricists. A robust prophet of romanticism and a gipsy who pitched his tent in the twilight zone of hope and misery. Man for him is a salty teardrop and at the same time, an enormous caustic ocean too. When we think of Devulaplli Krishna Sastry, 12 decades have simply flown and this eternal wanderer must now be singing about his Urvasi in the galaxies.
By: Rama Teertha
The writer is a bi-lingual poet, translator, critic, and an orator.