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Giving a Telugu

Giving a Telugu
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Language as a vehicle of expression symbolises the pinnacle of evolution. Words spoken, written and sung have chronicled human thought and defined...

Language as a vehicle of expression symbolises the pinnacle of evolution. Words spoken, written and sung have chronicled human thought and defined interaction over the ages. While colloquial language binds people together literary works with their refined narrative leave behind a legacy that instils a sense of pride and belongingness. All progressive societies have a rootedness through the language they speak, finding enrichment in words and phrases borrowed from other languages. This dynamism makes language and culture intrinsic to human development providing an identity like no other. The World Telugu Conference being held for the first since the formation of the new State of Telangana viewed in this context assumes great significance.

The Telugu language famed as the “Italian of the East” will be celebrated in all its glory as Telugu lovers and literati from different parts of the world converge in Hyderabad in the second week of December. The new State aims to proclaim to the world its distinct identity with respect to language, culture, art and economic development through the conference which toasts and celebrates Telangana literature. Chief Minister K Chandrasekhara Rao’s statement in the assembly outlines the agenda at the conference that will determine the roadmap to the future.

“The discussions spearheaded at the conference will focus on the rich body of literary works that emerged on Telangana soil. They will not merely rest on past glory but look at the present state of the Telugu language. Experts will discuss steps to promote Telugu and lay the foundation for future research,” declared Rao, who made no bones of the fact that Telangana Literature did not get its due under former dispensations.

With the State Sahitya Akademi as the focal point, poetry, verse, novel, drama, folk art and revolutionary literature typical to Telangana are set to enchant lovers of literature from across the globe. Hyderabad, flush from the success of the Global Entrepreneurial Summit (GES) held here days ago, once again takes on a festive look. This time around, we have eminent literary giants from the past and present smiling at us genially from hoardings, truly defining the city as a bridge between the ancient and the modern. Coming at a time when youth are veering away from their mother tongue viewed as an unfavourable employment option, the state government will make use of this platform to elicit opinion on making ‘language study’ attractive.

Despite the “Classical language” status accorded to Telugu, not much has been done in terms of follow up to enrich the language, that according to historical records has an antiquity of over 2000 years. Tracing the history of Telugu with a special emphasis on Telangana, we find evidence of antiquity across the region. ‘Gathasapthasathi’ by Salivahana King Hala in the 1st century BC, in the Prakrit language was infused with Telugu words.

Stone edicts of Jinavallabha at Kurikyala in Karimnagar district dating back to 947 BC record a poem conforming to a specific meter called the “Kanda”. The first independent work in Telugu, the ‘Basava Purana’, the first compilation of a hundred poems, ‘Vrushaadipa Shatakam’ and the first illustrative book ‘Basavodaharanam’ are all attributed to the great poet Palkurki Somanatha Kavi, who hailed from Palkuriki in Jangaon district.

Gona Budda Reddy known for his ‘Ranganadha Ramayanam’ in the “Dwipada” style, Vemulawada Bheemakavi and Pillalamarri Veerabhadrudu produced literary works of a very high standard. Poet-King Singabhoopla of Rachakonda was known both for his writings as well as the patronage of poets. Bammera Pothana, wrote the ‘Bhagavatham’ in chaste Telugu using beautiful phrases, allegory and analogy that are a reader’s delight. Shunning Royal patronage, he led an austere life producing prolific works that stemmed out of devotion. He was a complete contrast to his brother-in-law Srinatha Kavi, an esteemed poet, who flourished with the blessings of the Royals who showered him with gifts in return for his loyalty.

The folk tradition of Telangana emerged from the simple songs of villagers who sang their woes away as they toiled day and night in the rural landscape to eke out a living. There were songs for agricultural activities, every season and reason, songs that celebrated happy occasions and those that ushered in festivals and outlined nature’s bounty. Harikathas, Yakshagana, Oggu Kathalu and other forms of narrating epics and fables spurred literary works that were simple in form but rooted in devotion.

A compilation of poetry by 354 poets from Telangana in a special edition titled ‘Golconda Poets Edition’ by Poet, Scholar and Researcher Suravaram Pratapa Reddy was a herculean effort to bring to light poets who made amazing contributions to literature but remained unknown. Ironically history had a major role to play in the course that the Telugu language would take in Telangana. Under the Nizam, Telugu was phased out and Urdu was made the medium of instruction.

The Andhra Mahasabha movement, which emerged here began as a struggle for the revival of the Telugu language and gradually took on political overtones due to the atrocities of the Razaakars, the police and the zamindars under the autocratic rule of the Nizam. Revolutionary poetry inspired by patriotic feelings took birth during this period and the great poet Daasarathi Krishnamacharyulu, whose love for Telangana is well-known, was a product of this ferment.

A prolific writer who encapsulated the spirit of Telangana, Daasarathi’s command over Urdu resulted in works like ‘Ghalib Geetaalu’ and the Telugu Rubayi inspired by the Persian style that enriched Telugu literature. The list of eminent scholars, whose works enriched Telugu literature is long but it would be apt to recall another proponent of the Urdu style, Janapeeth awardee Dr C Narayana Reddy whose “Telugu ghazals” formed an important part of his prolific literature. Kaloji Narayana Rao, who lives on as “Praja Kavi” (People’s poet) through literature that reverberates with love for the language and the region is another poet, who remains dear to the people of the State.

Despite the focus on Telangana, a World Telugu Conference that has delegates from all over the world remains incomplete if it fails to acknowledge the immense contribution of luminaries from other regions. The Chairman of the Telangana Sahitya Akademi and the World Telugu Conference Nandini Siddha Reddy sums up the underlying unity of all Telugus as he emphatically states that the development of Telugu is the main aim of the conference. “The Telugu language is unique. Despite regional differences and the emergence of two Telugu States, the basic tenets of the language remain. The beauty of the language is enhanced with newer insights only when all dialects are given equal importance,” he adds.

Nannayya, Thikkana, the eight literary gems of Krishnadevaraya’s court, Gurajada Appa Rao, Gidugu Venkata Ramamurthy, Jananpeeth awardee, Viswanatha Satyanarayana, Puttaparthi Narayanacharyulu, Tirupati Venkata Kavulu, Chaso, Karunasri, Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao, Aarudhra, Sri Sri, the long list of literary greats spawning different times from the other Telugu State cannot be forgotten. Non-inclusion of writers from other regions in various panels ostensibly to undo decades of injustice meted out to Telangana, stands out as a sore thumb in otherwise well-intended celebrations.

However, past glory is only part of the story. The sad reality is the dwindling number of youngsters speaking Telugu, leave alone studying it. It is no secret that a language that is not in use faces a slow death. The continuation of a language is indicated by the frequency of its use in daily life. Central Information Commissioner Madabhushi Sreedhar is of the opinion that literature serves a limited purpose in the development of a language.

This becomes feasible only when it is used as an administrative language. In an article on what he expects from the conference, he calls for a sustained department to monitor the language and update it with new words borrowed from other languages. “Every year the Oxford dictionary provides an update on new words and their origin. A similar effort should be undertaken so that Telugu can evolve as a vibrant and dynamic language. Telugus from different countries of the world have to explain how they will preserve their mother tongue in their respective countries. They have to provide a roadmap for saving the language,” he says.

Grandiose speeches made by governments are rarely followed by action and Telugu signboards and its use as an administrative language harped on time and again by State governments, unfortunately, remain in the realm of words. Telugu as the medium of instruction in government and municipal schools and as a compulsory subject in all English medium schools is imperative for its survival. Setting up the Southern Regional Language Centre at Hyderabad at the earliest to secure funds earmarked for the classical language can provide a fillip to research and infuse fresh vigour. Encouraging children’s literature and inculcating the love of reading among a generation addicted to “Google” is a challenge that needs to be addressed.

Authentic dictionaries for Telugu words explained in context are invaluable as tools aiding better understanding. It is hoped that intellectuals, writers, researchers and artists will come up with suggestions that address these basic requirements in their deliberations at the World Conference.

We are aware that all forms of music – classical, folk and film, dance, theatre and communication enriched by the richness of the Telugu language have left a deep impact on the world. As our world becomes a global village and technology makes learning and access to material easy it is hoped that Telugu will interest both native speakers as well as citizens of the world. It is appropriate to recall the beautiful lines by Janapeeth awardee Dr C Narayana Reddy in this context:
“Kadali anchulu daati kadalindi Telugu
Yadala lothulu meeti, yegasindi Telugu
Ye Basha chenukaina, ye yaasa chinukaina
Thanalona kalupukuni taralindi Telugu”
(The Telugu language has crossed our shores, striking a deep chord in our hearts, infused with dynamism and enriched by amalgamation of words from different dialects and languages).

Disguised in Telangana’s quest for identity is a deeper quest for revival and resurgence of a language that captivates through its nectar-like sweetness, the pace of which will be set in motion by the World Telugu Conference.

By: Aruna Ravikumar

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