The theme for International Women’s Day 2018 is ‘Time is now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives’. Women Empowerment has always been the goal set to achieve by the womenfolk. Empowerment also includes the free will and decision making of women in their lives.
The women in letters!
Such strong and determined characters emerged in the literature of many languages. Telugu literature too has some of these iconic characters. A character is defined to be strong as the one that is determined in decision making and that which influences the society and people around her. The writer who pens down such a strong characters must be socially aware and conscious and must have an overall view of the society around him or her. The writer should believe and strive that his character brings a change in the attitude of the readers.
The wife in this story is such a virtuous woman that she asks her husband to return the money he took from his master’s house. She is not into greed and by making her husband return the money she not only proves her character but also helps to enhance her husband’s honesty.
As we all know the characters in the stories of Gurajada Apparao; Kamalini in ‘Diddubatu’ who gently corrects her husband’s waywardness, and Nancharamma in ‘Devullaaraa Mee Peremiti?’ who with her presence of mind saves the lives of her husband and father-in-law from the hands of the religious fanatics who force them to cross through a fire pit.
Matilda in the story of the same name is a woman who is determined to save her marriage and Sarala in the story ‘Stooping to Raise’ is a knowledgeable woman who questions Ranganathayyar about the lives of prostitutes. The questions are not only to the man but to the society.
And Madhuravani from his play ‘Kanyasulkam’ undoubtedly makes her mark in the pages of Telugu literature as the modern woman icon, Gurajada dreams of. She takes the lead in saving the life of the young girl Subbi from the child marriage proposed by her avaricious father for high bride price.
The women characters of Chalam – Aruna (‘Aruna’) and Rajeswari (‘Maidanam’) stand as the representatives of women with determination. They make the decisions and stand by them withstanding all the controversies around them. The character of Suseela from the story of the same name is a memorable one. Though she is attracted to Suleman the young policeman, she decides to stay back with her husband Narayanappa to support him in the noble cause of freedom fight.
The characters of Savitri and Urvasi from Chalam’s plays represent the intelligent and intellectual women, who with their free will and action stand exemplary. The poignant pen portraits of Chaso in his short fiction began to appear since 1942. The women in his stories ‘Elurellali’, ‘Lady Karunakaram’, ‘Ponee Thinu’, ‘Buggi Budidamma’ give us a glimpse of the mind of the poor and lower-middle-class women of Telugu society.
Rachakonda Viswanadha Sastry’s robust characters; to cite one from ‘Rattalu Rambabu’ the incomplete saga of the lumpen strata of society. Mutyalu, the associate of the heroine (Rattalu), comes out with flying colours, while facing odds and vulnerable situations, that are so common in the dark corners of society.
Another character of Suseela from his famous play ‘Nijam’ is a strong one that questions the four pillars of dishonesty, deceit, despotism and draconian mindset of the authoritarian sections of the society represented by Sarvabhoumarao.
Some of the characters like Radha (Mohanavamsi) and ‘Varija’ (Varija) of the renowned writer Latha too can be stated exemplary for love and sacrifice. The character of Shantha from the novel ‘Athadu Ame’ of Uppala Lakshmana Rao remains an icon of a woman with social consciousness and principles.
Even a woman of advanced age, a character Sitamma in Chaganti Tulasi’s novelette ‘Yatra’ reviews the relationships in life and the value of prudence and common sense in making them long standing between the young and old generations. And the ways and means she adapts and advises to a woman of similar age group are very positive and of generation blending nature.
There are many women characters from pulp fiction too in Telugu literature which had influence and are very near and dear to the readers. Characters like Jayanthy (Secretary, novel) of Yaddhanapudi Sulochanarani, and Latha (Premanagar, novel) of Arikepudi Koduri Kausalya Devi, are few ones who are resolute and stand as icons of middle-class women fighting the ways of the rich class domination.
The character of Geetha Devi of Vaddera Chandi Das’s Himajwala, remains in our hearts as the strong-willed woman. Her independent attitude and free will to choose her way of life make her memorable. Her choice to be unbound by the customs and conventions of the patriarchal society makes us remember her as an independent woman. She is the modern educated free-willed woman, who chooses to spend her life in an aesthetic manner. Geethadevi seems to be the extension of Chalam’s Aruna and Rajeswari as she is more educated and economically independent and had the power to rule her own life.
The characters of eminent feminist writer Volga such as the epic women characters from Ramayana reinterpreted in her Sahitya Akademi-winning book ‘Vimuktha’ and the protagonist Vasantha from the novel ‘Manavi’, too stand as characters of exemplary women. Her recent biographical novel ‘Gamaname Gamyam’ in which Doctor Achamamba (the niece of Bandaru Achamamba) stands as a trendsetting example of a live character.
As the theme of this International Women’s Day is rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives, the apt example will be of the lead role from the novel ‘Vendimegham’ of Saleem, the famous writer and a Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award recipient. The protagonist Anwar Begum is a Muslim woman who stands as a powerful role model to the modern woman.
‘Vendimegham’ is the first Telugu novel which is woven around the life of Muslim women. The two characters Anwar and Kulsumbi (Anwar’s mother-in-law) are the two women who give a good fight to make their lives. Anwar a young girl of eleven who is married off to a man older to her about twenty-five years, finds herself lost in this vast male-dominated society. The story is of this little girl who grows up into a full-fledged intellectual woman.
In all her pursuits it is Kulsumbi her mother-in-law who stands by her in support. Both of them fight against the domination of Bhasha, Anwar’s husband and Kulsumbi’s son. In her lifelong fight to establish her existence and prove herself Anwar emerges successful as a woman farmer, and also as an educationist who establishes a school for the girls to teach them Telugu and Urdu.
In spite of her eligibility and chance to get a teaching job with her educational qualifications, she deliberately chooses to take up agriculture. She achieves success as a farmer withstanding all the odds of life. She faces the personal and social problems fearlessly, inspiring her granddaughter the young Kulsum to take up the profession of a lawyer to fight for the rights of women.
Another two characters from the Sahitya Akademi-winning novel of Saleem himself are Sudhira and Nagamani of ‘Kaluthunna Poolathota’. This is a story of Sudhira who is wayward in her sexual life and finally, when she is terminally infected by HIV, she realises her mistake. She calls and writes to all the men who had physical contact with her and tells them with all human concern to get a health checkup.
And Nagamani is the poor uneducated woman whose husband and son are killed by HIV and she too is infected. But she never gives up and takes up the mission of creating awareness of AIDS in the public, for the rest of her life. Characters like Damayanthi (from ‘Damayanthi Kuturu’), of senior writer P Satyavathi and the woman who forgets her name in the story ‘What is My Name’ by the same writer, are of significance. Women characters of another senior writer V Pratima too stand as examples.
Bringing the vignettes of the rural backdrop of a village Chodavaram, Palamma by Chintakindi Srinivasa Rao a distinct voice of the region provides interesting reading. Women characters from the writers KN Malleswari’s Ramya (from Jeevithaniko Software, award-winning novel) and A Sitaratnam’s fiction too stand on par as examples of strong women characters.
‘The Lost Game’, a short story of this essayist depicting a protagonist who though suffers the loss of an arm in communal riots-oriented bomb explosions, decides in favour of life and opts to participate resolutely, in the face of mindless terrorism declaring to them, point blank that theirs will be a ‘lost game’ in the progress of human civilisation.
Much before the advent of feminism, the concern about women shown by the writers of either sex is a well-established trend in Telugu literature, since last century. On the eve of the International Women’s Day as the American writer, Alice Walker coined “Womanism” should remain a triumphant flag in the hands of the women of the world.
The writer is a bi-lingual poet, translator, and columnist.