English translation of ‘Sathyavathi Kadhalu’ was released recently in Vijayawada It is difficult for a writer of the wattage of Sathyavathi to press the pause button. Hardly had the reader finished reading her previous anthology, here she is offering an English translation of ‘Sathyavathi Kadhalu’, was released recently in Vijayawada. In half a century of storytelling, she has become a synonym for the short story. The stories hurl metaphysical questions at the reader.
In view of limited space, we take up a few of the listed stories that interpret her feminist philosophy. In ‘Damayanti’s Daughter’, the daughter talks about the tumult raging in her bosom, arising from the disappearance of her mother from home when she was still a school-going kid.
She relates the aftermath of the event and the rumour mill it has activated to a roommate. The part describing the daughter’s memories of missing a mother who would wait outside her house to hug the kid returning from school, the mother who allayed her coming of age anxieties was handled with finesse.
A paternal aunt joins the girl to cushion her pain. As her father remarries and brings the daughter a new mother, the aunt suggests matrimony. Intent upon proving to herself that her mother is not a runaway she rejects the aunt’s proposal. In an eloquent sentence, the writer unscrambles the young girl’s dilemma by making her brother say that she (the mother) had a right to choose her path.
Nameless is a story short in size, an elegy in prose on the anonymity of a class living on the edge of death, evoking the contempt of the haves and disdain in the corridors of power. A poor mother encourages her daughter aiming high to go to college so that it would get her a good husband.
One day, the girl fails to return home. The poor parents and her brother wear themselves out persuading the police to trace her. The police routinely summon them to identify unclaimed bodies and talk ill of girls reported missing. The parents are driven to such despair that they just are happy to know if the girl is dead or alive.
The passages relating to the emotional upheaval of the girl’s family torn between hope and despair and its ultimate surrender to destiny are touching.
‘Will He Come Home?’ is set in an unconventional dialogue format the writer adroitly pulls off. It is between Vijaya the mother and her grandmother Savitramma. Vijaya’s son, a student of engineering, always reaches home before it is dark. That day he has not returned even after the last of TV programmes is over after all the vehicles have pulled into the parking lot of the complex and the daily life in the neighbourhood has ebbed. Their imagination runs riot with the passage of every minute, projecting negative and mortal scenarios.
Why did the boy who always calls the mother if he is late failed to call now? Is he injured or killed in a road accident? If so, wouldn’t the police or a passerby inform them? The grandmother who saw more of life than her daughter pins her faith in hope. Nothing happens to alleviate the daughter’s fears. It is a day now, the doorbell rings and the grandmother frantically asks the servant maid to see if it is the boy.
The narrative never sags because of occasional humour. ‘City of Spells and City of Charms’ opens with a mother visiting America to see her daughter. The mother accompanies the daughter to a house warming bash where American gadgetry, Indian silks and gold are on display. An exchange of vanities follows.
From here the story meanders eclipsing the objective of highlighting NRI dilemmas of longing and belonging, visa problems and so on. It is the starting point of a free for all of storytelling, disparate and far-fetched accounts of human behaviour. The story defies categorisation. If there is a message in ending it with a pied paper selling capitalism it is not clear.
‘The Seven Colors of a Rainbow’ is Sathyavathi’s brand new story with two protagonists. It is about the generation gap and the impact colours make on the human psyche. Another message concerns the bane of outsourcing parental care. Swarna, the young girl in the story, has aspirations and the old woman she nurses is mesmerised by colours. They stoke nostalgia in her. The two interact like adversaries but reconcile to the inevitability of each for the other.
Hemalathamma recruits Swarna on behalf of a Subba Rao who runs an organisation that supplies nurses to take care of old people needing care. This is how the old woman and Swarna come together in a love and hate relationship. To serve the old woman is no picnic. The old woman is so handicapped she needs Swarna to bathe her, to wash her body after defecation, wash her faeces-smeared clothes.
But the centrepiece of the narrative is the old woman’s love of colours she sates by buying sarees in her favourite colours. The story shows Sathyavathi as an ace dialogist. Sathyavathi’s background as a short storyteller, playwright, feminist, essayist and columnist and the awards and laurels she keeps winning makes her the doyen of the Telugu short story establishment.