Author: With a foreward by Mini Krishnan
"Moisture Trapped in a Stone" | A glimpse into the world of Telugu short stories
In a bid to introduce Telugu short stories to the world, KN Rao’s collection is a tribute to the stalwarts of Telugu literature, writes Mohammed Shafeeq.
Short stories in regional languages mostly represent their respective cultures, with words deeply rooted in that particular language and culture. When translated into other languages, especially English, it is a challenge to find equivalent terms while retaining the original essence and message. Kasukhela Narasimha Rao or KN Rao, a nonagenarian, has managed to overcome this mammoth challenge while translating 28 selected short stories written by the stalwarts of yesteryears, as also new authors making waves in the realm of Telugu literature.
The book, featuring 17 writers, including nine women, provides non-Telugu readers with an essential insight into the world of Telugu short stories. The rich diversity of the selected stories, ranging from the serious to the satirical, from light-hearted humour to the gravely discursive, makes it all the more interesting. The stories are about everyday lives and ordinary people, highlighting the issues confronting society and covering a wide spectrum of topics—from feudalistic prejudices to present-day problems and realities, every story has something fascinating to tell.
For instance ‘A Gift of Gingelly Seeds’ (original Telugu title ‘Tiladanam’) by Rentala Nageswara Rao is about a poor Brahmin priest struggling to make both ends meet and his Maoist son who has gone underground. ‘The Citadel in Disrepair’(‘Koolina Bruzu’) by Kethu Vishwanath Reddy highlights how factional violence ruined a village in the Rayalaseema region of Andhra Pradesh.
‘The Meticulous Calculator’ (‘Lekkala Mastaru’) by Vasundhara is an interesting story of a man for whom maths is an anathema, and his wife, who is a master in doing calculations. ‘The Cover’ (‘Dakkan’) is about the travails of a Muslim family that migrates to Hyderabad for a livelihood and is caught in the swirl of communal tension.
The story that gives the book its title, ‘Moisture Trapped in a Stone’ (‘Raathilo Thema’) by Madhurantakam Rajaram, describes how the wife of a feudal lord questions his decisions and saves a group of people from persecution. ‘The Homing Pigeon’ (‘Aedarilo Koyila’) by Madhurantakam Rajaram captures the journey of a youth to a remote village in Rayalaseema in search of his roots.
In fact, seven stories by Rajaram form a part of this anthology. "I am a great admirer of Rajaram. Most of his stories are about the teaching community," said Rao, who retired as a lecturer in a college in Chennai. Rajaram, one of the foremost modern Telugu short story writers, was the winner of the Sahitya Akademi award in 1993. Six of the stories in the anthology are by Vasundhara, the pen name of Dr Jonnalagadda Rajagopala Rao, a retired scientist.
KN Rao is himself a short story writer in Telugu and his stories were published in magazines. "But I am not a prolific writer," he says humbly. The 94-year-old was a teacher of Botany and an author of 30 books on the subject, most of them in English. He was in no way connected with English literature. However, the love for his mother tongue Telugu and his urge to introduce Telugu writers and their short stories to the outside world made him take up the task of translation. He feels that Telugu short stories are not as popular as the short stories in other South Indian languages. He always believed that Telugu stories and the writers deserved their due recognition. He pointed out that ‘Galivana’, a short story by his teacher Palagummi Padmaraju, was adjudged the second-best in a world short story competition conducted by the New York Herald Tribune in 1952.
The centenary of Telugu short stories in 2011 provided a spark to take up the pen and translate some of the stories in English. He translated and printed 53 stories in four volumes with one of the volumes dedicated to women writers. He then thought of publishing an anthology and approached Mini Krishnan, Translations Editor, Oxford University Press (India), who backed the idea. KN Rao says he received immense help from editor Gita Rajan in picking up the selected short stories and giving them their desired shape.
"If this helps in getting recognition for Telugu short stories and the writers, I will feel I have done something," KN Rao added.