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Why Guruzada, the 19th century literary genius, is relevant even in 2017

By September 21, 2017No Comments

BV Radha Krishna, remembers the literary genius on his 155th birth anniversary today and talks about what made him translate Gurazada Apparao’s masterpiece, Kanyasulkam, into English

Replete with humour and sharp social commentary, Gurazada Apparao’s classic, Kanyasulkam still remains a masterpiece in Telugu literature for its relevance in present times. And on Gurazada’s 155th birth anniversary today, who better than BV Radha Krishna could talk about the literary genius?

Radha Krishna invited us into his beautiful home to talk about what makes the play, which was first staged in 1982, a timeless piece. Sipping chai and munching on murukulu, relishing the sound of chirping birds in his vast garden, we get talking. Ask him why he chose to painstakingly translate Kanyasulkam into English and he says, “One of the best ways to thoroughly read a book is to write it down. The only other way it is to translate it. It’s only then that the intricacies of the content and the words come out.”

Two young engineers that he was working with set him on the journey. “When I asked them if they have read the book, they said that they do not understand the mandalikam. It made me believe that there was a possibility of finding an audience for the English translation.”

When he got down to the task, he referenced a few translations, but discovered that the content had been carried forward, but the meaning of the words was lost. “It took me five years to translate the play. I had to call up various scholars to understand the meaning of certain words.”

But Radha Krishna believes that the most interesting aspect of Gurazada was that he used characters that the society deems ‘uncultured’ to utter the most profound things in the play. “There’s a dialogue in the book with one of the characters wondering why the Brahmins indulge in such secret illicit affairs. Another character responds that they would refrain from doing so if they had the chance to remarry. Then there’s a liquor shop owner in the play who utters a profound poem: ‘Drink drink until you fall onto the ground, what if you’re drunk when realisation dawns, the sober man will look at the drunkard.’ It made me wonder why a sober man would look at a drunkard; it can be taken as a frivolous poem. But when I dug deeper, I realised that Gurazada could have used symbolism to get his point across. He could be saying, if you’re immersed in any activity or profession, you should get deep into it like a drunkard fallen onto the ground. And when you become so engrossed, you will realise your own self. The fellow who hasn’t yet realised it yet is looking at the emancipated person,” he elucidates.

Talking about emancipation, the most liberated character in the play happens to be Madhuravani, a prostitute. “While her age isn’t explicitly discussed, she cannot be more than 23 or 24, and yet, she talks of great philosophies, of human relationships, and shows innumerable compassion for her fellow women. A person who would be considered as unethical by society is the most ethical person in this story. Gurazada proved morality of a person is the conscience’s measure of honesty.”

 Not only did Gurazada emphasise that one must not judge someone by their profession, but he also managed to pinpoint the unfortunate biases against women in the upper strata while showing how emancipated their counterparts in lower strata are. “He made sure to stress the fact that women’s emancipation is a must for any society; it’s not a choice,” he says.
 Beyond fighting for women’s liberation in the only way he could, Gurazada proved that one needn’t be a slave to language. “He wrote Kanyasulkam in colloquial Telugu when a more stylised version of it was the norm back then. By employing scholarship and authority, do not be a slave to language is what he proved.”
Apart from Kanyasulkam, the author has many other plays and poems to his name, even in English. One of his poems, Deshamunu Preminchumanna, written in 1910 describes patriotism better than what we perceive it to be now. “Jana Gana Mana wasn’t written for the country; it was written for George the fourth when he came to India. But Gurazada defined patriotism as beyond saluting the flag and showing superficial respect. Working for agricultural prosperity, producing high quality products that will be sold at different markets of the world, working towards the nation by putting aside differences and looking forward instead of behind are themes he touched upon,” Radha Krishna points out.


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