From farmer suicides to religious politics, the book ‘Telugu - The Best Stories of our Times’ resonates with the current era
The book has been edited by Volga and translated by Alladi Uma and M Sridhar
The lives of Shakeel and Attar Nayyab are entwined in communal politics. Decades-long friendship of Jaffer and Ramarao is threatened because of the religious misgivings of their children. Gaviramma fights to not repay the loan for a benami land in her name, and an anonymous protagonist resorts to infidelity to bear the heir for her in-laws when they refuse to believe their son is impotent. These characters become one with you as you turn the pages of Telugu - The Best Stories of our Times, edited by Volga and translated by Alladi Uma and M Sridhar.
From farmer suicides and honour killings to caste and religious politics, the stories, despite not being explicit about the year or decade in which it is set in, resonate with the current climes. “Since three decades our society has been going from bad to worse. So, the story written about bad days can easily connect with the story about the worst days; continuity will be there. I am not a cynic nor are the writers. But to depict reality is their responsibility,” says Volga.
Attention to stories
Calling the selection of 26 stories “the most difficult task for me” the septuagenarian says, “I read every Telugu story published in magazines and short story anthologies. But for this book, I made a special effort of reading a few hundred stories and selected 60 authors. After that, I selected 60 stories. My subjectivity ended there. I began looking into various identities of authors and stories. Yes, it is a political choice. Even then it was a hard task. Though my personal feelings got in the way, I believe that personal is political.” Themes and writers were never a choice for Volga. The story was. And she wanted non-Telugu readers to connect to them. “The times, socio-political environment of our society, various discriminations operating ruthlessly, economic disparities, lack of equal opportunities, destruction of agriculture fields and rural life, writers had no choice but to write about these themes. So I have no choice except to select from those themes,” she says.
Even with these themes, it wouldn’t be wrong to state that caste and religion were important tools that shaped society in a Telugu land. And it continues to, across the country. Concurring, Volga rues, “Today caste and religion are the key issues for writers to tackle with. Even love stories are becoming horror stories because of honour killings. Literature always reflects society. These stories are doing the same.”
For this book, instead of stringing the words in an impeccable language, Volga chose to weave a few local words, some transliterations and colloquialism. This makes the stories more relatable for readers from beyond the Telugu borders.
“Each writer has her/his unique style depending on her/his socio-cultural, political, religious, educational and other backgrounds including that of gender. Linguists now agree that there cannot be one standard dialect by which one measures other dialects. Telugu writers have strongly responded to the above factors. Traditional Telugu readers may have had problems accepting the styles in which the writers had expressed themselves. And yet they have had their impact on the Telugu reading public. We wanted to get the individual flavours of the originals to the best of our ability, even if we were to give up on what is generally termed as their “readability” in English,” she elaborates.
For Uma and Sridhar, despite working with her previously, collaborating with Volga for Harper Perennial’s first translated work was a special one. “We have had a long association with her, having translated her short stories in the book, Woman Unbound, published in 1997. Since then she has been one of our sources for identifying texts for our many translation projects. She was open to differences of opinion on various aspects of Telugu literature. During the process of translating this volume too she has given her inputs on our drafts and also put us in touch with writers we did not know so that we could clarify some of our queries,” they say.
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Price: Rs. 499