With five of his novels being republished this month, well known Telugu author and former Press Chief of the U.S. Consulate in Chennai, Maganti Koteswara Rao talks about how he balanced fiction writing and his career in public relations.

In the Telugu literary world, he is simply known as “Maganti.” He has authored seven best-selling novels in Telugu, several plays, short-stories and poems. His novels have been translated into Tamil and Kannada. He was a journalist in leading Telugu dailies for 10 years from 1975. He began his career in journalism in the Eenadu group under the tutelage of Ramoji Rao. He was a newscaster for ETV from its studio in Chennai for about two years when the ETV was launched. He knows well leaders in politics, films, government, business and media and they include former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu and the late Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy. Maganti is an old friend of film actor Chiranjeevi and knows Chiranjeevi's brothers Nagababu and Pavan Kalyan from their younger days. Maganti acted as an official interpreter to U.S. President George W. Bush when Bush visited the Agricultural University in Hyderabad in March 2006. The then Chief Minister Rajasekhara Reddy and Maganti even rehearsed the event the previous day with a U.S. official “acting” as President Bush!

But there is another side to Maganti Koteswara Rao. He served the U.S. Consulate in Chennai for 25 years before opting for voluntary retirement on July 23, 2010 at the age of 55. He joined the U.S. Consulate as Media Editor for Andhra Pradesh and rose to become its Press and Media Chief for south India. After a gap of five years, he is all set now, as he said, to take to the technology of fiction-writing again.

Quality of work

“We cannot totally rule out the impact of television on novels and the reading habits of people,” Koteswara Rao said in an interview. “Even the mobile phone has altered the reading habits of people. But it is not the end of the world. You should know what kind of fiction will interest the television serial-generation of the day. It is just simple mathematics and you will achieve success if you make the calculations well. It is always the writer and the quality of his/her work that decides the market value of the novel. A good writer can even reverse the trend. People may not switch off the television serial to read a novel. But they will invent some time to read a novel if it is interesting. So I never blame the readers for their reading habits. I have to be blamed if I am not able to draw their attention,” argued Rao.

His first work was a three-hour stage play that he wrote at the age of 20. A leading Telugu magazine had announced a play-writing competition. While going to his college, Rao used to watch the lives of nomadic tribesmen who lived on the sides of the village roads. They were “Pamulavallu,” (Snake charmers), “Gangireddulavallu” (men who train decorated bulls), and “Mandulavallu” (tribals who go round selling herbal medicines). “I worked day and night for four days on this theme. My mother fed me at the writing table itself. My father guarded my room from my ever-intruding friends. My experience as an actor and director of small plays in college helped me with the technique of writing plays for the stage,” said Rao.

He finished the play a couple of hours before the deadline. As he reached the magazine office in Vijayawada around 5.00 p.m., the security man at the gate said the time was up. Rao pleaded with him to allow him to talk to the editor on the intercom. When he walked into the editor's room - a famous literary figure - the editor was surprised to see a thin, young man clutching the manuscript in his hand. When the results were announced, Rao's play had won the second prize. The theatre-group “Jana Natyamandali” of Avanigadda in Krishna district staged it with high quality production values in several centres. Later, Rao worked as a senior sub-editor in the same magazine under the same editor!

As a novelist, Rao chooses first-of-its-kind subjects. “I never attempt subjects already dwelt upon by others,” he said. His novel, The Game, had cricket as a complete backdrop when cricketer Azharuddin was in his element. It was serialised in Udayam and became such a hit that he was asked to continue the serial for six more months. The Future was based on astrology, palmistry, numerology and vaastu. Neither a believer nor a non-believer in astrology, Rao researched the subject for six months before he wrote this novel. His Bandukam Sandhyaragam (Guns and Butterflies) dealt with human rights. He wrote a sci-fi novel too, called Jala Jala Ragam. Another novel Mantra Pushpam was a thriller dealing with gold hunt in Nallamala forests in Andhra Pradesh. The other novels were I.L.U. 143 and Oka Pula Banam (An Arrow of Flowers). Five of these novels are being republished by Emesco Books by the end of October 2010.

Rao is now writing two more novels, which have not yet been titled. One deals with man's confrontation with Nature. Rao does not want to reveal the theme of the other novel. “I am experimenting with social themes in popular fiction. I was the first person to blend the subject of human rights with popular fiction and I am using novels to spread social consciousness,” he said. In yet another future novel, he proposes to deal with the theme of hunger.

Difficult day

His most difficult and most pleasant day in journalism happened like this. He had interviewed actor Chiranjeevi when he was doing supporting roles and before his first film was to be released. The interview, along with Chiranjeevi's photograph, was published in a Telugu film weekly owned by a newspaper group. But the Chief Editor reprimanded Rao for his “immature judgement” in publishing an interview with “a small actor” even before his first film was released and made an insinuation about Rao's integrity.

Four years later, the same editor called Rao and told him, “Our management, which has some interests in film distribution, has difficulty in getting Chiranjeevi's films for distribution. Chiranjeevi respects you so much. Why don't you talk to him and do your best in this issue?”

After a gap of five years, he is migrating again from the science of public relations to the technology of fiction-writing. With the mushrooming of newspapers, television channels, news portals, social networking sites, blogs and mobile messaging, public relations was no more an art form but had become a science, he said. With globalisation, growth of cinema and television, fiction-writing had become a technology than an art form, he argued.

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