Telugu short stories get a thrust

Anthologist and translator Dasu Krishnamoorty’s book ‘The Greatest Telugu Stories Ever Told’ provides a tapestry of Telugu experiences for readers

Updated - April 08, 2022 03:39 pm IST

Published - April 08, 2022 03:38 pm IST

Dasu Krishnamoorty with daughter Tamraparni Dasu

Dasu Krishnamoorty with daughter Tamraparni Dasu | Photo Credit: By arrangement

The Greatest Telugu Stories Ever Told (Aleph Book Company) gives us a glimpse into the vast Telugu literary realm. Spanning almost a century of literary works by some of the finest writers of short stories, the collection mirrors the Telugu-speaking people’s perspective of the world.

Co-authored by anthologist and translator Dasu Krishnamoorty with his daughter Tamraparni Dasu, the anthology contains works of 21 writers, right from Chalam and Kanuparthi Varalakshmamma to Vempalli Gangadhar and Vempalle Shareef.

The anthology

The anthology | Photo Credit: Arranged

Influence on society

Elaborating on the criteria in selecting the stories, the writers say they looked for agents of change. “Vempalle Shariff’s ‘Curtain’, for example, is a diatribe against the norms that keep Muslim women behind a curtain of patriarchy and prevent them from participating in the wider society. Sometimes, the story is so compelling in its cathartic message that it requires no other reason than its merit to be included. ‘Mother’s Debt’ (Mohammed Khadeer Babu) and ‘Predators’ (Syed Saleem) both highlight the wretched lives of those compelled to live in poverty at the edges of society,” says 93-year-old Krishnamoorty, connecting with us from New Jersey.

On picking works of writers like Kanuparthi, Illindala Saraswati Devi, Achanta Sarada Devi and Chalam — who wrote about social inequity — Krishnamoorty says the new generation of writers continues to push that fight forward in new directions and become active instruments of social change, as evidenced by Boya Jangiah, Jajula Gowri and others. “Writers alone cannot cause a change but are certainly a big part of the process,” he says.

 On being asked if some writers are either overrated or underrated, Tamraparni responds, “All the writers in the anthology, and many more that could not be included, deserve their reputation and accolades. The younger ones are perhaps underrated simply because the world doesn’t know of them yet. We hope that our anthology helps them gain the recognition they deserve.”

Diverse works

The anthology includes works by six Muslims, five women and five Dalits. Krishnamoorthy says their objective was to provide a platform for the diverse collection of talent particularly in underrepresented communities. “Telugu Muslims have always been a beacon of literary excellence. Only they can write with such passion and knowledge about their lived experience that comes through with such heart-wrenching intensity in ‘Adieu, Ba’ and ‘A Mother’s Debt’,” he adds.

Speaking of the challenges in translating, Tamraparni says, “Translation is inherently tricky; matching the idiom of the original with an equivalent one in English, rather than a literal translation; finding the equivalent of unique words, for example a word like ‘thaayilam’ (a special treat, typically sweet, for a child) in Dada Hayat’s ‘The Truant’; retaining the voice of the original writer intact; avoiding the temptation to editorialise or tamp down unorthodox content as in Chalam’s ‘Madiga Girl’; how to preserve the musicality of the original language, as in ‘Molakala Punnami’.”

Describing working with her father as a high octane experience, Tamraparni says story selection was a point of contention. “Some of the differences were generational, and some were temperamental. We agreed on most stories but there were four or five that needed energetic debate,” she adds.

Support system

Krishnamoorty had moved to the US to live with his daughter’s family after he lost his wife and there, he found translation a way to stay engaged to tide over the tough period. “He brought an amazing level of intensity and enthusiasm to it even though he was almost 80 at that time,” says Tamraparni who along with her father, launched a literary non-profit organisation, IndiaWrites Publishers, to support the translation of contemporary Indian short fiction into English. Together they also published a monthly online literary magazine, Literary Voices of India, for several years. And 15 years later, the father-daughter duo published their second anthology The Greatest Telugu Stories Ever Told. ”I am grateful that translation has given me such a stimulating and rewarding experience to share with my father,” says Tamraparni. 

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