It’s not uncommon for eminent writers to emerge from a background of poverty and little education. It is however rare that the simplicity enshrined in the works of such writers be recognised and awarded at the highest levels. Eminent Telugu novelist, short story writer, poet and critic Ravuri Bharadwaja has achieved this rare feat by winning the prestigious Jnanpith award for 2012 for his contribution to Telugu literature.
The news brought cheer not only because Ravuri Bharadwaja is only the third Telugu writer to have won the prestigious award, but also because it caps a lifetime of writing for the commoner, for the downtrodden, for literature-challenged reader, sans literary affectations, reflecting the tough life the writer had himself experienced. If the late Viswanatha Satyanarayana won the Jnanpith for his scholarly SrimadRamayana Kalpavriksham (1970) and C. Narayana Reddy for his epic poem Viswambhara (1988), Ravuri’s novel Paakudu Raallu delves deep into the harsh realities of a life behind the screen in the film industry. The book was a trend setter in the genre.
Throughout his life Ravuri had sought out the common man, both as subject and reader. Speaking to The HinduFriday Review , Ravuri delves into his life and choices. “I always wanted to write about the common man, his concerns and anxieties. If I can touch his life by telling his story, then I will touch his heart; that’s all I ever wanted to do,” he says, adding, “There are many ways of writing about the common man’s condition, but I chose to tell it through stories.”
Struggle, poverty and stories have been a common thread in Ravuri’s life. If poverty compelled him to discontinue studies after Std. VII, it did not stop him from reading books and stories – be it pulp fiction like detective novels or the more mature liberating stories of writer-philosopher Chalam. The move from Moguluru village in Paritala jagir (under the former Hyderabad state) to culturally-vibrant Tenali was a turning point in Ravuri’s life. Though he did odd jobs there as a field worker, labourer in factories, orphanages, printing press for livelihood, Ravuri also came into contact with writers Tripuraneni Gopichand, Chalam, Aluri Bhujanga Rao and more.
His struggle for existence even led him to get his works published. Writing began in his mid-teens, with his style still inspired by Chalam. His quest for his own voice and subjects that interested him led to “write something new, in a different way” he says. His style evolved through his journey in journalism. Ever since he joined the editorial staff of Zamin Rythu , a popular weekly, in 1946, and through his stints at Jyothi, Abhisarika, Rerani, Chitraseema Sameeksha and Yuva the periodicals , till 1959, Ravuri had been writing short stories and essays, appreciating the need to be reader-friendly.
His career stabilised when he joined the All India Radio at the behest of Tripuraneni Gopichand as a junior script writer in 1959. By the time he had retired from AIR in 1987, Ravuri had turned producer and writer of radio plays, stories and features on various themes. Among a production that stands out, he recalls, “In Dhwani Sahitya Samiksha Karyakramam, I explored the history of Telugu language and how it evolved under the influence of other languages which fascinated me.”
Hs love of writing remained unfettered by professional commitments; no wonder the 86-year-old writer has to his credit 37 collections of short stories, 17 novels, six short novels for children and eight plays. In them, there is ample evidence of his love for lucid writing embellished with subtle characterisation, original plots and psychological realism. He has also contributed profusely to children's literature.
“My writing for the media and periodicals made me appreciate simple writing. What’s the use of writing in an incomprehensible way? Who will understand? If he doesn’t understand, why will he relate to it?” Jeevana Samaram another of his popular works, addresses the concerns of the downtrodden.
His pragmatic decision to reach out to the lay reader developed into an informed conviction. He elaborates, “Back in the 60s and 70s when I wrote a lot, there were no buyers and very few people read magazines and books, so if they couldn’t understand, there was no point in writing. Even though publishing and selling is easier now, I still think simple writing is more effective; if you can tell a story in a common man’s language, it will reach out and make him feel and think.”
Then he adds with his characteristic humility, “Maybe I avoided lofty language because I am not very well read; high literature is beyond my comprehension.”
His lack of formal education notwithstanding, Ravuri Bharadwaja has been awarded honorary doctorates from Andhra, Nagarjuna and Jawaharlal Nehru Technological Universities for his literary prowess. His books are prescribed for B.A and M.A and several Ph.D degrees have been awarded for research on his works. He has the distinction of receiving the State Sahitya Academy Award for Literature twice (1968 and 1983) and Central Sahitya Academy Award (1983). He was the first recipient of the Gopichand Literary Award (1968) and Rajalakshmi Award for Literature (1987). He was chosen for Lok Nayak Foundation’s Literary Award (2009). Clearly the Jnanpith has been long in coming.