Mahakavi Gurajada Apparao

Happy “Telugu Language Day” once again 🙂

One of my biggest regrets is that I’m not very proficient in my mother tongue – Telugu. Though I can speak and read Telugu, I can hardly write in it (due to lack of practice) and am not well read in Telugu literature. This is because I grew up in Bengaluru and was more exposed to Kannada and Hindi in school.

However, I’m also not as proficient as I’d like to be in Hindi and Kannada as well. It’s really sad that most of us Indians no longer give much importance to learning our own languages and reading our literature. We’re too carried away by English and “foreign languages” and think we can’t gain much by learning our own languages. I invested a lot of time learning French and Italian, and now wish I’d spent my time on one foreign language and one Indian language. It’s indisputable that one must be well versed in English, but that needn’t be at the cost of one’s own language. Humans are naturally multilingual, and we must take advantage of this fact and master as many as we can.

Needless to say it’s very important to preserve our languages and read the rich literature that they offer, because culture and language are inextricably linked and if one disappears, the other will too. We spend a lot of time fighting over language issues when we don’t really need to. We can use link languages like English and Hindi when we meet other Indians whose mother tongues are different from ours, and try to speak in our own native languages when we meet people from our own state – it’s such a simple solution. Like I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, knowing more languages and using them does a lot of good to us intellectually and even health-wise. People who know more languages and are more proficient, turn out to be much better at problem solving and learning new concepts. They’re also less likely to suffer from dementia in old age.

Even if we’re not proficient in our mother tongue, a great way to get acquainted with our culture is to read the English translations of great Indian literary works. If we can read and enjoy Tolstoy in English without even knowing a single word of Russian, we can enjoy the books written in Indian languages as well.

So, I recently did some research on Gurajada Apparao (1862 – 1915) – one of the greatest Telugu writers of all time. He wrote the path-breaking play “Kanyasulkam” in 1892, which is considered the greatest play ever written in Telugu. Being one of the stalwarts in Telugu literature, he holds the titles “Kavisekhara” and “Abyudaya Kavitha Pithamahudu” (both mean “mahakavi” or “great poet”).

Surprisingly, Gurajada was an excellent but little known writer in English as well! He started his writing career in 1882 as a poet writing in English! His English poem “Sarangadhara” written in 1882 makes him one of the first Indo-English writers of India, preceding young Aurobindo, Tagore, and Sarojini Naidu.

The poem was first published in the “Indian Leisure Hour” at Vizianagaram, and subsequently published in Calcutta. He was a pioneering writer, very original and wrote in blank verse even back then. He also wrote the preface to his magnum opus “Kanyasulkam” in English. And like his contemporary poet Gidugu Ramamurthy, he believed that written Telugu must be simplified so that it can reach the masses.

Dr. Srinivas Sistla, who’s a Professor of Art History at the Andhra University in Vishakhapatnam has been doing a wonderful job of translating Telugu literary works into English. He has translated some of Gurajada’s short stories and the long classic poem “Amuktamalyada” written by Sri Krishna Deva Raya in the 16th century into English, among other works. I recently read his translation of the short stories and it was wonderful to get acquainted with a great writer like Gurajada via those stories. If you’re interested in reading translations of Telugu literature or knowing more on the topic, you can look for his books or contact him.

I hope to catch up on more of Telugu literature in the future and on Hindi literature as well. Right now, Hindi is the Indian language that I’m most proficient in and it also has a very vast and rich literature. I would encourage those of you who also have literary tastes to spare some time and explore Indian literature, it’s an immensely pleasurable and rewarding experience 🙂

Here’s a very small but beautiful excerpt from Gurajada’s long English poem “Sarangadhara”:

“With tempting hues the lilies blow
Upon the lake of Life;
But all below, unseen they grow
The weeds of sin and strife,
The plant of wealth on guile is grown
And watered is with sin;
The craft of power on blood is built
Its sails are puffed with din,
O not to me that power and wealth
O not to me the world;
In muddied streams there life doth flow
And vapours dim are curled,
Mine be these woods, these hills, these dales
Mine be the crystal stream;
Like wildbird in these happy vales
A happy heart I roam.”


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