Jul 251992
 

* * *

[A fictitious letter posted from USA. The "I" in this letter is not me. You can’t catch me dead writing such a letter!! — rama ]

Spring Field,  March 14, 1993.

To:
Annavaram,
Andhra Pradesh, India.

Dear Prasad,

I apologize for not writing you for a long time. I know it is such a standard beginning, but the truth is I don’t know where all the free time disappears, but I seem to be too busy even when I am doing nothing.

Actually, I do. It takes too much energy to write a letter. I start getting mushy and you know I hate it. It took years of education to develop this cynicism laced with some world-weariness. Yes, I started acquiring it in IIT itself, as you commented.

It is no denying that I miss home. Oh, not really my parents and all those relatives. What I really miss is a full society. I mean, there I could count my friends from all sorts of socio-economic backgrounds. We used to hang around the cycle shop and the hotels. Do you remember Venkaiah, the Rickshaw puller next to our house? I certainly never can dream of having a Rickshaw-puller and Arrak contractor as neighbours here.

To tell you truth, I have no idea what my neighbours do. I have a large set of friends from the Telugu Diaspora, but most of them write software. Some actually treat patients too. But nobody pulls a rickshaw, nobody is an arrak contractor, nobody teaches tuitions. It is not that there are no rickshaw-pullers (or the equivalents thereof) here. It is just that the hyper-spatial society I function, there are no such people. Even the dissenting opinions are so predictable, that the human experience seems so linear.

Well, actually it is not that bad. I have made great friends here and came in touch with vibrant minds here. At times, I find that such vibrancy becoming socially irrelevant.

There I did it. Again. I will stop that.

How are things there? Are you people still planning on the "ugaadi kavi samme’Lanam" this year? Do you remember how we participated in that one year? With all those people reading ugaadee, ugaadee, our song was a big hit. You even teased me a bit about you know who singing

taLukkumannadi naa sogasu.
tabbibbayyindi nee manasu

[Let me assure you it is in just unadulterated nostalgia I am quoting that incident. I forgot about that girl very soon! Honest!!]

This year ugaadi function is being held somewhere near the local temple. They will have excellent dances here. But there won’t be any kavisammELanam.

It might look a bit silly when I am supposed to write you about me here, I keep on reminiscing about our childhood. I promise I will write a better letter. Please do reply.

— Srinivas

PS: I almost forgot to wish you a happy ugaadi!!

chaitra ratham meeda
Syaama patra patham meeda
aa vacce’devarani?
adi aamani!!
adi aamani!!

[A fictitious reply from AP, India. Any resemblance between characters and real-life individuals is purely coincidental. Constructive and Deconstructive criticisms welcome.]

Annavaram,

March XX, 1993.
To: Srinivas,
Spring Field.

Dear Srinivas,

I received your letter. I am very happy to read that letter. I was surprised to find out that you (again) started caring about things Telugu.

I can’t completely agree with your criticisms of life there. Yes, you may see life as a linear existence, but don’t forget life is a struggle here. As per diversity, I don’t think you ever went out in search of that diversity here.

I understand that your unadulterated nostalgia is making you see things in rosy glasses. You talked about the spring, and the "kusuma lataa pataaka". You did not talk about USA at all. Do you think that April is the cruelest month there?

What I meant to say is that the spring comes there, in USA also. That kind of talukkumanE sogasu is there in USA also.

Praise the spells and bless the charms,
I found April in my arms.
April golden, April cloudy,
Gracious, cruel, tender, rowdy;
April soft in flowered languor,
April cold with sudden anger,
Ever changing, ever true —
I love April, I love you.

What do you say to that? [As an aside, "your" talukknumanna sogasu is married and has two kids. Your "manasu" probably will not turn cartwheels with joy looking at that taluku now!!]

Enough about your angst. I am doing quite well here. My job as a history teacher in the govt. junior college is keeping me quite busy. In the evenings I occasionally go to S—-‘s house. I don’t know if her father approves!!

Sometimes, some of our friends get together on the terrace. We sit there talk till the moonlight spreads like a carpet on the floor. The jasmine scent slowly creeps by the window and seeps into the moonlight. Now-a-days our discussions are much politicized, we keep on wondering where our country is heading to. I know that change is inevitable. I hope I can withstand the change and make a positive contribution.

This year we are not planning much for ugaadi. Especially after what the country has gone through. We know that we should raise our voice against the vice of madness gripping the nation. Poetry looks such an ineffective weapon, and in our Telugu history it has served such bourgeoisie ends that we are not going to have "kavisamme’Lanam" either. In stead, few of our science students, lecturers are going to villages and having open house demonstrations. I will explain the details later.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to manage with fixed salary here. S—- is going to finish her degree soon, and may be when she gets a job … My mother is not too happy about the idea of S—- working.

Do tell me more about yourself. I always pictured you with a strong social agenda. Are you planning something with it? You did not write much about your personal changes. Do write often.

Your friend, Prasad.

PS: Let me also enclose a poem for the coming ugaadi.

ee vasanta vaaTikane’ hasantammu hasiyinchunu
viSokammulu aSokammulu andanduna vikasinchunu

[Yes, it was the song we wrote long time back!!]

* * *

[A fictitious letter posted from USA. Any resemblance between characters and real-life individuals is purely coincidental. Constructive and Deconstructive criticisms welcome. The "I" in this letter is not me. If it is you, don’t be alarmed, it is coincidental.]

Spring Field,

March YY, 1993.

To: Annavaram,
Andhra Pradesh, India.

Dear Prasad,

Glad to have received your letter. You certainly know how to make a fellow feel bad, don’t you? (Unintentionally, that is.) All day, all I could think of was you and other friends talking away into the moonlit night, in the scent of jasmine. I wish I was there.

Actually, here also we have some interesting discussions. Of course, we don’t have the moonlight. It is there, but not in the house. We rarely sit outside the house and talk. And, people are well-educated and very dedicated to their careers. Occasionally, we talk about India. One of us would have returned from a recent trip and he would describe the trip. Each of us would theorize about the changes there. Being away from home gives the discussion an eerie objectivity.

In the end, I come to the frightening conclusion. I do not understand India anymore. I have lost touch with it. I resent any changes there as they make India more and more distant to me.

April is here. Yes, you are right. April is all that and much more. That Ogden Nash’ poem is a beauty. Do you know that Ogden Nash used to publish in New Yorker? It is sad that we don’t have any poets like Nash in Telugu.

Actually, Mullapoodi comes close. He can twist Telugu language into little knots and produce priceless gems. I remember one line about the death of a husband of a bitter old woman:

aayana chacchi po’yaad’u kaabaTTi batiki po’yaad’u,
batukunTe’ aaviDato’ chaavale’ka chacchunDe’ vaad’u.

Do you remember his translation of Around the World in 80 Days? In that passepartout says "veedasaajjem koolaa"!! I know exactly what he means by that phrase, and I don’t think some of the uniquely "Telugu" feelings have any equivalent English words.

Recently Mullapoodi and Bapu have released some instructional material for teaching Telugu here in this country. Have you heard anything about it?

Speaking of Bapu, I have seen some Nuovo Art works from 1890’s from Paris. Like Alfonso Mucha etc. Bapu, it seems, owes a lot to them for his style of drawing. Especially, the pictures for the Galib geetaalu. Of course, his other drawings have so much Teluguness in them that it is hard to see the French influence. I am yet to see any paintings like "vapaa[vaDDaadi paapayya]’s. His paintings in Yuva are really great, aren’t they?

Life here is going fine. It is like "moodu potlucks and aaru home works!!" On some Sunday mornings, when it is really bright and sunny, I go to downtown library alone. The city with its teeming crowds offers me a liberating anonymity. I am a part of this human ocean; at the same time, I am completely separate from it. I walk those streets watching the crowds.

There are some outdoor flower shops by the Mexican immigrants in the downtown. I walk along those shops smelling those flowers. I see plenty of roses. No jasmine.

— rama

PS: You wrote to me about S—-. I didn’t know that you know her so well. You slimy devil, tell me more and give all the gossip. And tell me about your new ugaadi too. <

PPS: Yes, I remember the song we wrote. We were 16 at that time, and silly, weren’t we? We used to think ourselves as

aatad’u naavale unmatta bhaava Saali
aapu kole’Du re’gu noohala nokinta.

* * *

[Another one of those letters from home. The usual disclaimer of not basing my articles on no single human being applies. As usual criticisms and witticisms welcomed. Blah, blah and blah.]

Annavaram,

March ZZ, 1993.
To: Srinivas,
Spring Field.

Dear Srinivas,

Read your letter just now. As usual you talked about Our own home-grown heros and writers. It is good to see the resemblances between the cultures.

You talked about being objective about India etc. I don’t believe in objectivity. It robs people of compassion and humanity. Be biased. Please be biased based on your lessons, your experiences, and your life. Any other way of judging things leads into vacuum. I hope you take the following in the right spirit.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time–

Enough of those philosophical discussions. You wanted me to write about S—-. Well, you might live to regret that request. Anyway here goes.

— rama
[rama@cs.rice.edu]
Some time in 1992

 Posted by at 1:06 pm

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