Jun 202005

A perspective from TANA short story competition

[Preamble: Some impressions of the Telugu short stories and novels. Caveat: I am on the the judges for TANA competetions] First a caveat. Since I am one of the judges for the competetions, please regard the following as my individual opinions. Also, I am not going to be specific with any of the novels received. Please do not tie my comments to those novels or even the stories.

You raised the following points. [Since I find typing in Telugu tiresome, I will resort to English].

  1. Diversity of topics: Is it true that there is no diversity of topics?I remember when I was doing research. I started out to satisfy my curiousity. As I was tinkering, I discovered how others do research. I read about that research. I realised the importance of being able to communicate my research. I started looking at the existing research for my research topics.

    In short, I let the existing literature define my interests.

    If we look at the literature these days, it is true that most literature is heavily influenced by the greats writing about the common man — the factory worker, the farmer, the victim of the government beaurocracy and the like. Every writer starts by imitating the existing writings. When all the existing writings (at least the easy to imitate ones) are of this type then it is natural that most writings start out that way. [My own writings started after I read khadga srushTi at the age 13].

    Once you start writing such stories, looks like you have a ready group of writers, who give positive response. “Yes, the story has social conscience”, they would say. “Yes, the writer responds to the ills of the society”, they would say. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Except the diversity of the writings would decrease.

    Cases in point: Impact of globalization on local trades [Change the trade, and locale — you got yourself a new story]. Impact of lack of rains in Rayala seema [Change the economic level of the farmer and name (thereby caste), you got yourself a new story.]

    Of course, even the “best” of the writers succumb to this lack of imagination — Khadeer Babu being a case in point (something about sODaa buDDeelu).In this context, I must say that I liked the story that vaaDrEvu wrote about the relationship between the individual and the state and the power equation. [Stylistically overwrought, but topic is profound].

    Do you remember rukkulu? Every topic is of interest to literature the poet says. In fact, another great writer wrote a story on every of those topics. The fundamentalism aspect of it is to take them and only them as the topics. Unless it is related to large number of people, unless it is sensitive to the needs of the large number of people, the critics dictate the story as useless.Let us look at the vibrant English writings by Indian writers. Salman Rushdie takes a jew from India and marries him off to a parsee and creates a minority of one. The whole story is inverted — it talks about one individual — but within that individual’s relationships with others and the society, the whole world unfolds.

    So, we reject the stories of software scientists who are living lives of their own in a stratosperic atmosphere. We reject the lives of urbanized people who go about their life without the angst of a budding poet. We reject the girls who work in the call centers, who make enough money to upend the social mores. We reject the stories of sympathetic neighbor who wheels and deals in real estate. We reject the stories that falls at the tails of the curve.

    We paint the stories black and white. Poor = good. Rich = Bad. They end up becoming individual centric instead of closely examining the circumstances.

  2. Diversity of style: In the early part of the century, there is a powerful writer F. Scott Fidzgerald, who influenced a whole generation of writers with his style. It was sensous, sumpteous, and oh so clever. It took the work of Hemingway to break down the ornate to reveal the core in short, soul of the stories. So, we have diverse influences in writing the stories, each different enough to let us evolve our own.Somehow are we are stuck in the days of raa vi Saa, where the descriptions run long. Or, the writers like ko ku, with editorial commentaries. I remember a story by Malladi rama krishna sastry, that ran entirely in dialogue. What happened to such diversity in styles?

    Looks like most Telugu stories are stuck in the era of descriptions and editorial commentary. They describe the surroundings and people in great detail (almost always without really contributing to the story) — alas, raa vi Saa, they are not. They end up sounding trite, and looking worn.

    Or, they describe the moral lessons in stark terms. Or, they set up faux moral dilemas. Or, they ask simplistic questions to make us think. The technique is right, but the execution falls short. Or, has the technique imprisoned them? I think so.

    The editorial comments that meant to direct the readers look like a coercion. Why tell me, the reader, what to think? Show the world honestly, and I will make my decision. If you want me to suspend the belief, I would gladly, in return for some stimulating thoughts.

My brother Chandra Kanneganti’s recent story is almost a study in minimalism. It appeared in Telugu naadi in June, I think. I suppose if I were to take away some dialogues by the book buyer, it would reach the sparseness of a Hemingway.Also, Titanic, despite the silly name, has several stylistic devices that make us read the story again and again.

What can I say? I like to read a story or a novel that respects me, the reader; that makes me read it; that makes me think about it as I go about my day; that makes me recognize the patterns that I learnt in my life in that literary work; or, that makes me see a pattern that I never saw before to make it a part of my thinking.–
Ramarao Kanneganti

 Posted by at 9:16 pm

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