Friday, February 25, 2011

The Taxidermist and other Telugu stories

I was brought up in Orissa and had the advantage of learning four languages: English from school, Hindi from surroundings, Telugu at home and Oriya from the domestic help and as part of learning third language at school.

My parents were very much in favor of our learning and speaking the MT at home. In the course, we were taught how to read and write the language. The Telugu guide called 'Pedda Bala Siksha' was considered a Bible and each day we were asked to learn a part of could be names of months of Hindu calender, the alphabet, numbers...all this and more. Strict punishment awaited the one who could not memorize and recite the same to father when he asked.

The learning was reinforced through buying of the monthly magazine for children, the Telugu 'Chandamamas'. Always hungry for stories, we kids used to look forward patiently to the issue every month and greedily lap up the contents. By this process, the MT got reinforced in the most delightful way.

The flip side was that a knowledge of the language when combined with an appetite for stories finds no stopping. The next target were the Telugu weeklies that my mom used to get at home. I remember her subscribing to three Telugu weeklies called the Andhra Jyothi, Andhra Prabha, Andhra Patrika and a monthly one called Yuva. We as kids were forbidden from touching the 'adult' magazines. My very obedient brothers never dared defy the orders but I being the rebel in the family, used to read the magazines on the sly. It was a wonderful world that had opened up for me through those magazines. There were serials, short stories, a mini novel (with Yuva), most of them containing the forbidden and banned 4 letter word 'LOVE'.

I was exposed to the world of love stories, one of which I remember as 'Prema lekhkalu'(love letters) by Sulochana Rani which was later made into a movie. I also remember the outrageous 'Maidanam' written by Chalam.Perhaps these unknowingly sowed seeds of awareness of the rights of a woman. Chalam advocated the thought that a woman has a mind , a body and a heart and these deserve the right to choose and be free. In the society which is still highly prejudiced against women, these thoughts were surely very rebellious in those times.

Also one of the short stories read in those days was one called 'The Taxidermist' about a set of parents wherein the husband plans the career path of his two kids, saying that the son would become this after growing up and the daughter that. I don't remember the exact details of the short story but I remember how much of an impact it made on my mind. At an age where I was not too good with difficult words in English, I was exposed to the word taxidermist and had to look up the dictionary to find out its meaning. In the story, the wife laments as to how the husband gradually brainwashes his children to give up what they are passionate about and to walk on the path which he chooses for them. Taxidermy, I came to know is the art of carving out the insides of the animal and re stuffing them to give them a life-like appearance and mount them for display.

The philosophy enunciated above finds its substantiation in Chalam's philosophy which finds a mention in Wiki.
1. He believed that the barriers created by the society precluded love and mutual understanding from human relationships.
2. In a society that believed in the children being indebted to their parents, he proclaimed caring for and bringing up of children as the fundamental duty as parents.
3. He was widely shunned during his times especially for his advocacy of women’s rights and his total rejection of the family system.

To this day, I don't regret reading those Telugu magazines. On the other hand, I am grateful to the awareness that they brought me. I learnt what I as a woman am and what I am capable of.
Thank you, Telugu literature!