An Overview of Contemporary Telugu Poetry
P. Kesava Kumar
Professor in Philosophy, Delhi University, Delhi
Telugu society has always been a land of struggles. These struggles have naturally had their impact on the Telugu literary production. In intellectual realm, the contradictions of the society are opened up and articulated through literature. The class struggles are followed by the identity politics. The last quarter of the century has witnessed the movements that have mobilized women, dalits, Muslims, and the people of Telangana for a democratic and human society. These new social movements have been critical about organized struggles and philosophies of both traditionalism and Marxism. In fact, the new social movements are well articulated through literature. This new literature has changed the ideological landscape of literature. The language, idiom, style and aesthetics have been refreshed and redefined in much more concretely. This new literature has set the agenda of politics of change. Poetry becomes a medium for the emerging new intellectuals of Telugu society to express their anger and social aspirations in contesting the dominance and hegemony. The Contemporary Telugu poetry of feminist, dalit, and Muslim is fully committed to their own social experience and celebrated the dignity, self-respect and pride. The literature has been much closer to life.
Against Feudalism: Progressive Literature
In Telugu society, the progressive literature (Abhyudhava and Viplava) inspired by the Marxism has set the standards and canons of literature. It is a revolt against the ‘classical literature’ (Sampradaya sahityam) and romantic literature (Bhava Kavitvam) of 1920-1940. The progressive literature took new turn in 1970s by identifying with ongoing revolutionary struggles. The revolutionary literature (Viplva samityam) has had its mark till 1980s. The poets rebelled against the ideology of fascism, feudalism and capitalism in support of new democracy and socialism. The progressive poetry mostly revolved around the themes of ‘humanism’, ‘revolution’ and ‘classless society’ (rythu coolie rajyam). The poet, Sri Sri is the iconic figure of this tradition. Apart from progressive literature, we too find different streams of Telugu poetry such as Anubhuthi(Experiential) and digambara (Nude). However, in all these literary traditions, the writers and readers were mostly drawn from the category of the upper caste middle class male. The entire literary discourse is centred on either abstract human being or class by erosive of cultural markers such as caste, gender, religion and region. From 1980s onwards with the rise of conscious intellectuals from the lower castes and women exposed the shallowness of the ‘modernity’ and ‘progressiveness’ adopted by the literary world. In this process, they not only questioned the canons of literature but also dismissed the celebrated Telugu progressive modernists.
Feminist Poetry against Patriarchy
From 1985 onwards, feminist poetry came as a strong dissenting voice against patriarchal structure that mainly responsible for oppression and exploitation of women. By 1990, feminist poetry has established as a different genre of Telugu literature. Feminist poetry is a frontal attack on stereotype images of women, sexuality, gender discrimination and male domination. Private space such as home, kitchen becomes public discourse. Through the literary craft, the feminist writers punctured the myth of body, pativravytam (chastity), motherhood and domestic labour and argued for freedom. The tales of unconcerned personal life got political articulation through this poetry. Neelimeghalu (Blue clouds, 1993), Gurichoosi Pade Pata are the earlier collective anthologies of feminist poetry. Jayaprabha (Yuddhonmukhamga(1986), Vaamanudi Moodo Paadam (1988), Ikkada Kurisina Varsham Ekkadi Meghanidi (1991) and Yasodharaa Yee Vagapemduke (1993), Kondepudi Nirmala (Nadileche Gayalu, Hrudayaniki Bahuvachanam), Vimala (Adavi Vuppongina Ratri) Volga, Vasanta Kannabiran, Mahe Jabeen, Patibandla Rajini, Ghantasala Nirmala, Revathi Devi, Silololitha, S.Jaya, K. Geetha, Savitri, Mokkapati Sumathi , Mandavarapu Hymavathi, Ravulapalli Suneetha, K.Varalakshmi, B.Padmavathi, Challapalli Swaroopa Rani (Mankena Poovu), M. M. Vinodini, Jupaka Subhadra, Jelli Indira are among the prominent feminist poets of Telugu literary world. The feminist poetry rebelled against the prejudiced social rules in male dominated society: The movement I am told/ it will burn me,/I want to embrace the sun. /Just once... That’s how I am. /I always want to do/What’s prohibited (Mahe Jabeen, Physical Geography).They retaliated against the sexist outlook of society by asserting themselves: Looks/From two eyes/dart like needles/roam freely on lumps of flesh…..A day shall come/when women in this country have/thorns/not only in their eyes/but all over their bodies (Jayaprabha, Choopulu(Gaze)). Dalit women poets came as internal critics of feminist poetry by bringing into the issue of caste oppression faced by dalit women along gender discrimination. As dalit feminist writer says: When has my life been truly mine/In the home male arrogance/sets my cheek stinging/while in the street caste arrogance/splits the other cheek open (Challapalli Swaroopa Rani, Mankena Poovu)
Dalit Poetry for fistful of Self-Respect
Dalit literary movement came in the backdrop of dalit struggles against caste atrocities, especially against the Karamchedu (1985) and Chunduru massacres (1991). The quest for the search of their own Dalit identity makes dalit poets to broaden the literary horizons. They declared that we will write about ourselves. Ideologically they confronted with both Brahmanism and alternative ideologies such as Marxism. They opened up the issue of caste as primary social reality and penned for casteless society. The condemned symbols and life styles are converted into symbols of protest. They performed the poetry by invoking the collective social memory. They introduced the dalit language to the Telugu public against textual and sanskritised Telugu.
The early 1990s poetry anthologies, Chikkanavvutunna Pata (Thickening Song, 1995), Dalit Manifesto (1995), Padunekkina Pata (Sharpened Song, 1996) are set the tone for dalit poetry. At this historical juncture debated: Who is dalit? What constitutes dalit literature? This controversy resolved in course of time by considering whatever is written by the Dalits with their conscious social experience is only qualified to be Dalit literature. Ambedkarism becomes the ideology of dalit literature.
Dalit movement has produced many promising young poets. Dalit leaders have become poets. Madduri Nagesh Babu((Veliwada,(Untouchable Locality,1997), Meerevutlu?(What People Are You?,1998), Rachabanda(Village Square,1997), Naraloka Prarthana ( A Prayer of This World, 2002), Vidi Aakasam(A Separate Sky,1999)), Kalekuri Prasad, Pydi Teresh Babu ((Alpapeedanam(Depression in the Ocean,1999)), Hindu Maha Samudram(The Great Hindu ocean,1999), Nenu Naa Vintalamari Prapamcham (Me and My world of Wonders,2007), Satish Chander (Panchama Vedam( The Fifth Veda, 1995)), Kathi Padma Rao(( Nallakaluva (Black Lotus,1996 ) Bhhomi Bhasha, Kattelamopu)), Bojja Tarakam((Nadiputtina Gonthuka (The Voice that gave Birth to the River, 1983), K.G.Satyamurthy alias Sivasagar (Nadustunna Charitra, The Ongoing History,2004), Gaddar (Gaddar Patalu), Gorati Venkanna, Masterjee, Yendluri Sudhakar ((Varthamanam, The Present,1985, Vargeekaranam(Categorization)),Sikhamani ((Chilaka Koyya (The Wooden Hanger, 1993), Nagappagari Sunderraju (Chandala Chatimpu), Vemula Yellaiah, Challapalliswarooparani (Manankena Poovu), Salandra, Sambhuka, Thullamalli Wilson Sudhakar, M M Vinodini, Joopaka Subhadra, Darla Venkateswara Rao ( Dalita Tatvikudu), G.V.Ratnkar (Matti Palaka), P.C Ramulu, Juluri Gowrisankar, Prasada Murthy.
Dalit poets protested against the social practice of untouchability and raised their voice for fistful for self-respect: ‘I am still a prohibited human being/Mine is an expelled breath/ ..The moment he left a mark of prohibition on my face/My race/Was gradually murdered (Yendluri Sudhakar, The Present). I’m the wound of the people, a communion of wounds./For ages, a slave in a free country,/subject to insult, atrocity, rape, torture,/someone raising his head for a fistful of self respect./My very existence in this nation, drunk on caste and wealth,/is a protest( Kalekuri Prasad, For a Fistful of Self-respect). The poets constructed the counter history against the figures of Brahminical mythology by invoking alternative symbols like Ekalavya, Sambuka (Siva Sagar, Nadustunna Charitra). From the stubs of those thumbs there now sprout nibs of steel/ to write history anew. ((Sikhamani, Vade Asuddha Manavudu (That Fellow is the unclean Human being, 1984)). Dalit poetry is determined against brahmanical history and their writing is committed in demanding the citizenship and social justice which is denied for generations: In this Country we want a piece of land/These clouds has to be vanished/These walls must be collapsed/…I want real citizenship/will you give it?...I want a touch/I want you to shake my hand with your heart (Madduri Nagesh Babu, What do I want?). They further cautioned the nation that without the labour of dalit communities, this country could not flourish. With pride they declared that this nation was produced out of their labour ( Juluri Gowri Shankar,. Padamudralu,( Foot Prints)).
Sharpening of Identity Politics: Madiga, Muslim and Telangana Poetry
With the assertion of new identities such as Madiga, Muslim and Telangana , the terrain of Telugu literature too has changed remarkably. Dalit literature too has undergone significant transformation with further assertion of social constituents of dalit category by 2000s. Madiga poetry (Madiga Chaitanyam), Bahujana Poetry (Ventade Kalalu , Poetry of Backward Castes) are further democratised the dalit poetry. Muslim poetry has emerged as a new literary genre after the Gujarat massacre with the poetry anthology, Jala Jala. With the demolition of Babri Masjid , Muslim community has been pushed to insecurity and terrified further with Gujarat massacre. In the context of self insulation of community, Telugu Muslim poetry opened up the ongoing anger and uncertainty of Muslim community through poetry. As Reflecting on this situation : Long before I was born/my name was listed among traitors….Yes, my birthmark is me/my existence, my citizenship/It’s my ancestral property/inherited from the earth/the sky, the air/the surroundings I live in/ It’s a wound that never heals( Khadar Mohiuddin, Puttumacha (Birthmark,1991)). The Muslim poets through their poetry not only depicted the insecurity and ill-treatment of the community and narrated the tale of social economic backwardness of the community. Skybaba ( Jaljala (Ed), 1998), Khaza (Fatwa), Shajahana (Nakhab), Anwar (Aja (Ed.) ), Iqbal chand (Black Voice, 1995), Khasim Shaik, Afsar (Valasa (Migration)), Yakoob (Sarihaddu Rekha (Borderline)), Haneef, Mahe Jabeeen are some of the prominent poets of Muslim poetry.
Telangana poetry has been established in the backdrop of struggle for separate Telangana state. This poetry is a celebration of the pride of Telangana and its culture against the exploitation of this region. The aspirations for Telangana people were well articulated through the cultural and literary forms. Dalit, Bahujan, Muslim and Women writers and cultural performers played a key role in Telangana literature. The dalit performer poets Gaddar, Gorati Venkanna, and Andesree culturally set the political tone of separate Telangana. At present Telugu poetry is at crossroads looking at the democratic path to move ahead.