Q: Looking at your novels, the plot and characters of one novel never appear in another. What are the reasons for creating such diversity of plots and characters?
A: We cannot create from nothing. Artwork is created when a rock or gold is transformed into a sculpture or jewelry. Similarly, a writer needs to search for the raw material for his art from the people around him. A novel is created when a writer combines what he sees and hears around him with his own personal experiences. I have been to many places, met a variety of people, and faced many situations. I believe these experiences have helped create the diversity of plots and characters in my novels.
Q: I am eager to know how some of your novels sprouted from these experiences. In the early days, you got a lot of fame from Annapurna which was published in Bharati…..
A: Yes. It was published in 1950. Shri Banda and Shri Kuppili Venkateswar Rao (note: Both stage and cinema actors of repute in those days) made this into a radio play as well. This was republished in Bharati in 1985.
Q: Through Annapurna’s ideal character, you demonstrated how she calms the turbulence in her younger brother’s life with love, sensitivity, and understanding. Did you meet such a sister in real life?
A: I had a friend. He narrated how his sister-in-law was trying to create turbulence in their lives. He had the responsibility to get his sisters educated and married. There was a huge demand for family oriented novels in those days. If I had portrayed the sister-in-law as a strict and difficult character, it would have been problematic. I created Annapurna as an ideal character with a hope that my friend’s sister-in-law would read this book and change for the better.
Q: It felt you were leaning towards the literary style of Sarat. Which work of yours brought you out of that influence?
A: I used to read a lot of Sarat in those days. I still feel Annapurna is a character from Andhra.
Q: Just as a comparison, which other literature have you read?
A: As a writer, I had to dish out a variety of tastes to my readers, right? Hence I couldn’t make do with just one type of dish. Unless a writer believes in “Let noble thoughts come from all sides”, he or she cannot learn anything. That which cannot be learned, cannot be made. Whichever book I could lay my hands on, I read, including telugu translations of Hindi writers. My novel Godameeda Bomma (The picture on the wall) was an attempt to come out of the effects of all these reading and influences. In those days, translated novels used to get published. In such circumstances, Godameeda Bomma was advertised for 3 months before being serialized in Andhra Patrika. This was also adapted as a radio play by Shri Hitasri.
Q: I still remember Venkatarao talking into the air. How did you create such a character for this novel?
A: I had a colleague at work. Listening to him made me laugh a lot. Its difficult to imagine this situation and write. In those days, I was trying to write Godameeda Bomma (The picture on the wall). So I asked him if he would have any reservations if I created a character based on him and named him Subbarao. With a grim face, he said, “I do have reservations. The only way I can stay alive in that character is if he has my name. I will have no reservations if you create this character with my name”. Its been thirty years since my colleague passed away, but you still remember the character based on him. Clearly, his wish has been fulfilled.
Q: After this novel, you published Dagapadina Tammudu (Cheated younger brother). In the 8th chapter, you created the character of blind Venkanna. That was very pathetic.
A: Shri Bomman Viswanatham mentioned that he cried all night while translating that chapter into Bengali.
Q: Recently, in the context of Telugu literary novels, Shri R.S. Sudarshanam wrote, “The character of Neeli stands out like a jewel among all the women characters created in this decade”. Can you tell us the circumstances behind creating characters like Venkanna and Neeli?
A: Through his writing, a writer tries to create his own magic, correct? There’s a small difference though. Magic disappears from your mind in a short time, but great writing leaves an indelible impression. It throws the reader into raptures. It can aid in their transformation. I had personally seen the post war conditions very closely. The characters of Venkanna and Neeli may have played a part in one critic’s statement about this novel – “Without leaving anything to imagination, life has been presented in a simple, clear, as is, and honest manner”. There was a blind person in my village. Similarly, Neelamma was called Neeli. She was dusky and very beautiful. But I can’t say my characters were completely based on them.
Q: Your readers remember your novel, Sampangi very well. It was serialized in 1968 in Andhra Prabha with Bapu’s colorful art. It also received appreciation as a radio play. It has been translated into Hindi and Kannada. Filled with sorrow, what was the story behind this novel that flowed like a love song?
A: I was visiting my village from Bombay for my brother’s wedding. There was a ruined well behind our house. Sitting on a rock and staring at the well, I felt the urge to write a story. As I delved deeper, I discovered the well had its own history. People mentioned there was a flower garden around it. The flowers not only adorned the hair of women, but also spread on their beds. As I reviewed my grand uncle’s life, I got the raw material for the character of Narahari. The reason to portray Sampangi’s character as a goddess of beauty – just my imagination of a beautiful lady who captivated my mind.
Q: You got a lot of fame from your novel Ide Narakam, Ide Swargam (This is Hell, this is Heaven). These have also been translated into Hindi and English. The Hindi translation (Gira Anayan Nayan Binu Baani) along with Premchand’s Sevasadan was a prescribed text book. You imagined yourself as a visually impaired person and wrote the entire novel. How was this made possible?
A: While living in Delhi, I met this gentleman at a friend’s house. I wanted to write a novel based on him. As I interacted with him, many ideas started developing in my mind. After writing my novel, I read it out to him and made many improvements based on his suggestions.
Q: What were you trying to convey in this novel?
A: We use the friendship and love of many people to make progress in our lives. But we seldom provide friendship and love to others.
Q: So why did you title the novel Ide Narakam, Ide Swargam?
A: He was born blind. Music was his wealth. Out of sheer helplessness, he gets married to a mute person. He was afraid that his children would be either blind or mute. But he gets to see the world with his son’s eyes. At that moment, he feels enlightened – For human beings, the only place of shelter is on this earth. This is hell and this is heaven. This is not the world of magical dwarfs that I once imagined. This is the only earth for us humans. This life is only mine. If I can understand the people and the incidents around me with a feeling of belonging, then even if I do not have eyes, I can still see.
This is the reason for the title.
Q: In your novels, one doesn’t come across characters that rebel against existing beliefs and circumstances. What is the reason for this?
A: Not every writer has the courage to write about rejecting existing beliefs and way of life. A person who demolishes a building because it is not useful, should have the courage to build a new one in its place. Another thing – a writer does not enjoy the right or freedom to do everything. There are limits to the freedom he enjoys. I believe a writer is like an expert mason. He cannot completely build the entire wall in his lifetime. He should work in a manner such that subsequent generations can continue to build on top of his construction. Instead if they are unhappy and bring down this wall and start from the foundation again…..the writer will perish within his lifetime. This responsibility is what makes the writer obligated to lay his bricks over the existing ones. This excessive caution is probably the reason why I did not create rebellious characters in my novels.
Q: In your novel Vamsadhaara, through the character of Ramdas, you nevertheless showed the dirt and squalor in society. About this novel that illustrates three generations of social life, noted writer Bharago (Bhamidipati Ramagopalam) wrote recently that it describes incidents that challenge your intellect as well as deeply touch your heart. He goes on to state that the regional dialect used is especially very authentic, and that this novel should be placed in the ranks of telugu classics like Malapalli and Veyipadagalu. How did you manage to write using the idiomatic expressions of the region even though your job required you to spend a greater part of your time in various parts of the country?
A: I used to take time off from work and spent time among the people of the region to make their acquaintance. Gradually I understood the colloquial language of Srikakulam and expressed it through various characters like Parayya and Gangamma. This dialect is slowly disappearing.
Q: In Delhi Majalilu, you covered the history and culture of Delhi from Yudhisthir’s Indraprastha until Nehru’s modern Delhi in over 500 pages. What inspired you to write this? What type of effort did you have to put in?
A: When I set foot in Delhi for the first time in 1969, this city felt very different from all the other cities I had lived in. Pandit Nehru was right in stating that every stone in Delhi speaks of its history. My novel can help in the understanding of the history, daily life, social, cultural, political, and economic aspects on the period between 1969 and 1974. I traveled every corner of Delhi during those five years, and also spent time researching in many libraries. In some sense, I almost worked as if it were my PhD research. Sadly, neither readers nor critics showed any attention to this work.
Q: You recently wrote two short novels, Ajanta and Ellora. What was the motivation behind writing these novels?
A: Before visiting any place, I try to gather as much information as possible. So, after reading about its history, construction, and mural artwork, I visited Ajanta and Ellora. Ajanta is like a school of art, while Ellora’s Kailash temple is a rare work of architecture. In this novel, I covered the 7th century CE when Buddhism re-emerged and the Kailash temple was built. Based on circumstances that prevailed during that period, I wrote this fictional novel.
Q: In Ajanta, the artist Aryadev says, “Art has no end. No art is ever complete. Try to understand the limitations in my art….and refine yours”. Similarly, towards the end you write that after creating man, God says, “My son, for your life on earth, I created an incomplete home. Understand its deficiencies….improve them….refine them”. This probably is your message?
A: No no. If you think this is my message, I would have failed as a writer. Only when the reader can form ideas and opinions of his own based on things I have written, would I assume any significance as a writer.
Q: You must be reading the novels being serialized in today’s magazines. Do you think the novel in literature is losing significance?
A: According to Pulitzer prize winning American writer, John Updike, not many in America are reading fiction in magazines, resulting in closure of many such publications. In our country, how many people can afford to buy magazines? Only a few libraries can buy them. These publications cannot survive unless the writing is tailored to the tastes of the reader. Updike further says, we do not have the internal strength to bear the pain resulting from our dreams. This is why fiction and story-telling is on the decline.
Q: What is your personal opinion?
A: Readers who will dream such dreams and can tolerate the resulting pain will come back. My hope and belief is literature will progress.