The origins of this website can be traced back to Sunday, the 9th of January, 2000. The events that unfolded that day are best summarized by Balivada’s handwritten note from a few days later, in Telugu, a departure from his normal habit of writing notes in English.
“It was a day of great misfortune in my literary life. When I opened the bookshelf in my living room this morning, I noticed termites. On detailed inspection of my treasure inside the shelves, I found most of my manuscripts, novels, diaries, plays, and novelettes in the lower shelves were destroyed by termites. The fair copy version of my unpublished novel, Ammi, along with parts of the manuscript rough copy were almost destroyed. I have to rewrite roughly 70 pages of this novel. My income tax file and house construction files were intact, this is the silver lining! On another shelf, a collection of 150 short stories published over many years, collected and preserved in 3 large binders have been destroyed. How can I ever rebuild this collection? Kalipatnam Ramarao [Telugu poet and short story writer] has some of the paper cuttings in his Kathaanilayam library [in Srikakulam]. I have to go there sometime. I should also approach Visalaandhra book house and some of my publishers for copies of published works… some of the collections and anthologies of Hindi translations were partly preserved… As this horror unfolded, my son immediately took these books outside, dusted them, dried them in the sun, and sprayed anti-termite powder. He bought a metal almirah and neatly arranged all the remaining books, manuscripts, and photo albums. Before leaving for Bangalore, he left me with the suggestion to check on this treasure at least once a month. Speaking to Bharaago [Sri Bhamidipati Ram Gopalam, a well known Telugu author] about this incident, he suggested we organize a meeting to mourn this loss.”
He then ends on a positive note – “Well, its best to be satisfied with what I still have. I will gradually recover from this shock.”
Having witnessed the magnitude of his loss, I was awestruck by how stoic and positive he was, while all of us around him experienced grief and despair. He passed away exactly three months after he wrote this soulful note, but remarkably, he did rewrite the lost 70 pages of his novel, Ammi.
The efforts at preserving his vast body of work started that day with the consolidation of whatever survived the termite attack into a metal almirah. Over the next few years, Balivada’s wife, Sarada was instrumental in getting into print his unpublished novels (Janmabhoomi, Ammi, Maro Rajasekhara Charitra), short stories (collections; Shodhana, Gopuram), and reprint of his famous novel (Dagaapadina Tammudu). The short story collections also include some of the printed stories lost to the termite attack. After her passing in 2009, Balivada’s children brought out two collections of his short stories (Kathalu, Kathaakalasam). The family appreciates the help, generosity, and interest shown by Shri P. Rajeswara Rao in publishing these volumes, some under the banner of Visaalandhra Publishing House, and the rest under Pragati Publications.
The efforts of Sahitya Akademi to publish translations of Balivada’s works into English (Two novels: Monsoon showers in Goa and The Mythical Mermaid), Hindi (Short story collection: Balivada Kantha Rao Ki Kahaaniyan), and Odia (novel: Aithi Narak Aithi Swarg) is also appreciated. These remarkable efforts have helped to consolidate into many contemporary looking volumes, Balivada’s literary output spread across multiple magazines and newspapers spanning many decades. In addition, the continuing goal of preserving and sustaining interest in his literature among readers was partially addressed. Moreover, it was an important precursor to the next step of transforming the physical collection to an online digital one to achieve the ultimate goal of preserving, promoting, and proliferating his legacy.
In full disclosure, I have a selfish motive in all of this. Growing up as the youngest of four children, I was fortunate to have been showered with maximum opportunities resulting from improvements in socio-economic conditions in the household. This was however, a double edged sword – I left home early to go to college and never came back to spend uninterrupted time with my parents in our family home. Barring a few visits a year, most interactions were on regular long distance telephone calls and letters. Career took center stage for a few decades, and I became a passive observer as life threw many hints and opportunities to reconnect meaningfully with my parents. And so, my time with him was severely curtailed by his sudden passing, leaving me with many memories, the tranche of letters, cards, photographs, and his literary treasure. One such letter written in response to my request for writing tips seems very prophetic now. He wrote:
“You can write down incidents from your childhood and the years after which are significant to your progress and are quite touching. For example, you gave me the greatest satisfaction when you approved of my ideals and promised to follow them. So you can caricature your father in your novel just as I did my father, who I thought was a great person. In fact these personal touch characters will be living characters in fiction.”Balivada Kantha Rao (Personal correspondence)
And so the longing to get to know him better.
It took me another twenty years before my career could truly become a lower priority. As I started researching him, I was often left speechless, awed, and frankly, intimidated with the sheer magnitude of his achievements. I was also deeply touched with the level of hardships in his early life, the lack of access to quality education and opportunities, and his meaningful interactions with every human being, irrespective of status or background. Layer after layer evolved from a reading of his diaries that captured his deepest thoughts, his interpretation and justification of the behaviors of people around him, his aspirations for himself and his family.
I could even see the many connections to themes and characters in his literature. He was a silent observer, but through his writings, a not-so-silent protagonist to bring to the forefront issues faced by society of his times. Even scraps of paper were covered with notes scribbled in his handwriting of a story idea, or a summary of a book he read. His letters would be filled with ideas and quotes from these notes. His correspondence with friends, colleagues, and family was replete with positivity and encouragement, indicative of his care and concern for their wellbeing and progress. He had the habit of writing rough drafts of his letters, especially of important or difficult correspondence. I was able to find draft versions of some letters to me expressing his first reactions (agony or hurt feelings) before toning down the language and emotions in the final version. How could someone be so sensitive to the possibilities of hurting his adult son’s feelings? Folders on astrology containing detailed charts of family, friends, and people unknown to him, revealed the inordinate time and effort he spent on this alternate hobby, which in his words, was a tool to instill hope to those approaching him in times of distress, identify possibilities, and nudge them to continue to look for solutions.
And so we are here today. The details of the digitization process of the content will be the subject matter of another blog. It suffices to say the process of collating, filtering, organizing, highlighting, and then articulating his rich life and literature on digital media was challenging, to say the least. Balivada the writer could not be separated from Balivada the person. Portraying this hardworking, honest, and affectionate individual who donned multiple roles so effectively is as important as showcasing his literary creations. And hence the project evolved from building a digital library to creating a comprehensive author experience site.
This bilingual site (English and Telugu) includes a detailed biography, a near-complete collection of novels and short stories in Telugu, a small set of language translations, restored audio/video recordings of interviews, plays, and stories, and an extensive photo album. The books can be read for free directly on the site (supported by flipbook reader plugins). Since the content was created from high resolution scans and a careful restoration process, the online version is as good, sometimes better than the original. For best results, I suggest you use a laptop or a large screen tablet to read these books. I have also provided a link to a complete listing of his literature, clearly identifying gaps in this collection. I request your help to complete and improve this collection by sharing any content you might have with you, as well as provide any feedback about this site (contact us). In the future, users will be able to blog on this site to share experiences, reminiscences, and reviews.
I am immensely grateful for the help, support, and guidance from my family, friends, and colleagues. A special thanks to Mr. Rajeswara Rao (Pragati publishers) and Prof. Yohan Babu (Andhra University) for reminding me often of Balivada’s priceless legacy and of the continued relevance of his writings in today’s world. This is my attempt to caricature my father, albeit in a form quite different from what he would have expected or even dreamt of. But I am certain his openness to new ideas and curiosity would have guided his acceptance. He may even have called this a portal to his metal almirah !