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Standing at Cultural Cross-roads

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

By Mahidhara Ramamohana Rao. Translated from Telugu by Vegunta Mohan Prasad
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2012, pp. 358, Rs. 495.00

By Sugata Srinivasaraju
Navakarnataka, Bangalore, Karnataka, India, 2012, pp. 328, Rs. 250.00


Mini Krishnan of OUP has been at this project of getting modern novels from Indian languages into English with a certain dedication and passion. She is also emotionally committed to the nationalist, modernist and progressive project that India has been in the 20th century during and after the freedom struggle. It would be necessary to keep in mind this perspective as we read this Telugu novel, Swarajyam (original Telugu title is Kollayigattitheynemi written in 1965, a phrase from a poem by Basavaraju Appa Rao and affectionately refers to the short-dhoti clad Mahatma Gandhi, in the form of a rhetorical question and followed by maa Gandhi kamotaitheynemi which means what if our Gandhi wears a short-dhoti and he is a vaishya or baniya). So, it is difficult to quarrel with Krishnan’s project and her choices. But it will be necessary to remember that the modernist moment and the modernist movement have become antiquated a long time ago, and that the winds of change after modernism have not hit the Telugu literary and cultural shores with enough force if not ferocity. Feminism is again a part of the modernism project and its ideological cantankerousness is necessarily blinkered. Telugu literature is yet to pick up the threads of postmodernism, which is a passionate critique of modernism and its naïve—in retrospect—rationality, and also the post-postmodernism, which is the bewildering present where all ideological anchors have been shaken to the roots. So, Krishnan’s project and her choice of novels to be translated almost assume a classical mould, of a distant past which can be called ancient. The novel also is a portrayal of the unfolding of modern India breaking away from the shackles of an ossified traditionalist India of the preceding century or two. The question whether the Indian society of the 19th century was centuries old or millennia old, or whether it was a recent phenomenon of the preceding half-century remains an unexplored issue. But during the 19th and 20th centuries what seemed traditional India presented a claustrophobic and pathological state of mind and state of affairs. So those who rebelled against the established order faced no easy task.   Mahidhara Ramamohana Rao adds a new vein to this modernization story. A Communist himself, he goes back to a pre-ideological, pre-Communist moment to tell his story and he refrains from giving it a Communist twist. He says, ‘Sometime between 1936 and 1940, I ...

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