Voices of Resistance: Telugu Progressive-Political Literature is a volume of Telugu writings in English. Volga and Kalpana Kannabiran have edited the book, while the writings have been translated into English by Vasanth Kannabiran.
The book explores articulations on humaneness, resistance, justice and social transformation from different periods and genres. The selection of poems, songs, stories and extracts are by 89 authors from the thirteenth century to the present time.
The book is part of the ‘Dakshinayan Indian Thought’ series of books curated by G.N. Devy.
The Following are excerpts from the book.
Not just this Sunday. No Sunday seemed like a holiday. Even if there was no office work, there was no escape from cooking…
‘Radha! Tea, quickly! My folk are in a hurry to leave’, shouted Jeevan from the outer room.
‘Aaa, I’m coming!’ I yelled back.
In five minutes, I had served everyone tea. Jeevan looked at the four men sitting around and, addressing a man who was thin and dark, said, ‘See Mr Jayaraj, my missus, Radha. A typist in the Irrigation Department.’ Then, laughing, he turned to me and introduced us: ‘He is Jayaraj. My colleague. He was transferred to our office recently.’ We greeted each other with namaskarams. I sat on a chair beside Jeevan.
‘Mr Jayaraj! Perhaps you don’t know. Ours is an “intercaste” marriage. Intercaste! You know my caste, isn’t it? She is a mala; your caste only, SC. So you and I are indirectly related’, said Jeevan laughing. Jayaraju laughed uncomfortably while the other three laughed heartily.
I was embarrassed sitting there. How do I leave the place? Jeevan was always like that. He never bothered about occasion or context. It was enough if he just got a chance. He would start talking about his intercaste marriage.
‘There is no other fellow lucky like Jayaraju, Radha! He joined our department as a junior assistant three years ago! He is already a senior assistant. Tomorrow or day after he will become a deputy tahsildar.’ Jayaraju sipped his tea with head bent as Jeevan talked.
Jeevan didn’t stop there. ‘We should all be proud of the fact that the government is encouraging SCs like this. What do you say, Seshayya!’ Jeevan asked the man with thick glasses. Seshayya nodded in agreement, laughing.
‘Actually, Ambedkar being born in this country is a great turn in the lives of these dalits, you know! That he included reservation for depressed classes in the constitution is a great good fortune for dalits. We should be happy about this’, said Srinivasa Rao.
‘Yes, how will people who have been oppressed for generations be capable of brilliance? Their genes will be encrusted with backwardness and inferiority’, said Mohan.
Except for Jayaraju, the other three were always here on a holiday, playing either cards or checkers with Jeevan. So I couldn’t believe my ears.
Sounds of vessels falling in the kitchen… I rushed into the kitchen. Rohit gadu stood there with a glass in hand. ‘Eraa?’ I snapped. And he said, ‘Water, amma.’ His face always looks as innocent as a three-year-old’s to me. Jeevan tried very hard to put him in an English convent for LKG and UKG. I had to battle with Jeevan to see that he started school only at six and studied in his mother tongue. As a result of that battle, he had joined a Telugu school just a month ago. Jeevan had admitted him in school recently. Rohit gadu drank water and ran off to play.
In the room outside, Jeevan and his colleagues were discussing dalits. If Jayaraju had not been present, I know how chaotic that discussion would have been.
The sole reason for my losing all faith in human beings was Jeevan! Before we became life partners, we were classmates in BA. Then, he was first among students with modern ideas. He was a leader in the students’ union. In those days, I used to sing at all college functions. Jeevan was crazy about my songs! He used to come home and tape my songs. My parents also respected Jeevan. He used to say, ‘Your voice has the luxuriance of Lata and the sweetness of Susheela.’ I can’t describe my joy when I heard those words.
We grew fond of each other. Jeevan used to criticise the youth who took dowries as animals in the market. He used to say very passionately that untouchability was a blot on the race and that the word was obscene. By then Jeevan knew that I was a dalit. Soon after I joined BA, I took the exam for the clerical cadre Group Four. I got a job as a typist under the SC quota in the Irrigation Department and joined without completing my BA. It was the first turn in my life. Jeevan was overjoyed. About a week after, he appeared waiting near my office at closing time.
I said, ‘My colleagues might misunderstand if you…’, in a low voice.
Without replying, he took me to a hotel nearby. We sat at a table in the corner, sipping the coffee brought to us by a server. Suddenly Jeevan said, ‘I am thinking of marrying you.’
I was speechless for a while. Talk of marriage without any talk of love! I couldn’t tell if I was dreaming or this was real!
‘If my father and mother agree… Besides you are from a higher caste!’ I said. I felt that caste was a huge invisible fortress wall between human beings. My father listened to the whole story and said, ‘You are capable of thinking clearly. I won’t say no to your decision… Maybe Jeevan kept his economic status in view when he was asking you… Would he have asked you to marry him if you didn’t have this job? Think it over.’ However much of a rationalist, perhaps it was his old age that made him obdurate, I thought. We were married in a month. After our wedding, he finished his BA with a second class and got a job as a teacher in a private convent with my father’s recommendation. We lived happily for a year and a half. Rohit was born. He used to worry sometimes because he didn’t get a government job. Occasionally he would fall prey to thinking that because of reservations he couldn’t get a government job. Luckily, in six months he got a job in the Revenue Department as a junior assistant. There was a new enthusiasm in Jeevan.
I don’t know when the spark of hatred towards dalits ignited in Jeevan, but it flared up when dalits were massacred in Chunduru. ‘These fellows are not ordinary sons of —, Radha! They must have teased the landlord’s women… If lower-caste fellows come and strut around and boast and show off with their sanghams, what will they do but kill them?’ he said one morning after reading the paper.
‘What is this, Jeevan? Is it you speaking?’ I said, not knowing what to say.
‘Radha! It is because you belong to that caste that you are not able to shed your pride in that caste and are surprised. As long as they behave, our people will look upon them like human beings. But if they cross limits, that’s all.’
Something snapped… I wept, wondering at the hatred this man harboured. We did not speak to each other for a week. Then when there was an agitation against the Mandal Commission recommendations, he exposed himself yet again in support of the agitation. Although I said that reservations were part of the government’s vote-hunting drama, and that untouchables would gain nothing from this, that it was just an empty gesture of wiping their tears, he would not listen.
The next day I came home to find Rohit sitting on the steps. I had arranged for him to stay at the neighbours till one of us returned home from work. Yet, I often found him sitting on the steps. ‘Eraa! How long has it been since you came?’ I asked. ‘A very long time’, he answered. He held onto my sari while I unlocked the door.
He said, ‘Amma, they gave me new clothes and books in my school. See!’ He pulled the clothes out of his bag as we stepped inside. A crumpled green cotton shirt and khaki shorts… It was a dress that would fit a ten-year-old. So children in Telugu schools got clothes and books! But for some reason I was uneasy. Perhaps the government decided to give clothes with needy children in mind. We can afford to pay. Was it right for us to take it? With both of us in government jobs, I felt we could not waste the resources of the government like this.
After dinner I told Jeevan that they had given free clothes and books to Rohit gadu in school.
‘It is okay, it does not matter. The government will not go bankrupt by giving your son clothes. If you don’t want them, give them away to a beggar’, he said, smoking a cigarette.
I was not at peace. So I sent a letter to my office through Jeevan seeking permission to go an hour late and went to the school.
I went straight to the headmistress and explained the matter. ‘Give these clothes to a child who needs them. They have been given to my son by mistake’, I said.
‘We did not make a mistake, amma. We gave your boy his quota of books and clothes because he is “SC”.’
‘Who said he is “SC”?’
‘His father wrote SC in his application’, she said.
My head just swirled.
Written 26 May 1995
Source: ‘Vilomam’ by Chilukuri Devaputra (Chilukuri Devaputra Kathalu, Kadapa: Penneti Publications, 2006, pp. 98–101)
Anisetti Rajitha (1957) is a dalit feminist poet and activist from Warangal in Telangana, and a member of the Telangana Prajaswamika Rachayitrula Vedika (Telangana Democratic Women Writers’ Forum).
The endless tales my grandmother told Earth,
grass, branch and leaf, flowers and fruit
mingle to release their friendly fragrance
Those visions would turn into thoughts
Spreading across the countryside. Avva’s
words were always sweet and
wonder-filled as the guavas and berries
She pulled out of the folds of her sari.
For a woman of the earth smeared with slush
Where she had earned such knowledge and learning
was always a wonder to me.
Like the water in the village pond
that turned red at sunset
Her life was a marvel to me.
Setting off for work outside the village
Turning me into a mouth-watering
expectant look she would disappear.
She would return at sunset like a faded sun
Turning into the fruit she had knotted in her sari
wafting its fragrance from far away.
The day she stayed at home
She was like a cat with burnt paws
Sprinkling floors, decorating them
Dusting cobwebs from the sky
And patching the roof.
Avva was like a huge winged bird circling the sky.
Lying on my cot under the tamarind tree
My pockets full of tamarind
My eyes blinking at the sourness
She seemed like a wonder woman
Sprouting countless hands working miracles
Like a vision in my dreams.
At the village temple
I stoned the black jamuns on the tree
to fill my stomach.
But when I went with avva for coolie work
She wore out her muscles
And shed blood and sweat to worship nature
and feed the bellies of her people Like a
hermit in penance
A warrior fighting enemy hunger each day
As if avva was the village
As if she was the living breath of all the produce Of the village.
She was the cane that taught me
the things no school ever taught me.
My pride that my avva is the Jaganmatha
who feeds the people
would fill my heart with tears.
She is the university for working people
I as a pupil of hers
would wash her muddy feet
with the handful of water I collected
to quench my thirst.
Source: ‘Maavva Badi’ by Anisetti Rajitha (Usuru, Warangal: Self-published, 2002, pp. 26–27)