A competent soul’s life journey

Telugu original1 by: Rajani Katragadda

Translated by: Atreya Sarma U

Indian postal stamp
commemorating
Tripuraneni Gopichand

Cover of source book:
Maa Naanna Gaaru
(My great father)


More than enthusiasm it’s tenseness that envelopes me if I have to write about my father since there are a number of readers, friends, fans and publishers who feel much more possessive about him. That’s why his memory continues to be cherished even now. The litterateurs and their creative oeuvre of his generation were all-time greats.

However, I attempt a brief introduction of the life and work of Gopichand. He was born on 08 September 1910 on the day of the sacred Ganesh festival day. A law graduate, he was a great writer, narrator, script writer for movies, and film director. His iconic novels like Asamarthuni Jeeva Yatra (An Incompetent’s Life Journey), Cheekati Gadulu (Dark Rooms), Pandita Paramesvara Sastry Veelunama (Pandit Parameshvara Shastry’s Testament), and Merupulu Marakalu (Sparks and Stains) elevated him as a beacon of light for the short story.

His work Tattvavettalu (Philosophers) beats the reader’s brain out. Have a clean conscience and follow it, was his motto of life and he lived it. His life and literature weren’t separate, they were integral. What I like the most in him is his transparency rather than his philosophy. In retrospect, I realise that he had lived a smooth and transparent life even in the modern materialistic world, and it could be only due to those fundamental values of life. Quoting sage Vemana’s poetic lines that only a Bhogi can become a Yogi (that only a reveller can become an ascetic), a fan remarked that Gopichand was also like a Bhogi turned into a Yogi. But Gopichand was a Karma Yogi (one believing in relentless activity without an eye on the result). The words and sentences he writes while in agony are very solacing. Dad’s life was an open book for anyone to look into and learn a lot from. Whatever work he was doing as a film director, writer, Director of Public relations in the government of Andhra Pradesh, or as a producer of the rural programme in the All India Radio, it was only his writing that was the undercurrent in the running stream of all his multifaceted creativity.

Tripuraneni Ramaswamy (1887-1943), father of Gopichand, was a scholar in Sanskrit and Telugu who also did the Barrister-at-law course during those days in England.  Never after money, the father-son duo were short-lived, but their accomplishments were incredible. While Ramaswamy’s writings were rationalistic, revolutionary and patriotic, Gopichand focused on the psychoanalytical and progressive aspects of life. I knew grandfather only through his writings, having never seen him physically for I was born a couple of years after his demise.  I was with father for only sixteen years for he breathed his last as early as 1962. Never have I seen a personage like him ever since. The society revolved around him, and he lived like a lion. The house was like the abode of Sarasvati, the goddess of learning visited by lots of eminent people from various fields including profound Vedic savants, writers and artists. Among them was Mullapudi Timmaraju who requested father to pen the history of the Kamma society. Another frequent visitor was dear relation Nutakki Ramaseshaiah, Diwan of Jeypore in Odisha and also a lawyer. During those days when I was very young, me and my siblings weren’t aware of the greatness of such distinguished people.

Six decades have rolled by since father’s demise in 1962, yet till date he is being written about or referred to. His continued popularity testifies to the unique power of his pen which stopped to move but whose ink hasn’t dried a whit. Despite father being extremely preoccupied in his hectic literary activity, he had throughout taken care of all of us his six children, with minute concern for our studies and health. This salubrious familial spirit has flowed into our genes and it’s no exaggeration to say that all of us have similarly brought up our children.

When it comes to my mother, though there was difference between her and father looks-wise, she was intellectually no less in any way. Even during those days when women’s education was minimal, she was a disciple of the legendary Unnava Lakshminarayana Pantulu (1877-1958). Though well-versed in Hindi and Telugu, she was content being a housewife. Her self-confinement to the home-front, though voluntary, was perhaps a cause of disappointment to father, I guess. When we read his novel Yamapasam (The Noose of Death), we get that feeling. But they were an ideal couple reminding us of the primordial couple Lord Shiva and Parvati. It was an irrecoverable bolt from the blue to her when father met with his sudden premature death.  

I needn’t too much elaborate on the books by Gopichand for they are well-known. Jnanpith recipient Viswanatha Satyanarayana who was fatherly to him praised his works.

The portrayal of stepmom Damayanti in the novel Cheekati Gadulu (Dark Rooms) is a befitting tribute to such characters. There are other powerful characters with distinct personalities like – the British principal of the college and his wife; Kalyana Kinkini; Susila; revolutionary Siva Kumar; and Gandhi Damaiah. And the character Krishna Swamy represents Ramaswamy, father of Gopichand; so, I needn’t interpret it further. In fact, Gopichand had originally conceived a tetralogy of this novel, but he could complete only the first part. Had it been completed, all these characters would have stood out as full-fledged live individuals before us so that we could have learnt from them. The wistfulness of missing it gnaws at our hearts.

Anyone who reads through the novel Asamarthuni Jeeva Yatra (An Incompetent’s Life Journey) does feel that they are reading about themselves. It’s a work created after deeply probing and analysing the minds and hearts of the characters. And you find intense philosophical reflections in the novels – Merupulu Marakalu (Sparks and Stains), and Pandita Paramesvara Sastry Veelunama (Pandit Parameshvara Shastry’s Testament). There is a stage transcending even spiritualism, and anyone who attains it will segue into a universal human. Why should we be afraid of solitude? Those who tap solitude with a pristine mental focus will imbibe the rhythm underlying the universe, and experience an enduring ecstasy. This higher realm of thinking harmonises the spiritualistic and the materialistic aspect of life, enlightening that they are not mutually exclusive, and thereby brings about a sweet and salubrious serenity of mind. These reflections not only help an understanding of the feelings and viewpoints of Ramaswamy and Gopichand but also make us benefit from them. Incessant and dispassionate quest for wisdom makes us equanimous to any type of ups and down in the life.

When I was in my BA, at RBVRR Women’s College, Hyderabad, father used to correct my essays on philosophical/spiritual topics. By the time I joined MA (Sociology) he was no more around, for me to look up to him. If me and my siblings have any spiritual and rationalist bent of mind, skills in English language, and discipline, we owe it totally to our father. It’s because of that inherited foundation only that all the six of us have been able to stand strong in life. We still feel the presence of mom and dad around us.

By the time father passed away, he was at the intellectual peak. He used to write the three novels – Cheekati Gadulu (Dark Rooms), Yamapasam (The Noose of Death), and Premopahatulu (The Love-wrecked Ones) – simultaneously. He used to dictate them extempore to Gopala Rao, a staffer from the Yuva monthly, who would write it down.

“Why don’t you write too something?” dad would ask me. To slip out of that snare, I would say, “Dad, I don’t have the mood now.” He would share this conversation with a chuckle with his friends. With a view to amusing my younger brother Sai and younger sister Nalini, he would take them out, having them on either side and holding their hands. He was a man of small pleasures. He was a like a banyan tree, yet he let us grow up under his vast canopy. He gave us full freedom. He built our home not with bricks but with hearts. That’s why, our home ever brimmed with fun and frolic.

It was 02 November 1962. I took part in the students’ march in protest against the Chinese invasion of the Indian territory, and returned home in the evening. Father had already contributed to the national defence fund as a patriotic citizen. Seated in his bedroom, he was gently stroking his chest. The previous night he said he would get to writing the novel Bharya Vilapam (The Wife’s Grief). Apparently, he had a sense of promotion like a Yogi. Why, he was a Karma Yogi himself, as I mentioned earlier. A few minutes later walked in Dr Pinnamaneni Satyanarayana Rao, a leading cardiologist to-be. He had father recline on the bed, and administered an injection. Even as he was orally responding, dad’s head sank aside for ever. Ramesh, my elder brother, who had just then stepped in with the medicines he bought, froze with anguish. Even now I recall his agonized face vividly. A little while thereafter, the entire state of Andhra Pradesh came to know of father’s death through the regional news of the All India Radio. Death is a leveller, it’s said. But we couldn’t digest its justification in the case of father. The persona that shone in the new set of silk dhoti and lalchi that mom bought him for every Ganesh festival, coinciding with his birthday, passed out of sight. All the kith and kin who couldn’t believe this shocking news, hurtled all the way from Angaluru, his native village in Krishna district, to Hyderabad. There was none whose eyes and hearts didn’t overflow with tears.

Yet, I would like to conclude this writeup not on a sad but a happy note. We can’t forget some of the light-hearted moments in our lives.

One day dad walked over to the kitchen-sink and asked me to fill the pen with ‘water.’

“What! Fill with water?” cheekily I retorted. 

“That’s enough smartie! Fill it with ink.”

Daddy was seen many a time humming the tune ‘Urvasi lalama eeme, adhika Lavanya seema’ (Urvasi the great she is, and a graceful land it is), one of his favourites.

Filling the pens with ink, playfully hearing dad’s words, I had finished reading the Telugu works of all the greats, by the time I was hardly sixteen thanks to the interest sowed by father in me. He used to reel out names of authors like Chekov, Gorky, Maupassant, Sommerset Maugham, Pearl S Buck and Anne Frank; and it spurred me into reading works like Good Earth and The Diary of a Young Girl at that time. The habit of buying and reading books continues to be a source of joy even now. But let me admit however that we – the grandchildren of Ramaswamy and children of Gopichand – haven’t inherited their writing acumen. However, we sense the signs of our next generation going to fill that vacuum.

And this is the humble homage to dad from us his six children.

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1. This article is a mutatis mutandis adaptation of the Telugu original ‘Tripuraneni Gopichand’ included in Maa Naanna Gaaru (My great father), a posthumous anthology of tributes to the literary stalwarts by their surviving children, compiled & edited by Dr Dwa Naa Sastry (Kinnera Publications, Hyderabad, 2009. ISBN: 978-81-907279-2-1. Pp 379. ₹ 400. $ 25.) And the translation has been finalized in consultation with the original writer.

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Rajani Katragadda
Rajani Katragadda

Rajani Katragadda nee Tripuraneni, MA (Sociology), is a well-known Telugu writer and translator. Born of Sakuntala Devi and illustrious writer Tripuraneni Gopichand – son of the legendary rationalist, poet & writer Tripuraneni Ramaswamy, Rajani was brought up in Madras, Kurnool and Hyderabad the places where her father had been working.

After marrying defence scientist Subrahmanyam Katragadda, she moved over to Bengaluru where she has since settled down. Their sons Dr Gopichand and twins Siddharth & Shilpesh are software engineers, writers and artists.

A voracious reader of fiction and lover of arts, Rajani has penned in Telugu – Asamarthurali Antarangam [An incompetent woman’s inner mind] (JV Publications, Hyderabad, 2018) – a collection of short stories, articles and translations. She has translated from English to Telugu for the Maa Bozell ad company. She went into the business of Spartek Ceramics company for five years.

Rajani acted in three short films, and one of them ‘Varanasi’ (directed by her son Siddharth Katragadda) won the best foreign film award at the Atlantic City CineFest, New Jersey, 2013. She was the co-writer of dialogues for the Telugu movie ‘Tokachukka’ (2014) directed by her son Gopichand Katragadda.

Email: katrajini@gmail.com


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