A social reformer, champion of spoken dialect and a poet of superlative artistic acumen and ingenuity Gurazada stands tall on several counts and is rightly hailed as the father of modern Telugu literature.
In every language and literature, once in a blue moon there comes a poet/ playwright/ writer that, through his life and works, shapes the thinking of his contemporaries and influence the later generations leaving his foot prints on the sands of time. For Telugus and their modern literature one such great literary persona is Gurazada Apparao. He emerged on the scene in the last decades of 19th century when the times were on the cusp of a new era.
A social reformer, champion of spoken dialect and a poet of superlative artistic acumen and ingenuity Gurazada stands tall on several counts and is rightly hailed as father of modern Telugu literature. His life and works piloted Telugu language and literature towards fresh woods and pastures new. Both in content and expression he ushered in the new ways.
It indeed speaks volumes for the courage of conviction of Gurazada that he penned his works of progressive hue at a time when people were not past their medieval beliefs, orthodox practices and traditions and social system in decadence. He mastered Sanskrit, Telugu and English languages and its literatures. Though initially he was in love with classical mode of literary expression, true to a reformist nature, soon he found the efficacy of spoken dialect in poetic expression in its native idiomatic flavour and its ability to carry its fragrance to common folk in an endearing way and harnessed it to the hilt.
His magnum opus Kanyasulkam is an evergreen meadow on otherwise arid landscape of Telugu social drama.
The play bears a stamp of realistic depiction of stark social scenario of his times. His strong characterization pepped with idiomatic flavour in spoken dialect ensured its endearment to one and all. It was local in its setting but universal in its appeal for Gurazada’s canvas is the man and his mind where the engaging plot and its riveting treatment remains just a backdrop. The characters are of flesh and blood rather than imaginative ones. Endowed with an eye for detail, Gurazada, it is said, had a penchant to observe the people very keenly and on returning home even used to make notes of the details of his observations of the people that he had met. It, in a way, helped him create those immortal characters in his play.
A master of prosody and poetics in Sanskrit, Telugu and English, he chanced to come across a folksong in simple metre. Terming it ‘muthyala saram’ – string of pearls for its lucidity with lilt, he penned immortal works in that metre which immensely enriched modern mode of expression in Telugu. Even his short stories are a class apart The sublimity of thought and charms of poetic expression in his `Desa Bhakthi’ geyam (song of patriotism) are unparalleled in patriotic commitment.
In this everlasting piece, he appealed to people thus
“ Look not backward,
There’s little that’s good yonder there;
Drag not your feet; but move forward,
Fall behind once, forever you shall”
“Work hard and get the land
Flooded with milk and honey
It’s food that goes to make the brawn
He that has brawn is a man”
“Skinny thinny men
Don’t make a nation prosperous
Master the arts and crafts
And flood the land with goods home-made
It is the sweat of toiling masses
That makes the wealth of a nation”
“Forego a bit of your own
To help your neighbour
Country never does mean clay,
But people and people alone
All nations and religions
shall live in fraternal bliss”.
In adherence to the way shown by him, later day poets in Telugu penned a corpus of good works in their attempts to deepening the depth and range of modern writing in Telugu but no one came anywhere near what he had penned more than a century ago.
– Velcheti Subrahmanyam