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Vyasavali  (1933)  by Gidugu Venkata Ramamoorty


A new venture such as this—a Journal devoted to promote the study of Telugu—may seem unwarranted arrogance. Do not the lists of publications issued by the Registrar of books prove that Telugu has an increasing literature? Are there not famous writers already in the land? Do not series for the diffusion of knowledge in Telugu flourish? Does not the University prescribe for the delectation of its undergraduates poems and dramas by living poets and play wrights? What then is the need for stimulating the study of Telugu?

For some years past, there has been vigorous controversy between two schools of thought. The one maintains that true literary salvation is to be sought in the past, which sets up a standard of orthodoxy and points, as its models, to the performances of Writers in what the late lamented G. V. Apparow Pantulu garu named the neo-Kavya dialect. The other proclaims the need of ‘a new angle of vision’ (to use a cant phrase of today), sets up new standards of literature and language, resting them upon what it conceives to be the lessons learnt from English, French etc. Thus, the literature of any age reflects the thoughts and habits of the time; it changes from age to age and in one age does not follow slavishly a standard set up by a preceding age; it seeks inspiration from the present and, in the matter of expression no less than in content, declares that criticism of life, not of dead bones is its intention. Sounds, vocabulary, idiom change Secularly but the mass of speakers and writers are not more than half conscious of the change. Only in a later age is the metamorphosis seen in its true perspective and the truth appears that the history of men's utterance no less than of their customs and ideals is one long tale of rebirths for better and for worse; mostly for better, it seems; at any rate there is no such thing as stagnation. Do not these very writers of the orthodox school bear witness to the truth?

For a time, during the days of war it seemed necessary that controversy should be stilled. [2]But with the present prospect of peace and amid the talk of reconstruction is it not right to hope that the school of light, more light, will find its justification in a splendid rebirth of Telugu writing, tales, poems, essays, dramas instinct with reality, reflecting consciously the life of the people, written in a tongue that all may read and readily understand?

This is the hope and faith that is within us. The day may be near or distant; let it come when it will. Meanwhile our work is the spadework of the pioneer. In the pages of this Journal our object is to discuss and experiment, to educate ourselves for that great time, to lay the foundations for future success.

What then are the topics for discussion? what the experiments? In the first place it is necessary to limit ourselves. We do not intend to have anything to do with Religion or Social reform, except in so far as we consider the use of the living tongue to be the greatest, the most embracing 'reform', nor yet with Politics, again except in so far as they hinder or help the spread of true education, the education of the sons of the soil through and in the living tongue. Our sole object is literary regeneration and linguistic research. In striving after this object we shall endeavour to be fair. The vituperation and personalities that frequently disfigure the debates of scholars and literary men will find no place in our pages. Our criticism shall be as honest as we can make it, it shall rest on principles, the rules of art and the laws of linguistic Science.

The field of work is almost limitless. We will take up and carry on the work of linguistic research initiated by Government (Vide Vol. IV). On the purely linguistic side, there is enormous scope. Since the days of the early grammarians no study of the language of the Telugu Country has been made. In recent years the purpose of gammatical study has changed; it has been affected by the ideas of such sciences as biology and anthropology; it no longer prescribes rules regarding language as fixed unalterably but as ever slightly subject to flux, being modified in sound and idiom from generation to generation; the grammar of one age is not that of the next; and in any one age a language may exhibit many different grammars according to class or caste or dialect; grammar varies regionally as well as secularly. So too does vocabulary. Moreover the enrichment of a language is mainly a popular affair. Meanings change, are widened, are limited, improve, deteriorate; words are used in various figurative ways and pass into the realm of dead metaphors. Foreign words are imported and reduced to the speech basis of the native tongue; learned words from other sources are invented for special purposes and may pass into the current body of speech and literature, or remain outside as special for the learned to employ in their particular arts and sciences. The literary language is always somewhat more formal than the colloquial, and the colloquial itself may be of the polite or formal or of the slangy variety. Speech is always in close contact with writing; in time, even slang may become elegant and pass into the recognized vocabulary of literature. Poetical, a specialized branch of the literary language, tends for special reasons of rhythm, ryhme, assonance, solemnity, dignity, pathos, sonority and the like to be more conservative, archaic and formal than the language of prose, but even the poetry of an age reflects its tendencies of educated speech and thought. The highest poetry has its roots in the songs of the people; reflection seen in the art of posts is but individual intensification of nature; the popular ballad develops into the literary; the minstrel’s tale grows into the heroic poem, into the epic.

Our Telugu literature, it seems, suffers from an over—rigid theory concerning the relative position of speech and common writing with the art of poets. Modern prose writers assume that the special archaic prose found in ancient Kavyas has set the model for all time to prose of all sorts; most versifiers hold that the rules of later Sanskrit rhetoricians concerning the topics, construction and metre of poety are binding on modern Telugu posts. Is nothing then to be learnt from the native singers of the people? from the makers of children’s songs or of wayside ballads? Is it forbidden those who would sing in this modern world to go back to nature as did the English poets of the Romantic age? Are they for ever to be circumscribed within the narrow bounds set, as they thought, to the first makers of Telugu poetry? Art, as society, grows only by freedom and by experiment. Modern times have brought to multitudes of men new ideas from other lands through the channels of English literature and modern science. As the English poets of the sixteenth century were emancipated by the study of Greek and Latin and by the removal of the trammels of the mediæval church, is there not hope that from the mass of noble poetry, lyrical, narrative, descriptive, which England offers to them and which they read with avidity and delight may come some inspiration to experiment in form and language and thought unknown to those who are still in the bonds of our decadent Mediævalism? And prose, written for an artistic or a popular scientific purpose can learn much from foreign models; perhaps the first lesson to be gathered is that current literature and current educated speech have one common basis; prose rhythm, prose formalities of order, subtle effects of expression as when instinct or emotion hits on the fittest words for its conveyance—all the devices of the artist—do not need dead vocabulary and dead grammar; between the artist and his audience there is the greater contact when he speaks and they listen to language which both share; and his message makes a wider appeal.

Our purpose is not merely to discuss these facts; we hope to attract men to experiment in our pages. Translation and original work will both be welcome. It will be recalled that in the early Elizabethan days there was much practice in adaptation and translation and even the highest geni-uses recast into English mould with an infusion of their own originality romances, legends, dramas. In this Telugu renaissance, our writers have a vaster field from which to gather suggestions and, indeed, there are already many adaptations and translations of Shakespeare's plays, King Lear, The Tempest, Cymbeline and of Molière's Comedies, Le Médècin Malgré Lui L' Avare. But whereas those Elizabethans, adopted foreign originals into their living English, with rare exceptions our writers and adapters eschew the living tongue; they follow ancient rules of rhetoric and seek in pseudoancient Telugu their medium of expression. With dissertations on the art of translation open to them, they prefer to follow the erroneous guidance of the pedants' method of the Sabdârtha. We should, therefore, welcome ídiomatic renderings in real Telugu of good English, French or other originals and original experiments in living prose, tales of current life handled freely and with an imagination untrammelled by stereotyped Lakshana, recondite allusions and stale conventional figures and images.

We desire discussion on the art of writing; thus, How may the living tongue be made an artistic medium? What devices in harmony with the genius of the language can we adopt and adapt from English or other writers, whereby variety, emphasis, lucidity, and strength may be attained? Prose writing is yet in its infancy with us; *[3]this instrument of expression has yet to be forged. Reflexion may help to a satisfactory tempering. And poetry too may be developed. We would encourage the collection of ballads and songs and an analysis of their natural art in critical discussion. The real indigenous metres wherein accent plays an important part we would discover or if any poets will essay flights in the native manner improving upon the rude art of the unknown singers of the people, we shall welcome their efforts.

On the linguistic side, we would point to the need there is to study dialects and to gather material for dialectal glossaries. In other countries there is already a mass of work done in this direction and poets and tellers of tales have arisen who have used their dialects with effect in English, for instance Waugh in the Lancashire dialect, Barn in the Dorset, and above all Burns in the Scots. Our superior persons pretend contempt of the simple flok and their utterance; but that the simple have their needs and will have them is proved by the ill-printed ballad books to be found in any bazar. Our zeal, which as we said at the beginning may, to some, seem arrogance, doubtless hopes for more than we can perform. But at least we can focus the efforts of many who are striving to make the living Telugu a live and potent force, for the expression of the ferment of ideas which are abroad. We Telugus, we flatter overselves, are more receptive of thoughts of progress than the other peoples of Southern India. In matters of Social reform and of Education we are at any rate not backward; our educated men are in the forefront in all public discussions; we have the courage to attempt what we believe to be good; we do not merely talk about Social reform, we put into practice. We believe in the uplift of the masses. Is there not here in this 'reform' of language the surest means of spreading light among the poor and needy? Is not our beautiful living tongue a true vehicle for our message? Our little ones are starved for good literature; our women hunger for pure imaginative books. Education is not limited to the school-room; good literature which inspires good thoughts is needed beyond in the world. The English have such in abundance; are we to be barred by an ancient theory from entering into the inheritance they have brought us? We appeal to all of our race who have benefited by their education to help us in our small efforts to stimulate the writing of imaginative books and the supply. We likewise appeal to others who are interested in the development of he modern Indian Vernaculars and popular education for assistance. What is wanting in our society is a literature that shall be pure and of good report and such as he who runs may read. First of all our children demand it. Is it not time that ‘a little child shall lead them?

Whatever our ultimate aims—dreams, if you like, of what shall result from our efforts—our immediate object is to remove the cloud of prejudice which overhangs some of our educated men, to prove to them for instance that there is an abundant Telugu prose which is not in the pseudo kavya style, now in vogue among the pandits and favoured by the university of Madras and by the S. S. L. C. authorities. This artificial style, we hold, is not genuine Telugu but is the invention of Telugu-Tamil or Tamil-Telugu writers *[4]Telugus for generations exiled from the truθ Telugu country. There are in all the Manuscripts Libraries hundreds of MSS in Telugu prose written in the true Telugu country but hardly one in the ancient Kavyà dialect or any attempted imitation of it. The medium was the current popular dialect, even in the earlier school books some of which were printed. This is a matter of proof *[5]which it will be our endeavour to supply and convince people who now oppose the use of modern Telugu in prose. We shall give extracts from writings and show how the true tradition of Telugu prose has been natural change as speech has changed.

This will involve linguistic research; for some time past such research has been made, with the result that we are in a position to show that the grammars extant ar# both incomplete and unreliable; that in consequence many of the modern writers of old Telugu are apt to commit various kinds of errors, either from misunderstanding of the grammarians they profess to follow, or from failing to observe the practice of ancient writers. We are in a position to prove the real ancient usage and shall publish selections from the texts. We shall also show how this pedantic ignorance of ancient usage, of sound textual criticism and of palæography has induced modern editors of ancient texts to tamper with the originals and we shall give as far as we can correct and truly critical readings of old time texts. Incidentally the MSS help us to connect the modern regional dialects with their original forms; there is much need of sound phonological enquiry as the starting point of Etymological research. Little has been done in the study of modern caste or regional dialects. On all these points our researches, we believe, will throw light and be a stimulus to further scientific investigation. As one result, we believe, it will be possible to construct a sound grammar of Telugu, descriptive and historical.

On the literary side, as we said, we hope to stimulate the search for old songs, tales, ballads etc., which exist in manuscript or in the memories of the people. There is, for instance, work to be done in the collation and critical examination of various versions of certain popular ballads. Further we desire experiments in popular metres, in stories, critical essays, scientific writing and in all other forms of composition.

Our programme is large, but no larger than the field of Enquiry warrants. On the side of oriental and particularly Dravidian studies, there is wanting, so far as the Madras University is concerned, a turly critical spirit. At least in Telugu by our treatment of the material available, we hope to show how this spirit should operate.

  1. Reprinted from the Telugu Journal edited by the Author.
  2. There is no ground whatever for the fears entertained by some misinformed persons that Government have discountenanced our views. We declare this on the assurance given us by H. E. Lord Pentland at Parlakimedi on the 7th January 1919. Government imposed no restrictions.
  3. Vide A Defence of Literary Telugu by Mr, J. Ramayya Pantulu, page 2,
  4. *Of Tanjore, Trichinopoly, Madura and Madras. Vide A Defence of Literary Telugi by Mr.J. Ramayya Pantulu. page 2.
  5. *In the third article is given ample proof of the existance of such books: the testimony of the custodians of the manuscripts in the public libraries, of individuals who have seen such manuscript of the pandits, and other teachers on the staff of thirteen Colleges to whom many such manuscripts were shown.