Today there is a wide gap between common people and the literary, intellectual discussions happening in the Telugu linguistic areas or state. The physical as well as intellectual distance is increasing fast. In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, literature in its various forms was reaching people from the middle and lower middle-classes. ‘Song’ as a powerful literary form was going to the rural masses and industrial workers. Street plays were common in those days and reached both urban and rural students and workers. But since the last two decades, we are experiencing increasing distance between writers, intellectuals and common people.
With globalisation and technological advances in mass communication, the space allotted for literature in magazines and newspapers has drastically decreased, as has the number of readers. The government has withdrawn its support for public libraries in both urban and rural areas, with the worst affected being the rural poor who would previously gather around libraries and discuss various issues. The urban middle class, with their orientation towards building a career, completely ignore literature and social sciences. They try their best to develop English speaking skills and read English books – that too books about personality development!
If they have no clarity on whom they are writing for, or who is going to read their work, they get disappointed and depressed. If they feel like no general readers exist around them, they tend to write for their fellow writers and critics and wait for appreciation and approval. Thus, they slowly move away from the general public.
Usually writers write for their readers and they know their readers. If they have no clarity on whom they are writing for, or who is going to read their work, they get disappointed and depressed. If they feel like no general readers exist around them, they tend to write for their fellow writers and critics and wait for appreciation and approval. Thus, they slowly move away from the general public. This situation has come about in the Telugu literary field now. The contemporary Telugu literary scenario is similar to that of the Congress Party before Gandhi arrived from South Africa. I remember a scene from the film ‘Gandhi’, directed by Richard Attenborough. Gandhi, who was participating for the first time in the Congress Annual meetings where Vallabhbhai Patel, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Jawaharlal Nehru and other important leaders were present, spoke in a very serious but authentic tone (and I paraphrase): Congress does not belong to a few lawyers and leaders that stay in Bombay and Delhi… we are giving lectures to each other and writing in the newspaper for each other’s approval. But the real India consisting of 7 lakh villages is out there… With this vision, Gandhi turned the other leaders and the path of the national movement towards the rural masses. This message is the need of the hour for Telugu writers and intellectuals.
With the effect of globalisation and technological advancement, writers are forced to move away from their social responsibilities. For instance, we now consider our personal spaces, such as Whatsapp and Facebook which are controlled and ‘administered’ by select people, as social spaces. We are slowly moving away from actual social places like meeting halls, streets where we can view street plays with other people, dharna chowks and protest rallies where we can actually be present. Those spaces where we can stand together, recite our poetry, discuss and debate issues, approve or dissent are slowly disappearing and losing their political charm and sharpness.
…we now consider our personal spaces, such as Whatsapp and Facebook which are controlled and ‘administered’ by select people, as social spaces. We are slowly moving away from actual social places like meeting halls, streets where we can view street plays with other people, dharna chowks and protest rallies where we can actually be present.
Another important thing is – independent political and intellectual discourse is not being generated from radical or progressive left-wing forces, except for a few individual intellectuals who write and speak. Other than responding to the issues which are inevitable results of the social system, there is no leadership for creating a new stream of thought or to encourage people to think independently, radically.
From 1970 onwards, vibrant Telugu literary forces were emerging, but they too faded away some twenty years later for various reasons. The identity politics which entered Telugu literature in the 1990s brought fresh thoughts to this space for another twenty years. But those identity movements and politics are still in the process of discussing and debating amongst themselves, trying to find out and resolve the inner contradictions. Those political forces are not in a position to lead the entire social fabric of the state and show a definitive path. They will need some more time.
…there is no leadership for creating a new stream of thought or to encourage people to think independently, radically.
Despite these gaps and distances, Telugu literature is still politically very vibrant. Caste and gender politics are portrayed, and discussed in each and every literary form. But that is not reaching the rural youth as needed. Now, the rural and urban Dalit youth, who are first-generation literates are eager to read Ambedkar’s writings; they are enthusiastic to read, understand and act. Many of us are happy that a new leadership could emerge from Dalit feminist forces. But the point is that they should be able to cooperate and coordinate with other progressive social elements. Only in that process will their intellectual abilities be sharpened, and they can establish an organic relationship with all the common people. The speed with which this movement progresses will determine the growth and enlightenment of Telugu literature and the extent to which Telugu society will benefit.
Since the late 19th century, Telugu people or writers and readers have had the habit of translating, reading and discussing other languages in their mother tongue. Almost all Indian language masterpieces, classics and important works are available in Telugu. A lot of English, Russian, American, Latin American and French language books are translated into Telugu. Every new thought from all corners of the world is reaching Telugu readers quickly. In recent times, Book Exhibitions record more sales of translated works than original works. Though sad in a way, it is a fact one has to accept.
Thus, Telugu people cooperating and connecting with other language writers is doubtless, but there should be a platform for it. To have a public discourse which will reach and be understood by common people, we have to search for creative ways. If we can make common people a part of this discourse, that will definitely pave a new and creative path for society.
If we can make common people a part of this discourse, that will definitely pave a new and creative path for society.
But how can we bridge the gap between intellectuals and common people? How will common people believe that these writers are speaking for their benefit? That is a big challenge.
Literature encompasses the compassionate, emotional and intellectual aspects of human mind. The three travel very quickly from one to another in the minds of humans and lead them to actions. It is in this journey writers create literary forms. This is not only a physical, chemical reaction, but also very much a political one. When this political action is not favourable to the state, it will try to stop the writers and intellectuals.
The state also has a key role in creating this gap between writers and the public directly and indirectly. These are difficult times, but writers should struggle to find new ways to reach the readers. Common readers. Not fellow writers and critics. To write in a language and dialect and form which people can understand is one way. It is not an easy task, but it is not unsolvable either.
To write in a language and dialect and form which people can understand is one way. It is not an easy task, but it is not unsolvable either.
Now, in the times of Corona, seeing the plight of migrant labourers, a writer, Adesh Ravi, wrote a simple song in a dialect of Telugu and all sections of people related to it very quickly. Many songs, poems and short stories are followed by direct action. Many writers are now coming into the streets and helping to provide food and shelter, and making arrangement for travel in these times. That is a good sign.
Change in thought, language and perception will certainly be possible with networks that interact with people.
This essay is part of a larger series by Inter-Actions on the discourses and ideas emerging out of the different languages of India. As a growing number of ecological, environmental and humanitarian crises confront our society, we see a range of emotional and pragmatic responses in the public space. The one crucial element that remains missing, and which may be the key to effectively addressing and sustainably solving these problems, is the intellectual one. This series aims to understand the thoughts emerging from different languages of India, and situate where this thought may lead us. To read the other essays, click here.
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