Bhubaneswar: Chaganti Somayajulu or Chaso, as he is known, is regarded by many as the most accomplished practitioner of modern short story in Telugu language. The odd fact is however that Chaso published just about 45 short (most of them, less than six pages long) stories in his 80 years of life. And he never sought publicity or campaigned for awards, but just let the stories speak for themselves.
Critics and readers who have plumbed deep into his stories feel he should be rated among the best short story writers anywhere in the world. As a literary artiste, and as a keen observer and analyst of human nature, Chaso is peerless.
Chaso passed away in 1994. Ever since then, his daughter, Dr. Chaganti Tulasi, herself a renowned writer and translator, has made it her mission to bring attention to the nature and worth of Chaso’s stories, so that contemporary readers and writers get a measure of the possibilities and impact of literature which Chaso believed in. And how a deep Marxist understanding of man and society and a sturdy, fierce moral spirit can be interlaced with formal perfection, without sounding preachy or narrowly political.
Chaso Sphurti (Chaso’s inspiration) is the literary meet she organises every year on 17th of January, Chaso’s birth anniversary, in Vijayanagaram, north Andhra. Vijayanagaram was at the centre of Telugu cultural renaissance and great breakthrough achievements in modernist literature (led by Gurajada Appa Rao, the pioneering figure of modern Telugu literature, in poetry, short story and drama). It is the town where Chaso grew and lived all his life.
Every year a writer who has committedly worked for the development of creative literature is felicitated and awarded with a cheque of rs. 10,000/- in memory of Chaso at this meet.
The 23rd Chaso Sphurti meeting was held on Wednesday, in the elegant meeting hall built in memory of Chaso on the terrace of District Central Library. For a change, the award was presented to a non-Telugu writer this year : Dr.Gaurahari Das, the multifaceted Odia creative writer and editor-journalist. 17 volumes of short stories, 5 novels, a play, a long poem, 3 travelogues, 7 works of translation and 9 books of editorial writings : such is the phenomenal range and output of this remarkably soft spoken and sprightly, much awarded and popular man of letters. He had also a long stint with television news channel and a reputed media training institute.
In his award speech (in English), Dr. Das regaled the audience by narrating a number of tales and anecdotes, ancient and modern, from around the world to buttress the importance of literature in human life : as man’s “ inner voice” and “ a parallel history of mankind”. Praising Chaso as “ a master craftsman of Indian fiction’ , “ a progressive writer in his conviction and courage of free expression”, he pin-pointed “compassion” as the life-spirit of Chaso and his stories. He quoted Albert Camus’ “ Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth”, as the most apt words to describe the stories of Chaso.
Two books were released on this occasion by Dr. Gaurahari Das in the presence of Dr. Chandu Subba Rao, senior Telugu writer and critic, and the main speaker Dr. G V Purnachandu, and the family members of Chaso.
“Nee Uttaram Andindi” is a collection of letters written to Chaso by some of luminaries of modern Telugu literature, such as, Srirangam Narayanababu, Sri Sri, Devulapalli Krishna Sastri, Arudra, Somasundar, Jaruk Sastri and Munimanikyam Narasimha Rao, and some letters written by Chaso to some of them, over 45 years, from 1940 onwards. As Prof Chandu Subba Rao who presided over the meeting observed, these letter are going to create quite a sensation, for they reveal many little known aspects of the evolution of modernist Telugu poetry and the relationships between those pioneering writers and their creative endeavours in a new light.
The second book “ Aalokana” is a collection of transcriptions of eight audio recordings Chaso made for Ramineedu, a literary enthusiast, and eight essays written by Chaso for various publications and occasions. The very perspicuous and sharply elucidated views of Chaso in these pieces will be of equally great interest, and could provoke lively debates.
One or two insightful talks on Chaso’s stories are an important feature of Chaso Sphurti meets. This year it was Dr. G V Purnachandu, eminent writer, critic and researcher from Vijayawada. He extolled Chaso’s phenomenal ability in creating extraordinary works of literature based onthe lives of ordinary people. The lamentation that the vast majority of common people are not going to read such masterpieces is beside the point, he felt. The impactful thoughts and emotions expressed in such works gradually become part of people’s thinking through the few readers and critics who negotiate with them seriously. Dr. Puranachandu also analysed in detail Chaso’s ability to impact the readers without making explicit in-person statements, his employment of local dialect and usage for evocatively and precisely etching characters and situations. Chaso’s example could save contemporary Telugu writing from its lack of vigour and moral force, if today’s writers get inspired by his stories, he felt.
In spite of the Sankranti festival season, the meeting was well attended by literary enthusiasts form near and far.