The Genius of The Crowd

I often wonder if Telugu poetry will survive the next decade. The patronage for Telugu literature, especially Telugu poetry, is rapidly declining. Many have dwelt on the causes for this sad state. But, it worries me more that this decadence in our taste is being translated into dismal ethics, poor standards, and the low quality of Telugu creative art. In the last four decades, the rise of Telugu cinema and television displaced many native art forms such as Natikalu and Harikathalu. Although many Telugus from the last two generations can speak their mother tongue, Telugu writing and literature have been confined only to textbooks and classrooms. As rightly pointed out in a recent movie “Ami Thumi”, this begs the question as to why we need two states when even half of us cannot read and write Telugu. It is indeed unfortunate that we reached this pitiable state within ~500 years form the time when Telugu poetry reigned supreme with the famous Ashtadiggajas. And it is a travesty that many in the present generation often mistake lyrics of Telugu songs for Telugu poetry. It took a Kamal Haasan and a Balachander, who are not Telugu by birth, to remind us of Sri Sri. A particular scene in Aakali Rajyam portrays Kamal Haasan selling Sri Sri’s Mahaprasthanam away for 3 INR with these reverberating words, “Viplavakavi Srirangam Srinivasa Rao gari viluva moodu rupayalu (The value of a revolutionary poet is merely 3 INR).” As Telugus, it is now imperative that we ask ourselves if we have done something similar with Telugu poetry. Have we traded the gems of Telugu poetry for cinema? Have we become indifferent towards our own language?

It appears that Telugus patronize movies more than poetry or even Telugu literature. But, must cinema and poetry (or literature) be mutually exclusive? Interestingly, poetry is still thriving in other Indian languages and movies. For example, poetry has always been an integral part of the Hindi cinema from big-star movies such as “Fanaa” to the emotional “Udaan”. In fact, “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil” recently featured Aishwarya Rai as a poetess. Why can the same not be the case in Telugu? It is possibly because we continue to revel in potboilers and watch movies that portray stalking as love with insipid songs twisting words such as “kangaru” to “kangaram” so it rhymes with “bangaram”. Devarakonda Balagangadhara Tilak, in his Amrutam Kurisina Ratri (The night of nectar showers), elegantly writes “Madhuryam, saundarayam, kavitaa maadhwika chashakam lo rangarinchi panchipettina prachetasa….. mahita ratnaraasulni pogottukunne buddhiheenudevaru? (you can hear the Telugu version here”. It literally translates to, “Who is foolish enough to not feed their hungry hearts and throw away the genius of our poets and their delicious literary feasts and desert of words dipped in poetry?” Are we then fools? or our hearts are not hungry enough? or both?

Hope is not all lost. There are still some patrons and publishers working hard to re-popularize Telugu poetry. The digital era heralded easier access to Telugu poem anthologies and many blogs that provide a platform to budding poets. In a world that continues to increasingly mimic the theme of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 66, poetry is our only hope and respite. To paraphrase Khalil Gibran, “Yes, there is a Nirvana; it is leading your sheep to a green pasture, and in putting your child to sleep, and in reading a beautiful poem”. The burden of passing on the great works of our Telugu poets the future generation rests squarely on our shoulders. It is time now for renaissance of Telugu poetry.

Indeed, Charles Bukowski is right when he extolled “The Genius of The Crowd”.

….not being able to create art
they will not understand art
they will consider their failure as creators
only as a failure of the world…..