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KaaRaa, the writer who breathed short stories

KV Kurmanath | Updated on June 10, 2021

Short takes: KaaRaa was a man of few words, and his personality reflected in his writings   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

He will be remembered for his tales of ordinary people, his mentorship and Katha Nilayam

* The 97-year-old writer has earned a permanent place in the history of Telugu literature

* Besides running a column (Neti Katha) to encourage amateur writers, he wrote a series of articles on the art of writing short fiction

* He did not believe in the need to defend his stories. He let the public discuss his work

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In a literary life of 77 years, Kalipatnam Rama Rao, or KaaRaa Master, as he was popularly known, wrote just under 30 stories. The last one was penned some 25 years ago.

But the 97-year-old writer earned a permanent place in the history of Telugu literature not just for his collection of stories. He will be remembered for his lifelong efforts at initiating would-be authors into serious writing by conducting workshops.

Besides running a column (Neti Katha) to encourage amateur writers, he wrote a series of articles on the art of writing short fiction.

KaaRaa, who breathed his last on June 4 at his residence in Srikakulam, Andhra Pradesh, will also be remembered for establishing Katha Nilayam, a treasure trove of Telugu short stories, in his home town. He extensively toured undivided Andhra Pradesh, collecting short stories from book lovers and amassed thousands of short stories for the Srikakulam library, which was open to all.

He used his personal savings and raised funds from like-minded people to establish the library. It has now become a single source for research on Telugu short stories. He built a team of literature lovers to run the library, which keeps adding to the catalogue. Recognising the need for providing access to the library over the Internet, he also got the short stories converted into a digital form.

A mathematics teacher by profession, KaaRaa was born on November 9, 1924, at Ponduru in Srikakulam district. Attracted to Marxism in the 1960s, he was largely influenced by his contemporaries and literary stalwarts Rachakonda Vishwanatha Sastry, Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao and Sri Sri.

His story Yagnam, which depicted indebtedness in agriculture, triggered an animated discussion on the subject, a debate that carries on decades after its first appearance in 1964. After focusing on the agrarian crisis, the story ends with a small farmer killing his young son in broad daylight to get rid of the debt burden on the family that transcended generations. Critics say that it depicted the ground reality in the rural areas of Srikakulam, which was in the late ’60s ripe for an armed struggle inspired by the Naxalbari movement.

The story Kutra (Conspiracy, 1972) lay bare the hollowness in conspiracy cases slapped by governments.

KaaRaa was a man of few words, and his personality reflected in his writings. While a keen observer of people and their behaviour, his words were always measured. He also did not believe in the need to defend his stories. He let the public discuss his work, while he chose to dedicate his energies to equipping new writers with literary tools and building Katha Nilayam. A stickler for simple narratives, he, however, always encouraged newer forms of storytelling such as magic realism.

His themes were about ordinary people in the villages. With a simple narrative style, he would slowly unfold the tale, introducing the characters so naturally that readers felt they were a part of the story.

His style was simple but he would deftly tell a parallel story with the main narrative, adding another layer to it. When a reader catches the underlying theme in stories such as Bhayam, No Room and Sankalpam, the thrill of discovery is immense.

I once asked him whether Sankalpam was about a serious internal conflict in a Marxist-Leninist party. He just smiled — his trademark response when confronted with such questions.

All his life, he breathed nothing but short stories. If he was not reading a story, he would be talking about one. If he was not doing either, he would be meeting a short story lover who’d travelled from a far-off town to pay a visit to Katha Nilayam.

In his passing away, the Telugu short story lost a long-time guide and mentor.

Published on June 10, 2021

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