Prof. Lalitha Kumari Popuri; popularly known by her pen name Volga is one of the most significant figures in Telugu Literature today. She introduced a feminist perspective into the literary political discourse of Andhra Pradesh. Her novel Svechcha marks a watershed in women’s writing in Telugu and is now being published in all Indian languages by the National Book Trust of India. Volga organized the Feminist Study Circle in Hyderabad for two years and edited the first volume in feminist philosophy in Telugu – Maku Godalu Levu. Her anthology of stories titled Rajakiya Kathalu which looks at the oppression and control on a woman’s body, has paved the way for more feminist stories in Telugu. Volga after completing her M.A joined as a Telugu professor in at VSR & NVR College, Tenali between 1973 to 1986. Later, she worked in scripting division as a Senior Executive at Ushakiran Movies during 1986–1995. Presently Executive Chairperson and founder member of Asmita Resource Centre for Women, Volga has edited the anthology of poems Neeli Meghalu. She has co-edited a volume Sarihaddulu Leni Sandhyalu which deals with feminist political praxis in Andhra Pradesh and co-authored the book Saramsam which documents the anti arrack struggle. She co-authored Mahilavaranam/Womanscape a volume on women who build the history of Andhra Pradesh. She contributed to feminist literary criticism through her books Atadu Ame Manam, Palikinchaku Mouna Mridungalanu, Sahita, Sankalitha. She received the Best Writer Award from the Potti Sriramulu Telugu University in 1999 and visited China as part of an Official Cultural Delegation and other important awards like Rangavalli Memorial Award, Ramineni Foundation Award, Malathi Chandur Award, Visala Sahiti Puraskaram, Suseela Narayana Reddy Award, Kandukuri Veerasalingam Literary Award, Loknayak Foundation Award, Central Sahitya Akademi Award 2015 and South Asia Ladli Media and Advertising Award for Gender Sensitivity 2015-2016. Her novels include Manavi, Sahaja, Kanneeti Keratala Vennala, Akasham lo Sagam and Gulabilu. Prayogam, Bhinna Sandarbhalu, Mrinmaya Nadam, Vimuktha are other anthologies of short stories. Her poetry was published as Volga Kavithalu Konni. She has translated several important texts into Telugu. She wrote the lyrics for War and Peace, Lakshmana Rekha; Kuchipudi Dance Ballets on the effect of war on women and on domestic violence produced by Asmita and staged all over Andhra Pradesh.
Q. How much does writing in a vernacular language restrict the number of readers for a book?
Answer. Writing in vernacular language is a different engagement with readers. Readers in numbers may be less. But we have a direct relationship with them. Serious literature influence readers as all of you know. That influence is direct and more powerful when you have your own language readers. Numbers matter. True. But quality readership is also important. Here using the word quality, I mean that a reader who takes literature seriously, and has discussions with writers. In vernacular languages, the first generation readers are always there to receive writers with lot of interest. You all know the literacy situation in India. First generation readers from villages who read us through various sources are our precious gift. We are making them readers of world literature. That is truly important work.
Q. Why are short-stories less popular than novels in India? Are there any specific reasons?
Answer. In Telugu the scenario is different. Since the 90’s short stories have acquired special space and recognition. There are many reasons for it. Every year more than 100 short story anthologies are published from individual writers. A dozen short story anthologies edited by different literary groups are published every year. Novels have their place and respect. But now readers who have the patience to read big novels are less in numbers. In Telugu; poetry and short story are ruling the literary space, making novel sit on the throne as the honorary king.
Q. How does script writing affect the quality of a writer, as script writing is commercial in nature rather being pure art?
Answer. It depends on the script one takes up. If you are writing a commercial film script, the logistics are different. Logic, reason and artistic sensibilities take back seat. Violence, mere glamorous characters, heroism and popular concepts without any rationale will come to the forefront. I think freedom of a writer is restricted by many forces in a commercial film. Freedom is the essential element for creativity. But, if you are writing – let us call it an alternative film, the writers will be free to use all their potentials much more freely. Here, I want to clarify one thing. I don’t believe in pure art. Commercial films and Films are made with specific kind of audiences in mind – alternative films are also there.
Q. In your two novels you have raised the theme of marriage being a barrier in women’s independence. How much of this perception changed in modern times when a lot of married women are successful personalities?
Answer. Marriage, in traditional sense, will obstruct women’s independence. Yes, there are many successful personalities. But the cost they paid and are paying is much more than a successful man who reached to that level. Those women are few. Many are still struggling. If you ask them, their narratives will be wonderful novels. Balancing marriage and career is really a feat and women are learning to do that. Modern times have it’s own rhythm. In Charlie Chaplin’s; “Modern Times”, you can see the worker’s plight and understand the effects of mechanization. Now, we can imagine in the role of that worker in the Kitchen, Dining Hall, Bedroom, Children’s nursing room and in the office, before Computers, Machines, Fields, Colleges, Hospitals, Railway Stations- protecting themselves, their families and the bearing of the burden of the society on their backs. If the burden on their backs can be reduced a bit, the country will progress. For that our ideas about marriage, family and motherhood should be changed radically. Then the number of women with a peace of mind and contentment will grow rather than mere successful women.
Q. Why even after so many years, literature in vernacular languages have bounded themselves to the themes of their specific region?
Answer. It is good to be region specific, I believe. Good writers can show global issues in a local scenario and readers can relate with ease and think seriously. How can any one write the life they don’t experience? Novels with research background are good to read – fantasies we can enjoy. Science fictions may thrill us. But Gurazada ( A great Telugu writer 1862-1915) could only write Kanyasulkam in 1892 which is located in Viyayanagaram District of Andhra Pradesh in its dialect and we, Telugu people are enjoying it till today and seeing its relevance in this globalized era. May be Non–Telugu people cannot understand but it is a priceless gift for our literature. Similar to many works. Sri Sri; Mahaprasthanam, Kutumba Rao’s; Chaduvu. Each and every region has specific culture, problems, life – so writers are not bound to it – their bonding with their region is so strong and alive with flesh and blood.
Even after commendable work of art from the authors other than the English language, they do not get the deserved recognition. What are the underlying reasons behind this?
Answer. Recognition: A big thing. English can reach far and wide. Translations are the need of the hour. We read many foreign authors through English and our own Telugu translations. We read Charles Dickens, Maupassant, Virginia Wolf, Simon De Beauvoir, Pearl S Buck, Gorky, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Gogol, Tagore, Sarath, Mahaswetha Devi, Gabriel Garcia Marquez through translations. Translations from regional languages to English is picking up now. There is rapid growth. But now market forces are the deciding factor.
Q. Poetry has seen a sharp decline in popularity in recent years. How much has it become difficult to prove its’ presence in the midst of novels?
Answer. In regional languages especially in Telugu, a writer with one powerful poem can have immediate recognition. We – prose writers are jealous of poets. People recite good poetry in everyday life. Vemana, Sri Sri, Jashuva, Cherabanda Raju, Sivasagar, Gaddar, Gorati Venkanna are always at the tip of our tongues. We recite them according to our moods. Novels need lot of time to reflect, contemplate and relate. But the market for poetry is not encouraging. May be the English poetry scene is different. I’m not sure!
Q. What would be your advice to young budding authors?
Answer. To read world literature, read hundreds of books and lives before writing a novel. Think globally- write locally i.e., region specific works, Relate them with political accuracy.