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We Have Not Recognised And Celebrated Our Telugu Stalwarts – Interview with Arun Vemuri

Arun Vemuri

Q. Congratulations for the book. Please tell us the story behind Vakkeli and why the name came up.

Thank you Sai. Vak-keli comes from the initials of my name Vemuri Arun Kumar (VAK) and Keli – Play. Also Vak in Telugu is (spoken) word. So essentially it’s word-play (or Vemuri Arun Kumar’s wordplay) to be precise. Since I indulge in a lot of wordplay in my poetry; I took the same as my pen-name and also as title for my first compilation of poems!

Q. Your anthology spans a wide variety of topics from the ancient to the contemporary. How is expressing an opinion in poetry different from doing it in prose in your view? What made you opt for poetry instead of prose?

Four things drew me to poetry – Rhyme. Alliteration.Simplicity. All-embracing.  Or simply RASA. As our elders said, “Vakyam RASAtmakam Kavyam” or a prose with these 4 traits (for me) is poetry. I tend to use much rhyming (“antya prasas” mostly) in my poems. Alliteration puts music and rhythm in poems. Simplicity, as one can trim off superfluous or extraneous words in poetry. Given the restrictions we impose on ourselves in poetry – number of lines, or meter for example; we tend to be even more cautious and creative in usage of words to convey a lot more using fewer words. As you have mentioned in your question, that my anthology spans a wide variety of topics – it would be difficult for me to do so in prose (given the number of words i have to use, effort to make; time to spend); I can use the medium of poetry to convey on a wider variety of subjects!

Q. Your poetry draws from a rich treasury of Telugu vocabulary spanning from grAnthika, vyavahArika as well as jAnapada categories. How do you arrive at the appropriate term? Also, how do you keep yourself abreast of this vast dictionary? 

My voracious reading habits during pre-colllege days, avid movie watching and wide array of friends contributed to my potpourri of vocabulary! And I still search for words online (www.andhrabharathi.com) is my goto place when searching for any relevant word. Having said that, the appropriateness of a term is determined mostly for the rhyming, alliteration purposes and sometimes just for the sheer meaning it will convey in a particular context. For example – In my poem “Kanche” – “Atu pakkenaa saatvika sangadi; itu pakkenaa saitaan sandadi”, i chanced upon the word “sangadi” (meaning Group) – as I was writing a line to convey – how history is written and interpreted by the victorious. That “sangadi” immediately made me choose “saatvika sangadi, saitaan sandadi” – covering both alliteration and rhyming! Fitting in with the rest of my poem’s rhythm too. If I were to put it in a formula:

appropriate term (in poetry) =  chance +

 alliteration + rhyming + rythm + sensibility!

Q. Is a poet, especially a Telugu poet born or made? 

It’s a mix of both. While the ability to connect the dots, tie up multiple strands of thoughts in a meaningful and coherent manner is I would say something innate. Either you have it or you don’t. That’s what gives a poet the edge.

A lot can be achieved by continuously trying your hand at it – armed with a decent vocabulary, having a sense of rythm, a sensitive heart and a sensible mind that emotes to situations and society around it. These are skills you acquire and hone over a period of time.

Q. Share about your favourite poets in Telugu literature. How do they inspire you? 

Endaro Mahaanubhaavulu andaroo ney cheda vesi thodina baavulu!

They are many from whom I drew and continue to draw inspiration from. However if I have to pick two names – they are SriSri and Veturi!

SriSri’s influence is almost universal on modern Telugu poets. I am no exception to that! The sheer rhythm, alliteration, the universality of his subject – siding with the oppressed and the under-dog, and the raw energy and passion that sears through the reader’s mind – is what inspires me.

While “Veturi” as a influence on poetry may seem a bit surprising, for me his unparalleled wordplay, prolificity, vastness of subjects he touched upon in his creations, the lyrical beauty and rhythm; magical creativity and ambidextrous nature of his pen – sublime and street-lingo are a perennial source of inspiration!

Q. “Desha bhashalandu Telugu lessa”.(Telugu is the foremost among the languages in the desa). This is a quote by none other than Sri Krishna Deva Raya of Vijayanagara who is originally of Tulu origin. Would you agree with him? Why?

Ofcourse I agree with him. It is my mother tongue and any praise directed at it is a source of joy for me. Beyond that, i think Telugu is probably one of the few languages that has, atleast as far as poetry goes, given birth to such a treasure trove of creations and literary giants since centuries both in the classical form (Avadhaana prakriya, Satakaalu, Prabhandhaalu, padakavitalu, chandobadha kavitvam) and modern renditions (free verse, surreal, micro etc.). The language (and the influence of sankrit on it) lends itself to experimentation (samasya pooranam, ekaakshara padyaalu, chamatkaara padyaalu, chitra kavitvam etc) which is a joy!

Q. Your thoughts about recognition received by Telugu language and culture? Is there a parity between what is deserved and what is being acknowledged? 

In my opinion, Telugu language has always lagged behind in recognition – both genuine as well as lobbying + self-promotion.

And this is not confined to our literary figures alone. How many of our freedom fighters are known beyond the borders of Telugu states? How many of our movies, poets, actors, are part of pop-cultural references within India (Why isn’t Mayabazaar referred to as part of culture fabric as much a Sholay is!?) Is our cuisine known beyond ceded – sircar – coramandel!? How many Padmasris, Jnanapeeths are conferred on Telugu people?

We haven’t recognised and celebrated our own stalwarts (which is a lament by them too – Mangalampalli, Bhanumathi, Veturi to name a few who were vocal about it)!

We can go on and on about our laggardness and I believe most of it is due to our own lackadaisical approach to everything in life including promoting language and culture outside of our confines.

Q. With the day to day utility of Telugu as a language slowly giving way to English and Hindi, what are your thoughts about protecting and continuing this legacy?

This is a great question. An existential one at that. In a recent interview of mine on Nationalist TV YouTube Channel, I partially answered this. In only a matter of three generations time, especially those who are living outside we may have lost nearly 90% of our vocabulary! I do three simple things as my contribution towards preserving, protecting, promoting our language with our next generation.

Take time to teach reading. Most of us think reading is very difficult. While this appears true, all it takes is 10 days of sitting with the kids for 30 minutes a day, to teach Aksharaalu and Guninthaalu. Once they are able to read letters, then spend the next couple of weeks to make them write simple words (on air with finger movements is fine too, while walking or having food etc.). After that put light reads like Chandamama/AmarChitraKatha in telugu in front of the to read. This will help youngsters develop affinity to language through interesting stories (in small measures)

Talk in Telugu with another Telugu person. Whether kids or adults, if I meet a Telugu person I converse in Telugu. No english. Or any other language. If kids do not understand, then I use small sentences especially where I can “point and talk”.

Use literary references in daily chores. For example: Instead of “get up, why are you sleeping like a dog” or “don’t eat like a pig” (as we are so used to speaking in English) I use “kumbhakarnudilaa nidrapoku; bakasurudilaa thintunnaav” etc. What these kind of simple references do is pique the interest of the young kids and make them ask/inquire about who/what Kumbhakarna/Bakasura are thereby paving way to open up the vast treasure trove of Puranas/Itihasas and with it many words get added to their vocabulary.

Language is heritage we have recieved. There should never be a question of us either desecrating it or squandering it. It was a bridge between us and our elders and through them to our roots. There is no reason why it should not continue to be a bridge between us and our future generations!

Q. Your words of advice to Telugu lovers and aspiring poets?

For Telugu lovers: Keep loving.

For aspiring poets: Keep writing.

Q. Any plans of another book?

                Yes. Planning to write at least three more books.

    1. Mahabharatam in 108 poems
    2. Ekapadya Ramayanam – one poem each for each of the key personalities in Ramayanam
    3.  One more (but not sure what it will be),  either on Science or Gardening!

Arun Vemuri’s book can be purchased at Amazon.


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