CHALAM: AN ASSESSMENT
(The Telugu original of this essay appeared as an editorial to 'Prajaa Saahiti', a Telugu monthly, meaning 'Peoples' literature', in its issue of May 1979. This English translation by Gandhi (B.R. Bapuji) appeared in 'OLYMPUS', an English monthly around 1980. There are two more volumes and couple of articles which Ranganayakamma wrote in Telugu on Chalam's writings and ideas).
"Woman too has a body; it needs exercise. She has a brain; it needs knowledge. She has a heart; it needs experience"¾This has been the basic theme that was repeatedly expressed affectionately, sincerely, forcefully and artistically in several of Chalam's stories, novels and essays.
Chalam was a great artist, thinker and a progressive who brought about notable changes both in the language and ideas of modern Telugu literature that started with Veereshalingam.
Chalam began his literary career when feudal ideas were predominant in the institution of Indian family. During the fifty years of his literary life that started in 1921, Chalam mainly depicted the social life of man and woman. While doing so, he raised and discussed several serious questions.
With his extraordinary ability and wonderful artistic talent, he depicted both the strength and the weakness, the might and the limitations of the individual struggles of those women who tried to liberate themselves from the sufferings and problems created by the contemporary family system.
He hated both the ignorance-ridden feudal customs and the artificiality of the colonial culture that hindered the development of equality, friendship and enlightenment in the man-woman relationship. He outrightly condemned the traditional orthodox marriage system that precludes mutual understanding and love between man and woman. He opposed the existing education system that does not contribute to a minimum thinking capacity. He advocated the bringing up of children without the undue exercise of authority and negligence by parents and society.
Chalam, as a student, had got out of the influence of orthodox Hindu religious dogmatism and was attracted towards the Brahmo Samaj movement. However, Brahmo Samaj could only reform the dogmatic aspect of Hindu orthodoxy but did not act differently in matters regarding the family system and the man woman relationship. This, naturally, caused dissatisfaction in Chalam.
Even the Nationalist Movement, which had attracted several people at that time, did not attract Chalam. Because in the Nationalist movement, he mostly found people who were narrow minded and treacherous with regard to their attitude towards family life, women and social morals; who did not give up their casteism and communalism; and who were individually dishonest and opportunistic. Chalam was not attracted by the politics of the Nationalist movement.
Chalam, a writer belonging to a colonial country with a predominant feudal culture was not satisfied with the progressive ideas of the Bourgeois countries either, though they influenced him to a large extent.
The influence of Communist politics in Andhra was not considerable during 1921-36, the period during which Chalam's main writings came out. Marxism, which provides the scientific outlook in understanding society, was not at that time present either in the form of working class movements or literary movement in the Telugu land.
He heard about the Communist set-up in Russia of 1917 as a child would listen to fairy tales in moonlit nights. On the one hand, he wished that those fairy tales turn into reality and doubted such a possibility. On the otherhand, the world-wide propaganda conducted by the capitalist powers against the Communist set up in Russia of 1917 influenced and politically aloof intellectuals like Chalam, as it did throughout the world. As a result, Chalam, in the absence of a strong working class movement, was not drawn towards communism in the context of the fact that an intellectual like Tolstoy remained aloof even from the great Russian working class movement led by Lenin owing to several misconceptions he had about communism.
Chalam's own struggle against existing man-woman relations; against the marriage institution, against the education system and against everything which he condemned¾had driven him into a sort of mental crisis as he conducted his struggle without knowing the social laws that govern those evils.
In such a mental state, Chalam was drawn under the influence of 'Ramana Maharshi's philosophy' (in 1936). Though he came under that influence he did not change any of his 'social' ideas (concerning man-woman relationship, etc.). However, as a result of that influence, he led himself into an unscientific path because of which he could not accept any other theory.
The objectives, with which Chalam produced his works of art fifty years ago, are not yet fulfilled. The past social situations of his time have not undergone fundamental changes. The male domination over women continues unhindered. Mutual understanding, love, equality and friendship do not constitute the basis of marriages. Matrimonial life continues to be horrible. Neither child care nor the educational system is free past evils. Money relations and hypocrisy are rampant both in the family and in social life.
The reason for all this is that there occurred no changes in the fundamental character of our social system.
Even for present day society, Chalam's writings cannot be considered superstitious or negligible. Nor does their significance cease with changes in the present day society. There are several progressive features in Chalam which may be relevant for future generations too. We should all understand Chalam's criticism of several important aspects of social life. All people should know these. His limitations and inadequacies should be rectified and improved.
The literary works of writers like Chalam contribute positively to such a society and to the emergence of such a society¾
¾in which women are not subservient to men;
¾male chauvinism vanishes totally.
¾men and women live like equals and
¾education imparts real knowledge; and unhypocritical and friendly relations exist among people.
Chalam is a people's writer and a friend of the society in the sense that he sincerely desired the welfare of the humanity in general and general social progress.