Preface to the Second Edition.
It was my original intention to reprint the play with slight alterations, but at the suggestion of my friend Mr. S. Srinivasa Iyengar, for whose literary judgments I have great respect, I recast it. In the process, it has gained considerably in size. In its present shape it is almost a new work.
The first edition was a marked success. The press gave it a cordial reception and hailed it as an event in the History of Telugu Literature, and men, women and children read it with interest. The only exception was Mahâmahôpâdhyâya K. Venkataratnam Pantulu Garu who cannot stand two things in this otherwise perfect world - Social Reform and Spoken Telugu. The first edition was exhausted in a few weeks, and there has since been a constant demand for copies. I long postponed the worry of a second edition and I undertake it now only at the importunity of friends.
In the Telugu country an author has generally to be his own publisher and book-seller. There is no book-selling enterprise, and what book-reading enterprise there is, is due entirely to the exertions of that venerable body, the Board of Studies. The Christian Gospels do not speak of an eleventh Commandment "Thou shalt read!", but it is given to the Telugu Board of Studies to Command "Thou shalt read!", and straight thousands of unfortunate young men read books that no mortal can read with profit or with pleasure.
When I wrote the play, I had no idea of publication. I wrote it to advance the cause of Social Reform and to combat a popular prejudice that the Telugu language was unsuited to the stage. Itinerant Maharata troupes staged Hindi plays in the Telugu districts and made money. Local companies copied their example and audiences listened with delight to what they did not understand. The bliss of ignorance could not have been more forcibly illustrated. Kanyasulkam gave little scope to vulgar stage attractions such as flaring costumes, sensuous dances, bad music and sham fights; yet it drew crowded houses and vindicated the claims of the Vernacular.
I am glad to find that Hindi plays are on the decline. But the condition of the Telugu stage can, by no means, be considered to be satisfactory. There are no theatres worth the name, and no professional actors who practise acting as an art. There are not many good plays either. Modern life which presents complex social conditions is neglected by playwrights except for purposes of the broadest farce, and poverty of invention is manifested by the constant handling of threadbare romantic topics. Few writers display any knowledge of technique. Such a low level of literary workmanship is a matter for wonder after fifty years of University Education and domination of Western Culture, and it can be attributed only to the defective teaching of English Literature in our Colleges. A better state of things cannot, perhaps, be expected until a strong sense of duty impels English Professors and Educational Officers to cultivate the vernaculars.
The Telugu intellect is also seriously handicapped by the tyranny of authority - of a highly artificial literary dialect, a rigid system of alliterative versification, and literary types which have long played out. I shall say a word here about the Literary Dialect. Since I wrote the preface to the first edition, the Spoken Dialect has gained ground. My friend, Principal P.T. Srinivasa Iyengar, recently started a Telugu Teaching Reform Society among the aims and objects of which the cultivation of Vernacular Telugu holds a prominent place, and Mr. Yates, whose name will always be remembered in the Telugu districts for the introduction of rational methods of teaching into our schools, has lent weight to the movement by accepting the Presidentship of the Society.
I cannot understand how modern writers fail to see the merits of Spoken Telugu, its softness which elicited the admiration of foreigners, and its range of expression. At this movement, the best prose in the language is in the Spoken Dialect. Strange as it may sound, Telugu prose owes its origin and development not to the patronage of kings or to the influence of foreign literatures, but to the exertions of a curious Englishman who stimulated compilation of local histories in the vernacular during the early years of the last century. The Mackenzie Collections, no doubt, comprise tracts of unequal merit but for rhythm, flow and directness some of them beat the best work in the Literary Dialect; and, what is rare in Telugu literature, they reflect the mind of the people and bear impress of the times. Unconsciously possibly, Rai Bahadur K. Viresalingam Pantulu Garu rendered great service to Telugu by issuing as the first volume of the collected works adaptations of English acting plays and farces of Indian life written in vernacular of various degrees of purity; and the choice does credit to his shrewd common sense, because that first volume contains his very best work, in fact, his only work that took the public by storm. The credit of deliberately introducing the vernacular into Telugu drama in keeping with Sanskrit tradition, belongs to my friend V. Venkataraya Sastri Garu whose Pratâparudrîyam owes not a little of its charm to dialogue in the dialects. I believe my play is the first ambitious work in the Spoken Dialect and, certainly, it has not failed; but success or failure of individual authors is no test of the capacity of a language.
While the Vernacular is thus gaining recognition, the Literary Dialect itself is approximating to the Spoken Dialect in the best modern prose which manifests great freedom of usage. Rai Bahadur K. Viresalingam Pantulu Garu, the most prominent figure in the Telugu World of letters at the present day, has set the example of laxity in the observance of the Law of interchange of soft and hard consonants after a drita nasal. Hardly a modern writer would escape censure if judged by rules of grammar and established usage, and in the school room, Pandits have relaxed insistence on rigid observance of rules of Sandhi. The moral of this tendency to break through traditional restrictions is clear. The old Literary Dialect is felt to be an inconvenient instrument, and there is an unconscious effort to form a new Literary Dialect. My complaint is that the movement is illogically slow.
I view the Telugu Literary Dialect as a great disability imposed by tradition upon the Telugus. Let those who love fetters venerate it. My own vernacular, for me, the Living Telugu, the Italian of the East in which none of us is ashamed to express our joys and sorrows, but which some of us are ashamed to write well. Literature in the Vernacular will knock at the door of the peasant; and it will knock at the door of the Englishman in India. Its possibilities are immense.
No argument in favour of a Vernacular Literature is needed with persons who are conversant with the history of the English Dialects and the Prakrits, and I know it is not arguments that will evolve a New Literary Dialect for Telugu. A great writer must write and make it. Let us prepare the ground for him.
The cause of Social Reform has received strong support from a recent decision of the Madras High Court in which a full bench consisting of Chief Justice Sir Arnold White, and Justices Miller and Munro ruled: "That a contract to make payment to a father in consideration of his giving his daughter in marriage is immoral and opposed to public policy within the meaning of section 23 of the Indian Contract Act."
I had to contend with one difficulty in printing this book. There are many sounds in the Spoken Dialect which are not represented in the Telugu Alphabet. In the present state of Telugu phonetics, I had to content myself with indicating such sounds by a horizontal line placed over the nearest symbols; and I employed the Ardhânusvara after a nasal వ. The creation of new symbols and their adoption into type can be effected only after a more widespread recognition of the Spoken Dialect.
My best thanks are due to Messers G. Ramaswami Chetty & Co., who cheerfully undertook to adopt my innovations, and did their part of the work to my entire satisfaction.
"ELK HILL HOUSE,"