File spoon-archives/sa-cyborgs.archive/sa-cyborgs_2002/sa-cyborgs.0207, message 2

Date: Thu, 11 Jul 2002 16:40:27 -0400
Subject: Re: 

some more excerpts from Malathi Rao's essay:

Mohanangi, 16th century, daughter of emperor Krishnadevarayalu, received 
unequivocal support from her father in her literary venture. Following 
passage affirms the father-daughter relationship in the medieval period. 
The original text is in poetic form, and my English rendering is intended 
to convey a general idea of the dialogue.
One day Krishnadevarayalu went to visit his daughter and noticed that she 
was deeply immersed in thought. He asked Mohanangi,

   You, with knotted eyebrows are looking deeply disturbed
    What might be troubling you, dear daughter?

Mohanangi replied,
    Father, I am not contemplating a few silly lines,
    I know not what you might think,
    But I was hoping to write a kavya [epic]
    Much to the chagrin of those who ridicule female writing,
    Who ask why women write, why not stick to their chores in the kitchen.

On hearing her words, Krishnadevarayalu replied,
    Please, let me have the pleasure of your beautiful poetry.
    Until now you turned a deaf ear to my pleas, and have been apathetic.
    You are no other than Goddess Saraswati in learning,
    Your literary skill excels not only other women
    But the male writers who pride themselves on their talent.
    Some foolishly may look down on women,
    But isn't it common knowledge that there were great female scholars in 
the past. (Lakshmikantamma 30-31).

The passage ascertains female scholarship in royal families and the support 
females were receiving from male family members.


It would appear from modern day criticism that the two important questions 
regarding women writing are recognition and reward. Attempting to put these 
two questions in social context in India is a complex task. The 
complexities arise from the caste-oriented social hierarchy as well as 
multi-layered familial relationships. My intent is to show, not how women 
were scorned and ridiculed, but how they handled themselves in literature 
and in society. Human nature being what it is, there is always room for 
conflicts and confrontation. Wisdom lies in dealing with the conflicts, 
and, I think, Telugu female writers handled themselves beautifully.

     Let's first examine the aspect of recognition. Historically, women 
writers were not appearing in public. Several biographies in 
Lakshmikantamma's Andhra Kavayitrulu include comments on the extraordinary 
talent of female authors, but do not refer to their reception by the 
public. This custom of not seeking recognition was evident even in the 
1960s, to a much lesser degree though.

     There were exceptions to this norm. In the past, 14th or 16th century, 
Molla did not hesitate to go to the court despite her caste status. The 
following passage from Pratapacaritra by Ekamranatha, an early historian 
throws light on Molla's stature in society [translation mine]:
Molla offered to dedicate her work to king Prataparudra. The scholars 
present in the court objected, calling it sudrakavitvam [poetry of a lower 
class person] and so was inappropriate. The king, in deference to their 
objection, invited the male, brahmin scholars to write Ramayanam. Molla 
came to the court and read verses from her Ramayanam. The king, being 
knowledgeable, and appreciative of her [Molla's] talent, yet afraid he 
might offend the brahmin scholars, rewarded her appropriately and sent her 
to the queen's palace... (quoted in Arudra 8: 113-114).

     On the same lines, I would like to discuss another story about Molla, 
prevalent in Andhra Pradesh. A word of caution is needed here. Both 
Lakshmikantamma (Andhra kavayitrulu 19) and Arudra (Samagra Andhra Sahityam 
8: 113) made brief references to the story but would not go into details. 
Lakshmikantamma dismissed them as irrelevant. I am, however, inclined to 
give here one story, for a couple of reasons. I will get to my reasons 
after giving the story.
   One day Molla was returning from the market carrying a chicken and a 
puppy in her arms, and ran intoTenali Ramakrishna, a contemporary poet and 
prankster. Ramakrishna saw Molla, and as was his custom, saw an opportunity 
for a good laugh. He asked Molla if she would let him have the chicken or 
the puppy for a rupee. The question was a double entendre. At one level, it 
was a simple, straightforward questionwhether she would sell the chicken or 
puppy to him for a rupee; and, at the other level, it was an obscenity.
   Molla saw where he was going with his question, and replied that she 
would not sell anything to him at any cost. Her response was also a double 
entendre matching his witsat one level, her response was a straightforward 
answerthat she simply would not sell anything to him, and at the other 
level, her response meant, 'Whatever your intentions are, you know I am 
like a mother to you'. The story continues to state that, then on 
Ramakrishna treated her with respect, like a mother.

     The story raises several questions in regard to the status of women in 
society, in general, and of women poets, in particular. Was this a story of 
humiliation or success? Does this mean that women poets were subjected to 
ridicule? Or did it intend to show that women equaled men in a battle of 
wits? Ramakrishna was known to pull pranks on his male contemporaries, and 
at times, ended up at the receiving end himself. In that sense, could we 
say that he treated Molla like he would any other poet, irrespective of 
gender? In my teen years, I read this story as an example of battle of wits.


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