Gopichand and his works – a review

Gopichand was a prolific writer. He wrote ten novels, twelve plays, numerous essays, sketches and letters. Though his novels are successful and his essays thought-provoking, he is remembered chiefly for his short stories. He wrote about a hundred short stories.

Gopichand had his own ideas on this genre. In his view, the shape of the short story could be different depending on which of the main elements theme, plot, and character is given importance. If characterisation is predominant, a story becomes a ‘sketch.’ In some of his stories plot is replaced by a progression of thought.

Gopichand’s stories fall into four broad categories: political, social, domestic and autobiographical. In the first type, he shows his awareness of the ideologies and functioning of several political parties. His stories illustrate how some families have come to grief and how their finer qualities are eroded by political involvement. A sensitive schoolboy is driven to Communism because his curiosity is suppressed by his domineering uncle (Peeditha Hrudayam). The reckless idealism of political activists figures in Pitrarjitham. Another story, Vamka, satirises the rivalry of the political parties which speak and act in the name of the people. An entire family is so deeply engrossed in politics that it neglects elementary courtesy to a guest (Bassu Agindi—Bassu Poyindi).

Social problems such as the effects of poverty, injustices in free hospitals, petty tyrannies, usury, beggary, miserliness and blackmail are dealt with in a score of stories. Dharmasupatri depicts in a poignant manner how Paparao who visits a free hospital for an eye operation becomes totally blind due to the callousness of the doctor. Sham shows the perverted sense of values of a miser, Kotireddi. Utter penury forces an old rickshaw-puller to carry two insensitive men resulting in his death, in Kalala Baruvu. Respectable neighbors quarrel over petty things egged on by their wives and children because of jealousy in Irugu—Porugu. Religious bigotry consumes the idealism of a Hindu boy and a Muslim girl in Rendu Hridayalu — Nindu Hridayalu. The sins of a cruel money-lender, Surayya, are visited on his family in Dharma Vaddi, Gopichand attempts a Freudian analysis of maternal affection in Matru Prema, according to which much of the unpleasantness and friction in our homes is due to the attitude of women who consider their daughters-in-law to be thieves snatching away their rightful property, their sons. Begging as a social evil is attacked in Bhuta Daya. It is sustained by well-meaning and charitable people who may not be aware that the beggars deliberately and inhumanly blind children to evoke the sym­pathy of the passersby.

Gopichand is adept at describing the domestic scenes and its many frictions. The attractions and the tensions between a husband and wife, the pitfalls of love marriages, the prudery of men, the double standards of morality for men and women, the endurance and self-sacrifice of women are some of the themes in his stories.

In a fine story, Bharyallone Undi, a man hates his wife, Thayaramma, for being too fat. She discovers another girl who is driven away for being too slender. There are yet others who are deserted by their husbands for whimsical reasons. On understanding that the slavish mentality of women is responsible for this tolerance since long, Thayaramma resolves to ask her husband to grow fat like her. Atmagatham shows the problems in hastily contracted / marriages. Prudery and conventional morality have blunted the sensitivity of many people in modern times (Sampenga Puvvu). The double standards of morality which most people apply to men and women is exposed in Bharya Bhartalu.

Apadbandhavyam is one of Gopichand’s best stories which depicts the psychology of a woman on a flight. Her fear of an air crash makes her cultivate, rather hastily, the friendship of the man in the next seat. But when the plane lands safely at its destination, she ignores him, forgets the big promises she had made to him in those insecure and intimate moments.

An innovative technique used by Gopichand is to present the stories of non-human beings through soliloquies as if they are human. A tumma tree, a banyan tree, and an ox tell their tales in this fashion. Both the trees are vital to the vil­lage economy and even to the cul­tural life of the countryside. When the banyan tree is felled on the orders of an arrogant panchayat president, the tree bemoans man’s ingratitude. But it quickly grows again and creates new life. Some of these soliloquies satirise the indus­trial civilisation which has changed the attitude of people towards envi­ronment.

An element of satire is there in other stories also: “It was the centre of Andhra. This means that repairs of the road are few and the ditches many.” (Kalala Baruvu). Gopichand believed that Chalam’s stories contributed to moral laxity. Venkatachalam Pathra concludes with the pungent comment: “In Venkatachalam’s world there is not even drinking water.

A delicate sense of humour runs through his stories. The description of the fat Thayaramma, sitting in front of the oven and struggling to bend forward, provokes laughter. The quarrels over a pumpkin and an almond tree are humorously told.

Though Gopichand read many European writers, he was not a blind imitator of any of them. His stories have a purpose; they are meant to educate. He had the courage to attack age-old traditions, to expose self deceptions, and to condemn tyrannies of every sort. He ranks among the best of Telugu story writers.