Ranganayakamma is a famous Telugu Feminist-Marxist novelist and short story writer. She has penned about 15 novels and 70 stories to date. She also wrote many essays. She is very well-known for her version of Ramayana that she wrote in Telugu. She has been writing since 1955. Her stories emphasize the equality of women and portray the lives of women in India.
Ranganayakamma was born as ‘Daddanala Ranganayakamma’ in Bommidi village (Tadepalligudem Mandal) in West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh on 21st September in 1939. Her parents were Lakshmi Satyanarayanayya and Lakshmi Narasamma. Ranganayakamma was the third of seven siblings. She had 4 younger sisters, an elder brother, and an elder sister. Their father owned a printing press in Tadepalligudem and he published a magazine called Padma Nayaka, which was about caste. Ranganayakamma did her schooling in Tadepalligudem at the Board High School. She passed her SSLC (Secondary School Leaving Certificate) exam in 1956. Due to the financial crisis, her family (which was living in Tadepalligudem) had to shift to Bommidi village. She could not continue her studies thereafter since her parents were conservative and hence didn’t send her out of the village for further education. She took the Hindi language exams conducted by Dakshin Bharath Hindi Prachar Sabha and cleared four of the levels by learning Hindi through books and bilingual lexicons.
Ranganayakamma wrote for her father’s magazine in the beginning. Her stories were a lot about princes, demons, princesses as such. Her first story on society was Parvathamma published in 1955 in the magazine – Telugu Swatantra. She also wrote some short stories before her marriage. Palleturu is a long story and is aimed at changing the traditions of the community that existed back then. It discouraged the practice of arranged marriages in the same family or to cousins. Her most reputed novel was Krishnaveni which was printed on Andhra Prabha, for quite a few months. Ranganayakamma was married off to Muppalla, selected by her parents in 1959. She says her husband treated her like a slave. Unable to take in the torture, she deserted her husband and left with the two sons and a daughter she had given birth to out of that marriage in 1970. She stopped using the surname Muppalla after getting separated. Ranganayakamma started publishing her books under Sweet Home Publications, a venture she initiated after she got separated from her husband. Her Telugu books were always published by Aruna Publishing House in Vijayawada.
Marxism to Telugu people:
Ranganayakamma got introduce to Marxism in 1974. She then understood it deeper and started incorporating the ideas in her writings. Her first writing in this perspiration is Ramayana Vishavruksham (literally- Ramayana, The poisonous tree). Shen then got associated with a Marxist group called the TN (Tarimela Nagireddy) group. Ranganayakamma began work on Karl Marx’s Das Kapital to make the Television people aware of the same. She wanted to make this work accessible to Telugu people. Though many party members opposed her idea by saying that a committee funded by the party must do this work, she still took up the work. She, though, declared that anyone could suggest changes or comment on her work. In 1978, Ranganayakamma published the first part of the first volume of her introduction to Capital. Five smaller parts were also publishers subsequently. These 5 volumes were later on consolidated to bring two volumes of the book (Marx Capital panchayat: Rendu samputalalo) In 1978, the TN group formed an organization called Jana Sahithi which had its interests in literature and culture. Ranganayakamma took part in this with great enthusiasm and later on, as people tried to desert her, she resigned from the organization in December 1979. She wrote a book called Our differences with Jana Saahithi. She cited in this her reason for quitting the organization.
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Conception towards patriarchy:
Ranganayakamma, in 1986, devised a way to name children. She suggested that one’s surname not just be adopted from the father. She believed that a mother had a very important role in giving birth to nurturing the newborn in one’s life and needed recognition. She proposed a system wherein a child will be given a surname which is made by combining the first letters of the mother and father of the child in the same order. For example, since Ranganayakamma’s parents were Narasamma and Satyanarayanayya, her surname would be NS according to this system and she would be named NS Ranganayakamma. This challenged the conventional system wherein the last name of the father goes to the child.
Ranganayakamma seldom got letters from her readers since her career began in the 1950s. People would ask for her opinion on social, economic, personal, cultural and political problems. She would personally write back to many of them. She would also address them on famous magazines such as Prajatantra and Andhra Jyothy and provided answers through these media. She also published two volumes of My acquaintance with some readers wherein she compiled all these questions and her answers.
Works in translation:
Ranganayakamma translated three English novels to Telugu. Howard Faust’s (an American leftist writer) Spartacus and Freedom road, as well as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, were translated by her. She made sure these books were comprehensible and lucid enough. She also wanted to translate the book Les Peysans (The peasants) which she couldn’t since there was no English translation of the same available. She also translates two of Charles Bettelheim’s (a French Marxist economist) works, namely, China since Mao and the Cultural revolution and industrial organization. She combined a huge lot of footnotes in the book so that the Telugu readers could appreciate the context and understand it. These two books were reprinted quite a few times.
Citation of personal life:
Despite getting many requests from a lot of her readers to write an autobiography, Ranganayakamma wasn’t passionate about writing one. But she referred to many life incidents in her writings. She wrote an entire chapter on her personal life in the book Tiiga laagaaru, donkanthaa kadilindi. She wrote about her views on honors and awards in her books. She also wrote a novel (Kallu terichina Sita) in which she wrote about a girl she really met and helped her come out of her difficult marriage. Ranganayakamma also published all the letters she wrote to a friend of hers on various occasions titled Letters containing Autobiographical elements.
Other notable works:
Ranganayakamma has a very comprehensive style of writing which any average reader can understand with ease. Marxist books are full of jargon and it’s at times hard even for an intellectual to understand one such book. But she has been able to put in her ideas properly and lucidly. She also wrote a long essay called Are we writing the colloquium language? wherein she analyzed samples of language from many newspapers and books by Communists and non-Communists over about 10 years and made a compilation. She also wrote a book titled How to teach Telugu: An analysis of first-class primers and adult literacy primers in Telugu. She also wrote an article proposing to make changes to the Telugu script. Ranganayakamma developed a great sense of admiration for B.R.Ambedkar against M.K.Gandhi. She studied Ambedkar with reference to the caste system in India in 1999. Besides, her readers,too, who got interested in Marxism asked her to discuss caste and Ambedkar.
Critique of Bourgeois feminism:
Ranganayakamma wrote an article titled Housework and Outside work. She wrote it from a Marxist perspective sticking to productive labor, unproductive labor, use value, exchange value, independent and family labor. She addressed the contribution of women to the economy by incorporating in this the value of reproductive labor and domestic labor that women contribute towards.
Critique of Ramayana:
Ranganayakamma was initially a religious person but she turned into an atheist twenty years into life when she read Veeresalingam’s books. She critiqued many religious texts and challenged the traditional lives of the people. She wrote a critique of Ramayana. Then she read Mahabharatha by Nannayya, Tikkana and Errana. She then wrote another work This is Mahabharatha: Another poisonous tree. In 2016, when she read of Vedas, she wrote a short critique on this as well.
Awards and Honors:
Ranganayakamma was honored with the Sahitya Academy award in 1965 for her novel Balipeetham. She also penned a critique of Yagnyam written by Kalipatnam Ramarao for which she got a literary award in 1974 from the Andhra Pradesh government. She also wrote a story, Sosha, making fun of those writers who go bananas about honors and felicitations. Since she got introduced to Marxism, she declined many honors offered to her.
Ranganayakamma is a revolutionary writer in Telugu literature. Her works got lauded and have been very well recent by the audience. Though her husband taunted her, she didn’t just stay back. She, instead, tries to make the most of her life and is hence an inspiration for everyone.