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Jan Myrdal, is one of the leading figures in the contemporary Swedish culture, his parents are Alva and Gunnar Myrdal, architects of the modern welfare state, they both received the Nobel Prize (he for economics, she for peace).

Jan Myrdal has written more than thirty books, including fiction, plays and books on literature, art and politics. He has also made a number of feature films and TV documentaries.

Some of his books include - 12 Going on 13 : An Autobiographical Novel, Another World, Confessions of a Disloyal European, India Waits, The Silk Road and Report from a Chinese village. He writes regularly for all of Stockholm's newspapers and lectures on international affairs
at the Royal Defence Academy.

The following is a tribute to Mahakavi Sri Sri which appeared in Jan Myrdal's book "India Waits" which was translated into English by Alan Bernstein. This is posted here with due permissions from both the Author and the Publishers, for reposting or other use, please contact the publishers and the author for permission.

Singing the Poetry of People - Jan Myrdal


In the heat of the afternoon of June 15, 1983, one of the world's great poets suffered a heart attack and died. He was 73. In the Swedish press however, there was not even a short notice to be read. Perhaps there was some short note tucked away in the French or British papers; if there was I didn't see it.

The silence in Europe is not surprising, seeing as the poet died in Madras and was Asian, an Indian. What is more, he was a Communist-not some Goulash Communist, Eurocommunist or communist
of some other variety of radish politics, however. He was a real communist, red straight through. He died in Madras. His language was Telugu, a major, beautifully poetic language with a rich literature. But it is an Asian language, and its great and long cultural tradition is not French, British or American. Cultured Europe, which gets itself into a tizzy over the opinion of this or that/Parisian cafe scribbler on the structure of poetry, doesn't even know the name of the language 40,000,000 southern Indians use to give expression to their experiences, knowledge and emotion.

The obituarist D. Anjaneyulu writing in Indian Express, June 16, 1983 concluded with the words: "He was for Andhra Pradesh what Nazrul Islam was for Bangladesh, Pablo Neruda for Latin America
and Mayakovsky for Soviet Russia. He remains poet of the revolution, the ever ephemeral herald of the future."

Goethe, of course, was right when speaking with Eckermann on Wednesday January 27, 1827, he stated that one has to look out over the world so as not to fall into the delusion that what one wrote was the only poetry and was of particular value. But unfortunately he was mistaken when he claimed that the epoch of world literature was at hand. One hundred and fifty years after that discussion, the epoch of world literature is still so far off that one can safely assume that Europeans who work with
literature do not even recognize the name of that great poet who died in Madras in the summer of 1983.

His people knew and loved him by the name Sri Sri. Because of his language he was also reluctantly loved by his class enemies. They considered him a renegade, a flouter of religion and a caste-breaker. His full name was Srirangam Srinivasa Rao, and he was born into an orthodox middle class family in Visakhapatnam on January 2, 1910. It was there that he attended school. Later he studied at Madras Christian College and received a degree in Zoology in 1930. By then he already had a reputation as a poet, a promising -if romantic and slightly reactionary- youth. In 1928, at the age of 28, he had made his debut with Prabhava, a thin, little volume of confidently constructed, romantically religious
poetry in traditional style.

This was a great period for Andhra literature. In later Indian literature history the two decades 1915-1935 in Andhra are compared with the age of Pericles in Athens or the Elizabethan period in England. The poets of the Andhra Renaissance, people such as Veeresalingam Panthulu, had shattered the ossified written language and recaptured the spoken tongue for literature. A constellation of great poets, unknown in Europe, created an extensive body of literature lyric and epic poetry, religious
hymns and topical poems. This was also a time for novels and dramatic works in Telugu.

Sri Sri's breakthrough came in 1933 with Suptaasthikalu. His rejection of orthodoxy and reaction signalled an attachment to romantic modernism, and, at the same time, a return towards the
popular, religious, Shaivaitic poetry.

Now he became a bard of the new technology and industrialism, vitalist and machine-worshipper, socialist and revolutionary. It was labor that created the world and all its wealth. It was the working people who would make themselves free and build the world of tomorrow. In forceful language, with total formal control of both the popular tongue and Sanskritized Telugu, and with a sovereign ability to use speech sound and meter, he gave youth of the thirties the message to crush the old state and rip apart its web of lies.

At the same time he turned his attention to foreign poetry; he was as free in his outward reflection as he was deeply rooted in his people and their language. He was influenced by poets such as Nazrul Islam and Harindranath Chattopadhyaya, but also by Shelley and Swinburne, Rupert Brooke and Siegfried Sassoon, Baudelaire, Pasternak and Mayakovsky.

He earned a living at a variety of jobs, seldom remaining long. He drank heavily and lived hard. He worked as a journalist at Andhra Prabha in Madras and Meezaan in Hyderabad. He freelanced
for the press and radio, did a stint as a civilian employee in the air force, and then in the forties as a librettist and a dialogue writer for the southern film industry in Madras.

During the thirties, his political awareness grew. The mounting threat of world fascism, the first ocialist state-the Soviet Union of the five year plans, the Spanish Civil War, Japan's war on the Chinese people transformed him. Romantic revolutionism evolved into the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat. The poetic world-perspective became proletarian internationalism, uniting the southern Indian agricultural laborer with the Czech miner, the Irish sailor and the cotton-harvesting plantation
black in the American South.

Now it was Aragon who influenced his style and determined his direction. From modernism and surrealistic experimentation, Sri Sri consciously turned to the masses to learn of his true roots in the people's language and culture. Thus Sri Sri learned from Andhra's despised peasants and outcasts, from their rich culture and highly evolved folk songs: The bardic Burrakatha lyrics (where the story teller, the singer, performs with his jester as well as the commentator, who both accompany themselves on burra instruments) and the Madiga Songs. The lyrics of the outcasts also liberated his poetry. His sureness of style grew, while his poetry spoke ever more clearly of subjects held to be
base and unpoetic by the artistic poets: kerosene lamps, soap fragments and small, small puppies.

In the democratic writers' association, The Progressive Writer's Movement, formed by the Communist Party during the Second World War, Sri Sri became one of the leaders in andhra. When he opened the third annual meeting of progressive Andhra writers in Rajahmundry in December 1945, eighty Telugu writers took part in the three days of deliberations and appearances. They represented nine hundred writers organized in sixteen sections across all Andhra (as well as the Nizams of Hyderabad).

Sri Sri was not merely an intellectual; he also took part in practical political actions, participated in the Party's election campaigns and was elected to the legislative assembly. He was active in the world peace movement and visited Helsinki, Paris and Moscow.

As the most prominent of the revolutionary poets in Andhra, he naturally also incurred the most ferocious attacks. During the 1955 election campaign in Andhra, he was assailed with such
vehemence in the press and at meetings by the remorselessly implacable supporters of the Congress for cultural freedom that he suffered a nervous breakdown. But these champions of individual freedom were not to be rid of him; Sri Sri recovered from his illness and continued to write. He grew increasingly disappointed with the official Indian Communist movement, which was adapting itself to parliamentary system and middle class existence, while forgetting the poor.

Then came the Naxalbari revolt in 1967. Spring thunder rumbled across the plain and lightning struck. Now, this wasn't parliamentary or middle class, it wasn't a matter of sitting at international meetings, or drinking vodka with the Russians, it was the poor peasants of India in revolt. It was communists who broke with the corrupt party, turning to the masses, taking to the Indian people's road, the road to revolution, from the Coal Revolt and the Wahhabi Rebellion, from Santha1 and 1857, from Moplah and Telangana, men and women who, if necessary, were willing to die for the cause of the people. There followed Srikakulam here in Andhra and peasant revolt smoldered across the land. If one seeks heroes, look no further- heroes such as Charu Mazumdar, weaver of the revolution's red scarf, and Vempatapu Satyanarayana and Adibhatla Kailasam, brilliant jewels of Andhra, and all the other thousands of immortal martyrs of whom the poor now sing.

When Sri Sri turned 60 and it was time for the grand, official homage, students came and politically posed their question to the assembled poets:
"Which side are you on, you poets? On the side of the
struggling poor masses or the cruel government?"

In Germany, the young radical students had lived to see their beloved Goethe become the poet of indifferentism. Sri Sri was great, a Goethe of his time and one with his people. He did not
become indifferent. 1970 was the jubilee year, the year of homage. From the Chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, the poor national poet was to receive a great prize, a large amount of money and the acclamation of the powerful. But Sri Sri spurned the honor and the money, choosing instead to participate in the founding of Viplava Rachayitala Sangham, the Revolutionary Writers' Association, which openly advocated the Naxalbari way.

In the years that followed he took part In the efforts of the Revolutionary Writers' Association and worked toward the establishment of the Indian Revolutionary Writers' Association. He defied the authorities. They were even obliged to imprison him a short time, this national poet they had once tried to coopt. And all the while he wrote.

For the poetry movement in Andhra, for thousands of poets and millions of listeners and readers, Sri Sri's work from the years after 1970, collected in Maro Prasthaanam, is a fantastically young, creative continuation of one of Indian literature's great and liberating lifeworks.

Now he is dead. Even European workers and students who have never heard of him are the poorer for it. But the revolutionary poetry movement for the liberation of India's people, which he served
and inspired, goes on stronger than ever.

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