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Author: Gurajada Venkata Appa Rao
Translator(s): C Vijayasree /T Vijay Kumar
Publisher: Book Review Literary Trust
ISBN/UPC (if available): 8188434000
Kanyasulkam is often hailed as the first modern text in Telugu, but interestingly, it is also one of the earliest to have critiqued the colonial models of modernity. Contradictions within the agenda of colonial modernity and reform have figured prominently in postcolonial cultural debates of the last two decades. But Gurajada, who was himself a part of this movement for reform in the nineteenth century, not only saw the ambivalences and inconsistencies in the ideologies of reform of his own time but exposed them with critical discernment in Kanyasulkam.
Usually, social or cultural movements turn self-critical after going through phases of enthusiasm, passionate commitment, and fanaticism. Kanyasulkam, in contrast, is both the cult text and a serious indictment of modernity.
Gurajada Appa Rao’s Telugu play Kanyasulkam was first staged in Vizianagaram on August 13, 1892, and even now, after more than a century, it continues to be performed occasionally in different towns and cities of Andhra Pradesh. The first edition of the play was published in 1897, but later it was revised and expanded by the author, and this recast version, published in 1909, has been reprinted many times throughout the twentieth century.
Kanyasulkam deals not only with the evil practice of bride-price, but also with several other, and perhaps inter-related, social issues of the time child marriage, widow marriage, and the nautch question. The playwright’s intent is serious, but his essential dramatic mode is comedy. In creating both situational and verbal humour, the writer traverses the whole gamut-farce, slapstick, burlesque, parody and employs a range of comic devices-disguises, mimicry, charade. Throgh humour and levity Gurajada foregrounds an encounter between tradition and modernity that has not lost its relevance.