A known name in the Telugu cine world and Telugu journalism Gollapudi Maruti Rao has, with his inimitable style and wit, garnered a following for his musings in English as well. In a candid interview with Uma of Yo! Vizag, he reveals his foray into the English media.
From a young man who lost a job opportunity in The Times of India because he could not spell the word ‘cigarette’, to an acknowledged columnist/writer who was cordially invited to pen special features for momentous occasions like the formation of Andhra Pradesh and the creation of Amravathi – in the same publication, Gollapudi Maruthi Rao is testament to the fact that life is full of interesting twists and turns.
“It was by accident that I ventured into English writing. I was very poor in English,” he states, when asked to describe his stint of penning a column in English for more than three years. Elaborating he adds, “I did my post graduation in Mathematical Physics, way back in 1959. But, I couldn’t speak even two sentences in English correctly in those days. I attended a few interviews in Delhi, one even conducted by Sandilya – the son-in-law of Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. He was keen to give me the job, but for him to give me a job I had to be able answer something; finally he asked me “Can you explain your journey from Vizag to Delhi?” And even that, I could not. . Every interview I failed because of my English, and this used to hurt me. I even tried for a post of proof-reader at the Times of India but failed because,
I couldn’t write the spelling of cigarette! C I G A R E T T E, I could not write.
Soon after that, armed with testimonials from great personalities like Narla Venkateswara Rao, former editor of Andhra Prabha, and Mr. Tenneti Viswanathan I approached Mr. Neelamraju Venkataseshaih – the then editor of Andhra Prabha at Vijayawada. I was offered a post in the daily edition, this was in mid 1969. I was sent to Chittoor and my job was to translate the English news bulletins from Reuters and PTI into Telugu. It was my exposure to those English bulletins that changed everything and I finally did what I could not accomplish before. From being unable to even articulate myself, I progressed to being able to write poetry in English!”
The ‘English’ columnist
Describing his first venture in an English paper, he says, “My initial writings in English were sporadic. I was invited to write some articles – like the Pune-based Film Institute of India, invited me to present a paper to an audience that included stalwarts like Kamal Hassan and Javed Akhtar. It was very well received. I still remember one gentleman coming to me and congratulating me and saying, “You are Annantamurty!” Sometime later, K Srirammurty, the editor of H M TV (Hyderabad Media TV), asked me to pen a weekly column in his English daily, Hans India. Writing a column was not new for me, because I was already doing a column in Telugu, all I had to do was catch the appropriate English idiom and expression. It was a baptism by fire. Undavilli Satyanarayana, an Indian Express writer from Vijayawada used to call me regularly and say that “Marutirao garu, we missed a good journalist”. Which brings me back to my first futile attempt to get into Times of India; had I joined the TOI as proof-reader then, I would have become a Chief-editor – which I eventually became! About 40 years later, the TOI office in Hyderabad called and invited me to be the editor of a newly launched monthly magazine in Telugu. I edited that monthly for 12 months, till it was shelved. This was a vindication of what I could not do then, and what I eventually did later. But then that’s another story. I have also written special features in English for special occasions. Like when TOI released a special edition on the formation of Andhra Pradesh and then again during the creation of Amravathi. These articles including a special feature on the IPL in Hans India were all bonuses for me, writing in English which I never considered or tried, never ventured into. That was how I forayed into English journalism and writing which I enjoyed immensely.”
For the love of the language
“My first published story was in Telugu when I was just 14,” he reveals when asked to trace his literary origins. “I am 77 now, and have been writing for almost 62 years. And though I began writing in English rather late in my life, I have always liked my English pieces. I have a penchant for English. It is such a sweet language. I enjoy expressing myself in English – a little more than expressing in Telugu. Not that I am not good in Telugu – I am after all a Telugu writer. But English has its own charm. When we use a small word or phrase, it charges the entire thought. I am an avid reader and if anything, I miss reading the features of stalwarts in English journalism, like Chief Justice, V R Krishnaih.”