In Conversation with Sahitya Akademi Award Winner: Chaithanya Pingali

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Working as a Journalist, writer, and lyricist, Chaithanya Pingali has come a long way in her journey. Her Telugu book Chittagong Viplava Vanithalu won the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award. She tells Storizen about her challenges & how she overcame them!

Journalist, writer, and now a lyricist. Can you take us along on your journey, briefly? The plan mentions happy incidents and tough situations.

I don’t see being a journalist, writer, or lyricist as three different kinds of jobs/careers or whatever. I write, be it news, features, short stories, songs, film screenplay, or even Facebook posts. I write. the only difference is – some kinds of work help me earn money, while other kinds don’t. Of course, when I write as a part of my job I must adhere to the company/employer’s rules, and opinions.

I am a science graduate. Initially, I had a dilemma about whether to choose writing as my career or not. Many suggested I not choose this field as there is no guarantee for monthly income. Moreover, at that phase, I had to earn for myself. I dared and joined a regional magazine later as a sub-editor, then as a fictional writer. Choosing Writing as a career itself is a roller coaster ride.

The tough situation I ever faced was the phase when I could not work. I was pregnant and needed to stay at home. It was a tough phase financially too. But I could utilize the time to research and write about Chittagong Viplava Vanithalu.

Your book ‘Chittagong Viplava Vanithalu’ won the prestigious Yuva Puraskar – Sahitya Akademi Award. Can you brief us on the book and how important the subject is?

Chittagong Viplava Vanithalu
Chittagong Viplava Vanithalu

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I heard about Surya Sen when I was in high school. I used to collect stamps. Both India and Bangladesh released a stamp on Surya Sen. it’s a kind of thrilling moment to see that two countries commemorate a person. Later I read about him, Chittagong armory. Almost 10 years later, I was checking for something in my personal library and accidentally read a paragraph. It goes something like this.

British police surrounded a house and ordered the people inside the house to come out bare-chested and hands folded. they didn’t know that there was a woman too, she asked them whether she too should remove her pallu. It was Kalpana Dutt. British chuckled that the women’s voice had no sort of shame, shyness, or fear. They noticed recklessness in that voice and they even recorded this in the charge sheet.

I kept reading this single paragraph again and again. It was on December 20th, 2012, post Nirbhaya’s incident. At that point in time,  like everyone else in the country, I was disturbed like anything. Moreover, I could not even participate in any kind of protest as I was pregnant.

I felt a kind of connection to the paragraph I read and the ongoing discussions about the link between rape and dressing choice. I felt writing an article on this incident, kept reading about her, and found more interesting things, and episodes.

I realized that the women who participated in the IRA movement of  CHITTAGONG  are first generation women, revolutionaries, to work in a secret organization, use weapons and fight the British along with men.

I could not imagine how they took baths, and how they managed their menstruation while they were underground. We have to remember this happened exactly 100 years back when women were not even allowed to talk to men.

I researched, visited the places, collected information, and started writing it. It was a tedious job. it took nearly 3 years to complete the book. I have done all this with my newborn son. We named him Khudiram Bose, who was the inspiration for Chittagong fighters.

The Chittagong IRA movement was not a mere independence movement. It was about what women could do, and how far they could go to protect their leaders who initially believed that women cannot do all the things that men do. These women proved them wrong and the beauty is the men revolutionaries including their leader SuryaSen apologized to them openly.

This hit me. I thought it was very great of them to admit they were biased, they corrected themselves and their organization with a sense of gender equality. This is the need of the hour. This is why the Chittagon movement is still relevant. We have to correct ourselves, and our system with a sense of gender equality. That is the only way to honor those revolutionaries who broke the patriarchy.

I didn’t even know that this book will get the Sahitya Akademi award. happy about it.  I am happier that the book is getting translated into different languages, going for reprints.

Chaithanya Pingali

What kind of reader are you? What books and genres do you like? Who is your favorite author and why?

Post-Covid, I am not at all reading. So as of now, I feel guilty to say I read a lot. In general, I read nonfiction related to History, archeology, sociology, and human evolution kinds mostly. Reading this genre actually makes me exhausted, feeling drained.  

Stories of the oppressed, the wars, and the blunders of the leaders haunt us. The fun part when we read history is – the same issue changes when our point of view changes. Reading such a genre is just like holding a hot iron Tawa.

As an antidote, I read comedy and satire. It is very tough to say about my favorite author. Some nurtured me, some inspired me, and some comforted me in tough times. 

To name a few – Chalam, Patanjali, Jaashuva, Ravi Sastry, Narla, Madduri Nagesh Babu, Volga, Sarraju Prasanna Kumar, Satyavathi p, Khushwant Singh, Manto, George Orwell, mark twain, Toni Morrison and the list goes on.  

Just like parents, teachers, friends, neighbors, co-passengers.. different authors, and different books play different roles in different phases of our life. So, I cannot simply choose one or two.

Talking about your role as a lyricist, what research and exercise do you do while writing a song? Are you an instinctive writer?

The director narrates to me the situation, and state of mind of the characters also. These days the tune is created first. So it’s almost like a puzzle, fill the words to the tune.

But the challenging part is to choose the right words that carry the emotion of the characters, and situation. Sometimes it’s tough, sometimes it’s easier. I co-wrote fidaa and love story films.

So I know exactly what and how the song should be. But when it comes to other films or web series where my role is just a lyricist I take time to write, and rewrite till the director and music director are happy. This is a commercial field. People from different regions, and different education levels listen to songs. it’s actually quite a big challenge.

Chaithanya Pingali

What inspires you the most in life?

One thought constantly runs in my mind. The road I walk is paved with the stones pelted at ‘them’, the stones are soaked in blood, tears, and sweat of the men and women who dreamed of a world of equality.

Someday I should lay the stones pelted at me and extend the road. This thought always makes me go ahead.

What can you comment on today’s Indian new age authors and writing? Has anyone enticed you recently with their work?

Ecstasy. It is the exact word to describe my state of mind when I read new age authors. The way they express themselves, the choice of words they use, the subject and canvas they choose, and their craft.. what not! Avlok, Janice, Manasa Yendluri, Mallikharjun, Nanda Kishore, and Ramesh Karthik Nayak are a few to name.  

You share your surname with a person who was instrumental in our nation-building Shri. Pingali Venkaih garu. Did this anytime this badger or bother you in any manner? Please share with us.

In my childhood, there were moments when I felt happy that I am related to Venkayya Garu. To be honest there were moments when I felt pride for being his granddaughter. But later on,  in my college days, when I started reading books, I realized that it is foolishness to feel so. No one can choose parents, or family to be born.

So, there is no point in feeling about the lineage. Venkayya garu is a national asset. He cannot be confined to a family. Not only he, but any person who ever worked for the society belongs to one and all be it Ambedkar, be it, Gandhi, be it Mallu Swarajyam, be it Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther king. One has to live up to them if one wants to claim the legacy. It’s all about the ‘action’, the path we choose, not blood relations.

Chaithanya Pingali

You were active during the migration labor movement during the first wave of Covid. Can you talk about the experience?

I Was one of the hundreds who worked to run a food camp at Medchal on NH 45 during the lockdown. There were thousands of people who supported, encouraged and donated money, food, and clothes, initially it was only a food camp. Later we arranged transportation facilities as much as we could.

I am almost 40 years old. Not even my father’s assassination horrified me to this extent in these 40 years. no words can convey it.  We saw women delivering babies on the highway, we saw children fainting on the road, and we saw frail, weak old men and women dying on the roads. Am not at all exaggerating.

One lady just delivered somewhere 3 km away from our food camp. She and her husband came there with a blood-stained baby, for a moment we got scared. The cry of the baby brought us back to our senses.

The baby’s father told us that they had been walking for the past 4 days without food and she delivered that baby on the road, he cut the umbilical cord with a knife. 

The woman and child welfare department of Telangana gave them medical assistance.

Even now I wonder how could she managed to walk just after the delivery. I  can’t forget one incident. along with eggs, rotis, rice, curries, and buttermilk, donors supported with milk powder too.

One woman kept a plate of water I’m the sun and waited there. I could not figure out what she was doing. I asked her. She told me that she needs warm water to mix the milk powder. Being a mother, I could not understand the fact that we need to provide warm water along with milk powder.

We have a Dalit woman as our country’s president. Everyone celebrated the event. What kind of change can this bring to the present plight of women in India?

It’s quite a good sign that a woman from Santali Tribe is now India’s President. Our Constitution made this possible. I am not sure about the change this can bring. But for sure, it made an impact on the mindset. Representation matters. It gives hope.

It gives assurance that one day the marginalized sections will rise to power. It gives a hope that we can await the day, when people vote and elect the most underprivileged such as Transgenders, Dalit women, Muslims, persons from North East states, Andaman and Nicobar, from Kashmir, in Power positions such as Prime minister, home min, c.ms, etc.

In this 21st Generation, we are still witnessing discrimination and bias in almost everything. What role does literature hold in this?

Of course, Discrimination is there. but at least we have learned and accepted that Discrimination is a crime. Most kinds of discrimination are crimes legally in almost all countries. We traveled a long way to reach this point.

Along with the resistances, revolutions, and reformations, Literature made this possible. The plight of one’s own, the stories of the oppressed, the voices of the activists, and the reason behind the revolts are so well documented that we realized, we corrected, we supported, we changed our mindsets. by “we”, I mean human beings collectively. more reading more freedom from the shackles.

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Storizen Magazine August 2022 Cover Chaithanya Pingali

Read more stories in the Storizen Magazine August 2022 issue featuring Sahitya Akademi Award winner Chaithanya Pingali