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Girls for Sale

Kanyasulkam, a Play from Colonial India

Gurajada Apparao. Translated from Telugu by Velcheru Narayana Rao

Publication Year: 2007

First staged in 1892, the South Indian play Girls for Sale (Kanyasulkam) is considered the greatest modern work of Telugu literature and the first major drama written in an Indian language that critiqued British colonialism's effects on Indian society. Filled with humor, biting social commentary, parody, and masquerade, the plot revolves around a clever courtesan, a young widow, and a very old man who wants to buy as his wife a very young girl. Velcheru Narayana Rao has prepared the first idiomatic English translation, with notes and a critical essay. Itself a masterpiece of Indian literature in translation, this edition makes Apparao's work available to new audiences.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

This translation has been long in the making. I have been talking about my reading of the play for more than a decade now, to anyone willing to listen, until they are tired. Pressed by friends that I should write my ideas down, I realized that before I presented my reading of the play, I had to translate it. Over the long...

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pp. xi-xiv

Until recently, English translations of late-nineteenth- and earlytwentieth- century literary works from India have been almost exclusively from Bengali or Hindi. The writers from Bengal in particular taught us how India became modern. They wrote of social reform, moral rejuvenation, and the cultural revitalization of a great civilization, which had its glory...

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Note on Translation and Transliteration

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pp. xv

Translating Apparao into English is a challenge. One of the main characters in the play, Girisam, uses a lot of English in his conversations. I retain his English words as well as the English words used by other characters, setting them in italics to distinguish them from the English of my translation. I also...

Girls for Sale

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pp. 1

Dramatis Personae

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pp. 3-6

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1. Act One

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pp. 7-18

...It’s evening. I took twenty rupees from the Day-Meal-Woman, told her I’d get her some groceries from the market, and spent the money on the dancing girl.2 That was a month ago, and this morning she made a big fuss about it. I was so mad that I wanted to smash her head. But you know, as...

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2. Act Two

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pp. 19-34

...The boy wrote that kismis2 vacation started yesterday. I haven’t seen him in ages. My eyes are aching to see him. He should be here any minute. agni-hotra avadhanlu: What’s the point of feeling sad now? I said no, but you put him in this English school anyway. All the rent from the upland is spent...

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3. Act Three

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pp. 35-60

...This Ramap-Pantulu may look shiny on the outside but he is hollow inside. People say his properties are mortgaged to his debtors. He has borrowed up to his neck and can’t raise any more loans. He gets people to fight among themselves and makes a living from their quarrels...

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4. Act Four

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pp. 61-94

... If only I had learned English during my school days, I would have a field day before the judges. I have Jupiter in the house of speech in my horoscope. That’s why I am successful even if I don’t know English. Madhura-Vani: Take a talking dog hunting—you say sic’em, he says sic’em back to you. Ramap-Pantulu: Am...

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5. Act Five

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pp. 95-128

...What happened, Father? Open the door. Lubdha Avadhanlu: (To himself:) I can’t get up, and my hands are shaking. (Opens the door.) (To Asiri:) You bastard, don’t enter the room.1 asiri: You called me; that’s why I came. lubdha avadhanlu: (To Minakshi:) Don’t let that slut enter my room. minakshi: (To Disciple:)...

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6. Act Six

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pp. 129-142

... Get off the carts. Sayibu, there’s enough fodder for the elephant.1 The pond is quite suitable for bathing. Hey, there, who is that on the edge of the pond? Ramap-Pantulu: (To himself:) Oh, I forgot all about it. Today is the day when the wedding...

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7. Act Seven

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pp. 143-158

...ramanna: Where’s your holiness coming from, Guruji? bairagi: From Kashi. Ramanna: When did you leave, Guruji? bairagi: We started early in the morning after taking our holy bath in the Ganges...

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The Play in Context: A Second Look at Apparao’s Kanyasulkam

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pp. 159-190

Two things that cannot be avoided when writing about Apparao are colonialism and modernity. I will address these issues in this afterword and move on to a critical reading of the play in the context of the social and political conditions...

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Note on Names and Castes

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pp. 191-192

Telugu names are usually in two parts, with a third part added if the person has a high-caste status. The first part of the name is the family name, which is used in a formal or a legal context or when the family is referred to. Agni-hotra’s family name is Nulaka. The family name is often initialed at the beginning of the name. For example Girisam refers to himself as N. Girisam...

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On Kinship and Friendship

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pp. 193-194

Telugu people generally consider it improper to call an individual by his or her given name. This practice is fast fading out, but during Apparao’s time it was very common. Friendship was not freely recognized as a category of relationship; family was the preferred model for relating to each another...

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Performing Kanyasulkam

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pp. 195-196

The first version of Kanyasulkam was initially staged in 1892, five years before it was published. The troupe that produced it was Jagannatha Vilasini Dramatic Company, which performed Sanskrit plays under the patronage of the Maharajah of Vizianagaram. The decision to perform a Telugu play, written...

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Card Game in Act Five, Scene Two

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pp. 197-198

The card game that is played in Act Five, Scene Two is called Bestukudellu. During the early decades of twentieth century, it was popular in coastal Andhra Pradesh, including the Visakhapatnam and Vizianagaram areas, but it is almost forgotten now. Four or more...

Guide to Pronunciation

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pp. 199-200

Proper Names with Diacritics

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pp. 201-202


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pp. 203-226

E-ISBN-13: 9780253116932
E-ISBN-10: 0253116937
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253348999

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2007