Preface to the First Edition.
Under the order of His Highness the Maharajah of Vizianagram, a list was prepared ten years ago, of Brahmin sulka marriages, celebrated in the ordinary tracts of Vizagapatnam District during three years. The list is by no means exhaustive as the parties concerned were naturally averse to admitting acceptance of bride-money; but such as it is, it forms a document of great value and interest. The number of marriages recorded reached one thousand and thirtyfour, giving an average of three hundred and fortyfour for the year. Ninetynine girls were married at the age of five years, fortyfour at four, thirtysix at three, six at two, and three at the age of one!- the babies in the last instance carrying a price of from three hundred and fifty to four hundred rupees a head. Strange, as it may sound, bargains are sometimes struck for children in the womb. Such a scandalous state of things is a disgrace to society, and literature cannot have a higher function than to show up such practices and give currency to a high standard of moral ideas. Until reading habits prevail among the masses, one must look only to the stage to exert such healthy influence. These considerations prompted me to compose Kanyâsulkam.
I clothed the play in the spoken dialect, not only that it is better intelligible to the public than the literary dialect, but also from a conviction that it is the proper comic diction for Telugu. Dramatic style is, no doubt, determined to some extent by usage, but the absence of any real dramatic literature in Telugu, leaves a writer free to adopt that outward form which he deems most appropriate for the presentation of his ideas. The metres in use in Telugu, with their alliterative restrictions, are incapable of imparting to language conversational ease which is indispensable in a comedy, or continuity in which as Mr. Ward remarks, lies real life. One might invent new dramatic measures - but it would be a superfluous task, so far at least as comedy is concerned, as prose is gaining ground all over the world for dramatic purposes.
It has been remarked that the use of what is wrongly termed the vulgar tongue mars the dignity of a literary production, but that is a piece of criticism which one need not heed at the present day when the progress of the Science of Language has established better standards for judging the quality and usefulness of tongues than the whims of Grammarians of old linguistic strata. The Telugu literary dialect contains many obsolete grammatical forms, an inconveniently large mass of obsolete words and arbitrary verbal contractions and expansions which were necessitated by a system of versification based both on alliteration and on quantity. A license, which, no doubt, has its own advantages of introducing Sanskrit words to an unlimited extent has been but too eagerly availed of by poets who brought glossaries into requisition, revelled in fantastic compound-formation, and made the Telugu literary dialect doubly dead. This is not the place to dilate on the question of linguistic reform; but thus much might be said. If it is intended to make the Telugu literary dialect a great civilizing medium, it must be divested of its superfluous obsolete and Sanskrit elements, and brought closer to the spoken dialect from which it must be thoroughly replenished. There is not much dialectical difference in the Telugu generally spoken in the various parts of the Telugu country; so a new common literary dialect can be established with comparative ease if only able writers set about it in right earnest.
Recently, I happened to read Brahmavivâham by Rai Bahadur Viresalingam Pantulu Garu and found that there were some parallel passages in our plays, a thing perfectly natural considering that his piece traversed the whole field of Brahmin marriages. But it will be seen that these plays have little else in common, our treatment being essentially different. Brahmavivâham was meant to be a pure comedy of manners, while in Kanyâsulkam humour, characterization, and the construction of an original and complex plot have been attempted - with what success, it is for the public to judge.