Moogavani pillanagrovi (Ballad of Ontillu) – Kesava Reddy

Review by Sadhana Ramchander

(A novella from Oxford University Press, translated from Telugu by the author)Moogavani

Oxford Novellas are a unique series and present to the world, socially relevant themes from languages and genres not published in English earlier. They are translations of not only famous names but also of unknown writers, the criteria of choice being literary excellence and social relevance.

Kesava Reddy’s Moogavani pillanagrovi is the story of Bakki Reddy, a farmer who takes great pride in being a farmer, and who cannot see himself as anything else. It is the story of how he loses his land and becomes history in the village of Ontillu. What is even more gripping is how this history turns into a myth, creating a real forest in the process – a forest that villagers leave untilled and unused, and that no one touches out of fear and respect. How this happens constitutes the story.

Moogavani pillanagrovi (which literally means “The mute boy’s flute”) deeply affected me by its vivid and descriptive telling of the simple but complex story of Bakki Reddy. As I read this book, it was like I had seen a Shyam Benegal movie. ..Ontillu village and the various places and characters from it were etched clearly in my mind’s eye, it is as though I have been there and know the village very well.

J K Snyder, who revised the translation says something similar, “Reddy is a master of composition by scene – there is almost nothing that one does not see and take sense and understanding from. “ Snyder also calls the book “a master work in its genre that has profound relevance to what must be one of the most intense and agonizing issues in India at the moment.”

The story goes back and forth from son to father to son, a mother, a wife, a mother…an image left here, another picked up. An image from the past morphs into another in the here and now; a paragraph started in the beginning is completed at the end of the book, completing a jigsaw puzzle, and filling in the details that make one wonder at the amazing craft of Kesava Reddy’s writing. It is as though a great mystery is solved, yet it is only about the intensity of human emotion that the writer is dealing with.

Reading this book does make me want to read the original, in Telugu. I am guilty of not having read literature in my language.


Kesava Reddy is a dermatologist by profession, and runs a clinic in Nizamabad, Telangana. He has several published novellas to his credit. This story is based on his own family history.

Buy from UK / USA

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s