By Ramesh Kasa

kalutunna pulatota book coverKaaluthunna Poolathota (The Burning Garden), 2006, written by Syed Saleem, a well-known Telugu novelist, story teller, poet and aspiring playwright is considered to be the first novel on HIV/AIDS in the Telugu literature. Mr. Saleem received the Kendriya Sahitya Academy award in 2010 for this novel.

One can use the word ‘humanist’ to define the philosophy that marks his writings. He has penned five novels, 140 short stories and 100 poems till date. His works have been translated into Kannada, Hindi, Marathi and English.

The novel depicts the importance of positive thinking in the face of being afflicted with AIDS. It emphasizes the importance of the care that needs to be given to the patients and the efforts to do away with the myths and misconceptions that surround HIV/AIDS.

The novel proceeds to do this by portraying AIDS through two perspectives. One through a well-established, educated, urban setting and another from a poor and uneducated rural point of view. Mr. Saleem mines the material for his narratives from these two societies where the protagonists harbor common dreams and despairs. Social discrimination and helplessness that these characters face in both societies is a fictional representation of the harsh reality on ground.  Mr. Saleem uses several real life social incidents to portray the issues and problems that AIDS victims undergo.

The plot is a battle of the protagonists with the society which castigates AIDS victims. In the novel, Sudheera and Krishna Murthy are affected by AIDS. Driven by isolation and despair, they commit suicide for the fear of isolation from the society. Kumar, a city dweller gets consumed by hatred for himself. However, Nagamani, an educated poor woman, stands tall against all the hurdles to become a counselor and spread awareness.

Mr. Saleem weaves a heart-rending narrative through which he expresses a strong desire to build an AIDS-free society.