Let’s begin with my childhood days rather than with the history of the Indian communist movement, because that requires a lot of time and preparation. Shall we start?
Alaganipadu is a village in Kovur taluk of Nellore district. I was born in a landlord family in that village on 1st May, 1913. My father was Puchchalapalli Venkatarami Reddy and my mother was Seshamma. My father owned up to 50 acres of land in the village and was very influential in the entire region. I was the sixth child in the family. The first one was my elder brother followed by four sisters. Since I was the second male child after four sisters I got a more favourable treatment from my family. Normally, for the families of those times, the birth of a male child after so many daughters was a welcome sign. After me, another son, who went on to become Dr. Ramachandra Reddy, was born.
Talking about the socio-economic conditions of Alaganipadu, the village was located in the Pennar delta. It was situated at the tail-end of what was known as the eastern channel of the Kanigiri reservoir. The village had a guaranteed irrigation system for one crop. As we were growing up, my mother used to tell me that we were the biggest among the landlord families in the village earlier. My father and three of his brothers – two of them elder and one younger – belonged to one of the biggest landlord families in the region. They used to posses quite a large portion of the village as their common land. Because they could not cultivate those huge swaths of land, they relinquished quite a large portion of it much earlier. There was no CLR Act then. What they used to do was simply write to the government that they couldn’t cultivate the whole land which they owned and that they would like to give up a portion of it. By doing that, they could lessen the burden of paying the land as well as agriculture cess.
As I grew up, I also came to know that the agricultural labourers had some sort of share in the common land, especially in the form of ploughs, two bullocks, carts and other farm-related equipment. Earlier, that did not impress me much, except my mother telling me that all those lands belonged to our family. Later on, as my understanding of society developed, the significance of those factors and their role in the transformation of society, especially in the rural landscape, dawned on me. Coming to my own family, my mother was the second wife of my father because his first wife passed away without any issue. Hence he had to marry my mother when she was quite young – at the age of 16 years or so. My father passed away in March 1919 on the eve of Sivaratri. At that time my elder brother was about 16 years and I think I was about six years. My mother passed away in 1950 while I was in underground during the Telangana movement in the post-Independence years. The earliest reminisces of my childhood which I can now recall also reflect the life and the squabbles of everyday life in my village. As I already told you, my father had three brothers. All had separate houses – old tiled houses – in a large compound in the centre of the village. During the division of house property as well as the lands there was some dispute between them. One thing which I can remember vividly is that my father was already old by that time. It was sometime between 1915 and 1916. He was sitting in a pile in front of the house and the youthful sons of his younger brother tried to attack him after a heated discussion. In a fit of rage, he picked up a crowbar to defend himself. There was a big scuffle, but it subsided in a few minutes. I can recall another incident. The opponents of my father in the village came to our house in big numbers and started demolishing the water tank meant for the cattle. The dispute was over the ownership of the tank. It was not a public irrigation or drinking water tank. It was located in the common compound where we lived. There’s another interesting incident. I and my brother, Dr. Ramachandra Reddy, used to accompany our father to the fields. We were followed by some farm labourers. Ram, who was a young boy, wanted my father to fish out some small fish from the village tank. He was adamant that father alone should do it and not the workers. My father used to laugh all the times he made such a demand. Sometimes he would oblige, but on other occasions he would scold him. My elder brother was in the village school then and was managing his own affairs. He had no particular interest in farm work till that time.
I recall one incident which reflects the character of our families. One day, father was about to leave for the fields. He told my mother not to let Ram to accompany him. After my father left, she got busy with cooking and did not bother much about Ram. The young boy started following father and on the way to the fields he was run over by cattle. His leg started bleeding profusely. Father was very angry over the incident. He rushed back to the house and thrashed my mother saying that he had clearly told her not to allow Ram outside. He virtually dragged her to the place where Ram was hit beating her all the while on the way. Of course, that did not solve the problem, but it showed the affection of a father towards his children. He let off his ire on mother though she was not at fault. Those incidents had a profound impact on me not only in moulding my personality, but also in cultivating a distinct political ideology.
Though my father was not actually working on the fields, he was a very good agriculturist. Our farm labourers told me about his genius after he passed away. They also told me that he was a big expert in ploughing, harvesting and water management. There was no other person in the entire village who could match his skills in farming. I did not mean to say that he worked on the fields day in and day out, but he was always there to guide the farm labourers in their work and improve their farming skills which they lacked earlier. I was put up in a small village school. At that time, there were no recognised schools or government schools as such in the village. There was only one Panchayat School. In Telugu, we call it Veedhi Badi. If I remember properly, our teacher there was Yabluru Sitaramaiah. We have to check the teacher’s name correctly. He used to manage the school alone. Children belonging to the peasantry and the handloom weavers were there in the school. There were no government-run labour schools in the region. Children belonging to the Harijan families were barred from the only school in the village. It was a big problem for my parents to send me to the school because I was considered a very mischievous boy. I remember I once refused to go to school, but my parents forcefully took me there, though I resisted a lot. Once in the school, my teacher beat me severely with a tall cane. He used the cane with such force that it broke into pieces.
Later on, I was quite regular to the school. Those days we had one standard textbook for the elementary division called the Pedda Bala Siksha (Comprehensive Child Learner). While in school, I used to master the Telugu alphabets, numbers and multiplication tables. I was more advanced in lessons than others. I was also able to do my sums and other things. At that time, one Kotamreddy Kota Reddy – who later on became my colleague during my activities in the village – was monitoring the school. He was considered as the leader of the children. My third sister was also studying with him. From both these people I used to learn even advanced lessons from Pedda Bala Siksha and I was thorough in it. As far as my studies were concerned, the school teacher as well as other students considered me a brilliant boy. I completed the elementary course far ahead of others and left the school after my father passed away. Later, I went to some other place for education. I distinctly remember that I used to write the letters and other lessons on the floor in the school. Pointing to me, the teacher would admonish other students saying: “He is so young, but is far more brilliant than you idiots.” I was proficient in multiplication tables up to 20X20. I knew them by heart. I was also well versed with the poems from Sumathi Sathakam and some from Vemana poetry.
My early education spurred me to know more about many things, including poetry and literature. Now, of course, education starts more scientifically. I can’t say whether the village system of teaching the alphabets, multiplication tables, poems and other lessons to the students was better or modern scientific education where everything is taught to the children in a simplified manner is the best. I don’t have that much competence to comment on the present education system. In any case, I didn’t learn through modern educational methods. It was age-old village education that stood me in good stead. These are some of my early childhood memories. I had a good rapport with all my elder sisters. The last sister was only 16 months elder than me. In fact, she was the weakest of the all the children all through her life. That’s why my mother used to tell me: ‘you have deprived your sister of all the milk and the care.’ Though father and we three brothers were not actually working in the fields, my mother and her four daughters used to do the entire domestic work – from cooking to washing the utensils and clothes, from fetching water from the well in the compound to sweeping, they used to do all the work. Farm servants, who were caste people, used to fetch drinking water from a far off well. That was the only well in the entire village whose water was potable to some extent; all the wells had salty water.
The caste people were not allowed inside the house or to do simple things like spreading the bed sheets or milking. They were confined to cleaning the cattle sheds and the table. That continued until after I was grown up and more educated. There was one Harijan servant for doing the household work. We used to serve him food and pay monthly wages. However, all the remaining work like sweeping, cleaning and milking was done by my mother and sisters. They were good enough in their work. All my sisters also studied in the village school. The basic course was Pedda Bala Siksha, besides some poems and readings from Ramayana and Mahabharata. Beyond that they did not have much general education either in the form of history or geography or sciences. It is apt to say that they were made familiar with only the basics of the three Rs (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic). They were good at Telugu. My elder brother was not sent for further studies after he completed formal education at the village school. He was asked to manage the farm affairs along with father.
As regards the social structure of Alaganipadu, the dominant agriculturists in the village were from the Reddy community. Practically, 70 to 80 per cent of the agricultural land was owned by that community. There were not more than 30 to 40 Reddy households. I don’t remember exactly what the total population of the village was then. As far as the latest census figures tell us, the population now is some 2,500. The second dominant community in the village was the weavers (Padmasali) community. They were in large numbers and powerful enough politically. They were dependent on their hereditary occupation of weaving. They were always at loggerheads with the Reddy community. Nalumolu Venkaiah was the leader of that community. I never bothered to enquire the origins of the feud between the two communities, but the weavers were all more united in fighting the Reddy landlords. There was some kind of factional rivalry. The other community was of Harijans who were again divided into two sub-castes – Malas and Madigas. The Madigas were only a few and confined to only 10 to 20 houses whereas the Malas were in a big number, approximately between 150 to 200 houses. Malas formed the majority of farm labourers. Madigas were mainly cobblers. Some of them did other menial jobs.
The cobblers were the one who had the responsibility of clearing the corpses of animals in the villages. They used to take away the dead cattle and peel out their skin for making shoes and chappals. The other communities, especially the Reddys and Padmasalis, used to part with some grain to the Madigas annually. Goudas were there too, but they were mainly farm workers. Only a few were toddy-tappers. There were washer-men, carpenters and the blacksmiths. Many of the blacksmiths and carpenters used to repair the ploughs, grind the harvest sickles and other iron equipment. I remember as a child I used to go around their lathes and watch them in action as the agriculture season begins. When I started working on the farms in 1930-32, I acquired the skill to sharpen the ploughs and sickles. The blacksmith’s work is really very hard and I experienced it personally. Carpenters used to make wooden carts for the village. Except for the raw materials, they used to supply every thing to the village. There were some merchants also, especially belonging to the Vysya community. There was nothing particular about Alaganipadu except its social composition.
Regarding agricultural practices, I can’t say much because I was only seven then. The village followed one-crop system because they were not supposed to draw more water from the canal irrigation system. Lands were also not so fertile. As regards tenancy, the ryotwari system was in vogue in the villages by then. Peasants used to cultivate a major portion of their land and lease out only a small part of it to others so they could raise crops for their food needs. I don’t have the statistics on tenancy. The big landlords or the rich peasants used to cultivate by employing farm labourers on their lands, but under their direct supervision. Except for families like us, every other landlord used to work on their fields, sometimes up to 20 acres. Women belonging to poor Reddy families used to work as labourers, but most of their women were confined to domestic chores. Wages were paid to the labourers in the form of grain at the end of harvest besides providing them one meal per day. Some were paid wages annually. Wages differed on their ability to do physical work. Household servants were fed three times a day, but they had to work from 4 in the morning till 8 or 9 in the evening. Their wives were bound to work in the farms in the season. Though wages were paid to them, they were very meagre. The labourers too used to come at 8 in the morning and work for the whole day in the fields. In the lean period, they used to make ropes. That way, they were employed round the year notwithstanding the intensity and profitability of the work. There was some weird way of measuring the grain right from seru to putti. Normally, seru is equivalent to 1.25 to 1.5 kg. The daily wage for the workers was around two seru. But I don’t know exactly how they calculated the whole wage – either the annual wage or the season wage. Some neighbouring villages had fertile lands and quite a number of farm workers used to go there for work. Sometimes they were paid double the wage that they normally get in our village.
Normally, the labourers were allowed to clear the fields after harvest and gather whatever produce was left. That custom became a source of quarrel between the landlords and the workers over the years with the landlords accusing the workers of deliberately spraying too much grain on the wet lands and the workers charging the peasants with having left only a meagre amount of grain that was not worth collecting. Later on, when I took an interest in farming, I used to ask them why they were overly bothered over the waste output and suggested that they could fix a share of grain for collection. But both didn’t agree. They stuck to their stand. When I told the peasants that they should not bother over such vague issues, they refused to budge. The farm labourers considered it their right to collect the grain left on the fields after harvest. And, on that right, they went on haggling with the landlords. That was a very feudal way of satisfying and cheating the labourers. The labourers too used to deceive the peasants, though not in a very big way, on the question of sweeping the fields and collecting the spilled over paddy. There was nothing I could do about the whole affair. However, after harvest and chaffing, the peasants used to give a basket full of grain to the workers as a freebie besides paying the wages, again in the form of grain.
One thing I can remember is that the farmers were not using chemicals and fertilisers much. There was more use of inorganic manure. As far the output, it was half to one putti (putti in modern parlance was equal to 13 ½ bags each weighing about 75 kg) per acre. One putti was considered as a good crop then. After 10 years or so, that’s in 1928 or 29, the average output was about one-and-a-half putti. If the lands were fertile enough, they were able to produce one-and-a-half putti. Half-a-putti was the minimum output. After harvest, generally, they used to keep aside some grain bundles for sparrows. And, on the day of Pedda Panduga, that is Sankranti (Pongal), the peasant families used to cook sweets and other food items with the new rice. On that day, they used to offer some new rice to everybody who visits their house. That was the usual practice of the landlord families. Generally, the landlords used to provide grain or food to the household servants. I don’t think the landlords offered any new clothes to the servants on festival days. It was not a general feature. Probably, they were providing them some woollen blankets (kambali in Telugu), that too during the harvest. Offering of new clothes depended on the magnanimity of the landlords. Later on, in some villages, the servants demanded it (clothes) and got it.
Another important issue was that of capital (pettubadi). Domestic servants generally get a lump some amount. Besides that amount, they get a daily wage at the rate of one manika (some quantity of grain). The daily labourers used to get one-and-a-half manika per day. Normally, the peasants used to pay the household servants once a week. If the servants wanted more, they had to pay what was called namu – extra interest which used to vary between 25 to 50 per cent and sometimes higher than that. On this very issue, I picked up a quarrel with the landlords in the later years. The servants’ grain was already with them as a sort of mortgage. What was the difficulty in giving them extra money? In any case, according to the agreement, they had to pay them the annual wage at the end of the year. The daily wage was about three seru, but they were giving them only two seru. And, if the servants wanted more, the landlords could give them from the share they owe them and which they have to pay on the eighth day. Rather than keeping the grain with them, they could give it to the servants as a form of advance at least for the work they had done. Charging namu was a very bad custom.
Another feature of the exploitation of the toiling masses was that they were not given any holidays or rest all through the year. The servants had to toil day in and day out whatever their domestic and physical problems. Sometimes the landlords used to show generosity in writing off a few days absence, say 10 to 15 days a year. As the general consciousness dawned upon the workers, they put forward a demand before the landlords that even if they took work off for about 30 days in a year that should not be deducted from their annual capital amount. That (demand) became a bone of contention between the two. Otherwise, the landlords, generally, were imposing a cut in their wages for the period of absence. Those experiences helped me a lot in articulating and formulating the demands of the agricultural labourers later in 1928-39 when I took up farming and other related activities.
It was around 1917 or 1918. There was an epidemic in the village and I was to attend a patient who was the husband of my cousin (maternal aunt’s daughter). It was malaria that was rampant and he succumbed to it later. I was around five years, but then that’s the age at which one imprints his memories vividly. So when I was attending him, the village doctor – he was a stupid who didn’t knew anything whatsoever about modern health care – advised me not to let the patient fall asleep. The doctor’s advice was utterly moronic; probably, that would have caused his death also. Actually, his instructions went on like this. The patient needs to be fed quite often; he should not sleep as he was taking food at regular intervals; if he slept the disease would only become worse. So I had this responsibility of keeping the patient awake by constantly talking to him. Even if he closed his eyes for a few seconds I was to shake him up from his slumber. And, if I did not dare touch or shake him I was to call the elders in the family. How could a doctor deprive a patient of his sleep? Because of the doctor’s irrational therapy and negligence the patient passed away a few days later.
From that time, my sister had to remain a widow all through her life. It was also a social custom then. She was not more than 16 or 17 years and had no children as she was married for only a few months. She’s still alive and is at her mother’s place in Damaramadugu. It was not the practice to keep widows in the in-laws house; they used to be sent to their maternal home. That was the saddest episode and it had its own impact on me. My father passed away later in March 1919. He was 60. He was a diabetic patient. I remember his dead body. His two feet were tied together with a thread. My elder brother performed all the funeral rites. Of course, with my father’s death, the enmity between us and the families of his three brothers too was gone. They also attended the funeral and more or less sorted out all the issues with our family. By that time, the village was already divided into two factions each led by the Reddys and the Padmasalis (handloom weavers). So, after my father’s death, my mother – as she too belonged to the Reddy family – as per the custom was pressurised to give up more property and other things, but she refused. Except for some token offerings, she did not part with any property on the premise that she had to look after her seven children. My youngest brother’s – he was the eighth child – was a still birth. My mother, when she was carrying, used to tell me that if my last brother could see the world, then my father would live longer, but if he didn’t survive, father’s death would be imminent. Her prophecy came true because my father passed away within a few months after the still birth of my youngest brother. Generally, still born child were buried, not consigned to flames.
There was a 10-year gap between my elder brother and me. In between, there were four sisters. After father’s death, my mother took up all the responsibilities, including the management of fields and domestic affairs. She used to be very busy in the whole agricultural season besides looking after the household. She used go to the fields to supervise the harvesting and other works. My elder brother was accompanying her all the while. Naturally, there was a conflict between the parent and the growing male child. My brother was always out to confront her on every other issue, especially with regard to the management of the farms, though ultimately he used to yield to mother’s advice or diktat.
I was a witness to all those verbal duels. My brother was not married then. He married only in 1927. However, my eldest sister was married off in 1920 to one Veeraswamy Reddy, who was a district magistrate. Earlier, he was married to a girl in Tallapalem in Kavali taluk. She was our distant relative, but she passed away leaving behind her two daughters. The Puchchalapalli clan of the Reddys was widespread in Tallapalem. We had many relatives there. Veeraswamy Reddy too was our distant relative and that might be the reason why they chose our elder sister. He was 42 by the time he married my sister for the second time. He was from Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu. The Reddy clan had a domicile there. His father was a railway station master and he worked at Machilipatnam and other places. After education, he married and settled there. Of course, Machilipatnam had nothing to do with Kavali which was very far off. Generally, the Reddy families go on looking out for marriage alliances amongst their own clan. So they fixed alliance with our family. No distinction was made between those families settled in Tamil Nadu or Andhra Pradesh. Similarly, there were Kamma families in both the places and inter-regional marriages were also prevalent among them. It was not a question of ethnicity or language nationality, but of one community. Even now, that tradition is continuing. That’s the Indian phenomenon which has got its own significance and implications.
My eldest sister was 16 years or so when she was married to Veeraswamy Reddi. In those days, the tradition of offering dowry was not so rampant, though it was used to be given by the bride’s family on its own. It was also not demanded as such by the bridegroom’s family. In any case, that was not the impression. Also, it was a special case and he was holding a high profile job of district magistrate. He might have not demanded it. Though we were a landlord family, even lands were not given away as a form of dowry. Except for providing some jewellery and clothes nothing was offered, but the marriage was celebrated for three consecutive days. And, quite a lot of money was spent on it. How much dowry was given, I don’t know, but the marriage itself was a costly affair. As far as I remember that, none of the other three sisters were given any dowry, except customary jewellery, clothing and other household utilities. Of course, there were some minor gifts. The present system of dowry where so much money and lands are given was not there. When my eldest sister was married Veeraswamy was working at Kurnool. After some time, he was transferred to Thiruvallur. My sister took charge of me and Ram. She took us along with her to Thiruvallur to educate us further. That was the first time we left our village to be with our sister and brother-in-law. I studied there for three years – Class III, IV and V. Ram studied Class I, II and III.
In Thiruvallur, my education took a different mode. When they admitted me into the school, the authorities said I was not fit enough to join Class IV. So they took me into Class III. The whole medium of teaching was Tamil at the primary level. I didn’t know a single alphabet of Tamil and it was very difficult to follow the lessons. Therefore, my brother-in-law engaged a private teacher who was good in Telugu. He was also very intelligent. If I remember it properly, his name was Venkataswamy. It was he who instilled confidence in me with regard to my studies. He taught us in Telugu very well. He used to translate all the Tamil lessons into Telugu and explain things. Only because of his tuition classes was I able to read the Tamil lessons in Telugu and get a good grasp of them. I think it was Wesley High School where we studied in Thiruvallur. Though a Christian missionary school, it was recognised by the provincial government and had a good reputation. In the school there were two blocks – one for the junior level and the other for the higher level. I don’t know whether it is still there. While in school, although I was thorough in multiplication tables and English, it was very difficult to follow what was being taught (in Tamil) and reply to the teachers’ queries. They would ask one thing, I would reply the other in Telugu. Though Telugu was allowed in the school, the teachers could not understand what I was saying nor could they explain to me clearly as to what they had asked. In the examinations too that was a very big problem. They would give some questions in Tamil and I would write them in Telugu. Because of this differentiation, I used to get less marks than others.
While referring through the progress cards, my brother-in-law would ask me the reasons for getting less marks. I would say: “What can I do? They asked me something and I wrote some answers. But they say that is not what they asked.” Only in the English examination I used to score good marks. It was not difficult to answer the questions in English. The answers were simply ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Despite this, I was considered as one of the bright students in the class. Ram used to do much better in studies since he picked up Tamil from an early age – that is from Class I. It was quite possible that he was more intelligent than me. As regards mathematics, I was quite proficient. But there was a problem with arriving at the results of the sums. They were following their own method and I was arriving at the conclusion in a different way. Though the answers were correct they used to question: “where are the steps?” I would say: “why bother about the steps when the result is correct.” In any case, from those experiences, I later became a bitter critic of teaching the students in another medium other than their own mother tongue. Even the modern and scientific educational methods would be better off if they were taught in mother tongue. Coming to my early education, I would say that the Telugu pandit Venkataswamy impressed me a lot with his style of teaching. Had it not been for him, I would not have understood or learnt the Tamil lessons to whatever extent it might be. Because of his prodding I developed an interest in Telugu literature. My brother-in-law had a huge collection of Telugu novels and I used to read a lot of them. Even at that young age, the pandit made me read Molla Ramayanam. I was able to read it and understand it. He taught me not only elementary Telugu grammar but also the versification of the literature, especially the Kanda poems. Though I laid my hands on some poetry, I don’t think I was good at versification.
Since I developed the habit of extensive reading at an early age, I read quite a large number of Telugu books, poetry as well as novels. Of all the books, Bhogaraju Narayana Murthy’s Vimala – the story of Prince Rajasimha who fought against the invading forces of Aurangazeb in Rajasthan – impressed and inspired me a lot. I consider that the reading of that novel developed in me the spirit of fighting against any kind of oppression or the oppressor. Later on, I read all the novels that were there in my brother-in-law’s personal library. When I was studying Form I in Eluru and Form II and III in Rajahmundry, I read almost all the detective and historical novels that were available then. However, it was the novel Vimala that gave me the courage and filled me with determination to fight the societal hierarchy and defend the country whoever the aggressor. I was always inspired by the struggles waged by the Rajput kings, especially Maharana Pratap Singh, to defend their kingdoms from the aggressors. Raichur Yuddham, Vijayanagara Samrajyam and Sri Krishnadevaraya’s Thimmarasu were also related to the struggles to defend one’s own territory in the face of invasions. All those books changed my outlook and made me realise the necessity of joining the patriotic movements. My mother and brother-in-law used to remark that had Sundarayya grown of age he would have plunged into the Non-cooperation Movement. At that time, the children used to take part in the demonstrations against the British rule, but I did not join them. However, seeing my rebellious mood, they used to make those observations casually. Since childhood I was called by the name Sundarayya in the family. It was not the practice to address a person with his full name and my full name was Puchchalapalli Venkata Sundararami Reddy. The word Venkata was common in the names of all our three brothers because my father didn’t have any male child from his first wife and he took the oath before Lord Venkateswara Swamy at Tirumala that he would name all the male children from his second wife after him. That’s why my elder brother was named Venkataramana Reddy, me Venkata Sundrarami Reddy and my younger brother P Venkata Ramachandra Reddy. The latter had P V as the initials before his name. Later on, as we grew up, we dropped the word Venkata and I dropped the word Reddy in 1930. I did not like to be addressed as Reddy from 1928 onwards, but only in 1930 I started strictly insisting that the word Reddy should not be associated with me. I was taking part in the Satyagraha movement then, under the influence of Gandhi.
As regards my rebellious nature, it was not as if I was ready to pick up quarrel with each and everybody. My brother-in-law had two daughters (from the first wife) and naturally they were elder to us. We used to quarrel with them all the time. It was just childish behaviour and nothing more than that. They used to try to beat me and I used to thrash them up. But seeing the way in which I used to fight with them, my sister and my brother-in-law used to remark that I was very rebellious and ferocious. I don’t know how they made up their mind on my behavioural traits. So that was about my foundation years and also education.
I can also recall another incident. My brother-in-law asked one of his clerks, who was staying at Madras, to take me and my brother to the city on an excursion. On the way to Madras from Thiruvallur there were nearly 10 railway stations. I don’t know how many there are now. But then there were only 10 stations in between. We both went there and the clerk showed us the museum, the zoo, the light house and the High Court. I don’t remember what other places we visited, but the clerk was very helpful and good. When we came back, I had a question in one of the English papers in Class IV. It was: “Have you ever been out of Thiruvallur by train? If yes, can you name the stations up to your destination?” I replied ‘yes’ and named five or six stations for which, I got good marks. However, the main thing was the excursion at that tender age. If you take the children on excursion and show them the various places, that would have a big impact on them, mentally and educationally. In the evenings my brother-in-law would go on a long stroll to the neighbouring villages. If I was able to finish my private tuition by then I would go along with him. If it was late, I used to pace ahead to join him. Within the ambit of five or six miles from Thiruvallur there were quite a number of large temples. We used to go around the historical places. In the town there was a big temple called the Veera Raghava Swamy Temple and a tank.
From the historical point of view, I visited all the big temples in and around Thiruvallur. I used to observe the architectural and sculptural style walking around those heritage structures. I don’t remember whether I was really theist then, but it might also be a child’s inquisitiveness that got me attracted to those temples. By then, I had already started reading puranas. I had a concept that like the avataras of Lord Vishnu we should also fight the demons. My early religious orientation, if it was really there, came from my reading of the puranas. Later, ultimately, what I realised was that it was not religious orientation but equality orientation of Vemana and Sumathi and the patriotic feelings that were necessary to fight the evil, in my case, the oppressors. I was also healthy then. I used to walk a lot and was physically strong enough. I also learnt swimming during my studies in the 1930s. I was about to die when I entered into a tank playfully without knowing how to swim. I was about to drown, but then a shepherd caught hold of one and threw me ashore. After that incident, I decided to learn swimming.
I continued further studies in Eluru and Rajahmundry. When my brother-in-law was transferred to Eluru as a district munsif and later on as a sub-ordinate judge, I was admitted to a municipal school there in the 1st Form. In the school, there was drill master who was also teaching English and Telugu. I and two other students were considered as good both in studies and sports. Of my two classmates one was the son of a village karanam of Pothunuru. He used to narrate the stories of jackals and the way in which they used to confront each other with all the madness. Another one was from an ordinary or poor family, but he was quite good at studies. My younger brother Ram was also considered as an intelligent student. He was first in studies and also competed in sports though he was two years younger than me and two classes behind me. I was in 1st Form, he was in Class IV. Though I competed in sports, I never got first prize. I was always taking second or third positions. But Ram used to get a lot of prizes in sports too.
From Eluru we went to Rajahmundry where I studied for two academic years – 1924-25 and 1925-26 – in the government training high school. I continued my further education in Rajahmundry. Apart from my sister, brother-in-law, their two daughters and we two brothers, a close relative of my brother-in-law’s first wife, Eethamukkala Ramachandra Reddy, was there with us in Rajahmundry. He was from Machavaram, a village near our Raghavulu’s village. He was elder to me and was in a junior college. He was quite hardy and also intelligent. While studying he made a lot of friends there, including Pandiri Mallikarjuna Rao. Rao was a Congress worker and active in the Khadi Movement. He used to hold general classes and convene political gatherings. At that time, I was not interested in political affairs. E Ramachandra Reddy introduced me to him as one of the voracious reader of Telugu novels and he had a good Telugu library. So he used to lend me books. One day he told me: “You are reading only the novels. Why don’t you read some history books also?” I said I would certainly love to read history works and referred to some historical novels which I had already read. Then he suggested me that I read Komarraju Lakshmana Rao’s books. I finished reading Hindu Maha Yugam and Mohammadiya Maha Yugam both of which were written by Lakshmana Rao. Then I also read Chilukuri Veerabhadra Rao’s three-volume History of the Telugus. I was 13-year-old then. After that I read Chillarige Srinivasa Rao’s History of Maharashtra. Practically, I read all the history books that were available in Telugu. I also read many other books, including novels, stories and literature, which were available at the Gowthami Library. After school hours, I used to visit the library regularly. I used to sit there and read till it was time to pull down the shutters. There I came across Kandukuri Veeresalingam’s works as well as Chilakamarthi Lakshmi Narasimham and Panuganti Lakshmi Narasimham. The librarian there was an ordinary person. He used to express surprise over my reading saying that I was reading all the books which were there in the library. I used to say: ‘What’s the big deal in it? It’s good to read books.’ Later on, I started lending books from the library not only for myself but also for my sister.
It was there that I came in touch with Onteddu Parvateesam and Annabattula Subba Rao. They were Congress workers and were studying in Benares University. They were studying the Pali language and other literature. I had regular contacts with them. The process of studying more and more books continued. One day we were sitting at the Godavari river bund. There they got the message that Chittaranjan Das has passed away (June 1925). He was expressing grief over the death and I asked him (Parvateesam) who Chittaranjan Das was. He was so angry that he asked me: “You read so many books. Have you never come across the name called Chittaranjan Das?” Then he explained who Das was and gave me some books regarding his life and struggle. Till such time, I was not very much enamoured of Congress and its leaders. At that very moment, I felt very ashamed because a big national leader has passed away and I didn’t know anything about him. Though I witnessed the 1922 movement, I did not take part in it nor followed it. So, I made it a point to read daily newspapers and all the books available on the Congress and the National Movement. From that time, I was a regular reader of Andhra Patrika. Then the Congress came up with a report on the Jalianwala Bagh massacre. After I read that report I developed hatred towards British imperialism and decided to join the nationalist movement. Along with this, daily reading of Andhra Patrika made me aware of Gandhi’s biography. Since I was an avid reader of newspapers I kept a close watch on the political developments at the national level, including the release of Gandhi and the struggle with the Swaraj Party. Those events had a profound impact on me.
As the events were unfolding, my two friends, Parvateesam and Subba Rao, said the country can’t be defended following the Gandhian line and that the only viable solution was armed struggle. They proposed that we form a revolutionary group and carry out the movement. They were cautious enough. They suggested that we should have a clear understanding on our struggle, and for that, we should take up an extensive study for about a year. Only then, we should chalk out the strategy. By that time, we had already read several books and booklets on terrorists (revolutionaries) and their struggle, especially the Kakorie conspiracy and other important events. V D Savarkar’s The War of Independence was creating rage then. It was a banned book. If I remember correctly, Malapalli had come out already in 1921. We had a portion of that book as syllabus in our high school. Since I was reading all kinds of books I was considered as a bright boy. There were two or three other students who used to keep pace with me or more advanced than me in the school. One was Ramagopal Rao. Later on, he became a writer and an employee of the All India Radio. He got the first prize and I got the second prize in general studies. Then there was V K Rao, who has worked as the Finance Secretary. He got the third prize. More than just friendship, we used to respect each other. They too respected me for my erudition and my sporting abilities though I never got a first prize in sports. Another important aspect of my foundational education was that I took Sanskrit as my second language. There used to be a Kannadiga Sanskrit pandit. He was very good in teaching that language. He used to teach in a very simple way. Bhandarkar’s first book was our grammar. I picked up the language better than other students. The pandit encouraged me to read Raghuvamsam and other works of Kalidasa in their original Sanskrit form. Here, I should mention that my study of Telugu was more or less the grammatical language. There was an elementary grammar book written by Kandukuri Veeresalingam himself. There was a simple adaptation of that book. The pandit used to teach me the grammar in a simple way and explain a lot. That way, I had a strong foundation in Telugu grammar though later I also read Bala Vyakaranam. When we were in Thiruvallur the pandit, Venkataswamy, taught me the nuances of the language. Bhandarkar’s book also spruced up my knowledge of Sanskrit and I was able to read the literature in Sanskrit very effectively.