Another important thing about Navasakthi was Tummala Vekatramaiah, Chandram and Kondepudi Lakshminarayana were there to look after the editorial responsibilities. We used to get our blocks done at one of the synthetic block maker in Tenali. Block making was nothing but development of images. We brought out a special issue on the Soviet Union with photos collected from different nations. There were very good images of the top Soviet leaders. It was the first and the most qualitative and comprehensive issue ever brought out in Telugu on the achievements of the Soviet Union in those times. The weekly journal had to be brought out in time and circulated in all the villages and towns. Sometimes, the printing machine would give trouble and sometimes, the mailer would not come. So we used to deliver the papers on our own on bicycles besides of course, doing the packing work. Tummala Venkatramaiah was the editor and we were all members of the editorial board. The whole day we would write the articles and edit the copies, proofread them, and later supervise the printing work, pack the bundles and deliver them. Unless we did all those things, the paper would not have come out in time. In any case, we were able to manage the whole affair related to publishing and printing of the paper. The circulation part was also done by us. At that time, I felt that to educate the ordinary village reader and the cadre a brief summary of the happenings on the political, social and economic front was enough and that too in a week. In my view, a weekly paper was the best tool for propaganda. It would also be quite cheap and the cadre could afford it once a week. Also, the postal services were not that evolved as is the case today. That was the way in which we used to carry on our publicity campaign.
We also brought quite a large number of pamphlets on political and economic issues. Maddukuri Chandram and Kambhampati Senior were the main contributors to those special issues. They were also the main translators. During the same time, Kambhampati Junior joined us. He also contributed a few articles. Our idea was to bring out more booklets, progressive novels and other literature to propagate the concept of revolutionary politics. In fact, Nava Shakti used to reflect the various peoples’ movements and struggles that we had been organising in Andhra. It was very easy for different writers of those times to approach us and get their articles published in our weekly. Actually, Kambhampati Senior had prepared a list of columnists who could be contacted for their contributions. It was entirely left to the writers whether or not to continue to write for us, but we were very careful in choosing and picking up the authors. However, the main task before us was to take the theoretical and organisational conceptions of our party to the people. The second congress of the Communist Party in Andhra was held in the same building where we were running the press in 1938. The first meeting was organised at Kakinada in 1936 under the banner of the Kakinada Youth Conference. The third conference was held in 1943 during the People’s War period. I would refer to it later. When the war was declared, we decided to close the paper because we were not in a position to bring it out. Of course, later on, we realised how hasty our action was. We should have continued till the government imposed a ban on the paper. However, our idea then was to rescue whatever we could and shift our base. Anyhow, we later managed to start the paper from underground in Vijayawada. The first article that we published from the underground caught the attention of Rajaji (C Rajagopalachari). He felt that it was a very ferocious article, so the editors should be prosecuted and action taken against them. It seemed that the authorities informed him of the closure of the press. Nobody knew how the press disappeared overnight and to where it had been shifted. From that time (1939) onwards till we came out in 1942 July or August we were underground. The whole movement was organised from underground during 1939-42. Then, in place of Nava Shakti, we started editing a cyclostyle paper called Swatantra Bharat. Chandram was the chief editor. It was also a Telugu journal. The press was first operated from a garden in Kesarapalli; after a few days, it was shifted to West Godavari. The house from where we ran the press in West Godavari was owned by a Congress leader, but he was very sympathetic to us on account of his Leftist orientation.
We used to deliver the paper to different places on bicycles. Some local magazines were also brought out at the press. Our editorial stand clearly gave a Leftist perspective of the national movement. It was highly critical of the political line of the Congress. In the process, our reputation shot up like never before. The government could not lay hands on us and we continued to bring out the weekly journal. The officials were obviously distraught so much so that they could not find any channel through which the papers were being circulated all over the places. There, my cycling came in handy. I used to go to Gudivada and even Vijayawada to maintain contacts with our colleagues. Normally, I used to cycle all the night to reach places avoiding the main roads. I remember once I was coming back from Repalle area after meeting the Guntur district comrades, and some other from Avanigadda area in Krishna district. As I was approaching Vallur, the clouds were gathering fast. I could have taken the main road and nobody could have recognised me since I was a stranger, but then every care had to be taken to avoid unnecessary risks. I started cycling fast so that I can reach home before it starts raining heavily – it would have been quite impossible to cycle on muddy roads if there was a rain. Unfortunately, the rain picked up and the kutcha roads turned into swamps. There was no other way for me except to carry the cycle on my shoulder and walk all the way to Patamata which was approximately nine miles from Vallur. Normally, I was riding the cycle, but in that particular instance, the cycle started riding on me. By the time I reached Patamata I was almost exhausted. However, I was able to find a contact and also a place for stay. The rest was okay.
While we were carrying out our usual business from underground, once I had to go to Bombay to contact the party centre which was also underground. At that time, there was a facility for travel as we like. We had to be very careful with our finances. So I took the travel-as-you-like ticket, went to Bombay and contacted the party centre. After detailed discussions, they handed me over the anti-war literature. On my way back, I got down at Londa. I was fond of sight-seeing, especially the hills and the waterfalls. That area in Goa was famous for Dudh falls. I decided to go there and enjoy the nature’s pristine beauty. Sometimes, you forget the fundamental things while you are overcome by joy of travelling to favourite places. Same was the case with me. I was so stupid that I carried the small bundle containing the anti-war literature along with me. I could have deposited it in the cloakroom at the railway station. Since it was a small bag I thought that no one would bother to check it. I knew that there would be customs and vigilance officials at the exit of the station. I kept the bag in a corner while going out. No body owned it, but ultimately the customs officials traced me and took me into custody. I could have told them that the bag was not mine and avoid the arrest, but the circumstances were different. I told them that I was harmless and that I was not going to distribute the anti-war literature to anybody. They were not satisfied with my contention and handed me over to the railway police for further interrogation. At that moment, I thought it was quite silly of me getting caught and that I must escape in any case.
The railway police station was located in a forest area. I decided that I should take a chance though the constables were in large numbers at the station and it was also impossible to escape through the forest terrain of which I have no knowledge. I asked them to relieve me so I could pass urine near the bushes. They did not suspect; they allowed me without a second thought. I came out of the station house, went near the bushes and slowly removed my slippers. Only two constables were keeping a watch on me all that while. All of a sudden, I raced up to the hill opposite the station. The constables started shouting, but by then I had taken a big lead. They also could not open fire immediately because their guns were not loaded. They too rushed on shouting at me. Since they were nowhere near me, I jumped into the nearby forests. The constables did not dare to do it. Though I did not know the terrain I had the sense of taking suitable directions. So I walked through the grassy lands, shrubs and trees. As a precaution I used to always carry a pen knife. I took it out to face any eventuality if I come across wild animals. I was aware that there would be a strict vigil on all the main forest routes, roads and railway routes following the information of my escape. I kept on walking the whole day. By the time I reached the main road my legs were swollen beyond the limit because of thorns and bushes. There was a heavy downpour in a matter of hours and it was pitch dark. I could not move my legs any more, so I decided to take rest under a big banyan tree. There was a big whole in the main trunk. Again, it was my stupidity to get into it despite the danger of snakes. I had the habit of going and staying in such burrows and I just did that. However, I was conscious that I must get up early in the morning and resume my journey lest the police might trace me. I had this capability of waking up even from a deep slumber. So after taking rest for only two hours I came out of the burrow and took the direction exactly opposite to the one which I was supposed to take. After a walking for four hours, I looked out for the milestones as a precautionary measure. When I found that I was walking back in the same direction which I had took the previous day I corrected myself.
Then there was the question of changing my clothes to give up my previous identity in the eyes of the police. I had given up my chappals and the overcoat the previous day and was left with pyjama and shirt. I wanted to change them too and get into a dhoti-kurta. It was one of those suggestions made by Siva Varma regarding leading an underground life when we were together at the Rajahmundry central prison. Actually, they were technical precautions. There was a cloth store near the Almara railway station. I thought of going there and purchasing new clothes but had a second thought since it was not too far from Londa and the police would naturally look out for me there. I gave up that idea and thought why not go to the local bus stand. It was two or three in the afternoon by the time I reached the bus station. When I was going through the bus timings chart and the map, the customs officials arrived there in a car. Obviously, they were in a hurry to trace me and I could read that on their faces. I thought it would be better to coolly stay there rather than panic. Also, I didn’t have the strength to take to heels. Luckily, they didn’t recognise me. Of course, I was into a new pair of dhoti and kurta. Those officials were new and there were no constables – who had chased me the previous day – with them. They looked around the station and went back in a huff. In all probability, they might have seen me, but I was unconcerned and simply kept looking at the timetable. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Staying at the bus station or going to the Almara railway station would have been very risky. I thought of just moving ahead though my legs were very painful. I walked along the streets and enquired with the local people whether I could get a taxi. There my learning of Hindi in jails came in very handy. I was able to converse with the people fluently in Hindi. In fact, I passed the preliminary language test in Hindi conducted by the Dakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha. However, I could not take up further exams on account of various reasons. As I told you earlier, I also taught Hindi to our batch of young people at the village. Learning Hindi was a part and parcel of the national movement for independence.
As for the travel plans, I did not want to take risk even by purchasing a ticket to Hubli station. It was in the same division and the authorities could have probably informed them of my escape. So I had to catch the train beyond Hubli. I hired the taxi to the outskirts of a small town where there was a railway station telling the driver that I had got some work at the place. He did not bother with my explanation; all he wanted was money. I got down at a place from where the station was some four miles away. Normally, I would have covered that distance in a span of two hours, but because of my swollen legs it took me nearly six hours to reach the station. I was left with very limited money – all I could afford was the travel expense up to Bangalore. My travel-as-you-like ticket was already impounded by the custom authorities, so I had to purchase the tickets afresh. Even if I had that ticket with me it would have been risky because it was confined only to travel in the third class, which normally would be overcrowded at any given time. I had to very careful about all those issues. I reached the station on foot with great difficulty. That was the worst ever adventure for me. I don’t know how I reached there, but all I can say is that I literally dragged myself all along the way. I met the station master and purchased a first class ticket to some place on the Bangalore route. Generally, fast passenger trains don’t halt at such small stations. Since I had purchased the first class ticket the station master said it was no problem for him to halt the train. He did that and I got into the first class compartment.
Before purchasing the first class ticket I was in the belief that it would be very safe and only a few people would travel in that category, but when I got into the compartment I changed my plans. I sensed that what I did was fraught with risk – the authorities could enquire with the station master about the reason for the unscheduled halt and about the passenger who had boarded the train in the first class. It would be very easy for the railway police and the vigilance officials to trace me. So the next morning when I woke up from sleep I got down at a station which was a junction and bought a third class ticket to Bangalore. Had I planned the journey properly, I would have been left with enough spare money, but then I was in a hurry. I exhausted all the money I had with me for purchasing the third class ticket. My mind was set on reaching Bangalore first. Once I reached there I could manage things. I did not have money even to pay the auto or pull rickshaws or buy food. I knew a chemistry professor who was a close friend of my brother-in-law. I went straight to his house in rickshaw promising the puller to pay the money at the house. I directed him through the alleys and after a brief search we were able to locate the professor’s house. However, I was told by his family members that he had just left for the station to go to Madras. I directed the rickshaw puller back to the station fast and was able to meet the professor on the platform. I explained my precarious position to him and asked for money for my travel to Madras. He did not have sufficient money to spare and he felt very sorry about it. I did not want to take the risk of travelling without ticket that may eventually lead to my arrest and complicate the whole affair. So I took the same rickshaw to another contact. He was also a family friend of my brother-in-law. I told him that I lost my purse on the way and hence was left with no money to reach Madras. I even told him that I had no money to pay even the rickshaw puller who was waiting outside. Naturally, he could not say no. He went outside and bargained with the rickshawwallah on the fare. Actually, the puller was demanding a higher fare explaining how he was made to travel from the station to one particular house and back to the station and from there to this place. My brother-in-law’s friend rubbished his claims and paid him some money otherwise the puller would have charged me more if I had bargained with him on my own. There were not cycle rickshaws then; it was a hand rickshaw.
Our family friend later enquired the well being of my sister and brother-in-law and their children. He fed me properly and gave enough money for travel. He also specifically told me that there was no need to send the money back since it was only a small amount. Of course, he kept track of my political career through correspondence with my brother-in-law. He knew the kind of politics I was indulging in, but did not particularly ask me about all the affairs. The next day I started my journey to Madras often changing the stations. There was no problem for me at Madras since I had my own contacts and also there were many classmates of Ram. By then, Ram started medical practice at Nellore. One of his colleagues, a lady doctor from Atmakur in Kurnool district had settled in Madras after marrying a medical student from Tamil Nadu. I went to her house where she treated me for the thorn wounds and the swelling in my legs. On information, Ram reached there and took me back to Nellore in a car.
After that nightmarish experience arising out of my own stupidity, I decided that henceforth I should be very careful in organising the underground movement. In any case, the main centre of activity in the whole of south was Madras. I wanted two safe hideouts for the underground comrades not only from Andhra and Tamil Nadu, but also from Tamil Nadu. It was around 1939 or 40 and comrade EMS had already joined our party. He was in constant touch with me through various couriers. The Kerala comrades too were underground. According to the plan, we shifted two families – one was of Paruchuri Ramakotaiah and his wife Suryamba who had a daughter and a son and another of Malempati Sitaramaiah and his wife Sarada from Divi taluk –from Andhra and settled them in Madras with the sole purpose of utilising their houses as a base for our activities. However, they had other jobs just for technical reasons. Ramakotaiah passed away recently. Sarada was the sister of Chalasani Jagannadha Rao. One V Hanumantha Rao was also with us at Madras discharging the responsibilities of a courier. He later on left the party; I don’t know what he is doing now. Comrade M R Venkatraman joined the underground movement on my request, but his wife was terminally ill by then. I suggested him to go and see his wife taking all the precautions. He was reluctant to go at first apprehending arrest. I convinced him that the risk was worth taking as it was not good for a communist not to visit his wife who was on the death bed. He went to his house. His wife was satisfied, but at the same time anxious. She urged him to go back immediately since she did not want the infamy that he would be associated with if he got caught by the police by her bedside. MR came back to underground and within two days his wife passed away. The other day I asked Bharati – daughter of MR – whether she could recognise her mother’s face. She replied how she could remember since she was a young baby when her mother passed away. Then she showed a photograph of her daughter telling me that people always compare her daughter with her mother. I told her that it was exactly right. Bharati’s daughter was 17 or 18 years old and when I saw MR’s wife for the first time when she was there in Madras, she was also of the same age. A few months after his wife’s death, MR was arrested while he was taking bath in the Paleru River near Vellore. Despite all the precautions, he got arrested. Obviously, it was an outcome of a leak.
Comrade P Ramamurthy was also interned in his own village in Tanjore district. There was problem with Ramamurthy – he could neither walk briskly nor run because one of his legs was short. In his childhood, he fell from a tree playing hide-and-seek game. There was a severe wound and the doctors could not treat it properly. So he had a big problem with walking fast. He was an important comrade and I had to bring him to Madras under any circumstances. I made arrangements for his escape organising some sympathisers locally and also a car from Andhra. As per the fixed plan, they picked him up somewhere near Tanjore and brought him to Madras. He was kept at one of our safe places. Comrade Golla Radhakrishna Murthy and some ayurvedic medical students from Madala were there with us by then. Comrade Mutthaiah from Tamil Nadu was also there in Madras since it was the party centre. We used to maintain contacts with all our comrades spread in the south through cover addresses – often changing them since comrade Siva Varma had warned me earlier that cover addresses too were fraught with risk. The postal services were in the hands of the establishment and naturally the police had the right to open and read all the correspondences. If they suspect any particular cover address they would keep a watch on it and record the movements of the visitors to that house. Sometimes there used to be random searches too. If you were unlucky, you might get caught in such random search operations. At the same time, we were not in a position to afford the courier system everyday as it involved high costs. So we maintained certain contacts in Tanjore, Tiruchinapalli and Tirunalveli.
The police were able to break the communication codes in those places and trace the sender to Madras. They kept a strict vigil on the houses without arresting the contact families. Our courier had to go there to deliver some literature. Hanumantha Rao was the main courier who kept contacts with comrades outside on behalf of the party centre. The police did not arrest him, but trailed him closely. We never allowed him into our dens. Our den keeper used to go outside and meet him at different places. Though the police kept a close watch on Rao it was only after a long time that they could trace our dens. From the previous bitter experiences and Siva Varma’s suggestions, I used to run two secret dens. At the main den in Perambur where I used to stay normally, we kept Mohan Kumaramangalam while Ramamurthy was lodged at another den located in Tyagaraja Nagar in Madras. After a careful observation on the movement of the courier and the den keepers the police could finally ransack both the dens. Hanumantha Rao was also arrested ultimately. This happened before we shifted two families from Andhra to Madras. All the communication links were snapped as a result of the police raids and we had to start from scratch. New hideouts had to be arranged. Only in that connection, we settled the two families from Andhra at different places in Madras. Normally, we used only one house for our underground activities and the other only in extreme cases. The family members themselves did not go out to meet our contacts. We arranged other people for the job. If those who kept outside contacts were not careful the police might follow then and at the same time the den keepers had to avoid any kind of suspicion. If they too fail the police would easily trace the hideout. In such cases, I used to shift the families to other locations because we had the responsibility to save them first. That way, our underground activities went on till 1942 when finally the government lifted the ban on the Communist Party following a change in the party’s policy. Only after the proscription was annulled did we come out in the open. Before that the police had registered the Madras Communist Conspiracy case under which Mohan Kumaramangalam, P Ramamurthy and some others were incarcerated. I was not included in that case because the police did not get any clue about my stay in Madras. During the police raid on the Den Mohan Kumaramangalam destroyed all the dairies and other details of our contacts. So the police did not get any information about other members. Batchu Jagannadham was the defence lawyer in that case. When there was a change in the party policy later, all of them were released.