Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Tribute to a Patriarch

Prof. K. Seshadri

Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

Nellore, the southern-most district of Andhra Pradesh, is historically known as Simhapuri because of its heroic kings of the past. The great Telugu epic poet Tikkana wrote his Mahabharata on the banks of the river Pennar which skirts along the boundary walls of the temple of Sri Ranganatha. Pinakini, as it is called, has enriched the fields of the district thus justifying the name Nellore–the land of paddy. Here flourished the King Manumasiddhi and the Reddy kings of Kondaveedu. In modern times the great playwright and scholar, Vedam Venkataraya Sastri and “Kavikokila” Duvvuri Rami Reddy enriched the heritage of Telugu literature. Potti Sriramulu consecrated the land by his supreme sacrifice for the cause of Andhra peoples. Its history and tradition are many-splendoured. It is in this district that Professor Mamidipudi Venkatarangaiya was born and it is in the fitness of things that one has to think of this place since he was one of its most illustrious sons and was proud that he belonged to this district. This pride is a legitimate pride not tarnished by parochialism or narrow localism but one that is a part of the larger and nobler sentiment of national patriotism and love for one’s region. Both are reconcilable when your love for your place does not mean hatred of other places.

It was way in the late ’Twenties that I saw as a school boy a tall gaunt personality wearing a long Khaddar coat, a turban and an Angavastram, with a kindly but commanding look presiding over the Venkatagiri Raja’s College as Principal. It was then an intermediate college but did have many illustrious men on its staff. At that time I did not even dream that I would become so close to this distant and distinguished personality who had already made his name as an able administrator and an eminent historian and an excellent teacher. His memory was prodigious and his clarity of thinking was remarkable which traits he retained surprisingly till the end of his long life without any trace of the usual senility that characterises most people. There was one Mr. Pichi Raju, a short man with an unkempt hair and unshaven beard, who was a zealous librarian in V. R. College and he had to bend wards to look up to Prof. Venkatarangaiya, who in his turn was neatly dressed and clean shaven towering above mortals, who had to bend forward to “look down on Pichi Raju. This was a very funny sight–the long and short of V. R. College! The bibliophile and the bibliomaniac!

I am absolutely certain that every person who came into contact with him must have experienced the clarity or his analysis of any complex problem and the capacity for remembering the minute details with which he could reinforce whatever he was arguing about. This, memory was not only with regard to things academic but also the minor details of one’s personal problems and past incidents. There was not the “anecdotage” in the way he recalled the incidents of the past but a pure matter of fact narration of incidents which would be relevant to the discussion. Many were the privations that he had endured but none was told about them in the fashion of many who usually paint the trials and tribulations they had undergone when they were young and struggling in life laced with a good deal of salt. Even when in his later old age he had to be bedridden, there was no cribbing about his incapacity or the suffering that he must have been undergoing. Nor was there any of the weak sentimental self-pity and constant prayers to Providence. On the contrary, his anxiety was always about the country which, he felt, was slowly disintegrating and the discussion with visitors was about how to remedy the various ills that the body politic was suffering from. As a person who grew up during the freedom movement under the best traditions of sacrifice and integrity, it was very painful for him to see the country in the miserable plight into which it had sunk, hardly within fifty years of its independent existence. Sometimes some of us, his very junior friends (if I may take the liberty of claiming this sort of relationship with him), used to wonder as to why he, who has not many years to live any way, was bothered about the country and why instead he did not in the style of Louis, the IV of France, take the attitude of “after me the deluge”? No, he was so deeply concerned about the welfare of the country that he relegated his own self to the ground. Now-a-day s when even with long years of life before them, many are least bothered about the future of the country which in the long run is bound to affect the individual’s life as well. Would this country again lapse into anarchy and disintegration that was the state of affairs as the Moghul empire declined when a local tough would rule as far as his personal influence would work and this rendering all the development futile? This feeling of sadness in spite of him was visible in the last years of his life.

Starting as a historian, since in his days it was a composite course of History, Politics and Economics with one of them as the main and the others subsidiary, he gradually began to evince greater interest in political science without losing his historical perspectives and in political science he became one of the pioneering teachers and researchers. His interest was in the beginning in federalism and constitutional development of India. His lectures on the constitutional development were marked by a clarity and precision argued with a terseness which was his typical style and I am sure those who had the privilege of listening to them would never forget the steady and measured tone in which they were if delivered. Along with federdlism on the one extreme, he would with equal felicity deal with local government and politics at the other extreme. His catholicity was such that he would not confine himself to narrow specialisation which does not take a complete and composite view and therefore the problem of federalism was a continuum of the local self-government, and politics was that of contemporary history. Having served with distinction in Andhra University, he made his indelible mark in Bombay University as the Head of the Department of Politics there and the university honoured him by publishing a volume in his honour as he retired. I do not intend to talk of the official honours and tributes that were bestowed upon him.

After a brilliant academic career, he served in various places in Andhra in P. R. College, Kakinada, and in Vizianagaram College and in V. R. College, Nellore, as earlier narrated, then in Bhimavaram College, and in the Andhra University before he was invited to head the department in Bombay University. In the midst of these busy academic engagements he did a stint as a Dewan of the Estate of Vizianagaram. It was, as he narrated to me one day, under very peculiar circumstances he had to give it up. He was a principled administrator and would not commit any irregularity even under orders of his employer for whose finances he was acting as custodian. This irked the young ruler and he had to give up the post and the mother, who knew this, granted a life-long pension for him which he laughingly said he was receiving even till the end–though it was a meagre amount at the present day value of money.

Those were the days when there was no financial assistance from U G C or the ICSSR or ICHR to scholars to pursue their research, nor were the free foreign trips available to scholars. Nor was a Ph. D. an essential qualification for becoming a professor as now. It is a notorious fact that because of the insistence of Ph. D. for even a lecturer’s post that today there is a mushrooming of trivial research with doubtful and questionable evidence, often involving fictitious statistics going in the name of empirical work. Every half-baked charlatan goes about flaunting a questionnaire with irrelevant information masquerading as a social scientist. Jargon has become the Mantra and it has usurped scholarship of its legitimate place in the academic field and a good deal of tax-payers’ money is wasted by these new bodies for the sake of this irrelevant and trivial “research”, which is nothing but repetition of trite things. But the age of Prof. Venkatarangaiya was not favourable for such spurious scholarship. It was an exacting scholarship of rigour, profundity, erudition attained after hard and persevering industry never permitting itself to become out of date. It was a research for the love of its own sake not because it would give additional butter to the bread. It was a passionate and detached pursuit of truth and knowledge unsullied by patronage. All Andhras know, at least ought to know, what the great Pothana told his wealthy brother-in-law who wallowed in royal patronage.

Professor Venkatarangaiya has written more than twenty books in English on aspects of politics and innumerable essays, articles and book reviews. There is no social science journal that does not claim his participation. India Quarterly, the Journal of the Indian Council of World Affairs, was particularly benefitted by his perceptive book reviews. There are bogus reviewers now-a-days who do not read a book from the beginning to the end properly and on the basis of a page or two of the preface use the gutter water for ink and write their reviews. These are the modern academic adulterators. A look at any of the reviews by Prof. Venkatarangaiya would reveal how thoroughly he had gone through the book and how he tries to highlight the good points in the book and then offers his impartial and severe criticism without any venom or vulgarity. He would say that the reviewer should be a responsible person since a reader normally takes a reviewer to be right and would not care to ascertain the truth by reading the original and, therefore, if one were to make a “devastating” criticism one should be extra truthful and impartial and not enjoy the advantage of a column in a journal and the difficulty of the writer to defend himself against such vandals.

He was equally proficient in Telugu as he was in English. His great contribution in his four-volume edition of the Freedom Struggle in Andhra, a translation of Kautilya’s Arthasastra, and the three-volume edition of India’s Struggle for Independence, not to speak of the innumerable articles. In all, there must be about twenty-five books of his in Telugu. He was the editor of the Telugu Encyclopaedia. I wonder if he himself could recall all his writings in one go. Andhra has not seen such a prolific writer in modern times and in any other state he would have been glorified. Mediocre men are hailed in many places while in the Telugu speaking region, no scholar gets his due. In passing, I must say that Andhras do not admire and encourage Telugu writings as much as the Bengali does Bengali works or Marathi writings get from the Maharashtras and so on. It is a sordid story that none in Andhra rose to the national stature though again mediocre leaders were counted as national leaders from some other states. I have to mention this because many in Northern India know of neither Prakasam or Duggirala or Konda Venkatappiah or Alluri Sit a Rama Raju. None knows about the literary figures of Telugu till the Communist Party popularised Gurazada, Chilakamarti, Veeresalingam, etc. It must also be sadly recorded that after Hyderabad became the capital of Andhra Pradesh, the Andhras have even become ashamed of their language and take illegitimate pride in speaking in bad Urdu. Prof. Venkatarangaiya was one of those who devoted as much interest in Telugu language as such, as in writing serious scholarly works in Telugu. In this connexion may I entreat every Telugu-knowing scholar to do his bit by writing in Telugu as well, in order that high and sophisticated writing is available in our own language as well? I feel depressed when I see the way Bengalis and Maharashtrians, etc., patronise their language, while Telugu is left like an orphan by serious scholars. With this idea Prof. Venkatarangaiya, Prof. Ram Reddy, the present Vice-Chancellor of Osmania University, Mr. N. Inniah of the Andhra Jyoti and I conceived of a sophisticated social science journal in Telugu and called it in Telugu mnemonically “Prasaritha.” (Pra-Prakriti, Saa-Sanghika, Ri-, Tha- Thathva Sastramulu).It worked well for a few years and languished due to paucity of support from scholars. I would still hope that we could revive it in the memory of the late patron saint of this journal.

After he settled down in Secunderabad, we had more occasions to work together. He was our family friend since we hailed from Nellore and knew every member of our family. That is only beside the point. He, Prof. G. Ram Reddy, Mr. Inniah and myself were almost like a team of musketeers trying to organise seminars and meetings on various subjects of contemporary interest. Particularly he was deeply involved in the progress of the experiment of Panchayati Raj, since as a Gandhian and as a scholar who knew his Indian history, he saw in the strengthening of these indigenous local institutions the revival of democratic and developmental activities at the grass roots. Moreover, as one who was particularly committed to civil liberties, he also saw in the prospering of these basic institutions of democracy a guarantee of the progress of the rural poor on which accomplishment alone the foundations of Indian democracy, both political and economic, would in the final analysis depend. As these institutions began to deteriorate into pocket organisations of the rural tyrant. who now masqueraded as legalised democratic rulers of the villages, he became more committed to the proper functioning of these bodies and wrote and spoke extensively exposing their malfunctioning and younger people than he had to bend their heads in shame at their passivity and callousness. People half his age could not work even half as hard as he did. He was listened to with rapt attention since he never came to a meeting or a seminar without fully preparing himself as to what he would say and never took even the humblest of his audience for granted. How unlike is this, compared to the modern pseudo-scholars and leaders who pontificate on each and everything without the least cerebration? What is there to cerebrate in these heads that have non-functioning cerebrums?

Of the many seminars and meetings that he participated as our friend and philosopher and guide, was the one on “The Developing Society and police” that was organised in the Post-Graduate Centre in Warangal. Like the first invocation to Lord Ganesh for all auspicious occasions, the first invocation is always made to him. Throughout the seminar he sat, as was his wont, all ears (he had enormous ears!) to whatever was being said. Immaculately dressed in his Khadi long coat and dhoti and Angavastram, he made his presentation in which he made the novel suggestion that the police should be given training in social sciences so that they could work as friends of the people and not as they were doing now as their enemies and tormentors in accordance with the imperialist rules of administration and jurisprudence. Prof. Ram Reddy and I are to this day proud that we could bring all the proceedings of this seminar with our Professor’s presentation on the “Impact of Politics on the Rule of Law” in a book which we must legitimately claim as having made a favourable impact on the academia, which we are also proud to attribute not a little to the advice and guidance and active participation of Prof. Venkatarangaiya.

I was writing on the politics of Andhra Pradesh and in the draft I made a statement that it was the Communists who first mooted the concept of Vishalandhra for bringing the Telugu-speaking people scattered allover the coastal Madras, Rayalaseema and Telangana area in the Nizam’s dominions, together and recapture their glory in the modern context. The first clear articulation of the demand was made by Com. Puchalapalli Sundarayya (another prominent son of Nellore) of the then united Communist Party of India, in his hook “Vishalandhralo Prajarajyam” (1946.) In his own modest way the professor nodded his assent and added that long before this, in the year 1937 in the Andhra Week Commemoration Volume brought out by the Andhra University he had made a similar suggestion in his article “Some Political and Constitutional Issues” with the difference that he had suggested that Nizam be made the constitutional ruler of the Andhra area and for the loss of his Karnataka and Maharashtra districts, he would gain the coastal and Rayalaseema districts and thus the Telugu-speaking people would come under one administration. He also assured in this article written so far as 1937 when the dissolution of native princes was not yet on the agenda, that the Nizam cannot rule except as a nominal and constitutional head and Andhras need have no fear that he would be able to imposes his feudal tyranny against such politically-conscious peoples as Andhras. He went to his cupboard and searched out the worn out copy of this document and let me quote it in my article, I had contributed to the Indian Journal of Political Science (March 1970). How many such hidden things are there unnoticed by us, I wonder? He was like an iceberg–more underneath than appears above the surface. None, not even his sons, knew his once-widowed young sister who was taken care of by Christian missionaries, to whom he was sending financial help.

I sent a Ph. D. thesis on the Kisan Movement in Bihar for being examined by him. Another examiner was Prof. L. P.. Sinha from Bihar itself. Before the later even opened the thesis, as he acknowledged, Prof. Venkatarangaiya had thoroughly studied the thesis and sent his detailed report extending to twenty closely-typed pages within a month. As he was more than ninety by then, I sought permission from our university to have the viva voce examination at his residence in Secunderabad, and the candidate, Prof. Sinha and I reached his house from our respective places. As we assembled in his room where he was lying in his bed with all the journals and the ever-present transistor strewn around, he made the usual inquiries about welfare of Prof. Sinha and then said that he would like to start the viva voce. We requested him to lie on his bed and administer his queries to the candidate. Without paying any heed to us, he got up and asked that we be served some refreshments and came formally dressed with his Angavastram on, as though he was going to his lecture room and sat up in a chair and then said that he would start viva. It is a formal occasion, he said, and one has to be formally dressed and formally seated. After a stiff session of oral examination and pointing out some of the deficiencies, he then asked the student to go out for a moment and then wrote his formal report on the viva voce with his unusually steady and firm hand recommending the award of Ph. D. to the student and then again went into his reclining posture. Correctness in everything, nothing sloppy.

As a finale to his long career, he was writing his memoirs starting from the socio-economic description of the village of his birth, Purini, in the taluk of Kovur in Nellore district and going through the days of the freedom struggle to the days of post-independence and to the present. The centre of the theme would be the development of this once-deserted village where life was full of threats from robbers. He was a boy when the first railway line was laid that enabled the villagers to go to a nearby station a few miles away. It was during these journeys, to and from the railway station that the travellers would be waylaid and their property looted. This loot was in addition to the midnight robberies which would strike terror on the inhabitants, who normally would huddle together in the nights in the middle of the village. Thus, he said, the origin of the rural rich could be traced because it is some of these who later on with the help of this loot, became respectable farmers, money-lenders and finally leaders. Didn’t Proudhan say that all property is theft? The last time I met him before his death he told me that he had almost completed the narration. One would look forward to this interesting account.

I could go on recalling such small but significant things in his way of life, which really reveal the personality. I do not think he would have wasted a single moment of his life. A scholar, administrator, researcher, historian, political scientist, essayist and critic, a discerning reviewer of literary and dramatic art, an encyclopaedic mind, an elder, a teacher, a father, a friend and, above all, a man as upright in his conduct as he was in his physical stance, he was an institution. In his demise, the country, and particularly the teaching community, have lost a pillar of strength and inspiration. As one of our patriarchs, his example will always guide us and lead us to pursue the ideals of service and fearless and rational quest for truth and knowledge with our own limited capacities.

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