For 70 long years, Pendyal Vaman Rao watched and reported history in the raw and until his ninetieth year was reluctant to call it a day, busy as he was editing New Swatantra Times, a legacy he had inherited from his celebrated forerunner and father-in-law Khasa Subba Rau. Witness to many a generational shift, he watched and reported, most of the time, from the ringside. He saw the overthrow of an unpopular monarchy, the rise and fall of many Ministries, and the transformation of journalism from a mission to a profession and worse, a part of the marketplace. Vaman Rao witnessed history in the making – from the fall of Nizam’s Hyderabad to the birth of the State of Telangana. These and many other fragments of history find objective representation in P. Vaman Rao: Recollections of a Memorable Journey, published recently. Devoid of any self-glorification, the narrative is a dispassionate account of the happenings as they unfolded. Your website has decided to reproduce excerpts from the Book to the benefit of the younger generation in modern India’s journalism. – Dasu Keshav Rao, former Resident Editor, The Hindu.
While my grandsons Rahul Siddhartha and Vijay Dharmarajan, had been pressing me to write my life story for a long time, I desisted from doing so. Reason: I felt I was inadequate to the task which I felt required a particular aptitude. Also my tight schedule left little time to make such an attempt.
I marvel at those who manage to write a book, not one but several. I have none of such talent to venture to write a regular biography, for it calls for copious information from previous diaries, correspondences, jottings or material, raw or penned down, which I sparingly had at my disposal.
Nevertheless, I am now not disinclined to embark on getting together some thoughts of my past, by dipping into my memory bank of my childhood, schooling, college life and entry into a career which I had not planned but stumbled into it by the hand of destiny. If what I write brings out points which may help the reader to gain a lesson to avoid pitfalls, it is my reward. It is not a biography but random jottings, patchy but informative, that may be enlightening!
I also recollect, how my grandson Vijay, an Indian-American, prevailed on me to dictate some of the highlights of my working life that he took on his laptop and gave me a print of that. I have appropriately dovetailed in these desultory narrations. The events I delineated were in response to his searing questions.
To dash off an editorial at one stretch or write a poetical article without a pause, which I can modestly lay claim to is one thing. But to write one’s own biography when so many excellent biographies of great men are available, whose contribution to the country and society, for inspiring generations to come, can be written in words of gold. When I have nothing to boast of or worth recording to affect or influence anyone, the task is indeed stupendous. I have taken a stab at recollecting memories from the past and I hope you enjoy it.
As an embellishment to my written script, I have included a CD / video recording of an interview to questions put to me about my journalistic work by the Andhra Pradesh Press Academy. It throws light on some notable happenings of the times during the period I began to comprehend the March of time with all its fluctuations in various spheres including politics. For example, I reflect on these: The breaking of Second World War, Hitler’s ascendancy; the Japanese attack on Honolulu which triggered American intervention, (the US dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki), cessation of War and ushering in of peace; about India, groaning under the British rule and declared as a partner in War unilaterally rebelled for emancipation under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi.
As a student in seventh class I used to be in touch with War news and mind you Bombay Pentangular Cricket Matches. Hindus, Vs Muslims, Parsis Vs the Rest in which participated great cricketers like C.K. Naidu, Vijay Merchant and this was possible firstly by the kindness of The Hindu Agent at Hanamkonda (Warangal) Krishna Rao, my father’s friend who dropped a copy of the paper in our house as complimentary. And then, the other papers were available at the petrol pump with only a wall dividing it and our house. I could scale the wall and read the other papers there.
To have witnessed India attain freedom on August 14-15 midnight in 1947 through the Radio is something to be cherished, living in a princely State ruled by the Nizam, experiencing double-distilled slavery. The ex Hyderabad State continued to be unfree till Government of India liberated it by a Police Action, euphimistically called “Operation Polo” on September 17, 1948, a year, a month and two days after India was liberated from the British rule.
As a journalist working with The Hindu to have had a ring side view of all these breath-taking events may be considered as one’s good luck. The Police Action led to the rule of Military Governor, Major General J.N. Choudhary and integration with Indian Union then Civil rule under the Chief Ministership of M.K. Vellodi ICS, a dyarchial Government, with Congress Ministers, 1952, general elections, ushering in of a popular Government under Dr. B. Ramakrishna Rao till 1956, when the State was dismembered and the three regions integrated with respective States—resulting in the formation of Andhra Pradesh. Though my active journalistic career spread over to 1969, it has gone far beyond in essence and practice aggregating to 65 years. “Once a journalist always a journalist”, runs an adage. I have been always a journalist, first and last. I continued to write in the Government journal including editorials when I was head of Information set up in the State and later as a columnist in several daily papers whichever employment I took up. During the last 25 years I have been bringing out New Swatantra Times in memory of a veteran journalist and an ace freedom fighter Khasa subba Rau (who was my father-in-law) as a labour of love and love of labour. No mean achievement this seeing the mortality of such journals without a corpus to fall back upon or financial or political support.
I am now in the evening of my life, not a twilight period. Hence whatever time is left to reach the maker has to be utilized in the service of man and God.
I was born on June 12, 1928 to Madhurabai and Narasimha Rao at Karimnagar district, Andhra Pradesh. All that I know about my ancestory is that we belong to a middle class Madhwa Brahmin family speaking Telugu and hailing from Karimnagar. It is not known whether my ancestors came from any other region, the hunch stemming from our being followers of Madhwa Uttardi Math. Our Surname is Pendyala, which name is borne by railway station near Kazipet on Kazipet-Hyderabad route. But, there is no evidence for our family being traced to that place. But our Surname was also borne by Sir P.S. Rao, ICS who was Chief Secretary, Madhya Pradesh and Governor Travencore—Cochin State. But he was from Andhra area while we belong to Telangana. I came to know him through his son-in-law Sri K.L. Vidyasagar IAS who was my brother’s competitor in Hyderabad Civil Service. Sri P S Rao could not throw light as to how he got his surname which is same as ours.
I regret why I had not gathered relevant information about our family tree from elders when they resided on this planet. I was told my great grand father’s name was Narasingham. Judging from later day scenario, it could be guessed that he might have had some land. But it is known that my grandfather Kishan Rao worked in Revenue department at Karimnagar. He was handsome with medium height but my grandmother was tall and stately and diplomatic. It so transpired that she bore children late, first a daughter Yamuna bai who lived till 103, Ramachandar Rao who had no issues, my father Narasimha Rao then, Radhabai (no children) , Satyanarayan Rao, childless whom I have not seen and Srinivas Rao, a Pleader who lived till 82.
My father worked as Khazandar and Accountant in the District Collector’s office, then called “Talukdari” a transferable job, in various districts including Bidar (now in Karnataka), Asifabad etc. It was a joint family in a old house in Brahmin wadi opposite Shiva temple of which in a corner room my brothers and I were born. It was a house in which all lived, brothers, sisters and we children. My paternal aunt Radhabai a childless widow was the boss of the show, as my father was away on transfer on the ground that all the brothers were in the same place in Government. My uncle Srinivas Rao later studied law and became a pleader. The daughters-in-law had but to accept her supremacy. My mother confessed that the brothers swore by her. It was not a happy situation for the daughters-in-law. But they lived cheerfully as one family. As my father was under constant transfer, my eldest brother Kishan Rao had his education till matriculation at Karimnagar. He was under my uncle Srinivasa Rao’s care. My mother Madhurabai a Telugu, my uncle’s wife Saraswati was Kannada-Marathi from Tanjore and another brother’s wife was from Deglur (Porbhoni) from Marathwada. It was a cosmopolitan family. Later a Tamil was wedded to someone on my mother’s side for whom father went to Madras and brought the alliance.
The old house was an inheritance, but my father had a lion’s share in the house extending and repairing it. As he was away my lawyer uncle lived there, and the eldest brother, a widower, being there. My father after doing his stint in quite a few places was transferred to Warangal where he served as Accountant in the Collector’s office for six years and retired, one year earlier to enable him to get higher pension (Rs.66.60) by virtue of his having acted as Treasury Officer for some time. In those days Warangal district included the present Khammam district also. He had the responsibility to disburse salaries to the entire staff and keep their records. I was 7 when he retired and 16 when he died at the age of 65.
My father who had only crossed middle school was well equipped in Urdu, Mathematics, Telugu and knew English fairly well as also Persian. He had a handsome personality 5’9 ½” fair complexioned with big moustache, well-dressed in sherwani with dastar (official head gear) when he went to office, spick and span with a silver watch, with the silver chain hanging in his pocket, a splash of “ittar” (perfume) on his apparel and a bunch of pan beadas put in a silver case (on which was seen inscribed P.N. his initials) prepared by himself which included zarda (Tobacco granules) got from Ahmed Hussain Dildar Hussain from Lucknow. He was a man of tastes. He knew and could sing Hindustani music, play on tabla and harmonium. He would after dinner play on sitar for a while. His quest to learn new instruments can be judged by the fact he learnt to play on violin after retirement. He bought a singer sewing machine from his meager means and began to sew even blouses for mother. He used to get Urdu paper Pratap / Milap from Punjab. He took pleasure in solving puzzles. When he got a small prize it gladdened his heart not for the money but that he could solve it successfully.
In those days any parcels from British India came only to the Imperial post office in Hyderabad, from where the concerned should take delivery and send to districts. Father used to get C.K. Sen’s Netra Bindu eye drops, a dozen bottles at a time from the shop located at Chittaranjan avenue, Calcutta. With his limited means he could get what he thought best for him. He had a heart that beat for the poor and needy. He did not mind taking a risk just to protect one from being unduly harassed by a money- lender. Once he advised a husband who wanted to kill his wife for moral turpitude, to send her away to her mother’s far off place and keep her there for a year when everything would be forgotten. The treatment was a success.
A man of strong views about probity, he himself being a model of integrity, he would not speak with his Collector for a year on a point of a principle but would only send notes. The Collector saw the point, who himself must have been a person of high order. These random episodes are intended only to point out how in those days men of ordinary attainments occupying modest positions could assert and vindicate themselves. He was a strict disciplinarian both in office and at home and never brooked fools.
Father though retired kept himself abreast with news at home and abroad through newspapers. He had a friend, an official, Bidrilal in the Agriculture Department who subscribed for Bombay Chronicle edited by the famous S A Brelvi. It was dropped at our house from where he collected late in the evening. His son Sri Upendralal Waghray became A.P High Court Judge. Some of the officers who were posted in mofussil did not take their wives there, as they would not renounce comforts of the city and also partly because of children’s education. So, he would come to our house straight from office and have a cup of tea and talk to father on all subjects under the sun, cabbages to kings. He would trickle news from the State capital where his people lived. He would tell us Nizam’s latest stories and that of his Ministers headed by Maharaja Kishan Pershad or Sir Akbar Hyderi. Some other, a lawyer on his evening walk, Jamalapuram Gopal Rao dropped in to say “Pantulu Maharaj ek zordar pan to dijiye (give me a strong beatal). Relishing the pan, he would walk off. A desultory visitor or an acquaintance would make a brief appearance. But Bidrilal will continue asking searching questions to my father including welfare of one or the other of my relatives whom he might have seen but once. He would wend his way home only at dinner time. (to be concluded)