Monday, March 2, 2015

Heartfelt tributes to the memory of Sri Paruchuri Hanumantha Rao, Founder, Pragati Printers, Red Hills, Hyderabad and a committed socialist.


My heartfelt tributes to Sri Hanumantha Rao garu who was a dedicated communist activist, spent years in prison including in Cuddalore Jail during the 1948-50 tumultuous period, later took to film and then printing industry, shined as nobody ordinarily does - all through his hard work and self-help and built up the great Pragati Printers, perhaps the No. 1 printing press in Hyderabad which also won many world class awards. He was always considerate and helpful towards the needs and demands of the people and especially very friendly towards all of us socialist roaders. My profound condolences to his family and friends.
He and Pragati Printers also helped most of our publications wholeheartedly and especially contributed and still contribute a lot to the printing of our world law fortnightly, LAW ANIMATED WORLD.

[From I. Mallikarjuna Sharma (Ed.), In Retrospect, Vol. 5, Part 2, pp. 465-476]
Text of interview dated Monday 27-01-2003 at 04-00 P.M.
at Hyderabad.
Paruchuri Hanumantha Rao,
son of Narsaiah and Ramamma,
Born 16 January 1924 at Chittarpu,
Divi Taluk, Krishna District.
This interview taken in both the ordinary narrative and answers to questions forms.
I was born in a poor peasant family of the Kamma community. My native village Chittarpu is at about 16 kilometres from Machilipatnam, in the Divi Taluk of Krishna District. When the big deluge devastated the Divi Seema in 1925 I was just one-year old and now I have completed 79 and running 80. My father had only about 2 ½ acres of dry land but all the same we were not used to go to labour in others’ fields. The men in our family used to work hard in the fields but women used to mainly look after domestic work and then do any labour at home only but not go to the fields. My mother used to spin on the Charkha too in addition to the usual domestic jobs like peeling off the groundnut shells, piling tobacco leaves, etc. Gandhiji’s influence was no doubt behind the spinning but at the same time there was an economic aspect also to it. In childhood I used to tend cattle as herdsman and do light agricultural work too.
A teacher was brought from Angalur, students were mobilized from door to door in our village and a night school was set up in which I studied up to 5th Class Telugu Medium. In Vakkalagadda, near our village, there was a school run by Bodi Narayana Rao who used to teach English also. I went to that school and joined 7th Class English Medium. Thereafter in Challapalli High School I studied 8th Class or III Form. At that time I joined the Scouts movement and also got acquainted with Chandra Rajeswara Rao, Challapalli Narayana Rao, Chandra Ramalingaiah, Kavuri Kutumba Rao, etc. Books like Gadar Veerulu (Gadar Heroes) and M.N. Roys’s articles inspired me very much.
In 1936 elections we nationalist minded children used to go around with placards requesting people to vote for Gottipati Brahmaiah, Congress candidate who contested against the Challapalli Zamindar. The Zamindar was quite powerful those days and he ultimately won. But there was also a rumour that Gottipati Brahmaiah took a bribe of Rs. 1500/- from the Zamindar and so deliberately did not carry out an active campaign; I do not know how far it was really true. By the time I came to 5th Form, I read life histories of Bhagat Singh, Alluri Sitarama Raju and some of Roy’s books. I was very much inspired by Roy’s life history. However, there was no family tradition or influence at all on me which inspired me into the national movement; none among our relatives exerted any impact towards nationalism. While I was studying 5th Form, a classmate of mine had written the slogan Swatantra Bharat ki Jai on the classroom wall. The class teacher and Head Master saw that and got enraged. I was the Class Monitor and so they asked me to divulge the name of the student who wrote that slogan. I knew him but since my revelation would ruin his career I refused to divulge and then the enraged school authorities expelled me from the school giving me a transfer certificate. I then joined the Hindu High School at Machilipatnam. I worked in the All India Students Federation (AISF) unit in Machilipatnam and joined the Praja Natya Mandali. I used to act on stage and also sing songs well. I had even got some prizes for singing some national songs on the theme of Royalaseema Famine.
Later I joined a communist party cell in the company of G. Srihari and Chalapathi Rao. In 1941 June the Germans attacked the Soviet Union which development gave rise to a radical change in the War situation. By that time I had written but failed in my S.S.L.C. Examinations. With the German attack on the Soviet Union the party policy also began to change and the People's War line was adopted by the end of 1941. In the summer of 1942 a big Anti-Fascist Camp was held under the auspices of the communist party at Kodali. I wrote my S.S.L.C. Examinations for a second time and afterwards went to participate in this Anti-Fascist Camp along with Mikkilineni Radhakrishna Murthy, Perumallu, Koganti Gopalakrishnaiah and Tatineni Prakasa Rao and others. Later the S.S.L.C. Results were published and I passed this time. Thereafter I joined Intermediate in the Hindu College. In those days I was a good sportsman and used to play Basketball, Volleyball, Badminton, etc. quite well and this talent helped me in my academic career too. After my Intermediate I became University player in Basketball. In Intermediate also there was a two years gap in my studies. The reason was that in 1942 we students actively participated in the Quit India movement no matter whether we belonged to the Communist Party or Congress. So once I failed in Intermediate I year of so. I had taken Biology as one of my subjects and could not study properly. Then came the 1943 Bengal Famine and I had actively taken part in the campaign to collect funds for famine relief. We played several dramas and collected subscriptions and donations. All this we did in Bandar only. I played the role of a Shetty (Baniya - Komati) in one drama and all spectators who saw my role were very much impressed and even the Komatis of the town thought I also belonged to their caste. And came to me and asked whether I was also a Komati. Though my second year Intermediate Studies in the College were completed by 1944 since I failed in examinations there was repeated backlog. And in 1946 I had to take an active part in election campaigns. As such it was only in September 1947 that I wrote the last supplementary examination to complete the Intermediate Course and immediately afterwards went to Bombay. The real purpose was to try for B.Sc. (Agriculture) seat in some college there. But actually I joined the Indian People’s Theatre (IPT) at Bombay. Durga Khote was the President and Balraj Sahani, K.A. Abbas were prominent office-bearers in IPT and I became acquainted with all of them. Since I was a member of the communist party and IPT was a front organization of the communist party, there was a party cell also in the IPT to direct the actual functioning of the front organization. Parvati Krishnan was also a party member associated with IPT. Mohammed Safdar (who later went to Pakistan), Balraj Sahani, one Suryam belonging to Veerullapadu (a wonderful singer), one dancer (I am not able to recollect his name now) and myself were in one party cell within IPT. Sailendra was also associated with our IPT. Actually he used to work in the Western Railway and inspired by our activities he wrote a nice and inspiring song. Raj Kapoor used to occasionally visit us and watch our activities and he very much liked that song and then took Sailendra to write songs for his films. Gradually under Raj Kapoor’s patronage, Sailendra became a great poet and writer of wonderful film songs. Raj Kapoor was never a member of the communist party but he was no doubt a sympathizer. That is why we can find the social consciousness against exploitation and oppression and urge for betterment of society very much manifest in his many films.
There were about 2 lakh Telugu workers in Bombay and when the elections to Bombay Municipal Corporation were to be held, three of us – Veerullapadu Suryam, another person and myself formed a team of Telugu balladeers and campaigned for the communist candidates – Dange and others among the Telugu workers through our Burra Kathas. Dange had won as Municipal Corporator in those elections. However, I had no personal acquaintance with Dange. But I knew about him as a militant trade union and very learned communist leader. When his daughter Roza Deshpande was just a child once during a picketing before the Gates of a Factory he brought here and made her lie down across the Gate with himself and other workers also staging a sit-in as part of a militant dharna.
Prior to going to Bombay, there were celebrations of the First Independence Day in Machilipatnam on 15 August 1947. At that time I was in Machilipatnam itself but though the communist party participated in the celebrations I personally refused to participate. Though I was specifically called by comrades to come and participate I did not go and replied to them that since anyway even the party considers it as a mere transfer of power and I consider it as a fake independence I saw no reason in celebrating the occasion. But the then leaders in the party at Machilipatnam, M. Srihari, V. Rama Rao and others did participate. In Machilipatnam we communist students generally used to stay together in rented houses and set up common messes. At first we about 10 progressive students established one Pragati Mess at Frenchpet and later only two of us - another comrade and I, began to stay together at Frenchpet. Communist leaders like Chandra Rajeswara Rao, Challapalli Narayana Rao and others used to be accommodated in our messes as and when the need arose.
While I was at Bombay the entire Punjab was burning and suffering with cruel and unprecedented communal riots. In that background Sailendra had written a really moving song – Jalta hai Punjab Jalta hai, Bhagat Singh ka aankhon ka tara, Jalta hai Punjab Jalta hai!, etc. It became quite popular in those days. Kalyani, wife of Mohan Kumara Mangalam, was also a member in IPT. I also very much remember the situation in Bombay on the day of Gandhiji’s assassination, that is 30 January 1948. Immediately as the news of Gandhi’s assassination was broadcast there was great tension in the whole city and merchants and shopkeepers spontaneously downed the shutters and closed their establishments. There was a complete hartal in the city and an eerie silence. Another comrade and I were stranded in the midst of the city at that time and there was no public transport at all. The identity and religion of the assailant was not yet known clearly. Dadar had a lot of Muslim population and there was every danger of communal riots breaking down any moment if the assailant were to be a Muslim by any chance. In such a situation we walked all the way from Prince’s street to Kamatipura and later took shelter in a party office of ours. Luckily there were no communal riots since the identity of the assailant was ascertained as a Hindu fanatic. I did not pursue the B.Sc. (Agri) Course in Bombay but took my T.C. and came back to Machilipatnam in March-April 1948.
Later I joined the B.A. course in Hindu College, Machilipatnam. Dandamudi Subba Rao (in later days shot dead by the police) and Ravi Subba Rao (later became a famous Advocate) also joined there along with me. In those days other comrades and I were fully supporting the militant insurrectionary line of the party, especially the Telangana Armed Struggle. As against the Nizam Rule we had propagated a lot by way of songs, sloganeering, etc. in Machilipatnam. Chalasani Venkateswar Rao and I were staying together in a room at Frenchpet in those days and some underground leaders of the party, especially Chalasani Srinivasa Rao, used to come and take shelter in our room. This Chalasani Srinivasa Rao was later shot dead by the police. Once the police raided our room and arrested both of us and kept us in sub-jail. After 3 days we got released on bail. Then some discussion went on inside the party as to what reply we accused should give if we were asked by the judicial officers as to our political identity – should we say we were communists or not. At last it was decided that we should own up our real political identity and say we were communists. Accordingly when at the trial of our case Chalasani Venkateswar Rao and I replied in the affirmative to the question as to whether we were communists, we were immediately put under detention and sent to Rajahmundry Central Jail where we were kept for 3-4 months. Later we were transferred to Cuddalore Camp Jail where in all 350-400 communist prisoners were confined. Kodali Satyanarayana, Katragadda Venkata Narayana Rao, Tammareddy Satyanarayana and others were there along with us. In the jail all of us communist detenues followed the then party policy and adopted militant tactics. This led to great friction with the jail authorities and I think when we violently resisted being locked up in nighttime a serious disturbance occurred and the armed police attacked us severely. Police resorted to firing also after first lathi-charging and then bayoneting. One Sitarama Rao, a peasant leader, was bayoneted to death. In the ensuing firings also one or two comrades died and several injured. At that time I was just beside the bayoneted peasant leader and immediately lied down and rolling my body over for a distance safely escaped from police clutches. Though Katragadda Venkata Narayana Rao, Tammareddy Satyanarayana, Kotaiah and others were injured, I was not. It was due to that injury that K.V. Narayana Rao became lame and Tammareddy Satyanarayana received a bullet injury in his hand. At last in the evening at 6 P.M. we communist detenues surrendered like defeated soldiers in a battle. At that time I fully supported and followed the Ranadive Line.
In Cuddalore Camp Jail political classes used to be held daily and we received good education in History, Soviet Socialist Constitution, Political Economy and languages and we built up a good library. It was like a university to us. Com. Vijayakumar from Vizag, Vallabha Rao, Tatineni Chalapati Rao, Koganti Gopalakrishnaiah were in our cultural team also and we used to stage some plays and sing revolutionary songs. Once I even acted in the roles of Comrades A.K. Gopalan and M.R. Venkatraman.
There were intense discussions among us detenues as to whether it was proper to continue the armed struggle or withdrawal was necessary and inevitable. Some comrades like Koganti Gopalakrishnaiah could not withstand the severe repression by jail authorities and opted to get transferred to a separate camp. At this the extremists among us used to scold and abuse them but in such cases other comrades and I used to intervene and persuade the extremists not to be too hostile towards our erstwhile friends. There were comrades who stood fearless and unmoved at any amount of repression but there were also comrades with weak sentiments – some of them used to even weep aloud on hearing sentimental tragic stories in the Balanandam programme broadcast over All India Radio. Once 200 of us detenues went on an indefinite hunger strike on some important demands but about 50 withdrew in the middle. On the advice of Dr. Chelikani Rama Rao we all had taken one glass of jaggery solution (panakam) before starting the fast and that did a lot of good to our health condition. I continued the fast for 30 days. But later seeing no possibility of any amount of success we ourselves gradually stopped fasting. But we all got so weak and emaciated due to that prolonged fast that it took nearly one month for us to regain our former energy and strength. Ultimately, after 3 years of detention, we were released sometime in 1951.
I worked as correspondent for Vishalandhra at Madras for a long time after independence. I very much know about the fasting of Potti Sriramulu since I used to visit his camp and report the details to Vishalandhra. Bulusu Sambamurthy was seen there many times encouraging Sriramulu to continue his fast to death. He himself was eating fruits and talking when Sriramulu was fasting for days together which struck to me as somewhat odd. Sambamurthy himself refused to fast but used to say to Sriramulu who was much younger than him: “Hi, Sriramulu, you don’t have a wife or children. So continue to fight and die for the cause. You will earn a good name.” On the last day of the fast Chandra Rajeswara Rao and I went together to visit Sriramulu. However, it should be said to the credit of Sriramulu that he was always quite firm and never wavered in his determination to fast unto death.
As for the controversy that the communists did not press for inclusion of Madras in Andhra Province, which was the chief demand of Potti Sriramulu, I can only say that it was an impractical demand. Already Madras was an overwhelmingly Tamilian majority city and though there was a talk of partition of Madras too at one time the Tamilians would never have agreed to it. On this aspect Prakasam Pantulu, Tenneti Viswanadham and us communists jointly held a big public meeting at Madras in the premises of Velagapudi Ramakrishna’s factory. There was no consensus in it but in their speeches Prakasam and Viswanatham declared that a resolution calling for the formation of Andhra State including Madras in it was passed and then quickly left the place. All people thought that the meeting was over and began to disperse. But Chandra Rajeswara Rao announced from the dais that the meeting was far from over, no consensus resolution was passed and called the people back. Narla Venkateswar Rao was asked to preside the meeting and Nagi Reddy gave a wonderful speech for about one hour patiently explaining the entire situation and ultimately a resolution calling for the immediate formation of the Andhra Province with al the undisputed areas included in it was passed. I think it was a wise resolution. I am of the opinion that it was our mistake to have given up Bellary, which was mainly a Telugu city, and not Madras, which was even then mainly a Tamil city.
Later a huge public meeting was held at Law College Grounds, Madras on the issue of Andhra Province to which leaders from all parties were invited. There was a very tense and electric atmosphere and if anybody were to oppose inclusion of Madras in Andhra Province the audience would have thrown stones, etc. Velagapudi Ramakrishna from Justice Party, some Congress party leaders, Tenneti Viswanadham of Praja Party, Gowthu Latchanna and Tarimela Nagi Reddy from our communist party addressed the meeting. In that surcharged meeting Nagi Reddy spoke excellently for one hour in chaste Royalaseema Telugu without openly asking us to give up Madras but hinting that we should not insist on its inclusion, etc. and drew applause from the crowd.
After the defeat in 1955 General Elections to the Andhra Assembly our Communist Party of India got very much disheartened and the entire apparatus of fulltime party workers was almost disbanded. Every worker was asked to look after his own livelihood and then if it was possible do free service for the party too. In such a situation I happened to enter the cine field for a time. Varalakshmi, C.V.R. Prasad, Kondepudi Lakshminarayana, and some others also entered the film arena at that time. Until then though I had taken part in IPT and possessed some cultural talents I was largely in the student organizational field or journalistic field as correspondent for Vishalandhra. Yarlagadda Ramakrishna Prasad, brother of Challapalli Zamindar, was somewhat friendly and sympathetic to us and had some progressive ideas. Of course he was mainly a businessman only but had good contacts and rapport with S.V. Narsaiah (SVK Prasad’s brother) and used to help our AISF activities. He wanted to establish a film studio in Hyderabad after the formation of Vishalandhra (Andhra Pradesh). Thus was born the Sarathi Studio at Amirpet, Hyderabad and I was asked to look after its management at the ground level though Tammareddy Krishnamurthy was the designated Manager. So I resigned from Vishalandhra, came to Hyderabad to look after the construction and running of Sarathi Studio. The decision was taken in 1957 and I think by 1962 or so we had produced about 30 films in the Studio. We had a mind to encourage new faces to act as heroes and heroines in progressive type of films, which were to be made at a low budget. For this purpose we used to go to different colleges in the Twin Cities and attend their cultural functions, interact with the cultural troupes in the city, etc. to identify potential talents. We had produced a good film Maa Inti Mahalakshmi in the direction of which I also played a part. I attended the Nizam College Annual Day functions in search of new faces. We brought Prabhakar Reddy into the film industry. Dasarathi Krishnamacharya, the famous poet, was also brought into the cine field and he wrote some very good songs. Under the banner of Navayuga Pictures many good films were made.
Later I quit from the cine field and started Pragati Press on 1 September 1962 in a small way. It was a letter composing and treadle printing press with a handful of workers and in the initial days my brother-in-law Nilakantheswar Rao contributed much in its management. This enterprise proved very lucky for us and by the dint of hard work and innovative methods we developed it bit by bit over the decades and now it is one of the best printing presses in entire Asia. Our press has now the latest technology at its command and my two sons, Narendra and Mahendra, the new generation boys, have taken the press to unprecedented heights. Now we are participating in exhibitions all over the world and have got orders from various places in the world. We use Internet frequently in our dealings. Punctuality, promptitude and neat and exquisite printing are our hallmarks and the one thing, which all customers can find in us, is RELIANCE. They can give us a job and forget about it. It will be carried out according to schedule and to their satisfaction and the product would reach them in time, if necessary at their doorstep. And the cost we charge is quite reasonable too. Recently we had participated in a printing exhibition in America in which our Stall became a cynosure. But for the 9-11 terror incident, which occurred at that time resulting in quick disbanding of the Exhibition, we could have secured a number of orders even from USA. I never imagined that our Press would grow to such great heights and I am really proud of it – especially of my two sons and the faithful and hardworking staff and workers. Earning money has never been my main consideration. What I always desired was satisfaction from success of my plans and toil. What I could not achieve in the political field I did achieve in the printing field. (emphasis mine here – IMS)
I know C.K. Narayana Reddy very well and I played a prominent part in his marriage in arranging him a match - Jayaprada, a girl related to us. Tapi Dharma Rao was the elder who performed their marriage. C.K. too entered the printing field round around the same time (as we did) but was not successful. But he published some good books and contributed to the success of the Hyderabad Book Trust, which is now running fairly well. I also know Ramoji Rao well all through his days of thick and thin and have always been helpful to him, especially his Eenadu. Even now I have good rapport with him.
I still believe in the ideal and ideology of Socialism and think there is no better alternative to it for human welfare. I am not satisfied with the policies and working of the various communist parties and groups though, and desire a unity and vigour in the communist movement in our country.
[Sri Paruchuru Hanumantha Rao is still with us. One can contact him at Pragati Art Printers, Red Hills, Hyderabad {Ph: 040-23304835 & 23393204 (R)}.] – Now he is no longer with us. Expired around 4 PM today i.e. Monday, 2 March 2015 at the age of 81 years.

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