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In Memory of Rama Rao

He was admitted to a hospital on the 4th of May after complaining of nausea, vomiting, giddiness and motions. His blood pressure fell down to a miserable low. The doctors after examining him told us that he had a mild heart attack and that he would be under observation in the ICU for the next twenty four hours. We talked to him before being taken to the ICU on the wheel chair and he appeared to be normal. While being taken to the ICU on the wheel chair, his right hand fingers were as usual active with the four fingers beating the thumb.

He spent the night in the ICU and many of us returned to the hospital in the morning unaware of what was to happen that day. They did not allow anyone inside the ICU, but a friend did go and meet him. It appeared that he was doing okay but there were problems with the kidney and liver. Another comrade and I could somehow manage to enter the ICU as he wanted to see us. He was there on the bed leaning behind and looked normal and we tried to convince him that there was nothing wrong with his heart. We were telling him a lie. We knew he had a mild heart attack.

We told him that there was nothing to worry and that he would be discharged the next morning. We were there only for a few minutes and left, little realizing that a process has set in him that would take him away from us. This was around noon when we saw him in the ICU. Around 2 PM we got a call from one of our friends in the hospital asking us to immediately get back. We knew something was wrong, but did not realize what was actually in store. By the time we reached the hospital it was all over. They tried to revive him but in vain. His heart stopped beating and he was gone. His body lay there on the bed motionless. The usual movement of his right hand fingers was not to be seen anymore. We lost him and the loss was shocking, unbelievable. It was this hospital that he used to visit often to get comrades or friends examined and the visit on 4th May turned out to be the last one.

Born into a dalit family, on July 1, 1955, he was brought up by his uncle Siddappa, his mother Laxmamma’s brother. The village Mulagavalli at that time comprised of various classes and castes like any other village in the country but belonged to a relatively backward region. There were upper caste landlords holding hundreds of acres and there were few dalit families holding some land. Rama Rao belonged to this middle stratum. He had his schooling in the village and during his school days he was already a singer. There were bhajans, recitation of poems, tatwas, kolatam dance in this rural mileau and this had a lot of influence on Rama Rao. In one of the interviews, he referred to his singing outside a temple while the upper castes would be inside enjoying his singing. After finishing schooling, he joined B.Sc. in Anantapur but later discontinued. The communist revolutionary movement had its presence in Kurnool district then many leaders like CP Reddy, Neelam Ramchandraiah hailed from this district and there were organizers of the APRCP in Alur taluka as well. Sunkulu from Bollavaram was a singer linked to the organization and Ramarao came into contact with him. He was now singing songs of the people and revolution. It was in this milieu that sometime in December 1973, I along with three other PDSU activists of Hyderabad met him for the first time in Bollavaram, Kurnool District. Somehow we could not hear all the singing of Ramarao then, but nevertheless the demand to send him to Hyderabad was made then. It was, may be, sometime in the first three months of 1974 that he came to Hyderabad. We had a room in Domalguda. It was here that some of us heard him sing and were all praise for the voice that he had. After the city conference of PDS in April 1974, where the name of PDSU was given, preparations were on for the 1st State conference of PDSU. As a part of these preparations, activists who could sing, dance, and act were regularly gathering at the Engineering College canteen under the guidance of Kanuri thatha. Ramarao used to be there for the rehearsal of Veedhi Bhagavatham in which he was the main ‘kathakudu’. It was here that many of us would hear some of the songs made popular by Ramarao. The first conference of PDSU on October 11, 12 and 13 of 1974 was held in Sarojini Devi Hall in Hyderabad. The packed hall was all silent when he sang Amara kalavethalara. It was in this conference that for the first time the political satire penned by Kanuri, ‘Veedhi Bhagavatham’ was staged and it was a huge attraction in those days. Ramarao’s voice gave this dance drama art form a beauty that can never be erased. The way the ragas hit us can never be forgotten. By this time, the banner of ‘Arunodaya’ was already there and Ramarao was practically staying in the city, but giving performances in the districts. It was only in 1981 that a formal  state level organizational structure came into being in the first conference at Ongole. Rama Rao was elected as the general secretary of Arunodaya and Kanuri as president.

In the immediate post-Emergency period, Rama Rao’s songs played their own role in the revival of the movement that had suffered serious losses due to the heavy repression unleashed by the state during the Emergency. The song on Jampala penned by Kasipati while in jail was sung by Rama Rao in this period after the Emergency and it had tremendous impact particularly on the students. In this song Rama Rao gears his voice to suit the lyrics of the song with all that intensity required creating an emotional mood culminating in the audience shouting “Jampala Prasad Amar Rahe”. When Rama Rao rendered  “anna amarudu” song written by Angadi Chennaiah tears would roll down the eyes of many. Chelli Chandramma by Sivasagar was another huge attraction in those days when it was translated into a nritya natika and in the centre of this dance drama form was Rama Rao, unleashing various tunes to suit the various roles and moods of the play. The Burra Kathas on Ramnarsaiah and George were staged throughout the state and in these kathas the main story teller was Rama Rao. There was Kanuri tatha as the mentor of this form while Bollavaram Sunkulu was one of the vanthalu (a second fiddle). Rama Rao was known for rendering padyalu, political poems at that. “Veera gadhala padara”, “ayyalara alakincha”, “idemi palana”, “entha sahasamainadi ee telangana”, “adavi edchindi”, “amma nanu kannanduku” “arunaruna baatalo” are among the many popular songs that Rama Rao sang.

Rama Rao was an emotional and sensitive person. Many a time his emotions would manifest in breaking down while talking, singing. There was that vishadha raga in many of the songs and this was perhaps a reflection of his emotive feelings. He was, on the other, a jovial person, very friendly to many. A day after his death, a vegetable woman hawker was moving with her cart in the office lane and a comrade told her that Rama Rao was no more to which she said she knew about it and that it was sad.

Arunodaya Rama Rao was not only an artist but was also a political activist. Right since the days of the APRCP in the first years of the seventies to the present he has been an activist in the ML movement. He was a member of the AP state committee of the CPI(ML-ND). In the more than forty years of political life, he like many had to face many odds and difficulties. In the late eighties, when the questions relating to the role of cultural organizations in the democratic revolutionary movement came up a position was taken that the role cannot be confined to only performances in some programmes arranged by mass organizations. Cultural organizations had the role of building the cultural movement on the basis of a democratic revolutionary orientation and this cannot be reduced to some performances. Rama Rao stood with this position and the task still remains unfinished. Let us pay homage to our Rama Rao by pledging to move in that direction.

He had a wonderful life partner in Aruna whom he respected and she is one person who understood him, helped him to move on.

Pradeep

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