The Telugu World column# 14
Laxman Rau and Visvesvaraya get less credit in Karnataka due to caste politics, not because they were Telugus. The Bengaluru railway station is named after Krantivira Sangolli Rayanna (known less in Karnataka than Alluru Seetharama Raju in AP who is known mostly because of a film made on him) and the airport after Kempe Gowda.
Like the ‘transplanted’ migrant Telugus in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha, Telugu-origin people are so well-integrated in the society in Karnataka that they are considered Kannadigas and not outsiders. In the1980s, editing a newspaper in Bangalore, I saw reports of the Kannada Christian community demanding that Kannada preachers, pastors and other Church officials should replace the Tamils dominating in those posts. I had joked that the agitators must be Telugu Christians who had become Kannadigas. On a closer look, it was found to be true.
The late actor Dr. Raj Kumar was such a great singer that many would be shocked if told a Telugu singer Prativadi Bhayankara (PB) Srinivas was his playback singer in the early days. Dr. Raj’s songs of Raghavendra Swami (Mantralaya in Kurnool district of AP) are so good that you wonder why he acted at all instead of just singing. When Balu (playback singer S.P. Balasubramanyam) anchors music programs in Kannada or Tamil on stage or on TV, no one would believe he is Telugu. He and Ghantasala are among Telugu playback singers who sang in all Southern languages (just as Md. Rafi, Lata and others sang in Telugu, though it was not their language). No one called them outsiders.
The 1980s also saw Karnataka agitating to demand implementation of the Gokak report. The government had appointed Gokak commission to go into the question of Kannada teaching in schools as there was a craze for English medium schools. V.K. Gokak, who headed the commission, was an eminent Sanskrit scholar. No one thought he would favour Kannada. He recommended more Kannada use in administration and Kannada made compulsory in all schools, which some convent schools did not like. The report was unexpected.
Leading the State-wide agitation was one C.V.L. Sastri. Waiting in an office to meet someone, I was introduced to the receptionist there as a daughter-in-law of the same Sastri. Some minutes later there was a phone call (those were landline days) on the desk and she was speaking in Telugu. Later, when I expressed surprise, she said as they all were originally Telugu people, they spoke Telugu at home. Gokak agitation for Kannada was led by a Telugu man!
There can be many such examples. G. Narayan Kumar, founder of the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike, violently agitating for ‘protection’ of Kannada and Karnataka, is also allegedly a Telugu, though his name is G.N. Gowda. A Telugu conversation between him and one Manjunath regarding protection money extortion from garment units went viral some time ago, strengthening the suspicion. In Karnataka Reddys are considered Vokkaligas or Gowdas.(Oh, caste again). The Gokak story becomes significant in the context Andhra Pradesh making English medium compulsory, despite much opposition.
This is an instance of how Telugu people migrating to other states integrate with local people. The Telugu people’s lack of attachment to mother-tongue, with most of those settled outside unable to read or write it, therefore, has a brighter side to it. They are never the cause of chauvinistic attacks. The Shiv Sena, which heads the ruling coalition in Maharashtra, targets many ‘outsiders’ but not the Chandrapur-Gandchiroli Telugus or the three lakh Telugus working in Solapur textile mills.
Not the ‘transplanted’ Telugus alone rose to the top to shine in other states. Most of the earth work all over the country is done by workers of Telangana’s Mahabubnagar district with its traditional ‘Palamur labor’ system, called bonded labor by activists like Swami Agnivesh. under Palamur tradition all members of a joint family, receiving a bulk sum in advance, went for earth work outside, with the exception of one brother staying back to cultivate the marginal holding of the family. The next year, he went to work and another came to the farm. Palamur was the old name of Mehbubnagar before it was changed by the Nizam. Earth work of most dams in India, like Bhakra Nangal in Punjab, was done by Palamur labor. It was branded as bonded as bulk advance payment was done, with workers getting only food and accommodation later and not allowed to leave.
Telugu workers built not dams alone. In Goa, when the first bridge on the Mandovi was being built in Panaji, the Andhra Association there staged an event with folk songs and dramas by illiterate workers. An office-bearer told me that as there were thousands of Palamuru workers staying far from their homes, they were asked to hold the event to see they were not home-sick.