In the early decades of twentieth century, the geographical boundary of the town was limited only up to Poorna Market on one side and Kotaveedhi on the other side

Visakhapatnam
The Bhagavatula’s saga with Vizag

Vizag has been home to many famous families, who have been living here generation after generation, lasting more than a century. The genial octogenarian, Sri BV Sreenivasa Rao, belonging to the Bhagavatula family – one such illustrious lineage stretching back to late nineteenth century – when approached by our feature writer, G V Ramesh, recounted wonderful anecdotes about their tryst with Visakhapatnam.

The Bhagavatula’s saga with Visakhapatnam began with Sri BV Sreenivasa Rao’s grandfather, Sri Madhava Rao, way back in the nineteenth century when his son Sri Somanna migrated to Visakhapatnam. Born on April 3, 1900, Sri Somanna completed his intermediate from the prestigious MR College, Vizianagaram. Disinterested in pursuing higher degrees, he joined as a Sub Inspector of Police in Narsipatnam. In the sixth month of service, the haughty DSP addressing his staff, making caustic remarks on the natives, said ‘you bloody Indians’. This enraged Sri Somanna, who threw his hat on the DSP’s table and howled ‘Hell with you’ and resigned. He returned to his hometown Visakhapatnam, never took up a job again and faced many hardships. Sri Sreenivasa Rao vividly remembers their family house – 21, Main Road, near Kurupam market. His friends used to make fun of it for its uncanny resemblance to 10, Downing Street.

He nostalgically described the then prevailing debating societies, especially the one conducted by Sri Kameswara Rao master of VT College – one of the earliest private educational institutions in Vizag. Late Sri DV Subba Rao, noted lawyer and ex Mayor, Sri Varahalu Chetty of Book Centre and Dr. N R Sivaswamy, ex chairman, CBDT were some of his contemporaries in those debating sessions. He laments that debate as an institutionalised form of inculcating knowledge has long become extinct in a student’s life during current times.

Another facet of kids’ pastimes during 40s and 50s of Vizag was the games played and pranks indulged on the marshy swamps abutting the railway track of the Port area (behind Lakshmi talkies). The land there used to be lower in elevation than the surrounding town by about three to four feet. It has subsequently been filled with the dredged sea-bed and reclaimed for housing the administrative complex of the Port Trust. At this juncture, he shares an interesting bit of information about the Dredging Corporation of India; fact is that it was an Andhraite, Sri Ramakrishnaiah, who was responsible for getting the Dredging Corporation of India to Vizag. It was due to the relentless efforts put in by him in his capacity as Secretary (Shipping & Transport), Govt. of India, that Vizag got the coveted PSU. But for his efforts, it would have gone to Bombay.

In the early decades of twentieth century, the geographical boundary of the town was limited only up to Poorna Market on one side and Kotaveedhi on the other side. Though, when contemplating from the current day standards, it was such a small one, the ensemble population was as diverse as it would get what with people belonging to all communities living in perfect harmony. Of all the by-lanes of the town, such as Velampeta, Kotaveedhi, Town-hall Street, College Down, etc., the Chengalraopeta by-lane was the longest and most plied on. Such was the aura it had in terms of its span that a Telugu idiom “Chengalraochaamtaadu” took shape with its stretch as the main focal point.

During those days, the John Hay scholarship instituted in CBM School was the most prestigious one to be coveted by the student community. The screening process for it was so stringent and meritorious that the students, who were rewarded with it, were sure to get top ranks in prestigious colleges and university of Madras, the capital of the composite Madras state, of which Andhra was a part of back then. In fact, Dr. Parameswara Rao, Sri Sreenivasa Rao’s brother was one of the recipients of the scholarship. Dr. (Ms) HM Lazarus was the only girl student of the school and a John Hay scholar. She is also the first lady from Visakhapatnam to receive the ‘Padma Shri’.

The legislative bill for the establishment of Andhra University in Visakhapatnam was moved in the then Madras Legislative Council by his maternal grand-father, Sri Mantha Suryanarayana, MLC, famous lawyer, and also legal counselor for the then Maharaja of Vizianagaram.

Sri Sreenivasa Rao recalls one of the most disturbing calamities that caused great damage to Visakhapatnam. In 1921, the upputeru (salt stream) flooded and inundated the entire one town area and for almost twenty hours, the low lying areas were submerged up to almost 10-12 feet (The water touched the roof of the houses). His mother used to narrate that incident in utter horror whenever there was heavy downpour during his childhood.

It would be astonishing – and admiring too, of course – to note that an academician during 40s and 50s was enjoying the status, which in current times is reserved only for movie-stars in the Orient and rock-stars in the Occident. He was Dr. KV Gopalaswamy, the Registrar of Andhra University. Equipped with great passion and zeal that he had for arts, he used to be the backbone for the conduct of the Andhra Drama Festival during the month of December in Andhra University. Sri Sreenivasa Rao’s eyes lit up when he spoke of the ardour and fervour, with which the dramas were enacted during that week by artistes from across all corners of Andhra. While buses used to ply to the venue, the numbers were few, so people wouldn’t hesitate to walk the long distance too! Oh! With IFR fresh in the air, one can draw a parallel between this winter-of-revelry-of-Naval-Armada and those-winters-of-theatrical-bravura.

Feeling proud, of course with pretty sound reason, he recalled that the legislative bill for the establishment of Andhra University in Visakhapatnam was moved in the then Madras Legislative Council by his maternal grand-father, Sri Mantha Suryanarayana, MLC, famous lawyer, and also legal counselor for the then Maharaja of Vizianagaram.

Sri Sreenivasa Rao, by education, was Master of Science in statistics and of Arts in Economics. After finishing education, he went and joined Rourkela Steel Plant in the EDP (Electronic Data Processing) Department – equivalent of current Information Technology. By this, he could be considered one of the grand-harbingers of computerisation in this part of land. He helmed different positions in Computer Society of India; he was Chairman of Vizag Chapter of CSI for two terms, and an active participant in many a national level conventions. Subsequently, he left RSP and joined in the great social mission, spearheaded by Dr. BV Parameswara Rao, his illustrious brother, when he started the world-famous Bhagavatula Charitable Trust in the village Dimili, the home of their maternal grandfather.

In the area of academics, he recounts an interesting snippet. During those times, admission into M.Sc. (Statistics) was pretty difficult. The candidate should either be MA (Economics) with Mathematical Economics as one of the subjects, BA (Hons) – Maths or B.Sc. (Hons) – Mathematical Physics. That’s the reason why Statisticians of that era enjoyed special status. Not for nothing was Mahalanobis* one of the blue-eyed boys of Jawaharlal Nehru?

Visakhapatnam is indeed honoured to have such august personalities like Sri Sreenivasa Rao and his illustrious brother Sri Parameswara Rao in her midst, After all, haven’t they, with a rare missionary zeal and commitment, contributed for the strengthening of the social fabric, for elevating the professional competence, for empowering the people belonging to the disadvantaged sections of society, and last, but not the least, for their undying love for this great city of Destiny, the Visakhapatnam. 🙂

*Editor’s note: Sri Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, FRS was an Indian scientist and applied statistician. He is best known for the Mahalanobis measure, a statistical standard measurement used worldwide.

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