From paddy to salt, from Eluru to Vizagapatnam; one of the first few Vizagites to prove that Vizag is the city of destiny; meet the Appanas, who migrated to the city almost a century ago. The scion of the long-established family, AVRK Kumar takes a nostalgic trip with Yo! Vizag, elaborating on their legacy.
The legacy of Appanas
It was almost a century ago that Appana Venkata Subba Rao made a bold business decision; to harvest salt instead of rice. A prosperous agriculturist and trader, he gave up his paddy-rich green fields in Eluru to harvest salt on the shores of Vizagapatnam. He established a lasting legacy in its harvest and trade for over a century to be continued by his son A Suryanarayana Rao and till this date by his grandson AVRK Kumar. It was a huge enterprise in itself. Subba Rao took from the Raja of Vizianagaram, the then estate holders, around a thousand acres; in fact, it eventually became the village Balacheruvu. He employed hundreds of labour and supervisors from the residents of more than 14 villages around that area, thus becoming one of the biggest employers in entire Vizag during that time, (the idea of Port, Shipyard, and others were not even heard of back then) and traded in almost entire South India with offices in cities like Madras and Mysore.
Residing in a palatial mansion, a sprawling 12-bedroom stately abode behind State Bank of India’s main office in one town, the commute from there to the business centre of the Appanas in Balacheruvu included even a ferry ride! With no roads connecting Convent junction to Scindia junction, people used to catch a ferry at the jetty behind the Ross Hill to cross the channel of Bay of Bengal, and thence on traverse the road to Gajuwaka. Even vehicles would be ferried across that channel to be placed on the road to Gajuwaka – the current road from Scindia to Gajuwaka – and vice-versa. Alas, the need for fast lives have deprived the modern homo-sapiens of such a laidback and yet fascinating journey across waters and waves with dolphins dancing, right in front of Dolphin’s nose.
The contribution of Appanas to Vizag extended from business into sports arenas too, when Suryanarayana became the vice president of VDCA (Visakhapatnam District Cricket Association) under the presidency of Late Abid Hussain, the then Collector of Vizag, becoming the first civilian to man that post.
As Vizag started expanding from being a town to a city and now to a huge metropolis, so did the Appanas shift their residence from one town to Ambica Bagh to the current Siripuram area (VIP Road). The current generation, Appana Rao’s grandson, AVRK Kumar describes the early history of Vizag, like for instance the motorised transport in Vizag used to run on coal and steam; and they were christened as “Boggu Ballu” the vernacular Telugu for ‘coal vehicles’. Even marine vessels used coal for fuel; loading coal into the ships to be used as its fuel would take months. With no air-conditioners in movie theatres back then, the windows used to be let open for evening and night shows to ensure the flow of breeze for the comfort of the audience; and, as a result, it was quite a common sight to have bats too as the audience in the theatres. Of course, the only difference was that, instead of moving in through the doors, they were flying in/out through the open windows, and instead of sitting on the floor/in the chairs, they were hanging upside down from the roof.
As far as festivities and revelry were concerned, unlike nowadays, when Vijayadasami and Deepavali are the most happening festivals, Sri Rama Navami (in March-April) used to be the most passionately celebrated festival. The grandeur attached to that was unparalleled in Vizag’s cultural-history; on the ninth day an elaborate Lanka-Dahanam (The Burning of Lanka by Hanuman) scene used to be enacted with wooden models, props using ingenious wire works and fire-works near Town-hall.
According to AVRK Kumar, every bakery – the most notable being HMS bakery – would bake its own bread; this gave a sort of uniqueness – unlike the present set-up, where bread from every bakery tastes the same for they are all branded products – to satiate varieties of taste buds. The Japanese cakes, muffin, butter beans, etc. of HMS bakery were very famous during those days. He also recalls the rise of one Shri Sethumadhavan, a migrant from Kerala, who had started by working in Shankara Vilaas, a prominent eatery then, as a daily wage earner. He, through his sheer hard work and perseverance, subsequently and meteorically rose to become one of the foremost upmarket-hoteliers of the town, with the opening of his own Hotel Ooty, which is no longer in existence now – near Jyothi Theatre. The hotel was highly favoured by matinee idols of yesteryears, like NTR & ANR, whenever they visited Vizag. Fans used to hang around it to have a glimpse of their favourite stars then. Another little-known, but, pretty interesting fact – for it involves interaction between two continents apart from a vital passage of rite in human life – was a glorious tradition of British soldiers, stationed at Vizag; it was that they used to present the delicately worked ivory-boxes available in art-work stores of our one town area – Sri Venkateswara ivory works and Eastern Art Museum – to their sisters on their wedding day.
But the most interesting instance was the ride to the airport. In the 50s and 60s, the NH5 road leading to the airport was not yet laid. Instead, there used to be a road near 104 area, connecting to the airport cutting across the railway-track. Unfortunately, the departure time of Madras flight and running of the Calcutta-Madras mail across that level-crossing coincided in such a way that often the delay caused by the closed rail-gate at the level-crossing used to result in passengers missing the flight. To circumvent this problem, whenever they were required to travel to Madras, Kumar’s father, Suryanarayana, used to send a car with a driver in the morning itself and had it parked, on the other side of the gate. A second car carried the travellers to the airport an hour or so prior to the afternoon flight. In case the rail-gate was closed, they used to cautiously cross the tracks on foot, and ride away in the other car waiting for them on the other side.
As far as Vizag’s geography is concerned, Kumar paints a pretty vivid picture of ‘Erra Matti Dibbalu’ (Red Sand Dunes). He says that the present-day entire Ramnagar was built on one such geographic formation. The area between Allipuram and Dondaparti, Yellammatota and Asilmetta used to be infested with forest-like growth with wild animals often straying into domestic areas. There used to be wonderful floral beds along the sea-channel; in fact, it used to be, aptly, referred to as Lavender canal.
AVRK Kumar, the scion of the Appanas, a great lover of Vizag and admirer of its pristine beauty has many such anecdotes to wax eloquent about the life of Vizag during early stages of its urbanisation. His infectious energy was very invigorating during the interaction for he recounted those days with passion and nostalgia, and laced it liberally to arouse inquisitiveness. In fact, he peppered his interview with intriguing quiz questions like, what sort of containers did the agricultural farmers from Yarada village use to carry the vegetables to sell to the eager households in one town area? (Yes, they climbed up and again down the Dolphin’s nose with all their vegetables and fruits) The answer turned out to be the huge shells extracted from the dead Olive Ridley turtles extricated from the long beaches of Vizag!
With his collage of rich images, so unique of Vizag and different from the common eye, the fascinating journey, that the Appanas traced, from when destiny had brought Subba Rao to Vizag, will surely continue unabated, unhindered and reaping rich dividends for all its stakeholders, including the common folk of the city too.