Having relocated to the fledgling city of Vizag, the Muppidi’s contributed immensely to the city in the form of constructing many of the city’s grand edifices and bringing the first wave of cooking gas connections to the city folk. Edifying titbits of Vizag’s history like these is what feature writer, G.V. Ramesh discovers as he interacts with Smt. Udaya Bhaskaram, the eldest daughter in law of Late Sri Muppidi Venkata Rao – the matriarch of the family.
Late Sri. Ranganayakulu, a Subedar Major in British Army, in charge of the cantonment at Tiruchirappalli Fort, settled in Vizag in the late 19th century on his retirement. It was in the nascent city that his son, Late Sri. Muppidi Venkata Rao, chased his dream of becoming a builder. Though back then, the young budding builder might not have thought that he would leave a lasting lineage, which would eventually become the builders of vintage Vizag. Considering that the family built the Hawa Mahal, RCD Bungalow (subsequently converted into one of the most famous hospitals in India), AU TLN Sabha Hall, Andhra Medical College, OP Campus of KGH, Municipal office (old), AVN College High School, East-Point Resthouse, Century Club, the runway of the airport, laying of the bitumen road from Gopalapatnam to Simhachalam, INS Circars… they can be rightly termed as the builders of Vintage Vizag.
Late Sri. Venkata Rao, his sons Late Sri. Ranganayakulu, Late Sri. Diwakar and grandsons – Sri. Prabhakar and Sri. Chandra Sekhar all continued in the path initiated by Late Sri. Venkata Rao contributed immensely to the growth and sustenance of Vizag. In fact, they also hold the unique distinction of bringing convenience to Vizag household kitchens. When Late Sri. Ranganayakulu negotiated the deal with Gokuldas family of Bombay – the East-India-wide sole-selling agents for the marketing of Calgas (Hindustan Petroleum) – for distribution of LPG gas in Vizag, Srikakulam and Vizianagaram in 1963, they entered into the annals of Vizag as the first and foremost to have brought cleaner and easier cooking into the kitchens of Vizagites. Thus, he successfully added and carried forward the petroleum-products-legacy bequeathed to him by his father when the latter had first brought the Burmashell petrol-bunks to Vizag, Vizianagaram and Srikakulam areas during the 1930s and 40s.
This flourishing family of astute businessmen experienced their fair share of challenges, for instance, Sri. Prabhakar describes the construction of the original airport runway. During the tempestuous and turbulent days of the Second World War, the Royal Air Force of Great Britain summoned them for the construction of the first run-way in Vizag Airport; it had to be completed in a record period of just 45 days for the tactical warfare preparation on the Eastern Front with Japanese. They proverbially rose to the occasion and built it ahead of schedule to the specification to a tee. It included cutting and razing to the ground, a large raised land. The old-timers of Vizag would remember the existence of a plateau kind of geographical formation in the area; it was demolished a decade or so ago during the recent expansion of the current air-port –it was the remnant of the excavation work that they undertook back then.
Muppidi’s were also one of the earliest to have become the real-estate businessmen when they completed successful ventures in the posh localities of Muppidi Colony, Ramnagar, etc. They owned residences at many places, though the one that they had cherished most was subsequently taken over by Government for the construction and setting up of Coastal Battery for the British Army. Sri. Prabhakar recalls the existence of large vintage guns positioned in there with their giant barrels jutting towards the Bay of Bengal a la the most iconic ones seen by many a Hollywood war-movie buff in “Guns of Navarone” starring Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn and David Niven.
Late Sri. Venkata Rao’s sons – Late Sri. Ranganayakulu and Late Sri. Diwakar continued the legacy of their father and forayed into additional business areas like the dealership agencies of Ashok Leyland and Willys Jeeps. Late Sri. Ranganayakulu can also be termed as the harbinger of domestic refrigerators in Vizag when he became the sales and service agent for Blue Star Refrigerators in the 1960s. And, presently his grandsons Sri. Prabhakar and Sri. Chandra Sekhar are forging ahead in Visakhapatnam and Rajahmundry respectively.
When Late Sri. Ranganayakulu negotiated a deal with Gokuldas family of Bombay for sole distribution of LPG gas in Vizag, Srikakulam and Vizianagaram in 1963, the family entered into the annals of Vizag as the first and foremost to have brought cleaner and easier cooking into the kitchens of Vizag.
Smt. Udaya Bhaskaram, the octogenarian matriarch of the Muppidi family, hails from a Zamindar family in Narsapuram, West Godavari District, fondly and nostalgically recounts the halcyon days of the quaint Vizag of a bygone era. She very vividly remembers the institution of the cloth-merchants bringing their merchandise to the very door-step of eager customers. She reminisces savouring the strong coffee in Mani’s café, enjoying sumptuous cakes in HMS Bakery of One Town and the quiet evenings spent in the wonderful eponymous “Seaview” Hotel. Seaview hotel, she explains was run by Vizag’s lone British family, who eventually decided to leave their business and India long after the Sunset on the lowered Union-jack on Vizag Collectorate. Though now, no longer is there any view of the sea from the place where it proudly stood. Instead, the skyline of the Kirlampudi layout is now marred and charred by the top branches of the concrete jungle that sadly has been pervading and expanding in the entire Vizag for over a decade now. She also recollects that the service attribute was very prevalent in the rich and famous of those times. She herself was a prominent member of Bharata Stree Samajam, which was very active in socio-philanthropic activities in the areas of women and child welfare.
Another interesting anecdote that was shared by Smt. Udaya Bhaskaram involved a family from Finland, Europe. Post expansions, the KGH (King George Hospital) was in need of a paediatric specialist, which is when the World Health Organisation sent forth a doctor from Finland to start the paediatric ward in KGH. And, it is the Muppidi family that hosted the family during their stay in Vizag for almost two years.
After spending an enlightening few hours with the Muppidi family, as I disembarked the majestic flight of stairs leading out from their vintage mansion near Zilla Parishad Office, I felt a rare sprightliness in my walk; not at all unexpected for, after all, I spent the evening with the family that carved the geography and history of Vizag, literally!