In addition to being an educationist of the highest order, Sri Pilla Rama Rao is known as a passionate freedom fighter, an energetic social worker, an eminent speaker, a paramount institution builder, and to top it all, a quintessential Vizagite. The Yo! Vizag feature writer G V Ramesh interacts with the renowned teacher.
His life spans nine decades; unsurprisingly it covers many important milestones in Vizag’s history. Sri Pilla Rama Rao, the nonagenarian, lived almost his entire life in Vizag and saw it all. He saw the city’s metamorphosis from a small town that started at Kota Veedhi and ended at Turner’s Chowltry to the great metropolis, that it is today.
The famed Pilla family’s tryst with Vizag began when his father Sri Satyanarayana migrated from Srikakulam district and set foot in Vizag during the early 20th century to pursue a career in the Insurance Sector. Sri Rama Rao, born in 1924 started his journey from One Town to his current residence at East-Point Colony through Dabagardens. And, as for his professional career – which is extremely interesting – he, after having completed post-graduation in Physics from Andhra University, worked as a lecturer in Mrs. AVN College for close to two decades. The proverbial high-note in his career happened when he, along with some other like-minded people, decided to set up the Bharatiya Vidya Kendram – a model educational institution with focus on our rich Indian culture and heritage in the true letter and spirit of it. He went on to become the Founder/Principal of BVK College, which starting as the first private junior college in entire Vizag subsequently became degree college – and continued in that capacity till he retired after attaining the age of superannuation. He was also one of the founders of the Bharateeya Vidya Bhavan’s Visakhapatnam kendra and of the Vivekananda Medical Trust which serves high-quality medical treatment to downtrodden people of Visakhapatnam.
It is in this capacity and as an active member of the famed RSS that he achieved the zenith of his life’s calling. Besides an interesting professional life, he has fascinating personal stories up his sleeve too. He was imprisoned 4 times during the freedom struggle, and for 18 months as a MISA detainee during the Emergency period too.
He turns nostalgic when talking about vintage Vizag. He says Poorna Manga Raju – the founder of Poorna Theater – was one of the partners who made the Telugu movie Lava-Kusa (the first of the many versions made in Telugu) in 1930’s. He recalls that some of the movie rehearsals were performed in a tent near his childhood house. He laughingly reminisces the simple nature of the locals of that generation when he narrates how they used to revere Sri Ranjani (Senior), who essayed the role of Sita, as if she was the real one.
The focus of teaching should be a blend of imparting knowledge as well as that of commitment, duty and devotion to the nation and society as a whole.
Another memory that he proudly shares was how the famed poet laureate and genius writer Sri Aarudhra – a.k.a., Sri Bhagavatula Siva Sankara Sastry – got his pen-name. He and Sri Rama Rao were thick friends besides being classmates in Mrs. AVN College High School, Visakhapatnam. They were related by kinship too. And, one fine day, Sri Sastry asked Sri Rama Rao about his zodiac sign. To the pleasant surprise of the latter, he took it as his pen-name. It was a glorious tribute to their camaraderie.
Sri Rama Rao spoke at length about the kind of sports and games which were popular during the early and middle 20th century. Unlike the present days, football and kabaddi used to be patronised a lot by Vizagites then. In fact, Visakhapatnam contributed some star footballers to famed Calcutta Soccer clubs and the Indian National team. He laments that the craze for cricket has made the scenario a detriment for other sports.
He was a great fan and follower of the most eminent statesman-cum-politician to have emerged from Vizag, Sri Tenneti Viswanatham. In 1939 elections, he canvassed vigorously for the victory of Tenneti of Congress over others. During that period, when he along with his family had to shift to Guntur, he came in contact with the other freedom fighters and Congress statesmen like Konda Venkatappaiah and Sri Vunnava Lakshmi Narayana who were citizens of Guntur. Under their mentorship, he shaped himself as a true nationalist, and worked tirelessly for the freedom struggle. At that time itself, he became enamoured with the service motto and cultural focus of RSS, and it became his life-long association in the area of social service. Whenever its chiefs (Sarsanghchalaks) visited Visakhapatnam, it was Sri Rama Rao, who hosted them throughout their stay.
The most satisfying part of his life, he says, was his work as an educationist. Many prominent persons of Vizag, like the ex Mayor Sri DV Subba Rao, Sri Varahaluchetty of Messrs. Book Centre, ex MLA Sri Dronamraju Srinivas, and many more, were at one point his students, either in Mrs. AVN College or in BVK College. He says that, ‘the focus of teaching should be a blend of imparting knowledge as well as that of commitment, duty and devotion to the nation and society as a whole’. With that as the motto, he ran BVK College and other educational institutions that he set up. He deplores that the present generation of students show least inclination towards national duty and social service.
His son, Sri Ramana Murthy, takes his legacy forward; as he presently works as a lecturer in BVK College, Visakhapatnam. He is also actively involved in social service. Recently many former students of the father-son duo reverentially performed Gurupujotsavam for the duo too.
The contented man that he is, Sri Rama Rao, is today in the autumn of his life. He has numerous stories to share and many pearls of wisdom for those who come to him. For a life largely lived, and committed to the nation, he is the kind of example, the society needs today.