Why Gita Ramaswamy? This was the query I asked a senior colleague. The reply was “she is on par with Medha Patkar; worked for the liberation of bonded farmers, worked and took on Chief Ministers like M. Channa Reddy. Stopped inter-country adoption of babies, faced several attempts on her life. Plus babus hated having her around at their offices.” Ok, I thought.
We meet her at her modest office near pillar no 68 at Mehdipatnam. Talking about what she did and what she does, embarrasses Gita, “it is not right to do the self dabba,” being her credo.
So we began with when she discovered the rebellious streak within herself “When I was stepping into my teens; there were many occasions which made me question the dos and don’ts for girls. As I grew up, the societal norms kept pushing to me to rebel. First it was the list of dos’ and don’ts during the time of periods. By the time I was in my late teens I wanted to wear trousers and shirts and back in the late 60s, it was not accepted. So I bought myself a book on sewing, read it and made my own trouser and pants. They definitely weren’t the best fit but nevertheless I wore them. I was part of the youth club, drama, debate etc.” she reveals. However there was someone she always secretly admired - her elder sister who was a bank officer. Later an incident in the family made Gita averse to marriage. “I felt I wasn’t ready to allow any man take charge of my life,” she says.
She was very keen on doing IIT and even bagged herself a seat on merit. But she was told, “a girl doesn’t go to IIT, she was to study in a women’s college. I had to join women’s college and after one year I left because I didn’t like it,” recollects Gita.
She decided to leave the college and join Osmania University to complete her masters on Maths and Physics. “There was a time when my mother declared that I wasn’t born from her womb. Of the five girls I was different,” she laughed.
It was at OU that she was introduced to the Left parties. By then Gita was already a women liberal and “if anyone dared tease me they were not spared. Soon I earned the fame of “yeh potti se dur rehna.” The men in the Left group supported me;that was my entry,” she recollects.
However, when she experienced reality from close quarters, she realised that the ideology wasn’t the same. “Marxist Liberation was not as one sees it. It was an armed struggle, not a debating society,” she says. Gita and the group of fresh entrants who joined the Naxal movement were uncompromising.
During this time Gita was tricked into coming home and “I was locked for three months. As parents they were just being protective. Various things were tried on me to give up my left leanings, including electric shock by Dr. P. Ramamurthy. He was of the view, ‘you are being brain washed by the naxals and electric shock will fix you. You are lucky you are being treated, you should have been shot dead instead.’
However, Gita’s resolve on not marrying dissolved when she met her choice. “I married Cyril Reddy, brother of George Reddy, the leading leftist leader on the OU Campus who was killed at the age of 25. Cyril was my senior and we shared the same mindset,” she adds. He was also one amongst those who decided to work independently on his ideologies.
The two had to leave the state during the Emergency and went to Ghaziabad where they worked with human scavengers. “All they wanted was that their kids should learn English. But we both were looking to return to the Hyderabad. We missed the place and the people. Finally after four years we were back in Hyderabad,” she smiled.
Once here, they worked with the rural people and was once again touched to see the love and affection of the people. This was also the time when Hyderabad Book Trust was formed. It is a not-for-profit organisation which prints books in Telugu. “One of the reasons for starting the trust was the lack of reading material in Telugu. Mainstream Telugu publishing was not filling the need at all, concentrated as it was then, on pulp romance and detective fiction. A robust publishing activity could help we thought,” says Gita.
During this time, one incident changed Gita’s life like no other could. She decided to slow down. “A kid was desperately crying to be with her mother and I felt I needed someone who would want me as dearly as the child. That was the time I decided to have a child. Everyone said I was mad and at 40 years this was not possible. But I was adamant and we had a baby girl. This once again changed the direction of my life. I just slowed down and I did all that I never did for so many years. I would take her to the park, temple and all those places where parents would usually take their children. I was happy and decided to be there for my daughter and slow down. Since then I have been mostly devoting my time to the Hyderabad Book Trust and have published a lot of original and translated works,” says Gita Ramaswamy as she shows the books around on the shelves of her office.