Profiles | India

Varavara Rao | Different shades of a poet

Illustration: Sreejith. R

Illustration: Sreejith. R

Even at the ripe age of 82 and in fragile condition of health, his day starts with a brief morning walk. Once back in his living room at his modest home, he picks up a book from one of those numerous ones sent by his family members and friends. Reading and writing are his two obsessions and he continues to do so, while recuperating from bad health and post COVID-19 complications.

This summarises Varavara Rao, the revolutionary poet, teacher, journalist, advocate of alternative people’s movements and intellectual.

Arrested on August 28, 2018 in the Elgar Parishad case, he was given medical bail on March 6, 2021, and it was only a few days back, considering his deteriorating health condition, that the Supreme Court granted him permanent bail on the same grounds. Love for literature and writing, irrespective of the language, had come to him quite naturally in his childhood, as being last among the 10 siblings (five sisters and four brothers), he was surrounded by books and publications. All his brothers were into some kind of writing.

Born on November 3, 1940, at Chinna Pendyala of Jangaon district of Telangana in a middle-class Brahmin family, Mr. Rao, from a young age, saw his brothers, who were staunch Congressmen, fight against the atrocities of Razakars under the Nizam. The idea of socialism was sowed in him deep and his first poem ‘Socialistu Chandrudu’ (Socialist Moon) on the Soviet Union sending the dog Laika to space, was published in the Telugu magazine  Swatantra, when he was 17 years old.

Peasant movement

He was deeply influenced by the writings of his brother Raghava Rao, Sri Sri and Chalam. Barely in his teens, he was attracted towards the Telangana Peasant Movement, in which one of his first cousins was a squad leader, who later became a Member of Parliament. Probably this was his first brush with the communist ideology. After completing MA from Osmania University, Mr. Rao taught at a couple private colleges before joining the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting of the Government of India as a publication assistant. In 1968, he came back to Warangal to take up a teaching profession, and this was the turning point in his life, as Warangal was then the hotbed of the Naxalite movement.

Mr. Rao penned over 17 books of poems and about 17 books on various other subjects that also dealt with the economic situation of the country and translated two novels. Over 100 of his poems have been translated into Malayalam, Kannada, Hindi and Bengali and English. When he was hospitalized in 2021, his poems were translated into at least 20 European and other languages.

Inspired by the Naxalbari movement in 1970, he was instrumental in the founding of two writers’ associations — ‘Tirugubatu Kavulu’ (the Association of Rebel Poets) and the Viplava Rachayitala Sangham, (the Revolutionary Writers’ Association), which is popularly known as Virasam.

Virasam was banned in 2005 for the first time and the ban was lifted in 2006 as a judicial panel struck it down. It was banned again by the Telangana government in 2021, but within a month, the order was withdrawn. Since he was first arrested in October 1973 under MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security Act), Mr. Rao was arrested at least 16 times, including the arrest in August, 2018, in the Elgar Parishad case, and was implicated in over 27 cases, including the two while he was in jail in the Elgar case.

Mr. Rao was acquitted in 13 of the cases and some of them such as the Secunderabad and Ramnagar Conspiracy case took over 15 to 17 years of trial. The courts had quashed or discharged about three cases and nine were withdrawn by the prosecution. He spent over seven years in imprisonment, at times in solitary confinement.

Mr. Rao also acted as a key person in the peace talks between the Naxalites and the Andhra Pradesh government in 2004. The Maoist party came out of the talks in January 2006 after an encounter, alleging that the State had violated the ceasefire agreement reached six months earlier.

Mr. Rao’s love for books has never failed him, but what hurts him the most now is that he is no longer able to write, as his hands tremble. Known for having a calligraphic writing skill, he misses it the most, say people close to him.

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Printable version | Aug 14, 2022 9:39:03 pm |