Chapter 1

Ramaraja Bhushanudu Yalavarthi

A Fond Portrait

The first reaction I often get when people hear my unusual name is, “Are you Sri Rosayya’s son?” My father’s legendary penchant for the literary arts, reflected in the naming of his children and grand children, is known all over the educational circles of Andhra Pradesh. His attributes of sustained scholarship, uncommon humility, affectionate generosity and exemplary administrative abilities are illustrated in several articles inside this volume written by his friends, colleagues and students. I will try to introduce to you other qualities of Sri Rosayya that I had the privilege to experience intimately.

I cannot agree with the saying that ‘a man’s greatest misfortune is having a famous father’. On the contrary, my four brothers Chinnaya Suri, Devaraja Sudhimani, Appaji, Nannechoda Deva Varma, sister Chandra Leela, and I believe that we are truly blessed to be the progeny of this famous father. He tried to foster in us a vigorous enthusiasm to learn the finer things in life, like music, history, literature, and above all, poetry. He always set high standards and lived by them without ever swaying. His naivety was that he expected everyone else around him to live up to those goals.

Our father always had a picture of his revered headmaster Sri P. Dakshina Murthy in the main hallway of our home. He fondly remembered how this dedicated teacher convinced our poor grand father, Sri Kotayya to allow our father to go to college. Sri Dakshina Murthy then took our father to Guntur, enrolled him in A.C. College, had the tuition waived by the principal, arranged accommodation and boarding, and even bought him clothes. Those acts of kindness undoubtedly influenced our father to get the best possible education and become the greatest teacher. Everyone that knows him agrees that he lived that dream to the fullest. He repaid his teacher’s generosity many fold by helping innumerable youngsters by teaching them gratis at home for hours, after hours. He also named a grandson after his loving teacher.

Our father never sought credit for his strong convictions and personal accomplishments that were often way ahead of his times. While many national leaders were only preaching widow marriage to the public, Sri Rosayya, ignoring his family’s protests, bravely embraced the principle and married my mother Samrajyamma. They could not have been more different from each other. Our mother could only read ‘Chandamama’; his comprehensive knowledge filled the universe. She pampered us with kindness; he was a strict disciplinarian. She was cool as a cucumber; he was a feisty firecracker. She was devoutly religious; he was an outspoken Humanist. Yet, our parents exemplified the harmony, love, and mutual respect of an ideal marriage.

Our father always insisted on providing us with everything we needed for a comfortable life style. He always had an eye for the highest quality, irrespective of cost. He assured us of his total support for our education but promised no material assets. He subscribed to several newspapers and journals like The Mail, Indian Express, Andhra Patrika, Andhra Prabha, Eenadu, Bharathi, Krishna Patrika, Mysindia, Prajamatha, Swarajya, Mother India, Current, Illustrated Weekly, National Geographic, Life, and many others. He read voraciously, making corrections with his trademark red pencil. His early morning routine included reading all the dailies before leaving for college and the rest of the magazines and books in the evening. It seemed like he was always preparing for an exam. We were constantly reminded not to waste the morning hours, the most precious for a healthy mind. We were chastised if we stayed up late before tests.

Our father’s pride and joy was the immense collection of books in his personal library. From the Oxford English Dictionary (all thirteen volumes) to several versions of the best-known literary works in English and Telugu were in his treasure. Some of the out of print works in his possession were dearer to his heart than anything else in the world. He would spend hours in his library rearranging the order of the books, and reading a few favorite passages here and there while doing so. He knew exactly where every book was and could get to it with lightning speed.

Our father’s inveterate admiration for literature - both English and Telugu and his passion to teach are legendary. The depth of his appreciation of such a wide range of works was simply astounding. He could recall with incredible ease passages from works that experts in the field were not familiar with. I remember several renowned writers and poets of the time staying at our house for weeks to seek his critical approval, keeping him up into the wee hours of the morning. His forthright comments and corrections were always respected, but not uniformly appreciated. When he did not like something or someone, he did not mince his words.

In spite of our father’s commendable grasp of the vast worlds of English and Telugu literature and history, he was adamantly reluctant to write or publish anything. He opined that it was not worth printing if it was not perfect and mistake proof. When he was asked for speaking engagements, he would gently pass up, quoting the famous essay from ‘Sakshi’ poking fun at the futility of public speeches.

Our father had a unique skill of being able to communicate with equal ease and pleasure with the young or the old, with the hopelessly illiterate or the erudite elite. He could put anyone at ease with his pleasant conversational style or a lighthearted joke. He could remember many students by their names and backgrounds. He would compare a young man’s nose to that of Lord Byron, or the hairstyle to bear resemblance to that of John Milton. He would prove his point by showing pictures of these personalities to the amazement of the youngsters. He used to share with us the stories of his travel adventures with MSM Railway passes to meet the famous elders of the times. He had vivid recollections of his encounters with stalwarts like Panuganti, Chilakamarthi, Gidugu, Tripurana Suryaprasadarao, Kaviraju Ramaswamy, Duvvuri Venkataramana Sastry, M.N.Roy, C.R.Rajagopalachari, C.R.Reddy, and the Maharaja of Jayapuram to name a few. He cherished his association with Sri Avula Gopalakrishna Murthy on many cultural, social and political fronts during college and young adult life.

Our father always dressed impeccably. Even in the middle of a hot summer, he never left for work without a neatly pressed suit and a tie. He felt that indecent clothing implied disrespect for others. Perfection was his passion. Whether it was a postage stamp affixed on an envelope or clothes hung out to dry, everything needed to be in absolute symmetry and pleasing to the eye.

Our father loved carnatic music and used to recite poems in melodious tunes. He named his granddaughters ‘Balachandrika’ and ‘Gururanjani’ after his favorite ragas. He appreciated classical dances and despised movies and modern music. We used to complain about having to listen to classical radio stations while our friends were enjoying Radio Ceylon or Vividh Bharathi.

Our father’s desire to do the best for any project he had undertaken was overwhelming. He toiled day and night for the welfare of the students as a warden at Kamma Hostel. He truly believed that the parents of the youth have left them in his personal custody. From going to the market personally to buy the best vegetables and supplies, to making late night rounds to ensure the residents were studying in their rooms, he never compromised. As the first principal, he dedicated all his efforts to the tremendous success of J.K.C. College. This preoccupation with holding himself to the highest ethics and standards brought him many laurels and a few heartaches. The studious loved his friendly persuasion while some disliked his lack of regard for recommendations. Even today, his students recall stories of him chasing them into classes to be on time and taking some teachers to task.

Many people believe that our father ignored his own children’s education and future for the sake of his beliefs. Some consider him to be less than adept at making use of his stature in the community to secure a better fortune for himself and his family. He was so proud of his principles; knowing thoroughly well that many of his pupils were well placed, he would never ask anyone for favours. Success and failure in his mind were the real reflections of our efforts. He strongly encouraged self reliance, independence and striving for set goals. I do not think one can ask more from a father.

My only regret is that, having entered the medical profession, I was not able to absorb more of my father’s thirst for literature. Also, as my wife Sulochana and I left for USA, our children did not have the opportunity to experience the greatness of their grandfather very much. However, we were fortunate that he visited us in Chicago for a short time before he passed away. His passion for books never faded despite failing vision. I enjoyed reading some poems and passages to him, enduring many corrections in pronunciation. He was not happy about the American accent our family acquired, but appreciated our daughter Balachandrika’s pursuit of Bharata Natyam here.

Our father suffered a big blow from the untimely loss of our mother in 1975. He lost his companion and best friend. Realizing how much he depended on her for every thing, he was completely shaken and never recovered fully his glowing enthusiasm for life.

Our father, Sri Rosayya, lived for the love of his own education and to teach anyone willing to learn. Those who came in contact with him remember him for his genuine affection and exuberant brilliance. He certainly will be cherished in our memories forever. It is our earnest hope that this compilation of essays will bring his exemplary character and inimitable style to life.