Sep 27, 2023
Sep 27, 2023
Early bonds with Nagpur
“Phatik Chakravorti was ringleader among the boys of the village.”
Oops! That’s not what I wanted to write, did I? Is my old brain getting confused? Yes and no. This is the first sentence of Rabindranath Tagore’s story Homecoming. It was in our school syllabus and propped up in my mind unbidden when I tried to pen my thoughts about my return to live in Nagpur after a gap of six decades. Tagore played a role in my growth, so it is natural for my mind to jump to it as I recall my childhood. More about that later.
I began writing this account after I returned to live in Nagpur, where I had grown up, gone to school and college, and appeared for the IAS examination, after an absence of over seven decades. Post retirement from Indian Railway Traffic Service in 1991, I had settled down in Hyderabad, with my children living at different locations in India and abroad. When the Covid-19 pandemic began to spread in Hyderabad in mid-2020, my wife and I found ourselves insecure and isolated. We moved out to Bangalore to begin with and in early 2021, relocated to Nagpur. Our stay in Leverage Greens Colony in North Nagpur began auspiciously when the residents honoured me by asking me to hoist the national flag on Republic Day. I began to reminisce about my childhood and education in Nagpur in the first half of the last century and felt the urge to put down my memories of the time.
Republic Day January 26, 2021 at Leverage Greens Koradi Road Nagpur
The bond with Nagpur began early in my life. I was around four years old when my father (we called him Baba) was posted as station master Kanhan Junction, a railway station on the Bengal Nagpur Railway situated about 20 km from Nagpur towards Howrah. It was a junction for the branch line leading to the temple town of Ramtek. I was around four at the time and youngest of four siblings, all of them male. Soon afterwards, I got a younger brother who died suddenly three years later, and I continued to be the youngest until another brother was born in 1943. During this period, I attended primary school in Kamptee along with my siblings and just as I cleared primary school my father was transferred to Koka 77 km from Nagpur.
During our stay in Kanhan, I visited Nagpur occasionally along with my parents mainly for shopping for our clothing, footwear, and school needs. We would travel by a local train and alight at Itwari. Shops in Itwari bazaar were adequate to meet our needs and we would take a return local to get back home. Sometimes, we viewed a movie at Manik talkies (later renamed Prabhat).
Station Master’s Residence in Kanhan in 1941 Condemned & awaiting demolition in 2018
Baba’s third brother Venkata Rao (aka Kondababu – Kondanannagaru for us) came to live with us in Kanhan along with his wife Sitamma, whom we also called Peddapinni. She was only a couple of years older than my eldest brother and Baba used to fondly call her his first daughter (as Peddapinni told me much later). Kondanannagaru had completed school final – enough for getting a job in those days – and learnt telegraphy to qualify for the job of a signaller in the railways. As he used to practice telegraphy on a dummy instrument, we siblings tried to learn the Morse code. Peddapinni contracted smallpox at this time and Amma looked after her like her own daughter through the ailment that left her pockmarked for life. Kondanannagaru joined BNR as an Assistant Station Master and after undergoing training in Sini was posted at Khodri a station on the Bilaspur-Katni section of the railway.
Baba’s fourth brother Surya Prasada Rao (Suribabu – Surinannagaru for us) and his wife Kameswari (Chinnapinni) also came to live with us when they began their married life together. He had done his graduation (Bachelor of Arts), the first one in the family to have a BA degree and was looking for a job. There were not many opportunities in those days and Surinannagaru had passed BA in the third division so he could not become a lecturer like our maternal uncles. Instead, he learnt typing and eventually became a typist in the Motibagh Workshop of BNR. Meanwhile, the newlyweds enjoyed the hospitality of my parents, and our company. Surinannagaru liked to play carrom board with my brothers, who were very good at the game, taking after Baba who was a champion among his group of friends. He would be riled when my 9-year-old third brother Mohan beat him, which was often, and take out his ire on poor Chinnapinni. For her part, Chinnapinni was proud of being young and beautiful, of her gold ornaments and of belonging to a rich family and lost no chance to make snide remarks on the lower economic status of Surinannagaru’s family. She would end up getting thrashed even for small matters, like when he ordered her to clear the carrom board after a game was finished and she refused to act as his unpaid maid.
My parents ardently desired that their children should get educated in their mother tongue, Telugu. Most of the railway stations where my father worked served small villages which had no schools whatsoever, even in the local languages. Accordingly, they sent my eldest brother Viswam (Annayya) to Vizianagaram in North coastal Andhra Pradesh, then a part of Madras Presidency, where my uncle Surinanna garu was attending college, but he had to be shifted when Surinanna garu completed his course. Baba rented rooms in Guntur, where my two maternal uncles lived for my mother (Amma) to live temporarily so that Annayya and my second brother Venkata Ramana Murty (Chinnannayya) could attend Majeti Guravayya School. This did not last long either and in 1935 they were moved to my maternal grandmother’s (Ammamma) village Lakshmi Narasu Peta near Srikakulam to stay with my mother’s elder sister, aunt Mahalakshmi (we called her Mamma) and uncle, Janaki Ramam (Peddananna garu).
Brahmana Veethi Vansadhara River Banyan Tree
Lakshmi Narasu Peta revisited in 2008
The arrangement came to an unexpected end in 1936, when my uncle died suddenly, reportedly from snake bite. The boys returned to Bilaspur where Baba was working as a Relieving Assistant Station Master. Chinnannayya recalled that this was the time of the general strike on Bengal Nagpur Railway.
More by : Ramarao Annavarapu