To Rebel Is Justified

Vara Vara Rao: A Sleepless Minstrel

Asok Chattopadhyay

The contemporary poets of India wrote a public statement entreating immediate release of the octogenarian poet Vara Vara Rao some months back. They wrote in that statement:

It is clear that Rao is only being kept in jail by virtue of him being a poet who questions the powers-that-be. While we as young poets not only understand the value and importance of speaking for the people and questioning the ones in power, we take it as a responsibility, to uphold. …we see the attack on Rao as an attack on all of us, our minds, our pens and our views. If this suppression of our voices continues, all of us would be left with no voice at all, and there would be only two voices, the voice of the 'King' and the voice of the 'poet employed in the court of the King'! That is the last thing we can afford in our democracy and we must keep alive the spirit of struggle for free thinking to bloom.

But this voice of protest has not been heeded to by the Government in power or that of the Centre itself. But this sleepless minstrel is untired of musing even in the dungeon. He chants for the days to come, for the children to born and for the red flag hoisting in the wind in the tower.

This octogenarian Telugu poet has faced 25 fabricated cases .It stands from the fact that he started facing false police cases while he was 35 years of age. Thus the state has bagged a historic achievement to let the poet down to earth! But such an ignoble attempt has failed to cow down the poet rather to get him bold enough to move on the fore.

Zeena Oberoi, a research fellow from Oxford, came in contact with Rao consequent upon her research. She had informed that the poet averred his say to her with no foggy attachment. Zeena felt that the poet himself is well versed in politics, literature and history. He even quoted form Marquez and the Mahabharata.  His versatility got her astonished. In talks to her Rao, the poet, said :

Violence is the characteristic of an uneven society. In general, unevenness is violence. When you talk about violence, the hierarchical treatment in a system (whether it is the Brahmanical or patriarchal) is itself a form of violence. Hence, resistance to this cannot be called violence. The State has all kinds of state machineries and capital at its disposal to practice violence, whereas I have nothing except for my body and my hands to work. How can my resistance then be termed as violence? 

It's a proven fact that the government is a busy watchdog of the state. The government in power is concerned more of serving the interest of the state rather than that of the public in general. By dint of elections governments are elected to serve the state as its busy watchdog. After the election is won the government gets into oblivion of its pre-election pledges, promises etc overnight and becomes the faithful surf of the state itself. Lenin, as a Marxist theoretician, had expected the people would be the chief instrument of the state power, but in reality he felt the given situation divulged something pragmatic side of political astuteness resulting the government in power to hold the centre together regardless of the ideology surrounding it: the means of winning the hearts and minds of the people is now power at all without an army and police to keep people in line. Lenin, as such, briefed: 'A standing army and police are the chief instruments of state power'.  Whoever comes to state power have had their salient feature to use force by the police and army in order to subdue the protesting public and to safeguard the state itself. Whoever twigs the best of it cannot but be considered the staunch enemy of the state and government in power. And the poet cum journalist like Vara Vara Rao in this way has become branded the arch enemy of the government and state system.

'We cannot go but the poets with us', said Manik Bandyo-padhyay, a renowed Bengali author, which though has been accepted as infallible arms but in practice it has got its limit zone in a cultural periphery. Bengal's promising poet Sukanta Bhattacharya could not be kept alive among people in his time. To tell the truth, Sukanta had not been paid due heed to his dire necessity which had latter been confessed by a few ones. The life of a devout promising poet got lost in the dark. After a long lapse of eight decades now ordinary people are strolling in darkness in face of the endangered life of another renowned poet. There was a single communist party eight decades ago, but now the situation gets too worse. Now the communist parties harangued in signboards are all out fray with each other and are busier with bombarding headquarters of the unparliamentary revolutionary practioners. Under this given situation the demand of release of an octogenarian poet, translator, journalist, editor and political spokesperson like Vara Vara Rao is of much more importance. But the ideological differences at times, to say frank, become a considerable factor to lift one-voice in unit for the poet. And herein the problem crops up with an odd physique.

Two years back Vara Vara Rao was arrested by the police in the Bhima Koregaon case and still now he is behind the bars in dark dungeon. The recurring demands and requests lodged by the famous intellectuals of the home and abroad for unconditional release of the poet and his co-prisoners had been left disregarded. Even the deterioration of the physical condition of the octogenarian poet failed to attract the attention of the state, administration and the judiciary. It perhaps means something wrong working behind the scene. The poet in the jail custody had been attacked with corona. Yet the question of his release didn't have been considered! A probable conspiracy might have been loomed large to kill this poet being the protagonist of strong mass movement. Saroj Dutta, a renowned poet and journalist even a Naxalite leader had been arrested in a night of early August 1971 and murdered by the police in the next dawn and beheaded so that he could hardly be identified. Another poet Subbarao Panigrahi had also been murdered by the police in a dawn some years back. Now a conspiracy to kill the poet Rao within the jail custody in some way might have been plotted. Probability of such a conspiracy by the police in connivance with the state gets ground; protests in communist circle have been chalked and voiced indeed but it goes almost in the mere constitutional way kowtowing all the norms propagated by the government in these times of corona. Now the movements have been chained and fettered. And as such the utterance of release of prisoners like Rao and others gets a feeble voice after the fall out of obedience of the rules of the law now at the time of Corona.

Vara Vara Rao, the dreamer of emancipation of the suffering humanity, has penned in his poem:

Human habitations become crematoriums
A corpse encounters the enemy as a nightmare
With the peace of rich house
With irate eyes
With breathless hearts, having chests
Tens and thousands rise in revolt

The indomitable sayings of chairman Mao Zedong to rebel is just appears to have been acceded to and an outburst of war against the people's enemies seem to be pleaded with force. The poet calls to greet the bold-fisted hands that challenge the sky above. The inhuman tortures of the state justify the crater of revolt and thus the state invites its fate to fall at last. And this is what the poet Rao expresses in one of his poem : It was you who struck the beehive/With your lathi/The sound of the scattering bees/Exploded in your shaken facade/Blotched red with fear/When the victory drum started beating/In the heart of the masses/You mistook it for a person and trained your guns/Revolution echoed from all horizons.

And when the state with a view to face the situation orders its police and army to aim at the rebellions to shoot, then the outcry of spring thunder begins ringing continually having no pause. Thus this poet becomes the minstrel of spirit of the rebellious public. And naturally such a poet like Rao has been considered dangerous to the state and as such he has been put behind the bar slapping false cases against him!

Vara Vara Rao or Pendyala Vara Vara Rao was born on November 3, 1940 at Pendyala under Warangal district in a middle class Brahmin family. He had had his education at Pendyala, Warangal and Hyderabad. He did his masters in 1960 from the Warangal University in Telugu literature. He registered to pursue PhD on poetry but left it at last and joined as a lecturer in a college at Medak district. Then he left the lectureship and switched over to DAVP under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, New Delhi, to work as a Publication Assistant. He again changed his mind to continue this job and joined again as a lecturer in another private college at Jadcherla, Mahabubnagar district. He moved to Warangal to join Chanda Kanthaiah Memorial College (CKM College) where he worked as Telugu lecturer and later became its principal.

He started writing poetry while he was 17 years only. He decided to publish an organ of Telugu literature and with the aid and active help of some of his friends founded an apolitical organization christened as Saahithee Mithrulu (Friends of literature). And Srujana being its mouthpiece came to light in 1966. 

This time the Telugu literature witnessed a revolutionary turn. The food movement of 1966 and the Naxalite movement in 1967 in West Bengal shook the rest of India to a new turn to revolutionary horizon so unfound since long. It tided over the age-old values gave birth to a new one that entered in the arena of the contemporary Telugu literature also. The litterateurs like Sri Sri, Kutumba Rao etc of the old school came forward and hailed this new trend resulting the Telugu literature to have a new garb of a new firmament. The armed struggle of the Srikakulam added fuel to it. As a result Virasam or Viplava Rachayitala Sangham (Revolutionary Writers' Association) came into being. The renowned poet Subba Rao Panigrahi became its source of inspiration and Varavara Rao became its spokesperson.

As being the spokesperson of Virasam Rao roamed many a corner of Andhra Pradesh and spoke and propagated for as a representative of this organisation. During this prop period he did not refrain himself from composing poems. His Srujana too took its political shape and character when the Tirugubadu Kavulu (Rebel Poets) of Andhra Pradesh joined with Srujana. Rao then turned his Srujana into a monthly organ of revolutionary literature of Andhra Pradesh. 

As being an active worker of the revolutionary politics and its cultural activist Rao had to be arrested by the police now and again. He was arrested in the first time in 1973 and stayed behind the bars for two years and came out of jail in April 1975. But after nor more than two months had passed he had to be re-arrested by the police on June 26, 1975 owing to the promulgation of emergency in the reign of Indira Gandhi. Two years had passed and he got out of the dungeon after the Janata Government came into power in 1977 but again tasted the police assault in open public in a mass meeting at Adilabad in the year 1979. Four years had passed and he again got arrested and remained behind the bars for long five years. He was slapped various false conspiracy cases by the police. He came out of prison in 1988.

Before coming into power NT Rama Rao had eulogized the Naxalites for their patriotism but after enthroned he took an unfamiliar stance. In 1985 he came into the power for the second time and began suppressing the Naxalite movement in the state and Vara Vara Rao too had to taste the worse of it. Six cases had been foisted against him. After killing Dr Ramanatham, a civil liberties activist, police openly declared that their aim was to kill Varavara Rao. Hardly could he move Andhra Pradesh freely and Warangal became a forbidden place to him! Ruffians and the police in disguise attacked his house for several times. Under this terrible situation he could not but choose to cancel his bail in the Secunderabad Conspiracy case in December 1985.

The Telugu Desam government took up with the proposal to initiate peace proposals with the naxalites and the then CPI ML/People's War preferring Rao and Gaddar being its emissaries. In 2004 the Congress government, being enthroned, the People's War group of the CPIML proposed the names of Vara Vara Rao, Gaddar and Kalyan Rao as the fresh emissaries to work out modalities for the proposed talks and they started function on and from July 13, 2004. But on April 4, 2005 all of them withdrew their names as emissaries as because they failed to serve the best of it. And just one month later the government proscribed the Virasam and the day after both Varavara Rao and Kalyan Rao got arrested by the police. Vara Vara Rao was bailed out of jail on March 31, 2006. Again he had been arrested on August 28, 2018 by the Pune police in a case relating to alleged conspiracy to assassinate Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi! And after just three months he got re-arrested in the Bhima Koregaon cases and he is still a prisoner keeping his life at stake behind the bar.

Naturally it is appalling that a poet, journalist and cultural activist like professor Vara Vara Rao has to surpass a long long period of his life behind the bar and he is still in the dungeon. The state is afraid of a poet. It dares not to keep him free under the open space among the masses of the people whom he loves most and as such in some plea or that he has to be arrested and rearrested only with a view to downtrod his courage and belief he is dedicated to. But they are in vain. They now plan to kill him behind the bar in some way that cannot be divulged ever as they did in case of comrade Charu Majumdar, the unanimous leader of the CPI (ML) in july 1972.

There are at least fifteen poetry collections of the poet. Moreover he edited a few more poetry anthologies. Some of his collections of poetry are: Chali Negallu (Camp Fires), Jeevanaadi (Pulse), Ooregimpu (Procession), Swechcha (Freedom), Samudram (Sea), Bhavishyathu Chitrapatam (Protrait of the Future), Muktakantham (Free voice), Aa Rojulu (Those Days), Unnadedo Unnattu (As It Is), Daghamauthunna Bagdad (Burning Bagdad), Mounam Oka Yuddhkaneram (Silence is a War Crime), Antassootram (Undercurrent), Telengana Veeragatha (Legend of Telengana), Palapitta Paata (Song of Palapitta), Beejabhoomi (Field of Seeds).

The poems of Vara Vara Rao have been translated in many of Indian languages particularly in Malayalam, Hindi and Kannada. Very few have been rendered into Bengali. He did his thesis on the Telengana Liberation Struggle and Telugu Novel is considered to be a landmark in the arena of Marxist literary criticism in Telugu. The editorial treatises of Srujana are of much important and value. During his prison days he rendered a novel entitled Devil on the Cross into Telugu. His own prison diary (Sahacharulu) has been translated into English under the title Captive Imagination and published by the Penguin Books. In this 'Captive Imagination' he has written: I do not see these birds/Flying into the sky/ As the silence of dusk/Fills the lock up,/I only see pigeons huddling in the corner./Fresh winds hot with the breath of conviction/Never blow across these walls./Blindfolded bullock-like/Chewing the cud of old memories/I crave the winged speed of letters/Which hampered by melting thoughts/Stubbornly refuse to stir.

His prison days pained and even now pain much but he never bowed and bows to disheartenment. He chanted the message of revolt in the poems penned during this captive days and this revolt practically knows not wall ahead, knows no proscription. This sense of revolt is alien to bow down to defeat rather wants to be on a stead-back to run onwards. In his Words he has written :

Once again I yearn to learn the utterance
At school and on the commune,
From pupils and plebeians
I dream of seizing syllables
From each of history's furrows.

The renowned Bengali poet Birendra Chattopadhyay wanted to be acquainted with the alphabet of the mother land de novo even his senile days, and here we witness Vara Vara Rao to reassert the same in some other way. He wants to be amassed in the mart of the people and likes to learn the pronunciation of the people's poetry de novo. William Wordsworth wanted not to reside anywhere other than the hearte of men. In his The Bard, Vara Vara Rao has written : …When the tongue pulsates,/Tone manumits the air, and/Song turns missile in battle/The foe fears the poet;/Incarcerates him, and Tightens the noose around the neck/But, already, the poet in his notes/Breathes among the masses the scaffold/Like a gravitating balance/Disseminates into earth/Challenges to death/And hoists the paltry/Hangman colonist.

Poet is the arch enemy of the state as because poets are the music makers and dreamers of dreams, the dreams of mass emancipation and emboldens the downtrodden people to raise their head with a view to be outspoken to their enemies. And as such poets appear to be fallen under attack of the police, get arrested even are killed by order of the state and the government being its watchdog. But their mischievous acts ultimately cannot but to go into futile again and again.

Not unlike the phoenix, the poets come out of the dilapidation and become active with their arms of poems and music. Poets like Subbarao Panigrahi, Saroj Dutta, Amiya Chattopadhyay, Timirbaran Singha, Dronacharya Ghosh, Smaran Chattopadhyay had been killed by the state again and again with an eye to getting them off with the root itself. But have they been succeeded in doing so at all? Now an octogenarian and ailing poet like Vara Vara Rao stands awake in the dark prison night and dreams and chants along. Though aged and ailing the state and the Judiciary is afraid of releasing him from the prison.

Now the two opposites gather storm to confront each other. One is the Fascist government and its Judiciary en bloc and the other is the rebelling voice of the millions of people. It's the high time to choose one of the two. Whose side are you?

September 25-27, 2020

Vol. 53, No. 22-25, Nov 29 - Dec 26, 2020