Narrow Lane Ahead
The wayside dhaba is usually the place where most Indian road movies begin to unravel. The baddies and cops slug it out amid the clatter of vessels and echo of gunshots. My journey unfolds near a serene mango orchard just off Chittoor on NH-18. There’s a sharp screech of tyre on tarmac as a police jeep swerves in front of a tractor carrying an illegal stash of red sanders. The SI motions the driver to a nearby police station as locals pass by in complete disinterest. For them, it’s routine. Red sandalwood trees from the nearby Seshachalam forests are a beacon for smuggling gangs from all across Rayalaseema. An attempt to follow the tractor lands one in Chittoor’s oldest school, established in 1856, the P.C. Reddy Government High School. Chittoor borders Tamil Nadu so Tamil is taught here alongside Telugu, Hindi and English. Indeed, the Telugu spoken in this region has a heavy Tamil influence and many are fluent in both languages.
Headmaster Chandrasekhar Naidu has only one question for us, “Is the state really going to be divided?” He’s just back from a two-month strike. “If they give away Telangana, Hyderabad will become like Pakistan for us. It has 13 central varsities and 39 research centres. And we’ll have no stake in them now.” Chittoor is a centre for sugarcane farming and jaggery markets. Mounds of jaggery, in shades from dark black to light brown, lie in the mandi market. Business is just picking up after the two-month-long transport strike for a united AP. The jaggery is raw material for a number of industries, from food and juice to the ayurveda medicine labs and is a major source of income in Chittoor, the dairy and silk sectors being the other engines of growth.
The rains have still not left us and the drive down from Chittoor on NH-18 is lush and scenic, with mango orchards, sugarcane and groundnut farms spread over the land. Hilly ranges lurk in the backdrop as one veers towards Errapalli village. We stop by at a house where a sreemantham (baby shower) ceremony is on. The hosts serve up a menu of pulao with raitha, followed by rice and rasam, curd and chicken. A huge photo of YSR Congress leader Jaganmohan Reddy hangs on the otherwise bare wall. Parusuram Reddy, one of the guests, is eager to enlighten me. It seems it was Jagan’s father, the late Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy who brought pucca houses, free power, NREGA income and seven BTech graduates to the village. “His boy (Jagan) is the choice of the rural voter, he deserves at least one chance.” By then an unnamed sweet dish arrives. It tastes like mashed, liquid jaggery.
About an hour’s drive from Chittoor lies Pileru, CM Kiran Kumar Reddy’s constituency. Surprisingly, it is one of the most nondescript places along the entire 369-km highway stretch. Pileru has a population of around 70,000, a severe drinking water crisis and most of its people make their living through small businesses like fruit and kirana shops. Its sizeable Muslim electorate lives near the railway underbridge. Beedi, agarbatti-making and cattle-rearing form their main source of income. Most of them haven’t seen Kiran since he became CM and are vague about his recent Samaikhyandhra heroics.
For such a small town, though, Pileru has six cinema theatres. There’s a theory in Andhra Pradesh that the population of a place can be counted roughly by the number of screens dotting the landscape. A rundown theatre showing Pawan Kalyan’s Attarintiki Daaredi is house-full and it’s about the one bright spot in Pileru so far. Tickets sell for Rs 100 and the crowds erupt in the aisles as the number Kaatama Rayuda, a tribute to the Rayalaseema people, comes on.
Back on the road, our cab queues up behind a row of rice harvesters, all of them with TN number plates. They are heading to the paddy-growing areas of Rayalaseema as we stop at Rayachoti, part of the Kadapa district. The town recently held an assembly bypoll with G. Srikanth Reddy of the YSR Congress winning by a margin of 56,890 votes. In a constituency of around 1.5 lakh people, this is huge. Falling in a rain shadow region, Rayachoti’s water situation improved when YSR came to power and built a couple of mini-dams.
Dr Vishnu Reddy, a radiologist and farmer, serves up some yellow uggani (puffed rice) with mirchi bajji for us to snack on. He’s confident that the “bifurcation is not happening, there just isn’t enough time”. On the people of Rayalaseema itself, he says, “We talk straight and speak the truth, no matter how harsh. It’s another matter that men around here seem to have zero emotional intelligence,” he laughs. The Reddys are a dominant caste in Rayalaseema. Jaganmohan Reddy belongs to the Kodida sub-sect, where you find many Christians. “In a way, Jagan is a reflection of many Rayalaseema qualities,” says the doctor. “The aggression, the blunt nature and natural leadership. These are all part of our soil,” reveals the good doc as he pats the excess oil off the mirchi bajjis.
From Rayachoti onwards, the soil’s colour gradually changes to black and stays that way through till Kurnool. The road from Rayachoti to Kadapa along the Eastern Ghats is easily the most beautiful part of the trip, especially at night. Moonlight lights up every leaf and pebble along the path as paddy fields grow in number. At Guvvalacheruvu, we stop to sample some street palakova, made by boiling milk and jaggery (or sugar). A runny kind of kalakandh, it’s the best dessert I have eaten in ages. On to his second cup of palakova, 26-year-old Sultan Ahmed Basha, wearing a Salman Khan-style turquoise bracelet, informs me of two momentous things of immediate import. One: he’s a hardware engineer in Saudi Arabia visiting home. “I am getting married,” he blushes. And two: Jaganmohan Reddy will be the next CM, no question.
Fire it up Seemandhra activists in Kurnool
Kadapa is our next stop. For a constituency represented by the “next CM” in Parliament, the garbage piling up on the streets is what hits you first. Municipal workers lazily pour bleaching powder over the mess. It’s from here onwards that one gets a real feel of the factionism in Rayalaseema. “Violent clashes have come down in the last decade or so, but the sword of factionism still hangs heavy,” says a political leader whose family has seen several murders. For him, the peaceful Seemandhra agitation has been a revelation. “If we were to start a Rayalaseema state agitation, there will be blood everywhere,” he emphasises. Bloody politics apart, the state bifurcation is a nightmare for Aparna, Kousalya and Gurushekhar, MCA students in Kadapa. “Our hopes lie in getting a job in Hyderabad. Now we might as well go to Karnataka or Tamil Nadu. It’s like we are going back to the 1970s,” says a worried Aparna. Gurushekhar says he doesn’t like going to Hyderabad anymore. “They have already taken it away from us,” he feels.
There’s a brunch being organised at businessman Sudarshan Reddy’s house. Ragi sankati, peanut chutney with at least 10 chillies in it and the spiciest dal I have ever eaten make me down a bottle of water in record time. There is no palakova in sight but there are nuvvulu (til) ladoos, which bring down the heat somewhat. Sudarshan Reddy has 70 acres of farmland and a couple of iron ore mine leases. Mining is a major industry in the region. A. Veeraswamy, a folk artiste in Mydukur, 34 km from Kadapa, talks about how the people of Rayalaseema have always felt closer to the folk in Telangana than to their Andhra counterparts. “Our culture, food habits and language are similar. We have factionism, they have Naxalism. We are hot-tempered, so are they. Andhras are the clever ones. Unfortunately, we are like the middle child caught between two warring siblings,” he says.
People blame the decades of drought in Rayalaseema for the rise in tempers. They fear that Rayalaseema’s share of the Tungabhadra and Krishna waters will go once Telangana state comes into existence. Fields in the other faction hotspots along NH-18 such as Allagadda and Banganapalle are brimming with mirchi plantations. It’s almost a reflection of the region’s hot temperament.
The first stop at Kurnool and the last on NH-18 ought to be the Kondareddy Buruju fort, built just after Krishnadevaraya’s time, dated back to 1530 AD. A compact fort, its majestic beauty leaves a lasting impression. A house call on TDP MLA from Dhone, K.E. Prabhakar, sees him sitting in a small drawing room jotting down favours sought by constituents. Transfers, mining lease licences and college admissions top the list. “So you’ve travelled from the land of milk and silk to iron ore and gore,” he quips. His reference is to Chittoor where dairy and silk are major sources of succour and then to Kadapa and Kurnool. Why take such a long trip to understand our Rayalaseema culture, he asks. “You should have just hired a Ram Gopal Varma video,” he laughs.
By Madhavi Tata in Chittoor and Kurnool
Madhavi Tata’s Where’s the Exit Sign? is quite excellent. It’s deceptively persuasive, in reflecting the state of affairs, wrapped in the lyricism of the ambience to her story.
Excellent article, deceptively forceful in reflecting the state of affairs, wrapped up in the lyricism of the ambience to her story. WOW !
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT