Dr Suseela Somaraju: A multifaceted woman!
People fall while walking. I have proven that I can fall while lying down."
This is the succinct one-liner delivered with punctuating laughter by Dr Suseela Somaraju, recovering from a shoulder fracture sustained when she fell off her bed. And that is the quintessence of the feisty woman, who not only saw the humour in every situation but helped others sail through tough times with her congenial support.
When Dr Suseela passed away the last week, it was as though the world lost more than one person at a time. A scientist, entrepreneur, social worker, activist, a noted writer and, above everything, a mentor to innumerable people, who got their bearings back under her able tutelage.
Dr Suseela has the distinction of being the first woman to get a Ph D in Chemistry in united AP and then the first woman entrepreneur, setting up her own Bhagyanagar Laboratories way back in 1974, patenting many crop micronutrients. She had subsequently trained and promoted many budding entrepreneurs, addressing training sessions and mentoring workshops.
Her association with many social organisations including the Lioness Club and the Rashtriya Sevika Samiti apart, she served as the President of a Voluntary Intellectual Group called the Social Cause, helping to steer the popular narrative in the right direction.
Apart from her professional credentials, what set Dr Suseela apart was her writing, a talent she has utilised to explore diverse streams. Her maiden work 'Chinna Parishramalu-Pedda Kathalu' (Small Industries-Big Stories) was a compilation of true stories fictionalised. It was a unique exploration of the travails faced by small entrepreneurs in the era of major industrialisation. 'Deepa Shikha' was an anthology of short stories and so was 'Pelli Pandiri'. 'Muggur Columbus lu' is a rib-tickling yet thought-provoking collection about life in America, its invisible vagaries and pleasures. What set her apart though was her autobiographical tale of 'Illeramma Kathalu', detailing out a life of a young girl and her three sisters and their journey through the maze of daily life in a small town. The book is a wonderful work, filled with humorous anecdotes, characters sketches and insights, producing imagery that enthralled readers old and young alike and brought her stardom as a humour writer.
Suseela's command over language, her keen sense of observation, her photographic memory (which did not forget even unpleasant details of their childhood, her younger sisters lament) and her ability to paint a picture that any reader could relate to putting her in an unmatchable position in the already small and exclusive class of woman human writers in Telugu.
Self-irony, satire, delicate style of critiquing and a great ability to laugh at herself first, Dr Suseela would say "there is so much wisdom that we gather through our lives and I wish I could share it with the younger lot but I always weigh how best to convey it to them without getting preachy."
Dr Suseela also did some serious writing with a biography of eminent scientist Dr Nayudamma, with whom she worked closely and translating books from Hindi on the work of unsung woman freedom fighters.
Her temperament was such that she could handle diverse activities at the same time, organising lectures and Anna Danams at the same time, managing her company and raising funds for families of farmers that committed suicide, writing hilarious stories while making a dozen kinds of pickles, not just for her family but for a whole battalion of relatives, friends and even fans, writing deeply insightful 'dharma sutras' while leading women on the nationalist path.
With the passing of Dr Somaraju Suseela, an exceptional era has come to an end. A symbol for empowerment, a bridge between traditional family system and universal love for the vulnerable, a blend of passionate nationalism and keen scientific sensibility, Dr Suseela is probably the last among the incomparable, multi-faceted legends that the Telugu land has been blessed to have.
And for her innumerable fans, friends, mentees and family, it is even bigger a loss as there are no more witticisms, fun picnics, quip-filled conversations, encouraging pats and affectionate hugs from Suseelamma.