The story of a child who was forced out of school and started reading books by accident, entered journalism and went on to become one of the most acclaimed writers of modern Telugu literature, Dr Ravuri Bharadwaja is an inspiration to millions of Telugus. He walks down memory lane with K Ramachandra Murthy, after receiving the Jnanpith Award, in one of his last interviews.

Simple, warm and straightforward!  Celebrated Telugu writer Ravuri Bharadwaja is just like his writings. He has over 17 novels, 37 collections of short stories, six children’s novels and eight plays to his credit. The common thread that binds all his writings is life, especially of the common man - his struggles, anxieties and concerns. He received many awards and accolades including the State Sahitya Akademi Award and Central Sahitya Akademi Award for his writings, but nothing equals the prestigious Jnanpith award conferred to him for his book, ‘Paakudu Raallu’. He is only the third Telugu writer to have received this honour. “I had never expected the award. I can only say that I am rejoiced,” shared the 87-year-old writer after receiving the news of the award on April 17 this year. What followed was a flurry of endless activities – meetings, felicitations, interviews, universities awarding Doctorates, culminating in the receipt of the award just a week ago. The news of the sad demise on October 18 shocked his admirers in the literary world and the entire Telugu community.  Excerpts from his last interview to HMTV-THE HANS INDIA

 You are the third person to receive the coveted Jnanpith Award from our State. We are proud of you.  There is a lot of curiosity and interest among the people to know about your life. 

There is nothing remarkable about my life that could be of interest to people. I was born on  July 5, 1927. I hail from a very simple family. My father belonged to Thadikonda village in Guntur district on the banks of River Krishna. My mother Mallikamba hailed from Mogulur village in the Paritala Estate which was then a part of Hyderabad state.   

Even though my father inherited 15 acres of land in Thadikonda, he lost all of it after some business partners cheated him. We were reduced to such abject penury that my sister and younger brother died as my father could not afford their medical treatment. 

My parents and I became coolies in the land that we once owned. I worked as a farm labourer. In addition, I also used to work as a newspaper boy distributing ‘Prajasakthi’ daily.  In our village, we used to get only ‘Prajasakthi’ during those days. 

I studied up to Class VII. When I entered Class VIII, the Head Master sent me out of the school saying that I disobeyed him as I did not wear the proper uniform for the school inspection. The real reason was that I was not going to him for private tuition by paying one rupee per month. 

There used to be ‘Rythu Sangham’ and ‘Bala Sangham’ in our village. I never worked in them. But the ‘Prajasakthi’ agent, who was associated with the ‘Rythu Sangham’, asked me if I was interested to go for training in social work in a village near Nellore.  I jumped at the idea as it would give me shelter and food for one month. 

I went to the training school where Acharya Ranga and Vavilala Gopala Krishnaiah were the lecturers. Here, I met Acharya Atreya who was working at ‘Zamin Rythu’ and we became good friends. He later helped me get the job of a proofreader in ‘Zamin Rythu’. 

Was it your first job?

Yes. At that time, the newspaper was edited by Pellakur Gopala Krishna Reddy. His brother Pellakur Chandrasekhar Reddy started a weekly magazine ‘Deena Bandhu’ and I joined that magazine. 

Here I fell in love with Renuka, a girl living opposite our office. I told Atreya and Chalam and both of them encouraged me to pursue her. But when I approached her mother, she told me to pay Rs 3,000 to marry her daughter. I did not have the money and so I could not marry her. Later, another person who paid Rs 5,000 to her mother married her. 

After the heartbreak, I decided to quit the job and Nellore and go back to Thadikonda, my native village. However, one incident changed my life! 

I was passing by my village library. There was an elderly person, Edla Seshaiah, who asked a boy sitting there to recite a poem. That boy recited a poem from ‘Manu Charitra’. Then Seshaiah said derisively that even though I was grown up, I cannot read and write anything. This incident made me think. Why should I not learn to read poems, if only to prove him wrong? I enquired the boy about the book and went to the library to read ‘Manu Charitra’. But the librarian said that I can borrow the books only if I enroll myself as a member by paying Rs 3 per year. I was crestfallen. Then, Kolluru Venkateswarulu, a village head, paid my library fee. Many years later, I dedicated my book, ‘Paakudu Raallu’, for which I was awarded the Jnanpith, to him. But for him, I would have never been a writer. 

When did you start writing? 

Although I worked as proofreader for ‘Zamin Rythu,’ I never wrote for it. I don’t remember my first story. But my first published story was ‘Vimala’, a short story published in the fourth week of August, 1946, in  ‘Prajamitra’ magazine. ‘Ragini’, a collection of my short stories, was my first published book. The foreword for this collection was written by Gudipati Venkata Chalam. He used to live in Vijayawada around the time ‘Ragini’ was published. My second book published was ‘Kottha Chigullu’, a collection of my short stories. I dedicated the book to Chalam. 

Did writer Chalam influence you?

Yes. The way he used to rouse the feelings of the people through his writings influenced me a lot. Later, I realised that I was following Chalam without having a personality of my own. I stopped writing for three years and evolved my own style of writing. 

What about writer Tripuraneni Gopichand?

I knew Gopichand when he worked as producer in All India Radio, Hyderabad. I admire his writings. 

How did you meet your wife Kanthamma?

I never met her before marriage. She belongs to Thotaramudupalem near Jaggaiahpet. My father was keen to get me married off, but it was tough to find a bride as I was unemployed and did not own any property. My maternal uncle met Mallaiah, Kanthamma’s father, and lied to him that I was working in Nellore for ‘Zamin Rythu’ and getting a salary of Rs 60 per month. He also told him that our family owned five acres of land.

When I came to know of it, I met and told him the truth. He then enquired about my attempts to marry the Nellore girl Renuka. I was perplexed and asked him how he got to know about it. He told me that his friend and  prominent writer Munimanikyam Narasimha Rao told him that I myself had confessed the same to him in a letter. He then revealed that Munimanikyam suggested my name. He said he was confident that those who tell the truth will never go hungry and that I will share that food with my wife. That was why he decided to give his daughter to me. Thus we got married.

She was responsible for my happiness and comforts. She was a great woman. She is responsible for whatever I have attained in life. Kanthamma is the greatest boon God had given me.   I have floated a Trust in her name to help orphans.

Tell us about your family.

I have four sons and one daughter. My first son is Ravindra named after Alapati Ravindranath who gave me my first job. My second son is named after Gopichand who helped me get a job in All India Radio, Hyderabad. My third son Balaji was named after Dr Gali Balasundar Rao who was doctor for our family when we stayed in Madras. My fourth son Venkata Koteswara Rao was named after my father Kotaiah. My only daughter Padma was named after a good Samaritan Padmakka who fed me when I was unwell during my stay in Nellore. 

Do you have an inheritor for your literary legacy?

No. None of my children are writers. They are employed and leading their lives comfortably.  

In what magazines did you work?

After ‘Zamin Rythu’, I worked in ‘Deena Bandhu’ in Nellore. I later worked in ‘Jyothi’ brought out by Alapati Ravindranath from Tenali. Later I worked in ‘Sameeksha’ brought out by Koganti Gopalakrishna. 

I worked for some time in Dhanikonda Hanumantha Rao’s press and film magazines brought out by him. I used to write for ‘Abhisarika’ and ‘Cineema’. Based on my experience in Madras, I wrote ‘Paakudu Raallu’  after coming to Hyderabad in 1959.  

Did you have any close friends in cinema field? 

I knew Akkineni, Relangi and Jaggaiah. I’ve always maintained a healthy distance from them. I was never close to anybody. 

I heard you were close to Savitri and she used to call you Bavagaru and your wife Pinnigaru.

Yes, it is true. But I always drew a line and never crossed it.

Did you write for movies?

I wrote a story for a movie called ‘O Prema Katha’. It did not do well.

Who is the inspiration behind your heroine in ‘Paakudu Raallu’?

It is a mix of the characteristics of three or four people. I can’t reveal anything more.

But people assume that Manjari is Savitri and the two heroes are NTR and Akkineni. What do you say?

That is their view. I have nothing to comment on that. 

What is your contribution to AIR?

The farmers programme in AIR brought me a good name. As a producer, I encouraged several budding writers like C Narayana Reddy and Ravva Srihari during my tenure with the AIR. 

You have been in the literary field for more than 60 years. How do you think literature is useful for the society?

Literature ushered in several movements of social change. Kandukuri’s writings helped social reform. Chalam, Chilakamarthi and others contributed through their writings for social change and social awareness.

In the era gone by, they wrote and practiced what they thought was best for the people. Is the present generation following it?

The present generation is writing what the people want, in a language they like.

Is it the right way?

They should write what is best for the people in a way people understand and like it. 

What motivated your writings?

My poverty and insults. Since I am no longer in such situations, I no longer write.