(We thank Karthik for this moving tribute to the great Telugu poet, Marxist-Leninist and Maoist ideologue, Dalit leader and social revolutionary K.G. Satyamurthy, who passed away on April 17, 2012– Round Table India)
You have to decide on your own how you wish to understand Satyamurthy, but he was a man who everyone should try to understand. If efforts to understand him are marked by sincerity, poets will understand him as a Mahakavi, (radical left) revolutionaries* will understand him as a great revolutionary leader, thinkers and philosophers will understand him as a great thinker. To understand a man, it might be enough to read his writing, but to understand Satyamurthy, one needs to understand his life too.
Satyamurthy had little interest in the many comforts easily accessed by traditional upper caste, middle class revolutionary leaders and poets. It was not that he could not have earned them, but he chose to live by the ideals that informed his writing. There was no contradiction between his life and his writing. After he became a revolutionary, several decades ago, the last three years of his life were the only time he actually spent with his children, whom he had left long ago. Until 2009, he was constantly engaged in one kind of activism or another, constantly traveling, especially in Telangana where he still has a lot of admirers. There were many occasions on which he developed health related issues while traveling and had to face his daughter’s anger. His life itself was poetry; it was not a poet’s life. We cannot separate his life from his poetry. He lived by the politics he believed in, and lived among the poor and the people he trusted, all through his life. That is the main difference between Satyamurthy and other poets.
Anyone who has ever spent some time with him cannot ever forget those moments. His words, his perspective on things we think are problems were different. His views even on issues we consider minor or trivial were very clear and precise. But his sense of humour was as prominent a part of his personality as his seriousness.
Satyamurthy occasionally stayed at my home when he visited Hyderabad. Once, my wife brought some Sitaphal for us. He asked me: ‘what are those?’ ‘Sitaphal’, I told him. ‘Who brought them’, he asked again. I said: ‘Vijaya’. He said: ‘If Vijaya brought them, why do you call them Sitaphal? They are Vijayaphal!’
Once, when I was the Co-Convener of DBSS (Dalita Bahujana Sangharshana Samiti), my associate Dappu Shivaraju (Secretary of DBSS, Medak district), called me up and conveyed the news that someone had desecrated an Ambedkar statue in Chegunta by placing a garland of slippers around its neck. Satyamurthy, who was beside me, inquired about what had happened. I told him: ‘Someone has placed a garland of slippers around Ambedkar’s neck in Chegunta’. He corrected me saying: ‘Not around Ambedkar’s neck son, but around the Ambedkar statue’s neck’.
Satyamurthy had to spend some time underground even in his 75th year. Life underground for him did not mean a life of comforts and conveniences in Bangalore or Hyderabad. Between 2000 and 2002, he lived for around six months in the jungles of Warangal and Khammam and inspired a lot of youngsters. It was possible only for Satyamurthy to think of living in a jungle at that age; no one else, of his age, would even think of stepping into any jungle. No matter how much revolutionary poetry they might write, or how much revolutionary politics they might spout, this is the age of revolutionary leaders who would not abandon their bungalows in Hyderabad or Bangalore at any cost.
On one occasion, when we were returning together from the Khammam jungles, I asked him out of curiosity: ‘Sir, both of us have some money in our pockets now (I had around ten thousand rupees while he had around twenty thousands). How will you explain the money to the police if they stop us now? I can say that I am a student and the money is meant for fees, living expenses etc. What will you do?’ He said: ‘I will tell them the money is mine. They can take it if they want it’.
Satyamurthy suffered from diabetes and blood pressure issues. When he used to visit me in Ram Nagar (in Hyderabad), I noticed he carefully adhered to his daily routine: morning walks would be followed by breakfast, pills and the Hindu newspaper. He would say ‘Kalekuri Prasad (a young, fiery poet) is trying very hard to end his life as soon as possible, whereas I am trying to extend it as far as possible’.
The pundits have figured out Satyamurthy’s worth. They say he ranks next only to Sri Sri (renowned Telugu Marxist poet of the twentieth century). One wonders what is the yardstick to measure a poet’s worth. In reality, it is incorrect to compare Satyamurthy with any other poet. He was one of a kind. All the revolutionary poets have drawn inspiration from him. He was not only a poet but also a full time social revolutionary. He did not write only poetry, poetry was only a part of his revolutionary praxis. When one looks at him in that light, one would realize that it is unjust to compare Satyamurthy with other poets whose revolutionary zeal never extended beyond their poetry. Observe how other poets live, their lifestyles; comparisons with Satyamurthy are unnecessary. Whether you look at revolutionary poetry or Dalit poetry, at the revolutionary movement or the Dalit movement, you would find Satyamurthy at the forefront. Satyamurthy is Satyamurthy, by any standards of theory or practice.
Satyamurthy would consider people around him as precious wealth. There is much to learn from him. He was a very sensitive man who used to love people a lot. He reminisced about old friends and comrades all the time, talk about a lot of things, but never lie about anyone. He liked people and the poor a lot, and it was that love which made him a life long revolutionary.
The Dalit activists too have neglected Satyamurthy, like the revolutionary activists. His contributions to the revolutionary movement and the Dalit movement cannot be measured. The Dalit leaders, even though they understand Satyamurthy’s contribution, stay silent. Both the revolutionary movement and the Dalit movement need to overcome these inhibitions.
Satyamurthy sacrificed his life for the Dalit movement and the revolutionary movement. The poor, the Dalits and the oppressed will always remember Satyamurthy alias Sivasagar.
*Please note: all references to revolutionary movements/poetry and underground life etc in this article indicate radical left, Marxist-Leninist movements/poetry/politics etc.
Karthik Navayan is a human rights activist.
Translated from Telugu by Kuffir. Pictures courtesy: Mamidi Bharat Bhushan.