Down Memory Lane: The Flagman’s Birthplace

The 141birth anniversary of Pingali Venkayya, the Father of the Indian National Flag, has mostly gone unnoticed except on the social media which commemorated him with nostalgia.
Down memory lane: The Flagman’s birthplace

Madhusudhana Rao S

The 141birth anniversary of Pingali Venkayya, the Father of the Indian National Flag, has mostly gone unnoticed except on the social media which commemorated him with nostalgia. What is shameful and shocking is there is little mention of this great man by leaders who claim to be the sons of the soil on which Pingali Venkayya was born on August 2, 1876, in a village called Bhatlapenumarru.

The village is one of the few places that has left an indelible mark on me, not because an ardent Gandhian was born in a nondescript village in Krishna District of Andhra Pradesh but because of my association with it during my early childhood.

Bhatlapenumarru was where I had spent almost all my school summer holidays with my maternal uncle and his large family and my mother’s sister. That was over five decades ago when a bus route was non-existent.  The mode of transport to the village was a winding dirt track; but the most convenient way to reach the village for us was by boat! Yes, it was a long boat with a sail, manually tugged by two hefty men along the canal bank.

That was the most interesting part of my journey to Bhtlapenumarru from my town Gudivada. I used to look forward to that annual boat trip from Pamarru (on Vijayawada-Machilipatnam highway) to my uncle’s village with much expectation. We used to board a private bus in Gudivada in the morning and reach Pamarru in an hour or so, then walk down to the canal front and wait for the boat to dock.

Waiting didn’t matter much at the so-called wharf where labourers chatting and shuffling loads of grains and other commodities had always engaged my attention. When the boat arrived, finally, coolies would unload some gunny sacks and load some more to be delivered at different villages dotting the canal banks. A couple of wooden benches riveted to the hull could be designated as passenger cabin; the rest was cargo hold, stacked with gunny bags of different sizes. There was a corner exclusively for   fowls and goats, with their legs secured to wooden pegs.

An hour or so of sailing, with boat men intermittently puncturing the boredom of silence with one or two Telugu folk songs and the onboard menagerie scoring the background music in various cacophonic ways, would see the human and material cargo delivered on the outskirts of Bhatlapenumarru.

I remembered two large water ponds in the village. My uncle’s house was opposite one of the two, slightly away from the village centre where there was a library and a local Congress Party office which also served as a debating platform for elders in the evening.

The water body near my uncle’s house was shallow. A Ram temple on its bank with a raised stone platform turned out to be a God’s gift to local boys to hone their swimming skills. To join that gang in its morning and evening sessions was summer vacation well spent in Bhatlapenumarru.

Afternoons too were well spent. When the family members retired for noon nap, my uncle’s son and I used to sneak out into nearby mango gardens to pluck or pick fallen tender raw mangoes to savour them lazing around the canal bank.

The last I visited the village was in late 1960s for a wedding in the family. I couldn’t take a boat but travelled by bike on the improvised canal bank ‘road.’ After my uncle and other relatives moved out of the village, I have never had an occasion to visit Bhatlapenumarru again although it has left un-erasable memories in my mind. Surely, the village must have changed now and the road connectivity improved.

I was too young to know who Pingali Venkayya was during my annual summer holidays in Bhatlapenumarru. Even now, neither the state governments nor the Centre has given the importance the village deserves to be the birthplace of a great Telugu freedom fighter who sacrificed everything for the country without aspiring for anything. More importantly, he is credited with conceptualizing the national flag which was adapted with minor changes by the Constituent Assembly on July 22, 1947.

Pingali Venkayya was a multi-faceted personality: A linguist, geologist and agriculturist and an army man to boot. He came under the influence of Mahatma Gandhi in Africa when Pingali was fighting in the Anglo-Boer war. He was just 19 when he joined the British Indian Army.

After his meeting with Mahatma Gandhi, Pingali had never turned back in the pursuit of his national goals. Nevertheless, his greatest contribution was giving the country its identity through the flag. Though there are various accounts about his designing the flag, what is widely accepted is Pingali had proposed the national flag idea at the Indian National Congress meet in Kakinada on March 31, 1921.

His original idea of the flag was said to be green (prosperity) and saffron (courage). Mahatma Gandhi was said to have added the white stripe (honesty) and charkha that was replaced by Ashok Chakra to symbolise dharma and wheel of progress at the behest of Arya Samaj founder Lala Hansraj. Though the present Tricolour is the collective effort of many stalwarts of freedom movement, the honour of being the architect of our national flag goes to Pingali Venkayya.

But then where is the recognition? Except paying lip service to him on his birth and death anniversary, the new generations know very little about Pingali Venkayya, his life and struggle for Independence and his family. He died in penury in Vijayawada on July 4, 1963 – unsung and unhonoured. The only honours, if they are, he got posthumously were a postal stamp released in 2009, a statue in his native village Bhatlapenumarru in 1998 and another statue in the foreground of AIR Studios in Vijayawada in January this year.

In 2012, the AP Government had nominated Pingali Venkayya for Bharat Ratna but his name was ignored.

The least the present AP Government could do was to install his statue, along with other Telugu Greats hailing from different parts of the state, at Prakasam Barrage on the lines of Tank Bund in Hyderabad and turn the area into a tourist spot. And, bring Bhatlapenumarru into national limelight as the birthplace of the founder of the national flag. A stone’s throw from Pingali’s birthplace is Kuchipudi, the village from where the eponymous classical dance form has spread its wings globally. The two villages can be twinned and made places of historical and cultural importance.

The man who gave us the flag of pride should not be dismissed in one-line in history books. He deserves much more and the onus is on the Telugu people.

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