[On the occasion of his 88th Birthday]
He is one among the closest comrades to the great socialist revolutionary, Dr Rammanohar Lohia, not only among the Telugu speaking people, but in the whole of India. He is a humanist philosopher, and a rare intellectual, who corresponded with Ellen Roy on various issues. Ellen Roy was the wife of M. N. Roy, the founder of the Communist Party of India and later founder of the philosophy of the radical humanism. He is also the only scholar from the Telugu speaking world to correspond with Eric Fromm, a universally acclaimed psychoanalyst and humanist-Marxist. When he was returning from the USA, he brought back from there, a rare photograph of Dr. K. B. Krishna, the first Marxist historian and a great activist for the annihilation of caste in Telugu land. Thus he reminded the Telugu speaking people of their own forgotten hero of the yesteryear. There is no current of thought that didn’t receive his attention and authentic appreciation: from freedom struggle to the early socialist movement; from communism to rationalism; from Mahatma Gandhi to Swami Vivekananda. He is one exceptionally great personality who brought a special issue on women empowerment commemorating the death of Smt Snehalatha Reddy, wife of our Telugu poet, Pathabhi Ramireddy, a victim of Indira Gandhi’s emergency, and a well-known human-rights activist.
When commercial publishing houses were backtracking to publish some valuable socialist literature, he came forward in establishing “Lohia Vijnana Samiti” to publish them. We may, in this context, refer to those loving remarks of Kala Tapasvi Sanjiv Dev, in his autobiography – “Thummapudi”, to gauge the greatness and contributions of the couple, he and Smt Aruna. An acquaintance with him, in itself, is coming into touch with an ocean of knowledge. Journeying with him is entering into a seamless stream of values. And a friendship with him would be a saturating experience of life. He is none other than Ravela Somayya!
It was somewhere around a decade ago. Loknadh and I together visited his house for an interview. It was a refreshing afternoon. While savouring the cool breeze of that afternoon, and ripe into his seventies, he astonished us with the breadth of his intellectual horizons. While we went to interview him, it turned out to be the opposite. He interviewed me! The next magnificent moment in my journey with him was when we both travelled together along with two more participants to the meetings of All India Socialist Organizations. It was a great experience. I have no photographs of that occasion now with me. But, in one of the meetings of Jai Bharath sometime later, I found a photograph in which I was with Janardhan Reddy, Ramdas and Somayya ji. Later, on many occasions, he cajoled me, persuaded me and at times mildly compelled me to go to several important meetings held at various places, throughout India from Maharashtra to Bihar. The compilation and publication of my translations of various articles, as a special number, under the editorship of Somayya ji on the occasion of the centenary celebrations of Champaran Movement has been a unique moment in my life. From the publication to the launch of the book at Sri Krishna Devaraya Bhasha Nilayam, Hyderabad, everything was done by him under his own stewardship. His addressing me – “My boy!,” loaded with love and affection, has been my eternal source of strength. Probably he is the only one of that generation, in the whole of this State, besides being a friend of my grandfather-like Tilak, is also a friend to a young man of my age.
He called me to his house and just gave away valuable literature like Collected Works of Dr Ramanohar Lohia, Collected Works of Narla Venkateswara Rao and many more. He never used to send the visitor empty-handed. He always gifts some good books to the visitors. During those days, I was interviewing and recording many rebel voices in the society, and in that process recorded his voice also. Unfortunately I am unable to trace those records now. But many such interviews and videos are uploaded in YouTube and hope they are available online. There are dozens of cherished conversations between us where we talked to each other passionately, and intensely. Somayya ji was elected as the convenor for the Telugu States in the Socialist Front formed by Madhu Dandavate in 2002 at Pune. A logo of the Front was unveiled on that occasion containing photos of prominent leaders of the socialist tradition. It was on the insistence of Somayya ji that Dr B. R Ambedkar’s photo was included in that logo. This is also his profile picture for his Face Book account. More than all these contributions, Somayya ji, with the help of his son, Ravela Manohar from the US, established a website called “www.lohiatoday.com” and runs it with the help of his son, Manohar, where collected works of Gandhi, Lohia, Roy, and Ambedkar along with many important books, magazines etc., are stocked for the benefit of enthusiastic readers.
I can’t, in spite of all these contributions, call him the ambassador of socialism. He has done something more and beyond all these above mentioned acts. I think his major contribution has been the stupendous act of linking and integrating two major streams of thought that illuminated his young intellect – Rammanohar Lohia’s socialism and of M. N. Roy’s radical humanism. He has been instrumental in the exchange of ideas between the indisputably greatest socialist – Lohia and Ellen Roy, wife of M. N. Roy, and an equally stupendous radical humanist. He introduced socialism of Lohia to Ellen Roy and the radical humanist ideas of Roy to Lohia by sharing the writings of one with the other. They were not merely two individual thinkers of those days. They were in fact, two centers of force, and were working as media for social change to their might. It was no easy task to function as an ideological interlocutor between the two greats of the history working in two different planes. All credit shall go to Somayya ji who made it possible. I think, the letter written by Lohia to Somayya ji, around sixty-five years ago, stands testimony for this historically significant act. As far I know, there is no other individual with that caliber and stature either in the Telugu States or in any other parts of the country, who could attempt to integrate two alternative intellectual traditions and subaltern streams.
All those, who think of the society, shall meet him at least once. Every social activist should find time to interact with him. I used to advise many friends who were going to Hyderabad on their private purposes to visit Somayya’s house. And all those obliged my suggestion and interacted with him thanked me. Unfortunately during the post-Covid times both Somayya ji and Aruna ji have fallen sick. I was conversing with them on phone quite often. I couldn’t resist crying, when I heard that feeble voice! Was this the same roaring voice which once thundered in the audience with a strong conviction towards the future of this country? After coming back from Mumbai he was quite often telling that he never travelled any distant places except some local visits within Hyderabad. I found, in those conversations, a deep concern in his expressions, for my well-being, sometimes more than I have for myself. I feel ashamed and enfeebled to convey my greetings to him on this occasion of his completing 88 years, indirectly through this write up in the social media. Search for justification for these inabilities occupies more space when new constrains further limit my possibilities!
Aruna ji is no small personality. When I visited them for the first time she was addressing Somayya ji very fondly, and without any inhibitions as “Baavaa” [a very close and conventional way of addressing the husband in certain conditions in the traditional Hindu-Telugu family]. I was so fascinated by their mutual love. He has also had the audacity to confess: “Yes! It is she who sustains me. And whatever little good I could do is indisputably because of her.” A rare couple with admixture of mutuality and harmony. While along with Aruna ji I used to tease him on certain subjects like Lohia and socialism, annoyed, he was retorting fiercely on both of us. If anyone provokes him on subjects like Lohia, socialist movement and the politics of those times, he would be gushing out like a lava with abundance of historical facts. He would carry us along with him into incredible gyrations and lightening luminescence. His enthusiastic personality would not leave us until we run, twist, twirl and jump into gusty action in the process. Someone made a biopic film on Lohia titled – “Ambassador of Socialism”. It is said that the film contains in it interviews of Somayya and Aruna. Unfortunately it is not available on the net. But leave Lohia aside for a while! For me, Somayya ji is the brand ambassador in Telugu for the ideological movements.
[I invoked the expression “brand”, not because I have a respectful opinion for it, but only to convey an inspirational connotation. I know, however, that I can’t escape a mild reproach from him for this brief write up. In fact, I thought of a personal visit to him along with his innumerable admirers, well-wishers, friends, and to organize a small event on this occasion. But, as usual it failed. It would have been more appropriate, had his friends and admirers in the city, without causing any inconvenience to them, planned for a brief message from him on this occasion. It is just a brief note of introduction to the only person who responds, with a retort of “same to you!” with the same gusto when I wish anyone in this world of ideas – “Happy Birthday!” Wishing this couple wholeheartedly full recovery from all the ailments, longer and happy life, with a fond hope that they inspire generations to come. With love to Ravela Somayya and Ravela Aruna!
[Translated into English by Dr A Raghu Kumar , Hyderabad]