February 26, 2015

A story about how my grandmother - Kamala Devi - became a businesswoman

Pencil sketch by Usha A S Rao
27 February 2015
My ammamma - Kodalapuram Kamala Devi - was a very courageous and accomplished woman. She belonged to Madanapalli and went to college in Madras, living in a hostel in those days. Tall, stately and beautiful, she had proposed to my grandfather - Kodalapuram Bhima Rao - who was more than double her age, and married him. She was a freedom fighter and later, a Member of Legislative Council in Karnataka. After my grandfather retired from the Horticulture Department in Karnataka, my mother's family moved to Hyderabad, where she eventually started a business venture.

This story, told by my mother Jaya (a lawyer and social worker), about how ammamma started her business with ACC (formerly The Associated Cement Companies Limited), Bombay. 

Hopefully more family stories will follow. 


How Kodalapuram Kamala Devi became a businesswoman
Jaya V H Rao, 4 Feb 2015

On that fateful day   8th May 1954 – we left Bangalore for good. We boarded the train to Hyderabad, the dream city of my mother Kodalapuram Kamala Devi. She took the decision to move the entire family from Bangalore, the family consisting of herself, her father P. Krishnaswamy Rao, her mother Subbamma, her husband K Bhima Rao and her seven children – Jaya (myself), Seetharam, Saraswathi, Usha, Yashodhara, Mohan and Ramgopal. We reached Kachiguda station on the morning of 9 May 1954 with very few belongings. One Mr Sekhar received us at the station and we stayed at Hotel Vasant Vihar near Abids, almost as guests of the proprietor Narasimhachar whom we did not even know. In a few days, we moved to No 10, Mahabhoopal Manzil near Moazamjahi Market as neighbour to Narasimhachar, courtesy, Sekhar. We hired some furniture as we had nothing, and started our life.

Hyderabad was new to us. We wanted to see and explore. Cycle rickshaws were in abundance. It was a new experience to sit in one. You got a feeling that you are riding high!

The day we arrived, the temperature was 109o F….it was too…hot! We poured buckets of water on the floor and walked barefeet. Slowly we got used to the heat.

Amma had moved to this city because her father had worked at Vanaparthy and knew Hyderabad a little. She also wanted to explore the possibility of getting employment (she was only 42 years old), as she was from Madanapalli and ‘Vishalandhra’ state was in the offing.

Initially she took up a job as a teacher in Savitri Kanya Pathasala in Maharajgunj, close to Jambagh. There was one teacher by name Parvathamma who became a good friend. Another teacher by name Rajyalakshmi later became my colleague in AG’s office, where I joined as an auditor (UDC) on 6 April 1955.

Appa had a friend by name Mehdi Nawaj Jung who was a minister in the Hyderabad State. He was related to Sir Mirza Ismail, the then Diwan of Mysore. He also knew Mrinalini Chattopadhyaya, sister of Sarojini Naidu and their brotherHarindranath Chattopadhyaya. Mrinalini lived in Basheerbagh; Sarojini Naidu’s son Dr Jayasurya lived in Ramkot. Dr Satchidanand’s sister Leelamma and her children were known to us. She used to work in Central Bank of India. Shyamala is her eldest daughter.

I had just graduated from Maharani’s College, Bangalore. I wanted desperately to continue my studies. I wanted to do M A in English but change of faculty from Science to Arts was not allowed. For want of anything better to do, I joined the Law College (only evening classes at that time). This gave me an opportunity to work during daytime.

When Amma was a teacher in Savitri Kanya Pathasala, there was a lane opposite the school where there were dealers in used cement bags. There were agents and sub agents who collected bags and sent them back to ACC, Bombay, for recycling. Only those that could be reused were accepted by the company. The other bags were restitched whereby two cement bags were converted into one, and used for storing paddy. Women workers were employed for this purpose. In the lane opposite the school, the women workers used to work. Their wages were very low. They were agitating for increase in their wages. They wanted to approach the Labour Commission and give an application. They came to the school where Amma was working and requested the teachers to draft an application. None of the teachers obliged. Amma not only drafted the application, she also approached the commissioner who heard them and ordered that their wages be increased. From then on, the women workers and sub agents who worked for the merchants started coming home to seek Amma’s advice. Some of the sub agents suggested that Amma should get an agency for herself. During this period, my grandfather passed away on 6 August 1955. I had just joined AG’s Office. I was in Ist year LLB. I was active in the college extra curricular activities like taking part in plays and mock security council, shuttle badminton, table tennis and cricket. I was fairly regular to the classes. I made a lot of friends both in the college and at office.

Amma continued to work in the school. A person who was a legislator in Bangalore for two terms, and an active freedom fighter moving about with ministers and chief ministers was a teacher in a small school! It was heart rending to see her like that. She, however, was undaunted. She continued her optimism and was sure there would be a turning point in her life.

I will write about my life during the period from 1955 separately. This narrative is about how Amma became a business person.

While working at Savitri Kanya Pathashala, she applied for a job as a full time caretaker in a women’s rescue home in the department of women welfare. She got the job. She lived in the rescue home taking care of the inmates for about 6 months or so. She had girls serving her there and the job was not too tough. But, she could not stay away from home. She resigned her job. In the meantime, she prepared her ground to jump into business. She met one Mr Rajiah who was a hawker. He would go round small shops collecting empty cement bags and sell them to the agents. He approached Amma and promised to work for her if she got an agency. Similarly Dasarath, who had a kirana shop in Himayatnagar, also offered to work for her.

Sir Mirza Ismail, who was a dewan of Mysore before independence, was a friend of Appa. He had a relative Mehdi Nawaz Jung, a minister in the Hyderabad State. Amma and Appa decided to meet him and seek his help to establish themselves and all of us in Hyderabad. We all went to the residence of Mehdi Nawaz Jung in Banjara Hills for breakfast. His house was a beautiful one with a natural rock as part of the wall. We enjoyed his hospitality and he was very nice to my parents. He promised to do whatever he could to help us. Later Amma told Mehdi Nawaz Jung about the agency in ACC. He immediately responded positively. He said he would talk to Ali Yavar Jung who was then Governor of Maharashtra, who in turn would put in a word to Himmat Sinhji, a Prince of a small state in Gujarat and one of the directors of ACC.

On 6 Nov 1962, Appa passed away. I was married at that time.

After Appa’s demise, Amma was called to Bombay to meet Himmat Sinhji in the ACC office. Rajiah and Dasrath accompanied her. My youngest brother Gopi also went along. Amma was received very warmly at the reception by Himmat Sinhji himself. She got the agency for the supply of old cement gunny bags. Mr Kikubhai Desai was in charge. He was extremely nice to Amma. When she told him she had no money, he got her paid Rs 20,000 from the company. He asked her for the name of her firm. She told him offhand, “Balaji Trading Company”. 

Amma’s business venture was thus born with Amma, Dasarath and Rajiah as partners. Years later, it became K K Corporation. 

February 15, 2015

A note of angst from a worried aam citizen of Hyderabad

Ever since the formation of our new state and government, we have been seeing announcements in newspapers about proposed changes in the structures and spaces in Hyderabad.

1. Indira Park to be used for Ganesh visarjan: Immediately after Ganesh festival came this announcement. The news report said, "The Chief Minister, K. Chandrasekhar Rao on Wednesday suggested developing an alternative water body ‘Vinayaka Sagar’ at Indira Park for immersion of idols to protect Hussainsagar lake from the perils of pollution". 

I froze when I read this, and went into a pall of worry and gloom, because I know that if this is done, our beautiful Indira Park would be destroyed in an hour. The visual of the multitudes of Ganesh-pandaga-revelers entering the park in their frenzy drove me into a depression. 

2. Sky scrapers along Necklace Road. The next news to hit us came in November 2014, and was about how the new government  planned to build sky scrapers along the Necklace Road. As I read this news, my trepidation gave way to alarm, and I wondered which place in India I should quickly migrate to. It was just at that time that we had won a 12-year battle against the garbage menace outside our house. I felt that now I had another issue on hand, and life felt tiring. 

Then I read this article by the architect Shankar Narayan, where he gave architectural reasons why such constructions were not advisable, and concluded saying, "Tank Bund/Necklace Road stretch is a place for relaxation for all of Hyderabad’s citizens. It is one on the few public spaces that is truly open – i.e. not fenced in and not ticketed. Constructing skyscrapers here will destroy the unique character of this centre piece of our city." It was a voice of professional and rational protest, and made me feel that there were others who were concerned, and that perhaps they would not let the sky scrapers come up. 

3. World's biggest tower in Sanjeeviah Park: This was the next story, and my alarm turned to panic. It is only when you walk in wilderness amidst nature that you can think, relax and philosophize. My walks in the quiet of good old Sanjeeviah Park have always been extremely therapeutic, and I didn't even particularly like the fencing off of a large chunk of it to build a rose garden. Why roses? But that's another story.    

4. Ravindra Bharati to be replaced with Telangana Kala Bharati: Social media are abuzz with discussion about this futuristic structure that will replace Ravindra Bharati. What do I say? 

5. NTR stadium chosen as the place for  world class auditorium complex: Read the story here. I have always loved watching children who play cricket in these grounds. I felt thankful that they had this space to play. At other times, it doubles up as an exhibition space, book fairs, and a space for gatherings of all kinds. When I read this news, I began to feel like Anarkali when the wall is being built around her. Mr Shankar Narayan also wrote yet another well-reasoned article about this in The Hindu Property Plus, and also gave suggestions for an alternate place for this auditorium.  

One of the saving graces of living in the center of this city are the two parks - Indira Park and Sanjeeviah Park, and the luxuriously unbuilt Necklace Road. For the common person, these are the areas that give them some space to breathe. Most rich and important people in cities have farm houses where they go to on weekends to relax. Ordinary people go to parks to walk, and observe flora and fauna - whatever's left. In Indira Park, apart from the variety of trees, I have seen several pairs of noisy hornbills, a peacock in flight, owls staring at me as only owls can, hundreds of parakeets and squirrels, a tiny tortoise hurrying into the bushes, and once, two 5-ft snakes wrestling at the edge of the water body! These sightings have given me immense happiness.  Save rocks, save footpaths, now save parks and open spaces.  We seem to need a movement for everything. It is exhausting. 

All this reminds me of the poem "Ozymandius" by P B Shelley. I read it in school, and it has always affected me greatly.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

We have a beautiful city. If you want to 'develop' it further, please create more parks and more open spaces. New York not only has sky scrapers, it also has the beautiful Central Park. Paris not only has the Eiffel Tower, it also has the vast and green Bois de Boulogne. If we have to copy and paste from other 'developed' cities of the world, let us copy and paste the green spaces, the side walks and the cycle tracks. We really don't need any more buildings and artificial beautification to this city of amazing minarets and awesome rock formations. 

Our speeches at the launch of HydandSeek

Sadhana Ramchander's address at the book launch

Good afternoon, and welcome to the launch of HydandSeek, a book about Hyderabad through Lakshmi Prabhala’s photographs. I do like them very much!

Sometimes an idea just grabs you and doesn’t let go. The idea to do this book was one such. I mulled over it for a few years. Lakshmi and I spoke about it for some more years, over many cups of chai and in auto rickshaws on the way to Charminar. “It would be nice to do a book”, we said, somewhat like a child would say, “It would be nice to slide down the rainbow”. We left it there, and the idea floated somewhere in the aroma of our chai.

Then one day in April last year, sitting in 13 Dhabha and eating a rather sinful gobi paratha, “It would be nice to do this book” changed to “Let’s do this book!”. After that, there was no looking back! We began working on it in all earnest, and Ragini, who is a student of visual communication offered to help with the design. Before we knew what was happening, emails and Whatsapp messages zipped back and forth, the pages began to come alive on our computer screens, and now here it is. I am so glad we could make it happen!

When you see HydandSeek a few minutes from now, it might seem an easy enough book to put together. But believe me, it was anything but easy to choose about 60 photos from the thousands that Lakshmi had, it was difficult to decide what aspect of this huge, growing city we wanted to talk about, and the hardest part, I think, was giving the book a direction, and making it speak.

So HydandSeek just happened. Just as my friendship with Lakshmi also just happened. I met her online in 2006, when she wrote to me asking about the Bathukamma festival in Warangal, after reading a blog post I had written. I subsequently began following her photographic journey, and discovered a whole new aesthetics right in my city. I accompanied Lakshmi on a few photoshoots; we travelled a bit, and I found that it was both fun and enriching.

Today, at the end of what seems like a long journey, there is the realization that one really cannot capture a place between the covers of a book. HydandSeek is like a drop in the ocean. There is so much more to be documented, and presented about Hyderabad, and I believe it should be an ongoing process.

My sincere thanks to Prof Vijay Kumar, Ms Amita Desai and all the other organisers of the Hyderabad Literary Festival for giving us this time and inspiring space. I thank Pragati printers for yet another chic product. I thank Mr Shahid for coming here this afternoon to help HydandSeek begin its journey. I hope it travels far and wide, scattering bits of nostalgia, aesthetics and the joy that Hyderabad can be.

Thank you all for coming.

Lakshmi Prabhala's address at the book launch

Back in 2006, with a humble Point and shoot camera I set out to explore the city. I did not know much about photography and its technicalities; the ISO, shutter speed, aperture were all beyond me and it took me a while to figure out. But I went ahead and showed up every weekend, each time at a new place, trying to draw a frame around what I saw, making sure I included some of the things I saw and leaving out others.

Slowly and steadily, I began to understand the city better and also got a hang of what photography is about. It helped me make some sense of the spaces around me, the people and perhaps a little bit about life as well. In that sense my visual journey will always have its roots in Hyderabad. And that makes hydandseek all the more special.

For students of this art form, myself included, it is important to not give up on your passion and what you believe in. I understand the challenges are many, and the rewards do not come easy. But one must show up, strive to do better each time, and pursue with a sincerity and stubbornness to not give up. Remember, while practising any art, you are only competing with yourself each time – not anyone else.

A heartfelt “thank you” to BluePencil Creative, for believing in my work enough to present it in the form of a book. It is always a great pleasure to work with someone whose vision aligns with your own. I cherish our discussions on Hyderabad, on design, on art and fondly remember the photo-walks we had.

We could not have asked for a better platform than the Hyderabad Literary Festival to launch our book, and have a lot to thank the directors of the organising team for that - especially Dr. T Vijay Kumar and Ms. Amita Desai.

And finally, I would like to thank each and every one of you for making it here and showing your support. Of course, we would like it if you carried the encouragement as you walk into the bookstore. We hope it inspires you to explore the subtle nuances of this charming city, and discover the stories that are just around the corner.