By George, What a Life

THE COCA-COLA MUSEUM at the company’s headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, did not show one major event in the history of the world’s biggest beverage company – or I missed it in multiple visits to it over the years.

George Fernandes, the Socialist leader who passed away today, Jan.29, 2019 at the age of 88, had made the Coca-Cola shut down its operations in India in 1977 when he was the Industries Minister in a coalition government at the Centre. The dynamic trade unionist, who had won an election from jail, was living a vegetable existence for the last few years due to Alzheimer’s. He was so much out of public eye (with our media busy reporting only the diaper changes of Taimur Ali Khan) that many may not be aware that he was still alive.

As I had mentioned in several posts on this blog on the deaths of eminent persons, I refrain from writing about their lives already published and stick to personal experiences about them. It is known that he was one of the main accused in the Baroda Dynamite Case hoisted on him by Indira Gandhi while imposing the Emergency, along with a journalist friend Kotamraju Vikram Rao and CGK Reddy, General Manager of The Hindu daily, as they were all followers of Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia, but not many would know that charged along with them was Chandru (as we used to call him), manager of The Hindu’s bureau office at IENS building on Rafi Marg in New Delhi.

Chandru and dynamite? Many who knew the bachelor and affable retired journalist, always helping others, would have protested if told that Chandru had hurt a fly. His ‘offence’ was that he had sheltered Reddy in his house when the latter went ‘underground’. With the legal system as it was during the Emergency, all the accused would have been convicted and some, mainly George and Vikram, may have been even hanged – had Indira Gandhi not believed the sycophant intelligence agencies to lift the Emergency, only to lose the elections.

What brought George Fernandes into national prominence, however, was his becoming a ‘giant killer’ by defeating S.K. Patil in the Lok Sabha election of 1969 from South Bombay. Patil, a Union Minister, was known to be one of the strongest candidates with big money power and had an iron grip over Bombay Pradesh Congress Committee.

As one of those involved in the Patil Vs Fernandes campaign in Bombay, I remember how ‘Netaji’ Ladli Mohan Nigam of MP and sometimes Madhu Limaye of Bihar used to plan what Fernandes was to speak the next day. An excellent speaker in English, Hindi, and Marathi, Fernandes executed the script brilliantly. The strategy was planned at the meetings and Fernandes was just the performer.

With an eye on the large Muslim vote of Bhendi Bazar area in the constituency, Sadoba Patil one day issued a statement supporting the choice of a Muslim as the next the President of India. The next day Fernandes addressed a public meeting in Bhendi Bazar. Welcoming the choice, Fernandes spoke of how Ahmed would live in the Rashtrapati Bhavan, with its dozens of rooms and famous halls with dazzling decorations, while ‘Abdul Rehman of Bhendi Bazar’, (a fictitious character) lived in a 10X10 room with his large family and get up at 3 a.m. as drinking water taps opened only then for one hour in that area which had restricted water supply.

Fernandes’ imaginary camera repeatedly spanned from the luxury of Rashtrapati Bhavan to the harsh realities of Bhendi Bazar and almost brought tears to many eyes. It was a campaign that would have made a better book than Theodore White’s ‘Making of The President’ series about the Presidential campaigns in the USA. And even today Congress relies solely on minority vote-bank politics.

South Bombay had some very rich areas, as well as some Gujarati pockets, both believed to be pro-Patil. George Fernandes addressed several small meetings on terraces in those areas. His victory parade that night, with hundreds of affluent youth joining the labour whom Fernandes led as a trade unionist, was memorable.

George, born in Karnataka, came to Bombay to join the trade union movement which was then led by another Mangalorean like him, who happened to be externed from the metropolis then. So he stayed in the Bombay Labour Union office. Others in the union found his stay, with many people coming to meet him, disturbing and threw him out after some days. So for a few days, he slept on the footpath on a newspaper till he could make alternate arrangements.

During the campaign, I heard stories of how some young women, one of them a prominent writer, were enamoured of him. Yet he remained a bachelor till late, when he married Prof.Humayn Kabir’s daughter Leila and had a son.

Being more of a performer than an original strategist, he did not make much mark in Parliament. When the non-Congress government came to power at the Centre, he was given Defence, Railway and Industries ministries at different times.

It is tragic to see parties led by Dr. Lohia and George Fernandes – some born out of the Emergency which he opposed so strongly, now join hands with the Congress which they all fought – just to win elections and come to power – to be led by a dyngasty.

No wonder Bihar Chief Minister Nitesh Kumar of Janata Dal (U) broke into tears speaking on George Fernandes’ death.

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Hidden Genius, Forgotten Shoeb

Vizianagaram Music College
The Government Music College at Vizianagaram, AP

IT IS VERY DOUBTFUL if  there will be a Shoebullah Khan centenary celebrated in 2020 but there will centrainly be one  in 2019 —  of south  India’s  first music college.

Shoebullah khan

This blog  suggested some weeks ago that a committee be set up now to celebrate         the centenary of  Shoeb, the young editor of Urgu daily Imtroze, who was             brutally killed by Razakars for opposing plans to make the Nizam’s Hyderabad state a part of Pakistan.


My doubts are based not only on the total lack of ressponse from ANY journalist in the country though the post was mailed to thousands of them but also because I wanted the centenary to be marked not by idle speeches and tributes but vast changes in the media values  and mass communication education in the

Adibhatla, unknown genius

country.  That was  why a commitee now for a centenary two years away.  Reforms will always be resisted.


The suggestion for setting up a regulatory body (like AICTE for engineeringcourses)  was made over a year ago in my book A TOWN  CALLED  PENURY but failed to click.  Even the PM’s office, to whom the proposal was sent,  did not reepond  despite the Congress trying to deliberately ignore Shoeb. No book or lession mentions him,  Few in Telangana, of which Hyderabad is the capital now, heard of him or how the Razakars cut off his hands.

Praising Shoeb does not suit the vote-bank


politics  of the Congress or the Communists who had led the Telangana armed sturggle, but why  the Bharatiya Janata Party, which idolizes Sardar Patel, should ignore him is puzzling.  After all  the barbaric killing and mutlilation was one of the factors that precipitated Sardar Patel’s police action which liberated what is now Telnagana.    The BJP perhaps is too busy fighting elections.


The first music college of south India?

It is not in Tamil Nadu’s Chennai  (Madras) which  can rightly be called the capital of south Indian music, or in Thanjavur, also in TN,  the hometown of Thyagaraju the father of the south Indian classicial muisc  (as distinct from the Hindusthani style). Nor is it in Karnataka, though the south Indian classical style itself is called Karnatak music.

It is  in  Vizianagaram, a backward, dirty, old town in coastal Andhra.   Maharajah’s Government College of Music and Dance was established on 5 February 1919 by Pusapati Vijayarama Gajapathi Raju, Maharajah of Vizianagram; so the centenary is less than a year away.  Ashok Gajapathi Raju who had recently resigned as the Civil Aviation Minister when Telugu Desam walked out of the NDA coalition at the Centre is a decendent of the king. Initially named “Sri Vijayarama Gana Pathasala,”  it was later taken over by the State government on 15 August, 1955.

According to Wikipedia, a friend of  Gajapati Raju, Chaganti Joga Rao had a blind son, Gangaraju, who loved music. Joga Rao donated a building behind the fort and urged the Maharajah to set up a music school.  Thus the music school.  was started. Adibhatla Narayana Dasu was chosenas its principal and Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu  the great violinist,  as a professor. After him, the institution was promoted as “Sri Vijayarama Music and Dance College” by Sri Alak Narayana Gajapati Raju with  more sections. After takeover it was affiliated to Potti Sreeramulu Telugu University at Hyderabad. Maharajah P. V. G. Raju, Ashok’s  father and a Congress Minister, promoted it further.

The college teaches vocal, classical dance, violin, veena, mridangam, nadaswaram and dolu and  offers diploma and certificate courses  in dance and music. Scholarships  are awarded to meritorious students. Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy Devasthanam, Simhachalam provides free food for poor students.

The college organises Music Durbar and invites distinguished personalities to perform before their students. A music festival is organised annually during the Vinayaka Chaviti day with performances by teachers and students.

Ghantasala, the legendary playback singer of all south Indian films, is a product of this itcollege. And yet  it does not figure in the top ten music colleges of the South (may be because it is now run by the government). So the Vizianagaram royal family of Gjapapati Rajus, known for its benevolence, will ensure the centenary is celebrated. Shoed has no such backing.

Pandit Ajjada Adibhatla Narayana Das   (31 August 1864 – 2 January 1945)   born in Ajjada, near Bobbili, now in Vizianagaram district  of AP. is known as the versatile genius of Andhra. He was a poet, musician, dancer, linguist and philosopher.

A linguist with proficiency in eight languages (including Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian) besides Telugu, he was a poet, philosopher, playwright, composer, dancer, actor and the creator of the unique art form, Hari Katha,

Narayana Das has  translated from Persian and English into Sanskrit and Telugu, was the only one to write a comparative treatise on the works of Kalidas and Shakespeare,  was the only writer-composer who translated into Telugu and set to music Rig Vedic hymns and the only writer-composer who composed a geeta-malika comprising 90 Carnatic ragas. “As a writer-composer who composed music in all the 72 Carnatic ragas he was next only to Tyagaraju,” Wilipedia says.

A genius like him was unrecognized for years and was wandering around the villages singing Hari Katha songs till  Maharaja Krishna Rajendra Wodeyar of Mysore, amazed by his  ashtavadhanam  (performing eight divergent taks simultaneously)  in  his  court wrote a letter of appreciation to the Vizianagaram maharaja. Seeking him out after the letter, the Vizianagaram king appointed him the first  principal of the music college, in which post he continued tilol 1936.

Many a genius like him remains unknown due to public ignorance. Many Shoebs are victims of political  convenience.