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BYGONES

Portrait of a revolutionary

Sitting in front of the revolutionary poet to paint his portrait is one of my most memorable experiences, says T. Venkata Rao



IMAGES OF THE YORE Painting a legend game me a high

Like many others of my generation, I am a die-hard fan of Srirangam Srinivasa Rao, popularly known as Sri Sri. I have been reciting `Maha Prasthanam,' an epic in modern Telugu poetry, from my student days. I never stopped reciting the stanzas even when I was arrested on the charge of participating in `Parvathipuram (Naxalite) Conspiracy' and sent to prison.

I met Sri Sri first in a preview theatre in Madras (now Chennai) when film director K.B. Tilak invited me to watch the show of his film `Kolleti Kapuram.' Tilak introduced me to the poet and told him about my participation in revolutionary movement. It was hard to believe that I watching the film sitting beside my favourite poet.

Sri Sri came to Vijayawada in 1975 with the production unit of `Bhoomi Kosam,' another film directed by Tilak. The film unit stayed at Hotel Manorama. Grabbing the opportunity to host a lunch to him, I requested Tilak to send Sri Sri with me.

He agreed on the condition that I must also take the responsibility of taking Sri Sri to a public meeting scheduled for the same evening. The legendary poet spent almost five hours in my house discussing issues ranging from revolutionary movement to modern art and literature.

Long-cherished dream

I feel happy that my participation in Naxalbari movement took me closer to Sri Sri, who had inspired many youngsters to tread the path of revolution. After undergoing imprisonment in Visakhapatnam Central Prison for two years in connection with the conspiracy case, I joined Visaalandhra Telugu daily in Vijayawada in 1979. The same year, Sri Sri came to Vijayawada to participate in the 27th anniversary of the daily. I met the poet in the Chandram Buildings in Chuttugunta, along with artists Chandra, Trigun and Mohan. Sri Sri asked me about life in jail and spoke at length about the Government's oppressive tactics against the revolutionary movement.

It was then that the thought of painting a portrait of Sri Sri occurred to my mind. It was my desire to make him sit in front of me and paint his image.

Haunting memories

It took three long years for me to convince the poet for the assignment. When I went to Madras in 1981, I met him in his house and suggested that the portrait could be drawn there. But he said that he was planning to visit Vijayawada soon and spend some time with me.

In 1982, he came to the city and visited the house of Vemuri Balaram, editor of `Swathi' Telugu weekly. There, he finally agreed to pose for the portrait. He sat on a chair but did not stop smoking.

In the two hours that I took to give a final shape to the portrait, he browsed newspapers and a couple of books. "You are the only artist who painted my portrait directly," he said. The words ring in my ears whenever I gaze at the portrait hung in my drawing room.

(The writer, popularly known as Teevee, is a political cartoonist in Visaalandhra daily)

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