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From `town to city', he has seen it all



K. Jagannadha Rao -- Photo: C.V. Subrahmanyam

Seventy years ago, venturing beyond Poorna Market after dusk was a nightmare. One would be greeted by the eerie silence of darkness, occasionally shattered by spine chilling howls of the hyenas or the distant plaint of a wild dog or a fox. Croaking frogs and cracking crickets were the only familiar sounds to the ear. Thick jungle with patches of agricultural land adorned the outskirts of the town beyond the Market area in 1930s.

Vizagites, who craved to have a darshan of Lord Varaha Narasimha, had to wait for days to get the verdict of a clear blue sky in order to start their journey towards Simhachalam village. The journey had to begin as early as 4 a.m. in the morning so that they could get back home by midnight. For the children the seven-hour journey was a wild and exhilarating experience in the rickety `bandi' (bullockcart) that snaked its way through the forest, but the old and the infirm had a torrid time as their aging bones would creak with every turn of the wheel on the bumpy road. The journey was a real test of endurance. On reaching the foothill the sturdy and the fit would trek the stone pathway to the temple while children and the disabled would get a piggyback ride on the labourers present there.

That was Vizagapatam, for Kolluru Jagannadha Rao, who was born on September 27, 1923, in the same house where he resides even now in One Town.

"Forget Simhachalam, for that matter even going to Allipuram was a big deal in those days. It was considered a prosperous agricultural village on the outskirts of the town, but today it has become the heart of the city. Seethammadhara was the favourite picnic spot for the then Vizagites," recalls Jagannadha Rao.

He has seen the city grow right from the days when the streets were sparingly lit by gaslights and the houses illumined by castor oil lamps to the present day of high power halogens and neons.

"The town was electrified only after 1934. The small thermal power station that was set up near port to meet the harbour needs used to supply power from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and it used to cater for places up to Bezwada (now Vijayawada). Ours was one among the first few houses in the town area to be electrified and I still remember the first day when neighbours took turns to have a glimpse of the glowing electric bulb. Prior to that our house used to be illuminated by the hurricane and petromax lanterns which used to consume over 18 litres of kerosene daily," fondly reminisces he.

"Though Vizag was not industrially or politically well noted it had its own significance. It was one of the best tourist spots in those days. Its tranquil beaches dotted with casuarinas groves on both sides not only were the pride of the localites but also attracted the white settlers. Lawson's Bay was the hot spot in those days, but the rape of that beautiful spot by RTC and miscreants pains me a lot whenever I pass that way today," says he.

The city has grown in all respects but according to him it was even more planned in those days. "The roads were cleaner, water was available all through the day and people had much better civic sense. The streets were never littered with waste material and the dustbins around the street corners were rightly used. The present main road was dotted with banyan trees and travellers had ample cool place to rest during the dog days. Industrialisation of the district in its true sense started with the setting up of the Scindia Steamship Navigation Company (now Hindustan Shipyard Ltd.) by noted industrialist Walchand Hirachand in 1941. I still remember that day when we ferried across the channel to witness the grand opening ceremony and have a glimpse of the national leaders like Rajendra Prasad and Sarojini Naidu. Walchand had specially brought one wagonload of sweets from Bombay for the occasion," says Jagannadha Rao.

Talking on the culture and tradition then prevalent in the town he opines, "Today when wine shops and cigarette kiosks are ubiquitous, coffee shops were a rare sight and moreover entering a coffee shop was a big crime in those days. People respected each other and the elders, irrespective of caste, creed and religion, occupied a privileged place in society unlike the present day where old people are treated shabbily."

After completing his schooling from CBM High School, Jagannadha Rao joined AVN College to pursue a bachelor's degree in science. Having completed his graduation he joined the Royal Indian Air Force in 1942. During his brief stint in air force he worked as radar specialist during World War II in various locations that included the highly volatile Arakan sector, Chittagong, Ambala, Akyab Island and Madras.

Luck has been smiling on this grand oldie since his younger days. He once escaped a booby trap in the Akyab Island and fortunately missed the connection (from Bangalore) to that fateful Madras Mail by a whisker on October 3, 1946. The train met with an accident killing 30 of his air force colleagues.

After his termination from service in 1946 he took up the family business of hardware under the tutelage of his uncle. In 1952, Jagannadha Rao set up his own business that has today grown to become one of the biggest hardware store in the city.

Public service has been his love ever since he volunteered to carry loads of food on his head to feed the starving Burma repatriates who passed through the Waltair station in the evacuee special trains in 1941. To continue such service he has been an active member of the Rotary Club since 1960 and has helped many budding economically backward youngsters to pursue their chosen field.

S.B.

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