Continued from last week…
The aroma of the hare was sending his taste buds on a tizzy.
After five days anxiously spent alone, he had ventured out in the jungle. His hands were surprisingly steady with the musket when he shot the hare, now roasting lightly on open flame. Only human contact he had was with a native helper at the bungalow, who on the word of Pantulu was very trustworthy, but his Telugu was too colloquial for him to comprehend. Many a time he was tempted to leave the safety of the lodge, and go back to town, to face the consequences, whatever they might be. But he also knew… going back now meant disgrace and being branded as a traitor.
His only hope was Naidu, the Rajah of Chintapalli.
His sleep was fitful. He was naked except for a codpiece. The coarse mattress scraped his skin and occasional fleabite not helping much.
Brodie woke with a start.
Sudden hush fell on the jungle, the night sounds he had gotten used to, ceased. It took a few moments to get his bearings with only a feeble oil lamp. He wrapped a long cloth below waist like a native and stepped out.
Torches… Far away, there were many, but approaching fast. At this late hour, it must be police looking for him. He panicked, scurried inside, pulled on his stockings boots and blouse, arms of the topcoat he tied around his waist and ran into the woods. No time even to saddle his horse.
The starlight was bright enough to show him the goat tracks which became increasingly precipitous. When the bush was thick enough to hide him, he stopped and turned back. What he saw was more than he could imagine.
It wasn’t a small police unit, hundreds of torches strung together in a line, a mile long. It was an army…
The royal elephant of the Zamindar was followed by his regular hunting party of horsemen, musketeers and beaters. A group of torch bearing scouts ran ahead, clearing the path with sickles and axes. Behind the hunting party was a cavalry of the British company in their scarlet livery, at their head was none other than the Collector of Guntur, George Andrew Ram. An incredibly long stream of torches meandered behind them into the horizon, the people of the town, prominent citizens and common men. The news that Brodie has fled shocked every fair-minded man of Guntur, especially the refugees who worshipped him as their savior.
When the party reached the bungalow, it became obvious that their object was not in.
After some deliberation … Pantulu stood on top of a rocky outcrop circled by torchbearers, other torches lowered, his face clearly visible in an island of darkness, ‘Doraaah, we are here to meet you, please come back,’ his shout echoed in the hills.
His heart still thumping unevenly, Brodie emerged from the bush.
A sudden cheer went up the moment he was recognized. Torchbearers ran up the steep to escort him back. Brodie approached, once in light he was a sight to watch, unkempt beard, tousled hair, clothes soiled and torn, and his topcoat hanging around his waist, he looked every part an outlaw. George Ram, a senior service man in his fifties, could not control his laughter, ‘Why didn’t you come to me, you idiot?’ he slapped his back with such force, Brodie still in daze almost stumbled and fell.
The cheering continued into spontaneous celebrations.
‘Flight of Brodie’ became subject for extempore folksongs and parodies. A feast followed, meagre though.
Meanwhile, a court room was setup, with the royal howdah as impromptu throne, for the Rajah, Vasireddy Venkatadri Naidu. The collector, Ram was seated to his right. Carpets were laid out for the prominent citizens and the courtiers to sit in rows in front, as their statuses merited. Brodie stood behind the collector, now immaculately dressed, with other company men.
Pantulu hovered by his side, ‘Naidu garu has underwritten a sum of ten thousand silver towards supplies from the store for famine relief and we have drawn up all receipts to cover the shortfall, of course backdated,’ he whispered bringing smile back on Brodie’s face. What a relief! We’re safe.
The room fell silent when Naidu began to speak.
He was a stocky man with a tidy beard, in simple outdoors clothes unadorned by regalia, but his voice deep and balanced with equal shares of power and kindness. ‘Today, we are in the middle of a tragedy,’ he launched into a speech that had changed the course of history of Telugu people.
‘A tragedy of immeasurable proportions, we stand powerless in the face of a crisis unprecedented in living memory. Thousands have come here from places as far as Palamur, Kurnool and even beyond, in the hope that our Krishnamma will succor them with her sweet waters. They’re landless, jobless and homeless but they need not be hopeless. People like my friend Brodie here, have shown them that they are welcome always. Hospitality is a trait we cherish and we shall go out of our way to help those in need.
‘But our resources are limited,’ he paused to clear his throat.
‘But crisis always brings out the best in us,’ Naidu thundered, ‘if we must build from nothing, that’s what we shall do. My answer to our predicament is Amaravati. Here on the banks of Krishnaveni, we shall build a new town. There will be homes and jobs, enough for those who seek them,’ he said.
‘I appeal to every learned man here to the holy land shaded by the temple towers of Amareswara,’ focusing his attention on the prominent Brahmins up front, ‘You may have your pick of homesteads and bless the new town,’ he said. Then, turning towards the merchants he repeated the appeal. ‘You will have homes, shops and lands most suitable for the crafts that you may bring. Amaravati will be a modern town built from scratch, catering to the needs of every community. Finally, I thank the Company Circar for granting twenty thousand hectares of land to the Zamindary between Amaravati and Mangalagiri,’ he rose and walked up to the collector, acknowledging him.
Then he signed for Brodie to follow and stepped out of the room. A throng of men, mostly those from the camp setup by Brodie, surrounded him, keen to know what he had to say, ‘There will be sufficient land to farm and graze for every landless family. In the name of Amareswara, I offer two hectares of farmland per every adult male, to the families that wish to settle in my Zamindary. And, those will have permanent tenancy rights.’ The moment he uttered those words the decibel levels of celebrations reached their highest notch.
Naidu was contented, now he had not only land but people who would make every effort to build a future, a future bright and assured.
A new era in the history of Andhra began.
Rajah Vasireddy Venkatadri Naidu is one of the most misunderstood characters in the history of Andhra Pradesh. Neither the colonial historians nor their Indian successors have given the recognition he deserved, as a pioneer and a visionary who had charted the course of development in the Costa region, under an adverse colonial regime.
During the misrule of Basalat Jung, a branch of Vasireddy family had lost their zamindary in Kondapalli Subah. Naidu inherited a small parcel of land between Sattenapalli and Chintapalli. Though the zamindary lands were next to the river there wasn’t any irrigation network for double cropping. Taxes were high. His principal asset was cattle. Fortunes of the East India Company were on the upswing. With the construction of the anicut (first stage of barrage) at Bezwada, many farmers migrated to the delta lands for a more favorable ryotwari settlement. The farming populations in the upland villages thinned.
Naidu was thrown into this flux and what he had done was worthy of a pioneer. He was an innovator and a visionary far ahead of his times. He had seen the inevitable rise of the British and joined forces with them. By paying peshcush on time he had gained the confidence of the Company and expanded his holdings. He leased his ancestral lands of Lakshmipuram to the Company, when they were in need of a cantonment at Guntur, and moved his headquarters to Amaravati. The lease amount was used as investment to build the town and improve irrigation facilities in his lands. In a way he made the colonial exploiters pay for the development.
1790s had also seen one of the worst famines called Purrela Karuvu. Amaravati is the gateway to lower delta and thousands of refugees trudged downriver to the lands of Naidu. In what was a crisis, he had seen opportunity. He had given the hungry and distressed refugees a fresh lease of life in his newly acquired Amaravati Zamindary. In comparison to the rest of South India, the improved living standards in Coastal districts are primarily due to his farseeing innovations.