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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

A Tribute : Madapati Satyavathi : The voice loved by all


DOB : 19 May 1931
She was born in a remote village in the erstwhile Hyderabad State which was under the rule of Asaf Jahi kings. There were no educational facilities. She learned only Urdu alphabet from a ramshackle school presided over by a single teacher. Still Madapati Satyavathi carved a significant niche for herself in a career, which was out of bounds for women. People eagerly waited to listen to news read by her.

Hyderabad Samsthanam comprised 5 Maratha-speaking districts, 3 Kannada-speaking and 8 Telugu-speaking districts. But mother tongue was not taught in schools. Girls’ education was unheard of. Under these circumstances, Madapati Hanumantha Rao Panthulu (1885-1970) started a Balika Pathashala (girls’ school) overcoming many challenges both social and financial.

Mir Osman Ali Khan, the 7th Nizam, refused permission to start any school if the medium of instruction was not Urdu. So Pantulu opened the school in a small room in Isamiaha Bazar, which was part of Sultan Bazar, in 1928. As this area came under the jurisdiction of the British Resident, the government could not use its power. Later, the school was shifted to a large premises in Narayanguda. A hostel was also attached to it in 1933-35. Eminent Communist leader Arutla Kamaladevi was among the first batch of students who stayed in the hostel.

Satyavathi’s father Madapati Ramachandra Rao was a freedom fighter who played a major role in Liberation struggle of Hyderabad State. Rao enrolled Satyavathi in the school started by his uncle and made arrangements for her stay in the girls’ hostel. Chinna thathayya, as Satyavati used to call Hanumantha Rao, kept a close watch on her upbringing.

Inspired by the sweeping changes brought about by the reformists in Bengal, Krishna and Godavari districts and coastal Andhra, which were part of Madras Presidency, a group of friends — Suravaram Prathap Reddy, Madapati Hanumantha Rao, Mandumala Narasinga Rao, Yellapragada Seeta Kumari, Dalit leader Sumitra Devi and others — devoted their lives to awaken the people of Telangana. They opened schools and libraries, organised meetings and spoke against child marriages, bonded labour, untouchability and drinking, encouraged girls’ education and learning Telugu.

Sangem Laxmibai was one of the torch-bearers of change. She was the honorary warden of the girls’ hostel. She also served as a deputy minister of the State under Chief Minister Burgula Ramakrishna Rao. Rangamma Obul Reddy, daughter of Raja Bahadur Venkat Rama Reddy, used to visit the hostel every day to keep an eye on the well-being of the girls. Satyavati strongly felt that these two ladies laid the foundations of a value system in her. Cultural programmes were also given due importance and these were performed under the guidance of Padmaja Naidu, daughter of Sarojini Naidu.

Rangamma used to visit Golden Threshold frequently and on one such visit she took Satyavathi along with her. Satyavathi sang patriotic songs in Telugu and Sarojini Naidu was thrilled. Satyavathi also used to accompany Rangamma to public functions, meetings and social gatherings. She used to sing prayer songs at all such meetings. When she joined Koti Women’s College, this singing of prayer and patriotic songs continued.

Sadly, she had to take a break from her studies and go back to her village Yerrupalem due to the anarchic conditions in the city created by razakars, a para military organisation of Ittehadul-Musalmeen. Following the untimely death of her father, Satyavati took up a job and, along with her elder brother Vinaya Kumar, helped the younger siblings in their education. She later pursued MA (Telugu) at Osmania University. She was the first woman postgraduate from Yerrupalem. Incidentally, the first doctor (MBBS) from this village was Dr Haragopal, son of Sardar Jamalapuram Kesava Rao, who sacrificed everything to liberate Hyderabad. Also, the first woman doctor was Dr Meeraben, younger sister of Satyavathi.

In 1959-60, Satyavathi was selected as an announcer for All India Radio and posted at Vijayawada. Soon, she was promoted to the regional news section. She had a long stint at Vijayawada but a major part of her service years were at Hyderabad. She was promoted as news editor. She received many bouquets but there were also several intimidatory calls from political and industrial world. She never deviated from what she felt was right.

The toughest thing in her view was to have a control on emotions during presentation of news. For instance, while announcing Chief Minister NT Rama Rao’s fall from power or the death of her grandfather Madapati Hanumantha Rao or the assassination of Indira Gandhi — she had to struggle to keep her voice stable. She nurtured many young newsreaders. Devulapalli Amar, Bhandaru Srinivasa Rao, D Venkatramayya and others fondly recollect her subtle ways of giving direction. Pothuri Venkateswar Rao, eminent editor, read news for All India Radio under her editorship.

Satyavati learned Carnatic music from Srirangam Gopalaratnam. After retirement in 1991, she continued to train under Uma. She contributed to newspapers such as Eenadu, Andhra Prabha and Andhra Bhoomi under pseudo-names.

Born on May 19, 1931, she died on March 4, 2020. The Telangana government honoured her with Visishta Mahila Puraskaram in 2017 on the International Women’s Day. For more than three decades, her voice echoed from every Telugu household, and was loved by all.


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