I am fascinated by River Godavari. During my final year B.Tech. in IIT, I went on a trip to Godavari districts. Here is that travelogue.
Video Night in Rampa Choda Varam
[part I of Godavari Travelogue]
Have you ever walked by Godavari on a moonlit night? Have you ever traveled in a boat on Godavari? Have you ever been to Devipatnam, Rampa chodavaram and those wonderfully remote places?
Ok, I confess. I am a Guntur person. Not even that. I grew up in a village 11 miles from Guntur. Till I was 20, I have never even seen Godavari. I read about it [gOdavaree paavanOdaara makhila bhaaratamu maadannanaaDu …], I dreamt about it, [uppongi po’yindi go’daavaree, taanu teppunna egasindi go’daavaree (ఉప్పొంగి పోయింది గోదావరి//తాను తెప్పున్న ఎగసింది గోదావరి)], and even pretended I was from there.
Finally, I had a chance to go to Godavari. I was in final year B.Tech. in Madras and I worked in the winter and had some spare change burning a hole in my pocket. And, I wasn’t keen on Mardigras anyway.
I was going to visit a friend from Annavaram near Yeleswaram and go to Devipatnam and travel along the coast. We were going to camp and sleep outside and if needed, stay with his relatives.
I reached Yeleswaram on a sunny morning. There was a prominent billboard near the busstand "ichat’a bhootavaidyamu chEyabaDunu-". Apparently this business has become popular and even gained respectability among the middle class after that wonderfully scientific book "tulasI daLam " (Tulasi Dalam) by Yandamoori. I managed to hitch a ride to Annavaram on a tractor along with some agriculture workers. My handbag elicited some curious comments: it was a fashion statement of calculated coolness in IIT, but people in the tractor thought I was a christian preacher!!
My destination was Annavaram. I am sure there are as many annavarams in AP as there are springfields in USA. This is one of the not-so-famous Annavarams. The place is famous only for its cashew crop. My friend Giri lives outside the village on the farm. It is next to the forests and "annalu-" occasionally visit them. [annalu = naxalites or other underground socially disgruntled workers]. And, yes, the farm is visited by hyenas also. On the second day, I even saw a calf attacked by a tiger previous night.
Till I was in that village, I was thinking that the Godavari people are really rich. Apparently the forest area people are still suffering from lack of any infrastructure. Later I went to places like pasivedala and they were rich!
From there, we left for Addatigala. Anybody who has seen the movie "allu’ri seeta’ra’ma raaju-" knows this name. It seemed a small town. And there are several tile manufacturing places in that area. From there we reached rampa chodavaram. [again the place where Alluri attacked the police stations]
Beyond that place, there are thick forests and places like maredumilli. We were planning on going to Devipatnam but we already missed the bus. We had to stay back in rampa chodavram. Because of our shoestring budget, we decided to sleep in the busstand. But fortunately, we met a person there [Giri established a typically teluguish connection with him; apparently Giri knew his cousin] and he let us sleep in the "chaavaDi," where the animals are kept. He said, even he slept there because of "domestic situation".
So, because of that "domestic situation", we went to a hotel (= restaurant) to eat. It was in the evening and we were the first customers. The place was just cleaned and there was "guggilam" smoke around it. [It is the same smoke they put under the beds of infants.] We were hungry and tired. It might be that, but for 5 rupees, I had the most divine meal I ever had. Fully vegetarian, clean, unlimited and served hot with hospitality of strangers. I even remember telling the owner that he should open a place outside IIT.
After such a meal, we decided to top it off by watching a video movie in a theater. We went for the first show; the movie was "renDu reLLu aaru". I don’t remember the movie but I still remember the night.
Riding the wooden Rooster
[part II of Godavari Travelogue]
[Preface: A confirmed Godavaro-phile, I started on a trip to East Godavari district along with a resourceful friend, Giri. We reached Rampa chodavaram, and planted ourselves in a "chaaviDi" for the night.]
Each area has a distinct culture. We Gunturians pride ourselves of being from the `chilli capital of the world’ [Cite: Wall street journal]. And Krishna people are justifiably proud of mmm…, whatever they are proud of. No, seriously, they are agriculturally richer, and Vijayawada is a famous cultural center, and Bandar is famous for its sweets.
As an outsider I can’t comment on whether there is a difference between East and West Godavari cultures. I mean, I can tell the difference in pickles, but beyond that I have to make a superficial, non-technical analysis. East Godavari people seemed more polite and gentle. They certainly have stronger accents as you go north of the district. And, the villages are a bit more quaint, may be because of the agency area.
We spent the night in Rampa chodavaram that night. [As an aside, my father-in-law was posted to that town after 6 years, and I wrote him about the wonderful place he was going to! He didn’t seem too pleased!!] And, we caught an early morning bus to Devipatnam.
We traveled through forests, amidst the green bamboo groves and at places some slash-and-burn farms. It was quite sad to see that kind of destruction, but my friend pointed out that making it illegal is not the easiest way to abolish that practice. Sad but true.
At some point in the day, we reached Devi Patnam. And, we weren’t prepared for it. Like, we thought that reaching Devipatnam is an end in itself. But, after that we didn’t know what to do. Of course, I was next to Godavari, not really overflowing, and in all probability no different from say Krishna.
Aha, that’s where I was wrong. It is not the water that maketh a river, but the banks. To be precise, it is the villages, the people, the fields, and the attitudes. The water goes on, but the banks remain forever. Even if we put this water in some other river, it cannot be Godavari.
While loitering around in Devipatnam, my friend remembered that an old friend of his living on the other bank. I hesitated thinking that our unannounced visit may inconvenience them, but Giri assured me that can never be the case in that place. We took the boat and crossed over to the other side.
Somehow, our movie industry is fascinated by the boats on Godavari. There are umpteen number of songs on that and there is a magic and there is a music associated with it. Let me tell you, the real thing is better. Oh, it has nothing to do with the boat, but with the people. Giri stuck a conversation with few people and we soon were having a discussion on something, in a free for all. Such comraderie is possible may be only in the railway compartments, but this certainly is better.
After sometime, we reached the other bank. Now I crossed Godavari on the boat once. And, I felt happy.
Skinny Dipping in Godavari
[part III of Godavari Travelogue]
[Again, this is the third of a loosely knit travelogue and reminiscences.]
I wonder how many of you are from villages. I mean, there are several second-generation villagers, and they generally spend their sankranti holidays in villages. Most probably they have seen only the quaint, charming side of the villages.
I lived most of life in my village, enough to remove any romanticism from it. It is a tough life and it is a difficult life. But after being away from that place so much, I naturally impart it the beauty that I was quietly accustomed to. That is why the poet says:
aspashTata andaanni aapaadistundi
Anyway, as I said earlier, we crossed Godavari at Devipatnam. Next, we proceeded on to the next village. We were to go to a friend’s place and impose ourselves on them. I took comfort in the fact, atithi [telugu/sanskrit word for guest] means the one that comes unannounced!
In my place, the villages are densely distributed. If I walk 1.5 mile on average, I get to a village with an average population is 1500 which is not too small. The upper Godavari, the population of villages is not that high. I found out later that in the lower area, villages are more densely packed.
We were received very cordially and made a fuss over. Giri had not seen his friend for 4 years, and while they talked of old times, I gently lazed under the tree. After dinner, we slept under just a roof with the moonlight shimmering over Godavari. We could see the river from the place we slept.
By the way, has anyone of you read Krishna Sastri? In one of the books he describes the moonlight as:
nidra maane vennelalu
nirNidra raaga rEyi
nit’t’ooruchu tamaala vRksha moola
saikata vitardikOpari paanupu gaaga nErpad’e tananta.
[Free wheeling translation: The moonlight did not sleep. The sand dunes by the river, under the tree adjusted into beds for the sighing songs of the sleepless nights.]
Next morning we woke up to a quite and magical morning. Walking bare feet over the grass drenched in tiny dew drops is an exquisite feeling — especially when you are going to the river to take a bath.
Giri told me that just ahead the river comes through the Papikondalu. It is narrow, but navigable between those mountains. The stretch from Bhadrachalam to Kunavaram is supposed to be very beautiful. I really wanted to go there, but we had no time.
Since it was January, the river was not too full. We walked down to the river and brushed our teeth with a neem twig. Giri got a soap also along with us to take a "proper" bath. He was ever so thoughtful. Next to him, I felt like a city-bred.
The river, in its magnanimity, accepts anything thrown into it, be it the coins thrown from the Rajahmundry bridge or the garbage from industries. Be it the dead bodies of failed lovers, or the devotees singing "gOdaavari gOdaavari anna kalgu tallee bhavya Subhambul!!". That morning, it accepted a 20 year old incurable romantic, along with a wonderful childhood friend, and in midst of kind hospitality of strangers.
Accepting that invitation, I took off my clothes, walked into the water and took a dip.
peddaapuramlO soorya dEvaalayam
[Final and IV part of Godavari Travelogue]
With apologies to Edmund Spenser (with an `s’ as in Robert Parker’s Spenser) —
Sweet River, run softly till I end my song,
Sweet River, run softly, for I speak not loud or long
So many cities, civilizations flourished on the shores of rivers. The river, source of water, conveyer of commerce and in ancient times, a Goddess. Curious, indeed, is all our rivers are goddesses, not Gods. Certainly the life giving, life sustaining qualities must have made those rivers into Goddesses.
Godavari, or Gauthami, sustained life and gave birth to the language Telugu. Well, the language was there before, but it is in the hands of Nannaya it attained respectability. It was the Court of Raja raja Narendra the language got its first grammar.
Raja MahendraVaram it self has interesting history. The aging king, his betrayed wife, the loyal prince, the incestuous desire, the intrigue, treachery and human tragedy. With all these reasons, who wouldn’t go there?
Well, we couldn’t go there. We wanted to go to Kakinada and Kakinada won out, not because of any profound reasons, but we had a place to stay, and friends and a cousin to visit.
On the way to Kakinada, we stopped at Mangayyamma gaari house, Maganti vaari veedhi, Peddapuram. Giri was studying in Peddapuram at that time, and we wanted to see his friends. Sad to say that I haven’t seen much of Peddapuram. It was years later, that I got a letter from Giri quoting a poem of a friend titled peddaapuramlO soorya dEvaalayam. In that letter Giri wrote :
Evi tallee niruDu kurisina hima samoohamulu?
Evi tallee ninna virisina viri pareemaLamulu?
[Translation: Where are the snows of yesteryears? Where are the flowers of yesterday?]. It is not merely about Peddapuram that Giri was writing, but about the youth spent there and the growing up and moving on. I remember that night after dinner [Mangayymma gaaru supplied the curries], I sat on the stairs of the house and listened to Giri talk about what the youth is most fascinated about, love of some unknown girl.
The next morning we went to Kakinada. Here, I am at a loss. I suppose I cannot completely describe any city. It is easy to catch the soul of the village, may be on the river bank, or on the village pond, or in the evenings when the people come home carrying fodder for the cattle. It is a simple soothing song, easily understood, and enjoyed.
On the other hand, the city is like a symphony. Not actually one, but several, going on at a time. It takes expertise to pick out the song and enjoying it. The varied, diverse people city offers is quite confusing to a village person.
Our choice was made easy, for I had friends in the Engg and Med colleges. I had a cousin too, whom I wanted to visit later by myself. First, we went to the Engg college. Some of my classmates from Tadikonda were studying there. We went to the library and narendra (?) hostel and a coffee hotel, all in quick succession, a blur. I remember that there were mango trees in the campus. I was told that the fruits are auctioned off every year.
After a lunch at a friend’s place, we went into the city on bicycles. I will not attempt to describe the places in city because I am sure I will make mistakes about it, and there are far too many people who remember Kakinada much better than I do. I remember the bridge where we all went singing our school song (our school had a school song navvula puvvula kila kila laaDE …) and saw the statue of Alluri Sita Rama Raju. And, I went to PR college and later to a brimming pond. That night we ate at a friend’s place. These five people stayed in a house and they had a maami who cooks for them.
The next morning, I went to the medical college friends. I went to this guy [Sridhar], and after four years, the first question he asks me is "Ramarao, what is dadaism?" (We used to compete in the poetry writing competition). He took me to the medical college and Giri decided to go back to Peddapuram.
After sending off Giri, I went to my cousin’s place. It was still early in the morning and Radha out making the "muggu". I went with my hand bag and introduced my self. She was seeing me after six years and she was probably unprepared for an individual with a hand bag.
Her energetic husband and my cousin Murali (as an aside, see how these names match? Since then I have known three Radha and Murali couples!) is well prepared for my visit. He has made several plans for me. Most of them include food as the central theme. He told me the stories of the local families that put a gun to your head if you don’t eat to their satisfaction. His circle included one such family.
In the rest of my trip, the most memorable (!) thing I saw was meat eating goats and cows. Yes sir, you didn’t read it wrong. In the fish market, these poor vegetarian animals eat the fish (and prawn) heads.
Idyllic was my stay, but I had to leave. As it was, my semester was going full swing back at IIT. When Murali took me to drop off at the Railway station, the queue was so big that we decided to catch the train at Samarla kota. Murali took me on his motor bike and it stopped on the way, and Murali put me in a car and sent me to Samarala kota. It was an adventurous ending to an eventful trip. And, in the train, I met several of the Engg. students going back because of a strike, and I entertained with math puzzles.
I did not know at that time that one of the houses I visited in Kakinada was my future father-in-law’s. The next time I went to Kakinada was with my future bride, and we got married there.
I suppose the sweet river runs softly even if I spoke long. Nevertheless, I shall stop here.