Shamala, Gogu, Nene Balanni (Telugu), Hyderabad, Hyderabad Book Trust, 2011, 338 pp, Rs 180/-

Nene Balanni (meaning ‘I’m the Strength’) is a Telugu volume composed on the life history of Mrs T N Sadalakshmi, one of the prominent unnoticed lady politicians of India from the state of Andhra Pradesh.  T N Sadalakshmi was born in a Mehtar community, which is widely located in scavenging profession in Andhra Pradesh, and which is also regarded as a sub-caste of Madiga community. Graded inequality based upon caste notion and practices penetrated even among the out-caste sections like the untouchables or who are presently termed legally ‘Scheduled Castes’ or who are popularly asserted and recognised as ‘dalits’. The community like Mehtar is regarded as an inferior one to other sections within the untouchables and treated on inferior lines. But, Sadalakshmi, who belongs to such a low social order rose to an extraordinary political stature, but, she was not properly recognised by Brahminic Indian society; as per the notice of the writer Gogu Shamala.

The author of the volume Mrs Gogu Shamala chose Mrs Sadalakshmi with great admiration and got determined to compose her life history. In the view of the author Shamala, the life of this great selfless leader Sadalakshi, who had emerged to a rare political stature in politics, especially, in the state of Andhra Pradesh is worth documentable. Hence, the present venture of composing the life history of Sadalakshmi was undertaken on behalf of the Anveshi Women’s Research Centre, Hyderabad. Though, the writer had immense enthusiasm to compose well the life history of Sadalakshmi, it was too late, as there was no proper reciprocal to this enthusiasm from Sadalakshmi’s side, due to many reasons, like – as Sadalaksmi already gave lengthy interviews about her life to some others some-while ago, but such person/s failed to bring-in her life history, and the other second reason was Sadalaksmi’s deteriorating health position. Even-then, the determination of the writer Shamala made this book a reality in print.

As there was lack of enthusiasm from Sadalakshmi to share about her life with the writer in a systematic manner, the writer had to contend on the things shared by Sadalakshmi on random basis, as per her wish. Thus, the author of the volume tried her best to compose the life of Sadalaksmi to the best of her capability. In this respect the author later-on depended on others, who were close to Sadalaksmi/who had various types of communications in various levels at various points of time with Sadalaksmi. In this way, the author tried to build the personality of Sadalakshmi.

I would see the author Mrs Gogu Shamala had taken the Dalit-Bahujan theoretical base to theorise and build the life history of Mrs Sadalaksmi. In-fact, Mrs Gogu Shamala has been a specialist in this mode of method over the years and still attempting to master this mode. In all there is less political analysis from the writer’s side while discussing about Indian and/or Andhra Pradesh politics. The writer’s sole major contribution in the pages comes from construction of identity of Sadalakshmi (from dalit-bahujan intellectual base), which in her opinion was suppressed by mainstream Brahminic society.

The author attempts to touch upon complex dimensions of the social, political, regional, religious, gender, ideological contestations, and etc aspects as part of this life history of Sadalakshmi, and goes-on to build her synthesis mostly on her well acquired knowledge of dalit-bahujan intellectual order. In this respect, the author is able to first well articulate in feminist perspective (which was also from the dalit-bahujan intellectual order of thinking) and makes us to visualise the (hidden/unrecognised) feminist qualities in Sadalakshmi.

I would see two (assertive) positive shades getting attached in the pages of this work; one – the (assertive) life of Sadalakshmi is taken mostly in a positive sense by the writer and then the (assertive) positive shade of dalit-bahujan intellectual order is attached to the life of Sadalaskhmi, while synthesising the arguments and life history. But, then, a few exceptions are completely (in)-visible; like – when the author reduces the vigour of dalit-bahujan intellectual critical order by not much criticising the ideological inclination of Sadalaksmi towards Hinduism and Babu Jagjeevan Ram’s (ideological) political discourse!! In a way the author (inherently sounds) sympathetic with Sadalaksmi for lack of vigour in attitude in these two above respects, and completely reduces her critical analysis. The author perceives the attitudes of Sadalaksmi in a reformist mode within the realm of Hindu religious tradition and tries to see a strong feminist in her various modes of life events. And, also the author reduced her intellectual attack on Sadalaksmi, for lack of improper practical attachment with Ambedkarism, while sailing with Babu Jagjeevan Ram’s political side at the same time (the ideological and political discourse of Dr B R Ambedkar and Babu Jagjeevan Ram differs)!! In other sense, the author failed (effectively) to show how and why Sadalakshmi admires Dr B R Ambedkar, though she was admirer of Babu Jagjeevan Ram on the other side.

As this is a biography of a particular person – Sadalakshmi, her interactions with other persons in political and social aspects provides a glimpse in various dimensions, which are sometimes unknown to the rest of the world, either from Sadalakshmi’s perspective or otherwise. In this instance, we can observe the interactions and observations of Sadalakshmi with different persons of Indian politics like from national level with – Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Babu Jagjeevan Ram, P V Narasimha Rao, etc and from Andhra Pradesh level with her contemporaries like various Chief Ministers, ministerial colleagues, party leaders, various other leaders from other political parties, etc – such as Damodara Sanjeevaiah, Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, Kasu Brahmananda Reddy, Kotla Vijaya Baskara Reddy, Puchalapalli Sundaraiah, Aiyadevara Kaleswara Rao, Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao, etc.

Though the author started to touch upon the family of Sadalakshmi, which was quite well off economically (and of course socially too, to some extent) in urban settlement of the present day Hyderabad-Secunderabad city limits; for much more better understanding of this family’s well off position in economic and social aspects, the author, in my view should have tried to touched upon little-bit about her forefathers genealogy and then compare their (foregathers) social and economic position in relation to the starting stages of Sadalakshmi’s family.

There are dual dialectic styles in the pages; both the Telangana dialect and wider academic/public dialect (i.e. Costal Andhra or so) are used. Most of the direct speech of Sadalakshmi was reported in Telangana dialect, with which she was quite acquainted as a native of Telangana. This dimension may cause slow down in the reading process and comprehension of the readers, if they are not well acquainted with this dialect either personally and/or in reading mode. And, some of the English words were used directly in Telugu, bringing new dimensions in the language discourse, if accepted or otherwise!!

In my view, if the book was intended to exclusively bring about some inspiration among the readers by understanding the selfless contribution of Mrs T N Sadalakshmi, then the size of the volume should have been considerably reduced to about 100-150 pages or so. And, then, the writing style should also been modified accordingly. The present book in its form cannot be intended to the wider (lay) society to know more about Sadalaksmi, etc, as there is wide synthesis form dalit-bahujan intellectual critical discourse, with which many of the ordinary readers may not be quite familiar. The volume in its present form attempts to target a particular section of readers, if I’m correct, like those who are well acquainted towards or who are trying to get well acquainted with the Dalit-Bahujan intellectual theoretical discourse, which is branded as highly critical towards the wide-spread Brahminic/main stream discourse.

Those who are familiar with the dali-bahujan argumentative intellectual discourse, which has been getting grounded in the state of Andhra Pradesh over the past few years or those who are well exposed towards the ideological and theoretical understandings and (other) writings of Gogu Shamala can easily expect ‘what and how’ the writer is likely to proceed and convey her argument/s in the pages!!

On the whole, I see more of (dalit-bahujan intellectual theoretical) scholarly interpretations and analysis of the writer in the pages with much vigour in the shade of Sadalakshmi’s life!!

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