Wednesday, December 1, 1999

A Living Legend

Legends and anecdotes of Hyderabad-52

A Living Legend
By Narendra Luther

Raj Bahadur Gour belongs to a Kayasth family which had settled here some generations ago. Born in 1918, he was a very bright student who always stood first and earned scholarships in every class. Out of his scholarship money he started a reading room and a library in 1934. In 1939, he joined the Communist Party wen it was established in Hyderabad. The next year he became a member of the Comrades' Association. In 1941, when he was studying medicine, he was elected vice-president of the students' union and editor of his college magazine.

Medicine to politics

In October 1946, Raj Bahadur Gour participated in the Anti-Repression Day. Resultantly, along with many of his colleagues, he was arrested on November, 15, 1946.

Restless and impatient, he could not submit to the confines of the prison. A conspiracy was hatched. He and Jawad Razvi started complaining of recurrent fever. They were examined by Dr. Bankat Chander, who found apparently nothing wrong with them. However, he suggested that their teeth might be checked. Dr. Morris, the dentist at the Osmania Hospital, was asked to treat them. He said the equipment could not be brought to the jail and that the patient would have to be sent to the hospital. The dental clinic was on the ground floor and it opened onto the Begum Bazar from the back. They were taken to the clinic on 7th May, 1947.

That was the day Jaya Prakash Narayan was visiting Hyderabad and so most of the police were busy in that connection. A number of comrades in disguise stood in a queue as patients outside the clinic. When the escorting policemen tried to accompany the two detainees inside the clinic, those standing in the queue objected to their breaking the line. They also said the patients could go in but not the police men. The two patients were sent alone inside, and after the treatment, they escaped through the back door to Begum Bazar. There a car stood waiting for them. From there they were driven to Asif Nagar where the car was changed. There the two separated. From that day Raj remained underground for four years.

Escape and arrest

On 24 April, 1951 while drinking water from a pond in a jungle at Devarkonda, Raj was captured and he spent the next thirteen months in jail. During that period he was subjected to torture and was placed in the condemned prisoner's cell. For some times he was in the company of some of the officers who had been detained in the Central Jail after the Police Action. Raj, with some of them who were literary-minded, set up a 'Shaw's Corner' in the jail. There they used to discuss literary topics.

Raj was also one of those who were in favour of the withdrawal of the armed struggle after the Police Action, but once the Party decided otherwise, he scrupulously followed the line.

It was during the Telangana Armed Struggle that he met and married Brij Rani who was also a bold Party worker.

His house

A slum had developed in Chikkadpalli near the big drain. The authorities planned to evict the squatters when Brij Rani stepped in and stopped it. The grateful people offered one of the huts to Brij Rani and Raj, and that is how they got a roof over their head. In 1982, their daughter , Tamara, who is a Russia-trained physician, built a small pucca house there. Raj called it "Chambeli Ka Mandwa" after the famous poem of his friend and colleague, Makhdoom Mohiuddin. Once when communal riots broke out, Raj jumped between the two factions and said they could cross that point only over his dead body. Since then no incident has taken place there.
Trade unionism and literature are his two loves and when he is not settling labour disputes, he is either reading or writing. Since 1970, he has been vice-president of All India Trade Union Congress. Alongside, he has written three books of literacy criticism in Urdu. Raj rose to be a member of the Politbureau of the Party and was a member of the Rajya Sabha for a decade. But he remains rooted to his original slum and his people. Like Makhdoom, he has lead a very clean political life. He has no love for money.

Member of Parliament

When he was a member of Parliament, a visitor had come to offer him some money. At that point , Tamara, a child of eight, came asking for some money. Raj said he did not have any and asked her brusquely to go away. The visitor felt that there was an opening and gave her a rupee. "That was the only time that he ever slapped me " recollects Tamara. She adds that financially the family was in bad shape, but she did not miss money because 'Makhdoom uncle' always brought her whatever she needed. And she seldom needed anything costlier than a copy book or indulged in a greater a luxury than an ice-cream.

Raj got the Bahadur Shah Zafar Award in 1991 for his outstanding service to the cause of Urdu. He found that it carried a cash award of Rs. 25, 000 with it. Perplexed, he asked Tamara what he'd do with so much money!

She discreetly suggested that he could discharge some of his debts. That reminded him that he owned her some amount -- a loan which he had not been able to repay. There were other creditors too. He discharged all his debts and was still left with about Rs. 10, 000. That amount went to the Makhdoom Trust.

Makhdoom, ten years his senior, was his mentor and his bosom friend. They drank and sang and agitated together. There is not an occasion when Raj does not remember him till today. Like him he also loves to tease people and to dominate the company. He has a quick wit. He is blunt his words do not leave any bitterness even after he has said the harshest thing. He immediately cancels the hurt with a charming remark.

Raj looks back at his life and says, " How strange and stupid we were in so many situations." But that does not mean he has any regrets. He believes that the Telangana Armed Struggle was the confluence of three streams: economics, politics and cultural; and it was inevitable in those circumstance for it to come about and for young men and women to join it. He is still involved in his mission - of ameliorating the conditions of the working class. That struggle will never end for him.

He is now the Vice Chairman of the National Council for the Promotion of Urdu Language established by the Government of India. He travels extensively for various causes still dear to his heart