I am neither a contemporary nor was a companion of George. I was barely a six-year-old when he was killed. Born to first generation literate parents in a remote rural area, I stood no chance of hearing about him then. I heard about him after I moved to district headquarter based college for my intermediate (+2) education. Activists of a revolutionary student group PDSU used to eulogize George and Jampala Prasad in their songs. The songs used to be poignant and inspiring.
The question of individuals in history is interesting. The question of particular individuals in a specific setting becomes fascinating and contentious at the same time. It evokes emotions, brings back frozen memories and forgotten fears to the fore again. There would be people who were ‘involved’. Some would look at it with a detached, calm perspective as age/changed attitudes mellow them down. Some still look at them with the entailing baggage, as though the events happened yesterday. For those unconnected with the past, the events could be amusing.
For those unconnected but associated with the ensuing events it becomes difficult to assess things as fiction gets enmeshed in ‘facts’ some times.
As I moved to Hyderabad in the early eighties to study engineering, I had the opportunity to meet some of those who ‘worked’ with George.
Commemoration meetings were held on April 14th of every year. The slogan ‘jeena hai to marna seekho, kadam kadam par ladna seekho’ used to be on our lips. It was attributed to George, though none was sure about it. George was like an icon to many student activists in those days. Some used to lament that they could not get to see/ interact with George in person.
In an interesting treatise on the influence of individuals in history, Sidney Hook defines the hero in history as, “the individual to whom we can justifiably attribute preponderant influence in determining an issue or event whose consequences would have been profoundly different if he had not acted as he did.” Sidney Hook makes a distinction between eventful-man and event making man.
The latter, according to him, “finds a fork in the historical road, but he also helps, so to speak, to create it. He increases the odds of success for the alternative he chooses by virtue of the extraordinary qualities he brings to bear to realize it.” George can be construed as both, given the kind of influence George’s ideas had on the campuses.
In the college days we used discuss many national and international issues - Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Palestine, events in Iran and the associated scams, events in Punjab, Assam student movement, rise of communalism, and atrocities on dalits in Bihar and Andhra. We used to bring out a wall paper ‘Focus’ on all these issues and display it. Some of our wall papers and poems used to generate interest in wider sections of students.
There used to be a similar environment in other professional colleges in Hyderabad. While some accused us of ‘politicizing the campus’, it never occurred to us that these are ‘unconnected’ to the academic realm. We felt each of these issues were important and critical for us. Looking back I could trace this to the democratic atmosphere that George strived to foster in the campuses.
The chronicle of life and death of George, which, in a sense was foretold, was part of a wider canvas. It must begin with the death of Che Guevara and the war of Vietnam. The life of Che Guevara, so perfectly confirmed by his death, was both an accusation and a call for action. George was following Che in every sense.
During summer vacations to our college, ‘Go to villages’ campaigns were organized, and students were mobilized to visit, prepare notes on the socio-economic conditions in rural areas. As a practice, the students were made to stay with the most oppressed and downtrodden sections. Though many were familiar with and part of the rural setting, prior to these study and analyses, we never looked at the conditions from a different perspective. For those of us looking forward to a career on a professional front, the encounters with the travails of rural people and their struggles in these campaigns was a sort of ‘coming of age’ experience.
During our college days, we used to read news about the rural unrest. The early 80s witnessed an upsurge in peasant struggles. I remember a night when one of our friends was writing a slogan on top of the parapet wall of the hostel, perilously hanging on the edges. He descended only after finishing the slogan and we heaved a sigh of relief.
It was exhilarating to see the slogan from afar. Siva Reddy’s Telugu poem ‘we do not bother whose house it is/ nor are we concerned about who stays inside/ we keep writing/ long live revolution’ was our favorite, as we filled in the walls of college, hostel and neighborhood with revolutionary slogans during the nights in a clandestine way.
Whatever opinion/assessment one may have of George, his profound influence and imprint on the history of revolutionary democratic movement in the state cannot be erased. I am reminded of many of those who laid down their lives. The inspiration of George’s sacrifice has been a running thread. It is now time to commemorate George.
(The writer is a social commentator)