Yesterday’s IIT-JEE results were on expected lines. Telugu students bagged 5 out of the top 10 ranks nationally. There were 30 Telugus in the top 100. In south India, AP + Telangana students constituted almost 60% of the total candidates qualified. There were 4000 Telugu students among the 6700 that qualified from south under IIT-Chennai circle. ( approx about 1400 from TN, 660 from Karnataka, 600 from Kerala and 40 from Pondicherry form the rest)
I would treat this as a small part of a big macro socio-economic trend that has been emerging. If you wonder where I am coming from and what I am trying to derive, I have to go back by at least a 100 yrs to explain it properly.Telugu as a language and Telugus as a community were very much in the forefront at the beginning of 1900s. Telugu was the predominant language in large parts of South India. The previous three centuries gave Telugu a kind of standing which other south Indian languages (including Tamil) did not have. Non-Telugus across South India were reading many ancient texts in Telugu. A case in point was C.Rajagopalachari whose father insisted that Rajaji learn Telugu first to understand sacred Hindu texts. ( Ref — Rajaji: A life by Rajmohan Gandhi). Carnatic music was learnt in Telugu due to the great legacy of Saint poet Thyagaraja. Even yoga in Mysore was being taught in Telugu. (Read Krishnamacharya taught Yoga in Mysore in Telugu). The industry in Coimbatore which later went on to occupy a pride of place was all initiated by Telugu migrants from Krishna and Godavari districts. South Indian cinema till the 1960s was defined by what Telugu cinema had to offer.
Things started changing after Andhra was carved out of Madras state in 1953. Chennai, which was a prime cultural and academic centre was lost to Tamil Nadu. The British years were such that education prospered only in the 4 metros of Delhi, Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. And in post-independence India, areas or states around the 4 metros gained big as the need for English educated manpower was of prime importance. Andhra’s split from Madras state in less than a decade after independence had a long shadow on the development of Telugus. With no great educational facilities to speak of in either Andhra or even in Hyderabad the slide of Telugus in upper echelons of society began.
The period from 1950 -1990 was a dark period for Telugus on many fronts. In an era when education decided where one was headed to, Telugus were relegated to the lowest order. Telugu student numbers in IITs, IIMs or even in civil services were at an abysmal low. The fact that most CMs of AP during this time came from agrarian backgrounds did not help matters. By the time the private sector opened up in the early 90s, Telugus were just not equipped to participate and corporates were dominated by people from Delhi, Madras, Bombay and Calcutta. One will be surprised to know that by the year 2000, AP was the only big state which did not have an IIT or an IIM on its land. TN, Maharashtra & Delhi had IITs and Karnataka, UP & Gujarat had IIMs. West Bengal had both. Bihar (now Jharkhand) had XLRI and a string of TATA institutes.
A century ( or at least half a century ) of relegation has resulted in “self doubt” syndrome among Telugus who actually started believing that they were lesser mortals in comparison to Tamils, Marathis, Punjabis or Bengalis. It was not uncommon to witness the hesitation of Telugus to identify their native state in corporate settings during the later part of the 20th century. At a time when people from other communities proudly wore their language on their sleeves, Telugus would shy away from it for lack of company and confidence. And Telugus settled in other states would not even utter a few Telugu words publicly.
It is difficult to exactly pinpoint how and when all this started changing. That is for Telugu sociologists to decipher in detail. But there definitely are a few landmarks that are worthy of mention.
- Coastal Andhra produced doctors of great calibre in the 60s and 70s from places like Vijayawada, Guntur and Vizag. These doctors were the first to start flying overseas and implant a sense of ambition in the minds of their other family members left behind and to have thought of a non-agrarian (or non-petty business occupation).
- The absence of an urban megapolis which could ‘foster and nurture dreams of higher education’ was taken care of by the emergence of Hyderabad as a city worth reckoning during Chandrababu’s term as CM during 1995-2004. It would not be an exaggeration if I said that it took almost 40-45 years for AP to come out of the loss of Chennai. Hyderabad’s emergence in the late 90s was a watershed moment in the development of Telugu aspirations. I chronicled these in my previous articles Hyderabad Diary – Part 1 and Hyderabad Diary – Part 2
- The third development is a little difficult to explain. That is the un-understandable and completely irrational Telugu affinity with anything that is American. I trace this affinity to the feudal mindset of rich Andhra farmers. A rich farmer sitting on the banks of Godavari or Krishna with 100s of acres under his surveillance and feeling like an uncrowned king would not agree for anybody other than a foreign-returned bloke to be his son-in-law. Call it a game of up-man-ship, or pure hyper-snobbery, a working-in-America son-in-law was the biggest possession worth boasting of. Films which showed the suffering brides in foreign locales during those times had no impact whatsoever.
- But the clincher is emergence of coaching giants like Narayana and Chaitanya. Call it rote, unimaginative, cruel or brutal, these institutes are giving direct entry passes to multitudes by the droves to the most hallowed higher education institutes. And when IIT exam fever grips Telugu states, physical temperatures hovering around 46 degrees in May look too cool and sublime.
Things have dramatically changed in the past 15 years or so. Telugus have now filled the streets of silicon valley and occupied high thrones like a certain Satya Nadella. They throng American theatres showing Telugu movies in large numbers. Their numbers in IITs are the biggest by language by a wide margin. Their presence in non-Telugu cities like Bangalore and Chennai is ever increasing. Many adventurous Telugus have built reasonably big businesses. Andhra cuisine has begun to penetrate into restaurants in many states. Telugu cinema has been growing by leaps and bounds by the number of tickets sold. And stars like Mahesh Babu routinely figure at the top of ” The most desirable men list” of TOI.
It is a great time to be born in a Telugu family. And it is only getting better by the day. Why then the self-doubt my friend ?? Go and conquer !! The world is waiting !!