Guys like me who get a kick by following the changes in Telugu society are stumped totally. What has happened to we Telugus ?? We were considered docile and sedate not long ago content minding our own business. We were hardly known to venture out beyond our districts, forget moving to other states and countries. We were smug in carrying on with traditional occupations and looked through the window at the outside world only when the whole country talked of some people or events.
This was the story even in early 90s. Today, just 25 years later, its a totally different picture. In the 90s Telugu participation in the outside world was almost nil. Our numbers in the corporate sector, in central bureaucracy, in sports, national businesses or even in NRI numbers was dismal. That has changed dramatically over the last 2 decades. Telugus are now present in big numbers in other south Indian cities like Bangalore and Chennai and in countries like the USA. Our participation in premium education institutes like the IITs and NITs is the highest by mother tongue. We make films with the highest budgets which find patronage beyond Telugu speaking areas. Our sportsmen are winning Olympic medals. Our businessmen built India’s best hospitals and airports. Our brethren are heading some of the world’s most revered corporates. If it was Telugu PM who changed India’s economic course, two successive Telugu RBI Governors handled our economy during the worst global financial crises.
So what changed in 25 years?? It is very difficult to put a finger on how societies and their attitudes change. It is always a very complex process. No one can tell for sure if it was individuals who changed the society’s course or some invisible undercurrents which produced those individuals who left their mark. Despite that lack of clarity, here are a few things which I feel have been instrumental in turning the sedate Telugu society to its hyper competitive avatar of today.
- NTR as the Chief Minister: This happened in the early 80s. For some inexplicable reason this was a big boost to Telugu confidence. NTR came to power on a ‘Telugu pride’ plank after that fateful event in Hyderabad airport when the then CM Anjaiah was publicly humiliated by Rajiv Gandhi. NTR urged people to overthrow “Delhi rule” and asked them to elect a government which represented true Telugu aspirations.
- PVN as the PM: The expectations were low on PV when he became India’s PM in 1991. But in just a matter of few days, PV went about changing the course of India’s economic history. Telugus too were initially confused like the rest of the nation but as months and years went by, they started owning him up. He was also seen as someone who defied Sonia Gandhi those days which further satiated the hidden ‘Telugu pride’ urge which NTR had fueled.
- Emergence of Hyderabad: By the mid 90s Telugus were mentally prepared to assert themselves and compete with the rest of the country, if not the world. But they lacked even the very basic ammunition. There was not even a single urban centre which could act as the springboard for fostering and nurturing talent. Hyderabad rose to the occasion. When Bill Gates and Bill Clinton landed on the soil of Hyderabad ignoring better known cities such as Chennai and Bangalore, it was a huge boost to Telugu pride. After all, what better certificate than an American endorsing your city (Shame ..Shame..) or so thought the average Andhrite.
- Chandranbabu, the institutional builder: Chandrababu went about getting the building blocks ready at a furious pace in the late 90s and early 2000s. He built many symbols of excellence. Hitec city, ISB, NALSAR, Gachibowli stadium, Necklace road, Silparamam are just a few. Other landmarks too came up in the same period. Ramoji film city, Prasad’s IMAX …each of these were the best in their own league. Even the seeds for Gopichand academy were sown during this period when Babu handed over 5 acres of land to Gopi to build an academy which is now the toast of the nation.
- Role models: By now Telugus were seeking role models who could be emulated. And they came from diverse fields. Karanam Malleswari, Gopichand, VVS Laxman etc from sports– Pratap Reddy, GVK, GMR, Anji Reddy and several other smaller entrepreneurs etc from business came in the late 90s.
- The wasted first decade of 2000: By all means this process of building a competent society took a beating in the 2000s. 2005 to 2014 is a wasted decade at an institutional level while it is true that private efforts continued at an individual level. Andhrites pushed hard with their lives and some continued to inspire an entire generation. The only thing that could be given a thumbs up during this period is the IIT wave.
- Narayana and Chaitanya: The emergence of the coaching culture in AP is clearly the result of a society willing to push hard with unbridled ambition. By mid 2000s, it was clear in any normal Telugu household that anything ordinary would simply not do. Aspirations had sky rocketed. NRI population began to bulge and awareness of the world was the new catalyst. This resulted in an unprecedented mad rush to give a go at the country’s most premier institutions. Telugus felt that the only way to satisfy their ambitions and aspirations was to be educated at the highest level. No wonder Telugu numbers ballooned in IITs from almost a zero to ‘the biggest group by mother tongue’ in just under a decade.
- Emergence of world beaters: Satya Nadella gave us a huge high. It meant that the whole world is now open for us to stage our dramas. SS Rajamouli gave even a bigger kick. Now Sindhu has pushed us on to cloud 9.
The difference between Karanam Malleswari’s medal of 2000 and Sindhu’s medal of 2016 is simple. Telugus saw it as a flash in the pan in 2000. Now they think this will be the norm. The general feeling is that a new normal of ‘world-beating’ is achieved and this can now happen at regular intervals.
That is how much the Telugu society moved in a short period of 2 decades. I am excited to see what else can happen in future. I am certain of one thing, though. A lot is in store and we are now heading towards tasting an all new high.
My dear fellow Telugus, fasten your seat belts and get ready for the unprecedented adrenaline rush !!