Nizam Venkatesham, literature connoisseur who played a part in Telangana peasants struggle

A defiant and fiery Venkatesham wore many hats during his life — a government engineer, a publisher, a translator, a poet, and a humanist.

ByAjay Tomar

Published Sep 20, 2022 | 7:15 PMUpdatedSep 21, 2022 | 4:29 PM

Nizam Venkatesham

Iconic civil rights activist and literary figure Nizam Venkatesham, who played an active role in the peasants movement against the feudal landlords in Telangana, breathed his last in a Secunderabad hospital on Sunday, 18 September, while undergoing treatment following a heart attack. He was 74.

A defiant and fiery Venkatesham wore many hats during his life — a government engineer, a publisher, a translator, a poet, and a humanist.

As soon as news of the death of Venkatesham came out, tributes from many people, including Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, started pouring in.

“Venkatesham used to be a very free-flowing person without any inhibitions. He used to speak in a loud voice and had a full-throated laugh,” his friend N Venugopal, editor of Veekshanam, a Telugu monthly journal of political economy and society, told South First. He had friends from all parts of the political spectrum — left, right, or centre, Venugopal added.

Mother of Nizam Venkatesham

The death of Nizam Venkatesham comes nearly three weeks after he lost his 92-year-old mother, Nizam Satyamma (Supplied)

Venaktesham’s death comes nearly three weeks after he lost his 92-year-old mother, Nizam Satyamma.

“After her demise, he had sleepless nights as he was quite attached to his mother. So he was unwell and suffered from gastric issues and body pain,” his close friend and former chairman of the Telangana State Backward Class Commission (TSBCC) BS Ramulu told South First.

Electrical engineer who helped peasants

Venkatesham belonged to the Komati caste, a trading community, and hailed from Jagtial, then part of the Karimnagar district.

His forefathers worked in the treasury of the Nizams of Hyderabad, hence the name Nizam Venkatesam.

After he passed SSC in 1963, he went to a polytechnic institute and became an electrical engineer through AMIE in Madras.

He joined state government service in Andhra Pradesh. Promoted as assistant engineer, he worked hard to develop agriculture with electricity across many places in the state — Medipally, Dharmapuri, Jagtial, Peddapalli, Kakatiya canal, etc.

Nijam Venkatesham

Nizam Venkatesham was attached to his mother and had sleepless nights after her demise, his friend BS Ramulu said (Supplied)

While canal water was free, power was not and many farmers couldn’t irrigate their fields. He played a role in ensuring farmers received free electricity.

“So many farmers competed to take advantage of the free power and dug wells and bores. Venkatesham convinced ministers and ensured there were 230–240 KV stations. This was one of his major contributions,” Ramulu said.

In the late 1970s, the Telangana region saw a huge peasant struggle against oppression by landlords.

Venkatesham, despite being a part of the state government, served as a contact person for now-banned Maoist parties that were involved in the struggle and played an important role, Venugopal said.

Literature connoisseur

Venkatesham then ventured into literature and edited and translated several short stories and poems throughout his life.

In 1980, Venkatesham started a progressive monthly journal named Diksuchi (compass in English), exclusively for poetry, and brought out 12 issues.

Diksuchi stood out as it published long poems in Telugu at a time when short poems were in trend, Ramulu said.

“We both opened Karimnagar Book Trust in the 1980s, and published two books in 1982. The first one was Bhoomi (land), a collection of short stories written by noted Telugu novelist Allam Rajaiah, came out showing the lives and struggles of peasants. Next was a novel I wrote, Bathuku Poru (Life-Struggle), bringing out the life and culture of women beedi manufacturers. It was edited by Venkatesham and K Rammohan Raju,” Ramulu said.

Soon after, in 1983, Venkatesham and Ramulu edited a book called Boggy Porallo (In the layers of Coal) on the lives and struggles of coal mine workers in Singareni village of Khammam district.

“In 1984, we published Adavilo Vennela (moonlight in the forest). It contained selected short stories of Allam Rajayya, Tummeti Raghotham Reddy, P Chand, and some tribal short stories,” Ramulu said, adding that he wrote the title story while Venkatesham and he were the editors

“This literature is the first of its kind as these books described historical struggles of contemporary times in fiction,” he remarked.

“His [Venkatesham’s] literary works and poems would also focus on progressive ideas against the state, patriarchy, caste, class, and various forms of oppression,” Venugopal recollected.

Venkatesham wrote a column — ee vaaram mee tho nenu (this week with you) — in 1990 in a periodical.

“He was closely associated with the Revolutionary Writers Association (RWA) and was involved in anti-landlord struggles,” Allam Narayana, chairman of the Telangana press academy, told South First.

Helped young writers

Nijam Venkatesham

Venkatesham is known to have helped a lot of young and aspiring writers, both Venugopal and Ramulu pointed out.

“One thing unique about him was that he used to buy a lot of copies of many of the books and hand them to friends,” Venugopal noted.

“He would purchase books in Telugu, Tamil, and Kannada, and distribute them among young writers and friends to encourage them. He connected thousands of writers,” Ramulu said, adding that Venkatesham financially supported many renowned artists, including Alishetti Prabhakar and Suddala Ashok Teja. 

A childlike and jovial person, after retirement, he got an assignment in an electrification project in Uttarakhand. He went there and came back after a couple of years. In Hyderabad, there wasn’t a single literary meeting without him, said Venugopal.

Tributes for Nizam Venkatesham

Tributes poured in for Venkatesham from many sections of society.

Telangana CM KCR expressed grief over the death of Venkatesham and noted his love for Telugu literature and his help for poor poets.

Ananda Bhaskar Rapolu, former BJP MP, in his condolence message, said that he has lost a friend since the 1980s.

“I cherish his memory. His attachment to his mother, whom he lost just 20 days earlier, and his bonds with family and others are models and hard to forget. My humble condolences to his wife Shrimati Madhavamma, his son Prashanth, his large family, and a huge number of associates,” he added.

BS Ramulu wrote a poem in Telugu as a tribute to his dear friend.