[BOOK: N. Innaiah, Living With Values: An Autobiography of a Humanist, published by Century Publications, New Delhi, 2013, with photographs and facsimiles, pp 229 +63, price Rs 300 $ 30]
If one wants history, literature and philosophy all together, this is the book to take up. It is a delightful combination of the three, and presented in an attractive get-up.
Dr Innaiah Narisetti (b.1937), a dedicated Rationalist and Humanist, has taught in Osmania University and written for various publication such as the Telugu daily Andhra Jyoti. He has participated in radio and television programmes in India and abroad, and this is putting it very, very briefly. He has had a most interesting life, rich in manifold experiences, and his autobiography really required to be written.
The first chapter (My Childhood Memories) is a moving account of a village lad’s initial years. The author remembers his granny and how he used to walk with her to the wet paddy fields. He recalls how she died of cholera, falling dead in the act of quenching her thirst.
College life in Guntur was a turning point for the author, as described in the next two chapters. Then came the exposure to university education in Visakhapatnam and first encounters with men of stature. He heard the mention of M.N. Roy and took a fancy to reading The Statesman. But then his father became a victim to diabetes and Homeopathy and the author faced the trauma of his falling into a coma and dying on the train to their native place. For the time, his M.A. course in Philosophy remained incomplete.
In 1969 he became the Personal Secretary of N.G. Ranga and had the opportunity to meet all sorts of interesting and powerful people. He became associated with the magazine Vahini, published from Vijayawada. He became familiar with Roy’s work.He attended Radical Humanist classes and even wrote for RH.
Then came a four-year stint as a school teacher in Sangareddy of Medak district. This ended with his marriage to Komala Venigalla of Hyderabad in 1964.They spent the first year of their married life in a tiled house, but with colleagues and friends, of both, dropping in. One of them was Gora Sastry with whom, in spite of some ideological differences, the author shared whisky and reading of Jerome K, Jerome. Through him, the author met Upolu Kalidas, the editor of the widely read Anandavani.
In 1965 and ’66, the young couple had Naveena and Raju born to them. In spite of hardships they spared the children. In a chapter devoted to his wife, the author mentions that the two had decided that she should retain her surname Venigalla “and thereby her individuality” (p 69). He acknowledges that in those days it was her regular salary as schoolteacher that enabled them to run the family. He describes how she then did her Masters course in English and in 1968 joined a college whose congenial atmosphere “brought about a metamorphosis” in her life (p 70). After completing his Master’s course in Philosophy in Osmania University in 1965-66, the author too worked on his PhD thesis, the award of which involved him in a protracted battle with the authorities.
Many firebrands loose their inner fire after settling down into family life. What is remarkable is that this young couple did not let it happen to them. In the chapter Rationalist Movement, the author writes: “Only after I settled down in life after marriage in 1964, I could pursue education and take part in movements simultaneously” (p 66).He helped revive the magazine Indian Rationalist and wrote every month on rationalism and related subjects. He went to Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry and critically reviewed the goings-on at the Ashram. He took part in a survey of the living conditions of sanitary workers in the Old City of Hyderabad. He wrote, he translated, and published his first book (Andhra Pradesh Rajakeeya Charitra) in 1969-70.But Komala and he also had to undergo the trauma of having son Raju kidnapped for a day.
Gradually the author developed greater contact with important political leaders and legislators. He started publishing a quarterly social science magazine (Prasarita). He spent a decade (1968-78) in the New MLA Quarters of Kolluri Koteswara Roche, stepped up his writing for RH and organized an All-India Humanist Conference in the MLA Quarters.
What makes this book a most human document is that he mentions that around this time he “became the proud owner of a telephone for the first time in my life” and “could acquire a refrigerator and buy modern children’s literature for my kids”. (p 85)
The author then became special reporter of Andhra Jyoti, gathering “invaluable” experience and numerous political and social contacts. (pp 95, 100)
In 1980 he shifted to Adarsh Nagar, a quiet locality in the heart Hyderabad, acquiring a b-and-w TV.
He became a freelance journalist, writing, translating, and assisting MLAs. “Our home in Adarsh Nagar became a beehive of activity”. (p 121)
Naveena and Raju were growing up. The author was acquiring friends as well as foes, both influential. He was often maligned for the he bold stances he took, and his family had their share of it. In the mid-eighties there was a lucrative offer from the American Consulate in Madras. But it would have curtailed the author’s “personal freedom” of writing and was therefore “spurned”. (p 130)
Naveena and Raju went to the US. The author immersed himself in Secular, Rationalist and Humanist programmes, working closely with the leaders in those fields. Meanwhile in 1986 he had moved into the Journalist Colony in Jubilee Hills and even become the President of its welfare association.
In two subsequent chapters (Homeopathy-The Arcane medicine and Self-proclaimed saints) the author now describes how over the years he has fought against blind faith. An earlier chapter (Tasleema Nasreen) too had narrated how the author as well as his wife had stood by this controversial writer.
In 1992, the couple went on a trip to the U.S, spending time not only with family and friends there but with prominent Rationalists and Humanists. In subsequent visits as well, the author has continued that association. He addressed an American Humanist Association meeting and there was a telecast of his interview conducted by the American Atheist Association. The family ties have only grown with time and intermeshed with professional and ideological ones. At the close of the autobiography, the author celebrates his birthday in Maryland, USA, with Humanist associates as well as grandchildren singing a birthday song in French and feeding him a slice of a birthday cake (see photographs page 62) – shaped like a book and a pen.
After this running account comes a presentation of the case regarding the award of the author’s Ph.D degree. Research students of any discipline should find it relevant. For, they often have to deal with such injustice.
Next you have reproductions of correspondence between the author and various Humanist personalities. As documents, they have historical value. So do the photographs, carrying you through the journey of the author’s life, which was sometimes in stark black and white, sometimes many-hued.
The font size in the Index is a little too small.
A couple of grammatical errors too can be located here and there. But as a publication, it is well-produced. The fact that the chapters are short helps readers to concentrate. In the world today, attention-spans are dwindling.
As you finish the book and close it, you see the author smiling at you out of the front cover (attractively designed by Giridhar Gaud). You feel that you have come to know him – at least a little. He is a man who has lived with values and also lived fully, a man of rationality as well as of human warmth. Thank you, you feel like saying; “Thank you, Dr Innaiah, for writing this book.”
[Dr. Dipavali Sen has been a student of Delhi School of Economics and Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics (Pune). She has taught at Visva Bharati University, Santiniketan, and various colleges of Delhi University. She is, at present, teaching at Sri Guru Gobind Singh College of Commerce, Delhi University. She is a prolific writer and has written creative pieces and articles for children as well as adults, both in English and Bengali.firstname.lastname@example.org]