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Interview with Sirivennela Seeta Rama Sastry by Jeevi
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'NAA UCHVAASAM KAVANAM'. This small line entirely depicts about Sirivennala Seetarama Shastri. Weather it is a love song (ee velalo neevu emchestu untaavo - GULABI) or a sentimental one (chilakaa ye todu leka - SHUBHALAGNAM) weather a highly intellectual masterpiece (vidhatha talapuna - SIRIVENNELA) or a simple hummable song (vaareva emi face - MONEY) whether it is a college youth song (botany class undi - SHIVA) or an emotional ride(merise taaralade roopam - SIRIVENNELA) Shastri always left an impression with his works. Though he has penned more than 3000 lyrics he never wasted ink for an obscene word. He can only praise god with satiric words 'MUKKANTI, MUKKOPI,THIKKA SHANKARUDU'.

Inarguably he is the best contemporary lyrist and whom we can compare with the likes of ATHREYA, SINARE and VETURI. After his attempts to wake up the society with efforts like 'ardha shathabdapu agnaananne swarajyamandama' and 'niggadeesi adugu ee siggu leni jananni', if we found similarity between SRI SRI and SSRS its not an exaggeration (athisayokthi). has been consistently following it up Sri Sirivennela for the past 5 months for an interview. Sirivennela garu granted us an interview at 3 pm on 5th March 2002. He spoke at length with Jeevi about what has gone into become a lyricist 'Sirivennela Seeta Rama Sastry' in an exclusive interview lasted for 2 and half hours. Here are the excerpts of the interview …


I was born in Madhya Pradesh in a place called Shivoni. My grand parents are basically Telugu people, but settled in Madhya Pradesh. But I have to admit that my native place is Anakapally. My parents moved to Anakapally when I was 3 months old. I studied in Anakapally till 10th class. Later on my father is transferred to Kakinada as ITI college lecturer.

My father struggled a lot in his life. He is a rare genius. He is an expert in 14 languages including Sanskrit, Urdu and Persian. He mastered all most all subjects including Commerce, Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry. He also used to teach the ICWI students.

Since I am the elder son in the family, my father wanted to teach me all the knowledge he learnt. At the age of 9, my father taught me Bhagavatgeeta. I by hearted Bhagavatgeeta at that age. When I was in high school, he taught me calculus and trigonometry. But I had some kind of averseness towards this systematized educational system.

We believe in Joint family system and my father is the only earning member in the family. Hence, for my father the family means not just his wife and sons. The family consists of all the members of my grandfather's offsprings. Hence he has to take care of 15 family members. He is also an eminent homeopathy doctor. He used to struggle on daily basis to earn money to feed us. He got job in aided college at the age of 36. Till then, he was working in unaided colleges.

I would like to elucidate about my way of studying. Since my child hood, I used to spend less time in classroom and more time in library. I read all the Telugu books from back to back. I never prefer reading any books that are not in Telugu. I was a very poor student in English. In Telugu, I used to come first in all the contests like debates. If I attend a debate competition in Telugu, the organizers use to reserve the first prize to me. When I had the number one position in Telugu, I never tried my hand at other languages, which are not my forte. By the age of 15, I read all the books including the works of Viswanatha Satyanarayana. Chandamama magazine is my guru. I learn a lot about Shake Sphere's plays and Arabian Knight's stories. Chandamama helped me to get familiarize with the world literary works.

I used to be eka sandhagrahi when I was a kid. If I listen to anything for once, I used to repeat it. My father made me repeat the entire 100 slokas of Sivananda Lahari when I was a kid. I used to have fascination for films. I used to bunk school to watch films.

What I actually made me of what I am today is my childhood. My father is a great Guru for me. My father always wants me to speak truth. He never tolerates lies. He feels happy if I confess to him that I have made a mistake. My father is a great admirer of Gandhiji. My teacher at elementary school used to watch a film a day. And he is very fond of me, as I was the number one student. I used to bug him to take me along with him for the movies. I went to the film along with master. When I came home late, my father asked me why I was late. I told him that my teacher has taken me to movie. He did not believe it and he beaten me up thoroughly that night. That was the first time my father got angry and beaten me. Next day, my father went to teacher's house, enquired and found out that what I told was truth. He felt very happy about me that I told him truth. Next time onwards, I used to go and tell him that I went to movie whenever I watched one. At the same time, my ego used to get hurt whenever I had to tell him that I had done something wrong. Telling truth has become a way of life for me now. I have discovered a feel of comfort to go along with the truth.

I also learnt to think from the grassroots level on all issues from my father. There are a few preconceived thoughts and opinions that are blindly followed for ages. Let me give you an example. Lots of people in this country use the name of Godsey as opponent of Gandhiji and synonymous to evil. It's a wrong notion. If you keep aside the discussion about Godsey killing Gandhiji is right or wrong, I have not found a more sacrificing fellow than Godsey even in all the purana's and in the world's history. Godsey is a great admirer of Gandhiji. Godsey believed that Gandhiji is trying to appease one particular group at the cost of existence and survival of another group. Godsey knew that the people for whom he is killing would hate him forever. Nobody can do such a sacrifice. He is projected as a greatest villain. Nobody names one's son as Godsey like nobody names his or her son as Ravanasurudu, Duryodhanudu or Keechakudu. But Godsey is not a bad guy like Ravanasurudu, Duryodhanudu or Keechakudu. But nobody ever cared to know or understand what motivation Godsey had behind assassinating a national father figure like Gandhiji. My father taught me rational thinking. His rational thinking used to be very sharp and striking. He used to ask me a question and gave me a time of five days to answer him. He used to ask me very basic questions and ignited me to think logically what could be the real reason behind them. He gave a good statement that artists and scientists are like kids. They get excited and try to do new things every day. But philosophers must control them. A philosopher needs to decide if the work done by scientist is useful to society or not. If is it useful one must implement the works done by scientist. But times have changed now. The people want youngsters as the national leaders. This belongs to Sri Sri philosophy. In an editorial, somebody mentioned that 'Sri Sri Munduku Nadiche Kavi …… Viswanatha Satya Narayana venuka nadiche Maha Kavi'.

I used to feel that I was a great singer. I was under that illusion till I listened to Ghantasala song 'Mukkoti Devatalu .. Okkatainaaru'. Ghantasala sings so effortlessly that his songs appear to be plain and simple. But, when you attempt to sing them on your own, you will flat on the face. I failed to sing that song on my own. Then I realized that I am not a singer and I had lots of limitations.

I was involved with RSS at the age of 11. My disciplined life started since then. I used to hum songs with typical 'la la la' sound. Later on, I started constructing my own words and sing my own songs. When I penned a song, my brother told me that it looks like a poem. As I was an activist in RSS, I used to write patriotic songs.

Whenever I listened to a song, I never used to bother about how good the tune is or how great a voice is. What interests me in any song is the lyric. I liked Hindi songs a lot at that time. I strongly feel Telugu lipi has two languages. One is the language of commutation for regular life and the other one is the language of communication, which has nothing to do with regular life. You might say that even in poems we use the same words, which we talk in regular life. Though we use regular words, they communication more when they are used in poetry. I used to like Sri Sri a lot when I was a kid. At the same time, I had a little complaint about him. He invented free verse. It had good and bad effects. He created a feeling that anybody can write poetry and any written thing can be called poem.

I strongly feel that any poet should possess the following three qualities.

  1. Bhavana balam: Most of the people possess this. But one has to improve it by 'Abhyasam'.
  2. Abhyasam: One has to learn and practice. One can't put a Tamarind seed on his head and claim that he is sitting in the shade of Tamarind tree. There a big process of planting that seed and nurturing it and waiting till it grows to become a big tree. There is a systematic method of expressing the inner feelings.
  3. Laya: There should be some Laya to the poetry or song

After intermediate, I got an offer to study MBBS. I did not even have the financial backing to study MBBS, as our family was a below-middle class one. When I was studying my intermediate, I applied for P & T as a clerk, which needs a qualification of 10th class. But my father had different plans for me. He told that he would make me join MBBS if I could get a seat in the open competition. I procured a rank of 18 among the 3,300 aspirants applied for MBBS through written test. Only 33 sears were allotted to open quota. There were only three Medical colleges in AP. At that time, my father used to spend Rs 300/- (in 1973) on me for my MBBS education and living expenses. Due to meet this extra burden, my father extended his tuition time till 1 am in the night. My father daily schedule used to be hectic. His day starts with tuitions from 6 am to 9 am in the morning. Then attends college as lecturer from 10 am to 5 pm. From 5 pm to 8 pm, he practices as homeopathy doctor. After 8 pm, he had tuitions till 1 am. I worried a lot about his health.

In my college, I used to attend classes from 7 am to 5:30 pm. I am never interested in that kind of systematized continuous study. I used to be a first bench student till I entered my MBBS studies. In MBBS, the first benches are occupied. I had to sit in the last bench. I was not aware at that time that I had an eyesight problem. I did not realize earlier as I used to sit in first bench. But when I started sitting in the last bench, I had difficulty in reading what professor was writing on the board. In addition to this, the professor used to speak in English, which I was poor at. These two factors planted some kind of inferiority complex in me. At that time ragging used to be very mild. The worst and toughest question my seniors asked me when I joined MBBS was to narrate my train journey from Kakinada to Rajahnundry in English.

At that time, I started smoking cigarettes. Everyone used to call us doctors. I used to follow a life style. I used to have meals in the mess and then eat a paan followed by smoking a Gold Flake cigarette. I used to behave as if I was a practicing doctor when I was a student of MBBS. Though I liked the lifestyle as MBBS student, I had inner guilty feeling that I am not learning anything due to above-said reasons. My father was struggling.

At that point of time, I got a job for the P & T department, which I applied long back. The job is given based on my 10th class marks without any interview. I would get Rs 300/- a month if I join that job, which is very exciting for me. It sounded pretty foolish for others in those days. Hoards of people from my places are on my back to fund my studies on the condition that I would marry their daughter later. My problem was that I am not morally entitled to smoke at the cost of my father's sweat and blood. I was fascinated by the idea that I would get Rs 300/- that I can spend at my own will, without depending on anybody. I joined that job as a clerk. To make sure that I wont get tempted again, I took that T.C so that I am not entitled to join MBBS at a later point of time.

Continued in Part 2

Sirivennela has written a book titled 'Sirivennela Tarangalu', which featured the best songs done by him and what inspired him to write those lyrics. It's an excellent book. It is priced at Rs 95/- in India ($ 9 in USA). You can get a copy of it by mailing the following address:
Sirivennela Creations (P) Limited
301, Western Plaze, Yellareddyguda, Hyderabad 500073
Phone No: 040 3739127
Interviewed by Jeevi
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