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The Double-Edged Sword of Politics and Literature
In conversation with former MP – Padma Shri Dr. Lakshmi Prasad Yarlagadda
Interviewed and Written by Anupama Gopalakrishnan
An miindia.com exclusive | Copyright ©2014

From the small town of Gudivada (located in the state of Andhra Pradesh), to the corridors of the Indian Parliament to being the Founder-Director of the Indian Cultural Center in Canada, an interesting well carved out journey. An individual who has devoted his life to the wellbeing of the community spreading literature and culture- two of the essential elements that constitutes India’s social fabric. Miindia.com has a short and an interesting chat with Padma Shri Dr. Lakshmi Prasad Yarlagadda in Michigan as he celebrates his 60th birthday this weekend.

Miindia.com wishes Former Member of the Parliament, Padma Shri Dr. Lakshmi Prasad Yarlagadda a Happy 60th Birthday and hopes his active engagement with cultural organizations brings a sweeping change to the way we look at Indian literature and arts.

Padma Shri Dr. YLP (as he is fondly called) innate sense of love and passion for India at a very young age directed by parental upbringing of readily serving the immediate community (since both his parents are teachers) ignited a sense of responsibility towards spreading the medium of arts. He mentioned how “hundreds of students from various sections of the society have an acute love for education – “As teachers, we do our bit but since childhood I have seen my parents go beyond their call of duty to help and nurture young minds”. That to Dr. YLP began his tryst with politics and academics.

Here are some excerpts of the conversation:

A literary genius- with two doctoral degrees in Hindi and Telugu - could you share your experience in how they complemented your political journey?
I am from the Betavolu village located in Gudiwada, Andhra Pradesh. In my younger years, during the festival seasons, the entire village would be decorated, a sense of belonging, oneness prevailed. It was one big happy family. We used to have Harikathas (stories of the lord) that made the crowd ecstatic. We used to assemble every evening during the festivals and learn so much about history and mythology. I saw this and I got influenced by literature.

I have been writing since my college days (since 1968). As a child, I was very influenced with harikathas, purana sevams etc. I was attracted to literature from the very start to that effect that I was admitted to a private school owing to the strength of the curriculum. During the Mahatma Gandhi movement, Hindi was very important for communication and hence there was an emphasis on learning the language. And being the person I am, I wanted to take it all the way to the top and hence completed my PhD in Hindi as well as in my native language Telugu.

And yes, language plays a huge complementary part to any politician. Firstly, political leaders from North India like Jayaprakash Narayan, George Fernandez , Charan Singh, Karpoori Thakur, Raj Narayan, Madhu Limaye needed help translating their speeches in Telugu. They needed a bridge to connect the two worlds. Another factor was that in spite of media channels hovering about how great India was in terms of its culture and history, the Telugu language and its culture was not made known to people from the north. Accurate facts weren’t represented. I believe in aadhan pradhan - my intention is to translate works from Hindi into Telugu and vice versa and thereby achieve national integration."

…And you translated several books with this concept?
In spite of media invasion, not all of the great telugu contributions are known to North India and vice versa. So far I translated 40 books. Knowledge of the two languages is essential to bring about the changes I wanted to see. I have taken up the concept of “aadhaan-praadhaan” – giving and taking of knowledge. This made me present Telugu to the Hindi speaking people and likewise helped me translate great Hindi literary works into the Telugu language. And one such work that I loved working with was the translation of the famous “Tamas” novel into the Telugu language originally written by Bhism Sahani. I also received the prestigious Kendra Sahitya Academy Award in 1992 for this.

Actor Amitabh Bachchan has also endorsed your work…
Yes! I have been reading Harivanshrai Bachchan's poems from the age of 10. "I loved his prose and his style of narration. When I read the autobiography there were very interesting aspects of his life. They were ingrained in my mind. I felt as if I was going on a yatra along with the family. He faced so many odds and yet came out successful. He has inspired me a lot. It was not the usual autobiography - it also reflected the contemporary, political, social and economic conditions of the times. More importantly, it was an honest work - a fact endorsed by his son Amitabh at the release function of the Telugu translation of his biography Harivanshrai Bachchan Atmakatha by me on the first anniversary of the poet. I have retained the essence of the four volumes in this condensed version.

It isn't too easy to see a politician (from humble beginnings) to reach such gigantic literary heights of winning both the Sahitya Academy Award (twice) and the Padma Shri - what is your advice to youngsters of today?
I valued the question hour a lot because several new ideas were brought forth in parliamentary discussions. My first years in 1996-98, I had a mixed feeling of both curiosity as well as enthusiasm to make changes. Unfortunately, the question hour was gone. Personally, I feel that the parliament is for progressive and healthy discussions between states, rather- it is now a platform for agitations. With regard to political dreams, it is unfortunate to see how we have politicians and not statesmen in our country. The politician thinks about self while the statesman thinks about his state or country. In the event of globalization, patriotic fervor has been buried, history forgotten and literature dismissed. We need self-motivated youngsters who understand history to serve the state passionately. It is with these youngsters lies the torch of our progress.

As a politician and a literary guru, how do you describe the changing social and cultural trends?
I left politics in 2002 to propagate indian culture and literature in the west. We have a huge history, lots of sacrifices made by individuals, a lot of real stories that depicts the greatness of our country, India. Media portrays very little about India to the outside world. Nobody talks about history, its people and its contributions. Everyone love the real India. US President Obama mentioned that he was inspired by Gandhi to a great extent that made him win the elections. Unfortunately, we represent the two sides of the coin. One side, we have great influencers like Dr. Annie Besant, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi and all the literary geniuses while on the other side, we have social evils that are prevalent owing to illiteracy. Science and Technology has brought about innovative changes to our country, but we have to accept that our natural roots still exist in villages and our farming community. Every country has its plus and minus, so why should one look at India separately?

Your pet project is the Lok Nayak Foundation. Can you shed some light on this?
I was very influenced and motivated by Jayaprakash Narayan for all his efforts and struggle towards India’s independence. He was also called Lok Nayak – meaning “People’s Hero”. Lok Nayak Foundation was created to motivate and support lesser known laureates for their contributions towards Telugu literature and culture. Started in 2004, the foundation has honored Telugu literary geniuses whose works have not received mainstream attention. The Lok Nayak award, instituted on the lines of the prestigious Gnanapeeth award (for the Telugu land) carries Rs.1.25 lakh in cash and a citation. The foundation has been formed on the same date as the passing away of N.T. Rama Rao and Harivanshrai Bachchan which is January 18. The winner of 2014 Lok Nayak award is Mrs. OLGA (Popuri Lalita Kumari).

The eldest of 7 children, Padma Shri Dr. Lakshmi Prasad Yarlagadda’s contributions is highlighted with his unconditional love for literature and culture – sparked from his fulfilling experience as a political leader and a literary genius. His love for education and academics stems from his parental influence which he asks in simple terms: Isn’t it the responsibility of the gardener to water the plants he has planted in his garden? The significance of Dr. YLP’s literary endeavors lies not in pursuing literature for its own sake but in promoting the cause of brotherhood and national integration through popularizing acknowledged literary works through the medium of translation. Quitting mainstream politics, he attributes the success of his sincere devotion to the smile he sees on his student’s faces. He makes a valid point that winning the Padma Shri award need not always translate into a political ticket.

He truly believes that “education and improving literacy can change the world, something that politics cannot. Whatever I can do as a professor, I will do. No more politics because long gone are the days where a person is respected for who he is”.

Former Member of the Parliament, Padma Shri Dr. Lakshmi Prasad Yarlagadda is currently the Director, Indian Cultural Centre, Consulate General of India, Toronto. Dr. YLP lives with his supportive wife Sowjanya and has two children, Sivaram Yarlagadda (Michigan) and Sahiti Yarlagadda (Ohio).

For more information about Dr. YLP, please visit: www.yarlagaddalakshmiprasad.com
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