“Death be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so....Death thou shalt die!”
Rarely, if ever do these famous, oft-quoted lines from John Donne’s sonnet seem apt and befitting.
One had never imagined in one’s wildest dreams that there would be an occasion in one’s lifetime when Donne’s final pronouncement would ring true. In his death, YSR became immortal.
Daybreak carries me back into the heart of an experience of a lifetime—my journey to Idupulapaya to attend YSR’s funeral. A journey that was like none other.
Where has one seen such a spontaneous upsurge of sorrow—wailing, chest-beating men and women, young and old, transcending all affiliations of region, caste and creed, as if they had lost one of their own, as if they had all been orphaned at one stroke? As if the family lost its caring, protective head who had shielded all of them from all possible dangers and difficulties, who dispelled their doubts, allayed their fears and anxieties and stood by them in their hour of need. As if some monstrous storm had uprooted the gigantic banyan tree under whose comforting shade their lives had just begun to settle into a state of tranquil ease.Who has ever seen or even heard of tragedy on such a scale where nearly 600 people were so shell-shocked by the sudden passing away of one individual that they died grief-stricken, many of them taking, with their own hands, what is dearest to them—their life?
On the evening of September 3, 2009, when some of my friends told me that they were planning to go to Idupulapaya to attend YSR’s funeral and asked me to join them, I was a bit reluctant at first. Yes, being there was something else and gave you “a slice of reality” that even continuous coverage by news channels did not. Initially, as a layman, I was prepared to settle for television coverage, but on second thoughts, I decided to accompany them on what unquestionably proved to be the most memorable journey of my life.
As we set out in the early hours of Friday, we saw black flags and posters of YSR everywhere along the way—every nook, street, intersection, road divider, simply everywhere. Life in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh had come to a sudden halt. Nobody had asked shopkeepers to down their shutters—not this time. They did it on their own—across the state, from the old city in the neighbourhoods around Charminar to the towns we passed on our way to Cuddapah. People who came from other parts of the state, Srikakulam, Vizianagaram, Krishna, the Godavari districts, Khammam, Karimnagar, Mahabubnagar, practically, every single town and district in undivided Andhra Pradesh, had the same story to tell—without any coercion or persuasion, people mourned and life stood still. The villages along the way wore an air of deathly silence, an eeriness that is indescribable and was it impossible to believe,if one hadn’t actually seen or experienced it. Everyone along the way seemed to be headed to Idupulapaya and more people kept joining the long convoy, as we went past Kurnool, Nandyal, Allagadda and finally to Cuddapah.
Hordes and hordes were streaming in from Ongole, Nellore, Chittoor, Tirupati and as we were to discover later, from virtually all parts of the state (a day after we got back, our house-help told me that many people from her village near Kakinada had also come) .
As our car inched its way past Cuddapah to Vempally, beginning a long, slow crawl to Idupulapaya, we realized that in death, YSR stood taller than most men could ever dream of in their lives. You could see the reason for that mystique, for the halo that surrounded his smiling face, in the hundreds of thousands of people who were not walking, but were running, to be there—weeping, wailing, the sturdiest and most hardened of men, not easily given to tears, sobbing inconsolably, the old and infirm hobbling and trying to inch forward beating the scorching mid-day sun.
Also Read: Unseen Photos Of Dr YSR
They came like ants out of some massive yet unheard of anthill, on foot, in cars, trucks, autos, tractors, bikes, whatever mode of transport they could find. They poured out of mosques after the Friday prayers, young and old, in shimmering white kurtas, prayer caps on their heads, burqa clad women trailing them, wiping their tears and shaking their heads in disbelief, as they trudged, alongside nuns, nurses, pastors, students, farm hands, labourers, shepherds, shopkeepers, mechanics, mayors, ministers, party workers, housewives from villages afar. “A sea of humanity” is a worn out cliché, but then there is indeed no other way to describe what one saw that afternoon.
On the stretch from Vempally to Idupulapaya, the mother of all traffic snarls awaited us. A ride that should have logically taken us probably some 45 minutes took more than five hours, and it could have easily taken another two hours had it not been for a kind police officer who towards the end, managed to untangle the knotted up snarl a bit to wave us through—a big thank you to Mr. Bharat, the officer. All along the five-hour ride, every few yards, one had to step out of the car to loosen one’s limbs and to see if, in that massive tangle, anything was moving at all.
And all the while, thousands of people walked briskly alongside in a seemingly never-ending stream. While waiting for the traffic to move I asked an old couple how it felt and what it meant to them. The old man’s sunken, bleary eyes welling up with tears, his tired look, filled with disbelief, said it all. His wife’s long wail that their “God was no more” was echoed by all around. He died in trying to reach out to them, the common villagers, they lamented and fear had gripped the minds of many ‘old-age pensioners’, widows, the disabled and those who hoped to benefit from his pet housing and other welfare schemes, as to what would happen to them now that their “God was no more,” was echoed by many huddled around them. He died in trying to reach out to them, the common villagers, they lamented. Fear now gripped the minds . As one spoke to the villagers, one learnt that most of them stayed up watching news channels and hadn’t eaten all night.
Practically everyone along the way had a story to tell, an experience to share. A farmer from Warangal recounted an incident, that is now legendary around his village, he said, about a villager getting a by-pass surgery done in ‘one rupee’. All he did when he developed chest pain, was to spend that rupee to call 108 from a pay phone booth and the rest was taken care of. He was rushed to a large general hospital, quickly put through a series of tests and had to undergo an immediate by-pass surgery. All for a rupee. This was of course substantiated by what one saw on the long journey from Hyderabad to Cuddapah. In village after village, along the way one spotted the ubiquitous 108 ambulance, with its wailing siren, that has now become synonymous with YSR and his pet Arogyasri scheme that had revolutionized health care in Andhra Pradesh —a program as many of them told us, brought the most underprivileged villager into the mainstream of modern health care.
They lamented the loss of a leader who stood his ground because he believed in what he was doing and remained unfazed by criticism and their faces said it all—a bolt of lightning seemed to have struck them, wiping the smiles off every single face, reducing them to phantoms of their true selves.
A day after we returned, a colleague who teaches Public Administration, walked up to me and said that she had offered tahajjud ki namaz ( late night prayers) praying for the Chief Minister’s safety as his helicopter went missing and remained untraced for long hours. An office attender nodded saying that thanks to the scholarships scheme introduced by YSR, his daughter was able to pursue higher studies now—bada pyaara leader thha sab, laakhon mein ek (he was a wonderful leader, one in a million) he mused.
That was the YSR people remembered, identified themselves with and mourned for. A man who lived up to what he said. A leader who thought for them, understood their trials and tribulations and more importantly delivered on the promises he made to them.
The massive outpouring of grief, the sorrow and despair which took the lives of hundreds of people told its own story. It was only then that one truly got a sense of how many lives this man had touched, how much genuine respect, love and affection he actually commanded. Saqib Lucknawi’s well-known couplet is so apt of YSR’s untimely demise—
zamana bade shauq se sun raha thha humeeN so gaye dastaaN kehte kehte