With the death of Bheemanna, what was already
a difficult situation became severe hardship.
a husband to support her children, Parvatamma relied upon her own work and
whatever help she could get from her aging father, Goli Sathyam. They were
among the poorest in a poor village. She not only wove cloth, she made dosas,
thin pancakes made from dried legume and rice flour, to sell in the village.
Before Bheemanna died, his first wife,
childless Shravanamma, tried to get his agreement to allow her to raise
Sathyaraju as her own son. Such an arrangement was not uncommon in rural
India when one wife had several children and the other none, but Bheemanna
avoided making any commitment. After his death, pressure from other
relatives, particularly in light of Parvatamma’s poverty, compelled her to
honor Shravanamma’s wishes. When Sathyaraju was five years old, he was taken
to the nearby village of Bandarulanka to live with his step-mother. The
small boy missed his mother so much that after six months, he was allowed to
return to Adivarapupeta.
It was at this young age that Sathyaraju
confronted his family’s poverty. He was used to getting food whenever he
asked, but sometimes he noticed that his mother was sad. He realized that he
never saw her eating a proper meal. Once when he asked for food, he asked
his mother to eat with him. She told her young son that she was busy working
and would eat later. The boy insisted, so Parvatamma set aside half of the
food and said she would have it a little later.
Sathyaraju finished his food and made as if he
was going outside. Instead, he hid behind the door and kept a watch. Nearly
two hours passed and the boy waited patiently to see whether his mother ate
any food. What he doubted was true. She took none.
After some time, Sathyaraju came out
pretending as if he were coming into the house from outside. He called his
mother and asked for food, as he usually did, saying he was hungry.
Parvatamma gave him the share of food that she had set aside. When
Sathyaraju asked whether she had eaten her portion, she assured him that she
had. Then the boy confronted his mother, and she could not help but cry.
Sathyaraju wondered whether he had hurt her,
so he went to his grandfather to ask what had happened. Goli Sathyam
explained, “You see, we are poor, but you need not worry. Concentrate on
your studies. Mother cannot bear her children’s hunger. She eats very little
— hardly any proper meal for many days.” The boy demanded to know what
poverty was and why they were poor. Grandfather replied, “Your father died
when you were barely two years old so your mother has to work to feed her
The incident made a strong impression on the
five-year-old. From that time on, Sathyaraju committed himself to supporting
his mother and family. Village children usually began weaving at age six,
helping their elders spin thread and weave cloth. Sathyaraju was only five
when he started helping others, earning a paisa or two (one hundredth of a
rupee) a day. Soon he was weaving cloth for the family to sell.
At age eight, Sathyaraju again was made to
live with his step-mother where life was even more difficult. He attended
the village school in Bandaluranka, learned quickly, and became accepted as
one of the leaders. But his step-mother made him weave a half a saree each
day. When he was finished, he was sent on errands to buy cotton, deliver and
sell the finished cloth at nearby markets, and work on household chores. He
was not allowed to play with the other children. Soon he was taken out of
school to work at home all day. Parvatamma, although poor, always had made
sure that her children had food to eat. Sathyaraju’s step-mother fed him
small meals. He was often hungry and the hard work was difficult on his
Sathyaraju suffered these difficult conditions
until he discovered that his step-mother was illegally dealing in opium.
Some friends tipped him off that officials were on their way to search his
step-mother’s house for opium. He ran home, confronted his step-mother, and
removed the drugs before the search party arrived. He threatened to return
to Adivarapupeta unless she gave up dealing, and she, somewhat shaken by the
experience, promised. However, Sathyaraju soon discovered that she was still
dealing opium, so he asked permission to return to Adivarapupeta. By then
his step-mother was tired of his criticism so she consented. He had been
with her for five months.
Sathyaraju returned to his step-mother a third
time when he was twelve years old and she was seriously ill. He helped nurse
her to health, then discovered that she was still dealing in opium. Again he
expressed his anger, but she only tried to conceal her activities. Each was
angered by the other, and the disputes culminated in an argument at dinner
one night when he resolved never to step foot in his step-mother’s house
again. He slept on the verandah that evening, and despite his step-mother’s
change of heart and appeals, he left for Adivarapupeta the next morning and