Singing for Revolution: Revisiting The Life and Lyrics of Gaddar

By P. Kesava Kumar. Kesava Kumar is a Professor of Philosophy at Delhi University. Translations by A. Suneetha and Gautham Reddy. Suneetha and Gautham are members of the Maidaanam Editorial Collective.

Editor’s Note: Gummadi Vittal Rao (1949-2023), or Gaddar as he is more popularly known, was a historical phenomenon. He was unprecedented and little understood. Generations have grown up with his songs – some drawn by his earthy poetics, others by his gentle dances or theatrical stage performances, fiery politics, or some combination of these elements. He is perhaps the only Indian performer and political thinker who was capable of attracting hundreds of thousands of people to public meetings for decades.

It is no exaggeration to say Gaddar was the reason many people were inspired to join the great political struggles for justice in the Telugu regions. The general decline of revolutionary left politics after the ’90s, along with his own differences with Communist leaders, saw Gaddar’s reach and influence in party circles decline. Yet he reinvented himself, finding new audiences and fans in the campaign for a separate Telangana State, an increasingly assertive Telugu Dalit and Bahujan movement, and a booming new Telugu media industry. Gaddar’s recent passing in August has led many to revisit and comment on the legacy and significance of his life.

In light of this moment, we present this essay by Kesava Kumar on the evolution of Gaddar’s politics and poetics along with select translations of his songs by A. Suneetha and Gautham Reddy.

Gaddar singing at a public rally for a separate Telangana State, 2010
Source: Mahesh Kumar A.

The songs of Gaddar are legendary in the Telugu parts of southern India. Drawing on popular Telangana folk genres, such as Oggu Katha, Veedhi Bhaagavatham, and Yellamma Kathalu, they are powerful expressions of leftist ideas and revolutionary fervor.

Gaddar’s career as a cultural activist spanned over fifty years and consistently focused on the experiences of the poor and the oppressed. His songs reflect a deep engagement with different ideological strands of the Indian left and their evolution. During the 1970s, Gaddar joined the militant Maoist-Naxalite movement and served as a leading figure in the influential revolutionary theater troupe, Jana Natya Mandali (JNM). During this time he achieved widespread popularity for songs that celebrated the martyrs of the armed movement.

Over the next decade, during the emergence of the Telugu Dalit and Feminist movements, his songs displaya notable change in focus. Where they earlier focused on more general experiences of “farmers” (raitulu) and “laborers” (cooleelu), they now spoke to the pain and resistance of specific Dalit communities (Mala, Madiga) and women. During the ’90s Gaddar became an outspoken critic of globalization and increasing religious nationalism. Toward the end of his life, he came out of the Maoist-Naxalite movement and played an important role in the campaign to create a separate Telangana state. Gaddar’s songs, with their dynamic range of themes and tremendous popularity, are an unforgettable monument to the great struggles for dignity and justice that have shaped postcolonial India.

Bhaarata Desam Bhaagya Seema Raa! Singing Realism into Political Action

Gaddar first rose to notice in the mid-1970s during his association with the Maoist-Naxalite movement. His songs from this time reflect Maoist understandings of Indian society as “semi-feudal” and “semi-colonial.” They center on the problems of the masses and were sung in the name of the peasant and the farm laborer (raitu-cooleelu). The crux of these songs focus on their courageous battle to escape social and economic oppression.

His song, India is a Land of PlentyBhaarata Desam Bhaagya Seema Raa depicts this inequality and exposes the fundamental contradiction of the Indian society – though the country is rich in resources, its people remain poor:

భారతదేశం భాగ్యసీమరా
సకలసంపదలకు కొదవలేదురా
బంగారుపంటల భూములున్నయి
చావులేని మరి జీవ నదులురా
సకలసంపదలు గల దేశంలో
దరిద్రమెట్లుందిరో నాయనా?

bhaarata desam bhaagya seema raa
sakala sampadalaku kodava ledu raa
bangaaru pantala bhumulunnaayi
chaavuleni mari jeeva nadulu raa
sakala sampadalu gala desamlo
daridram etlundiro naayana?

India is a land of plenty, raa
There is no dearth of any wealth, raa
Its lands are gold with ripened grain
Its rivers brim with endless life, raa
In a land with all kinds of wealth
How can there be poverty, my child?

In a similar tone, Gaddar described the fate of productive classes/castes. He highlighted the plight of traditional occupations taken by particular caste groups and how they were alienated from the fruits of their own labor. In fact, as the verse below ingeniously shows, this alienation follows them even into their death.

కమ్మోరోని ఇంట్లబుట్టి
కత్తిపీట సుత్తిలేక
కుమ్మరోని ఇంట్లబట్టి
పిండాకూడు కుండలేక
వడ్లోని ఇంట్ల బుట్టి
ఉలి సేకు పిడి లేక
శాలోళ్ల ఇంట్ల బుట్టి
చావుబట్ట కొనలేక

kammaroni intla butti
katti peeta sutti leka
kummaroni intla butti
pindaa kudu kunda leka
vodloni intla butti
vuli seku pidileka
shaalolla intla butti
chaavubatta konaleka

Born in a blacksmith’s family
No hammer No cutting board
Born in a potter’s family
No pot to offer rice for the dead
Born in a carpenter’s family
No chisel No clamp
Born in a weaver’s family
Can’t even buy a funeral shroud

During the political crisis of the Emergency (1975-77), Indian society experienced a severe shock due to inflation. The price of basic commodities increased sharply. The JNM had a song on this topic, which remains popular to this day:

ఏం కొనేడట్టు లేదు
ఏం తినేడట్టు లేదు
నాగులో నాగన్న!
ధరలిట్ల పెరుగవట్టె
నాగులో నాగన్న

em kone dattu ledu
emi tine dattu ledu
naagulo naaganna!
dharal itla perugavatte
naagulo naaganna!

How can we buy anything
How can we eat anything
Naagulo Naaganna!
When prices keep going up
Naagulo Naaganna!

Another popular JNM song, We Have Smashed Mountains – Kondalu Pagalesinaam strikingly evokes the exploitation of labor. The undercurrent of all these songs is that even though the working class toils day and night, they do not see any changes in their lives. Gaddar’s songs ask – Why do the productive classes have to starve? Why do the landlord, the capitalist, the nation grow richer? Such songs are a direct expression of the Marxist analysis of surplus in clear and simple terms, appealing directly to the experience of the worker. The idea is that wealth/surplus is always generated through exploitation at the expense of the laborer.

It is important to note that Gaddar did not limit his songs to pitiful descriptions of the exploitation and oppression of the masses. He also sought to inspire a confident spirit of resistance in his audiences. His songs essentially urge the masses to question and revolt against the dominant system. Take for example the song by Guda Anjaiah, that Gaddar popularized with his voice, This is Our Village – Vooru Manadi Raa:

ఈ వూరు మనదిరా, ఈ వాడ మనదిరా
ప్రతి పనికి మనంరా
సుత్తి మనది, కట్టి మనది
దొర ఏందిరో? వాడి పీకుడేందిరో?

ee vooru manadi raa, ee vaada manadi raa
prati paniki manam raa
sutti manadi katti manadi
dora yendiro? vadi peekud endiro?

This is our village, raa
This is our neighborhood, raa
We do all the work, raa
The hammer is ours
The knife is ours
Who is this landlord?
Why do we suffer his oppression?

Like any Marxist, Gaddar believed that social relations are always in a dynamic state. For him, the working class would never stay silent and would inevitably revolt for a better life. Consequently, we see that change is an underlying theme of his songs. Gaddar firmly believed that this change would only be brought through the organization of the working masses under a revolutionary Marxist party. In the song, It Won’t Stop, Won’t Stop, Won’t Stop Aagadu, Aagadu, Aagadu he shared his belief that the ordinary folk who starve are the ones who will band together and lead the armed struggle against injustice:

ఆగదు, ఆగదు ఆగదు
ఈ ఆకలి పోరు ఆగదు
ఈ దోపిడీ పాలన అంతం వరకు
ఈ సాయుధ పోరు ఆగదు
చీమల దండులు కదిలినయి
పాముల గుండెలు అదిరినయి
ఆవుల మందలు కదిలినయి
పులులు పరుగులు తీసినయి

aagadu aagadu aagadu
ee aakali poru aagadu
ee dopidi paalana antham varaku
ee saayudha poru aagadu
cheemala dandulu kadilinai
paamula gundelu adirinai
aavula mandalu kadilinai
pululu parugulu teesinai

It won’t stop, won’t stop, won’t stop
This fight against hunger won’t stop
Until the rule of the oppressor ends
This armed struggle won’t stop
The swarms of ants are marching
The hearts of snakes are trembling
The herds of cattle are marching
The tigers are fleeing

This song draws on popular children’s animal tales to colorfully depict the growing energy and courage of mass working class movements against their predators – landlords and capitalists.

Gaddar had a clear vision of what comprised class in the Indian social context. In order to mobilize the people under a revolutionary party, he composed songs that called to all types of Indian workers. His songs often single out and specifically name different workers – railway workers (gangollamandi), stone quarry workers (vadderollamandi), porters (hamalilu), rikshaw pullers (rikshaawala), female farm laborers (sirimalle chettukinda lachumammo), beedi workers (mogolla notlo beedilai), coal mine workers (singareni ghani kaarmikulu, banda kinda batukulu, singareni ceeti vini), RTC public bus drivers (draiver anna). At the same time, Gaddar also sought to unite these diverse groups of laborers under the broader category of the “working class.” Take for example the famous song, Raheem the Rikshaw PullerRikshaa Tokke Raheem, where he called upon various workers as his brothers (anna):

రిక్షా తొక్కే రహీమ్ అన్నా!
రాళ్లు కొట్టే రామన్నా!
నీకున్న ఆస్తంతా
రెండు రెక్కలు అన్నా!

rikshaa tokke raheem anna!
raallu kotte raamanna!
draiver mallanna!
neek unna aastanta
rendu rekkale, anna!

Rikshaw puller, Rahim anna!
Stonecutter, Ramu anna!
Driver Malla anna!
All you own
Are your two hands, anna!

Listen to “Raheem the Rikshaw Puller” at 1:45

In this way, Gaddar’s songs translated Marxist understandings of “class” into the concrete realities of Indian society.  His songs appealed directly to the concerned groups. They owned his songs as the truth of their lives.

Raktamto Naduputaanu! The Body in Anticapitalist Struggle

Gaddar composed countless songs on feudal oppression and the ongoing struggles against landlords. However, one of his unique features was that he also gave special importance to the precarious situation of workers suffering the transition from feudalism to capitalism. His songs observed that capitalism relies on the extensive use of machines for the production of goods in large scale. They suggest that its ultimate goal is to generate profit by expanding its markets. Capitalism commodifies everything and reduces human relations to the value of utility. Under this systeem, life becomes mechanical.

In his song, Constantly Turning Tirugutoovundante, Gaddar reflected on the industrial process of commodity production by machines and how it drains the blood of the worker. In this, he captured the essence of how capitalist exploitation. In another popular song, he describes a figure who was once very common in Indian cities: the rikshaw puller. His song The Rikshaw PullerRikshaawala is set in the voice of a Rikshaw puller and not only illustrates his miseries but also ridicules capitalism in a subtle form:

రక్తంతో నడుపుతాను రిక్షాను
నా రక్తమే నా రిక్షాకు పెట్రోలు

raktamto naduputaanu rikshaanu
naa raktame naa rikshaaku petrolu

My blood powers this rikshaw
My blood is its sole fuel

Gaddar was also extremely critical of the Indian state. He believed that, following the Maoist party’s analysis, the postcolonial Indian government’s social and political structures reflected a semi-feudal and semi-colonial character. The ruling hegemonic bloc were composed of a motely mix of feudal landlords, capitalist industrialists, and an elitist urban bourgeois class. His songs sought to name and target the exploitation committed by these groups: 

టాటా, బిర్లా, భూస్వాములు
పెత్తనాన్ని పాతి పెట్టి
డప్పుతో దండోరా వేయన్నా
రైతన్నా నీవు
ఆయుధాలకు పూజ సేయన్నా
ముందు ముందు కాలం నీదేనన్నా

taataa, biralaa, bhooswaamulu
pettanaani paati petti
dapputo dandoraa veyanna
rait anna neevu
aayudhaaluku pooja seyanna
mundu mundu kaalam needen anna

Bury the Tata-Birla-landlord rule!
Raise the battle cry of your dappu drum, anna!
Farmer anna!
Consecrate your weapons, anna!
The future is yours, anna!

In several songs such as these, Gaddar drew direct links between the village landlord, the industrial baron, and the imperialist powers of the Cold War. For example, in one of his Dakhini/Urdu songs, Rise up – Jaago Re he sings:

jaago re!
jaago re jaago jaago!
duniya mein majuduro
duniya ka dushman hain amerika rashiya
un kee dalal hain taataa birla
un kee gulaam hai desh kee netha
un kee chenche hai gav kee jaalim
inse ladana hai jaago re!

Rise up!
Rise up, rise up, rise up!
Workers of the world
America and Russia are enemies of the world
Tata and Birla are their brokers
Our nation’s leaders are their slaves
Our village crooks toe their line
Rise up to fight them!

A note on the form of this song should be made. Gaddar experimentally took the tune of an African song and introduced humming to great effect. Musically, as he condemns the imperialism of the great powers, he also builds connections with other communities exploited by them around the world.  

Gaddar considered most third world nations fundamentally agrarian. He felt a solidarity with the working peoples of those countries. Artists and writers in those contexts borrowed many of the folk and popular melodies from the lives of their local productive classes. He believed that the selection of these kinds of tunes would translate well across third world nations and build a sort of third-world internationalism and global worker solidarity.

Sree Raamuni Sirasu Chitaka! Hindutva and Communal Violence

The late eighties also saw the spread of Hindutva, right-wing Hindu nationalism, and a related spike in communal violence targeting Muslims and other religious minorities. Organizations such as the RSS mobilized around the destruction of the Babri masjid in Ayodhya, a historic medieval mosque, and the construction of a new Rama temple on its location. Gaddar condemned the spread of such atrocities in the name of religion as in his song May they Crush Lord Rama’s Head – Sree Raamuni Sirasu Chitaka:

శ్రీరాముని శిరసు చితక, ఆల్లకు అగ్గి తగల
నా ముక్కు చెవులు కొస్తిరో, మతం ముండాకొడకా
నా గుడిసెకు నిప్పెడితిరో, మతం ముండాకొడకా

sree raamuni sirasu chitaka! aallaku aggi tagala!
naa mukku chevulu kostiro, matam mundaakodaka!
naa gudiseku nippedtiro, matam mundaakodaka!

Dalita Pululu Amma! Dalit Self Respect and Resistance against Landlords

During this period, Gaddar also encountered the growth of new Telugu Dalit and Feminist movements. These movements, first emerging in literary and cultural spaces, criticized the Communist party and its associated groups for their limited focus on class. Dalit and Feminist intellectuals brought a radical new understanding of the intersection of class with caste and patriarchy. Strikingly, they made no exception for the armed Naxalite struggle. Their critiques led to a major debate in the left on the significance of caste and gender in imagining emancipation and liberation.

This atmosphere inspired Gaddar to focus more directly on the tangible experiences of India’s oppressed. Born into a family of Dalit laborers, Gaddar became an important internal critic of the Maoist-Naxalite movement on the topic of caste. At the same time, nurtured by the Maoist armed struggle, he also expressed criticism of the Dalit movement’s strategies around engaging the Indian government and bourgeois society.

Gaddar emerged as a unique bridge between the Naxalite party and the Dalit movement. He was not only a singer but also a a committed theorist. In comparison to the abstract political rhetoric of Marxist intellectuals, his earthy language and concrete descriptions came much closer to the lived experiences of the toiling masses. Against the backdrop of an emerging Dalit movement, he shifted his language from identifying “the people” by terms such as “coolie” and “laborer” to the specific Telugu Dalit communities who worked in these roles such as Malas and Madigas.

This transformation can be seen when comparing his songs from the ’70s that called out to “coolee anna” (coolie brother) to his songs of ’80s that hailed them as “Dalita pululu” (Dalit tigers). At the same time, it is important to recognize that Gaddar’s earlier repertoire was not completely silent on caste. Songs such as Oh, these Maadiga LivesYelaro Ee Maadiga Batukulu and Seize the Government, Maala AnnaRaajya Adhikaaraniki, Maala Anna come to mind. However, these songs generally did not treat Dalit struggles for dignity as distinct from the larger Maoist-Naxalite struggle for the working class. In Seize the Government, Maala AnnaRaajya Adhikaaraniki, Maala Anna, Gaddar claimed that there would be no real change in the lives of Dalits unless and until they obtain state political power through revolution.

బాంచన్ బాంచనంటు
గులాపాన్ని దొర అంటు
ఎన్నాళ్ళు బతుకుతావు మాలన్నా
ఎదురు తిరగవేమిరో మాదిగన్నా

నువ్వు మతం మార్చుకున్నా
నీ బతుకు మారదన్నా
నీవు కులం మార్చుకున్నా
నీకు కూడు దొరకదన్నా

నీవు రాజ్య మేలకుండా
నీ రాత మారదన్నా
రాజ్యాధికారానికి, మాలన్నా
నీవు రైఫిలందుకోవరో, మాదిగన్నా

baanchan baanchan antu
gulaapaanni dora antu
ennaallu batukutaavu maala anna?
eduru tiragavemiroo maadiga anna?

nuvvu matam maarchukunnaa
nee batuku maaradu anna
neevu kulam maarchukunnaa
neeku kuda dorakadu anna

neevu raajyam elakundaa
nee raata maaradu anna
raajya adhikaaraaniki, maala anna!
neevu raiphil andukovaro, maadiga anna!

“Master, I am at your service”
“I am your slave! I am your slave!”
How long will you grovel, Maala Anna!
Why won’t you revolt, Maadiga Anna!

You can change your religion
But your life won’t change
You can change your caste
But you’ll still be hungry

Your fate won’t change
Until you’re in charge
Seize the Government, Maala Anna!
Pick up the rifle, Maadiga Anna!

Through songs like these, Gaddar specifically appealed to the Dalit communities of Andhra, especially Mala and Madiga caste groups, to join the working class struggle. Departing from Ambedkarite thinking, he believed that even if Dalits changed their religion, they would still see no substantial changes in their lives. For Gaddar, armed struggle was the only way to achieve lasting change.

The ’90s saw Gaddar become more involved in the Dalit struggles of Andhra. He began to rework his literary frame from a class-centered discourse to a caste-centered one. With this shift he began to acquire a wider base beyond the direct ambit of Marxist–Leninist political organizations.

One exaple of this is his increasing impact on the festive Ambedkar Jayanti celebrations introduced in Andhra Pradesh at this time. Although the state government made efforts to resist his presence at government-sponsored functions, the Dalit masses, including those who disagreed with his commitment to the Naxalite movement, welcomed Gaddar as a performer and brother. He became an icon of Dalit Bahujan organizing.

A watershed moment in Dalit organizing in the Telugu states occurred with the brutal Karamchedu massacre of 1985. The massacre was spurred by a Madiga boy who objected to a Kamma boy washing a buffalo near the Dalit water tank and dirtying his community’s drinking water. The incident provoked a strong backlash from the dominant Kamma caste who was the primary support caste base for the Telugu Desam Party that governed Andhra Pradesh at this time. The growing self-respect and political assertion of Telugu Dalits was understood as a threat to the social and political dominance of Kamma landlords. This growing tension led to a confrontation between both communities that resulted in the murder of 6 Madiga youths, injuries for many more, rape, and the displacement of hundreds of Dalit people from their homes.

The Dalit response to this tragedy was unprecedented. There was a large-scale mobilization of Dalit people from across the state to support the victims. Caste suddenly became a topic of open discussion and the word “Dalit” acquired new prominence through the organization of Malas and Madigas under the banner of the Dalit Maha Sabha. Unlike earlier times, the Dalits of Karamchedu stood against the upper castes and demanded respect. With this rising consciousness among Dalits, they decided they would no longer surrender themselves to upper caste hegemony. On this critical moment, Gaddar sang the song Dalit Tigers, Amma – Dalita Pululu, Amma in a manner that echoed older heroic folk ballads in Telugu:

దళిత పులులమ్మా, దళిత పులులమ్మా
కారంచేడు భూస్వాములతోని
కలబడి నిలబడి పోరు చేసిన
దళిత పులులమ్మా

dalita pululu, amma, dalita pululu amma
kaaramchedu bhooswaamulatoni
kalabadi nilabadi poru chesina
dalita pululu amma

Dalit tigers, Amma! Dalit tigers, Amma!
They joined together, They rose up,
They battled the landlords of Karamchedu!
Amma, they were Dalit tigers!

Listen to “Dalit Tigers, Amma” at 3:25

The brutal massacre at Karamchedu was followed several years later by yet another atrocity, the 1991 Chunduru massacre. In this incident, a young Dalit college student’s feet accidentally touched an upper caste Reddy woman’s feet in a cinema hall. This led to the murder of 8 Dalits from the Mala community and a devastating economic boycott by Reddy landlords who employed Mala laborers as daily wage workers. Relating to this tragedy, Gaddar had the song Come, My Chundooru Dalit Brothers – Chundooru Dalit Anna, Randiro and called for the overthrow of the Chunduru Reddy landlords:

చుండూరు దళితన్నా 
రండిరో దళితన్నా 
దండు కట్టుదాము 
చుండూరు భూస్వాముల 
గోరి కట్టుదాము 

chundooru dalita anna
randiro dalita anna
dandu kattudaamu
chundooru bhooswaamula
gori kattudaamu

Chunduru Dalit Anna!
Come, Oh Dalit Anna!
Let’s band together
Let’s bury the Chunduru Landlords

Gaddar believed that the liberation of Dalits was firmly linked to a struggle for land and economic security. He emphasized the need to unite the struggles against caste exploitation and class exploitation as in the song Brothers, My Dalit Brothers – Annalaara, Dalita Annalaara:

అన్నలారా, దళితన్నలారా, మాయన్న పోరన్నలారా 
అడిగి చూడు ఆదిలాబాదు కరీంనగరులో కష్టజీవులు 
భూమికోసం భుక్తి కోసం 
బరిసెలెత్తినారు, బాకులెత్తినారు

దళితజీవుల విముక్తి పోరు భూమిపోరుతో ముడిపడివుంది
కులపోరు, వర్గ పోరు కల్సి పోరాడుదాం 
భూపోరుతో మన పోరు మొదలు పెట్టుదాం 

annalaara, dalita annalaara, maa yanna porannalaara
adigi choodu aadilaabaadu kareemnagarulo kashta jeevulu
bhoomi kosam bhukti kosam
bariselettinaaru, baakulettinaaru

dalita jeevula vimukti poru bhoomi poruto mudipadivundi
kulaporu, varga poru kalsi poraadudaam
bhooporuto mana poru modalu pettudaam

Brothers, My Dalit brothers!
Brothers, My Fighting brothers!
Ask the hardworking people of Adilabad and Karimnagar
For land, for food
They raised spears, they raised knives

The fight for the liberation of Dalit lives
Is tied to the struggle for land
Let’s unite the struggles against caste and class
Let’s begin our fight with the for land!

O Laccha Gummadi: Women’s Life under Patriarchy

As with caste, Gaddar’s songs also displayed a new consciousness of gender in the 1980s. Many of his songs showed the influence of growing exposure to and influence by the Feminist movement in Telugu society. Prior to this time, Gaddar had depicted the oppression of women as a feature of class oppression. Songs of this type include Lacchamma under the Jasmine – Sirimalle Chettu Kinda Lacchammo, Come See me My LoveBavayyo Vokkasaari Chusipovaa, The Bonalu Festival in Full SwingLaskar Bonaalanta, and Sister You’ve Fixed Your Sari End on Your Waist – Kongu Nadumuki Chuttaave Chellamma.

One of the reasons for this might be that there were initially few women in Naxalite movement. From the 90s on however, a considerable number of women joined the revolutionary struggle. Learning from the Feminist movement, Gaddar composed many songs that highlighted patriarchy and the specific problems faced by women in Indian society. Some examples of these songs include: Oh Darling Laccha – O Lachagummadi, Women’s Lives – Aadolla Batuku, Mother I won’t Go – Amma Nenu Pone (on the anti-liquor movement), We are the Fire of the Beedi Cigarettes in Men’s MouthsMogolla Nollallo Beedilai Kaaletollam (on Beedi workers). Here is a verse from the widely beloved song, Oh Darling Laccha – O Lacchaagummaadi:

నిండు అమావాస్య నాడు ఓ లచ్చా గుమ్మాడి
ఆడ పిల్ల పుట్టినదే ఓ లచ్చాగుమ్మాడి
అత్తా తొంగి సూడలేదు ఓ లచ్చాగుమ్మాడి
మొగుడు ముద్దాడరాలేదే ఓ లచ్చాగుమ్మాడి

nindu amaavaasya naadu o lacchaagummaadi
aada pilla puttinade o lacchaagummaadi
attaa tongi soodaledu o lacchaagummaadi
mogudu muddaadaraalede o lacchaagumaadi

On the deepest darkest moonless night, Ah darling laccha
A girl child is born, Ah darling laccha
The mother-in-law did come to see her, Ah darling laccha
The husband did not kiss her, Ah darling laccha

Listen to “Ah Darling Laccha”

This song movingly describes the despair of a mother over the birth of her daughter. The moonless night, a popular symbol of inauspiciousness, is brought in to highlight the social preference for male children. The mother-in-law and husband are figures of patriarchal authority. In this, Gaddar evoked the painful burden of patriarchy on a women, dehumanized from the very moment of their birth.

Dayyam Battindiro Naa Pendlaam Poralaku: Life after Globalization

From independence until the early nineties, the Indian state was oriented – at least in principle – toward socialist ideals. However, the fall of the Soviet Union and a realignment of the global order saw India adopt a neoliberal orientation. The government began privatizing the public sector, pursuing the development of a market-based economy, and actively pursued a policy of globalization.

Multinational companies in collaboration with transnational companies and Indian industrialists spread in Indian society in a powerful way. These transformations had a detrimental impact on the lives, cultures, and value systems of the people of third world countries, including India. 

Drawing attention to the neo-imperial dominance of the United States, Gaddar sang:

అదుగదుగో అదుగో సూడు
అమెరికో దోస్తుండు
జపాన్ జెర్మనీ తోడు
అమెరికో దోస్తుండు

బాంబుల సంచులతోని
బందూకులు లోడు చేసి
తల్లీ భారతి ఎదల మీద
పాదాలు మోపిండు సూడు

adugadugo! adugo soodu!
ameriko dostundu
japaan jermanee todu
ameriko dostundu

baambula sanchulatoni
bandookulu lodu chesi
tallee bhaarati edala meeda
paadaalu mopindu soodu!

Over there! Look over there!
Look at America plundering
With its cronies Japan and Germany!
Look at America plundering!

They come with their bombs and bags
They’ve loaded their guns
They have stamped their feet
On the heart of Mother India, Look!

Listen to “Over There, Look Over There!” at 3:38

The American imperialist forcefully entered all spheres of life in third world nations. Consumerism became a new fact of life. In the early morning he came in the form of tooth paste, in the afternoon as Coca Cola, and in the evening as rum and whisky. To poison the consciousness of the masses, he broadcasted himself 24/7 in the form of Star TV and other forms of mass media. In Gaddar’s song, A Demon has Possessed My Wife and Kids – Dayyam Battindiro Naa Pendlaam Poralaku, he commented on the dangerous seductions of color television:

కయ్యం బెట్టిందిరో
కలర్ టివి ఇంట్లకొచ్చి
దయ్యం బట్టిందిరో
నా పెండ్లాం పోరలకు

ఈ టివి, జీ టివి, సన్ టివి
స్టార్ టివి, టాటా టివి, బిర్లా టివి
అమెరికా, జపానోని
అందమైన టివి ననుకుంట
ఆడిస్తుంది ఇల్లునంత

kayyam bettindiro
kalar tivi intlakocchi
dayyam battindiro
naa pendlaam poralaku

ee tivi, jee tivi, san tivi
staar tivi, taataa tivi, birlaa tivi
amerikaa, japaanoni
andamaina tivi nanukunta
aadistundi illunanta

Color TV entered our home
And created a ruckus
A demon has possessed
My wife and kids

E tv, Zee TV, Sun TV
Star TV, Tata TV, Birla TV
Posing as the beautiful TVs
Of America and Japan
The demon makes us all dance to its tune

The immediate effects of globalization were seen by the sudden rise of suicides among farmers and handloom workers. Gaddar’s song, The Paddy Fields Asked Vori Selu Adiginayi, on the suicides of farmers is well known:

వొరి సేలు అడిగినయ్
నీరు బోసే రైతేడని
పత్తి సేలు అడిగినయ్
నెత్తురు జల్లే రైతేడని
అవి పట్టుకొని ఏడుస్తున్నయో ఎందుకో ఏమోగని
అవి పొర్లి పొర్లి ఏడుస్తున్నయో ఎందుకో ఏమోగని

vori selu adiginayi
neeru bose raitu eda ani
patti selu adiginayi
netturu jalle raitu eda ani
avi pattukoni edustunnayo enduko emogani
avi porli porli edustunnayo enduko emogani

The paddy fields asked
Where is the farmer who waters me?
The cotton fields asked
Where is the farmer who sprinkles his blood?
For some reason, they grab me and weep
For some reason, they shudder and weep

Listen to “The Paddy Fields Asked”

Matti Chetulu: Gaddar’s Social and Political Legacy

Gaddar’s songs have evolved in relation to the struggles of Indian, and specifically Telugu, society. Yet they have always remained popular and incisive. The image of “Muddy Hands” (Matti Chetulu) that he evokes in many of his songs is a fitting metaphor for the essence of his thought. These muddy hands are the source of all production and social existence. The image combines Marxist and Ambedkarite approaches to emancipation by centering “muddy people” (matti manushulu) – those who are treated as “dirty” due to their productive labor as well as the hierarchy of caste. These are the Dalits, Bahujans, and Adivasis of Indian society. They have been alienated from their very being through social institutions of class, caste, patriarchy, and the state.

Gaddar’s songs critique all existing social institutions. For him, the family is a mogoni raajyam (Man’s kingdom). Caste is a braahmana raajyam (Brahmin’s kingdom). The Indian state is an agrakula dopidi raajyam (Kingdom of upper caste exploitation).

Although he began as a wandering performer in the model of older Telugu folk performers, Gaddar recognized the power of mass media. His songs spread far beyond his performances through the production of thousands upon thousands of lyric booklets, cassette tapes, and cds. In his later years, he began performing in Telugu cinema and appearing on cable news channels after globalization. More recently, Gaddar has been memorialized through social media platforms such as YouTube. Through his active engagement with mass media, his imagery, language, and songs and their radical messages have became known to new generations of Telugu speakers as well as wider middle-class audiences.

Gaddar intended his songs for working people and they were claimed as their collective wisdom. He has said that he took his songs from the life and cultural traditions of the people and was returning it to them by playing the role of effective communicator. His songs provide rich resource material of the struggles and culture of people who are left out of the official historical record. Gaddar’s life and his songs are a social and artistic document of revolution and resistance.