The name might not ring any bell to many of you. But, as the story of A S Rajyalakshmi, who entered into her 100th year on May 17, is replete with grit, determination and sacrifice. Through her untiring efforts, she managed to turn a struggling family of exactly a dozen into one of the most successful ones from Hyderabad that I know well.
Rajyalakshmiu hardly went beyond primary school. But her life’s learning is a library of experiences. With 10 children, including two girls, the going was nowhere near easy for the Akkapeddis. Rajyalakshmi and Mr A Surya Prakasa Rao, a bank employee, who were living in Walker Town (today’s Padmarao Nagar in the backyard of Secunderabad). It was a well spread out middle class, multi-lingual and multi-cultural locality.
From 1962, we were their neighbours and my parents were among their closest friends. They shared many concerns.
The real testing time for Rajyalakshmi, came towards the end of the 1960’s. Padma, the eldest daughter (a graduate) was married to Mr Avadhani, a Railway employee. Murali Krishna, the next, had topped the Osmania University, in M.Sc (Chemistry). He had obtained admission in the University of Pennsylvania and was very eager to pursue higher studies in the US.
At that time, Prakasa Rao garu logically felt it was beyond them to support financially and, if Murali left, it would be difficult to bring up the family. Finally, Murali’s determination and assurances, his mother’s silent but strong support won the day. Murali flew out in 1970.
That was the turning point for the family.
However, very soon, the family suffered a setback as Prakasa Rao passed away. Murali was just about getting his feet in a foreign land. The entire responsibility fell on Rajyalakshmi, who was known as Santosh’s mother (Santosh, the 9th kid, was the most friendly guy in the colony). With the support of Padma’s family she boldly stood by Murali.
The task of getting so many kids into schools and ensuring their education was no mean task. During those testing times, my dad, Mr M Hanumantha Rao in a small way lent a helping hand by getting some of them admitted to SPG School, St John’s in Secunderabad, while my mother, Mrs Leela Kumari provided the moral support. We were neighbours in Walker Town since 1962.
Confident of mother’s will power, Murali extended unstinted support— financially and in kind from the US, which boosted the confidence of the family. He slogged overtime to finish his MS and PhD with distinction. He landed a good job in R&D with DuPont and later with Honeywell.
Bringing up a large family came naturally to Rajyalakshmi perhaps, she herself had 8 sisters and 3 brothers. The challenges were part of her growing up and transitioning into her own big family. Her brood was 2 daughters and 8 sons.
During the decades 1970-90, from the family emerged an engineer, a doctor, a marketing professional. Seven of them made it to the US. The fortunes of the family looked up. If Murali and his wife Nirmala were the pillars of strength during the entire troubles, tribulations and successes of the family the central force and anchor was Rajyalakshmi and SivaKumar in Hyderabad.
Rajyalakshmi bore the brunt and shouldered all the responsibilities with a smile and sheer resilience ensuring that all the children got married and seeing them off to their own lives. During those years Jayashree & Siva Akkapeddi, were always at hand, helping mother and managing affairs.
The sons rise in US
The efforts and dedication bore fruit as Kaushik, the seventh child turned into a brilliant Engineer. A serious guy he shone at the Osmania University, Engineering College. From Zamisthanpur Government School, he made it to MS with a scholarship. With timely help from Murali, he fell into the groove soon to land a plum post with the AT&T Bell Labs. His success also lightened the pressure of Murali in taking care of their family in India.
Unfortunately, he passed away in 2013.
Vijay K Akkapeddi, the eighth one toiled hard to get into MBBS in Gandhi Medical College. He went onto complete his House Surgeonship and is well settled in US. An expert in Emergency Medicare, Dr Vijay is on the frontline in the battle against COVID-19 in a prominent New York Hospital, since January, 2020. His wife, Sudha too is a doctor.
Santosh Akkapeddi , the ninth, who did Post Graduation in Osmania University, turned into a successful consumer electronics professional for 25 years. He rose to the position of Senior Vice President (US & India) of the South Korean giant Samsung Electronics, based out of Chicago. He came down to Delhi with Jaya and children in a senior position before retiring recently and has now turned an entrepreneur back in Hyderabad.
Siva Akkapeddi( 5), worked in DLRL, the defence electronics research lab in Hyderabad, before migrating to the US in the early 1990s. He turned a consultant to giants like Walmart etc based out of New Jersey. Sunder (10), the last kid was my contemporary. He did tourism, but also migrated towards the end of the 1980’s. He is settled in Virginia State with a comfortable job. Ms Varalaxmi, the sixth child married to a Telugu has moved to the US. But, sadly, her life was curtailed due to ill health. Mr Sastry and Mr Ramu, the number 3 and 4, stayed put in Hyderabad. They served the government.
If, managing the family—emotionally, financially and socially–was a huge challenge, especially during those decades, Rajyalakshmi also had to handle a few trips to the US. With no knowledge of Airports and international travel she made at least a dozen trips between 1980-2000. Her mission was to help her children even in a foreign land, which she achieved. It is indeed a remarkable accomplishment.
During all these years, my mother Leela Kumari was a constant friend of Rajyalakshmi. Their friendship, now nearly 60 years old, has been enduring and enriching. They have always been exchanging notes and developments over phone and occasional meetings at Padmarao Nagar or Padma’s home in Marredpally.
She would often tell us how my dad got her to visit Srisailam on a pilgrimage in the 1980s, her first in a bus Yatra. Similarly, many small incidents ranging from sharing mango pickles in summer to mutual challenges in daily life and how they were overcome are always on the cards when the good friends meet.
During our growing up years in a Walker Town there were innumerable occasions when Santosh, Sunder, me, Basith, Cariappa, Sivaram, Manikker, and colony friends would play cricket in their house which had a spacious front area. After the game she would happily feed us with snacks.
In 2010, we were among the few families invited for her 90th birthday. As we enjoyed a nice Andhra meal and our mother’s chatted, I realised that the old, spacious, independent home had given way to an apartment complex. The children had, with the supervision of the mother invested in developing it, so that they had a home back in India.
The best part is Rajyalakshmi has managed to live life at her terms, with each son and Padma, the daughter pitching in and Dr Vijay providing the medical back up through his doctor friends here. She now has 16 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren.
Somasekhar Mulugu, former Associate Editor & Chief of Bureau of The Hindu BusinessLine, is a well-known political, business and science writer and analyst based in Hyderabad.