(The journey of a life time)

Thought of penning this article four years ago. The only reason for the delay is to confess honestly is sluggishness. When I was in Houston with my brother Subramanyam, he was taking me to man-made wonders in and around Houston. Sick of seeing many such, fortunately, one day we bumped into the presence of professor P.N. Rao, a truly God-made Wonder.

By the time we reached his home on an evening, octogenarian Prof. Rao was waiting for us on the lawns going through a few papers. After exchanging the pleasantaries, he told us that he downloaded the ‘Manucharitra’ pdf by poet laureate Allasani Peddanna of Sri Krishnadeveraya. The parts of the text were prescribed as lessons in his intermediate days. Prof Rao after crossing his eighties was ruminating on his old memories. His enthusiasm at this age motivated us to know more about him.

When we were walking around the house before having tea, Prof. Rao showed us a toy house built by him in his seventies for his grandkids. He also showed us the glass paintings he made recently. Rao’s learning skills travelled with his age. In our long conversation, we crossed several milestones in Prof. Rao’s “Jeeva Yatra” which I thought are worth sharing with you.

Prof. Potu Narasimha Rao was born on 1st July 1930 to a humble farmer couple in a remote village in Muppalla of Guntur District. He had his primary education in a single-teacher village school. Somewhere in his Autobiography Prof. Rao wrote “For us, rice was a delicacy, and it was reserved for festive occasions or for very important visitors. Our staple food was Sorghum”. This reveals their financial status. Till his High school days, he had never seen a dictionary in his life leave alone even used it. With such poor knowledge of English, he failed the sixth form and repeated the same.

After completing intermediate at Hindu College Rao joined BSc Agriculture at Bapatla Agricultural College in 1945. After graduation, he was appointed as an “Additional Agricultural Demonstrator in Guntur with a salary of Rs. 250 per month.

Toy House

After working for a brief stint Rao moved to (IARI) Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi for higher studies. During this period Rao suffered from Tuberculosis and spent eight months in Mangalagiri T.B Sanitorium. Subsequently, he married Rajeshwari in 1957. While pursuing his studies in I.A.R.I Rao was fortunate to meet famous agricultural scientist Dr. Swaminathan. With his encouragement and letter of recommendation, Rao got admission as a Research Assistant at the University of Kentucky under the guidance of Dr. G.W.Stokes.

Rao’s financial condition was bad. So he borrowed money from a village elder and started his voyage by purchasing a ticket by sea for Rs. 2000/- and reached New York harbor on June 6th of 1960. Rao was detained for a few days in a hospital by immigration officials and was released declaring them free of active TB.

Prof. Stokes extended a warm welcome to Rao to the University of Kentucky campus; Stokes was kind enough to show him the dormitory and to make a bed himself to Rao with clean linen. Rao got his Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky in 1963. He had a brilliant and successful career as a research scientist. Rao was blessed with one son (Vasu) and two daughters Anuradha and Sandhya. Subsequently, Dr. Rao moved to M.D Anderson Cancer Research Centre in Houston and worked for 20 years.

Rao’s son Vasu settled as a Radiologist and is married to Dr. Claudia from Italy. Rao’s elder daughter Anuradha became a Dentist and is married to another doctor. Rao’s younger daughter Sandhya who was legally blind at a very young age could overcome the deficiency and completed her Law from world-renowned Stanford University and is working as a staff attorney with the United States District Court in Houston. Rao’s all children are educated and well-settled in their careers.

Rao’s journey from a remote village Muppalla to Houston is an adventure of life with many upheavals. While writing forward to his Autobiography Dr. Stokes (Professor Emeritus, School of Agriculture Kentucky) wrote “That young man, who left India over 40 years ago, is now a grandfather with a large extended family and a big circle of friends, lives in Houston. As we say, he has realized the American dream. I am proud and privileged to have opened the door for Dr. Potu N. Rao to come to America. He is one of the finest gentlemen I have known and a friend to me.”

with Dr.Rao’s family in Houston

Prof. Joseph Engel Berg (School of Medicine, University of Kentucky) in his foreword has applauded Rao It is an adventure tale. But it would be our loss if we saw in it only adventure and missed the profound moral instruction that can be found abundantly in its pages. For the memoir deals with existential questions that are vital to every human being: How should we live? How should we relate to family members, friends, and strangers alike? How do we ascend toward the higher dimensions of existence? How do we sensitize ourselves so as to enable us to recognize the fine, heroic nature of human beings all around us and be responsive to their existence?”

What is striking about Dr. Rao’s story is the many helping hands that helped and guided him throughout his life, as well as that he was a helping hand to many others. In our lesser moments, we are tempted to think of the world as a perpetual cat-and-dog fight: filled with hostility, me-ism, and the devouring of the weak and helpless by the greedy and powerful. Yet, what is clear from this saga is that it is love and relationships- and the desire to reach out and help- that holds the world together.

What is clear from Dr. Rao’s account is the effect of his sociability on the advancement of his scientific investigations: his daily coffees with other post-doctoral fellows, his playing volleyball with them, colleagues that led him to a partner and an investigative idea that led them shortly to world fame. Before one can reach out to others in meaningful ways, however, one must have a good opinion of them. This memoir reveals Dr. Rao’s deep respect and understanding of others. It radiated out and returned to him. What they were to him he became a helping hand to them.

Prof Rao’s family at grand daughter’s Marriage

This saga of Potu Rao, and of his family and friends reveal the power and strength of Indian society and some of its remarkable qualities. This power enabled him, like Odysseus, to overcome many crises and obstacles, and finally reach a safe haven that he enriched and in which he shone. It is perhaps also the story of a higher destiny that lies over all humanity. These Chinese sages say, “No one knows what is good for him and what is bad for him. Dr. Rao’s life reveals the truth of this adage’’

These remarks and observations sum up the life of Dr. Rao in a beautiful manner. Four things that have inspired me to write this blog are-

  1. Rao’s unquenching quest for knowledge and enthusiasm to learn in the late eighties.
  2. The children of Rao live close to him (Daughter Anu stays just two houses away from their house) Younger daughter Sandhya stays with Rao.
  3. Rao’s son Dr. Vasu’s a habit of going on a tour to other countries only with his father (Maybe to have exclusive and quality time with his father) which he is doing for more than two decades.
  4. Dr.Rao quit the coveted post in M.D Anderson to support his daughter’s studies at Stanford.

Rao’s life journey had many close encounters with deadly diseases, jaundice at the age of 12, smallpox at 16, tuberculosis at 24 and prostate cancer at 61. His wife’s failing health and daughters’ visual impairment have further compounded his trouble. But his equanimity has transformed him into true karma Yogi.

Rao’s life journey is par excellence. His life disproves Rudyard Kipling’s famous adage “East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet”.

He has happily embraced the World with wide arms and evolved in to a World Class Citizen, very true to our old scriptural saying Vasudhaiva Kutumbam, without losing the Indian Soul. 

17 Replies to “Muppalla to Houston”

  1. I would very much like a copy of this book. My parents helped him lots and he was an inspiration to me as a young girl. There is even a picture of me in this book. I would like to give a copy to my children.

  2. Very inspiring to know through your pen how impossibility can become a great possibility

  3. Love of life is the sublime of His life . A lesson for all. There are so many wonderful persons around us . Every father and mother of every person if we observe …..great sacrifices they made for us. LIFE of this person inspires . Great write up. Your wonderful using of English makes the article more enthusiastic and readable. Thank you for sharing sir.

  4. Very very inspiring and heart touching. His dedication to gain wisdom is very great.
    Thank you very much Sir 🙏🏻🙏🏻

  5. An impressive narration of a life well lived . Introducing a life of quest for learning new things irrespective of the notional barriers of age and serious physical ailments in an absorbing manner and absolutely devoid of eulogising the subject . Hats off to Dr PN Rao for his perseverance and affability besides the continuous pursuit of knowledge and happiness. Narrator has given life and voice to the otherwise silent and waiting for someone to greet them pages of the book . Hearty congratulations dear Harsha for pouring out your admiration generously with your breezy prose . A nice reading .

  6. Enjoyed reading the life history of Dr. Rao, a Karma Yogi to the core. A greatman only appreciates the greatness of others. The creation comes out of the Love of the Creator ,it exists in Love and again it shall merge in that Love.

  7. Very good narration of live story of Dr. Rao. Each life’s stage of his has challenges & great achievements. And it can be possible through his noted traits of personal behaviour that facilitated him to be ‘ Paripurnamaina manishi’. Well Highlighted each phase of Dr. Rao’s biography.
    Pleasant reading!

  8. The story of Dr PN Rao(Muppalla to Houston) is highly fascinating & captivating. He grabbed every other opportunity that came his way with both hands and built his fortune which one is envious of. Certainly many of us got such opportunities but we could not make it big perhaps lack of grit & determination. Thanks for introducing such a great personality & enthusiast.🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼

  9. The story of Dr PNRao(Muppalla to Houston) is highly captivating & fascinating. He grabbed every opportunity which came his way and built his life that one is envious of. Certainly many of us had opportunities came our way but we could not make it to big as Dr Rao perhaps only because the required grit & determination missed in us. Thanks for introducing such a great enthusiast 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼

  10. The world is what you build for yourself – perception is yours and appearance is yours. Great people live in their great world – not to inspire others but to quench the thirst of their souls. It is for others to take them to get inspired or not. Hats off to Potu garu (a plural form of potugadu

  11. Very down to earth description of the life and times of someone, who lived an unpretentious life, accepting things as they came. A lesson for many out there.

  12. Great people always spread their wisdom positively in the society. They always balance the power of universe with positive energy.

  13. It is inspiring to know about such persons and your efforts in introducing such facts of life through real happenings is lessons to be learned by all irrespective of age.
    Thank you Sir

    1. Very very inspiring and heart touching. His dedication to gain wisdom is very great.
      Thank you very much Sir 🙏🏻🙏🏻

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