“Ram, Ram Dada!”, “Ram, Ram Dada!” Multiple greetings are heard as a man wearing a cotton kurta, with a DSLR strapped around his neck, stops at Lahora, a tiny Adivasi hamlet in the interiors of Adilabad district in Telangana. Down the road, a group of children is playing on a slope that leads to the hamlet. Srinivas Pillalamarri quickly takes a moment to lock his frame, as the sun sets over the village in the backdrop.
When the children see him, a few of them run to him, asking, "Show us the photos from the other day!" Srinivas then gets busy for the next five minutes, showing the kids their photos and of dances they performed during a festival held recently.
Accompanying Srinivas for a day or two on his assignments provides an insight into a series of stories that often go unnoticed and unacknowledged in the northern-most districts in Telangana – ranging from wildlife, environment, the changing lifestyles of forest dwellers, the agrarian crisis, and the never-ending struggles that Adivasis endure in the region. With close to two decades of experience, Srinivas is a seasoned journalist, who is currently working with Deccan Chronicle. Srinivas is based in Adilabad and has extensively travelled in northern Telangana's erstwhile Karimnagar, Warangal, and Khammam districts for reporting.
Srinivas was the first journalist to report and follow up on the recent Asifabad gangrape where a 30-year-old woman was gangraped and murdered. He has also reported extensively on the perils during the Telangana revenue department land purification drive, on the Forests Rights Act, Adivasi movements and politics.
Forty-seven-year-old Srinivas, who never misses a chance to find original ideas for his stories, hails from Sirpur-Kagaznagar of erstwhile Adilabad district. Srinivas completed his schooling and intermediate education in the town, and then moved to Hyderabad for further studies, which is where he found his passion for writing.
"I was not really good at English,” he says, “I faced a communication problem when I first joined Osmania University (OU) for my MA but then things kept changing with regard to my passion for writing. I started writing for local papers and magazines."
Srinivas holds two Masters degrees – one in Sociology and another in Journalism – from the Arts College of OU. He started off as a reporter for Citizens Evening, where he worked for two years, and then moved to News Service and Syndicate (NSS).
"At Citizens Evening and NSS, I learnt the basics of reporting. It was in 2004 that I moved to Deccan Chronicle as a correspondent. From then on, there was no looking back. Though there were a few problems initially, I tried to give my best, and they (DC) always gave me the space to write about important issues.”
When asked about his interest in storytelling and photography, Srinivas says, "It was my mother, an agriculture labourer, Rambai, who made me more enthusiastic about photos and books. Though she couldn't read, she always held a book in her photos. I was immensely inspired."
Ear to the ground
Srinivas says that there are always stories to tell if the reporter forms a connection with the people."Language is not a barrier if we are keen enough. While I understand Gondi and Kolam, I can speak a bit of both,” he says.
Srinivas says the reporting of rural issues should not be mere iconography but rather, they should be accounts of reality, and should stand the test of time. "If the visual or the photograph drives the story, it's great, but a mere photo for the sake of glorification undermines reality. The people and the culture can be celebrated, but the struggle and the life behind the appealing photographs shouldn't be ignored,” says Srinivas.
When asked about reports on Adilabad from journalists based in Hyderabad, he says, "Most of the time, these stories lack life. If you are on the ground, your tone changes as we see things happening up close."
Recollecting an actual story where it was reported that a farmer had died by suicide due to stress, he says, "On the ground, it was a completely different story. The Dalit farmer had killed himself following false accusations of black magic and facing subsequent humiliation."
For Srinivas, every little detail is a cue for a story — be it the presence of red-velvet mites (arudra purugu or the rain bug) in uncultivated fields, which signifies the beginning of the Kharif season, or how the cotton crop in Adilabad is directly affected by the trade war between the US and China.
For budding or aspiring journalists, Srinivas has a word to offer. "A reporter can do wonders. Be ready to travel and engage with people. If we are committed, people treat us as their own," he says.