The flagman of India

The flagman of India

Hailed as the designer of the Indian National flag, Pingali Venkayya was the Andhra boy who had presented his flag to the Father of the Nation and his vision was further improvised to make our flag today, writes Manjulika Pramod

Our Indian National Flag never fails to imbue a sense of patriotism. The combination of meaningful tricolours and the Ashoka Chakra in the centre is a beautiful reminder of our independence, the sacrifices, sovereignty and unity. It is not just a piece of cloth but a tangible part of our heritage and culture.

Interestingly, all flag designs have an evolution story. The colours and design are chosen very carefully before they are retained as a national symbol. The current Indian flag was also modified subsequently, over the years of our struggle for freedom. Honestly, I had never been curious enough to find out what led to its design and who was the Andhra boy who had impressed Mahatma Gandhi with his design in Bezwada in 1921 (now Vijayawada), until one Sunday when I had an impromptu visit to Bhatlapenumarru, the native village of Pingali Venkayya. Hailed as the designer of the Indian National flag, Venkayya was the Andhra boy who had presented his flag to the Father of the Nation and his vision was further improvised to make our flag today.

The village appeared calm and peaceful. As soon as my vehicle touched the premises, an unmissable sprawling memorial of Pingali Venkayya caught my eye. The national flag in his hand and the writings below spoke of his accomplishments. The statue looked in good shape and the year of its installation made it obvious that it had been installed much later after his demise. I had been warned that there is not much in the village but I stood there silently, waiting for a local to tell me more about him. As I fiddled with my camera, I saw someone arrive on a bicycle. He greeted me with a warm and subtle smile on his face as if he had deduced my purpose of the visit. He waved hands and guided my car towards a newly built multi-purpose hall, beaming as Pingali Venkayya Bhavan. The elderly gentleman walked me inside the neat and clean hall. There was no furniture except his cot and a chair. I spotted the Indian flag and some framed pictures of Pingali Venkayya on the walls. He immediately brought to my notice that the Bhavan was used as a wedding venue for the locals. This was the source of income for him and the locals who had come together in the making of this place in honour of Pingali Venkayya.

In his fluent English, the elderly gentleman introduced himself as Sangisetti Sambasiva Rao. Rao told me how Vekayya was born on August 2, 1876, and lived a very humble life until he died in 1963. Rao then showed me hundreds of old pictures related to the initial designs of the flags. What caught my fascination was the research and study that Venkayya had done before coming up with a design for the Indian flag. He had studied the flags of almost 30 countries to be able to present a rudimentary design of the national flag to the Father of the Nation. Initially, there were only two colours — saffron and green but gradually white came in the picture and the Ashoka Chakra was adopted as the emblem. After India’s freedom, Venkayya also published a book on the various flag designs and models that he made for the Indian flag. This Andhra lad was a very well-read person and knew many languages. Apart from flags, he did a lot of research on farming of cottons as well. It was very sad that he died in poverty and it was only a few decades ago that his work was acknowledged. Some of his memorials were installed in the state and a postage stamp was issued in his honour in 2009. The state did recommend his name for Bharat Ratna but there has been no breakthrough there.

Based on some of the facts reiterated by Rao again and again, I could deduce that Venkayya was a freedom fighter from Andhra Pradesh and later came to be known as ‘Jhanda Venkayya’ as the current national flag is based on his design. He was part of the British Army and had met Mahatama Gandhi in South Africa. They share a special bond. Venkayya insisted on the need for a flag and finally came up with a design too. While he was alive, he lived a very humble life and not much is known about his last days, except that he wrote a few books.

He was also conferred with titles of ‘Japan Venkayya (for giving a speech in the Japanese language) and ‘Patti (Cotton) Venkayya’ for his research on cotton farming.

Currently, all travel plans remain deferred but such impromptu stories from roads of India keep us inspired.