Troubled times of NT Rama Rao
Troubled Times of NT Rama Rao, Arvind Kejriwal, Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao. It is 18 years since Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao died. The screen God rewrote the political history of Andhra Pradesh by dismantling the century-old Congress monolith and assuming power in nine months of launching a new party.
On the occasion of Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao’s death anniversary (January 18), the writer shares his memories of NTR in the context of Arvind Kejriwal’s assuming power in New Delhi.
It is 18 years since Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao died. The screen God rewrote the political history of Andhra Pradesh by dismantling the century-old Congress monolith and assuming power in nine months of launching a new party. Thirty years later Arvind Kejriwal achieved something similar.
Many actors had acquired iconic stature, but few, I venture to say none, were accepted and worshipped as God himself. Vamsee Juluri in his recent ‘Bollywood Nation- India through Its Cinema’ reinforced this view quoting Sashi Tharoor (2003) ‘Arnold Schwarzenegger may become the Governor of California, but he cannot become God (like NTR).’
If his rise to political stardom was meteoric, so was his fall from glory. It looked as if the real God had scripted a different story for the reel God. As a journalist who had followed his turbulent career in politics, I randomly summon a mélange of memories and images of my association with NT Rama Rao, his last inglorious years in particular.
Everything he did in his early years was unique and unheard of, from the slogan ‘Telugu atma gouravamu’ to the Chaitanya Ratham campaign, to the mesmerising address ‘Tenuginti aadapaduchulaara’ instead of the shop-soiled ‘sodara sodari manulaara,’ to his factory worker’s dress, and to the swearing-in ceremony in the presence of his own people instead of at the Raj Bhavan or even his controversial decisions relating to revamping of village administration, reduction in retirement age or the peremptory sacking of his own Cabinet and above all, to his marriage to Lakshmi Parvati. etc.
Reporters remember occasions when his wife Basava Tarakam had personally carried lunch box to his third floor chambers in the Secretariat. NTR revealed the Formula One streak in him when he raced his car at breakneck speed to Gandipet ashram, egged on by a grandchild to go faster and faster. The car sped out of control and stopped after hitting a tree.
Life at home for the charismatic leader was anything but a bed of roses in his last years. He became a loner, disowned by family and close kin. On one of his tours, which I had covered, he returned to his Road No 13 Banjara Hills at night to find practically none waiting for him, including the cook and servants. The poor man went to bed without food, I was told the following day. Few in the family bothered to call on him or enquire about his welfare. It was real life version of his role in ‘Badi Panthulu.’
Lakshmi Parvati entered his life at this stage. She took him to the NIMS when he suffered a stroke in April 1993 and nursed him. His marriage to her further alienated his family members. As the family patriarch, he received guests and VVIPs at his granddaughter’s wedding in early 1994, but behind the mask of bon homie, there lurked in his heart a deep sense of hurt that LP was not invited. He skipped the wedding lunch, returned home for a routine meal and reappeared briefly to bless the newly weds.
How dearly NTR had loved LP or was influenced by her had to be seen to be believed. NTR held people’s durbar at Hindupur while Lakshmi Parvati was at nearby Lepakshi. She gave a graphic account of the sculptural splendour and other features of the place to the small audience consisting of two close aides of her husband and this writer. NTR, himself well informed on Gods, Goddesses and mythology, listened to her in utter awe, like a child in grandma’s lap. No wonder he defied the world for his love.
I was present when angry Secretariat employees ransacked his office, showered abuse on him and literally stomped on his glass-topped desk. He maintained a stoic calm during the rampage and remarked ‘Thammullu edo avesamlo alaa chesaaru’ or something to the effect.
Few could excel NTR in histrionics. Sample this on the Tank Bund in 1991 when he sat for a dharna to protest the burning of the properties belonging to his family and the partymen by Congress su pporters. People in thousands queued up on the busy Tank Bund road to see the leader who was observing mounavratham. Women flocked to pick up pasupu kumkuma packets distributed at the camp. ‘The entire stock in Hyderabad was exhausted. We had it rushed from Bombay,’ a close aide had confided.
VP Singh air dashed to Hyderabad to appeal to him to give up the satyagraha. NTR responded through a slip of paper. ‘What is in the chit, sir,’ reporters asked VP Singh. “No, I cannot show or give it. It is too precious. I will have it as keepsake!,’ he replied.
There were also those who had stood by NTR through thick and thin. One of them was Government driver Lakshman. True to his name, he played Lakshman to his master Rama. When Rama Rao lost the 1989 elections and became the leader of the opposition, Lakshman went on long leave to be able to serve his master. NTR, back again in power, attended Satyanarayana vratham at Lakshman’s modest house and presented new clothes to the couple.
Destiny ordained the man to play Julius Caesar and King Lear in real life.