Fifteen years back on this day, I was woken up around 5 am by my editor P N V Nair (Deccan Chronicle). A man of few words, Nair broke the news that NTR passed away and wanted me to rush to the latter’s place on Road # 13, Banjara Hills.
That residence was very familiar to me, as I used to visit the place almost on a daily basis. At the time, I was covering NTR TDP for my paper and hence, used to spend quite a bit of time at NTR’s residence. I had met him barely 24 hours back on January 17 in his private room, and he looked as grand as ever.
No wonder, initially it was hard to believe my editor’s words. I felt sure it was just a rumour. I got out of my bed and ran down the steps of my apartment on Road # 4, Banjara Hills and whizzed past on my Kawasaki bike to NTR’s residence, which was a little more than a kilometre away.
Even as I entered Road # 13, I could feel a sense of sickness enveloping me. I could see that there was some activity near the house, though there were not too many people around by this time. I rushed into the front hall of the house, when they were just bringing the body down the steps from the upper floor. Only a chest-beating Lakshmi Parvathi and a few others were present at the time.
NTR looked peaceful in his eternal sleep. I almost thought maybe he was still alive. The dark reality descended on me slowly, as hundreds of people soon started crowding the place, many of them shell-shocked like me at the unexpected death.
NTR was in his elements when I had met him a day earlier. A correspondent from the international news agency Reuters (I forgot his name now) was in Hyderabad to have an interview with NTR. Syed Amin Jaffery, my bureau chief, gave him my contact number, and on his request, I sought an appointment with NTR, who gave us time at 7 am next day, January 17.
A day earlier, that is on 16th, during my routine chit chat, NTR animatedly talked about the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls. He was very keen on these elections as these would provide him an opportunity to establish that he was still the darling of the people and that his was the real TDP.
During the course of the conversation, he told me he would personally be in the race for the Parliament. He asked for my opinion on his decision. I said his being in the fray would make all the difference.
Towards the end of the tete-a-tete, I asked him whether I could do a story for my paper on his decision to contest. He asked me to wait.
During my briefing to Reuters correspondent, I told him to ask NTR whether he would contest Lok Sabha polls, which he did. “Yes, I am going to contest,” NTR declared in his theatrical style. I used the opportunity to file the story I knew all along. The story was published in Deccan Chronicle the day he died with the caption “NTR to contest LS polls”.
NTR looked at his best during the 30-minute interview with Reuters correspondent. He was energetic all through, and he went high pitch while talking about the August crisis. He compared Chandrababu to Aurangazeb who killed his brothers and jailed parents, to grab the throne. He talked at length about his own son-in-law stabbing him in the back.
“But nobody can keep me away from the people for too long. I will come back sooner than later,” he told Reuters correspondent, who filed the story the same day, which appeared in newspapers on the day of his demise.
I spent half-a-day mourning his death along with scores of people who came to pay their last respects. By the time I reached the office, my editor was waiting for me. He wanted me to write a piece on the political implications of NTR’s death. “He died barely a few hours ago. Don’t you think it would be in bad taste to write about post-NTR TDP politics,” I protested. “People already know he passed away. That’s no news tomorrow. We have to talk about what is going to happen”, he said in his awkwardly focussed style. “Fierce feud likely to inherit NTR’s political legacy,” was published the next day.
But I really pined to write a tribute to NTR. I sat at the PTI office a day later with my friend Suresh, and furiously typed a lengthy piece on what I thought of him. It was published in Rashtriya Sahara magazine. I don’t have a copy of the magazine, but I found the manuscript that I typed in 1996 January, which I am reproducing below.
He was a man, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again.
The legend is gone. The phenomenon called NTR is no more. The man, who strode the cultural and political life of Telugus like a colossus for decades, defies the usual run-of-the-mill assessment of his colourful life. Few personalities in recent history has become an integral part of the very ethos of a people, as Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao (73) has been of Andhras.
Indeed, it is difficult to sift the man from the myth in the persona of NTR. He was a great artiste but transcended the image of a mere screen personality to become a role model to his people. There is no denying that he had imbibed some of the qualities and characteristics of the mythological characters he played with great aplomb.
Like Duryodhana, he was imperious, but like him always vulnerable. Like Ravana, he was self-righteous, but at the same time deeply religious like him. NTR, like Lord Krishna, the role for which he would be remembered for generations, was the greatest showman, but like the Hindu god, he remained a child at heart till the end. As in his portrayal of Krishna, the divine and the mundane merged in him so effortlessly.
When he entered politics in 1982 to become the most popular of the masses in the state, passion, not ambition, was his driving force. Indeed, there is not a more passionate politician in the country today than NTR. His means and methods might appear awkward, but his motives were always genuine. In fact, the familiar concept of scheming politician was alien to him.
He wanted to run politics according to his rules and most of the time succeeded. Flawed though it might be, he had a vision of his own for the betterment of his people. He was a fighter to the core and had indefatigable spirit abundantly in him. In a political career spanning less than 14 years, he fought four assembly elections, three parliamentary elections and was about to make a comeback in the ensuing Lok Sabha polls. All his election campaigns in the state were the greatest spectacles of democracy in action.
Inspite of the aura he has built up over the years, NTR was the most accessible of all the politicians of his stature in his country. In fact, he was such an incorrigible campaigner that few would have had the kind of interaction with people which he had. He inspired awe but at the same time charmed the people around him. Even the high and the mighty were intimidated by his apparently whimsical persona but strangely the common man felt certain warmth in his presence and was always welcome to walk into his residence any day, whether he was in power or out of power.
The irony of NTR’s politics was that he had always been a darling of the masses, nothwithstanding his totally personalised style of functioning. He can be described as an autocrat, who has undiluted faith in the power of the people. In turn, the people had abundant faith in him and he reciprocated this trust with great conviction.
As BBC described, his was indeed ‘remarkable life’. History might not judge him as a great statesman, but it will certainly honour him as a truly people’s man.
(written on 19 January 1996)