On NTR's 100th birth anniversary on May 28, 2023, I recall my association with him


“Nenu NTR matladuthunna brother (This is NTR speaking),” the voice at the other end informed me. 

It was him.  The phone had rung and I picked it up. I’d stayed back late at office on December 31, 1994 and this call came on the direct line. When NTR identified himself on the phone, I was surprised.

I was sure it was him but the call from chief minister Nandamuri Tarakarama Rao came as a surprise.  NTR had come back to power in the 1994 elections with a big majority and had taken oath as chief minister for the third time on December 12, 1994. 

“Noothana Samvathsara Subhakanshalu,” NTR continued wishing me a happy new year. I wished him back. The conversation lasted for less than 30 seconds. That set me thinking for the next 30 minutes on why NTR chose to spring a surprise on an unsuspecting journalist to convey personal wishes.

NTR had not actually called to speak to me personally. He had simply called to wish whoever was available at that time in the office and it happened to be me in Deccan Chronicle where I was working at that time. There were no mobile phones then. The CM’s office had the direct number of the reporters and NTR chose to make a call himself. But before, he came on line there was a piece of quick information that the “CM wants to speak” by someone who had dialed the phone for him.

There were only a few newspapers then and N T Rama Rao had called up all the newspapers to wish everyone a happy new year 1995.

I’d known N T Rama Rao to be a man who could spring surprises all the time.  Some were intentional and others could be incidental because you wouldn’t expect them. 

One of my first assignments when I became a journalist was to cover a programme at the Mahavir Harina Vanasthali deer park near Vanasthalipuram in 1989. Chief Minister N T Rama Rao inaugurated a van for the public to go around the park. We sat at the function area where he was to come and address the gathering. The entire crowd comprising visitors, invitees and officials stood up as he arrived on stage.

The press gallery stayed put -   sitting as he waved to the crowd. It looked like NTR was surprised. Even angry. How could that motley group of people not rise when I am greeting them? The thought would have crossed NTR’s mind repeatedly. The gaze on the press gallery moved no one. 

Reporters are not the crowd. They rise only when the national anthem is played or sung and not when VVIPs take to the podium. That’s been the tradition, the culture and norm that has been preserved by the fourth estate till date. It isn’t just about NTR. It can be any CM, PM, or  President. No one is to applaud when a VVIP speaks. No one nods in agreement or disagreement. All one does is jot down notes of the speech.

This is what I did that day. But NTR  made no sense. Nonsense is a strong and objectionable word to use. He spoke. And spoke. His chaste Telugu could hardly be followed by anyone. There was no clarity in the delivery of his speech too. He was as if he was incoherent. But he was chief minister. And I, a reporter.

Not paying attention might result in a ‘major miss’ if he were to make any big announcement. I had my gaze fixed on him. Ears were glued to what he said. And at the end of it all, he still made no sense for me to go and write about what he spoke. I was working for Citizen’s Evening then.

I noticed the crowd raving about his speech. They lauded him. Applauded him. They shouted and screamed. The crowd and NTR were made for each other. There was hardly anything in NTR’s speech to report. You couldn’t carry all that repeated rhetoric in a newspaper.

Going to cover the chief minister and that too someone like NTR and not being able to report a thing about the event would only reflect on my own capability of deciphering the man.

With NTR you can expect the unexpected. That much was for sure. The interesting thing that happened there was something else that we did not get to see. At the deer park, NTR got into the driver’s seat in the van and drove around in the reserve forest in the path that had been created.

The van was also meant for  visitors to be taken around to see the deer, black bucks, peocock and birds in the park. NTR driving the vehicle was news for that time. He’d done many films including ‘Driver Ramudu’ and ‘Adavi Ramudu’ and here he was living up to his cinema titles! Needless to mention, we went with the headline with a play of words from these two film titles.

With NTR around, it could not have been a dull day and it wasn’t!

One day, at the chief minister’s office in the Secretariat, I happened to sit beside him when he spoke with reporters. The handful of journalists that we were covering the CMO could shoot questions at him and he would never be offended. The more aggressive the question, the more he would be at ease, smiling at the anger that he noticed in some senior journalists who were elder to him in age.

This particular day, the conversation continued for some more time after everyone had got up from their seats. I stood up too after NTR got up. Since another question was popped to him by someone, he stayed back to respond. And for the next few minutes he rested his right hand on my left shoulder as he spoke. That was heavy!

You went to the programmes that chief minister N T Rama Rao  attended also because he could spring a surprise doing something you would not imagine. He did it.

One day, much to everyone’s surprise he showed up at a function dressed in saffron and wearing a headgear as Swami Vivekananda. I rushed to the nearest house phone in a star hotel. I requested that I be connected to the phone line of my office.

Like on many other occasions, this too was not about what he would speak at the function. He’d already had his say with his attire and that was the news for the day. Later, I also found out that he had hurt himself on one of his feet but that was secondary. That day, in Vivekananda’s attire, NTR made news not just in AP but the media across the country could not help but take notice of a CM who always had something up his sleeve to keep the media engaged NTR was like a breath of fresh air. On the political horizon, he introduced colour - a colour that was himself. 

NTR could spring a surprise with his decisions too. The press corps of the Secretarariat was at its allotted room. It was noticed that civil liberties leader K G Kannabiran who came with other civil rights activists and some left parties had gone to meet the CM in his chamber in the adjacent building. 

No sooner, the telephone rang in the press room. It was a call from the CM’s office. N T Rama Rao had expressed a desire to speak to the media immediately. We walked over to his room. “I am announcing lifting of ban on naxalites,” he said. 

That was a surprise announcement. Naxalite violence had been a major concern. What also had been of concern was the encounter deaths of naxalites. Policemen too had been victims of naxalite violence. And here was NTR who had announced a lifting of the ban on naxalites. 

From what was gathered then, the CM had consulted no one on taking that major decision. He did not consult his cabinet colleagues nor did his officials have any role in the unilateral decision that he took. How would a CM take such important decisions on the spur of the moment?


It turned out later that officials counselled N T Rama Rao on what repercussions the decision he took and announced would have. His secretary at that time Jaya Prakash Narayan had a word with him. By evening, it was informed to the media that there was a revision in the decision. The ban was lifted partially and with a lot of conditions. NTR could have had his way as chief minister but this instance showed that he could also be advised against any hasty decision. What mattered most was that he should be convinced. 

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