On a wintry night of the early Nineties, Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao, then leader of the opposition, returned home at Road No 13, Banjara Hills from an exhausting tour. After a refreshing bath, he sat down for dinner to find nothing on the table. The cook was gone, the driver too. Only a servant or two and the security guards were present. He realized then why the house looked almost lifeless when he stepped in.
One of the servants, a kindly soul, saw peddayana’s predicament and sent a SOS to Alladi P. Rajakumar, MP and NTR loyalist. He rushed home-cooked food as his leader prepared to retire to bed on an empty stomach. Knowing that I had accompanied NTR on the tour, the domestic help confided that his heart bled for his master’s condition. It reminded him of NTR’s character in Badi Panthulu where the principal character and wife were left to their fate in their advanced age by their selfish sons.
After the death of his wife Basava Tarakam in 1984, Rama Rao became a loner. His children – seven sons and four daughters, had little time to spare for the father. The family bonds became weaker as years rolled by. He was in need of a caring partner in the evening of life.
It was against this background that Lakshmi Parvathi entered NTR’s life. Lakshmi Parvathi, who hails from Pachchala Thadiparru in Guntur district, was married to Veeragandham Venkata Subba Rao, a harikatha exponent 20 years older. She gained scholarly knowledge of epics, puranas and mythology. After post graduation, she taught at a college in Narasaraopet and obtained M. Phil from Telugu University. She then registered for Ph. D. with the subject ‘Mythology in Cinema with special references to the roles played by Sri N. T. Rama Rao’. A die-hard fan of NTR, she had met him in 1985 to seek his support for her research and also for writing his biography. The Chief Minister turned down the request citing lack of time.
Meanwhile in 1992, NTR lost the elections and was leader of the opposition. Lakshmi Parvathi successfully wangled his help in her research and biography project. He was fascinated by her knowledge of mythology and culture and analysis of characters, which brought them closer. Her research work at the Telugu University required regular visits from Narasaraopet by bus. NTR helped by giving her a job and accommodation in the NTR Trust office, a stone’s throw from his house.
As the relationship between the two grew stronger and intimate, the family got worried. It greeted the development initially with surprise and embarrassment which soon turned into uncontrollable anger. NTR took seriously ill on two occasions when Lakshmi Parvathi called doctors and nursed him to recovery, without the family knowing anything of it. The family members did not digest this.
Their relationship soon became hot topic of gossip in the media and political circles. NTR remained unfazed and decided to silence critics by solemnizing it through marriage. The family tried in vain to stall the plan. At the 100th day celebrations of ‘Major Chandrakant’ at Tirupati on September 10, 1993, he called Lakshmi Parvathi onstage and sought her hand. Chandrababu Naidu walked out in a huff.
The family felt their worst fears – that Lakshmi Parvathi would inherit NTR’s mantle and ‘knock off’ his property – were coming true after the marriage. NTR resisted every attempt to distance Lakshmi Parvathi from him. Actor Rajnikant called her ‘dushta sakti’ and Daggubati Venkateswara Rao termed her as ‘sani.’ Undeterred, NTR promoted her by having her by his side during the 1994 election campaign and at party meetings. She had a hand in the selection of candidates too.
After the Telugu Desam returned to power with a huge majority, her fortunes rose steeply while those of Chandrababu Naidu dipped alarmingly. She also participated in official meetings. NTR took her to meet the Prime Minister and later on a tour of the UK in 1995. Late-comers, sycophants, defectors and vested interests soon entered her camp. She called the shots as NTR looked approvingly.
The family and Chandrababu Naidu bided their time as Lakshmi Parvathi went from strength to strength. It was now a question of survival. Her followers occupied strategic positions in the party while the loyal cadre felt choked. Under the new dispensation, the Telugu Desam suffered hurting setbacks in the elections to the local and civic bodies. This was the last straw for the loyal party cadre and a majority of MLAs under Chandrababu Naidu to revolt against Rama Rao in August 1995. NTR woke up too late to discover that the leadership of the party and the Government changed hands. The rest, as we know, is history.
Lakshmi Parvathi thus fell from the high pedestal while her husband died a few months later, a bitter, sad man.
BoX ITEM: How they explained the relationship.
‘Ours is a sacred relationship. Our common interests are Indian religion, culture and spiritual heritage. These shared interests brought us closer’, Lakshmi Parvathi said in an interview to this writer.
She did not seek any role other than serving NTR as a housewife. ‘What greater position can I achieve? He is my guru and deivam. If I really want a position in the party, who can stop me? Yes. I never wanted it’.
Her husband was even more categorical in justifying the marriage. His take: Lakshmi Parvati came to my rescue when all my family members left me to my fate. She was only my biographer then. Late one night, my blood sugar level shot up to 360. I was in virtual coma and mumbling incoherently. She immediately summoned a doctor and looked after me till the sugar level came to 300. But for her, I would not be alive. Can these people give my life?
I therefore decided that I would marry her if she was willing and sought her consent at Tirupati. She thought over it the whole night and said ‘yes’ the next morning. What is wrong with the marriage? She is intelligent and educated – M.A., M. Phil and doing her doctorate – and well-versed in Hindi, Sanskrit and Telugu.
The controversial relationship continued ‘till death do us part
– Dasu kesava Rao
Independent Journalist and former Chief of Bureau, The Hindu