Today is the legendary Bommireddi Nagi Reddi’s birth centenary. His illustrious son pays tribute to his iconic father
Whenever my father narrated his experiences in life, I got the thrill of listening to a fairytale. Born at Pottipadu, a remote village in Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh, B. Nagi Reddi was brought up by his maternal grandparents for the first 14 years of his life. He was a disciplined student and from his village school teacher, Ramaraju, learnt the essence of the three epics, the Ramayana, the Mahabharatha and Srimad Bhagavatham, along with the basics ideals of life. The value-based education and the serene environment not only gave him a distinct philosophy of life, but also the inspiration and courage to reflect it in his lifestyle.
At the age of 16, as a student of the Muthialapet High School in Chennai, my father got attracted towards the freedom movement and became a volunteer under the leadership of ‘Andhra Kesari’ Tanguturi Prakasam and Durgabai Deshmukh. His elder brother B.N. Reddi was also involved in the national movement. Both the brothers took up promotion of khadi. My grandfather was by then an established exporter of agricultural products to Burma and Ceylon, and my father, when 19, was sent to Rangoon to promote the family business. The idea was also to divert his attention to business and learn to face new challenges in life.
It was early 1947. The young idealist that my father was, he could muster enough courage to translate one of his long-cherished dreams into reality. It was his friend, Chakrapani’s vision, coupled with his spirit of adventure that gave a creative shape to their concern for the first generation of independent India in the making.
Birth of ‘Chandamama’
They launched the unique monthly for children, Chandamama. It was meant to lead all the children of India, despite the difference in their mother-tongues, to dream, enjoy and imbibe together the spirit of the vast Indian heritage through stories. It is my firm conviction that my father and Chakrapani believed that a noble mission was blessed and destined to succeed. That is what enabled the two friends to build up a team of committed writers and illustrators to put their talents together in making Chandamama a vibrant success in 14 languages, including Sanskrit and Santhali.
We are four brothers and two sisters. Soon after their studies, the first three sons were imparted training in various departments. The fourth, Babji (B. Venkatrama Reddi), was too young at that time. Prasad anna (B.L.N. Prasad) was made an apprentice with Marcus Bartley in the cinematography department and he qualified to become an operative cameraman. While saving an assistant, he suffered a severe electric shock and was taken out of movies. My father started the Prasad Process as a block making unit and placed him there. The Prasad Process soon turned into a modern offset printing press and even won the national award twice for its excellence. Venu anna (B. Venugopala Reddi) started his career in the plate-making department with graining work and often used to push the trolley before he became the Managing Director. I was put in the hand-composing section as a treadle machine operator, and was nurtured by Chakkanna (Chakrapani) before I took over as the editor and publisher of Chandamama group of magazines. During our apprenticeship we were never treated preferentially. We were made to work in shifts, including the night shift, and given uniforms like the other workers. Venu anna continued to wear the uniform even when he was made the Managing Director!
A strict disciplinarian, my father used to treat every staff member on an equal footing. He never spared his children when they did not meet his expectations. He was the President of the All-India Master Printers’ Association twice and headed the Film Federation of India for two terms. He introduced the multi-speciality hospital concept in the South way back in 1972.
Father had high regard for traditional values and tried to impart them through his movies whenever he could. Here is an anecdote. He made Ghar Ghar Ki Kahani on the theme of family values. After watching the movie, Chakrapani made a light-bantered comment, “If you want to give a message send a telegram, it costs much less.” Chakkanna was a great support to my father in all his endeavours. “Nagi Reddi-Chakrapani” spelt like twins. You will be surprised to know that the duo completed Namnaadu (Tamil) with MGR in the lead in 10 days, including the song-picturisation. Two units worked, one helmed by MGR himself and the other by director Jambu. MGR came for the shooting on the 11th day and was surprised to learn that the film had been completed. The picture celebrated its silver jubilee run and is also believed to have paved the way for the political legacy MGR built.
It was MGR who inspired him to build an annex to the hospital with the ambience of a health resort and thus came into existence the Vijaya Health Centre. My father used to go round the Centre every morning. R.K. Narayan, the renowned writer, who was treated at the Health Centre in early 1980s, had this to say: “Nagi Reddi was remarkable in many ways. Inspiring hope and self-confidence in the patients with his light humour and encouraging talk, he set an example to the staff — not only to the doctors but also to those in charge of the infrastructure — so that the work was conducted in an attitude of perfect team spirit.”
A true karma yogi, father took adversities and accolades in his stride in the same spirit and my mother always stood by him.
I feel fortunate enough to have been born to such parents. I wonder whether I had done something worthwhile in my previous life, poorva janma sukrutham to deserve this.