S. B. VIJAYA MARY recollects many memorable meetings with the legendary Akkineni Nageswara Rao – a great actor and a greater human being

Every time I met him, I’d wonder if there would be anything new he would share. And every time I’d come away feeling thrilled with reams of notes penned while listening to him in awe and wonder.

A reporter’s delight always, Akkineni Nageswara Rao, ready wit and easy solutions for everyday problems, never shied away from sharing his innermost thoughts; he never minced words and was never pretentious. He would reel off a Sanskrit sloka and Socrates’ philosophy in the same breath to underline a thought. And patiently interpret it in simple language. “You need to know a little to know that you don’t know anything. It’s only my quest that helped me find answers,” said ANR reminding that he’d dropped out of school after IV standard.

ANR never failed to inform every reporter from The Hindu who met him that he’d learnt English by reading the paper. “My first and only English teacher was The Hindu,” he said making us feel proud and privileged. “The Hindu is the only paper I buy. All other newspapers are complimentary copies. I don’t mind spending money for The Hindu though,” he had said in his own matter of fact manner.

Talking to him was not necessarily a walk down memory lane — his observations on politics, contemporary cinema and international affairs often provided food for thought. It didn’t take much to realise that his disciplined lifestyle had stood him in good stead all his life. “Eat less to live long,” was his advice. He had turned a vegetarian and proudly showed his little vegetable garden that he would tend to. “I’ve a sweet tooth, particularly for the sweets made of jaggery,” he shared. When he was asked if he enjoyed eating at Nagarjuna’s restaurant, he was forthright in his reply, “Nah! I’m not much into Thai food and all that. I said it was good just to make Nag happy.”

ANR was a faithful humanist. “If there’s a presence there (pointing towards sky), I’m sure he’ll want me to perform my earthly duties well and be a good human being rather than blindly worship him,” he said.

Nothing fazed the doyen. This writer met him around the time veteran actor Gummadi had passed. “I lost yet another friend from the industry…he’s younger than me and all the actors who have come to the industry after me are no more. So, I wait for my turn now, but it’ll be on the set and I’ll still be working.”

When it was his turn, the majestic hero was game. RIP, ANR.