Living life, queen size

At 54, Nina Reddy is busier than ever. Photo: R. Ravindran  

It’s a Saturday afternoon in Hyderabad and the sun isn’t being particularly kind. There are lessons to do and chores to finish, but for the 25 children who live in the majestic white house in Barkatpura, this is hardly of any concern. 

Even as their parents and staff at the house, tell them to get back to work, they look towards the gate expectantly. When they hear the sound of an approaching car, they spring up, shrieking with excitement.

“Ninamma ochundhi!” exclaims the driver’s daughter even as the children race through the cherry and guava trees. They startle some cows as they dash past the servant quarters. They jump over the pond, run past gargoyles spouting water and stop just short of the entrance, panting.

The guard manning the gates is on his feet, to welcome six-year-old Nina Reddy with a salute, as she drives through the gates of her grandparents’ house. “From Saturday afternoon to Sunday evening, till I’d go back to my parents’ house, it used to be a riot,” recalls Nina Reddy.

The weekends spent playing hopscotch and making music with the staff’s children is not something Nina often thinks about 48 years later. Yet, she somehow seems to know that the maid’s visually-challenged son, Venkatram, is now a professor in Hyderabad.

Even today, as she bustles about managing the affairs of Savera Hotel, Nina stops to enquire after her employees — she asks her public relations manager if her son’s cold is any better and listens, nodding sympathetically, when she says that it’s only become worse. “I’m a people’s person,” Nina needlessly explains. Nina often sends young female employees scurrying into the powder room, insisting they put on some lipstick or touch up their make-up. Grooming is important, she says.

Known for her impeccable sense of style, Nina has always been chic. Even in college, when the nuns who ran St. Francis College for Women gave her disapproving looks, she wore the jeans, shorts and shirts that pleased her. “When you say Reddy, you typically expect conservativeness. Mum was not like that, she brought us up differently,” Nina explains. None of that, however, took her away from her traditional roots. 

When Nina was still in college, her parents announced that a young man from Madras was coming to see her. Her first reaction, understandably, was to burst into tears — she was still in her teens and hadn’t even completed her college education.

When she met young Vijay Kumar Reddy, however, everything changed. “He was extremely shy, he still is,” she smiles. Soon, he was calling her every night post-10 p.m., because that’s when the STD call rates were cheaper. Yet, staying on the call till the wee hours of the morning ensured that he drew up a huge bill. They wrote each other love letters, long ones, which filled up every inch of the inland letter. For her wedding shopping, when Nina came down to Madras on her way to Kancheepuram, he took her to Marina beach, after a quick stopover at Savera Hotel to pick up a packed picnic lunch.

When 19-year-old Nina married into the Savera family and moved to Madras in 1979, she found the city welcoming. Still, she was a stranger here and the language posed a major challenge. For a while, she walked around referring to Vijay Kumar as ‘ Namma husband’, till she watched enough Tamil movies and picked up enough of the language to stop doing it.

She dabbled in every course available in the city, making many friends along the way. She organised exhibitions and car rallies, took part in kitty parties and Round Table meetings, started The Duchess Club and fitness studio O2, took over operations at Savera and started revamping the look of the hotel. When her two daughters came into her busy life, she’d plop them on her hips, with a baby bag swinging from her shoulders and take them along wherever she went.

There was never a dull moment, nothing slowed her down and that’s just the way Nina liked it. Because, “Life is not stagnant, it’s dynamic.” And Nina’s dynamism is what makes her who she is.

Today, at 54, Nina feels that age has slowed her down physically. But, that’s hard to believe. As the clock strikes 4 p.m., most people would be itching to head home. Nina, however, fulfilling her role as the president of the National Association of the Blind, has to be present at a function. After a few hours there, she has a dance practice scheduled — she’s dancing to ‘Dhol Baje’ as part of O2’s 13th anniversary celebrations. Post that, she needs to come back to Savera, wrap up work for the day and squeeze in an hour of exercise. Once all that is done, she gets to go home, have dinner with her husband and play with her dogs.

Even with a schedule that hardly gives her time to breathe, she says she doesn’t need a vacation. “There’s no deprivation at any level, even in terms of time,” says Nina, who enjoys every activity she does. Her philosophy in life is not just to exist, but to live. And Nina lives her life quite large.

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 2:34:13 AM |

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