A man of many parts(1931-2017)

Cingireddi Narayana Reddy or Ci Na Re to his host of admirers, who passed away on 12 June 2017, was a man of many parts. He was an acclaimed poet and writer with over 80 published works to his credit. These included inter alia poems, prose plays, lyrical plays, translations and ghazal-s. He was also a professor, a lyricist who penned around 3,000 songs for films, an actor and also a politician, who served a stint in the Upper House, the Rajya Sabha, to which he was nominated in August 1997.

The son of a humble farmer, Narayana Reddy who was born in Hanumajipet in Karimnagar district of Andhra Pradesh in 1931, pursued his education in Urdu, as Telugu was not available as a medium during the Nizam’s rule. He went on to complete his Masters degree in 1954 and got his PhD in 1962, from the Osmania University. The subject of his thesis for his doctorate was ‘Modern Traditions of Telugu’. He then served as a lecturer and later as Professor in 1976. His interest in the fine arts was honed further thanks to his association with Kavi Samrat and Jnanpith awardee Viswanatha Satyanarayana, who groomed him and put him through his paces. Dr. Reddy later became Vice Chancellor of the Telugu University in Hyderabad. His earliest poetry collections were Navvani Poovu (The Bashful Flower), Vennala Vada (Moonlight Town), Jalapatam (The Waterfall), Ritu Chakram (Cycle of Seasons), and Duvvelu Muvvalu (Candle Bells), all of which were well received. His magnum opus however was a compilation titled Viswambhara (The Earth) written in 1980, which won him the coveted Jnanpith Award. The work which was widely read and received critical acclaim was later translated into many languages. Reddy also authored a book of Buddhist epic poetry titled Nagarjuna Sagaram.

Among the litterateur’s other contributions were his musical plays and his analysis of modern Telugu poetry. Narayana Reddy was a stickler for the usage of the language in its most pristine form, and his adherence to the purity was amply evident in his works like Matti Manishi Aakasam (Man beyond earth and sky), a long poem that ran to over a hundred pages. He also chronicled his extensive tours abroad, and his travelogues were always an interesting read, and were best sellers as well.

It was the matinee idol N.T. Rama Rao who introduced him to Telugu cinema in 1952 as a lyricist, and the first film for which he penned lyrics was Gulebakavali Katha directed by none other than Rama Rao himself. All the lyrics in the film were written by Reddy, who was besieged by offers from the industry after the success of his maiden effort. He continued to entertain audiences with his lyrics for several films the last of which was Inkenallu released in 2011. Dr. Reddy was passionate about presenting and popularising Telugu language and culture among the younger generation. A polyglot, he was also fluent in English, Urdu and Hindi, and it was his fascination for Urdu that was instrumental in his developing an interest in ghazal-s.

The poet received several honours during his lifetime including the Sahitya Academy Award for his poetry collection Mantalu Manavvudu (Flames and the Man). He was also a recipient of a Sahitya Academy Fellowship in 2011, and the Kala Prapoorna Award from the Andhra University. Among other laurels was the Soviet Land Nehru Award in 1982, and the Rajalakshmi Award in 1988. The writer was also conferred the Pamda Shri in 1977, and the Padma Bhushan in 1992. He had a keen interest in encouraging women to take an active interest in literary pursuits, and instituted an annual award for women writers in his late wife Susheela’s name. Dr. Reddy passed away on 12 June 2017. Rich tributes were paid to the writer by a number of dignitaries. In his demise, the literary firmament lost one of its most talented writers, whose works will serve as a beacon light for generations to come.

– C. V. Aravind is a Bangalore-based freelance journalist.