1982. The kid is asleep after waiting for a long time. He has come with his mother and sisters to the Town Hall to have a glimpse of his ‘Hero’. And when the hero finally comes, there is a huge cheer. Our kid is woken up by the whistling and cheering. In his sleepy eyes he just gets a passing picture of whom he had been waiting to see all evening. And when the Hero is on stage, there are plenty of people obstructing the kid’s view.
1984. He starts collecting pictures of his Hero from magazines and newspapers.
1990. The kid now is a little boy. He is with his Akka-Bhava at a marriage hall. And again he is anticipating his Hero. The boy is not interested in anything other than meeting his Hero. The Hero comes finally. When he gets to see him, the little boy speaks to his Hero and manages to get an autograph. This is his prized possession and shows it off to anyone and everyone. A month later, he is excited to see his picture with the newly wed couple and his Hero published in a magazine.
1991. The boy and his mother at a public gathering. The Hero sharing the stage with a Swamiji and a Cabinet Minister. The boy gets to hear his Hero sing ‘Live’ for the first time.
1992. The boy has managed to do a scrapbook of his Hero.
2002. The boy is an adult and the Hero has aged. The young fellow has borrowed a Video-cam from a friend to shoot interesting shots of the city. Accidentally, he comes in front of his Hero’s house. And as luck would have it, the Hero is about to leave in his car. And the young fellow is all the while shooting his idol. The Hero calls him and asks if he is from the ‘Press” to which our fellow says that he is just a ‘fan’. The Hero and our boy have a 2 minute chat and a shake hand.
Our chap has made a few scrapbooks, collages and collected rare posters of his Hero.
2003. He has designed a poster for a famous Music Recording Company that brought out his Hero’s cassettes on his 75th birthday. But the young man’s desire to show his collection of pictures, posters and scrapbooks to his Hero and get them autographed remains unfulfilled.
2005. The young man is now married. But he is lucky that through a relative, he gets to meet the Hero. And has an audience for a couple of hours. He shows his collections. The ‘Hero’ patiently takes a look at the collages and books made on him. He remarks that the fan’s collection surpasses his own. He narrates a lots of anecdotes and stories related to the pictures in the scrapbook. He tells his experience as a hostage. And tells that he enjoyed his days in the forest. The fan listens quietly. The Hero asks about his guest’s profession. And as the young fellow describes his job at an advertising agency, he is surprised to know that his Hero knows a lot of things about ad agencies. The Hero’s better half joins the chat and appreciates the collection. She goes around the house showing the fan’s collection to all the members. The Hero’s daughter and son are over-joyed seeing some rare snaps in the collage.
The fan sees that his Hero is unable to walk comfortably, finds it difficult to move around with ease. He finally accepts that his Hero, RAJKUMAR, has aged. Until then, for the fan, Rajkumar could run, dance and fight with élan. But the fan, i.e. Your’s truly, is simply shocked to see Rajkumar struggling to do simple things like sitting with folded legs. But still, he is happy that ANNAVRU can humourously chat and has so much to share.
I have a look at the room. The wardrobe is open and all I see is sparkling white silk panches and silk shirts. The room has a huge painting of his parents. There are a few kids playing in the drawing room. An hour has passed chatting and munching snacks with Annavru. A doctor is waiting to treat him. And sitting next to his bed, I get to see how much difficult Annavru is finding it to do what the doctor is telling him. Still, he does all the exercises and the doctor checks his pulse rate. Everything fine. Annavru shows the doctor my collection. The doctor has a word of praise for me. He takes a snap of me with Annavru. And another with Rajkumar and Parvathamma. I get my scrapbooks, posters and collages autographed by the hero. I get up to take leave. He gestures me to sit for some more time. He asks me about my parents. And feels really sad that I have lost them at a young age. And we chat for a while about music and philosophy. Another hour has passed. And I say it is time for me to leave. I put my hand forward for a hand shake. But he opens his arms for a hug. What more can you ask for than a hug from a person whom you have worshipped all your life? And how many fans get this privilege? “Saarthaka aaythu kanayya Ramakrishna Annavra abhimaani aagiddakke” I say to myself.
Rajkumar walks with me till the gate and has that lively smile. He waves his hand and bids me goodbye. I am overwhelmed after coming home that my dream has finally been realised. I realise that Rajkumar is first a gem of a human being, only then a gem of an actor.
A few days later, the government arranges ‘Saarthaka Suvarna’ to honour Annavru. I shoot a few pictures of the entrance having attractive close up shots of Dr. Raj from his popular films. Bearing the pain, he manages to get up everytime someone comes up to wish him. And he is totally tired at the end of the programme when he has to speak. I buy the book brought out by the government on this occasion titled ‘Bangarada Manushya’. I finish reading it in two days.
2006. Nine months after I met him, on April twelfth, at around two in the afternoon, as I am busy designing a web portal, I get a call from my wife’s brother in Hyderabad saying Annavru is no more. I simply close my eyes and remember the day I met him for a few hours. And pray for his soul to rest in peace. I visit The Hindu, which is next to my office to confirm the news. And the reporters tell me that arson has begun. What unfolded later, you all know.
It is exactly two months since we lost a fine human being, an actor non-pareil in the demise of Rajkumar. Very few actors will get the variety of roles that Rajkumar got in his career. And perhaps he was the last hero from the Actor-Singer era. I can hardly think of any hero who won a national award for singing.
Rajkumar certainly deserved a peaceful farewell. But, as the saying goes, ‘Man proposes, God disposes’.