We knew we had reached the right residence in Hyderabad’s Jubilee Hills from the row of forlorn creatures- dogs and chickens feeding outside the gate from thoughtfully placed bowls. As we entered past the tall gates, canine members of the Akkineni household, some aged and disabled welcomed us with curious barks. The official Blue Cross premises are in the vicinity. We were there to call on Amala , the animal welfare activist and actress.
The purpose of our visit was to invite Amala and her superstar husband Nagarjuna as Chief Guests for the release of my novel “ Blossom Showers” in Hyderabad the next day. But when two animal lovers meet, the talk invariably veers round to areas of common concern , and the main agenda of our visit was on the conversational backburner. Amala shared her passion for the Blue Cross of Hyderabad which she had founded together with her husband, as an organization to address the sufferings and neglect of animals, as also an instrument of the Animal Birth Control Program.
I expressed feeling inadequate about not being there for the creatures with whom I forge temporary bonds in the various places I pass through. “ I wish I could bi-locate”, I said half- humorously, but Amala responded seriously with her passion for Vipassana meditation, especially highlighting the concept of Maitreyi, the transmission of kindly energies directed in areas of need and suffering beyond one’s physical reach. She was happy to find my husband Dharmendra was a fellow Vipassana practitioner.
I commented on her remarkable adaptation to the languages of different South Indian screens and Bollywood considering that her part Irish and Bengali parentage may not have prepared her for those cinematic demands. But in point of fact her training in classical Bharatanatyam mentored by none other than Rukmini Devi Arundale was a very valuable input not only to her career as a performer, but also as an animal welfare activist because the said luminary was responsible for the early legislation on preventing cruelty to animals. Amala professed to be happy leaving the silver screen behind for her more meaningful present pre-occupations.
The time passed by pleasantly in the many aspects of getting acquainted and swapping experiences. As we reached the gate, King Nag had returned from his day’s shooting schedule and said hello. Amala reminded him of the next day’s engagement, apprising him of our own strivings for achieving animal welfare.
Aside from his impressive multi-lingual filmography listed in Wikipedia, that spans a combination of awards and box office blockbusters , I was interested to learn from Wikipedia that Nagarjuna acquired a degree in automobile engineering from Eastern Michigan University before he cruised the highway of cinematic stardom. The superstar is a co-founder of the Blue Cross in Hyderabad and one of its chief pillars from the liberal contributions of his cinematic and entrepreneurial successes. He has also lent the weight of his popular persona to an AIDS related social campaign.
The next day, the 7th of September, 2011 was one that most Indians would remember for the horrific blasts in Delhi from another vicious terrorist act. It would have been understandable if one opted to stay away from a crowded public venue, but the celebrity couple Nagarjuna and Amala Akkineni arrived on the dot. The media circus that followed was overwhelming but the stars were all grace and charm for the many dozens of popping flashbulbs. Amala shared her positive feedback of what she had managed to read in the brief time after her return from a trip to the U.S, especially the novel’s strong opening start. Nagarjuna echoed her sentiments, and additionally articulated his own commendation in Telegu for a wider reach with the local media. They stayed on as I shared a few salient features about my writing. I myself stayed on to commune further with the gathering, but Dharmendra said they maintained an admirable composure as they navigated through the frenzied rush of fans on the way out to the exit.
Later on, while surfing the net I was intrigued by co-incidence. All three of us- Amala, Nagarjuna and myself on the dais that day shared the Virgo zodiac-sign; our marriage dates were in the same week- 11th and 14th June respectively of the year 1992; both our sons have proceeded for their overseas education at practically the same time.
I had a charming letter from Amala thereafter – she said she was still in the process of finishing my book, with constant interruptions from the onerous commitments of her life. But she did communicate that her mother Meitim ( a strong force in Blue Cross) , herself a poet had “devoured “ my book in two days and “was all praise for the story and language.”
The Akkinenis’ presence at my book launch event in Reliance Time Out’s Hyderabad outlet afforded me enormous exposure, especially with television re-plays and global web coverage that spans from Pakistan to Mexico. In turn, I wish this wonderful couple ever wider renown and reach in their respective cinematic and altruistic activities.