Seated in our drawing room, Daddy quietly wrote into the night, the green ink from his fountain pen turning thoughts into words in his beautiful handwriting. My mother and little sister would be fast asleep in the bedroom. But I sat huddled in a blanket on the cane chair opposite his desk and watched. It was the 1960s.We lived in Chennai, in a smiling modest house with whitewashed walls and green windows, a big garden around it and an inviting porch. To help make ends meet, my parents had rented out half the house.

Daddy was a freelance writer contributing short stories to Tamil magazines and scripts for films, although the film offers were few and far between. Before I was born, he’d once held a steady, well- paying job in Trivandrum as Malayalam news reader, his name Nagarcoil K. Padmanabhan known to All India Radio listeners in Kerala. He’d suddenly resigned from AIR to pursue with relentless passion his dream of being a writer. Among Daddy’s early friends in Chennai were actors Gemini Ganesan and Nagesh, the comedian. Ganesan continued to visit us even after he became famous. I would look out, star – struck, as his blue fiat drove in. He’d tease my handsome dad; calling him “Maapilai” [Tamil for bridegroom] and the two would go on talking shop.

One thing Daddy had gained early from his writing was Mummy. An English literature graduate and avid reader, she was a fan of Daddy’s magazine stories. The two became pen pals, met and got married, although the doe-eyed beauty from Bangalore was no Brahmin like daddy. It was a huge leap of faith to marry inter-caste in those days.

As I sat there watching Daddy, I wondered what he would write every day. I knew how he always worked on his next story at night, even as he was working on his current one at the film studios. “My big hit is just a script away,” he would smile, his deep dimples showing.

“Aren’t you sleepy?”

“No,” I’d mumble, although I’d often doze off in the chair and he’d carry me to bed. next to Mum. I would dream of reams of white paper filled with green writing, and of valiant heroes – good always triumphed over evil, and Dad’s heroes were always good.

When I was ten, he gave me Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, a rather new book then. Just one story like that is enough for a lifetime,” he said. I sensed the longing Reading C Daddy’s Enduring Script 89 in him. He had had a body of work by then, but a big hit eluded him. The novel made a great impact on me, and how right daddy was. Harper Lee never wrote another novel, yet became a legend with her only book.

Summer nights, Daddy would regale us with tales about the film shoots. He was a good mimic with his radio star’s voice and was an excellent actor himself. And I would sigh—What a wonderful thing it is to be a writer!

On Sundays and holidays, I would go up to the attic, where I hid my journal, and write endless stories of my own. When Daddy wrote scripts for Telugu producers, they would be in English. Sometimes he would ask me for a particular English word, which I’d supply. My heart would swell with pride that l was a part of his writing. My sister Anuradha and I studied at Chennai’s Holy Angels’ Convent, a most exclusive school, which my father could ill afford. Still, he wanted us to study and speak English well; an “entitlement,” he’d say.

Then, one day, I heard my parents whisper excitedly of a lucrative offer that had come to Daddy for a Telugu film. At last, we would be rich! And Mom had promised me a red frock, some stationery and a new doll.

There was an air of suppressed excitement in the house, of dreams that were finally coming true. I had a school picnic to go on early one morning. The evening before, Daddy had come home tired from work but took me out to buy snacks and sweets for the picnic. My basket was crammed with goodies. I was bursting with joy. Daddy set the alarm for five in the morning, ironed my clothes for the next day, and went to bed.

The next morning, the alarm clock went off. I got up but Daddy did not. He passed away in his sleep—a coronary thrombosis, the doctor explained. I was 13, my sister Anuradha, eight. Daddy was just 41.

Along with his body, our dreams too went up in flames. But Nindu Hrudayalu, the Telugu movie he had scripted with superstar N.T. Rama Rao in the lead, had celebrated its 100th day. The producer sent some additional money to my mother for the Hindi distribution rights of the film. The movie was a blockbuster, and the first in its genre. Daddy’s script became a recurring Bollywood theme; three brothers separated in childhood, reunited as adults… avenging their parents’ misfortunes.

Another Telugu producer had visited us to offer his condolences. He remarked ruefully that my father’s script for him was left half done. “I know the story,” I told him, “I could finish it for you.” He looked at me with kind eyes. “Are you sure?”

I nodded. “Daddy discussed the treatment with me.” He smiled at my use of jargon. I completed the script for him. My mother, who’d been a teacher before her marriage, 90 went back to support the family. We left our beloved home and city, moving to my mother’s ancestral home in Bangalore.

Then, as the years rolled by, life meandered in different directions for Anuradha and me. But our love for language and the written word stood us in good stead. Studies completed, Anuradha became a marketing professional, while I became a mathematics teacher. We soon had our own families and children to raise. Even so, Daddy’s unfinished dreams lingered on. Both Anuradha and I continued to write. I brought out a collection of my poems, while my sister published her anthology of short stories and a novel.


In 2003, my entry, For a Horseshoe Nail, in the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association’s short story competition won a highly commended prize. “Selected from 3700 stories, the competition was tough,” the judges informed me. “Your story was beautifully told, and very well- written.” Centered on an organ donation racket, it was set in a remote Tamil Nadu village, but read across the world. A UK doctor used the story as a topic for debate among his university students. The following year, it was Anuradha’s turn. She too won a Highly Commended Prize for her story: Today my elder daughter, Darshana Ramdev, is a journalist with Deccan Chronicle. She always wanted to write. My younger one, Deeksha studying computer science, is also an ardent writer and has an active cricket blog, The Tea-Towel Explanation. “I am going to be a cricket writer, one day.” She says as if it were a warning. “Let me finish my engineering.”

Daddy passed away in 1970. Two generations ago, I’d say. But his single minded devotion to writing still glows like a beacon among his children and grandchildren.

Anybody can die. Yet, as l finish one more piece–this story you’ve read–I know something for sure about Dad. His writing never stopped.

Amara Bavani Dev

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