About Raja Reddy, his dance and two wives
I know when Kaushalya Reddy reads this, she will call me and say: But you wrote more about us than dance. Quite true but then the personal life of Reddys put together, is more fascinating than their professional one. They started as a twosome and ended up as a group of five: There is no confusion. Everything is divided among five of us, Kaushalaya Reddy told me.
The other day when I was invited to Hotel Ashoka’s f-Bar to celebrate an award which was conferred on Raja Reddy, he was flanked by his wives: two of them. Both sisters: Radha and Kaushlaya who is much younger.
I was not seeing them as a threesome for the first time. I always have since I have known them. They often host page three parties and always include me in their guest list. I admire the way in which they publicly handle their somewhat complicated relationship. They are neither apologetic about it nor attempt to explain the threesome: This is how we are take it or leave it. And the sense I get, people have come around. Not that it would have mattered even if they hadn’t. Because in their scheme of things, they frame rules on how they want to lead their lives. So even when their little girls, two of them, came home from school and asked why they have two mothers and their friends one, Kaushalya told them it was God’s way to bless them.
The original couple, Raja and Radha, are the dancing duo who have in past years, to quote New York Times stormed and circled the stage flashing out showers of cleanly articulated dramatic gestures.
Kaushalya is Kuchipudi dancer Raja Reddy’s second wife. Also the talkative one. But ask her and she calls herself ‘the invisible one’. Very tough for someone as vivacious as her, but she is right. When it comes to professional positioning, Kaushalya is completely absent. Flip through the CV and it is one on Raja and Radha even though Kaushalya is a dancer in her own right and steers the Natya Tarangini: a school set up by Reddy’s to teach Kuchipudi form of dancing. Professionally the focus is clearly on Raja and Radha Reddy, who are among the first dancing couples in India. I recall what Jan Murray once wrote bout them in The Guardian: Raja and Radha Reddy attractive pair, she tiny, curvaceous and prone to fits of giggles, he tall and romantically handsome.
Much of that is gone today. Radha does not giggle anymore and Raja is not particularly handsome. But yes he has a presence. I know Kaushlaya is going to throw up her hands and say ‘How dare you’ to me. But then she and I need not think alike.
By her own admission, she was struck by his looks. Except that it happened ten years after she had lived with the Reddys. Radha and Kaushalya, as I said, are sisters.
Kaushalya came to them as a toddler and Raja, initially her brother in law, was her guardian in Delhi: a father figure really. But an overseas trip changed the relationship. They were in Singapore when Kaushalya watched a performances: My God what a handsome man. No wonder women vie for is attention, she said to herself. Impulsive as she is, Kaushlaya went backstage and proposed to him. She was all of 14 and Raja 30 or 40 plus she says with a twinkle in her eye. Raja dismissed it as infatuation but Kaushalya was not willing to relent: Abhi, isi waqt abhi nahin to kabhi nahin. (It is now or never) She served an ultimatum.
To Kaushalya, it was not about breaking Radha’s home but settling in there. When she told Radha about her intention, Radha imposed a condition: Share my husband but not the stage. Kaushalya willingly agreed. For her it was not about dance but the man. For Radha, it was more the onstage chemistry between her and her husband.
Therefore, while the two literally share the man, Raja the dancer is exclusively Radha’s. And Kaushalya has not trespassed the limit set by her sister. Even though trained by both Raja and Radha Reddy (they are my gurus Kaushalya told me) Kaushalya quit dancing many years ago. Later when the girls, Yamini and Bhavana, were born, the whole family has often performed together.
Years ago when I interviewed Radha Reddy on television, she confessed that after agreeing to Kaushalya marrying Raja, she locked herself in the room and cried: Bahut royee main. Yet, I sensed that Radha is no push over. She has a mind of her own and is clearly the ‘this far no further’ types.
Raja’s marriages, both of them, created a sensation. His first, to Radha, happened when they were kids, given that in their home state of Andhra Pradesh, child marriages were common. But Radha’s parents were unwilling to send off their daughter with a penniless dancer. Radha bribed the village potter with the only coin she had as savings, to summon Raja to rescue her. Raja sold off his only shirt to reach her. They eloped and married on the train to Hyderabad.
His second marriage to Kaushalya. was kept under wraps for sometime. Once announced, it created a stir. Many of his friends chided him: Itni aachi biwi hai, doosri kyon laya (You are married to such a nice girl. Why did you remarry?) Kismat kismat(Destiny) is all that Raja would say in his defence.
Even the Jallandar wale guruji (a godman from jallandar whom the Reddys visited regularly) joked about his bigamous status often addressing him as do biwi wala. Raja’s own brother, a bachelor, never forgave him: You with two wives and I could not even manage one.
Then there was this senior politician, who as country’s law minister, went to Raja’s house for dinner. As is customary he took two bouquets, one for Radha and another for Kaushalya. When Kaushalya saw him she quipped: So even the country’s law minister recognizes bigamy.
Kaushalya has changed many things about Raja. For starters she banned the use of make-up, specially the layers of pancake and tons of face powder which he plastered to make his jet black skin look a little white. Next she bundled away his safari suits, ties and shoes: Only dhoti kurta and kohlapuris she said. But when it comes to shorts, it is a yes ofcourse because he looks very sexy in them.
What she has not been able to change is his unrequited love for film star and later Member of Parliament Vyjantimala: I saw Nagin ( a film in which the actress has a lead role) 17 times. I have often tried curling my hair into Vyjanti–jee’s type of ringlets but I never get that right Raja told me over a delicious Andhra meal indulgently served by both Kaushalya and Radha.