CHITTI IN TIRUCHI – AIR DAYS
I had an earlier opportunity to join AIR when the Madras station was opened in 1938. Va. Ra. was the first speaker on the second day after inauguration. I was voice tested as announcer and was asked to call again if I was interested. I did not like being cooped up in a station throughout evening and announcing programmes. So I did not respond. But Dr. Sastri who was very keen on getting me to Tiruchi near him took it upon himself to talk to the authorities in 1939, when the Tiruchi station was opened. R. Parthasarathy a Gandhian and a Journalist friend was one of the officers and Dr. Sastri succeeded in persuading them in offering me a job as a scriptwriter. As said earlier the salary was Rs. 50/-, which was a big jump, and I did not hesitate in accepting it. The work was mainly script writing for rural programmes, plays and skits. The atmosphere was good and the work rewarding. The people of Ponneri were sorry to let me go but they knew it was for my betterment.
For one year I was writing scripts and the job was temporary, in the sense it was on contract without any benefit of the Government service. At one time I thought of quitting and asked Dr. Sastri to see if I can get a teaching job in Tiruchi. I had imagined myself a great writer since I was invited by the AIR and wanted to be treated with respect. The station Director one Mr. S. Gopalan who had trained himself in wireless by sheer genius knew about my writings and advised me not to be impatient. It was said that what Gopalan did not know Marconi did not. The workers there proudly equated him with Marconi. Though there was an engineering section with a chief at its head, Gopalan’s technical expertise made him an ideal boss. His successor G. T. Sastri was a stickler for rules and routine bureaucratic procedure but was keen to keep everyone satisfied. He always recognised hard work. He was well versed in music, which was an advantage in managing a medium essentially meant for broadcasting that art. He had been a secretary of the prestigious Music Academy of Madras and this experience had made him well known to all the leading musicians who came for broadcast, who regarded him with respect. This gave rise to peculiar attitudes, which he was very deft at handling.
During the war years AIR stations were declared protected areas as broadcasting centres often attracted enemy attack. Visitors had to get the written permission of the Director to enter the premises. Once in 1940, Pichamurthy the doyen of writers of the Tamil renascence ushered in by Manikkodi came to see me in Tiruchi. I duly sent the request to enter to the Director for the requisite permission. Gopalan asked me over the intercom whether it was the writer Pichamurthy. When I said it was, Gopalan came down to meet him and both of them were in conversation for nearly an hour on the various aspects of Tamil literature! Pichamurthi was at that time working as a temple executive officer in the department of Hindu Religious Endowment. At the end of the conversation had got Pichamurthi to sign a contract for broadcasting six talks on Mysticism in Tamil literature. That was characteristic of Gopalan who always went half way to meet talent!
CHITTI GOES ON AIR!
When in the teachers’ training college I mentioned about the speech of Jawaharlal; in this connection I cannot forget the incident involving my role in leading the other students for a meeting to be addressed by Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, who was specially speaking for the students. The college authorities indirectly prevented the students from going to the meeting by levying fine of a rupee per head for not attending the classes. I along with students numbering about twenty skipped the special class and attended the meeting. The next morning I took about twenty rupees and gave it to the Principal who was taken aback! I said that was the fine due for not attending the classes. The Principal appreciated our patriotism and asked me not to show the patriotism so ostensibly!
December 7, 1941: Japanese bombs ignite the forward magazine of the destroyer Shaw, resulting in this spectacular explosion. The Shaw, which had been in drydock at Pearl Harbor for routine maintenance at the time, was repaired and later returned to service.
The Second World War had broken out in Europe and All India Radio needed experienced writers to prepare programmes designed to help propagate the cause of the Allies. There was also need for spreading our culture through broadcasting which promised to grow into a powerful medium. Dr. T. V. Swaminatha Sastri, my benefactor in Tiruchi persuaded me to join the Tiruchi station when the job of a scriptwriter was offered to me. Though my father did not fully approve my habit of jumping jobs, compromised to tolerating my accepting the post, as the salary was Rs. 50/- compared to the 35 I was getting as a teacher. He had, however, his own reservations, as the job was to be on contract renewable every year. Luckily I could be drafted into regular Government service soon when I was appointed editor-in charge of Vanoli the Tamil programme journal. True to the predictions of Sri Ramalingam, who somehow had great faith in my career I was also promoted as a Gazetted Officer of the Central Government as AIR was part of the Ministry of Information.
This helped me deserve my father’s confidence who thereafter treated me with kindness and consideration. He had seen his erstwhile good-for-nothing son prove the faith of Ramalingam.
I was happy to have regained my father’s good opinion and was able to recall without rancour the rigorous discipline with which he brought up his children. He had great faith in his first son, my elder brother who was ideal and industrious ended up as an official of the Postal Audit Department. Subbu who was my accomplice in many activities would soon turn approvar, and I would get the punishment! Sometime we would go to sleep early, hoping to escape thrashings as father was away on duty till very late in the night. But if there was a case to punish we would be awakened and soundly threshed!
The beatings I got were so harsh that compared to them, ill treatment of slaves by white men could be treated as picnic! Since every blow was well deserved, I could look back upon those days fully appreciating my father’s concern for good behaviour and disciplined life.
States forming the Great British Front - Brit Empire in Asia map
CHITTI THE EDUCATOR!
I was able to get a certificate of guarantee of appointment as a teacher after my training which was needed to join the L. T. course, from a school in Tevaram, due to the efforts again of Sri Ramalingam, who was then an Inspector of schools. It was very difficult those days to get admission into the L. T. Course. On the suggestion of Sri Ramalingam I took my application to H. F. Saunders who was the Director of Public Instruction. Saunders enquired about my writings and when I told him that my ambition was to become an Inspector of Schools, like my brother-in-law Mr. Ramalingam, he said that I must aim higher as I was a good writer. (He saw some of my published stories) I was selected because he endorsed my application, he being the ultimate authority in the education department. Throughout my career in teachers’ college from July 1936 to March 1937, I was held in great respect as I was the nominee of the Director of Public Instruction and I had a very fine time in that period.
On the whole life in Teachers’ College Saidapet was very happy and lively. Meanwhile elections to the Madras Assembly came and there was a lot of excitement everywhere. Jawaharlal as President of the Congress came on a tour and there were many meetings. The College being run by the Government and the education free, the Government made it very difficult for students to attend the meetings addressed by Jawaharlal.
However I was able to interact with the Principal and Professors much to my benefit.
Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964)
After the training, I waited till I got a posting in the Ponneri High School, which was a home away from home for me. Sri Ramalingam as usual predicted a bright future for me! The tenure in the school for about two and half years was a happy one as I was able to be close to the Headmaster and the staff successfully. The students and parents also liked the way I taught. Once when I was transferred to poonamallee a delegation of parents approached the authorities in Madras and got me retained in Ponneri School!
But much to their disappointment I had to leave the school soon!
CHITTI’’S STINT WITH THE TINSEL WORLD AND PUBLISHING
During this break, I was assisting one Mr. Ramarathnam, a film critic in Dinamani. I was writing some reviews also. At the insistence of Ramarathnam I wrote a story for a film, starring the famous sisters Ratna Bai and Saraswati Bai. It was a misadventure and negotiations for a production which was to be directed by Ellis R. Dungan, broke down. The attitude of the stars was not conducive for a fair agreement. I had given a copy of the script to the actresses and there was a risk of their using it without my consent.
When Chokkalingam of Dinamani heard about this situation, he immediately arranged for the publication of the story as a serial in Dinamani, to establish my copyright. The story was well received by readers as it contained all the undesirable ingredients of a popular film! (Which author can declare thus ? Only Chitti can! – Narasiah
) Later when a publisher friend brought it out as a book it resulted in a set back in my literary reputation such as it was!
Elangovan who later became famous much sought after dialogue writer reviewing the book in Dinamani, observed “It is deplorable that such a shoddy story has come out of a pen that gave us Andhi Mandhaarai” The reference was to a short story of mine in Manikkodi that attracted literary appreciation. Later the story was acquired by an established producer for a handsome amount. He could not produce it for a various reasons and I was grateful for his shelving it!
It is during this period that I became closer to some film personalities. Ellis R. Dungan an American film cameraman from Hollywood, was directing some films and some of the leading actors required an interpreter. I filled the gap and thus came close to M. G. Ramachandran, who had just then started his acting career. (Much later he had mentioned in his autobiographical account, which was serialised in Ananda Vikatan, my name and other Manikkodi writers) I was helping MGR and some other actors to converse with Dungan.
M.G.Ramachandran and Janaki
I had even met K. B. Sundarambal who appreciated my criticism of her ‘Nandanar’ and asked me to be with her during the next film. (However this did not happen as I had then joined the L. T. classes)
For some time I was also Literary Consultant to a circulating library run by the Hindu agent in Mount Road. To boost the membership and sell foreign journals, imported by the library, I persuaded the proprietor to start a magazine of which I was the Editor. I named the journal MARINA to represent the Madras Beach. At that time Princess Marina of Greece was marrying the Duke of Kent, in Britain. I used her picture on the first issue cover of the magazine, which coincided, with the name of the magazine! The magazine circulation did not rise and the cost of production was very much. However the magazine had attracted good reviews. The Madras Mail, reviewing the journal in a box said that the standard of English in the magazine was much higher than any other Madras based English magazine. The most surprising occurrence was in the Madras Assembly! A British member of the Assembly was pulled up by the speaker for his reading this magazine during the sitting of the house, on a reference from a Congress member! The entire contents of the magazine was filled by me which did by translating many Tamil articles and stories by Manikkodi Srinivasan, Va. Raa., and other Manikkodi writers. The English, which had escaped my handling due to Va. Raa’s suggestion, thus, had become a victim in my hand in his absence!
CHITTI THE TEACHER!
The other clerks who had expected that I had been called to be reprimanded were surprised to see me return in one piece!
Much to the disgust and disapproval of my father I returned home and continued my association with Manikkodi. My father had practically written me off by then! But my brother-in-law stood by me and assured my father that there was a bright future for me! I had meanwhile set my ambition on becoming a teacher and wanted to go for L. T. training. But, for that one must have served as an untrained teacher for at least a year and the school in which one served must guarantee taking the candidate backed after the training.
Earlier, after New Times folded up the Editor of SUNDAY CHRONOCLE one Mr. V. K. Menon invited me to write literary articles as I had done in New Times. The founder of the SUNDAY CHRONOCLE one Mr. M. K. Reddy was President of the Chinglepet District Board and he had resigned from the Justice party and had joined the Congress liked my writings in his paper and when I requested him for a job in one of the District Board schools, had promised me to consider the same. I wrote to Menon about my plight and he talked to Reddy with the result that I was appointed as an untrained teacher in the Ponneri High School. This relieved father’s anxiety somewhat and my brother-in-law Ramalingam who always stood by me
assured that I might get L. T. admission. I served in Ponneri on Rs. 25/- p. m. till 1935 March and there was no pay for the summer vacation. While serving in Ponneri messing in a hotel I continued to write for Manikkodi and other journals. I became popular as a teacher and I liked the job. Every weekend I would go to Madras and discuss with friends literary matters. On expiry of the tenure as president of the District Board, Mr. Menon was out of power and his paper also folded up! Therefore there was no chance of my getting a certificate from the school for LT admission. The year ended with my being out of job with little future! Again my father was very upset. However as usual my brother- in-law came to my help. However nothing happened then. From June 1935 I was adrift working as a freelance journalist. Dinamani had just then started and I worked along with Ramarathnam who was on the staff as a film critic. I wrote for other film journals also and the most important journal was SOUND AND SHADOW. I was wandering about meeting writer and film friends.
CHITTI JOINS THE STATE GOVERNMENT – A DISASTER!
During the period I was dabbling in writing for Manikkodi with empty dreams of becoming a famous writer, I was able to get a job in the Revenue department in Tiruchi District. This was due to the interest taken by the then Secretary of the Public Service Commission who happened to be a junior colleague of my father during his tenure in the department earlier. I had written an examination under my father’s orders but there was no offer of appointment as there was no vacancy in Madras city for which I had surprisingly qualified!
When I went to see him as instructed by my father, he rebuked me first for not having seen him earlier. He offered me the job of a clerk in the Treasury Deputy Collector’s office in Tiruchi. My tenure in that office and later in the Taluk office at Kulittalai for less than a month was a case of unmitigated disaster! I did not like the job and was not able to grasp the intricacies of Red-tapeism. I was miserable and quarreled with other clerks often. Most of them pitied me while one or two sympathised with me. Our boss the Tahsildar a Christian gentleman understood my plight. He even appreciated my correcting his English while typing out a long report of his to the Collector on a canal scheme. On two occasions the Deputy Collector and his superior the Sub Collector a civilian (ICS) of the old school during inspection of the office found me to be a problem, almost a mental case! These two subsequently became very helpful owing to their having met Dr. T. V. Swaminatha Sastri at the club in Tiruchi. Dr. Sasatri had told them I was a writer of repute! He was editing a Tamil Magazine named KALIRATTAI (Happy Charka), which was closely associated with Manikkodi. A dedicated Gandhian, he had gone to jail as a freedom fighter. As a physician he was known for his diagnostic skills all over Tamilnadu. His commitment to Gandhian ideals was so much that, he would not discontinue spinning on his ‘Takhli’ even while listening to patients narrating their symptoms. He liked my writings and had subsequently become my benefactor in my career.
I had surprised the I. C. S., officer Mr. R. M. Sundaram by applying for leave on loss of pay even before I had completed a month’s temporary service. It seemed even he had no power to grant me leave when he asked me why I wanted leave. I told him I was very ill to which he replied that I did not look ill and cast some sarcastic remarks on my work. I nearly broke down and said something impertinent like I did not know how to advertise my illness. He was outraged and ordered me to go back to my seat. He then wrote to the collector on my application; “I have seen the clerk; he is really ill. I am recommending his request. A substitute may kindly be posted” His remark that ‘I was really ill’ showed that I was being treated as a mental case! This was before he met Dr. Sastri in the club that evening. After that meeting he called me to his camp at the Travellers Bungalow where he was staying and enquired about my background. When he learnt that my father was also a tahsildar he advised me to return soon after my leave and continue in the service. However that was the end of my Government Service!
P.G.Sunderarajan, affectionately called "PG" by many of his friends, is the renowned "Chitti", a highly respected litterateur and Andhra Pradesh's gift to Tamil literature. He is a bilingual author of innumerable books, which include creative works such as poetry and fiction, criticism, literary history, biographies, and books on spiritual discourse. He writes with equal felicity in English and Tamil.
P.G. Sunderarajan ("Chitti")
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