Chitti recollects...
19 March 2004
A memorable recording of an interview during my service as senior correspondent was that of the DMK leadere Annadurai who was to assume charge of Chief Minister of Madras as a result of the historic victory of his party when it swept the polls in 1967. Another sensation at that time was the defeat of the Congress president Kamaraj by a law student P. Srinivasan. The media had gobbled up by this time of news and srinivasan was the hero of the day. Our Headquarters immediately asked me to interview him. I explained to the Delhi bosses that it would not be proper to bypass the leader of the party, Annadurai and interview Srinivasan. They agreed and wanted the material for broadcast the same evening. As I arrived at Annadurai’s house the newsreel unit of the Films Division, a wing of the Information and Broadcasting ministry also arrived with motion picture equipment. It was arranged that my interview of both the personalities would be filmed. I had asked Srinivasan to come over to Annadurai’s house for the engagement as I thought I should let Annadurai know the kind of sensationalism the media was indulging in, in projecting Srinivasan: like Daniel in the Lion’s den etc.,

We could not however locate Annadurai as he had gone out of Madras. Nobody in the household knew his whereabouts. I contacted the Intelligence people and learnt that he was on his way back after meeting E. V. Ramaswami Naicker at Thiruchi. As Annadurai arrived he was surprised to find us with our paraphernalia He looked disheveled and wanted to excuse himself as he was tired. I told him that we would wait till he took some rest before facing the camera and the mike. He obliged and we had the interview recorded after an hour or so. It was a dignified response from Annadurai to my questions about the nature of the polls whether they were fair and aboveboard. I told him that Srinivasan was there for an interview and requested his guidance. He cautioned Srinivasan not to say any exaggerated thing as he used to do to the Press and asked him to stick to the facts. Srinivasan also was very nice and explained that the victory was not his but the party’s. After the interview the Newsreel Officer from the Films division suggested that a shot of both Annadurai and Srinivasan together would be appropriate. So a shot was taken with both of them seated together on the only sofa in that room. By that time other important members like Karunanidhi and Neduncheliyan had arrived. Immediately after the photograph was taken, Karunanidhi took me aside and said what we had done would lead to confusion and misunderstanding in the party. “Even Navalar would not sit along with Anna like that” he said and explained that the shot would not be welcomed. He suggested that the scene might be omitted when the film is released. I agreed and asked the newsreel officer to drop the frame. It was then the normal practice for all workers including major ones to sit at the feet of Annadurai near the sofa!
The impact of radio was very significant during the forties and fifties and a lot of glamour was also attached to broadcast. The influence of Audio medium still persists even after the advent of television to a great extent. The very nature of the medium demanded perfection in making sound pictures effective by those involved in disseminating information through the wireless medium. In this connection, a world famous incident comes to mind. In 1935, an American broadcaster made history by one of his plays, in his Mercury theatre off the air. He was dramatizing the well known novel of H. G. Wells, "The War of The Worlds" depicting the invasion of the earth by the Martians. The broadcaster was Orson Wells. With uncanny ingenuity he exploited the war phobia among the people of that day by substituting the names of real cities in place of fictitious names Wells used. The presentation with appropriate sound effects was so realistic that even while the play was on the air many cities in America and Europe had begun evacuation! The panic stricken crowds were seen leaving the cities! Wells was not aware of this until police swooped on the station and stopped the broadcast, it was only after this incident that even the USA thought of regulating broadcasts through the Federal Communication Commission. Wells was immediately signed on for the films for which there were intense competition among the Hollywood tycoons. It was America again, that grabbed the opportunity of getting Mahatma Gandhi to broadcast a talk to the world on his arrival in London for the Second Round Table Conference in 1931.

That was long before All India Radio was established. The so-called independent BBC towed the line of authority by refusing to co-operate with the American Radio. America however, was able to provide an opportunity for the people of the world to listen to Mahatma’s voice.

Another famous example of the effect of the Radio was the achievement of the millionaire American journalist Vanderbilt who covered the coronation of George VI in 1936. The broadcasting rights were the monopoly of the BBC and the American Press like others had to wait till the reports reached them by cable. It so happened to the chagrin of the BBC that a few leading American dailies came out with the reports even as the broadcast was going on. The reporters of other papers were surprised at the feat. Only later they remembered that Vanderbilt in the press gallery was not taking notes of the august ceremony but was mumbling something to himself. With his head bent! Vanderbilt had sensitized the lapels of his coat, which served as a microphone. His oral report was picked up by a mobile broadcast van just outside the Westminster Abbey and relayed by a ship in the Atlantic which beamed the whole report to America where the papers which had commissioned Vanderbilt’s daring adventure. Thus the news was carried by American newspapers long before their British counterparts did!
I understood later that all the Kings are not made of same stuff! for King Alexander of Greece was not so obliging! I had to cover the visit of King Alexander later, He was neither giving any message when asked nor did he answer any questions put to him! When I accompanied him to the Pallava temples at Mahabalipuram and asked him for his opinion, he said, “You come to Athens, I will talk about sculptures there.” He was so conscious and proud of Greek architecture and sculpture. It was some years after that the Queen and the children visited Kanchipuram and became devotees of Paramacharya!

King Alexander of Greece

When Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968 our Headquarters in Delhi wanted me to get condolence messages from Rajagopalachari and former president Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, for broadcast the same evening. After informing Rajaji I went to his residence with an engineer and the standard equipment to avoid any risk in recording. Rajaji had prepared a condolence message for about five minutes, which we duly recorded. Noticing the heavy equipment Rajaji asked why we bothered to carry such a big thing while mobile recorders were available. When I told him that sometimes the small machines fail, he declared with his sardonic humour “Everything fails in AIR!” I remonstrated and began, “Sir, you inaugurated both madras and Tiruchi stations of AIR.”
“Are you accusing me?” he interrupted. I continued, “Since you inaugurated them we are getting on well with your blessings” He seemed satisfied!

Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan

We next arrived at Dr. Radhakrishnan’s bungalow without advance notice since we could not get any response to our call earlier. The P. A. to Dr. Radhakrishnan took objections to our barging in like that and while we were arguing Dr. Radhakrishnan himself came to the place and enquired what the matter was. When I explained our mission he readily obliged and gave a dignified message extempore. It also helped when I talked to him in Telugu, which pleased him.
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.

August 2003 / September 2003 / October 2003 / November 2003 / December 2003 / February 2004 / March 2004 / April 2004 /

P.G. Sunderarajan ("Chitti")

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