035 GREAT PERIOD IN CHITTI’S LIFE – CONTACT WITH PARAMACHARYA
(Chitti considers two of his experiences as most unforgettable ones; one was the opportunity to be in close touch with the Great Saint of Kanchi, Jagatguru Sankaracharya, the Paramacharya and the other to be associated with the Gandhi centenary Exhibition in 1969. Here we take up the portion relating to the Paramacharya - Narasiah)
His Holiness Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swamigal
For quite some time I was not interested in religious heads and other saints under the impression that they were preaching beyond my comprehension. My interest in our own religious customs and culture were kindled to some extent when, in The American Missionary School where I was studying, the teachers invariably tried to brainwash the Hindu students by deprecating our mythology as being fictitious while the Bible was the truth. At that time Justice Sadasiva Iyer of the Madras High Court was touring South India delivering lectures on Bhagavat Gita. I used to attend all the meetings he addressed though I did not understand what he was talking about. A vague provocation to know more about our own religion forced me to observe our customs and religious rituals.
The visit of the Kanchi Acharya added interest to my longings. I only remember going to have his darshan with my parents. A desire to challenge the blandishments of the Christian teachers in the school seemed impractical. I had forgotten the whole thing as I entered the college. The advent of Gandhi and and knowledge about our social reformers confused my thoughts and I slowly
began to take upon a rational attitude amounting to agnosticism. In the thirties of the last century, the Zachary visited Madras and was giving discourses on various aspects of our culture. Though I was not deeply interested, out of curiosity I listened to one of his lectures and was astounded by the scientific way in which he was expounding many of the myths associated with our heritage. I did not, however, have any opportunity immediately to listen to more of his discourses. It was almost about thirty years later that I had the rare opportunity of meeting him in person when his benign presence enchanted me as if I was having a vision of divinity. A friend of mine, a radio engineer and salesman in Tiruchi had embarked upon the exercise of showing educational programme under the government visual education programme in schools. While many such technicians had taken up the job the Government as usual suddenly took over the entire responsibility and those who had purchased equipment for such work were left in the lurch. My friend J. Sadagopan had also acquired a movie camera to augment his work.
It was sheer good fortune that it occurred to him to put his equipment to better use and he began an experiment to film the visit of the Acharya to Tiruchi. This resulted in good response from the peetam and the public also was very enthusiastic in witnessing the film he produced. Thereafter this became his main work and he began to record on film almost all the activities of the Acharya including the pilgrimages he undertook all over the country. He had occasion to produce a documentary on a seminar conducted under the auspices of His Holiness where a number of eminent scholars, both local and foreign, presented valuable papers on all aspects of our culture and heritage. A South American lady who visited the Kanchi Matam, saw the film and wanted a copy of the same with English commentary and English version of the Tamil programme presented.
In 1964 Sadagopan came Madras and sought my help for the conversion of the film. It was at my suggestion that he head taken up the aborted visual education task and I was delighted to help him. (In the next episode Chitti meets the Acharya)
034 A NON SWIMMER REPORTS ON A GREAT SWIMMER!
The crossing of the palk strait by the famous swimmer Mihir Sen
afforded an opportunity to work for a scoop in getting the news. Melville De Mellow the star broadcaster of the All India Radio came along with me for the coverage. Our association with Mihir Sen was for more than a week as he was waiting for favorable weather condition to start his adventure. This period was quite thrilling as he was recounting his earlier exploits like crossing the English Channel and other water ways. When at length he started swimming from the Sri Lanka coast all of us reporters from the media waited breathlessly on the shores of Danushkoti. His arrival was delayed by some hours and at last he reached the shore in the early hours of the next morning. De Mellow and myself were dispatching frequent reports about the crossing. De Mellow managed to send news of the arrival of Sen at Danushkoti through the wireless of the naval vessel which escorted Mihir Sen all the way from Sri Lanka, to protect against sharks and monitor his passage. De Mellow having a relative as Commander of Eastern Sector of the Indian Navy, (Commodore St Cameron) helped in this well. The news was picked up by a naval ship at Visakhapatnam and relayed to Delhi and Madras station of the All India Radio in time for the early morning news bulletin. This scoop resulted in some heart burning later as the print media could publish the news only in the evening. The STATESMAN which was one of the sponsors of the crossing was rather sore about the achievement of De Mellow and the AIR. It was DE Mellow who made the All India Radio world famous by his news broadcast and other features. His live running commentary of Mahathma Gandhi’s funeral was unmatched in that line for his language and references to the National History of India. De Mellow always believed in preparing thoroughly for any task assigned to him by studying all the aspects of the event he was to cover.
(Much later, I had the opportunity of escorting Melville for a covering of the inauguration of the 100 crore outer harbour project of Visakhapatnam Port, by Indira Gandhi and I mentioned about Chitti to him. He remembered the meetings with Chitti. We were traveling in a launch and I remember he out the microphone to the swirling waves to capture the sound which was well incorporated in the broadcast next day. Narasiah)