Chitti recollects...
15 February 2004
Working with electronic medium had its own hazards. Though occasional and trivial in nature, such hitches could cause serious crises depending upon the event. I had to record the swearing in ceremony of K.Kamarajand his cabinet in 1962 when he assumed charge as Chief Minister for the second time. After the ceremony was over and the Governor had left, Kamaraj had gone to his room to confer with departmental heads. I found to my horror, on playing back the tape, that Kamaraj’s voice had not registered at all while the voices of the Governor and the ministers were well recorded. I remembered that while repeating the oath after the Governor, Kamaraj had been looking away from the mike and at the Governor. I was stunned by this lapse. We had announced the broadcast of the function later in the evening. I could not go back to the station empty handed. There was apparently no way of redeeming the situation as the Secretary of the Public Department whom I approached expressed his helplessness. It would be ridiculous on the part of the station to announce cancellation of the broadcast for reasons, which could not be revealed. Here was a serious crisis the way out of which deemed impossible. At that moment fortunately Kamaraj came out of the room to go home. On seeing me standing there sheepishly, he enquired what was wrong. My friendship with him even his volunteer days helped. When I explained the difficulty, he said with characteristic promptitude, without even a moment’s hesitation whether I wanted him to read the text of the oath again. And then he asked jokingly whether I would be the Governor for the moment! I told him that the Governor’s voice was well recorded and gratefully accepted his offer. We again set the equipment and Kamaraj read out the oath leaving gaps as suggested by me. After finishing the reading Kamaraj asked me to play the tape and was himself satisfied. That was Kamaraj, always well known for his capacity to take quick decisions cutting across red-tape and regulations. With any other person the situation would have required consulting constitutional experts and legal opinion leading to a lot of official upset and embarrassment. While we were able to broadcast the ceremony that evening, I did not tell anyone much less my director. about it and I knew that what was done was quite opposed to constitutional propriety.


A similar situation arose when I had to cover the visit of Cambodian King Norodom Shihonauk to Mahabalipuram. He was very pleased at my explanations of the various sculpture and the History of Pallavas. Curiously enough he asked why there are some tall trees surrounding the structure. He was referring to the Casuarinas grove. I told him about them and said they were to prevent the sea breeze from corroding the sculptures. He was quite taken in by the information and said he would like to have such protection for the world famous sculptures of the temple at Angkor Vat in his country. When I expressed my admiration for those sculptures he was gracious enough to invite me to his country and this was duly noted by the officers accompanying him. On my request he gave a handsome message for our listeners, recalling how it was a South Indian who founded the Kingdom of Cambodia and how the art of temple building and sculpture had their origin in India. While returning to the city I played the tape back and found to my dismay that the King’s voice was not clear, as the strong winds had intervened. There was no choice except backend bank on the kindness of the King for a repeat performance. But there was some difficulty with our own security who were assigned for duty for the distinguished visitor. Just then the King saw me and came forward to ask if I needed some help. On my explaining the situation he immediately repeated what he had said earlier and a crisis was averted!

HM Norodom Sihanouk, King of Cambodia

When he left India the next day and as he was emplaning, news overtook him that there was a coup in Cambodia and he had to go into exile for some years!

Another magazine Grama Oozhiyan (Village worker) whose founder had succeeded in getting the services of Ku. Pa. Rajagopalan as editor, formed part of the group, which enriched the literary atmosphere in Tiruchi.

By 1949, it was decided to shift Vanoli to Madras, as printing facilities were not adequate in Tiruchi. We shifted to Madras and I continued in the post till 1960 when I was promoted as Regional News Editor, which brought me closer to the listeners directly. This position also gave me an opportunity to move with prominent people.

Meanwhile G. T. Sastri also had been transferred to Madras and working under him again provided an extension of the rigorous he used to supply with duty and hard work as the main aspects. There were many rumours about his encounters with authority in Delhi, which could not be confirmed then, which later were revealed to my eyes only, in his letters. His absence when he was transferred to Calcutta, affected many of us very much and we continued to work as if he was there with us. The work as news editor was to prepare the Regional News Bulletin for broadcast in the evenings daily. News inputs were from agency reports, through teleprinter and Government notifications. Within months of assuming charge I had to take up a risky task. Dr. C. V. Raman, the Nobel Laureate had sworn not to cooperate with AIR for the past several years was in Madras after the Science Congress and was to deliver two important talks at the University Auditorium. We had a weekly newsreel, a sort of audio magazine in which such interesting items were broadcast. The Director wondered whether I would be able to record Raman’s talks for broadcast. That day I had covered in the bulletins an item of news announced by Raman. The topic involved a highly technical description of a new form of surgery of the eye. I managed to have it rendered into Tamil for the bulletin and it was daily broadcast. Raman’s lecture was scheduled later in the evening. I liked the to take up the challenge of recording Raman’s talks. Colleagues were apprehensive of the kind of treatment that I would receive from Raman whose boycott of AIR was still effective. I told my director that I would try and if not thrown out, would come with the recording. I arrived at the venue with my assistant early enough to set up our recording equipment before Raman arrived. The organisers had their own public address system and since they were not aware of Raman’s boycott were pleased that AIR was going to record the speech. Raman arrived and proceeded to address the gathering without knowing that AIR was recording the talk. He perhaps thought that the microphones were part of the arrangements by the University. In the middle of his talk the microphones set up by the organisers failed to work. I asked my assistant to set it right, as the man in charge was not present. My assistant a lady set it right and Raman thanked her cheerfully. This was a good omen for me for the encounter I was going to have with Raman after the event, for, in any case I would have to reveal my identity after the talk lest our action should be considered to be surreptious.

Sir C.V.Raman

After the lecture the gathering had dispersed and Raman was waiting to be escorted to his car, which was delayed. At that moment I approached with great trepidation and requested him for a short interview for broadcast. When Raman knew that I was from AIR he was quite livid and demanded how I had the temerity to record his talk without his permission. Quite shaken, I gathered courage to explain that the talk though recorded without his permission, would not be broadcast without his content. I also banked on the good impression made on him by my assistant when she set the microphones right. I also explained that as a Government institution, we could not miss as important as a talk of his. As a clinching point I told him about my covering his announcement about the new surgical invention he had announced earlier, in the day. That seemed to mollify him and he almost smiled! When he asked me as to why I wanted an interview with him, when I had already recorded his whole speech. Embolden by his softened attitude I told him it would be good if the people could hear his voice after so many years. He looked surprised at my reminding of his boycott of AIR after such long time and burst out laughing and exclaimed “You are a persisting young man” As the atmosphere had improved I submitted “Sir, I am not persistent, only persevering; and also I am not that young, I am already fifty!” That eased the tension. He took the mike from my hand and asked, “What do you want me to say?” I told him it would be useful if he could say something about the Science Congress that had concluded recently. He cheerfully summed up the proceedings of the Congress. I had already signaled my assistant who had begun recording even while we were talking. After the recording, I requested his permission to record his talk the next day also. He had announced in the course of his talk that evening that the talk he was going to deliver on music the following day would not be repeated. He quipped sarcastically as he left; “You are seeking prior permission!” My colleagues in the office were not only surprised but quite relieved at my returning in one piece with a recording from one whose allergy to AIR was so well known!
02 February 2004


An unforgettable was the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by Godse. I did not go to Thiruvaiyaaru that year, as I was ill. As the relay continued with Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer singing, I turned to Madras B channel for the news, and the words “All India Radio regrets the death of Mahatma Gandhi a short while ago. He was shot three or four times by an assassin at the prayer meeting and he fell down dead” got burnt into my brain. Later, I learnt that Viswanatha Iyer was singing ‘Undahthi Ramudu Okkudu’ of Thyagaraja when Gandhi fell down with the words "Hey Ram” The relay personnel at the festival pandal immediately announced the news and the crowd melted in away in utter silence unable to believe what it was hearing.

All of us were proud to have belonged to the organisations, which brought the scenes of the funeral march and cremation the next day to every one in his home through a network of link running commentaries from Birla House to the burning ghat.

Earlier, the war years provided exciting items of news from BBC and other foreign stations not reachable by the ordinary public. The dawn of independence and the broadcasts by Jawaharlal Nehru made us aware of creating history. Occasions like relay of Barathi festival from Ettayapuram in 1947 also added new dimensions to the broadcasting side.

Though I had ceased to write for journals outside AIR it was more or less part of my job as an employee to contribute to the programmes broadcast. I wrote numerous plays, features, skits and commentaries. A full length play of mine became very popular and was repeatedly broadcast several times. Interaction with writers who contributed scripts and participated in the programmes was very fruitful. I had the opportunity of meeting many VIPs, scholars, writers and musicians.

Owing to the war and bombarding of Madras by a Japanese warship the city was evacuated to avoid further risks. Many government offices and newspaper establishments shifted to the interior districts. Writers began to settle down in Tiruchy which became in a few years the Literary Capital.

At this time a college student Rajagopalan inspired by Manikkodi, which had ceased to exist, wanted to start a journal of literary content and sought my help. As I was a Government servant, I could not help him much and he went ahead with my blessings and soon was able due to sheer tenacity to secure contribution from former Manikkodi writers like Pichamurthy and KU. Pa. Raa. He repeated my earlier stories and articles. This magazine also survived only for a few years but succeeded in being heralded as a successor to Manikkodi. Rajagopalan was himself a poet and a fearless journalist in exposing bogus writing! (Recently a collection of articles, poems and shortstories from this magazine has been brought out by Kalaignan Padippakam, in a beautifully produced volume; the contents were selected by Chitti – Narasiah)

During my tenure as scriptwriter primarily for rural programmes, I took part in many plays and created a number of characters, which were very popular. The contract was for Rs. 50/- and had to be renewed every April and when the renewal was due in April 1940. Within six months of my joining, I was talking about leaving the service disgusted at the treatment by the officials of the station. The Director was a big person who no one could approach. I had by then become a pain in the neck for the officials like the Director of programme etc., On the day the contract was to be signed again I was telling everyone that I would not sign, when a peon came and told me that the director wanted to see me. That was unusual, as he has nothing with us lesser fry. I went up and found to my surprise that Gopalan knew more about my writings and status as a Manikkodi writer than I had imagined. It was again Dr. Sastri’s hand. Without any preamble, asked me to sit down and shot off a number of questions about my qualifications experience languages I knew etc., taking notes meanwhile. He sent me away without telling me why he took down the particulars. I learnt later that he was recommending me for the post of the Assistant Editor of VANOLI the Tamil programme journal of AIR. Moreover Gopalan wanted the journal, which was being published by Madras station to be brought to Tiruchy arguing that a fully Tamil station like Trichy alone should have control over it. Madras was a multi lingual station as it catered to Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada, at that time. I was also persuaded to sign the contract for another year. By July I was appointed Asst. Editor Vanoli. For this Gopalan had to fight with the HQ at Delhi who raised many technical objections for my appointment. He won an assumed the post on Rs. 150/- p.m. Father found Ramalingam’s predictions coming true and began to treat less like a prodigal. As a regular Government servant I was now an equal to with the junior officers of AIR and was treated with respect. I was boss of my work and was independent in editing the journal. I continued to write plays for broadcast and life became very smooth.

For twenty years from 1940 to 1960 I was in charge of Vanoli where the work was mere proof reading and correspondence with HQ at Delhi. Since I was independent in charge of the journal I could order my own hours at the office and also at the press. I spent much of my time when free to meet friends who came for broadcast. Leading writers like Prof. Srinivasa Raghavan, TKC, Kalki, Koththamangalam Subbu, Ku. P. Raa, Pichamurthi were among those who came. My position as one of the senior officers of the organisation enabled me to associate myself with broadcast activities, which were not part of my prescribed duties. Prominent people like politicians and film stars coming to broadcast became friends and the glamour of the radio also contributed to pleasant exchanges. In broadcasting we were able to try out new techniques in communicating with only sound as medium. Special occasions like Barathi day, and festival broadcast brought us closer to the listeners and a very good rapport was established with the listening public. A highlight of the broadcast was the annual relay of the Thyagaraja Aradhana celebrations from Thiruvaiyaaru. We could meet all the prominent performing musicians at that venue and understand their deep devotion to music.
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")

contribute to a living book on our legacy

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