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)
033 AN INTERVIEW WITH THE CHIEF MINISTER
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!
032 THE GREAT POWER OF RADIO AS A MEDIUM
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!
031 CHITTI INTERACTS WITH VVIPS!
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.
030 -CHITTI – PART TIME GOVERNOR!
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.Kamaraj
and 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!
029 - CHITTI’S EFFECT ON RAMAN!
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.
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!
GANDHI’S ASSASINATION AND AFTER
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)
CHITTI – AIR DAYS IN TIRUCHI
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.
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!