November 4, 2006

Remembering Rajaji

During my recent Bangalore visit I spent an evening with Mr N Nageswaran, former resident editor of Economic Times. He lives alone, with his 2-year-old Dachshund, Randy, a much mis-spelt breed. In stark contrast to his working life, when Mr Nageswaran routinely invented reasons to turn down party invitations, not many call him or drop in for chat, after retirement. This includes his professional colleagues. Friends dropped out of his life after he lost his wife a few years back.

Our association dates back to the late eighties when we used to have adjacent cabins at the Times Group office on Nungambakkam Road, Chennai. Mr Nageswaran was in a reminiscent mood, talking about his early days as a newspaper reporter in the Madras edition of Indian Express, then under the control of the one and only Ramnath Goenka. Stuck inside his head were loads of stories, anecdotes and eminently bloggable material that could be melted down into words over a couple whiskies. He wasn’t interested, not in whiskey, but blogging.

I referred to our own media veteran in Mysore, Mr Krishna Vattam, who has taken to blogging lately (with much prodding from his daughter and with help from his school-going grandson who ran a computer crash course for grandpa). When I mentioned a blog post by Mr Vattam on an incident relating to Rajaji and Mr Nageswaran’s face lit up and he promptly related a C R quote. “Consistancy is a donkey’s virtue,” Rajaji told his critics, “why should I, an intelligent human being, be expected to be consistent”. This was CR’s response to those who took him on for joining the anti-Hindi agitation, after having introduced Hindi in schools when he was in power.

Rajaji did not tolerate the media mis-reporting him. He used to send a post card to the editor the next morning. Mr Nageswaran was among the few reporters the old man trusted - ‘so I used to be assigned to all Rajaji functions’. As a reporter he was occasionally summoned to his residence where Rajaji dictated a statement, laid out on an easy-chair and sipping steaming hot coffee. The reporter had to sit on the floor to take down dictation - ‘he always asked me to read back to him what I had taken down’.

Mr Nageswaran recalled that when Sir C P Ramaswami Ayyar joined the Swatantra Party founded by Rajaji, Nehru had called it a party of old men. In a rebuttal CR observed, “Pandit Jawaharlal Neru has called us a party of old men; I would like to tell you that Jawaharlal Nehru is not a spring chicken”. Mr Nageswaran was among the newspapermen who was present at the Madras Music Academy function (in 1956?) at which Nehru paid his much-quoted tribute to M S Subbulakshmi. “Who am I, a mere prime minister, to say anything about the queen of music”, Nehru told the gathering.

1 comment:

Temple Stark said...

I'd be interested in more notes about journalism in India. Where are some resources?

A well-written tale.