Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Three Mails and Some Memories: Seeking out C R Ramaswamy

By Basudha Banerji

Three emails from precisely six years ago is the only connect I have with him. Yesterday I learnt of his passing away on 20 October 2017. Aged 83. In Chennai.

“You must get an article from Chennai,” more than one senior would urge me. “From veteran broadcaster C R Ramaswamy.” It was October 2011 and I was editing the souvenir for the ABU General Assembly that would be held in Delhi the next month. Hence the three mails.

Which I exhumed yesterday from the depths of my mailbox. I knew nothing of CR, as he is affectionately called by those who do. The emails tell me of a meticulous person, a true blue professional. He would have been 77 that year. Within 8 days of my request, he wrote:

“I have almost completed writing my piece and I expect (hopefully) to get it by tomorrow evening typed by a professional who has promised to deliver it to me. I shall be returning from Bangalore on the morning of the … and as soon as I reach Chennai, I shall email it to you. I hope you will bear with me. Latest it will be in your hands by the …”

The article was received as promised. On the dot. The photograph I asked for was sent by courier. A later mail would tell me more of the man.

I hope you will find my script useful. I have not been keeping too well for some time but I saw to it that I wasn’t disturbed on that account although I had to face some difficulty. I notice there are a few typographical errors.

I give a list below, of the errors and I shall be grateful if you would kindly get some competent and reliable person to just correct the errors.

Page 1 Title: The title is Transition and Transformation (NOT transition to transformation) Page 1 Para 2 Line 8 the word led is to be replaced by the word left 
Page 1 Para 3 LINE 1 add THE WORD THE before Radio medium
Page 1 Para 5 Line 3 the name is Lionel Fielden NOT Fielded
Page 2 Para 2 add quotation mark after the last word. Page
Page 2 Para 4 Line add d after the word comprise. It has to be in past tense
Page 3 Last para add a, comma after radio rural forum
Page 4 para 3 second line substitute linnovation by innovation
Page 4 para 3 Line 2 add the word only before the word key.
Page 4 Last Para Last line quotation mark at the end of the line...

Though the corrections had already been taken care of, this mail was much appreciated by the proof reader in me, I remember.

There was a third mail, talking of some difficulty in getting across his bio data to me as his computer was malfunctioning:

“… the service mechanic is already here and assures that the machine will be attended to in about 45-50 minutes. I hope to email it by by 4.00.”

The promised bio data is now staring me in the face…

 I  AM GIVING BELOW IN ABOUT 50 WORDS information about me that can go with the article. C R Ramaswamy retired Deputy Director General, joined AIR in 1958.  HE HAS WORKED AT OVER A DOZEN STATIONS OF AIR IN THE LENGTH AND BREADTH OF THE COUNTRY INCLUDING  AT gAUHATI (aSSAM) , kOHIMA(nAGALAND) AND aIZAWL (mIZORAM.)

The pressures of putting together a publication, followed by the ABU General Assembly duties, followed immediately by my transfer to Shillong ensured I never connected again with Shri C R Ramaswamy though I did wonder about all those wonderful contributors to the souvenir, who took out so much of their time, put together their thoughts, spent from their pockets to send me photographs and other visuals.

Yesterday at lunch time, I asked my immediate senior, Bhim Prakash Sharma, ADP (SW) if he had known CR. Bhimji who had joined AIR in 1983 as a Trex, laughed. “While we padded up in layers of sweaters to face the Delhi winters, CR would be seen in a short sleeved shirt and sandals.”  

Later I would learn of CR’s lunch times. In Delhi. How there was a threesome of him, then a DDG, T K Tomas, DP and E S Isaac, Pex (Western Music) at AIR Delhi who lunched together. And how each member of this trinity would get lunch in turn for the club. This was in the mid-eighties.

“We were very very close,” Shri Isaac emphasized. “Every Friday we would meet at 5pm. And discuss in depth and detail the books we had read that week…over a cup of tea. CR would read 4 to 5 books in a week. I am much slower. I would read about half a book in a week. But at the end of that weekly meet, I would learn about at least six books.” The club would go on to become a book club. E S Isaac who would go on to retire as an ADG at Doordarshan is currently working as Adviser, Programme at Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Limited (BECIL).

The closeness would become palpable when I called Professor T K Thomas. The voice of the broadcaster and columnist was tinged with grief. “For the first time I got late in despatching my opinion piece to pennews.net…I could not bring myself to write…finally sent it in this morning.”

“When my book was released by L K Advani in 1990, it was the chapter contributed by C R that Shri Advani specifically mentioned.” Professor Thomas was talking about the book he had edited - Autonomy for the Electronic Media: A National Debate on the Prasar Bharati Bill. 

The bonding went beyond office, both Thomas and Isaac stressed. It would encompass the three families as well. “So much so, during the summer holidays we would swap our children for a week or so,” Isaac laughs. “The rules were strict. If during that period you wanted to contact your children, you wrote them a letter. They would have to do the same too.”

A novel concept in learning, sharing and caring, I thought as I listened to these voices over the phone. While Shri Isaac told me in great detail how well the children of C R were doing, the sense of pride and ownership in his voice was unmistakeable. There were other stories too of the families pooling resources for the children’s higher education…never mind whose child it was.

“His office was always an open house… anyone could walk in without taking an appointment,” Shri Isaac reminisced.

I dialled the octogenarian broadcaster Shri B R Chalapati Rao’s Bengaluru number hoping he was a contemporary of C R and would have some anecdote for me. This was around 5.30 last evening and he said he was in hospital getting his wife admitted in the Emergency department.  I disconnected in a hurry. As he is wont to do, Rao Sir called back. At 6.52 am today. He had spent the night in hospital. As his wife was in the ICU, he did not get a place to rest his back, he joked. And as he is wont to do, gave me a perfect byte: “CR, as he is fondly called, stands out as a man of high intellectual calibre, a voracious reader, a fluent speaker and a prolific writer.” Retiring in 1994 as DP (Commercial) Shri Chalapathi Rao – at present a Consultant with AIR – had served long years in the AIR Directorate with Late Shri Ramaswamy as DDG (Commercial). He labelled his former boss as a “compelling pedagogue who could speak on any subject on the spur of the moment….and the right man for heading the Staff Training Institute.”

Shri A R Krishnamurthy, former DDG (Policy) had a flight to catch. Yet he shared with me how C R had worked as a sub-editor in The Indian Express at Madras prior to joining AIR, an excellent communicator who wrote for BBC journals among others. That he was generous to a fault when it came to helping someone in a financial difficulty. 

As I am scribbling this piece, my colleague Manoj Mainkar drops by for a quick cuppa. I am trying to conjure up a picture of a man I never met, I tell him. “CR? The picture is very clear in my mind…a man in a half shirt,” Manoj says. While gulping down the tea, he glances through my jottings…and has one more sentence to add before disappearing into the studios. “Kya kya log thhe…” And I know Manoj is not talking only of C R Ramaswamy.

It was good connecting with a senior like C R Ramaswamy, albeit fleetingly. “In the end, we all become stories,” says Margaret Wood, novelist and poet. We live on in other’s memories, in the good deeds we do that others benefit from and talk about and pass on even after we are gone. Immortality is the glow that the sun within us leaves behind even after we set. 

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