THE PRIVILEGE OF KNOWING M. C.

 

Dr. A. PRASANNA KUMAR

 

It was in November, 1982 when I was in Delhi as one of All India Radio’s commentators on the Asian games that I had the pleasure of spending an hour with the late Sri Chalapathi Rau at his residence on Shahjahan Road. He was replying to letters he had received from friends and admirers. Receiving me with warmth and courtesy, he talked on a variety of subjects after handing over letters for mailing to a boy whom he affection­ately called “my Jeeves.” Sri Chalapathi Rau was in an expansive mood and we discussed many things including the Asian games. I was agreeably surprised that he did not lose interest in following the progress of games and sports in India. He even thought of visiting a few stadia during the games though he preferred to watch them on the TV or hear the radio commentary. He was in good health and there was no hint that his end would come so soon. His death was a great personal loss to many like me.

 

I first met M. C. long ago in the early ’Fifties then I had the good fortune of meeting stalwarts like the late Sri Kotamraju Rama Rao (and the late Sri Chalapathi Rau) at my uncle the late K. Iswara Dutt’s hospitable abode in Karol Bagh, New Delhi. But as a boy I dared not talk to any of these worthies except to hear them with respect and admiration. Years later I talked to him for about an hour under sad circumstances at my uncle’s cremation. M. C. leaned on the wall of the crematorium and was visibly upset. He wiped tears trickling down his cheeks and said that he did not expect his “mentor I. D.” to be so quickly consumed by the deadly disease. I made bold to tell him that I.D. was sad that M.C. did not visit him in the hospital and how deeply the former was yearning to see the latter. (M. C. and I. D. had a few differences over National Herald not making a special mention of K. Rama Rao’s role when the paper’s Delhi edition was launched.) M. C. was generous enough to say that he bore no ill-will toward I. D. and deeply regretted his inability to call on the ailing Iswara Dutt. There was no “loss of affection” at any time despite their “moods” he added.

 

I renewed my contact with him two years later by sending an article on Dr. Pattabhi Sitaramayya for favour of publication in The Herald. M. C. published the long article and wrote to me an affectionate letter. He loved Dr. Pattabhi and used to refer to him with genuine admiration and affection. When I presented him with a copy of my book on Dr. Pattabhi, M. C. wrote to me from Delhi thus: “I have read your biography of Dr. Pattabhi with sustained interest, partly because of my interest in him and partly because of the objective way in which you have written. Pattabhi was one of those who encouraged me early in life, giving me a certificate when I went to Northern India saying that I had an ‘original and telling way of writing English’, a certificate which I had no need to use….It is from your book that I learn fully of the shabby way Nehru treated him. It makes me angry and sad. I shall have something to say of it.” Referring to Iswara Dutt M. C. wrote, “I have yet to discharge my debt of gratitude to him.” Consoling me on my mother’s death, M. C. struck a personal note: “I remember how when my mother died I did not recover from the shock for about twenty years.”

 

Several times he referred in his letters to honorary degrees and people who flaunt their titles and honours, “I do not care for honorary doctors who flaunt their doctorates.” He even ended a letter thus “Yours sincerely,

 

Chalapathi Rau, Hon. D. LITT., LL. D., D. LITT.,

D. LITT. (Pending) Padma Bhushan (returned),

Padma Vibhushan (refused)”

 

There was no letter without a reference to the beauty of Waltair and none indeed without a sharp comment or humorous remark on someone. “I fell in love with Waltair (and long ago I wrote a short story on Dolphin’s Nose in the manner of Thomas Hardy.)” I took two senior police officers with me to M. C. as they were keen on seeing the leading light of Indian journalism. M. C. spoke on the relations between the police and the public and how Govind Ballabh Pant handled several crises as the Chief Minister of U. P., and later as the Union Home Minister. M. C. made no secret of his admiration for Pant who “had a superb grip over administration.” In his letter of March 6, 1982, M. C. wrote: “I am keen that the police officers should know that some of us in the press are for good relations with the police, if they do not use their lathis on us.”

 

He seemed to evince a good deal of interest in telepathy. In January 1981 he replied to my letter thus: “I was thinking of you and your letter arrived. For a fairly long time whenever I think of someone, he has to communicate to me or presented himself. I have become a believer in telepathy. But I cannot produce watches yet.” A year later he made another reference to telepathy mentioning how he found a note by I. D. on his “Yenki Paatalu” when he was thinking of I. D.

 

M. C. was overjoyed to see a little piece I did on him in Indian Express: “You have overtaken me, overwhelmed me. How sweet of you! You have inherited journalism from I. D.” It was a blessing showered on me by a patriarch, not certainly a compliment I deserved. What really surprised me was that M. C. could be so warm-hearted and generous toward ordinary persons like me and found time to promptly reply to letters from so many people, even though he had no secretarial assistance. It was impossible not to love this colossus of a journalist who knew so much about so many and who could write with devastating wit and enchanting humour on a variety of subjects. He could recall even a small event in Visakhapatnam to which he was a witness sixty-five years ago, as vividly as he could narrate the momentous events in modern India. He loved Nehru and took pride in his long association with him. “I can speak for hours on Nehru and modern India. I knew Nehru’s mind better than Mrs. Gandhi did,” he said with unconcealed pride. Chalapathi Rau’s memory was phenomenal and his knowledge of the history of Europe and the world gave him an edge over others in the profession. He took a master’s degree in English literature and read all the classics in history before he took to journalism. He was well-read in Telugu literature too. In 1981 I heard him saying that he was enjoying Pothana’sBhagavatham” which he considered an all-time classic. He belonged to that class of journalists who gave away all their possessions and even gave up high positions for the sake of their ideals or certain principles. And M. Chalapathi Rau like the worthies who preceded him in Fleet Street will be remembered not for what he held but for the way he enriched Indian journalism with his writings and what he stood for.

 

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