Friday, May 25, 2007

Remembering Chittaranjan

It wasn’t his anniversary day. Nor was it a day of remembrance for media veterans. Yet his daughter and I had him on our minds; spent a few tear-filled moments, remembering the late C N Chittaranjan, when we met at a concert hall in Sunnyvale, C A, last Saturday.

The occasion was a carnatic vocal music concert by Chittaranjan’s grand-daughter, Kavita. It was my first social outing during my current US visit. “I get a feeling that my own father has graced this occasion,” said Girija Radhakrishnan, tears welling up in her eyes. I was rendered speechless. Girija, who has everything going for her had one regret in life - that her father Chittaranjan didn’t visit her in the US.

CNC (as he was known in the media and among friends) was a kind of journalist who rarely took time off from work. He lived for journalism. He once told me that after he had his three daughters married, and well settled in life, he felt he ccould no longer be accused of neglecting his family for his profession; he felt a sense of legitimacy in devoting his undivided attention to work. He had provided for a modest income from savings and a small house in Chennai for his wife after he would be gone.

He died in New Delhi. In his later years CNC’s prime concern in life was to be able to bring out Mainstream on time, every week. Apart from writing editorial CNC commissioned articles (for which no payment was usually made); and spent at least two late evenings a week at a smelly, noisy printing press at Jhandewalan, going through page proofs. The man had a heart condition.

Mr Chittaranjan was a rare newspaper editor who didn’t own a vehicle, and used to travel by bus. This was in the 80s, when travelling in a Delhi Transport Corporation bus was no Sunday picnic. He remained a man with a common touch, though he rose to senior editorial positions in Hindustan Times and Patriot, and to be editor of National Herald. CNC had always the welfare of journalists at heart. His involvement with the interests of journalists did not always endear him with newspaper managements. In The Indian Express, Madras, he took on the then mighty media baron Ramnath Goenka, who had at one time threatened to shut down the Madras edition.

CNC led the workers’ agitation, for which he had to spend time in jail. Later he moved to New Delhi to join Hindustan Times. When Patriot and Link was started in the sixties (by Dr. A V Baliga, Aruna Asaf Ali, V K Krishna Menon and Edatatta Narayanan), as an alternate media to counter monopoly houses, CNC was invited to join the editorial staff.

In the profession he was several years my senior; in life, he became a family friend, helping me along to get a break during my down-and-out years. CNC re-hired me in The National Herald, New Delhi, ignoring the management policy not to take back anyone who had quit the paper, that too, barely an year earlier. Later, when CNC fell out with the National Herald management he put in a word for me at The Times of India, where I had the longest stint in any single newspaper (20 years) during my four decades in journalism.

Irony was that CNC, who had helped several others to make it big in their careers, was himself happy to be working for lesser dailies on relatively modest pay and no perks. After he left the editorship of The National Herald CNC went back to Mainstream, whose founder-editor Nikhil Chakravarti relied entirely on CNC to run the journal.

It was during these days we met every other evening at his place or the Chopra tea stall near our residences in Karolbagh; and talked mainly of his current editorial concerns at Mainstream, or discussed the topic for his next magazine article. After my transfer to Bhopal as TOI correspondent in the early 80s, I never got to meet him. Several years later, when I was posted in Chennai, I got a call one morning that CNC was no more.

I couldn't attend the funeral; nor could I make a subsequent trip to New Delhi to convey my condolences to his family. Those were eventful days for journalists covering Tamilnadu, and I couldn’t find myself getting away from the daily grind of newspaper reporting, even for a week. I knew CNC would have understood my situation. As a die-hard media person, CNC wouldn’t have had me miss my assignments, even if it was for his own funeral.

Cross-filed in Zine5 and Desicritics.


vivek said...

As CNC's Grandson, I barely knew the man. I was just turning 6 when he left us.
I appreciate you writing this enlightening blog and giving me/us an insight into this great legends life.
Good on you. Cheers.
Vivek G. Vaidyanathan

bhaskaran said...

I was staying with CNC at Karol Bagh for 10 yrs. Your writing brought memories of those days. We may not be able to come cross a man like him in our life and those who had privelege of some interaction with the man would ever forget in life. Thanks to Girija, who had forwarded your blog to me. CNC is the rarest among rare journalist ever lived in our country.
He was not feeling well the day he died and at 9.30 PM on the night he told me he would take only 1 day rest and will be alright to go to office next day and he died around 10.45 P.M.
We can go on forever to write and talk about this great Man.