The dedicated work of the founder T S Krishnamurthy of the Social Service Centre impressed me. SSC distributed milk free, thanks to the munificence of the American organisation, Cooperative for American Relief Everywhere (CARE). Every morning milk powder was mixed in hot water and distributed to around 1500 in five centers in Mambalam. SSC organised cultural meetings: the subjects discussed ranged from music and philosophy to politics and literature.
Training in social issues...
SSC presented C N Annadurai, P Jeevanandam and other renowned public figures. Kothamangalam Subbu once presented Bharathiar Kathai. Dr K S Shelvankar, the renowned correspondent of The Hindu in London, spoke on foreign relations and the students of Madras Christian College (where I worked for two years) staged a mock UN Assembly. SSC was also involved in instilling civic sense. Members used to sweep the slums clean. The Corporation of Chennai used to provide us with new brooms and senior officers, including the Commissioner, joined us! We raised funds through a variety entertainment programme at the Vani Mahal; invested the proceeds in buying two grounds of land in Thambiah Road. SSC later donated the land to the Public Health Centre. SSC was thus a great training ground for social issues.
Industrial Economist (IE) turned 46 on 15 March 2014. At the time of the launch in 1968 Chennai was witnessing the emergence of professional associations. I took active interest in several of these like the Advertising Club, the Prin-
ters and Lithographers Association, Association of Periodicals and the Public Relations Society of India (PRSI). Each of these attracted participation by leaders of an evolving community of professionals. Gyan Haksar, M Gopalakrishnan and R K Baratan worked actively at the PRSI. R Venkateswaran, V Subramanian and G Umapathy took interest in the PLA. In the Association of Periodicals, P V Parthasarathy of Kumudam and Ramanathan of Pesum Padam were principal players. My involvement in these helped in expanding contacts and keeping abreast of practices in different professions.
Origin of the MPC...
Along with a few other journalists, I felt the need for an association for journalists. The Press Club of Delhi was making waves presenting senior leaders for interactions. The access it provided to leaders in various walks of life, notably policymakers, appealed to me. During 1969-70 a few of us, including S Vasudevan of Economic Times, T K Thiagarajan of Indian Express, the Nairs of Malayala Manorama and Mathrubumi and myself, worked on launching the Madras Press Club. We elected Murasoli Maran as President. The club was formally inaugurated at the Woodlands Hotel by then Chief Minister M Karunanidhi.
In the first couple of years the club meetings were fellowship gatherings to exchange pleasantries and sip liquor. When the DMK government scrapped prohibition in 1972, the Press Club enthusiastically voted to set up a bar. I pointed out that media persons in Chennai, unlike those in Delhi, were not large in number, didn’t have foreign correspondents who consume liquor routinely and didn’t earn large salaries on their own. Again, unlike Delhi, there were no prosperous private companies in Chennai that would offer free liquor to cultivate journalists. I opposed this move also as the sole teetotaler in the committee and resigned as Treasurer.
The Secretary proposed to close it down...
Over the next few years the club admitted a large number of non-media persons and squandered the resources garnered with great effort. There were no meetings, and little other activity. A distraught Secretary General Vasudevan convened a general body meeting attended by a handful, proposed to close down the club. When I protested pointing to poor administration as the cause for the downfall, he and Rajan challenged me to run the club.
I accepted the challenge, sought three months to make it active and promised to convene a general body meeting at the end of that period.
Maran was in jail, arrested under MISA, and there were no other paid members interested in the club. With the help of P S Ramamurti, then Associate Editor, IE, I went about reviving the club. I believed that the main purpose of the club was news and if that function was discharged effectively, interest in the club will soar. I got the premises re-done. We organised in quick succession a series of meetings addressed by celebrities. These included A P Shinde, Union Food Minister, V Krishnamurthy,
Chairman-BHEL, Verghese Kurien, Chairman-NDDB, C Subramaniam, Finance Minister, K Subramaniam, TN Home Secretary ... My expense on each meeting was around Rs 15 for tea procured from a shop nearby and a few packets of biscuits that cost another Rs 15! But there was so much news. Media persons thronged, including several from The Hindu who had kept away earlier. The average attendance shot up to around 50.
When KB became President...
I called on K Balaraman who was Deputy Editor, The Hindu, and who had earlier served with distinction as the Washington correspondent of the paper and invited him to be the President. Impressed by the hectic activity, which was covered in detail by The Hindu, he expressed willingness, but pointed out that VPV Rajan of The Mail may desire to become the President. I met Rajan in the next building in the next few minutes and suggested that we can invite Balaraman to be the President. Rajan took the phone and in his familiar peremptory tone, asked: “Enna Balarama, nee Press Club Presidentaa aaga aasaipadariya?” (It seems you are interested to become the President of the club?). Rajan was very sure that Balaraman would not agree. But, Balaraman responded: “nee sonna naan eduthukaren.”(If you agree I will take it!). Rajan had no alternative!
We built a well-represented executive committee. I continued with the focus on presenting a wide range of public men from different walks of life at the club. These included Swami Ranaganathananda of the Ramakrishna Mission, Dr Victor Solomon, Mohamed Yunus from the Congress Party, Orville Freeman from the UN, among others.
When Moraji Desai addressed the club…
When the Janata government took office, using my familiarity with policy makers in Delhi (thanks to attending the Economic Editors’ Conferences from 1973), I offered one of the richest programmes in March 1977. Speakers included George Fernandes, Minister of Industry, P Ramachandran, Minister of Energy, L K Advani, Minister of I&B, Subramaniam Swamy, and Piloo Modi. Two months later, we also had Prime Minister Morarji Desai addressing the Press Club, the only occasion in Chennai that a prime minister addressed the Press Club.
The prestige earned by the club was so high that I got a larger building allotted to us by the Tamil Nadu government. The spacious hall and other facilities lent for more frequent meetings. Balaraman helped involve his close friend K Krishna Rao (founder of Woodlands) in our activities. Rao used to supply coffee and snacks for our meetings with uniformed servers at a token cost! For the annual dinner, Woodlands provided a sumptuous feast for just Rs 10 per head!
The decline and fall…
After two years, at the height of activity, I opted to step down. So did Balaraman. Sadly, politics crept in. K Krishnamoorthy, the president and Radhakrishnan, Secretary General, fought a bitter battle in the court. The building was taken back by the government and allotted to the AIADMK party office. The club itself languished for lack of sustained activity.
The involvement with several of the professional associations did demand a lot of time. The Press Club did not have a secretariat of its own. The entire secretarial work was done by the IE office. With more travels within India and abroad, from the 1980s, I had to focus more on my bread and butter issues. n