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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XIX No. 4, june 1-15, 2009
a legend of the Manikodi era
(Courtesy: Virasat, the journal of INTACH)

Born on the same day as Haley’s Comet appeared (April 20, 1910), Chitti was named Sundararajan after the ruling deity of Vadamadurai. When he was barely 17 and in Wesley College, Madras, Chitti became interested in English writing, inspired by his classmate U.S. Rama­chandran whose ­article was published in Indian Educator even while he was in high school. Chitti’s first English short story, ‘Also Ran’, appeared in The Student, a journal ­published from Chingleput.

Chitti joined Pachaiyappa’s College in 1929. He became secretary of the Historical Association of the College, when his ­college mate (and later Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu) C.N. Annadurai was its President. Though their views on politics differed, they remained good friends. Chitti often remembered how overwhelmed he was when Annadurai recognised him after 36 years: “I was then working as senior correspondent of All India Radio; after seeing Rajaji vote, I went with my colleagues to Nungam­bakkam, where CNA was to cast his vote. As I was returning, CNA saw me and asked if I was P.G. Then we shook hands and Annadurai started ­recalling the college days.”

Between 1928 and 1936, Chitti contributed to many ­English journals. He also edited Sound and Shadow, a film magazine, New Age (H.D.Raja’s ­socialist monthly) and Marina, a general interest monthly. He also worked as assistant editor of Funny Magazine.

Fifty years of the Bhavan

The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, founded in 1938 by Dr. K.M. Munshi, a leading lawyer and social reformer, to promote an intellectual, cultural and educational movement, started its Madras Kendra in 1958. Its beginnings were in a small room offered to it by N. Nilakantan in his publishing firm, B.G. Paul & Co., on Francis Joseph Street. Nilakantan was a follower of the Paramacharya of Kanchi.

The core team of the Kendra met the Paramacharya in Mylapore and he told them: “We must make all people realise Indian culture, particularly Sanskrit, is the heritage of all Indians. Many people think that this is the exclusive heritage of the Brahmin community. I therefore suggest that the Chairman of the Madras Kendra should not be a Brahmin.” And the Acharya suggested the name of the educationist, Dr. A. Lakshmana­swami Mudaliar.

The Madras Kendra was inaugurated at the Rasika Ranjani Sabha, Mylapore, by Bishnuram Medhi, the then Governor of ­Madras.

The Executive Committee of the Kendra held its first meeting in June 1959 at the University of Madras under the chairmanship of Dr. A.L. Mudaliar. He guided the growth of the Kendra for about 17 years.

The Kendra moved to more spacious premises at 88 Gopathi Narayanaswami Road in T’Nagar in April 1960. One of the first projects here was to start Sanskrit classes.

The Kendra then purchased land on Mylapore East Mada Street from the family of the noted criminal lawyer K.S. Jayarama Iyer, through the good offices of S. Anantharama­krishnan, the well-known industralist.

Anantharama­krishnan had almost finalised the purchase of this land to promote a kalyana mantapam. It was at this time that Munshi, who always used to stay at Sudharma on Edward Elliot’s Road as the guest of Anantharama­krishnan, arrived on another visit to Madras. While chatting with Anantha­rama­­­krishnan during this visit, Munshi mentioned that the Bhavan wanted to purchase land for its local Kendra and that he had been told that Mylapore was a good location because it was safe there for women and children to visit the Kendra at late hours. Anantha­ramakrishnan spontaneously offered the kalyana mantapam land to the Kendra and got the Jayarama Iyer family to sell it to the Bhavan. That was in 1963.

A year later, the Bhavan acquired some more land at the rear of the existing plot.

In October 1964, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, President of India, laid the foundation stone of the new building. The bhoomi puja was held in 1967; M.S. Subbulakshmi sang the invocation song.

In 1971, P.V. Narasimha Rao, who went on to become Prime Minister of India, inaugurated the devotional music classes.

On September 2, 1972, the then President of India, V.V. Giri, inaugurated the building and named it the Anantharama­krishnan Sadan. The Venkata Auditorium was also opened on the ocassion.

In September 1983, President Zail Singh laid the foundation stone for the Bhavan’s Rajaji Vidyashram in Kilpauk. In 1990, C.  Subramaniam took over as the Chairman of the Madras Kendra. Another school was started in Kodai­kanal 25 years ago. – ­(Courtesy: Mylapore Times)

One of the journals he was writing for was Film News. Stephen Hughes, a scholar from the U.S., who was in Tamil Nadu in 1992-93, doing research on Tamil Cinema, told me when I was trying to write the biography of Chitti that in the Roja Muthiah Library he found a piece written by Chitti in Film News in 1936. It ran, in part, thus: “The virulence of the Tamil talkie epidemic, in addition to creating a vast army of artistically invalid fans, has, unfortunately as it always happens in such cases, given rise to a set of quacks, who style themselves film critics.”

Chitti had established contact with Upton Sinclair in 1931 after reviewing his work in the New Times and the Sunday Chronicle. Sinclair’s publishers in London, T.Werner Laurie Ltd., and Chitti exchanged letters from June 1933 to end-December 1934. In one of their letters they wrote, “We are extremely obliged to you for the most interesting review of Upton Sinclair’s Manassas. We have sent this to Mr. Sinclair and are sure he will be pleased with it.” They also asked for Chitti’s reviews on other works of Sinclair.

While he was dabbling in writing about cinema and tried his hand at writing stories for cinema, he became close to MGR (which is probably why MGR mentions him in his autobiographical series in Ananda Vikatan). He also worked as an interpreter to Ellis R. Dungan, the American director, who ­directed some of the best Tamil films ever. When MGR was the Chief Minister, he honoured Chitti at the Madurai Tamil Conference as a Tamil Scholar along with ten others.

When Chitti was working for an agent of The Hindu, assisting him in importing foreign journals and books, he encouraged the agent to start a magazine – and, thus, Chitti became the editor of Marina, named after the Madras beach. At that point of time, Princess Marina of Greece was getting married to the Duke of York in Britain and the first issue of Marina carried her picture on the cover, making the magazine’s release more topical. The Madras Mail, reviewing the journal, said that its language was better than that of any English magazine published in Madras. A British member of the Madras Assembly was pulled up by the Speaker for reading the magazine during a sitting of the House, on a reference from a Congress member!

It was in Marina that Chitti wrote an article on P.G. Wodehouse. When he sent the magazine copy to Wodehouse, the latter replied in a letter written from France, where he was then staying:

Thank you so much for sending me the magazine. I thought your article most excellent and I shall always keep it. I am sorry I have run out of photographs. I have a work of short stories appearing soon and I hope to get to work on a new novel before long.

Best wishes

P.G. Wodehouse.”

In the latter part of 1933, K. Srinivasan, a dedicated journalist, founded Manikodi, a Tamil weekly, with Va. Ra. (V. Ramaswami) as editor. T.S. Chokkalingam, a journalist, who was editing Gandhi also joined this group. “New in meaning, new in content, new in style”, that was the slogan which Manikodi adopted, following the footsteps of poet Bharati.

Chitti, writing about Manikodi writers, several years ago, said, “The Manikodi writers were pioneers in short story writing and they began their literary exercises long before either the Dravidian or the Progressive school came on the scene. For the Manikodi writers, the aim was to handle the Tamil language as a literary vehicle, much as the English ­language was being used by the stalwarts of the Twenties and the Thirties in Britain. The new writing introduced by John Lehmann also had its impact on the Manikodi writers. The range of Manikodi writers was in a way ­restricted to the short story, though novelists also rose from their ranks later. The background of nationalism which inspired the Manikodi writers did not contain the compulsion of looking at society either in terms of separate communities or as classes. Manikodi writers wrote for writing’s sake. Their main aim was to highlight the beauty spots of human behaviour in crisis as well as in tranquillity. Their outlook was not determined by the differences, which existed among groups who were divided by birth or by possession of wealth and property. To them human character was a means to look at the possible results of the emotional and sentimental attitudes in particular situations. The forms of literary expression like the novel and the short story were, for them, ends in themselves.”

Chitti’s time with All India Radio saw him as an administrator running the programme magazine Vanoli. His humorous plays over the radio (he played a part in many of them) brought him closer to the listening ­public.

He became close to S. Bhootha­­lingam and wife Mathuram (the Tamil writer Krithika) and his correspondence with Mathuram Bhootha­lingam for over 40 years ­constitutes a great reading. His foreword to her Yoga of Living ran into 67 pages!

His greatest contribution, however, was the research works he did with his literary twin S. Sivapathasundaram after his retirement from All Indian Radio. Their publications on the Tamil Novel and on the Tamil short stories are today reference books for many researchers.

Among the other books Chitti wrote was a biography of S. Satyamurti in English. This task was assigned to Chitti by Kamaraj. Another contribution, a travelogue in Tamil written in collaboration with the famous novelist T. Janakiraman, has been translated into English by K. Krishnamurthy. He had also written life sketches of the Paramachraya of Kanchi and Sri Jayendra.

On his 97th birthday, he presented to everyone who called on him a book on him specially got up for that occasion, Humour and Imitation, in Tamil

P.G. Sundararajan, Chitti to all, was a cultivated man of letters. He did not take to writing as a professional career. It was for him an outlet for expression. He was interested in everything around him.


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