Good-bye Mr Cho!

My mentor in Tamil journalism, the personification of wisdom and wit, Mr. Cho S Ramaswamy passed away on the gloomy December 7 2016 morning. He was 82.

Advertisements

Mr Cho is survived his wife Soundara, daughter Sindhuja, son Rajeevakshan @ Sri Ram and granddaughter Sakhi.

The end came at 0405 hours in the morning at Apollo Hospital’s ICU

A huge number of VVIPs went around the glass-topped box at his south Chennai residence throughout the day as he lay in state. He was cremated in the evening.

The workaholic journalist who edited his literary offspring – Thuglak News Weekly despite being ‘imprisoned’ on a hospital bed for months, seemed to be resting.

He had addressed his readers through the opening below his neck [the ventilator hole] on January 2016 – something unheard of in the annals of any public event.

He connected with his faithful readers and never wrote against the diktat of his conscience – even if it meant gaining newer enemies and losing old friendships.

“I am only answerable to The Almighty resident in me. Sometimes God tests his devotees. In my case, he does it unerringly everyday – showing me the difference between the worldly ‘Maya’ and the Ultimate Truth. Opting for the Truth has never been a difficult decision for me. More often than not, it has proved painful, but for some strange reason, the pains are always enjoyable,” he used to say.

Mr Cho had been wheeled into the ICU of the hospital where J Jayalalithaa had undergone treatment for 75 days.

Not many know that Mr Cho had played a significant role at the start of Jaya’s political career. What is more, she had written articles in Thuglak.

Before appointing Jayalalithaa as the propaganda secretary, Jayalalithaa had called Mr. Cho on the phone and revealed the details of the olive branch extended by MGR.

“You seem to have taken the decision already at the behest of MGR. So why ask me? Surely, MGR must be somewhere near you. Give the phone to him and I will tell him my opinion,” Mr. Cho had said.

Jayalalithaa is said to have snapped the connection.

Soon MGR had called and confirmed the tidings.

Mr. Cho had approved and said, “Jayalalithaa has an axe to grind against Karunanidhi and her attacking him verbally would do wonders for the AIADMK.” That piece of advice is holding good to this day – even after the demise of both Jaya and Mr Cho.

They were friends till the ends of their existence on earth.

In more ways than one, I owe my career in Tamil journalism to Mr Cho. Excerpts from my blog dated April 23 2011:

The year was 1988.

The Hindi television serial Mahabharat on Doordarshan was doing its first run.

I had been given the job of translating its Hindi dialogues for Thuglak magazine…and shall ever remain thankful to Mr Cho S Ramaswamy for giving me that opportunity.

It opened my eyes to a two home-truths that always existed, but I had failed to notice them till then.

Parenthesis

Ever since I had become a journalist in 1977, illusions of grandeur had pumped up my ego like an oversized and therefore rotten pumpkin.

“I will be changing the world,” were the words I had told myself when my livelihood endeavour had begun in the sports department of Free Press Journal as a reporter-sub-editor and soon changed to crime and political reporting when I relocated a year later to Chennai in 1978.

It took me some 4 years to begin writing in Thuglak, as the standards set by Mr Cho were very tough.

“The name TSV Hari is appended to a left-leaning, anti-establishment troublemaker image. Can you elaborate on the letter ‘V’ in your name?”

“Venkat,” I told him.

“So why don’t you call yourself Venkat for Thuglak?”

I did. The year was 1982.

Thanks to careful editing and grooming by Mr Cho, I learnt to write passably in Tamil and was thrilled to know I had an audience who liked my dry wit and sarcasm in Tamil political reporting.

The telecast of BR Chopra’s Hindi costume drama Mahabharat changed my outlook in journalism forever.

Parenthesis ends

Some Hindi-Tamil scholar had been asked to do the translation of the Mahabharat dialogues from the original.

Mr Cho had wrestled with the translated versions and seemed to be at the end of his tether during the checking of the Tamil rendering of the second episode by some other person.

“I had decided to carry the translation, but have now begun entertaining doubts whether I made a mistake. I am not happy with the copy and finding it extremely difficult to correct the text translated from Sanskritised Hindi due to a fear of errors…Now this word…”

I noticed three dictionaries, the photocopies of the Hindi transcription that had come from Bombay and the handwritten Tamil translation spread all over his table – always big enough to play billiards on and the sheer painful tension on his face.

I facilely gave the Tamil meaning of that word.

Mr Cho suddenly looked up.

There was a glint in his look.

“Why don’t you get this corrected or better still, rewritten?”

I was a bit hesitant.

“My Tamil is awful, sir! But since my Hindi…”

“I already have survived the mortification of correcting your Tamil. But this translation may succeed in doing what your Tamil failed to do!”

Mr Cho always comes up with unexpected light comment that makes everyone in Thuglak laugh out loud and eases the tension.

I agreed to give the translation a try.

Once downstairs, I briefly read a few paragraphs of the Hindi original and the Tamil version.

The latter was virtually unreadable.

Rewriting it into passable Tamil would have been worse than rendering Salman Rushdie’s works into readable English.

I requested Mr Madalai, Mr Cho’s faithful shadow, stenographer, second-in-command, secretary and even the occasional accounts clerk-cashier rolled-into-one to help me.

“The editor probably wants the translation done quickly. The rewriting is well-nigh impossible. So could you please oblige me by typing the Tamil version as I dictate upon reading the Hindi original? That would save time and the effort to correct my Tamil howlers.”

Mr Madalai had never done that to anyone else in Thuglak office before.

“Okay,” he said a bit listlessly.

The sound of Mr Madalai typing in Tamil always reminds one of the rat-a-tats of a machine gun.

The speed has to be seen and heard to be believed.  

The rendering of 2 episodes – some 7 pages of typewritten A4 sheets with one-and-a-half spaces was over in some 20 minutes.

“Show it to the editor,” Mr Madalai said flatly.

When I did a minute later, Mr Cho spent some six more reading a few paragraphs of the stuff.

Then he summoned Mr Madalai upstairs.

“This man has been fooling us all these days by claiming to know very little Tamil…that is the impression I get upon reading this,” Mr Cho announced with a broad smile.

“I spoke in Tamil and it is Mr Madalai who rendered it into the written version seamlessly sir,” I told Mr Cho.

Mr Madalai chose to remain silent.

There was a hint of an approving crease along his lips.

“Why don’t we get the translation done by Hari?”

Not sure whether Mr Cho had asked a question, Madalai, as usual, was non-committal.

“Perhaps,” Mr Madalai offered.

He is a man of very few words but all of them always turn out to be golden.

So I began translating the epic.

Since it was done with Mr Madalai’s collaboration, I called myself the Vyasa and likened him to the transcribing Lord Ganesha.

During the next annual readers meeting of Thuglak, when Mr Cho introduced me to the readers, the applause lasted some 5 minutes.

The number of letters received by the magazine in appreciation of the Tamil rendering opened my eyes to the first home-truth.

Till then, I had presumed my political leanings and reporting was the next best thing to Einstein’s Relativity Theory.

The truth dawned on me during that period.

Good writing is welcomed by readers.

And most of them are apolitical.

Two years later, I created the Tamil version of Mahabharat in Tamil. It was telecast on Sun TV – a channel whose owners had enough reason to hate Cho.

One of the first title cards in Tamil [now visible at 1:17 in the Youtube audio-visual] is my obeisance to my preceptor – Mr Cho.

I will quote my friend for over 30 years – journalist KM Thomas on my relationship with Mr Cho:

Once I heard him comment (not sure whether you were around) that but for the impertinent loud mouth, TSV is a fine human being.

For me, Mr Cho was a father figure.

Excerpts from my blog published in 2013 after my 7th cardiac arrest:

[Since those in my family had deserted me] I telephoned my mentor in Tamil journalism, friend and now a true father figure – Mr Cho S Ramaswamy for help from the ICU of St Isabel’s Hospital in Chennai.

Within the next four minutes a sizeable sum of money reached the hospital to cover all expenses.

My friend for over 35 years – Swaminathan who is listed as the publisher on record in Thuglak – handed over the money to the elderly sister in-charge saying – if there is any further need – let us know and we will be around to help – and took leave.

After doctors discharged me after having steadied my heart and the nerves later, on the way home, I went in to Thuglak Office to thank Mr Cho.

“As the doctors suggested, go home and take rest,” Mr Cho said.

Though his comment was said in a flat voice, I could discern concern and a strange kind of fatherly affection in his voice.

“You have saved my life yet again sir,” I had said in an choked voice.

“Just go home. You will be alright,” Mr Cho said and turned towards the television to see some programme. It was a faint signal of asking me to go away.

I could feel that he was feeling sad over the turn of events as well and did not want me to get mushy in his room.

I obeyed.

Mr Madalai, the man who runs that ship as the second in command, offered more words of comfort and a sweetened it with a bit of wit.

“You go and take rest for a few days till you are completely fit. The outside world has the habit of taking care of itself without your interfering endeavour,” he said with a faint smile.

A friend for over 30 years, he clearly was pained by my sufferings.

Tailpiece:

The turn of events since then and the other day, when it dawned on me that Mr Cho will not be visiting the office again, I am left with the thought, what life is all about.

Even as Mr Cho’s body was lying in state at home, briefly, there was a discussion in Thuglak office about the way forward, after the great man.

It was the natural thing to do.

Perhaps Mr Cho had a premonition about his end. The information came from Mr Udaya, the manager in the office.

“The other day, Cho asked me whether I had marked his ‘salary’ in the account books as I do every month. I told him, I was yet to do it. With a strange suddenness, he said, ‘Don’t do it this month.’ I did not catch the importance of that statement then. Now, I do,” Udaya said.

The absence of Mr Cho in Thuglak office, where the veteran journalist had held benevolent sway – pulled at the emotional chords of my heart. Under the alibi of taking a smoke, I stepped out to wipe the tears.

Author: haritsv

42 years' unblemished record of being an investigative journalist. Print quality journalist in 3 languages - English, Tamil, Hindi. Widely travelled, worldwide. Cantankerous and completely honest.

5 thoughts on “Good-bye Mr Cho!”

  1. Dear Sir,
    I too, like many readers, could not control my tears after going through your wonderful piece. The last para will definitely touch everybody’s heart. Not for nothing, Cho was called as “Bernard Shaw” of India. He was a genius to the core. Like Kamaraj’s “Akattum Paarkalam”, a large number of Thuglak readers and Cho’s admirers were keen on knowing his opinion in politics. The beauty with him was that even his worst detractors wanted to know his reaction. He never indulged in personal or character assassination of any individual or political. He had his strong likes and dislikes, but that did not prevent him from writing about their shortcomings. Cho also proved that he could succeed in whatever he did. For instance, as a stage-artist, tinsel world man, legal adviser in TTK, and above all, in the Fourth Estate without any journalism knowledge when he begin the Thulkak weekly on January 14, in 1970. Unfortunately, his English weekly ‘ the now defunct, Pickwick’ could not succeed circulation-wise. Cho was the only person, if I remember was doing many things at a stretch and even had sleepless lights for quite some time. More than anything else, his candid utterances on politics had appealed to everybody. I still remember how he and the late A.N. Sivaraman of Dinamani, fought valiantly against the emergency. I don’t think any other journalist would have criticised Indira Gandhi vehemently like him, or any other scribe would have defended Moopanar and Chandrasekhar like him. He was perhaps right when he wrote that though he was responsible for unearthing the corruption charges against the DMK in early 1970s, people were inclined to believe it when MGR exposed it after his expulsion from the DMK in 1972. The panic-stricken Karunanidhi had resorted to banning his Thulak copies and delayed in releasing his film Mohammed Bin Thuglak. Many people will come and many will go, but Cho will be remembered forever. Who can forget his witty remarks, grasping power, retaliatory capacity, immense knowledge over subjects and what not? Jayalalithaa, too, owes part of her success in politics to Cho. When CHo wrote about the exact reason of split between Karunanidhi and MGR, tracing from Kanjithalaivan film, Karunanidhi was reported to have told , one of his trusted lieutenants, “evvalavu sariyaka, azhakaga ezhudiyirikkirar paartheerkala”. When MGR advised him not to launch a publication, CHO did vice-versa. He always believed in his sixth sense and as you have rightly pointed out, was only scared of the Almighty. I can go on, but I know I have to put a full stop somewhere. May Cho’s soul rest in peace! My heart-felt condolences to the bereaved family. You were fortunate that Cho always remembered your skill, tenacity and perseverance.

    Thanks and regards,
    Venu

    Like

  2. Dear Shri. Hari,
    TN received twin blow in this month though the first one is sheer shocking. I strongly believe it is unnatural though it is a different topic of discussion. With Cho’s age and his recent ailments, it was clear to my inner sense that he would hardly pass this year. Yet, when I heard about the inevitable, I could not digest. I had seen him only two times. Once in Tanjore in 70’s and once in front lobby of Holiday Inn B’lore late 80’s I believe. He came out to smoke and I was surprised then that he had this habit!!!
    I used to be an avid reader of Thuglak until I left India in ’98. For sometime I subscribed to the e-magazine but could not continue it. I had disagreements at times in his stance but in the end it turned out to be good for the nation. It takes time for someone to realize such visions.
    I am really happy to get in touch via SM with you and read your accounts with one of the greatest satirist cum visionary of our times. Please keep him as your inspiration till your last breathe and enlighten us with your writings.

    Regards
    Kumar Ramalingam

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s