Monday, March 31, 2008

My first job

My very first “job” was with a local area newsletter based in Adyar – South Madras News, it was called. I was doing an evening course in journalism, and I think our class was farmed out to various small publications to get our “practical experience” as part of the course. I think so, anyway. My memory is a bit fuzzy about it after so many years, so I’m not even sure who else was allotted to this place other than my best friend Lakshmi.

The South Madras News was published by Mr and Mrs R Desikan. Mr Desikan was short, small but rotund, bald and prone to much hand-wringing, always rabbiting on about expenses and fussing about one thing or the other. He was the sort of man who was always peering over your shoulder, but all said, he wasn’t really a bad sort.

It was Mrs Desikan, however, who stands out with absolute clarity in my memory. She terrified me. Granted that it didn’t take much to terrify me then, but she was a tartar who would have put Genghis Khan to flight. She was about her husband’s height, with long plaited hair that was thinning very noticeably at the top, large eyes magnified by her thick glasses, a sharp nose and a very abrasive manner. She was probably the driving force behind South Madras News, and she drove a hard bargain for everything with everybody. She didn’t hesitate to yell at anybody who didn’t do exactly as she said, and her husband got a piece of her mind fairly often. At 5’8”, I towered over her diminutive 5’2” or thereabouts, but it wasn’t her size, it was her personality that did you in.

I didn’t really like Mrs Desikan and I found it somewhat nerve-wracking to work there – but work I did for a couple of months, for the princely (hah) sum of Rs 500 per month inclusive of expenses.

I have no particularly fond memories of the various press conferences that I attended as a reporter for the South Madras News – except one.

I was to attend a press conference at a medical college/hospital that had opened a new department, but I missed it entirely because I got hopelessly lost trying to find the place. (My homing pigeon instincts aren’t much improved from then.) I finally made it to the hospital, but much too late for the opening ceremony or the conference itself.

In fact, I got there just in time for the closing ceremony which had just begun... and to my everlasting joy, I was privileged to listen to M S Subbulakshmi rendering “Kurai ondrum illai” – live! I doubt anything could top that as an unearned reward for being unprofessional - and I even managed to catch her eye and receive a graceful namaskaram from her (in return for my awed bow) as she made her way out of the hall at the end. It wasn’t much in the larger scheme of things, I guess, but it meant a whole lot to me. Still does, actually.

Oh, and my report on the press conference? I cobbled it together from the “press pack” which I begged from the PRO of the hospital after all was over.


Teesu said...

These Desikans are sounding familiar to me...and may I brag a bit? I did meet M.S. at her home once and she actually gave me tips on maintaining a thaalam! My, what tejas. But since I did not get to witness her live singing -- especially Kurai ondrum Illai which is my all time favourite, I DO envy you. SUCH a nice thing to come out of your first 'job', is n't it? :)

Kamini said...

Lucky, lucky you to catch MS's eye. I adored that lady - and she was a lady in every sense of the world. Listening to her music makes me weak-kneed and teary-eyed. As I'm sure Mrs. Desikan would have made me feel, for very different reasons! Where are they today? Poor Mr. Desikan - or perhaps he actually enjoyed being hen-pecked?!
I loved reading this, I was smiling throughout!

CW said...

Talk about out of the world experiences!! :-)

I think the Desikans contd to publish a weekly..can't recall what it was called, what with so many 'regional' newsletters clamoring for attention!

Leonard Blumfeld said...

Nice, vivid memoir! What exactly prompted you to think back on this and write about it right now?

I was reminded of various three-wheeler taxi trips I took to see a friend in Tiruvanmiyur. The landmark to look for was the Adyar Bakery ...

LAK said...

Hey, remember, reader's digest sometimes runs stories of celebrities,called "My first job"?This reminded me of that! Your getting to see and make eye contact with MSS was a great example of how sometimes we get rewarded when least expecting it, or like you said, earning it!

Anonymous said...

Teesu: They're fervent Rotarians too. Dont mention this blog to them! :D

Kamini: I feel the same about MSS. What a wonderful lady she was!

CW: I'm sure they did. Mrs D was an energetic sort of person!

Leonard: Just idle musings, really, that I decided to write about in case I forgot everything! :) And Adyar Bakery... oh yeah.

Lak: I used to love those little bits in Readers Digest - "Life's Like That", "Humour in Uniform" and so on.

- Shyam

mumbaigirl said...

Wow, what a wonderful reward!