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'I think you are hell-bent on shutting down my magazine'

December 07, 2016 15:09 IST

Cho Ramaswamy

'Funny, eccentric and idiosyncratic.'
'There will never be another like him.'
Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier salutes the man she loved to interview.

The way the political situation in Tamil Nadu is emerging after Jayalalithaa's death, I wished Cho Ramaswamy had been be well enough to grant me an interview, analysing the situation in his unique humourous and sarcastic style.

But then came the news that he was no more.

It was around this time in 1996 that I first interviewed him. I was new to Chennai, Tamil Nadu politics and Cho Ramaswamy.

The interview was conducted for The Sunday Observer newspaper and I didn't know then that I would be talking to him many, many more times in the coming years.

I went on to interview him quite regularly, rather too regularly to his liking.

The moment something happened nationally or domestically, I sought his opinion.

As the frequency increased, the moment I entered his room, he would look up and say with a serious expression on his face, "I think I should stop editing Tughlaq and talk to you all the time. Do you want me to do that?"

I would reply with the same serious expression, "No Sir, your loyal readers would murder me if I were to do that. I promise not to disturb you in the near future."

But I did disturb him, again and again.

His grouse was that unlike television channels who only sought 'bytes,' I made him talk for at least half an hour, and sometimes even an hour.

"You are an unkind journalist. I will never talk to you again," he would threaten me after the interview.

But he never refused my requests.

How can I forget the grunt when one called his number?

He would never say hello; it was a loud grunt first and then a "yes."

The moment I mentioned my name, he would grunt again and say, "I think you are hell bent on shutting down my magazine."

"Not at all sir. Sincerely, I have no such intention," I would say.

Grudgingly, he would ask me to come to his office immediately.

When I said, "in 10 minutes, I will be there," his reply would be, "No, you can't take 10 minutes. You have to be here now."

"But Sir, it will take me at least 10 minutes to reach your office."

"I don't know that. You come now."

I understood he was just pulling my leg, in inimitable Cho style!

Whether it was a Sunday or a Monday or a Friday, Cho would be in his office from morning. He rarely refused to meet me in the midst of editing and writing for Tughlaq.

Of course, only after reprimanding me for disrupting his work.

I also had to face questions like, "Shobha, why don't you find somebody else to interview? Why torture me all the time?"

I would play along. "Is there anyone else like you in Chennai, sir?"

As the years passed by, the Tughlaq staff and even the watchman became acquainted with my regular visits.

The moment I entered the office, they would let him know. I could go up to his room, a room that smelt of tobacco.

It is unimaginable to think of Cho without his pipe.

I first met him when Jayalalithaa was imprisoned after her first innings as chief minister. Cho had turned against his protege whom he knew from when she was seven.

"I am sorry she wasted a great opportunity to emerge as one of the leading political lights of this country," he said. "She could have achieved it. She didn't. I am sorry for that."

"She isolated herself from all impartial opinion and information. She started listening only to what she wanted to hear. She had this trait in her even earlier."

"But once she took up the office of chief minister, she ought to have ensured that she had access to all shades of opinion."

"Also, she never placed faith in anybody except her coterie. I think these led to her downfall."

The man who fought corruption, the man who projected Jayalalithaa as an alternative to the 'corrupt DMK rule' in 1991 was disappointed when I met him.

"As far as Tamil Nadu is concerned," he said then, "it was the DMK government and M Karunanidhi who institutionalised corruption. There is absolutely no doubt about it. But J Jayalalithaa beat him blue. If she comes back to power, I think, she will be worse. I hope God spares Tamil Nadu!"

The man who campaigned hard to make Jayalalithaa chief minister through Tughlaq started writing against her after she assumed power.

His grouse was, "She kept only Sasikala's group around her. She believed only in them. She was listening only to Sasikala. I wrote pieces in my journal expressing my concern about the drift. After one year, I started criticising her."

When I asked why she ignored his criticism, this was what he said: "It was not ignoring. I think she decided that what I said would have no impact. Tughlaq is supposed to reach only the middle class and the upper class, and her vote is elsewhere. So she thought my opinion was not going to reach her voters."

Like it happens in politics, these two friends patched up and once again Cho became her political advisor, which he denied, of course.

I wonder what Cho would have said seeing photographs of Sasikala and her Mannarkudi clan on the van next to Jayalalithaa's body.

I felt like calling his number.

The grunt first, the yes next...

I will definitely miss those extremely interesting interactions I had with him.

Funny, eccentric and idiosyncratic.

There will never be another like him.

Cho-Speak on Rediff.com

Shobha Warrier / Rediff.com