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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 42, October 8, 2011

He was Unpurchasable

Saturday 8 October 2011, by H Y Sharada Prasad



The ninetieth birth anniversary of outstanding journalist C.N. Chitta Ranjan took place last week—on September 29. Born in Ooty on September 29, 1921, he breathed his last in New Delhi on August 2, 1990. Besides Working in several newspapers and journals he was Mainstream’s first editor. We remember him by reproducing the pieces written by his friends, colleagues and admirers after his demise in 1990. Most of these appeared in this journal’s August 11, 1990. We also reproduce a tribute written by him for Mainstream and published in 1988. Besides, there is a piece by this journal’s present editor on the occasion.)]

Fortyfive years’ friendship makes it difficult for me to think in terms of Chitta Ranjan in the past tense. Death came to him last week without warning and without fuss. He went as if he had lifted his pencil in the middle of a paragraph. He had gone to work at IPA even on the previous day and stayed home only because it was a holiday.

He joined the Indian Express in Madras in 1945 a couple of months before I did. We were both sub-editors on the grand salary of sixty rupees a month. But even in those days it was clear that he was not made of sub-editorial wood but of editorial timber. He had the intellectual energy, the application, the authority and the concern with large causes associated with editors. No wonder he rose to edit a national daily and a national weekly—National Herald and Mainstream.

Entrants to journalism in those days, at least the more earnest of them, thought of it as a form of public service—more a call than a calling. He came from a home which encouraged him in this. His father and mother were both nationalist workers. The father was known as a rousing speaker at public meetings. The mother was a writer. Chitta Ranjan himself had gone to jail in the ‘Quit India’ movement. He remained a fighter and a non-conformist all his life.

HE had a high conception of journalism, a means of strengthening the people’s fibre by enabling them to know about and understand events and realities in the world around them. In his view, the newspaper was a daily lesson in citizenship.

His own education through journalism was most impressive. He read widely, always wanting to find out the why and wherefore of things. He was a clear-headed analyst. He wrote with passion and with precision. From his earliest days he took care not to fall into those three great vices of the profession—garrulity, cynicism and conceit. He never thought of himself as “we”.

He was one of the pioneers of the working journalists’ movement. His distrust of the power of money and his unconcern for personal success helped him to be a most genuine trade unionist. He was a person of unpurchasable integrity, as Ramnath Goenka discovered. Chitta Ranjan had to pay for his obduracy. The press is a well-paid profession today. The bright young men and women parading their bylines do not know the self-denial and sacrifice of the trade unionists of yesterday. Chitta Ranjan’s compensation was the affection and respect he earned from co-workers and from many leading figures in national life, like Kamaraj and R. Venkataraman.

Many younger journalists regarded him as their guru. But he never put on the guru’s airs. There was always an easy informality about himself. His thoughts were for others, rarely for himself.

Chitta Ranjan lived a Spartan life —by choice as well as necessity. He never owned a car. No one would believe that here was a senior journalist, an outstanding one at that, who did not even have a telephone at his residence. But he was rich in that old-fashioned word: character.

We shall miss this good man who so greatly cared for ideas and ideals and for the good of the common people of this country.

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