E Chandrasekharan Nair: Guide, Philosopher and Mentor to Generations

Lastword

As yet another festival of Onam approaches in Kerala, as also for the Malayali diaspora across the world, nostalgia pushes me back to another Onam two decades ago when the world was younger and aspirations were soaring.

Onam 1997 was special for us at Destination Kerala since it was happening barely four months after this journal was launched on May 6 at a simple and symbolic ceremony held at the office chamber of the then Minister for Tourism, E Chandrasekharan Nair, at State Secretariat.

Prior to joining the Cabinet headed by E K Nayanar, Chandrasekharan Nair served as Managing Editor of the Janayugom Group of Kollam, publishers of a daily, a literary weekly, a film weekly, a children’s monthly and some other occasional publications. I had the privilege to work with him as a columnist and contributing editor, and developed admiration for the ever-smiling, amiable and friendly father-figure that he was. Though hard up for funds, we wanted to make the launch of Destination Kerala (then a tourism magazine) a colourful function, with VIPs leading an elite audience, during which it was planned to honour two previous Tourism Ministers with a ponnada and citation each. The idea was presented to the Minister who instantly shot it down and admonished me.

“You cannot afford such wasteful expenses now, it is a foolish idea. Forget about ex-ministers and ponnadas. Make it simple, inexpensive and symbolic.’’ And so, half a dozen of us that included the Minister, N Sreenivasan, his private secretary, K C Chandrahasan of Kerala Travels Interserve, Baby Mathew of Somatheeram Ayurvedic Resort, my son Jose (now chief editor) and Asianet Cable Vision (ACV) team converged at the Minister’s chamber on May 6 and got the ‘ceremony’ over in 10 minutes. Under instructions from the Minister, both the Tourism Directorate and KTDC had lent us advertising support for the inaugural issue, during the discussion on which, U K S Chauhan IAS, then Director of Tourism hinted that there are plans to declare 1997-’98 as the Visit Kerala Year, beginning with the Onam Week, falling in mid-September.

‘‘Till now, information of the Onam Week was confined to the Malayalam media, but it is time to make it a milestone in our global tourism calendar; and now that we have an internationally-distributed quality English magazine, how about taking the Onam message to the larger world outside Kerala, outside India?’’ Director Chauhan asked me in mid-May. I was game, and with the blessings of the Minister, we created and published a colourful supplement in our June issue, titled Advance Focus on Kerala Tourism Week 1997. The response from all over was so encouraging that Chauhan sanctioned another supplement for the August issue, focusing on his pet Visit Kerala Year theme.

The story took off from there and is still soaring. E Chandrasekharan Nair, 88, announced his retirement from active politics at the age of 70, and is presently spending his twilight years in Thiruvananthapuram, cared for by children and grandchildren, setting an example to octogenarians in various fields who are reluctant to yield place to new generations.

Destination Kerala’s, as also my own personal indebtedness to his noble and generous helping hand when it was most needed, is beyond words to express. He once lost his temper with me when I suggested that he head the State’s delegation to WTM ’97 and ITB ’98. “My job is here in Kerala to look after the interests of the lowliest of the lowly, with their food needs”, the Gandhian in Communist garb, who also held the portfolio of Food & Civil Supplies, cut me short. “You fellows can attend travel marts. Let me do my work my way”.

Laal Salaam, Comrade Chandrasekharan Nair! Our only wish is that all elected public servants be as honest, earnest and dedicated as you have been, all through the 65 years of your public life.