Prof. T K Thomas

Prof. T K Thomas

The passing away last week of P V Krishnamoorthy, the first Director General [DG] of Doordarshan marks the end of an era in Indian broadcasting. P V K as he was fondly called was a remarkable broadcaster and an extremely popular professional whose contributions to All India Radio [AIR] and Doordarshan and performing arts are unsurpassed. For those of us who knew him personally, he was an inspiration. His sense of humor continues to bring a smile on the faces of his juniors even today.

PVK was appointed the first Director General of Doordarshan on 1st April 1976 when he was the Director of Doordarshan Kendra, Bombay. After taking over as the DG, he came to AIR, Bombay and addressed us. In his characteristic style what he said is paraphrased-“Doordarshan is born today as the whole world celebrates All Fools Day and this happens to be my birthday too!” He added that 1st April happens to be very auspicious for him as whenever he attended a Union Public Service Commission [UPSC] interview his birthday turned out to be a topic for discussion and the atmosphere during the interview which started in a lighter vein and ended in his selection. PVK further said that it was his fond hope that Doordarshan born on 1st April too would have an auspicious existence!

Yes, PVK was born on 1st April,1921 in Yangon [also called Rangoon], then the capital of Myanmar [then Burma] where his family had lived. He in fact completed his graduation there. The family was forced to flee Burma in 1942 in the wake of severe bombardment by the Japanese Air Force during the height of the Second World War. He was trained in Carnatic classical music by his elder sister Rajeshwari and elder brother P V Subramanyam who wrote his columns under a pen name ‘Subuddu’ and was one of the country’s best known music and dance critics. This training in music stood him in good stead once he joined AIR. PVK often recalled what happened when he went to report as a casual Tamil News reader in Delhi. He was late on the first day as he had lost his way to Broadcasting House and the boss greeted him with a prompt “get out” for being late!

After working as a newsreader/ announcer for some time PVK joined the regular programme cadre and was later Station Director of AIR stations in cities like Cuttack, Calcutta, Calicut and Madras. According to a post in the Sangeet Natak Akademi web site he promoted local genres of dance and music wherever he was posted. For example in Cuttack he worked with celebrated Kathak gurus like Kelucharan Mahapatra to promote Orissa’s [now Odisha] great artistic heritage. “Similarly while serving in Kerala he enthused the famous Kottakal Kathakali troupe to stage the only ‘attakatha’ on Buddha titled Buddha Charitam. As station Director in Calcutta, he worked with many gifted musicians and conducted programmes by outstanding singers including Sandhya Mukherjee and Shyamal Mitra.”

When PVK was heading Bombay Doordarshan, one’s journalist friends used to call him TVK; that was the kind of identification he had with the medium and profession. Colleagues in Bombay Doordarshan Kendra used to tell how he was the prime mover of the hugely popular programme “Parikrama” presented by well known Hindi Writer and script writer for films and television, Kamleshwar. They also credited PVK for the humongous success of a programme based on Hindi film songs, “Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Gulshan” presented by actress Tabassum.

About one of his experiences in Bombay PVK told The Hindu a few years ago thus:-“One morning a dusky woman barged into my office. She was in tears. She had auditioned for the job of a news reader and had been rejected. She was pleading for fairness. From one look I could tell she was cut out for television. I made her go behind the camera again and gave her the job of an announcer. Later Shyam Benegal spotted her and gave her a role in his film.” That was Smita Patil! [sourced from www. thebetterindia.com]

Incidentally, another outstanding talent PVK spotted and nurtured while in AIR Cuttack was renowned flautist Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia, according to an old colleague.

One of PVK’s outstanding contributions has been for the path breaking Satellite Instructional Television Experiment or SITE which the celebrated British science fiction writer, science writer, futurist and explorer Sir Arthur. C. Clarke called “the greatest communication experiment.” SITE launched on 1 August 1975 was “an experimental satellite communications project designed jointly by NASA of the United States and the Indian Space Research Organization [ISRO]”. This was at a time when Indian television itself was yet to stand on its feet. H R Luthra in his book “Indian Broadcasting”[Publications Division ] writes about SITE, “Used a satellite for daily telecast of school, agriculture and social education programmes simultaneously to 2400 villages located in six states [ Rajasthan, Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka for one year from August 1, 1975 to July 31,1976’’. For this 1320 hours of programmes in the respective local languages were produced and the driving force behind them was PVK. PVK’s main associate in the SITE programming was the celebrated scientist Prof Yashpal.

When the Vargheese Committee report on autonomy for AIR and Doordarshan was being nationally debated one had organized along with seasoned journalist D M Silviera and his magazine, a national conference in Delhi on January13, 1990. Despite his very busy schedule PVK agreed to preside over the conference. It was a memorable experience to see PVK along with Prof. Yashpal Chairman of the University Grants Commission and renowned science educator who popularized science through his Doordarshan programmes and lectures sharing the dais at the conference. Both of them while pleading passionately for autonomy for AIR and Doordarshan spoke about the challenges they faced during the SITE programme. They pointed out how two professionals from different fields, given the ‘autonomy’ to work together, could ensure the huge success of the unique experiment[SITE] to reach educational programmes to Indian villages using satellite television.

In 1983 PVK was appointed Vice Chairman of the Sangeet Natak Akademi for a five year term. He was also elected Tagore Fellow of the Akademi for his overall contribution to India’s performing arts.

After his retirement PVK was a consultant with UNICEF and in collaboration with All India radio produced a series of radio programmes. Recalling PVK’s seminal contribution Razia Ismail, leading child rights activist and former UNICEF country chief of Information & Communication Services says, “Among his many ‘firsts’ in communication, PVK’s development of AIR broadcasts to child care workers in ’Anganwadis’ of the Integrated Child Development Services across India stands out as an innovation for both the broadcasters and their field audience. Both substance and style were designed with the targeted listeners, and reached out to them for many years. They also provided on-the-job orientation to the many radio stations involved, and programming guidance to UNICEF”.

Commenting on the UNICEF programmes V. Thiruvengadam former Station Director, AIR, Chennai says, “PVK gave AIR a great opportunity to extend impactful communication support for mother and child welfare. In 1985, as the Station Director, Jalgaon I attended a regional programme coordination meeting at AIR Ratnagiri. PVK made a thirty minutes presentation there, on what AIR and UNICEF could do together for the cause. His articulation with light hearted observations, and most importantly his deep knowledge of the indigenous mother and child care practices across the country were breathtaking, proving why he had become a legend in broadcasting”. Thiruvengadam also recalls the get together PVK organized on his birthday at his home every year attended by younger friends in AIR and Doordarshan.

Gururaj, former Director, AIR, Delhi and Director, National channel who worked with PVK at AIR, Chennai still remembers with nostalgia the orchestral piece of ‘Ragamalika’ conducted by PVK which proved his musical prowess.

N S Krishnamurthi[NSK], former Director of Music at the AIR headquarters recalls PVK’s brilliant lectures at the Staff Training Institute- his tremendous sense of humour, style and profound erudition. As an illustration NSK quotes a passionate statement by PVK while referring to the challenges he faced when the SITE broadcasts were launched; “When the satellite soared, my heart sank!”

One used to exchange e-mails with PVK for various reasons. It was embarrassing when his salutations had ‘Sir’ and ‘Saheb’ as suffixes which showed his humility. Once he asked me to brief him on my “post retirement adventures” which I did. For some urgent matter once I called him. During that call I told him that during my next visit to Chennai I would definitely visit him. But that was not to be!