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Recollections of a Communicator; When PM Nehru chased a cameraperson across the room

New Delhi: As a young probationer when I joined the Press Information Bureau, one of the duties I was allotted was to receive media representatives as they arrived at the venue of a press conference.

It was a pleasure watching India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru interacting with the pressmen. Except for the cameramen of the Films Division, Visnews and the Associated Press, there were hardly any other film cameramen. Video had not yet made an entry. We did have some still cameramen, including a person from the Photo Division.

Nehru held his press conference like a professor in a college. He would listen to the questions, and if they were provocative, he would say “what fantastic nonsense”, and then proceed to give an answer, which would explain the reason why he thought it was nonsense! His style was more like a teacher instructing students when speaking with reporters.

I recall Photo Division photographer, Kundan Lal, father of Mr. Virender Mohan, a former GM of UNI, a news agency, who passed away last week, telling me stories about Nehru during the freedom struggle. He told me that to take a picture indoors, he had to use a magnesium flash, which would explode and brighten up the place, while spreading some kind of powder.

Once, at a Congress session, he was told not to light his magnesium powder flash when the Prime Minister was around, but Kundan Lal had no choice in the matter. He had to get a picture and it was impossible without exploding the magnesium flash. So, like a journalist on the job, he disregarded the diktat and did just that.

Nehru was so annoyed that he actually chased him from one end of the room to the other! Kundan Lal realised that he could not escape and stopped and said: “Maro, mujhe maro”. Nehru too stopped and burst into laughter.

Another story that I remember, is that the Publications Division, which was headed by my uncle U.S. Mohan Rao, used to bring out the speeches made by the Prime Minister Nehru, on public occasions. These were edited by H.Y. Sharada Prasad, an editor in the Publications Division who later became Information Advisor to Indira Gandhi.

The Secretary of the Information and Broadcasting Minister took objection that a mere ‘Editor’ had the gumption to edit speeches made by the Prime Minister. He wrote a note and it was submitted by the Minister, B. V. Keskar. Mohan Rao received a rebuke. One evening when I went to meet my uncle, he was downcast.

He told me that he had just returned after submitting an explanation that speeches made by the Prime Minister on ‘extempore’ needed editing before publication.

The explanation was sent to Nehru by Keskar, and in a couple of days, Nehru returned it to him, saying: “I am sorry; the Director of the Publication Division is right.”

My uncle Mohan Rao and the editor H.Y Sharada Prasada stood vindicated.

Mohan Rao told me, Nehru is a big man, he had the courtesy to say sorry, when the explanation was given.”

Mr. I. Ramamohan Rao is a former Principle Information Officer to the Government of India. He can be reached at [email protected] . (ANI)