Homage to Shri Parmanand Ramlackhan – Former Indian Programme Organiser at MBC
The sad demise of Shri Parmanand Ramlackhan on Thursday 23 July last at the age of 85 has left a deep void in the country. I knew him simply as Bhaiya. That was Parmanand Ramlackhan, the former Indian Programme Organiser of the MBC TV. Who can dissociate Bhai Parmanand’s voice from the Mauritius Broadcasting Service (MBS)? That deep baritone voice with a strong and profound penetrating yet sweet timbre! He joined the MBS which was then at Malherbes St, Curepipe in the 1960s as a part-timer speaker. His samachar, Aap ki Pasand, Marizon ka Programme- Khush Raho left no one untouched.
Another unique programme that he introduced was Aaj ka Vichar, broadcast early morning after Samachar. Those were chosen nuggets and sayings from the writings or thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, Tagore, Nehru, philosophers, thinkers and saints which set the tone for the day. They acted forcefully on the minds of the listeners.
Born on 22 August 1930 in a family of five brothers and two sisters at Mon Desert, Vacoas, Parmanand Ramlackhan did his primary schooling at the Aryan Vedic Government School at Vacoas and later attended the Tennyson College at Quatre Bornes. He had as classmate Sir Anerood Jugnauth. In those days secondary education was fee-paying and it was very hard for most people to get a decent secondary education. From there, he enrolled himself as a Trainee Teacher at the Teachers’ Training College. He started his career as a teacher and later joined the Central Information Office (CIO) with ‘Le Maire’ Ramlagan. He would get a scholarship in Management and Information. That led to his joining the MBS and later the highly glamorous post of Indian Programme Organiser, when television was introduced on 5 March 1965, which post he occupied till his retirement in 1987. Programming Indian films, songs and other TV items was a pretty challenging job. There was tremendous opposition to whatever radio time or TV antenna was given to the Indian community. Thus it was that Parmanand Ramlackhan negotiated the introduction of Indian films on television with much force and determination. The Indian film was shown piecemeal, say 15 minutes or half an hour every Thursday. Each Thursday a résumé had to be given before the next footage. So it took more than a month to see the full film. People used to avidly look forward to the next episode!
Bhaiya and I always conversed in Bhojpuri. I met Bhaiya regularly at my Uncle Beekrumsing Ramlallah’s residence which was my second home, at the Nalanda Bookshop and the Mauritius Times. The battle for Independence, introduction of Hindi as an examinable subject at the Certificate of Primary Education level and other issues were long and arduous ones. We used to meet at Chacha Beekrum’s place at 29, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Street (former Wellington Street) in Port-Louis and carry on a whole tour of Mauritius to apprise the population of the seriousness of the language issue. He militated for Hindi at the CPE ferociously in the 1970s and 1980s. There was fierce opposition and an andolan or movement was unleashed to generate support among the population. Parmanand Ramlackhan was a fervent and ardent proponent of the cause for getting Hindi accepted at the primary level. Nothing has been obtained on a golden platter for that matter for the Indian community here, be it in terms of languages or religious subsidies. The Indian programmes at the MBC TV have been obtained at the cost of sustained struggles in the face of fierce opposition and hurdles. But eventually the battles were won and Parmanand Ramlackhan stands as one of the key figures in those cutthroat strenuous combats for the recognition of oriental languages, whether in the education sector or at the MBC TV. He introduced every Saturday afternoon the weekly events summary which was anchored by Rani Jugduth.
Parmanand Ramlackhan was always good-mannered and charming in his dealings whether with the top brass or the common man. He brimmed with ideas and suggestions. He was a kind of a mentor for us. He was a visionary and an avantgarde in his thoughts. He used to see things ahead and was precise in his analysis of current affairs. He empowered all those who sought his advice. He was also open and generous.
In fact Parmanand Ramlackhan got his training as a social worker with Pandit Srinivas Jugduth who set up the youth wing of the Indo-Mauritian Association. They also learnt social work. He also attended the Hindi classes given by Pandit Jugduth at the shivala of La Caverne. Along with other youths of the day in the 1950s, the Gopauls, the Reebyes, Jugduths, he joined the famous ‘Vacoas House of Debaters.’ Parmanand Ramlackhan had a pleasing voice and personality and presented and acted in many stage plays and on the radio and TV later. When Somdath Bhuckory presented his Hindi poem “Mauritius ki Shrishti” in 1966 as a ballet at the Municipal Theatre of Port-Louis, Parmanand Ramlackhan presented it on the air twice a week in the Indo-Mauritian Programme. He was well groomed and a dynamic youth for the dramatics, voluntary social work, with a superb voice lending itself marvellously to the radio.
He was closely associated with several movements and was a devoted social worker. He was also close to the Ramakrishna Mission Vacoas, the Divine Life Society at Beau Bassin, the Seva Shivir movement and the Human Service Trust. He helped in the establishment of the Brahma Kumari Centre in Mauritius in the early 1970s. He was elected President of the Mauritius Sanatan Dharma Temples Federation from 1981 to 1985. Parmanand Ramlackhan was also closely associated with Chit Dukhira in his organisation Selex.
He also helped in getting recognition for Ayurveda medicine in Mauritius with the learned Ayuvedic doctor Pandit Jugdish Sharma from New Delhi. He pioneered the presentation of the Bill of Legislation for Ayurvedic medicine practice in Mauritius. He himself had two Ayurvedic centres in Vacoas and Quatre Bornes. He was an adept of Yoga and practised it till his last days, waking up at 4 am to do his pranayama. He practised holistic living in the true sense of the word.
I remember some events in particular where we were closely associated: One of them was the celebration and revival of Holi in Mauritius in 1973. Holi was a public holiday and Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam himself was very fond of the phagwa festival. As the Holi went on decline and the public holiday was suppressed at the Seva Shivir we devised a strategy. Bhai Parmanand, myself and Harish took the initiative of having a Brihad Holi Mela at the Champ de Mars on 19th March 1973. I had gone round the country organising and rousing the public participation for the festival. It became a tremendous success and opened the door for its annual enthusiastic celebration. I collected the chowtals and dhamar, hori and phagwa songs from the elders, put them in writing and presented them on the television for wider dissemination, with the encouragement of Bhaiya.
Parmanand Ramlackhan was devoted to his family, despite his busy social and professional life. He was an adorable grandfather and father-in-law. He taught his daughter Darshi, son Malick and daughter-in-law Nanda to stand on their own feet.
He introduced the local gayaks and opened the antennas to them. He was part of the Jury assessing the competitions of the orchestra bands which gained great popularity in the 1969-70s, such as the Rivoli, Amar Dosti, Universal, Fuel Bands. Introducing direct TV coverage of the Maha Shivrati Festival at Ganga Talab was another feather in his cap, of course with the blessing of the Government. Many obscure singers and bhajniks and group singers got recognition through the regular Thursday programmes on the T.V. When he was at the MBS he introduced radio plays with Abhimanyu Unuth, Somdath Buckhory, Rani Jugduth (Rani Bahen) which involved the participation of other Hindi writers like Deepchand Beeharry. He was responsible for promoting programmes of great literary value such as Apsara.
We would like to assure the family to whom we offer our deepest sympathy especially Darshi, Malick, Nanda that we care to remember and show our appreciation for the valuable contribution made by Parmanand Ramlackhan in the uplift of the Indo-Mauritian community in particular and the Mauritian nation in general, in very difficult times.
- Published in print edition on 31 July 2015