With her National League for Democracy (NLD) sweeping the by-elections in Myanmar, the name Aung San Suu Kyi has come to symbolise the yearning for democracy in the military-ruled country. But in the 1960s, she was just an unassuming student and a part-time broadcaster in Delhi, recalls a Tamil writer and actor.
Bharathi Mani (74) who had worked as an executive with the Birla group, still cherishes the days they spent together in All India Radio (AIR), Delhi, along with another actor and newscaster Poornam Viswanathan.
In the early 1960s, Ms. Suu Kyi was a student at Lady Shri Ram College and supporting herself by working as a Burmese newsreader in the External Services Division (ESD) of the AIR. She would translate the English bulletin into Burmese herself and present it.
"I first met her while having methu vada with Viswanathan in the AIR canteen," recalled Mr. Mani, speaking from an outdoor shooting location of Mani Ratnam's ongoing movie 'Kadal' from Kozhikode.
"Can I join you?" a wiry woman in her early twenties had asked him in her feeble voice while holding a cup of coffee. "Then without waiting for our response, she sat in a chair," Mr. Mani said. She spoke fluent English and already knew Viswanathan.
Mr. Mani, who had then established himself as an actor in radio plays, would visit AIR four or five days a month. Viswanathan was working as a Tamil newsreader and Mani would join him for a cup of coffee and snacks at the canteen.
Mr. Mani said he would often meet her in the canteen or greet her through the windows while crossing the Burmese news section to reach the Tamil section.
"Once she told me that she was facing problems in connection with her stay in India. The Burmese had to register periodically with the Foreigners Registration Office. I had an IFS friend, who was a senior officer in the External Affairs Department and I asked her to meet him. I also gave my visiting card to her," Mani said. He almost forgot the incident until she rushed to him a week later with a smiling face. "She told me that my IFS friend had ensured a two-year stay for her and thanked me profusely." Over the years, Mr. Mani's work took him to foreign countries frequently, and he could not visit AIR as frequently; he lost touch with her until one day he spotted her on television.
"The Nobel Prize for Peace for 2001 had been announced and they showed her on TV. When I met Viswanathan, I asked him whether he was able to remember her. But he could not. I reminded him about our days in AIR and he said we could take pride in shaking hands with a Nobel Laureate."