‘Joff’, as Saeed Jaffrey was lovingly called by his contemporaries at the famed Muir Hostel of Allahabad University, was proud of his alma mater, loved Allahabad — the home of the Nehrus and an important centre of the freedom struggle — and was secular to the core.
It was Joff who persuaded me in the 1950s to join All India Radio. He was introduced to me by my husband, also a ‘Muir hosteller’ and a good friend of Joff. It was Joff who advised me to take part in AIR Allahabad’s radio plays, and then, not leaving it at that, he went out of his way to introduce me to Prabhakar Acharya of AIR Delhi. That is how my career in serious broadcasting began.
As far as Joff was concerned, there was no looking back (only career-wise, not emotionally) — radio, theatre, television, cinema, Hollywood … The whole world had become his stage.
I had become chief producer of AIR after my mentor, Melville de Mello, retired, writing and producing English features for the national radio. This was sometime in the 1980s. I was working on a programme on Nehru called ‘The Random Thoughts of Jawaharlal’, and was frantically looking for a ‘voice’ to do the part.
Those were the days when we had some of the finest English ‘voices’, including Ramu Damodaran, Bhaskar Bhattacharjea, Aftab and Roshan Seth, Sid Basu (Babu), Sunit Tandon, Preet Bedi, Avik Ghosh, to name a few male artistes.
But I was looking for something different, a voice not too frequently heard in the national programmes. And then I remembered our old friend Joff. I was fortunately able to track him down in Bombay (now Mumbai) and when I told him that I was going to present Nehru on radio, it took him only a few seconds to react.
“Radio, Allahabad, and Nehru! My three great loves! How can I refuse!” And he took the next flight to Delhi. That was Saeed Jaffrey... That was Joff.
Chitra Narain is a former deputy director general, All India Radio and Doordarshan
The views expressed are personal