How swimming across a river to school in rural Andhra Pradesh set P Aanand Naidu’s ambitions soaring
The river that flows next to his village in Andhra Pradesh’s Vizianagaram district played an important role in Doordarshan deputy director general P Aanand Naidu’s life story. Crossing the waters with his books tied on his head in a half-standing, half-swimming posture was an everyday routine for the boy who grew up to be an air force missile-fitter-turned-lawyer-turned TV administrator.
Naidu, 50, learnt to go against the current and take on the challenges that life threw at him, while negotiating the river’s sometimes turbulent waters.
As a 10-year-old, Naidu would wake up at four, study for some time, work for a few hours in the farm, cross the river and then walk six kilometres to school. “The school I went to served students from four villages. We studied together at one common ‘ajjada’ as we call it in Telugu.”
After class 11, when a friend suggested Naidu explore a career with the Indian Air Force, the wiry teenager decided to go with the flow. “During the exam I was told I might be underweight. For my height [five feet five] I had to weigh 43.5 kilos. But I was just 38. So I stuffed myself with bananas hours before the exam. In time for the test, my weight crossed 40 kg and I was selected,” he says.
In 1982, the year the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi launched the Asian Games, Naidu joined the Indian Air Force. “I became a missile-fitter. The discipline was so new that the ex-servicemen in my village said it didn’t exist. I was part of the second batch of missile-fitters in Air Force.”
So what exactly does a missile-fitter do? “He prepares the missile for the launch carried out by an engineer and the operational officers. Normally missiles are not put on high-alert since that reduces their shelf life,” explains Naidu.
Then airman Naidu applied for selection as commissioned officer and succeeded. In 1986, the year he was working on surface-to-air missile Two (SAM 2), Naidu was deployed for Operation Brasstacks, carried out to simulate the operational capabilities of the Indian armed forces. “We were pulled out to a war location, with the missiles loaded and frequencies set for launch if needed.”
In the last fortnight of his training, Naidu got a call letter to join the Air Force Academy. “On the first day, the teacher asked a class of 53, how many of us had studied in vernacular medium schools. I raised my hand promptly. There was silence and I realised everyone was staring at me. Some of my classmates were from Doon School. But they became my friends once I won an essay competition.”
Memories of Kargil
During the 1999 Kargil conflict, recalls Naidu, Mirage aircraft played a crucial role with precise, pin-point strikes. “At the peak of the conflict, I was manning the ATC radar,” he says proudly.
Clearly, Naidu was passionate about flying. Why did he join the legal profession then? The two are not entirely disconnected, he says. “The regulations followed in ATC are all based on international civil aviation organisation rules. Each word that I speak on radio telephony is a command for the pilot. I say climb and he’ll climb without thinking of whether he will crash into another aircraft. That’s where I first developed an interest in law,” says Naidu.
Taking voluntary retirement, Naidu practiced law frenetically for three months. So much so that his health began to get affected. “During the time I was practising law, I was foregoing my sleep. ”
On his wife’s advice, Naidu took a sabbatical from courts. A few days into the sabbatical, he responded to an advertisement looking for deputy director general (security) with Doordarshan and was selected.
In his new role, Naidu manages security systems for 67 Doordarshan kendras and 400-odd stations spread across the country. He also dons the hat of channel manager with DD Bharati, the culture channel of the public service broadcaster.
“The viewership figures of the channel were languishing at just one million compared to 115 million for the other DD channels. A senior officer called me and said: ‘You’ve been an air traffic controller for 25 years. That is the most stressful job in the world. I am sure you can handle the channel.’ Despite no background in culture – I am a fauji by training – I took up the responsibility.”
In his avatar as channel manager, too, Naidu has done well. “We’ve signed agreements with institutes such as the National School of Drama and leading Delhi museums to cover good events on the channel. And this week the TAM rating touched 4 million.”
Even at 50, the flow of life never ebbs for this feisty fauji!
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From HT Brunch, February 22
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