What endears former referee and official Chellam Rajulu to all in the table tennis circuit is not just his dedication to the game, but his quiet, self-effacing demeanour as well

“A happy life must be to a great extent a quiet life, for it is only in an atmosphere of quiet that true joy dare live”

Bertrand Russel

Chellam Rajulu, throughout his working life, exemplified Russel's profound observation. Never one to seek publicity or bad-mouth anybody, Chellam, as chief referee of the Tamil Nadu Table Tennis Association tournaments for more than 20 years, did his job for the sheer joy it gave him. And he derived greater joy just minding his own business.

Being a quiet person, Chellam mightn't have become popular like his predecessors, but those who have worked with him describe him as a man of action. D. V. Sundar, Secretary, Tamil Nadu Table Tennis Association, once remarked, “He's a tower of strength when it comes to organising the game in a professional manner.”

From the early 1980s to 2007, Chellam, as chief referee, would come prepared for all the State-ranking tournaments, but didn't make friends with the players as he didn't believe in doing so. However, he wasn't unhelpful to them. He would remain in his seat till all the matches were over. Such was his power of concentration.

Chellam held many positions in State table tennis — joint secretary, vice-president and chairman of the Selection and Technical Committee. At a higher level, he was chief referee in the 1983 Nationals held in Delhi, and associated with two World Championships, including the 1975 (Calcutta) and 1987 (New Delhi) World championships and a Commonwealth championship (1994, Hyderabad). But it was as chief referee that 85-year-old Chellam is most remembered.

Interest in cricket too

He would always say, “My first wife is cricket.” His wife chips in, “I never disturbed him because he loved what he was doing. I kept myself busy doing things I liked — dressing up dolls and visiting temples.”

Chellam played for his company Madras Telephones and represented National United Club in Tamil Nadu cricket's first division league for four years. He developed an interest in table tennis, when he started playing the sport after work at his office. Following his retirement in 1983, Chellam devoted his entire time to the game.

Chellam says working under different Tamil Nadu Table Tennis Association

Secretaries — C.T. Dorairaj, A.N.S. Velu, T.N. Lakshmanan, Venugopal Rao and D.V. Sundar — gave him the confidence to deal with people. He recalls with pride the work done by stalwarts such as Fr. McFerran and T. D. Rangaramanujan towards improvement of the game.

Describing how table tennis has changed in Tamil Nadu over the past four decades, Chellam says, “Those days there used to be only three to four State-ranking tournaments in a few venues — Andhra Mahila Sabha, SLVS (Broadway), V.P. Hall, SIAA Hall, Suguna Vilas Sabha, Mylapore Club, Mandaveli Gymkhana and YMCA Esplanade.

According to Chellam, it was under Sundar that the golden period for Tamil Nadu began. “Both players and officials benefited,” he says. Now there are more than 10 State-ranking tournaments. Their conduct has become more streamlined.” Chellam is, however, concerned about the current state of the game. “The rallies are quick and there are hardly any spectators,” he rues.

Born in Kuala Lumpur, Chellam moved to Chennai after his father N.C. Nayudu voluntarily retired from the Federation Malay State Railway in 1932. Chellam did his intermediate from Madras Christian College but had to discontinue his Bachelor's course in Physics from the same institution after he landed a job with Madras Telephones.

Except for a few age-related problems, Chellam is as active as ever. He spends his mornings reading newspapers and watching religious programmes on television.

“I'm happy I served the game to the best of my ability,” he signs off with a satisfied smile.

Keywords: table tennis