The journey has been memorable, says Lotus FM veteran Mala Luchmanan

Mala Lutchmanan bids goodbye to Lotus FM listeners. Picture: Nqobile Mbonambi/Independent Newspapers

Mala Lutchmanan bids goodbye to Lotus FM listeners. Picture: Nqobile Mbonambi/Independent Newspapers

Published Jun 7, 2024


MALA Lutchman, the doyenne of Tamil culture and a linguistic activist, bid adieu to Lotus FM last Friday after 28 years as a presenter on the station, and now looks forward to completing her Phd in education, travelling and publishing another book.

“Now I can travel overseas for lengthy periods without having to rush back home after two weeks to present my show,” she laughed.

“But on a serious note, I was ready to hand over the baton. The journey has been memorable. I will miss the listeners most. They had become like family and were my biggest driving force.”

She said there had been challenges along the way but “I did the work I set out to do and enjoyed it. I kept the flag flying high”.

Lutchmanan, of Yellowwood Park, presented Isai – Mazhai, meaning “A shower of sweet music”, on Fridays from 6pm to 7pm.

Reflecting on how she had become proficient in the Tamil language and culture, Lutchmanan, who has written more than 20 books, said: “My parents spoke Tamil at home. I understood them and had some knowledge in writing Tamil because I attended Tamil school.

“In my late twenties, my aunt saw an advert by the Merebank Tamil School Society about a bursary being offered to study in India. I applied and was accepted with four others to study at the Tamil University, a public state university in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu.

“Everyone at the time thought I was mad because I had a full-time job as a librarian at the Durban City Hall. But I felt this urge to go. I think it was to find the answers I had been looking for on our culture and religious beliefs. I was not fearful. I was taking a chance and I went for it. I had been to India previously, so something threw me in this direction.”

Lutchmanan completed the four year degree in arts and culture, graduating in 1995. She said the degree equipped overseas students to teach Tamil to those who saw it as a foreign language.

“The beauty of the language was now instilled in me. We focussed on the language, the music of the language, the culture and the history.”

Soon after returning to South Africa in 1995, Lutchmanan landed a job that would change the trajectory of her life.

“I knew nothing about broadcasting. I had no vision to be on radio but the station was looking for Indian language presenters. Management had a novel idea on how to interview the candidates. They brought in two stalwarts from the different Indian language groups to go over the CVs.

“I was told that when those who were selecting for the Tamil presenter position saw my CV and my qualification, they said I could probably speak better Tamil than them and that’s how I got the job. To this day, I don’t know who the two stalwarts were.”

Lutchmanan said her first show was on a Monday evening and lasted two to three hours.

“But management realised that Monday was a day that people went to temple service, so they moved my time slot to a Friday for an hour. Now 28 years later, here I am.”

Over the years, Lutchmanan has become a force on the station.

Other than gaining ardent fans and propagating the Tamil language, she travelled to countries such as India, Switzerland, Germany, France, London, Malaysia and Singapore where she met celebrities including actress Meena, singer Satya Prakash, music composer Anirudh Ravichander, playback singer SPB Charan and Ram Kumar, the eldest son of the legendary actor Sivaji Ganesan.

More recently, she rubbed shoulders with Sidharth Sriram, a Carnatic musician, music producer and playback singer.

When asked about a memorable moment, she spoke of her affection for Nelson Mandela and eventually meeting him.

She said that before returning from India in 1995, it was reported that Mandela would visit Delhi on his first state visit.

“I wrote to the editor of ‘The Hindu’ to say how glad we were about the visit and that South Africa was given its due. I posted the letter, as there was no email back then, and signed off as ‘Tamil University’. Sometime later, a lecturer approached and told us he saw the letter in the paper and knew I was the writer.

“Then in 2017, Mandela’s aide told him about a feisty presenter at the station, referring to Devi Sankaree Govender, and that he must meet her. All the staff at the station made a guard of honour to welcome him. That fascination I had for him had become more endearing,” recalled Lutchmanan.

“When he walked past me, I put my hands together and said ‘Vanakam’. He also put his hands together and greeted me.”

In 2017, Lutchmanan went on to write a book titled, 10 000 Days – A Prisoner then President, to coincide with Mandela’s birth anniversary. She launched a Tamil version of his biography and said at the time: “Nobody should be denied reading the incredible story of Madiba in one’s own mother tongue.”

Lutchmanan, a former educator, who worked at a school for learners with special educational needs, went on to write a slew of books and is working on translating the Thirukkural into isiZulu.

The Thirukkural is one of the most revered ancient works in the Tamil language. It is considered a “common creed”, providing a guide for human morals and betterment in life.

“It is currently going through its second edit and it is scheduled to launch in August.”

While you might not hear Lutchmanan on radio, you can keep abreast of the latest Tamil movies, music and offerings through her columns in the POST.


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