S. K. Chettur, ICS

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Sankara Krishna Chettur, (I.C.S)

Death: 1972 (66-67)
Immediate Family:

Son of Krishna Menon P.K. and Mrs.Krishna Menon P.K Chettur
Father of Sumangali Chettur
Brother of Govinda Krishna Chettur; K.K.Chettur, ICS and Col. Dr. R. Krishna Chettur

Occupation: Retd. Indian Civil Services Officer
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About S. K. Chettur, ICS

The story-teller


BETWEEN THE late l930s and early l950s, I had occasion to read a number of short stories by S.K.Chettur in The Hindu and The Mail. But at the time, the name Chettur meant nothing to me except that he was someone in the I.C.S. It was only recently that I discovered how much he had written over the years and how much he had achieved during his Civilian years. The learning process came through his daughter Sumangali Chettur, formerly of Air India, who recently published a collection of recollections, "Tea with Pandit Nehru and Other Memoirs" (East West Books). Suma Chettur's slim volume is a medley of nostalgia, biography in brief and excerpts from her father's writings. Judging from the exemplars, it would seem a good idea if a publisher brought out an anthology of S. K. Chettur's short stories drawn from his four collections that were published over nearly 50 years. "Muffled Drums and Other Stories" came out in 1927, "The Cobras of Dhermashevi and other stories" in l937, "The Spell of Aphrodite and other stories" in l957 and "Mango Seed and other stories", posthumously, in l974. There's mystery, the unknown, romance, humour and acidic comment in varying doses in these short stories for all times. Writing of things that never seem to change, he notes in "The Pilau Commissioner", from the Aphrodite collection, "This is an age in which practically everybody is corrupt. You know what I mean. The itching palm. The clutching hand. The petty official takes his rake-off in small, hard cash; the big official collects it both in cash and kind, in bush-shirts and diamonds, in stainless steel utensils and in underwear, in frigidaires and whisky."

Chettur may have been more popular as a short story writer, but the trilogy of his years of service are reflections of an era of stern but warmly humane administration as well as a recall of vignettes of history. The autobiographical trilogy, "Malayan Adventure", "The Steel Frame and I" and "The Crystal Years", takes you back to the halls of Oxford where the tall, handsome, sturdily-built I.C.S. probationer spent two years and won his Half-Blue in hockey, to Lord Louis Mountbatten's court' in Singapore where, from l945 to l947, Chettur was India's Representative, to that day in l964 when he retired as Chief Secretary of Madras State and retired to that home he had built in l950 as one of the first settlers in Gandhinagar. While he was in Singapore, he had made arrangements for Pandit Nehru's visit to meet the people of Indian origin in Malaya. It was also the first time that Mountbatten and Nehru had met. Of that historic occasion, Chettur writes, "... the memorable meeting between two such dynamic personalities as the Pandit and the Supremo which was fruitful of so much political good to India in the future took place in Singapore with me as the humble deus ex machina."

Back in India, he was, a decade later, to be associated with, as Chairman of the Madras Electricity Board, the Periyar and Kundah hydel schemes. And then, a few years on, he was to retire, only to be faced with waning health in his last years When Rajaji, then Chief Minister, wrote Chettur a farewell letter on his retirement, he said, "So you walk out of the Secretariat with honour and with my blessings... "; it was a reflection of how successfully Chettur had during the years since Independence dealt with numerous ministers. He was to later comment on this so, "I have been often asked whether it was pleasant to work with ministers after ruling the roost' in the old I.C.S. autocratic set-up. My answer has always been that the I.C.S. man has been trained to accept the discipline of his Superior Officers'. In a democratic regime, I made the transition easy by the tacit principle that elected ministers responsible to the public were my Superiors', however much I may have doubted their individual intellectual superiority to me. I regarded them as the bosses who were in the position to give the orders, and while I had the right to offer advice to them (based on my own knowledge and experience) I had to accept and implement the orders even in cases where my advice was over-ruled. And I took very good care to record my views very clearly and unmistakably so that they could know exactly what they were up against in over-ruling me. I found that my refusal to be a yes-man' had a most salutary effect on ministers. Apart from the respect it created for me personally, they knew they could get genuine advice from me and that I would not lightly let them down. As a result, I got on very well with them and when they found that I had the sense of discipline to implement orders, once I had been over-ruled or differed from, there was no difficulty at all in our relationships. And that is as it should be." Perhaps it's time Chettur's trilogy was re-released; I'm sure many an administrator would benefit from the Chettur experience.

Footnote: Chettur also had a volume of poetry, "The Golden Stair", published. Yet another example of his versatility when it came to the written word.



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S. K. Chettur, ICS's Timeline

- 1940
Age 30
Palghat, Madras Presidency, India
- 1964
Age 42
Tamil Nadu Government, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
Age 67
- 1945
Indian Civil service, Malaysia