Archive for October, 2011

The ‘sardar in the lightbulb’ signs out suddenly

17 October 2011

Seventy years after he started needling readers and 42 years after he wrote his first column, the “sardar in the lightbulb” will shine no more. Khushwant Singh, the dirty old man of Indian journalism, says he is now too old (and maybe just a little less dirty) to dish out malice towards one and all any more.

“I’m 97, I may die any day now… I’ll miss the money, and the people fawning over me to write about them in my columns,” Singh says in on his self-imposed exile into silence, in Outlook* magaqzine.

Singh began his career as a journalist in1940, writing for The Tribune, contributing book reviews and profiles under the byline ‘KS’. His first regular column appeared in the planning commission journal Yojana.

Editor’s Page, in the Illustrated Weekly of India under his now famous sardar-in-lightbulb logo, first appeared in 1969. The column migrated with Singh to National Herald, and in 1980, to the Hindustan Times. The now-defunct Sunday Observer was the first to buy the rights to it in 1981.

After he left Hindustan Times in the mid-’80s, Khushwant began syndicating his column. His two columns appeared every week without fail for the last 30 years in a dozen national dailies and translated into 17 languages.

* Disclosures apply

Also read: Khushwant Singh on his last day at Weekly

Why Khushwant Singh fell out with Arun Shourie

Barkha Dutt tarred by pure malice: Khushwant

Khushwant Singh stands up for Barkha Dutt, again

Nothing romantic about a candle-light newscast

10 October 2011

Loadshedding, power cuts, outages, 2-phase supply etc are near-permanent words in the lexicons of news organisations in a country where electricity shortage is an everyday occurence.

So how can the media bring some life to such a routine news story?

In Karnataka, where scheduled loadshedding will be in force from today, Suvarna News, the 24×7 Kannada news channel owned by the member of Parliament Rajeev Chandrasekhar, took an unusual step on Sunday.

All day, from 6 am to 11 pm, anchors sat in suitably darkened studios and read out the news with a candle on top of their desks to convey the impact the loadshedding was going to have on viewers.

According to the channel’s editor-in-chief Vishweshwar Bhat, the candle was used as a symbol of the looming power crisis; not as if there was no electricity in the channel’s studios.

Hopefully, the channel’s viewers had electricity back home to see the candle-light bulletins.

Kannada Prabha, the daily owned by Rajeev Chandrasekhar and edited by Bhat, followed up on Monday with an all-black front page with a candle as the lead image.

‘Reporter lets Steve Jobs die on sidewalk': RIP

6 October 2011

Newsrooms across the world which have Apple machines in the design and editing sections, will remember Steve Jobs, who passed away yesterday after a long battle with cancer.

Walt Mossberg, the iconic technology correspondent of the Wall Street Journal, writes on the Jobs he knew in today’s paper:

“After his liver transplant, while he was recuperating at home in Palo Alto, California, Steve invited me over to catch up on industry events that had transpired during his illness.

“It turned into a three-hour visit, punctuated by a walk to a nearby park that he insisted we take, despite my nervousness about his frail condition.

“He explained that he walked each day, and that each day he set a farther goal for himself, and that, today, the neighborhood park was his goal.

“As we were walking and talking, he suddenly stopped, not looking well. I begged him to return to the house, noting that I didn’t know CPR and could visualize the headline: “Helpless Reporter Lets Steve Jobs Die on the Sidewalk.”

“But he laughed, and refused, and, after a pause, kept heading for the park. We sat on a bench there, talking about life, our families, and our respective illnesses (I had had a heart attack some years earlier). He lectured me about staying healthy. And then we walked back.

“Steve Jobs didn’t die that day, to my everlasting relief. But now he really is gone, much too young, and it is the world’s loss.”

Read the full article: The Steve Jobs I knew

Enter: The queen bee of Bombay film journalists

4 October 2011

Anju Mahendroo (in picture), the colourful actress who once boasted of an off-field partnership with cricket legend Gary Sobers, is to play the role of the gossip columnist Devyani Chaubal in The Dirty Picture, based on southern sleaze queen Silk Smitha‘s life.

Devyani Chaubal wrote the saucy Frankly Speaking column in the now-defunct film magazine Star & Style, mixing insider knowledge with insinuations in bitchy Hinglish prose, a style emulated by several of her contemporaries, including Shobha De.

According to Mumbai Mirror, it was Anju herself who suggested to the movie’s director that her character should be based on Devyani.

“I told Milan Luthria that I knew Devyani at a personal level and it would be easier for me to base my character on her.

“In one scene, Vidya Balan [who plays Silk Smitha] comes up to me and asks ‘Who are you?’

“When I introduce myself, she shoots back, ‘Oh so you are the one who writes all the nasty things about me’.

“And then I answer back, ‘Well, it’s better to be written about than not’.”

Read the full article: Anju turns controversial journo

View a sample of Devyani’s writing: here

Also read: For some journos, acting is second string in bow

Finally, Karnataka gets an ‘acting’ chief minister

‘Arun Shourie: a Hindu right-wing pamphleteer’

3 October 2011

There are few more polarising figures in Indian journalism than Arun Shourie.

For many of his professional peers, he is everything a journalist should not be: a wonky-eyed, hired gun of the Hindu right, selectively and deviously using facts to push its ideological and political agendas.

Arrogant, intolerant, abusive, dictatorial, .

For multitudes more, he is the proverbial Sancho Panza, tilting at the windmills of political correctness, shining light on the dark corners of Indian political and business life, with his exposes and editorials.

Saying it like it is, without fear or favour.

In his just released memoirs, Ink in my Veins, the veteran editor Surendra Nihal Singh, who was Shourie’s boss at the Indian Express, dismisses Shourie as a pamphleteer who thought “a newspaper was a stepping stone to politics and political office… and used journalism to achieve his political ambitions.”

***

By S. NIHAL SINGH

My experience with Arun Shourie was not happy.

To begin with, he had got used to doing pretty much what he wanted because S. Mulgaonkar [who Nihal Singh replaced as Express editor at his recommendation] had been ailing for long and usually made only a brief morning appearance to do an edit if he felt like it.

To have to work with a hands-on editor who oversaw the news and editorial sections was an irksome burden for Shourie.

Our objectives collided.

My efforts were directed to making the Express a better paper, while he was basically a pamphleteer who was ideologically close to the Hindu right. Even while he oversaw a string of reporters’ stories, which drew national attention (for which he claimed more credit that was his due), his aim was to spread the message.

Goenka himself could be swayed by Hindu ideology. In one instance, he sent me a draft editorial from Madras full of all the cliches of the Hindu right. One of Goenka’s men in the southern city was S. Gurumurthy, a sympathiser of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a pro-Hindu organisation.

The issue was the mass conversion of Harijans to Islam at Meenakshipuram (in Tamil Nadu) in June 1981. I put two and two together and it added up to Gurumurthy’s handiwork. I threw the editorial into the waste-paper basket. And I did not hear a word about it from Goenka.

Shourie exploited his proximity to Goenka to terrorise the reporters and subeditors. As executive editor, he was the No.2 man in the editorial hierarchy but often assumed the airs of a prima donna. His office being twice as large as the editor’s room and far better furnished always puzzled me.

Shourie believe that rules were made for others, and our clash began when he took umbrage over my cutting his extensive opinion piece to conform to the paper’s style. On one occasion, I had to spike a piece he had written on Indira Gandhi, in language unbecoming of any civilised newspaper.

In an underhand move, he quietly sent it to the magazine section, printed in Bombay, without inviting a censure from Goenka.

To a professional journalist, some of Shourie’s arguments sound decidedly odd. He declared, “When an editor stops a story, I go and give it to another newspaper. I am no karamchari [worker] of anybody’s. Whether I work in your organisation or not, I really look upon myself as a citizen or first as a human being, and then as a citizen, and as nothing else. If I happen to work for Facets [a journal in which his extensive piece appeared as its January-February 1983 issue], I will still behave the same way. If you use my happening to work for you as a device to shut my mouth, I’ll certainly shout, scream, and kick you in the shins.”

Shourie told the same journal that he had no compunction in mixing his editorial and managerial function ‘because the Indian Express is in an absolutely chaotic state. Ther is no management worth the name. Anyone wanting to help it must also help solve the management problems.’

To give him his due, Shourie had many good qualities. He was a hard worker and often did his homework before writing. However, we could never agree on the paper’s outlook because, for him, a newspaper was a stepping stone to politics and political office.

For me the integrity of a newspaper was worth fighting for.

Goenka swayed between these points of view. He used to tell me: ‘Not even five per cent readers look at the editorials.’ He called Frank Moraes, a distinguished former editor of the Indian Express, ‘my race horse’. Shourie he once described to me as a ‘two-horse tonga‘ (horse carriage).

Shourie later distinguished himself in the political field under the banner of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); he even achieved the position of a cabinet minister. In effect, he successfully employed journalism to achieve his political ambition.

***

(Editor of The Statesman, The Indian Express and The Indian Post, Surendra Nihal Singh served in Singapore, Islamabad, Moscow, London, New York, Paris and Dubai. He received the International Editor of the Year award in 1978 for his role as editor of The Statesman during the Emergency)

(Excerpted from Ink in my Veins, A life in Journalism, by S. Nihal Singh, Hay House, 308 pages, price Rs 499)

Also read: Why Khushwant Singh fell out with Arun Shourie

The sad and pathetic decline of Arun Shourie

Arun Shourie: ‘Intolerant, abusive, dictatorial’

How Arun Shourie became Express editor

Arun Shourie: The three lessons of failure

375 lessons in life from a rejected journalist

2 October 2011

PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: Modern journalists and wannabe-journalists are an imperviously impatient lot, who think they are the almighty’s gift to the profession.

They expect every story idea of theirs to be instantly accepted for publication, and every finished story to be published, as is, without a comma or turn of phrase being overturned.

Such careerist upstarts can draw a lesson from the Bangalore-based journalist turned researcher S. Sathyanarayana Iyer alias ‘Regret’ Iyer (in picture).

As a freelance contributor, Iyer collected so many “rejection slips” from editors, who felt there was something incomplete in his work, that instead of letting it bog him down, he took it as a challenge to gain acceptance.

Regret Iyer’s first rejection slip was for a photo-story on Bijapur in north Karnataka in 1964. With over 375 rejection slips, he has earned a pride of place in the Limca Book of Records.

47 years later, in circa 2011, he says he stills feels a rush of blood each time he gets a new rejection note which begins the ominous sounding words, “We regret our inability to publish….”

Unlike many of us who would cringe at such repeated rejection or quit the profession in disgust, Regret Iyer took it all on his chin, incorporated the “regret” notes from publications into his name (view his business card, above) making it his USP, and kept sending in contributions as a  writer, cartoonist and photographer.

He started three hand-written magazines (Shankar’s Herald, Image, and Gruhavani) between 1969 and ’75 to encourage amateur talent at risk of rejection like him. And ran a neighbourhood newspaper in Bangalore called Stencil for five years from 1984.

Eventually, the byline—“by Regret Iyer”—went on to adorn such publications as The Hindu, Indian Express, Hindustan Times, Sanje Vani among others. Iyer also launched a company under the banner “Regret Iyer Publications and Productions (RIP).”

What is more, Regret Iyer has immortalised success born out of failure. His son, a student of journalism, and his daughter, an MBA aspirant, have both incorporated their father’s nom de plume in their names.

Not to be left behind, Regret Iyer’s wife proudly calls herself Regret Vijaya.

View a Regret Iyer documentary: Crow with a broken wing

Also read: Provocation is in the eyes of the beholder

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