Monthly Archives: December 2009

The book, the event, the review, the excerpt

Sentinel House, the book  on the newspaper business by the Bangalore journalist Allen J. Mendonca, who passed away suddenly in late September, is being posthumously published by Raintree, the media company Allen co-founded with his wife, Sandhya.

The book, priced at Rs 225, will be released by Arundhati Nag at the Ranga Shankara in Bangalore on December 16, and by Pratibha Prahlad at the Ambience Mall in Gurgaon on December 19.

Below is a review of the book by S.R. Ramakrishna, resident editor of MiD-DaY, Bangalore, followed by a brief excerpt.



Anyone who knew Allen Mendonca also knew he enjoyed his journalism. Which is why they won’t be surprised at the earnestness and energy in Sentinel House, his novel about the newspaper business.

Allen goes about challenging readers, fellow journalists particularly, to identify real-life media people hiding behind his fictional characters. He is a satirist this moment, and a practitioner of pulp fiction the next, but there isn’t a moment he isn’t having a go at the media world. For that reason, it is likely that journalists will grasp the novel’s nuances better than those with no access to newsroom gossip.

Sentinel House narrates the saga of Harivanshrai aka Harry, a media baron driven as much by his hormones as by the opportunities afforded by the new Indian economy. In a hurry to expand his empire, he transforms his newspaper from institution to product, obscures the once-inviolable line between editorial and marketing, and elevates advertiser over reader.

Many will read Sentinel House as a dramatised chronicle of what Allen saw in the newsrooms of the past two decades. The book also seethes with media-boardroom news and gossip that never made it to print. If journalists sit around at bars and coffee shops with a copy of Sentinel House, smirking, taunting, hooting, or even getting into brawls, you know why.

And unexpectedly, running through all the masala and the action is Allen’s faith in Hindu karma and Christian compassion. When Harry’s crippled son Sid finally finds love, fulfilment, wealth and power, Allen suggests it is all because of his essential goodness. Sentinel House describes crimes provoked by lust and greed, but it is also an optimistic tribute to innocence.

But for all that, Allen’s book is vulnerable, and can be ripped apart easily by any critical book lover. Its sex scenes are inspired by Harold Robbins. Its characters are predictable in what they do when faced with a crisis. (The media czar sleeps around, his wife parties and hits the bottle, their son seeks meaning in art, and older people seek solace in religion). Sentinel House is clearly inclined towards populist fiction and Page 3 reportage.

With this novel, Allen joins the ranks of Bangalorean journalists-turned-novelists Narendar Pani and C.K. Meena, but they take stylistic routes different from his.

If anyone could write this novel, it was Allen. In the decades he spent in journalism, he changed from intrepid reporter to Page 3 heartthrob to independent entrepreneur. He knew this story from the inside. He did many diverse things, including playing the guitar. Allen died of a heart attack late in September, and it is sad that his first novel will also be his last.

I read an advance copy of the book, and don’t know if Allen would have liked to revise it before sending it out to the press, but Sentinel House, even in its present form, can deliver a satisfyingly nasty punch.


Here is an extract from the book, published with the permission of the publishers.



The Rip Van Winkle of Malabar Hill has woken up.

Hip, hip, hurray!

Harivanshrai Kumar a.k.a Harry, the stormy petrel of the Indian media, has given the old man from another century a brand new look.

Imagine The Indian Sentinel in the avatar of good ol’ Rip, emerging all dishevelled and confused from H. G. WellsTime Machine.

He steps out the door into Harry’s state-of-the-art office. He looks around and shouts, “Jeez, I need a makeover.” Harry’s attractive and superefficient secretary (Where does he hire them from?) takes charge. She guides him to the bathroom, crops his hair, gives him a shave, orders him to bathe and throws away his tattered robes.

“Excellent. Now give him one of my suits tailored in Bond Street. And don’t forget the underclothes,” says Harry as he lights up a Cuban.

She gives him a withering look. “As if I’ll ever forget!”

Rip takes on the very personality of Harry.

Harry = The Indian Sentinel.


Analyze it?

It means there is no more room for the conventional, intellectual editor in Harry’s grand scheme.

As far as he’s concerned, the editor is just a high-ranking employee who strings the news together and helms the production of the newspaper. It is the managing editor who dictates policy and content.

In short, professional managers have taken over The Indian Sentinel in every sphere of its existence.

It is limbo for the editors, for they are neither here nor there.

A degree from an IIM, better still, a doctorate in management from some fancy American University, that’s the ticket for a career in The Sentinel.

Goodbye, liberal arts.

Goodbye, Mr. Editor.

Harry’s on record: “The old order had to change and who better than I to herald it?”

Harry’s been harping about television fast replacing the print media as the most popular and quickest purveyor of news.

Five years from now there will be a dozen television stations beaming news and entertainment. We have to reinvent ourselves. Otherwise, newspapers will be relegated to the status of a poor cousin. We have already lost 23 per cent of our ad revenue to television. Our profit margins have begun to drop and will keep plummeting.

Sure, Harry has a case.

Sure, television is seducing our readers. Should we get worried? Is there a need for radical change? Should we change our editorial and management modules?

Should we look at alternative revenue streams to compensate for the drop in business?

Yes and No.

Packaging is only one aspect of presentation. Readers expect news and views. The written word is a habit. You can’t carry your television to the park. Or into the crowded bus or train.

Harry is young and in too much of a hurry.

He doesn’t understand what a newspaper is all about.

He’s a Young Turk who has been handed over a venerable institution on a platter.

Here’s wishing he won’t trip on his own predictions. For in his mad rush to be ahead of the times, he just might lose all touch with the present.

And stumble!

Also read: Allen J. Mendonca: Here’s looking at you, kid

Largest crowd in 40 years for a journalist’s funeral


We’re all maalis in The Great Gardener’s hands

Among his many stand-out traits, the photojournalist T.S. Satyan, who died in Mysore on Sunday, went out of his way to “give back something to the profession that gave them so much”.

Even in his 80s, he was ever ready to travel long distances to speak to young students of journalism; delivered anecdote-filled lectures; opened photography exhibitions; held workshops; took part in debates.

In this file picture, he interacts with photojournalism students of the Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media (IIJNM)*, Bangalore, who visited his residence showing off his almost masterly knowledge of plants and flowers. The department head, Saggere Ramaswamy, is to the right of the frame.

* Disclosures apply

Legendary photojournalist T.S. Satyan dead

sans serif records with deep and profound regret the passing away of the legendary photo-journalist Tamabarahalli Subramanya Satyanarayana Iyer better known as T.S. Satyan in Mysore this afternoon.

Mr Satyan was five days away from his 86th birthday.

He is survived by his wife Nagarathna, children, grandchildren and a City (and a profession) he dearly loved till his last breath.

Mr Satyan belonged to a golden generation of the Maharaja’s College in Mysore in the 1940s, from which almost everybody ascended to reach great heights in life. He took to photojournalism at a time when neither photography nor journalism was the first-choice profession and communicated with images the way another famous co-townsman of his (R.K. Narayan) did with words: simply and honestly, without any frills.

His work chiefly appeared in Deccan Herald and The Illustrated Weekly of India, and in Time, Life and Christian Science Monitor.

Fittingly, for someone who was full of zest, Mr Satyan titled his memoirs In love with life. In the last few years, the octagenarian developed a love for the wired world, and wrote several pieces for sans serif, whose friend, wellwisher and guide he remained from the day of its inception.


T.S. Satyan on

Once upon a time, early in the morning

The R.K. Narayan only I knew

Once upon a time during the Quit India movement

Mysore’s shortest man was only in height

The Raja said, ‘Why don’t you go with Mohini?’

The cop who stopped the maharaja

T.S. Satyan on photography

The genius of the Indian villager

Everybody loves a good car, not a good filter

The announcement of the launch of Tata Nano, the small car produced by the Tatas, saw the media falling over itself heralding the arrival of the “People’s Car”.

The fact that the car was priced at Rs 100,000 was enough to result in long front-page stories; glowing feature articles on Indian engineering and enterprise; breathless test drives; and fawning editorials and interviews with the man behind the car, Ratan Tata.

So, how does the same media treat the launch of Tata Swach, the water filter/ purifier that is priced at Rs 749 and Rs 999, and in a country like India is likely to reach more people and change more lives, and launched by the same man.

In alphabetical order:

AFP (news agency): 540 words

Associated Press:  772 words

BBC: 245 words

Business Standard: 381 words

DNA: 308 words

Press Trust of India: 477 words

Economic Times: 400 words

Indian Express: 415 words

Hindu Businessline: 461 words

Hindustan Times: 162 words on the filter, 333 words of an interview

The Times of India: 202 words

Copenhagen, anybody?

Carbon intensity?

Photograph: courtesy Paul Noronha/ The Hindu Businessline

Also read: And Ratan Tata sang, PR kiya tho darna kya?

If we can get a car for Rs 1 lakh, why can’t we…?

There’s nothing lost if the Nano isn’t produced

‘What Henry Ford did then, Ratan Tata has now’

Can India survive the Nano?

Tata, turtles and corporate social responsibility

CHURUMURI POLL: Should Tatas scrap the Nano?

Has DNA got rid of a ‘pesky’ film reviewer?

The film critic turned film maker Khalid Mohamed throws light on some unsavoury developments involving a member of his fraternity in the Bombay newspaper, DNA:

On Wednesday afternoon, critic Udita Jhunjhunwala (in picture), was missing from the press screening of Himesh Reshammiya’s Radio. She did not go to the next day’s show of Paa either.

“The last review she did for DNA, the daily newspaper, was for Kurbaan.

“This is not to suggest that the less-than-enthusiastic review of Kurbaan had anything to do with the exit of Udita from DNA. The reasons can only be explained by the newspaper. The upright, well-reasoned Udita has in the last seven years I have known her done her job with more than diligence. Before that she was with Hindustan Times and earlier at Mid-Day where she first made her mark as a forthright reviewer.

“Last week, she had phoned up the DNA desk to inform them of the number of reviews she would be mailing in. She was merely told her that her services were no longer needed. In her place Taran Adarsh would be doing the Hindi film reviews, presumably because he also does the TV shows for ETC channel, a subsidiary of Zee which has major stakes in the DNA newspaper.”

For the record, Khalid Mohamed, longtime film critic of The Times of India, was a member of the editorial board of DNA before leaving it to join Hindustan Times.

Photograph: courtesy Screen Daily

Read the full post: Praise or be damned

Follow Udita Jhunjhunwala on Twitter

‘The Week’ journalists win IPI, ICRC awards

The Week‘s senior correspondent Bidisha Ghosal and senior correspondent Kavitha Muralidharan have been honoured with prizes from the International Press Institute and Press Institute of India for their work—along with a full-page announcement in the latest issue of the magazine.