Archive for the 'For the record' Category

Vinod Mehta, the Last Great Editor, 1942-2015

8 March 2015


sans serif records with deep regret the passing of the Editorial Chairman of Outlook magazine, Vinod Mehta, in New Delhi on Sunday, 8 March 2015. He was 73 years old and had been ailing for some time.

He leaves behind his wife Sumita Paul, their canine companion, “Editor”, two brothers and a sister—and legions of orphaned colleagues, compatriots and competitors.

As the founding Editor-in-Chief of Outlook, Mr Mehta re-energised Indian magazine journalism with a freshness of approach, an openness of spirit, and a lightness of touch.

All through his long innings as editor, writer and a television talking head, Mr Mehta brought trademark wit, candour, and non-partisanship to the table, endearing him to readers and viewers, and to friends and foes, across the country and across the globe.

Rare is the rival who can’t find a good word.

Editor from the day he stepped into journalism from the advertising world in 1974, Mr Mehta’s first job was as editor of the monthly men’s magazine, Debonair. He founded India’s first weekly newspaper, The Sunday Observer, from where he went on to edit The Indian Post and The Independent in what was then Bombay.

Mr Mehta moved to Delhi in the early 1990s, when he became Editor-in-Chief of The Pioneer, but his 17-year helmsmanship of Outlook magazine was his longest tenure.

He was president of the Editors Guild of India and was, briefly, the writer and presenter of “Letter from India” on the BBC World Service and BBC Radio 4.

Born in Rawalpindi and brought up in Lucknow, the self-proclaimed “BA, second class” was the author of six books, three of which were biographies (Bombay, Sanjay Gandhi and Meena Kumari), two were memoirs (Lucknow Boy and Editor Unplugged), one was a compilation (Mr Editor, how close are you to the PM?”).

An undisguised cricket fanatic and foodie, Mr Mehta was a magnet of tasteful gossip which he deftly let loose into the system through his widely read diaries on the last page of Outlook.

Mr Mehta disliked hyperbole and big words. His motto in journalism was to make the important interesting, but Indian journalism is decidedly poorer today with the disappearance of a lodestar of professional integrity, on whom could easily be placed the sobriquet The Last Great Editor.

Photograph: Vinod Mehta (left) with Deepak Shourie and Jyotsna Shourie at the ground-breaking ceremony for the launch of Outlook in 1995.

When a veteran reporter heard he had the big ‘C’

22 January 2015


Journalists see plenty of disease, despair and death in the line of duty. Even if we do not entertain prospects of immortality, our near-constant exposure to the dark and grim side of life somewhat inures us to its only certainty.

But what when it hits home?

Krishna Vattam, for 40 years the Mysore correspondent of the Bangalore-based dailies Deccan Herald and Praja Vani, has been there, done that—and survived to tell the tale.

In a new book, Joy of Conquering Cancer: A Spiritual Dimension, to mark the silver jubilee of his triumph, cancer-survivor Vattam describes how he heard the bad news 25 years ago, and what happened thereafter.



It was a hot day in the summer of 1990. A professional errand to a cancer detection camp, a chance stroke of luck, which brought unexpected and ever unsuspected developments, led me and my family to live through nearby a three-year period of agony, trauma, anxiety and uncertainty.

Call it a freak incident, an ordain of God or the graciousness of the Almighty – if I had skipped this visit to attend a far more important engagement, important from a journalist’s perspective, I wonder what would have happened and whether I would have been able to catch cancer in time and outwit the disease before those deadly cells had grown up to trip me into the abyss of no control, giving me no opportunity to look back and share my experiences with you today.

When I stepped out of my house on that sunny morning in the first week of April 1990 to attend the cancer detection camp, I least suspected that I was going there with the disease in my being.

The Bangalore–based Kidwai Memorial Cancer Hospital, in an outreach programme, had organized the camp in Mysore in the expansive Nanjaraja Bahadur Choultry and it was the first of its kind in this city.

Bharath Cancer Hospital, which owes its existence to the vision of B.S. Ajai Kumar, an NRI Doctor, was opened in Mysore a few months after the Camp was conducted.

The local Jain community had sponsored the medical camp and medical practitioner Dr. Prasanna Kumar, an assistant professor at the JSS Medical College, who was a leading member of the community and my close friend, came to my residence and invited me to give the inaugural function of the camp.

He requested me to give a good coverage of it in the Deccan Herald, the leading English daily in Karnataka, which I was privileged to represent as its Mysore Correspondent.

A good number of people from the city and surrounding villages had registered their names at the Camp for getting examined, and it turned out to be that the ailments many of them were suffering from were unrelated to cancer.

There was a formal inaugural function of the Camp for about 45 minutes and after that the doctors dispersed to examine the registered camp attendees.

I do not call them patients, as in the strict sense of the word they were not. They had come to consult, since such free health check camps were rare in those days. It mattered little to them, whether the consultants they were seeing were oncologists or general practitioners, but, in their opinion, they were all doctors who could attend to any kind of ailment. I spent some time in the examination rooms.

I saw my friend Nissar Ahmed Shariff, a very good footballer, coming out with his mother from one such room, looking very depressed. As he saw me, he could not control his emotions and with tears rolling down his cheeks, he told me that the doctors suspected that his mother had cancer.

I was also moved and placed my right hand on his shoulder and comforted him saying “Don’t worry, God is with you”. Then he stepped forward and addressing his mother, who was standing behind him, with folded hands, said “Maaji, Ooperwala hai.”

It was easy to console and comfort others but when it comes to oneself, how helpless and distraught one could be, I realized very shortly thereafter.

A big printed pamphlet hung around the huge column of the Choultry building, caught my attention. This poster, which was printed both Kannada and English was one such public information in nature, asking people having those symptoms to get examined in the camp.

One such symptoms was “difficulty in swallowing”, I noticed.

It nearly shook me off the ground.

Yes, I had been experiencing this problem for some time now.


It was around November 1989, about six months before this camp, I was attending the South Zonal Conference of the INTACH Conveners at Cochin, Kerala, as the Convener of the Mysore Chapter of the Indian National Trust Fort Art and Cultural Heritage.

As I was having lunch, I found it difficult to swallow the cooked rice. I stopped eating and set aside my plate in the basket meant for used dishes.

This did not worry me for after my return to Mysore. I felt normal and was able to eat without any difficulty.

But in February 1990, I experienced a similar problem while I was returning from Varanasi after participating in the National Conference of INTACH Conveners, I bought some oranges at the Varanasi Railway Station.

Once seated in a compartment I leisurely peeled an orange and put a small piece into my mouth and found I could not swallow the chewed orange. I went into the toilet compartment, thrust two fingers in my mouth and forcibly vomited the orange stuck in my gullet.

I felt relieved physically but I was worried. On my return to Mysore, I consulted a few ENT specialists and x-ray was also taken during the course of their examinations. None of them could detect anything abnormal. I felt reassured.


When I noticed “difficulty in swallowing” on the pamphlet at the cancer detection camp at the Nanjaraj Bahadur Choultry at Mysore on that day, as one of the symptoms of cancer, I began worrying.

Just a few minutes before, I had infused a sense of confidence in Nissar Ahmed and his mother I found myself in a state of shock now.

A press reporter who went to cover the inaugural function of the cancer detection camp got examined on realising that he too had one of the symptoms of Cancer. Here too the doctor who examined him assured that his difficulty in swallowing my not necessarily be related to cancer. He suggested having an x-ray taken in the mobile unit which had been brought along with the medical team from Bangalore.

The general human tendency is not to think of the worst and the words of the doctor that my problem may not be related to cancer as such, and his encouraging words, “Not to worry”, lulled me, so much so, that that I did not bother about my visit to the camp or about the x-ray in the days that followed. I was attending to my duties.

Ten days later at about 10.30pm the telephone rang at my house.

I took the receiver and heard “Is it Krishna Vattam”, a voice enquiring from the other end. “Yes, speaking”, I replied. “Vattam Saab, take it easy. From the x-ray that was taken in the camp, the doctors suspect it to be cancer. You have to go to Kidwai Hospital tomorrow,” the speaker at the other end informed me.

The word sounded like a death warrant to me. Even as he was speaking, I instantly began to experience shock waves passing through my body.

Like a paralytic, I felt that my legs were benumbed.

I could not stand and felt that I was being pushed down.

I squatted on my haunches still holding the receiver in my left hand.

I had not informed my mother or Kamala, my wife, about my visit to the cancer detection camp and the x-ray that was taken there.

I had felt that the change situation of the unintended “checkup” did not call for the family members being informed. Further I had thought that any such talk may unnecessarily lead them to worry about my health.

My mother, who was sitting on the cot next to the table on which the telephone was placed, jumped out and rushed towards me crying out, “devare” (oh God) as she saw me sink on my knees with the receiver in my hand.

Kamala, who was resting in the adjacent room, rushed to me, and I heard both of them, amma and wife, anxiously asking me over and over again, “What happened?” I babbled in a voice that faltered, “They say I have cancer.” These five words uttered by me made them feel that the world around us had collapsed.

I rested my head on the mother’s bosom just as I would have done as child after suckling, although the situation faced on that day by a 57-year-old son and his 82-year-old mother and suckling child of its young lactating young mother were of two different nature.

After all, the bond of a mother and a son in the same at all times. Kamala rested her head on my neck, and all of us were weeping. When Shyam, my son, returned home from Times of India office, where he was serving as a reporter of the paper, he found us all weeping.

Kamala was the first to break the news to him. He went out of the verandah, sat on the granite bench within our compound, and was sobbing silently.

Shortly, thereafter, amma and wife went out and began consoling him. “Our Lord Narasimha is there. Appa has done no harm to anyone. He will never let us down,” I heard my mother reassuring her grandson.

The beds for all of us to sleep on that night were spread out in the “hall”, the living room as it is known in common parlance in some parts of South India. None of us could sleep throughout the night. All of us had our eyes glued to the ceilings as we anxiously contemplated the future that had suddenly begun to look uncertain.

I held amma’s hand with an intense feeling of an assured protection and safety from her as I would have done as baby scared of ghosts.

In this confused and disturbed frame of mind, eager to avoid brooding over the call I received just an hour ago from Kidwai Hospital informing me about the suspected cancer in me, I began to reflect, as it were, on the tryst I had with destiny, the path I had followed throughout my life till then.

(Excerpted from Joy of Conquering Cancer: A Spiritual Dimension, published by Darpan, an imprint of Prism Books, Rs 125)


Also read: ‘You can’t be a bad person but a good journalist’

Write to Krishna Vattam:

Telephone Krishna Vattam: 094-483-42549

A legend who told MLAs where to get off: RIP

21 December 2014


sans serif records the demise of S. Balasubramanian, the chairman of the Tamil weekly Ananda Vikatan—who also served as its editor, managing director and publisher for 50 years—in Madras on Friday, December 19. He was 78.

Mr Balasubramanian hit the national headlines in 1987 when he was sentenced, arrested and jailed for refusing to apologise for a cartoon published on the cover of the magazine, which Tamil Nadu’s legislators deemed a “breach of privilege“.

“He was released in two days after protests erupted all over the country but our editor was not satisfied with that. He filed a lawsuit against his wrongful arrest, asked for token compensation and won his case,” cartoonist Madhan, who served as joint editor of the Vikatan group, said.


A photo frame featuring the scanned image of a cheque for the compensation amount, two 500-rupee notes and two paper cuttings hung like a trophy on a wall behind his chair.

Pioneer of a student-journalism programme long before “newspapers in education” became famous, Mr Balasubramanian also was famous for not allowing tobacco advertisements in his mass-circulation publications.

Ananda Vikatan was founded by Mr Balasubramanian’s father, S.S. Vasan, who founded Gemini studios. Although arrested under the M.G. Ramachandran regime, Mr Balasubramanian had produced an MGR film called Sirithu Vazha Vendum (live life smiling).

Photographs: courtesy The Hindu

‘Being a South Indian, his Hindi was immaculate’

18 August 2014

ramansans serif records the demise of J.V. Raman, the Delhi University economics professor who read the news in Hindi, on Doordarshan, back in the days when the state-owned channel was the only TV news vehicle.

Mr Raman taught at the capital’s Rajdhani College, whose website proudly records that he was among the college teachers associated with the media.

blog post on Doordarshan’s newsreaders recorded Mr Raman thus:

“Let’s now come to some male Hindi newsreaders. And the most iconic of them would be J V Raman. Being a South Indian, his Hindi was immaculate. Thick black-rimmed glasses occupying most of face, he would comb the long-grown leftover over his bald pate. An average-looking gentleman, he had charmed Indian population like no one else could. If J V Raman was reading the news, everyone listened. Exceptionally clear and crisp voice, JV was the iconic figure for DD news.”


Tejeshwar Singh: A baritone falls silent amid the cacophony

Salma Sultan: no monkeying around on India’s TV anniversary


External reading: They are able too

Gitanji Aiyar: A sepia peek into the far yesterdays

India’s first woman journalist Vidya Munshi, RIP

9 July 2014

sans serif records the demise of Vidya Munshi, arguably India’s first woman journalist, in Calcutta on Monday, 7 July 2014.  She was 94 years old.

Born in Bombay, she worked in several newspapers and magazines, including a ten-year stint with Russy Karanjia‘s Blitz.

A 2006 profile of Ms Munshi in The Telegraph, Calcutta, noted:

“At that time (1952-62), she was the Calcutta correspondent of Blitz, a Bombay weekly critical of government policies and excelling in investigative journalism.

“One of her ‘scoops’ was on two Canadian pilots who were to fly from Hong Kong with gold and drop it on an island in the Sunderbans, which was then to be smuggled into Calcutta.

“Another of her major stories that made headlines was on the Chinakuri mine disaster in Asansol where hundreds of miners were killed; the famous playwright and actor Utpal Dutt went on to script the tragedy into a chilling play, Angar.”

Also read: India’s first woman photo-journalist, Homai Vyarawalla

India’s first television news presenter: Pratima Puri

A rash I&B ministry “advisory” to TV, print media

26 June 2014


When he was health minister in the UPA’s first term, Anbumani Ramadoss made it mandatory for movies and TV channels to show the statutory warning against smoking and drinking each time someone on screen lit a cigarette or sipped a drink.

The Telegraph reports that the NDA’s information and broadcasting ministry under Prakash Javadekar has shot off an “advisory” to TV stations and newspapers “against portraying or “glorifying” rash or dangerous driving, as well as helmet-less riding and a failure to fasten car seatbelts.”

“All TV channels/ Doordarshan/ print media are advised to be extremely careful in portraying such stills/ images/ scenes which depict rash, negligent or dangerous driving; and in case such portrayal is necessary, then it may be accompanied by appropriate messages/ warnings,” the letter said.

The letter also spelt out a few of the possible warnings: “Over speeding kills”, “Driving two-wheeler without wearing helmet is dangerous and illegal”, “Driving four-wheeler without wearing seatbelt is dangerous.”

Read the full article: Rash driving edict to newspapers

Also read: I&B ministry “advisory” on TV protest coverage

Indian Express, India Today teach NYT a lesson

4 June 2014

To say that the Indian media is in a tizzy of seismic proportions would qualify as the understatement of the year. So far.

Editors are quitting, being sacked, or finding ever new ways of being quietly eased out. Promoters are exiting their dream projects after acquiescing to giant business houses. Reporters are making discreet enquiries. Etcetera.

Still, in the midst of all the bloodbath, there has been a palpable sense of grace in the manner in which Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of the Indian Express has been sent off by his organisation, and the manner in which he has been welcomed to his new port of calling, the India Today group.

Despite Gupta’s exit being in the air for nearly a year, the Express went out of its way to promote his new book, and Express chairman Viveck Goenka (to whom Gupta dedicated his collection of columns) was at hand at the book’s launch. Gupta’s last columns for the paper have been given pride of place on page one.

Goenka’s graceful letter below announcing Gupta’s exit—and Aroon Purie‘s dignified letter welcoming him back into the fold—are a lesson, in an era when even the supposedly great New York Times removed the name of its first woman editor Jill Abramson in a matter of hours.


EXHIBIT A: VIVECK GOENKA, Chairman, The Indian Express

My dear colleagues

With much regret, I accept Shekhar Gupta’s resignation as Editor-in-Chief of The Indian Express. I truly​ appreciate his letter to all of us and I wish him the very best.

Shekhar leaves on June 15, just a year short of his 20 years here — another moment of transition in the long history of this ​great institution.

When I chose him for the position of Editor​ in 1995, I was taking no leap in the dark. I was absolutely convinced that Shekhar, then 38, was the best person to guide this newspaper into the future. And I feel more than vindicated today.

So many news breaks (I have happily lost count) delivered by the finest reporters, editors, sub editors, designers and photographers, a team I am very proud of,  team which is the envy of every newspaper publisher: three International Press Institute Awards for Excellence in Journalism; the most questioning opinion section in the business and the most generous, too, given how it welcomes dissenting voices; a renewal of talent each year by the youngest and the brightest from our campuses – Shekhar leaves the newspaper stronger than ever.

Key to each one of these achievements has been the consistently stellar work of the Express team under the leadership of Editor Raj Kamal Jha.

Raj’s leadership is grounded in his commitment to professional excellence and uncompromising integrity. He brings to the newsroom creativity, clarity and depth, three qualities increasingly rare in our business. This not only inspires his colleagues, it powers them to realize their best potential.

Raj could not have a stronger partner in the newsroom than Managing Editor Unni Rajen Shanker.

Unni has been a reporter, an Editor, a Resident Editor (Mumbai) and Editor of the Express News Service. He brings to his leadership a deep understanding of all the different roles in the changing newsroom and an unrivalled sense of fairness and empathy. It’s this that enables him attract the finest talent and then nurture them. Unni is one of the pillars of the Express.

Since they joined in 1996, both have steered change and are, therefore, ideally placed to help guide the paper into the future. That is why, to facilitate a seamless transition, I am proud to repose my faith in them and redesignate them for their new roles.

Raj will be Chief Editor and will report to me. Unni will be Editor.

I look forward to working closely with them. They will find me every bit as supportive as all their predecessors, including Shekhar did, as we plan and implement exciting new upgrades to all our news brands.

There is​ work to do.

We have witnessed a remarkable election and an even​ more remarkable victory that bring with it challenges for all of us in the news business whose mission is to question, to report, to interpret and to analyse.

I firmly believe and, more so, given the changes in the media landscape, that these are challenges best suited for The Indian Express given how strongly independence and courage are wired in our ​genes​.

I believe that the present news media environment in India offers us an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to what we do best: faithful and courageous journalism.

With all the shrill voices on TV, the paid news in print and the corporate funded or politician backed news organizations, The Indian Express must be the voice India can turn to and trust.

Speaking truth to power is hard wired in the genes of our editorial teams. The “Express” commitment to this legacy, mine and that of the future generation, will certainly endure. The newsroom is and will be the most sacred space in our institution.

I am committed to raising the bar and instilling a fresh new energy in our editorial teams. In addition to revamped content, I  look forward to closely integrating all our news operating systems because our growth is now across platforms. This​ was evident last month, during Verdict 2014.

We had print editions that were reported and produced to the finest standards and a digital edition that broke all our records with over 52 million page views, more than 100,000 active users for eight hours, a live video news stream from the Express newsroom, all of this making us among the five most visited news sites in the country.

Looking ahead, that’s the road we take. Not only reporting the news first but also being the first to understand it and​ question its assumptions. This means better stories, better analyses, better pictures, better everything and ensuring that The Indian Express journalism of courage reaches the reader wherever she is, whenever she wants it, whichever device she wants to receive it on.

Shekhar, whether he is at the Express or not, will always be a part of this journey.​ For, he leaves us with a sense of determination and purpose. And a wonderful tool-kit of ideas and values that we will use and keep adding to.

Please join me in wishing him, once again, the best of luck as he scales what I am sure will be a new professional summit.

And, Raj and Unni, let us​  get to work. I wish you and your teams my very best.

Best always

Viveck Goenka


EXHIBIT B: AROON PURIE, Chairman, India Today group

Dear Colleagues

I am delighted to announce the appointment of Shekhar Gupta as Vice Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of all news properties of the India Today Group. It includes all our news and business publications, news TV brands and all related news and business digital brands. This comes into effect July 1, 2014.

This is a homecoming for Shekhar. He joined India Today in 1983 and was here for 12 eventful years during which he was an outstanding journalist. He broke many exclusive stories and covered world changing international events like the fall of the Soviet Union, the first Gulf War, Afghan Jehad and the Tiananmen Square uprising.

In 1995, he took charge of The Indian Express group steering it into a position of editorial leadership and financial strength.

Shekhar is a reporter’s Editor, thinker, author, mentor and active on the international speaking circuit. He typically is an “all sleeves rolled up” hands-on professional who not only leads from the front but works collaboratively and believes in action.

He literally “Walks the Talk”! He is highly regarded  in the profession for his integrity independence and knowledge. That’s why he attracts, inspires and builds fine talent.

As I mentioned in my Founders Day speech I would like us to be the best media group in every which way by our 40th birthday which is two years from now. I believe Shekhar joining us would be a force multiplier in achieving this goal.

He will report to me and will be responsible for the editorial quality of all our news and business brands, and our overall expansion and profitability. He will work closely with Ashish Bagga, Group CEO, and enable him to effectively grow the readership and viewership of our brands, profitably.

Anil Mehra will step down as Vice-Chairman but will continue as consultant to advise the Group on matters of strategic importance.

At a personal level, Shekhar’s return is a moment of deep satisfaction and vindication of my belief, our shared belief, in the power of good journalism to reveal and to inform, to question the unquestioned, to help make sense of the noise rather than to add to it.

We need to work relentlessly to prove our essential belief that there is no contradiction between good journalism and the marketplace.

I have always believed: create good content and money will follow. That will be the principle behind another project that I greatly look forward to with Shekhar’s arrival: the launch of some new editorial offerings that will uniquely blend the best of reporting and analysis.

In his new role, Shekhar has promised to liberate me from day-to-day operations so that I can work to guiding the group into a future of great promise, growth and excitement.

Shekhar, welcome back.



Also read: An Aroon Purie tribute worthy of emulation

Aroon Purie: how to say goodbye to a departing editor

Shekhar Gupta’s farewell letter to Express staff

2 June 2014

Shekhar Gupta, left, holds up a drawing by illustrator Prakash Shetty, after addressing the editorial staff of the Bangalore-based newspapers Praja Vani and Deccan Herald, last week

The following is the full text of the letter sent by Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of The Indian Express, to his colleagues, announcing his exit from the paper he helmed for 19 years.

Gupta’s resignation as editor comes 10 months after he relinquished his corporate duties as CEO at the paper—and a week after the Narendra Modi-led BJP government came to power in the 2014 general elections.

Gupta’s no.2 Raj Kamal Jha had been elevated as editor of Express in the middle of 2013.


Goodbye notes can be heartwarming or heartbreaking. On a rare occasion they can be both. This is one such.

It is time for me to say goodbyes at the Express — for the second time. The first was exactly at the same time of the year in 1983 when most of you were not born yet.

I say goodbye now with joy because I leave behind a wonderfully vibrant newsroom with very good hands of home-grown leaders. And a newspaper that defines its value and power in terms of its depth, credibility and respect. There is no higher currency, no fairer denominator of a newspaper’s stature.

And also a wrench precisely because we are such a fun gang, topped by a large-hearted proprietor who pretty much distributes all that the company earns back to us. As generous compensations, great working conditions, never a resource spared in pursuit of a story. No call ever to kill a story once it passes our highest and the most exacting editorial bars and filters.

I can do no better than paraphrase what Gen Krishnaswamy Sundarji, my friend and mentor in an area of journalism that fascinated me, had said at his farewell parade when cameras caught a hint of mist in his ever-smiling eyes.

He said he didn’t know whether to sob or smile. Because he was leaving behind the world’s finest army that God gave any human the gift of leading.

There isn’t a daily newspaper in India greater than the Express. Or a greater gift that a journalist can ask for than to lead it.

I have been doubly blessed. I started at the same paper as a reporter in 1977 and worked here for a full 25 years in two innings.

Leadership is its own teacher. In fact, the finest. It gives you an opportunity to learn from the many brilliant people that you have been given the honour to lead. I know, many of you by now would be tired of my three-example rule in editorial writing. Yet, here are my three leadership lessons.

First, you must have a big heart. You can be a competent manager, a powerful boss, the wealthiest owner. But never a leader without a big heart. Because there is an essential moral dimension to leadership.

Second, always connect with the universe of those you lead. In our case, it is exhilarating as, across our teams, we trawl the worlds of politics, government, economics, science, culture, cinema and sports. Even markets and advertising, our roti-dal and EMIs.

And third, find that instinct to choose the most talented and diligent, give them space, and then trust them. I confess this defies conventional logic. Or advice on your usual leadership manual’s back-flap. But trust with your heart and not merely, clinically with your head. This is the one gift I take away from Viveck through a two-decade professional relationship, and a friendship that endures.

This concludes my farewell sermon. So back to myself.

When life becomes cosy for too long, you need to disrupt it. Smugness is the beginning of old age, even if you are in your teens, which I, regrettably, am not.

I am embarrassed to lean on the wisdom of Neale Donald Walsh, a contemporary pop-spiritualist/philosopher so juvenile that had he been born in India, he would be a star on Aastha channel with his nutty Conversations with God. Life, he said, begins at the end of your comfort zone. I am checking him out.

In any case, I am an incorrigible reporter and thereby a terminal adventure junkie. By the way, even at the risk of being charged with crass tribalism, I shall write something more specifically for my fellow reporters at the Express. But a bit later.

I had said at my book release by Arun Shourie in Mumbai earlier this month that he taught me many things, but never to write anything short, an article, a letter, even a farewell note. So I can continue to indulge myself today as well. But you have to bring out tomorrow’s paper.

And I must write my first in this series — my last at the Express — of First Person/Second Draft — on time. Heard that before?

I so love you all, friends, colleagues, much younger, brighter and with a great future. I am proud of you and cherish the time we spent together. I will be generally in my office until June 15. There is a fair bit of pending writing. So please be forewarned: you will still have to endure the corridor addas on my compulsive breaks from spells of writing, bare feet and all.

Postscript: One antidote to compulsive rambling is to steal a poet’s lines. Let me sign off, therefore, with Gulzar, whom we all so adore…

Din dhale jahan, raat paas ho,
Zindagi ki lau, oonchi kar chalo,
Yaad aaye gar kabhi, jee udaas ho,
Meri awaz hi pehchan hai,
Gar yaad rahe…

We will always be in touch….



Photograph: courtesy K.S.N. Kumar


Also read: Shekhar Gupta gives up his managerial role

To all Express employees. From: Shekhar Gupta

From Viveck Goenka. To: Indian Express employees

The Indian Express, Shekhar Gupta, Gen V.K. Singh

An Editor reveals his friendship with a politician

7 April 2014
Star of Mysore editor-in-chief K.B. Ganapathy (right) with the politician H.S. Shankaralinge Gowda, who passed away yesterday

Star of Mysore editor-in-chief K.B. Ganapathy (right) with the politician H.S. Shankaralinge Gowda, who passed away yesterday

The relationship between politicians and journalists is usually an after-dark activity in India, with neither participant ready or willing to put the other’s involvement on the record.

Wise heads in politics will counsel newcomers against getting too close to journalists, because, well, you never know when the snake could discover its fangs.

Grey beards in journalism will lament such proximity, because, well, it could harm the holy grail of our profession that textbooks say exists—“objectivity”.

K.B. Ganapathy, the editor-in-chief of the evening daily Star of Mysore, swerves off the beaten track to pay a heart-warming tribute to the three-time BJP MLA in Karnataka, the former mayor of Mysore, H.S. Shankaralinge Gowda, who passed away yesterday.



It was 1979; Star of Mysore was into its second year of publication from its office in Saraswathipuram near Kamakshi Hospital.

One afternoon, a young, lean, tall man, neatly dressed with his shirt tucked into his pants held in by a leather belt, wearing specs with thin plastic frame, came to my desk hesitantly wanting to discuss an incident to be published.

He was an angry young man. There was clarity in his speech and honesty in his voice.

The officer in charge of issuing cement permits in those days of scarcity and license-permit Raj at the divisional commissioner’s office was partial and corrupt, he said and wanted the paper to expose him.

He had come to me after creating a scene at the office with the support of the disappointed permit-seekers. I grabbed the opportunity and published the story with his picture.

Lo and behold, a leader was made.

Having been a journalist in Bombay, I knew every leader would have his detractors. Soon, I was fed with information about his antecedents, specially as a manager in the Janata Bazar. But I knew there was not much truth in it.

He was already into poultry business with his unit at Martikyatanahalli on Bogadi road, eight km from city. He was staying with his family in his own house near our office. His name was H.S. Shankaralinge Gowda.

And soon we became very close friends.


The first quality I found in him was his helping nature. Second quality was his societal concern. The third quality was his immediate reaction both in words and deeds.

To me he was a unique kind of a person. Naturally our contact blossomed into friendship. This bonding had helped both of us in succeeding in our chosen field of activity.

To cut out details, he as a politician and I as a journalist and newspaper publisher.

I remember those early days, he on his scooter and I on my motorbike, going to his farm, in the evening, to spend some ‘quality’ time enjoying boiled eggs and omelette aplenty or even a chicken fry. And he would load my motorbike’s side box with vegetables and trays of eggs on the rear seat despite my protestation.

To further strengthen our friendship, he found out a three-acre land close to his which I bought, but later sold, just as he himself did with his farm.

Again, it was at his insistence and moral support that in 1983 I built my own house at Kuvempunagar in a 60×40 site.

A dashing man of courage and confidence, I was convinced by him that I could build a house knowing that I did not have required money.

In the meanwhile, he was wanting to become a politician, Janata Party politician. By then I had built personal rapport with the leading politicians of Janata Party in city as a journalist and through my elder brother late Dr K. B. Subbaiah.

Again rivalry and he was nowhere in the race for Corporation election ticket.

I was doing the background work no doubt, but it was his presence of mind and the way he reacted in lightning speed that enabled him to wangle a ticket from Janata Party.

One day, he was in my ‘own’ house at 7 O’clock in the morning on his scooter. By then I had a Fiat car.

I took him to the government house to meet Azeez Sait [the late Congress leader], made him speak to M.S. Gurupadaswamy [former Union minister], went to T.V. Srinivasa Rao’s house in Vidyaranyapuram where Shankaralinge Gowda’s challenger for the ticket too was there.

He gave me a sheepish smile and whispered, “what have I done to you?” in Kannada.

First I went into a huddle in a room with H. Kempe Gowda, the city president of the party, Azeez Sait and T.V. Srinivasa Rao. Gurupadaswamy did not come but had given his consent. Then I called my friend and introduced him to the party honchos.

Well, Shankaralinge Gowda never looked back.


It was I who advised him to change his sartorial choice immediately to that of what politicians are seen wearing. In his case, kurta and pyjama, with a stoll.

I was his political guru (and he would embarrass me by declaring it in public meetings) till he won the first MLA election from the BJP which he joined, again, at my insistence and a little help. Later, both my guruhood and friendship too faded away to the point of occasional telephone contacts.

I recall today the timely help given to me by Shankaralinge Gowda when I had faced threat to my life and harassment by those who were upset by what was published in those early first 10 years. It was during those trying days Shankaralinge Gowda showed his sterling qualities of heart and head for a friend.

If anyone doubts the time tested saying that ‘A friend in need is a friend indeed,’ here I am to vouch for the veracity of such a saying. He was a friend who stood by me, specially on two occasions.

One, when I was harassed and threatened by one who was exposed for cheating students seeking medical college seats and two, when my life was threatened by another group taking offence to what was published connected to LTTE.

Shankaralinge Gowda may not be with us today but his memory and my days of friendship with him will always remain indelible in my memory.

Adieu my friend, goodbye.

RIP, Shankaralinge Gowda.

Also read: A song for an unsung hero, C.P. Chinnappa

9 steps for success from a (super-successful) editor

When a freelance writer cannot meet an editor

The Khushwant Singh “pre-obituary” from 1983

20 March 2014

Khushwant Singh, the self-proclaimed “dirty old man of Indian journalism”, has passed away at his home in New Delhi, at the age of 99.

Exactly, 30 years ago, when Singh was 69, the journalist Dhiren Bhagat wrote a pre-obituary of the “sardar in the light bulb” for the now-defunct Sunday Observer.

Ironically, Dhiren Bhagat was to predecease Singh by 24 years, and Khushwant Singh ended up reviewing a collection of his work for India Today in 1990.

Below is the full text of Dhiren Bhagat’s “obituary”, written for the February 13, 1983 edition of The Sunday Observer.




I was saddened to read that Khushwant Singh passed away in his sleep last week. What a quiet end for so loud a man.

How the gods mock the mocking.

Contradictions surrounded Khushwant at every stage of his life. He strove to give the impression that he was a drunken slob yet he was one of the most hard-working and punctual men I knew.

He professed agnosticism and yet enjoyed kirtan as only few can and do.

He was known nationally as a celebrated lecher but for the past thirty years at least it was a hot-water-bottle that warmed his bed.

He devoted his last years in the service of a woman who  decisively spurned him in the end.

He made a profession of living off his friends’ important names and yet worked single-handedly to diminish that very importance.

Empty vessels make the most noise but Khushwant was always full of the Scotch he had cadged off others.

He was a much misunderstood man. So before the limp eulogies start pouring in (how Khushwant would have hated them!) let me set the record straight.

As Khushwant once said, the obituary is the best place to tell the truth for dead men file no libel suits. (An agnostic to the end he didn’t believe in the Resurrection.)


Khushwant was born in 1915 in a rich but not particularly educated home. They were Khuranas from Sargodha who made good in Delhi.

His father, Sir Sobha Singh, was the contractor who built the city of New Delhi and who in consequence received a knighthood. In 1947 it used to be said (somewhat inaccurately it must be admitted) that ninety-nine per cent of New Delhi was owned by the Government and one per cent by Sir Sobha Singh.

After his initial education Khushwant was sent to England to appear for the ICS. He didn’t make it.

Later he would tell a story of how he had made it to the Merit List but how that year there was a reserved place for a non-Jat from Phulkian state (later PEPSU) and how some-one with less marks than him filled that place. But Khushwant was always a great raconteur so it is difficult to know what to believe.

Once bitten, twice shy. Khushwant didn’t try for the ICS again but instead enrolled himself at the London School of Economics from where in the course of things he acquired a BA.

The examiners decided to place him in the Third Class. After his degree Khushwant read for the Bar where he was equally successful. (His brother Daljit, now a businessman, was always the better scholar of the two.)

When Khushwant came back after six years in England a family friend asked his father: ‘Kaka valaiton kee kar ke aayaa hai?  (What has the boy done in England?) Sir Sobha Singh replied ‘Time pass kar ke aaya hai jee.’ (He has been marking time.)

It is unlikely the canny contractor was joking.


After the Partition Khushwant joined the Indian Foreign Service and this phase of his career took him to London, Ottawa and Paris. In this period he began publishing short stories on rustic themes.

In 1955 he shot to fame when a novel of his won a large cash award set by an American publishing house in order to attract manuscripts. It was a mediocre Partition quickie called Mano Majra (later published as Train to Pakistan).

Years passed. Khushwant kept writing books, on the Jupji, on the Sikhs, on India, stories, translations: many of them provocatively titled and indicative of his deepest desires, “I Shall Rape the Nightingale”, “I Take This Woman” etc. Some of these attempts were successful.

But success and cosmopolitan living did not spoil the earthiness of the robust Jat.

He continued to down his Scotch with a ferocity that made his hosts nervous. He

continued to tell stories that revealed his deep obsession with the anal.

He had a theory that all anger was a result of an upset stomach and instructed his son to ask his mother if her stomach walls troubling her whenever she scolded him.

In his more smug moments he attributed his own iconoclastic calm to the severe constipation from which he had suffered since childhood.

In 1969 Khushwant took over the Illustrated Weekly of India and embarked on the most controversial phase of his career. On the editor’s page Mario Miranda drew a bulb and Khushwant sat in it, along with his Scotch and dirty pictures.

Sitting in that cross-legged position Khushwant took the ailing magazine from success to success, all along illuminating millions of readers on the more outre aspects of the world’s brothels.

Once in a while he tore into a friend’s reputation. So great was our prurience that he became a household name in a short while. Fame he had, honour he sought.

In the early seventies an eminent Muslim journalist friend of Khushwant’s approached Rajni Patel. Could Rajnibhai fix Khushwant with a Padma Bhushan? If the honour didn’t come his way soon Sardarji would have a heart attack. Patel flew to Delhi twice and fixed it. Later Khushwant showed his gratitude in strange ways.


Then came the Emergency. Khushwant’s friends and admirers were very troubled by his stand: IndiraGandhi was Durga incarnate, SanjayGandhi the New Messiah and the highways of the land were clogged with smoothly running Marutis.

Many explanations have been offered for his position but I believe I am the only person to know the right one. (Khushwant in an unguarded whisky-sodden moment once opened up to me and told all.) And since it is only in obituaries that it is proper to disclose the little-known details of a man’s personal life I shall come out with it now.

Impotence had claimed Khushwant back in the fifties. At first he had been sorely troubled by this condition (most Jats are) and had tried several remedies, mostly indigenous. This accounted for his immense knowledge of jaree-bootees and his disillusionment with quacks.

When he had finally given up all hope of lighting the wick he had turned to other pleasures with a vengeance. (Exposing his friends’ affairs was a favourite pleasure: it was envy compounded with righteousness.)

It must be remembered that Khushwant’s lechery was of the mildest order: he as a voyeur, he could do nothing. Scotch was a palliative, but in the end even that failed to make up the loss.

It was Sanjay’s power that finally did the trick. So great was the vicarious pleasure the ageing Sardar felt that it went to his head. And after Sanjay’s death Khushwant lost his vitality, his vigour. He grew listless.

And then the quiet end. A lively man all in all. Even as I write this I am sure Khushwant is busy looking up the angels’ skirts. And since angels are constitutionally condemned to celibacy that should suit Khushwant fine.

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

Also read: Khushwant Singh on his last day at The Weekly

Why Khushwant Singh fell out with Arun Shourie

External reading: The journalism of Khushwant Singh


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