Tag Archives: Sandhya Mendonca

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


‘Largest crowd for a journo’s funeral in 40 years’


M.K. VIDYARANYA writes from Bangalore: A multitude of friends and family members gathered at the 150-year-old St Patrick‘s church in Bangalore on Thursday evening to bid goodbye to Allen J. Mendonca, the journalist turned entrepreneur, who passed away in his sleep three nights ago, at the age of 49.

Just how the sudden passing of Allen—a friendly, ever-smiling, never-say-no, hard-as-knuckles journalist at City Tab, Evening Herald, Indian Express and The Times of India—had touched so many was evident from the sea of mourners at the funeral services held at what is considered to be the second oldest Catholic church in India.

The 18-pillared intricately designed prayer hall was filled to the gills and the friends, subjects and sources were overflowing outside the church premises on to the main road.

I had never seen such a large crowd of mourners attending the funeral of a journalist in Bangalore in the last four decades.

I have lost a dear freind who was my neighour before his marriage. May Allen’s soul rest in peace. I pray god to give courage and strength to Allen’s wife, Sandhya, their son Aditya and his parents Mr and Mrs Charles Mendonca to bear the loss.

Photograph: Krishnamurthy Vidyaranya

Also read: Allen J. Mendonca: rest in peace

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

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


CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY writes from Bangalore: Allen Mendonca slunk away in sleep, gently tip-toeing into the darkness never to return.

This time, his flamboyance was missing.

The swagger was not there.

There were none of the histrionics either.

49 is no age to exit out. Yet, he chose to do it his way. He never did believe in giving tortuous explanations to people.

The inexplicable emotions of the heart ruled over his mind most of the time. The unmistakable lilt in his voice and freewheeling gait was proof.

Anyway, he probably had his reasons to leave early.


For me, Allen was a friend and a supporter. For a million others, perhaps a hundred million, Allen was a friend and a supporter. His friends, like the stories he sourced, were diverse.

They included a broad swath of shallow socialites, dodgy journalists and plain beer-swilling louts. He bear-hugged  them all unmindful of their forked-tongues and crooked agenda.

Allen chose not to differentiate, not to be judgemental of people and that was his true strength, and perhaps his failing too. He practiced his vocation with the same sense of   ‘openness’ – writing on every conceivable subject with a freshness in perspective and prose.

On a good day, Allen’s writing was a piece of poetry.

On an ‘exceptionally good day’  it was deliciously defamatory. Bureaucrats and businessmen got slammed on their pompous backsides.

While some called it whimsical writing others swore by it and religiously began their day with Allen’s byline.

Everybody read it. Everybody spoke about it. And Allen, like the true showman,  loved the adulation, the applause.

On one occasion, he wrote a controversial piece on Vijay Mallya, and was forced to tender a written apology. I remember calling him that morning, expressing my disgust and railing against the world at large. Confronted by my shrill journalistic fervor, misplaced perhaps (?),  early in the morning, he merely  guffawed.

In 2002, as the visiting faculty of a journalism school, I had invited Allen, then Times of India’s metro chief, to share his experiences with the students.  Despite a late night, he was there at the Times’ office at the crack of dawn to ride in my bumpy car to the school that was located on the outskirts.

Needless to say, he won the kids over with his disarming charm and simple home-truths.

No profundities, no lofty ideological bluster, the challenges a reporter confronts are real.

The fun-part was after the interaction, when I drove the affectionate father to meet his son Aditya at the BGS International School nearby.

Much earlier, when I began my career with the Frontline magazine, Allen’s Christmas party was a turning-point for me. M.D. Riti, who had just quit The Week magazine, suggested that I apply for the position and pursue the opportunity. Allen and his wife Sandhya prodded me on to embark on this new adventure.

There are innumerable memories associated with Allen and recounting them all would be impossible. More recently, during his recent stint as editor of a city-based magazine, I would often run into him at Koshy’s.

The friendly wink and handshake remained unchanged, thankfully.


The last time I met him was on September 16 at friend Jessie Paul’s  book-launch. Sandhya did the author’s introduction.

Even as Sujit John of the Times, Darlington Jose Hector of Financial Chronicle, Benedict Parmanand of Rishabh Media Network and I bantered around in a group, Allen accompanied by a lanky Aditya made a quick entry,  shook hands with us and vamoosed.

He seemed in an obvious hurry that evening and we couldn’t spend much time.

A few days later, on the night of September  27, I called Madras-based journalist and friend Daniel P. George on his cell phone for a general catch-up session. Danny yelled over the din of a rambunctious party and told me that he was at the Leela Palace in Bangalore with Allen and his family.

I said, “have fun” and disconnected.

That night Allen, the friend, the supporter, went to sleep.

Photograph: courtesy Chandana Vasistha Aiyar via Facebook

Also read: Allen J. Mendonca, rest in peace