“I did not study too much, just read The Hindu newspaper word to word. I loved it.
“I read the newspaper, I wrote the exam.
“I did not shut myself in to study for hours. I continued reading the papers,” he said, adding that his mother, who also loves newspapers and reading was his main inspiration.”
It isn’t everyday that the front page of your newspaper also sports the mastheads of other newspapers, but this is how the front-page of the Hindustan Times looks today, as it announces an advertising tieup with the Ananda Bazaar Patrika group in Calcutta and the Hindu group in Madras.
A bunch of advertisers—Amul, Britannia, Fortune oil, Garnier, Godrej, ICICI, Kellogg’s, Marico, Morgan Stanley—have even pledged support as “advertising partners”.
HT calls the move a historic first although a similar plan for classified ads in the early 2000s, when newspapers first began feeling the impact of The Times of India‘s predatory practises, came kaput. Then Eenadu of Hyderabad and Deccan Herald of Bangalore were partners.
The “One India” plan has been registered as a trademark™, although one of India’s oldest portals oneindia.in has been around for years now.
Oddly, the announcement is a flanking jacket advertisement in HT, it isn’t so in The Telegraph or The Hindu.
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.
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
External reading: The journalism of Khushwant Singh
In the image above are the front pages of the paper the day before (left) the new design (right) was unveiled on Thursday, January 23.
Writes BL editor Mukund Padmanabhan in the first issue of the relaunched paper:
“The new look, created by one of the country’s finest designers, Aurobind Patel, achieves the extremely difficult task of showcasing content without screaming or attention-grabbing gimmickry.
“Starting with the careful selection of fonts and the colour palette, attention has been paid to the smallest detail to give you a design that is exquisite in its simplicity and its elegance. The effort has been to resolve the traditional conflict between content and design by fusing them into an integrated and harmonious whole.”
For the record, Aurobind Patel designed the original India Today and was design director of The Economist, London, before returning to India. He redesigned the Economic & Political Weekly (EPW) two years ago.
The earlier Business Line was designed by Mario Garcia.
A six-page document accompanying the announcement defines sexual harassment as:
# Physical contact and advances, or
# A demand or request for sexual favours, or
# Sexually coloured remarks, or
# Showing pornography, or
# Any other unwelcome physical, verbal, non-verbal conduct of sexual nature
N. Ram, chairman of Kasturi & Sons Limited and the former editor of The Hindu, on why the “family” reverted to its past after a brief flirtation with “professionals”, in an interview with Shougat Dasgupta of Tehelka:
“Editorialising in news reports, editorialising in the guise of news, which is strictly prohibited by the binding code of editorial values adopted by the Board of Directors of our company in 2011 and displayed on the home page of The Hindu‘s website.
“The Editor being away from our headquarters and most important edition centre and market, Chennai, far too often and far too long, sometimes for events in India and abroad that were peripheral, or completely unrelated, to the work of the newspaper.
“Weakening local coverage in key edition centres, especially our home base, and undertaking campaign journalism.
“Going for a surfeit of personalised columns at the expense of news coverage when space was under great pressure and pagination was being reduced.
“A lack of attention to detail and a failure to put in place an orderly system of editorial decision-making, which was aggravated by the fact that the Editor was frequently away from the headquarters.
“Letting strongly held personal opinions and prejudices get in the way of professional news coverage, so that it became impossible to keep the necessary professional distance in covering and presenting the news.
“Going for ‘soft design’ – chaotic, loud, sometimes garish, lacking any internal consistency or logic – and virtually doing away with the pure design that Mario Garcia, one of the world’s leading newspaper designers, and his team, working with our designers, had put in place for us.
“Making a number of inappropriate or maladroit editorial appointments, which culminated in the appointment of a totally unsuitable Executive Editor in the national capital.
“Resentment grew in some of our major news bureaus and a divide began to appear between the long-timers, who had spent decades of their professional lives with our newspaper and were familiar with its core values, and some of the higher-paid new-comers, often for no fault of the latter.”
Read the full interview: Family vs outsider
Photograph: courtesy The Hindu
Today, November 16, is National Press Day.
The photograph above, excerpted from Madras then, Chennai Now by Nanditha Krishna, Tishani Doshi and Pramod Kapoor (Roli books, 2013), is the floor of the composing room of The Hindu from the 1950s, a far cry from the ultra-modern printing towers of today.
As the text accompanying the picture in the book notes:
“The Hindu was the first newspaper to introduce colour in 1940 and the first to own its own fleet of aircraft for distribution in 1963. In 1969, the Hindu adopted the facsimile system of page transmission. In 1986, it began using a transmission satellite. Computer-aided photo composition commenced in 1980. In 1994, text and graphics were fully integrated in computerised page make-up and remote imaging.”
Below is the picture of the offices of The Hindu at 100, Mount Road, where it was housed for more than half a century, starting 1883.
And, below, is the newsroom of The Hindu, as seen in circa 2005.
For the record, Pramod Kapoor used to publish the Sunday Mail newspaper from Delhi in the 1990s before he sold it to the Dalmias who, after a revamp under T.V.R. Shenoy, shut it down.
Photographs: courtesy Roli Books, and Outlook