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IN THE LABYRINTHS OF INDIAN JOURNALISM XIX
25/03/2013

GRAVEYARD OF NEWSPAPERS

 

The yearning to get into journalism drove me to meet R P Aiyer, editor of a weekly “Conch” in a walkin interview. Aiyer offered me a salary of Rs. 75 a month, which even by the standards of 1949 was meager. I said I would consider it and get back to him.

 

At the interview, I met another candidate – Atma Ram, bright young man, just out of college. We struck up a friendship, which was to last his lifetime. He died in 2000.

 

A week later when I called on Aiyer again, Atma Ram was already working for “Conch.” Aiyer was quite brash with me: “I need someone, but how can I be sure that you are not a plant from Karanjia?” he asked. Aiyer had a running battle with R K Karanjia of “Blitz” at that time.

 

Atma later went into film making, following the footsteps of his elder brother, Guru Dutt.

 

Five years after my interview with Aiyer, he refused me another job – this  time out of his abundant goodwill for me. In 1954, he was working on V P Menon’s monumental work, “The Interation of States” at Coonoor.

 

On a visit to my hometown a benign neighbour, a friend of my father, wrote to his brother V P Menon, suggesting that he fix me up in an estate (coffe or tea) so that I could be nearer to my hometown. V P Menon handed over the letter to Aiyer, who bluntly told him: “I know this boy. He is doing well in journalism in Bombay. Let him remain there.” I remained thankful to Aiyer for having saved me from a life of druggery (maybe affluent) in a remote coffee estate in the Nilgiris.

 

Atma did well in film production, making a number of good, healthy films. More than film making, Atma Ram was in the forefront of the struggle of the film industry workers for better wages, permanancy of jobs and better working conditions. I could help Atma in many of his struggles, as much as he would draw on my contacts to promote Guru Dutt Films.

 

R P Aiyer’s “Conch” folded up after a few issues and he landed up at Dahyabhai Patel’s daily paper, “Bharat” which was launched with much fanfare with the avowed objective of breaking the monopoly hold of “The Times of India” in Bombay. Dahyabhai was the son of Sardar Vallabhabhai Patel. It had an array of senior journalists on its staff. R P Aiyer was a senior Assistant Editor, and ran a popular humour column in the paper, titled “Arpee’s Column” with wit, humour and sarcasm, targetting the political class.

 

When “Bharat” closed down, Arpee transferred his column to “The Free Press Journal.”

 

“Bharat” closed down in early 1950s. Ten years later, Bombay was witness to the emergence of a “Newsmen’s Newspaper” launched and run by a number of journalists from “The Free Press Journal” protesting against the blatant commercialisation of the paper by its Managing Editor, A B Nair.

 

One morning in August 1959, the Free Press Journal came out with a screaming eight –column banner headline: WONDER WASHING PRODUCT COMES TO TOWN, heralding the advent of Surf in the Indian Market. The enitre page was about Surf.

 

The Editor, A Hariharan was surprised when he got his copy early in the morning. He called up the Chief Sub-Editor on duty the previous night. He did not know anything about it. Hari then called up A B Nair, who told him it was a management decision implemented with his knowledge and approval. “Then I am not coming to your office from today,” Hari told him.

 

A number of other journalists resigned within the week. They included K Shivram, M K B Nair, M P Iyer, A K B Menon, Bal Thackeray and P Revindran. They set up a new company, Readers Publication Ltd to bring out a new daily. Shares of Rs. 10 were sold to raise the capital. The promoters said they planned to bring about “healthy cooperation between intelligent newspaper readers and conscientious working journalists.”

 

“The Press today has passed into the hands of vested interests. It is controlled by men who have big stakes in business profits and in politicking, by small men who will trade for a licence or some preferene, by those who have no stakes in the profession and no conscience worth the mention,” their statement read.

 

In September, they planned to bring out the new paper in February 1960. Newsday was the title approved by the Registrar of Newspapers, India. They had decided to bring out the paper only after they had their own printing press and enough money to sustain it for a year.

 

The promoters had approached every trade union in the country from the INTUC to AITUC, the RMMS to the Port and Dock Workers Union, cutting across all political affiliations. They appeared to be impatient with the delay. Finally, NEWSDAY came out on January 25, 1960 – a premature baby, which no professional journalist could own with pride.

 

It fumbled on, with promoters ceaselessly struggling to make it like a real newspaper. It often ran into trouble with the press, where they refused to print the edition without prepayment each night. They changed presses. Ultimately in September –October 1960 it ceased publication for five days. When it reappeared, it was just a pale reflection of its earlier self.

 

The promoters found that none of the trade unions had kept their promise to make every member a reader of the paper. Besides, after some time pressures started building up on the editorial staff on the way each one of them wanted news about them to be covered and commented upon.

 

All through the first ten months the promoters did not draw their salaries. After that the company was in no position to pay them. It took the staff months to rehabilitate them selves. Shivram went away to Vijayawada to join the Indian Express, M K B Nair landed up at the Economic Times, Thackeray launched his Marmik, Revindran went over to The Blitz and M P Iyer joined the Press Trust of India. Finally six days before it was to celebrate its first anniversary the paper closed down for good.

 

The stigma remained that journalists cannot manage a newspaper on their own. Secondly no newspaper could survive without its own printing facilities. Dedication and hard work alone is not enough to run a newspaper successfully.

 

At the end of the adventure the promoters were convinced that instead of a daily newspaper they should have concentrated on bringing out a weekly publication like “The Sunday Observer” which Dhirubhai Ambani promoted later, with the cream of journalistc talent available in Bombay. Even that did not last.

 

Even later, Vijaypat Singhania launched “The Independent” with much fanfare. He had ultimatley to bring in a partner from Gujarat, to whom he transferred the publication. That partner sold it off to “The Times of India” which brought it out for sometime as “The Indian Post.”

 

The graveyard of Mumbai’s publishing enterprises could carry some unique epitaphs. Out of those enterprises emerged some of the biggest names in Indian journalism. Vinod Mehta, Kumar Ketkar et al.

 

One must give credit to A B Nair for his grand vision and foresight in setting a glorious example for modern-day newspapers that have gone totally commercial. Some of them like “The Bombay Times” have no compunction in proclaiming themselves as “Advertorial, Entertaiment, Promotional Feature.” Now at least the reader knows what he is getting for his money. A whole new industry has come up to churn out the “advertorials.” They style themselves “Content Providers”

 

 

 

to be continued……

 

 

 

 

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