‘A creative, courageous, committed editor’

SUDHEENDRA KULKARNI writes from Bombay: When someone who is very close to you, or occupied an important place at some time in your life, passes away, do you somehow remember the person just before the tragic news reaches you?

It happened to me yesterday afternoon. On a cold but sunny day in Delhi, I was sitting with a senior journalist and discussing, among other things, Dr B. R. Ambedkar’s strongly critical views on Islamist fanaticism and separatism.

I said, “One of my most satisfying works in journalism was a series of six articles on Dr Ambedkar’s harsh critique of Pakistan, which I wrote for Blitz.” As I said it, I remembered Russy Karanjia, the legendary editor of Blitz, where I worked as his deputy, and a profound feeling of gratitude crossed my mind. “What a wonderful editor he was,” I exclaimed to myself, “and how much freedom he gave me to express my views.”

Within a few minutes, I received an SMS from a good friend and former colleague: “Mr Karanjia has passed away.”

The news made me numb.

Karanjia. One of the greatest names in Indian journalism. Owner-editor of what was once the most popular weekly in India. A tabloid that did what its name suggested—a journalistic blitzkrieg, week after week, with its sensational news reports. Free, Frank and Fearless. That’s how Blitz described itself, and lived up to its self-description.

Neither Karanjia nor Blitz are names that ring a bell among readers belonging to the younger generation, because the weekly folded up in the mid-1990s and Karanjia, who always liked to be in the limelight, disappeared from public view nearly a decade ago, confined to his ocean-front apartment on Marine Drive in Bombay. But there was a time—and it stretched for nearly four decades beginning with the 1940s—when young and old alike, even in the remotest parts of India, used to queue up before newspaper stalls to buy their copy of Blitz.

This was partly because there weren’t so many newspapers and magazines those days, nor TV news channels. But a far bigger reason for the popularity of Blitz (which was published in English, Hindi and Urdu, each edition selling in lakhs) was Karanjia’s unique brand of tabloid journalism—irreverent and investigative in news (readers used to wonder how Karanjia routinely attacked the Congress party and its governments, and yet managed to be on extremely friendly terms with Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi), radical and idealistic in views (with an unmistakable leftist and pro-Soviet orientation, which was the intellectual flavour of the time) and never lacking in a little bit of titillation.

It is because of the last ingredient that Karanjia was often accused, wrongly and unfairly, of indulging in “yellow journalism” by those in the profession who were jealous of his success.

Blitz courageously and creatively espoused many worthy causes. Apart from Karanjia himself, this contribution to socially committed journalism came, first, from Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, the celebrated writer and film-maker (his Saat Hindustani marked Amitabh Bachchan’s entry into Hindi cinema) who wrote the immensely popular ‘Last Page’ column, and later from P. Sainath, who worked as deputy editor for over a decade. Sainath later became one of India’s best-known writers on rural poverty, doing Karanjia proud by recently winning the Magsaysay award.

In the last phase of his journalistic career, he became increasingly disillusioned with communism and the Communist’s anti-Hindu secularism. Simultaneously, he became a strong sympathiser of the BJP and the Ayodhya movement. It was then that he insisted I replace Sainath as deputy editor and give a new, pro-Hindu orientation to Blitz.

I did this with commitment and conviction as expected from my editor. This, of course, shocked his Communist friends who accused him of saffronising Blitz. But Karanjia stood his ground. He was never dogmatic in his support of the Left and as early as 1976, he became an ardent devotee of Sathya Sai Baba. He later wrote a book on yoga.

It was around this time that I accompanied him to a meeting with L.K. Advani, along with R.V. Pandit, a common friend and another fearless publisher. Karanjia was so enthused after that meeting with Advani that he agreed to come as a special guest at the national council meeting of the BJP in Bangalore where he declared his support to the Ayodhya movement.

Karanjia was born in 1912 in Quetta, now in Pakistan, which has produced another great Parsi name in journalism —Ardeshir Cowasjee, the celebrated columnist of Dawn. A journalist who started his career as a war correspondent for a British paper during World War II (hence the name Blitz), he founded Blitz in 1941. Its first issue came out on February 1, exactly the day he breathed his last 67 years later, at age 95.

Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Blitz was Karanjia’s life, his passion, his mission. He made history with it. Interestingly, Wayside Inn, the famous (and now-extinct) restaurant near Kala Ghoda, where the decision to launch Blitz was taken over a cup of tea by a group of three young and fiercely patriotic journalists—B.V. Nadkarni and Benjamin Horniman—was also the place where history was made for another, grander, reason: Dr. Ambedkar wrote the first draft of the Indian Constitution here.

Like all Parsis, Karanjia was kind-hearted and gentle to the core. He served India with devotion and passion. About Parsis, Mahatma Gandhi had said, “In their number, they are beneath contempt. In their contribution to the nation, they are beyond compare.” Russy K. Karanjia, you were, indeed, beyond compare. You touched my life, just as you touched the lives of millions of Indians.

(Sudheendra Kulkarni is former media advisor to prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, and former deputy prime minister L.K. Advani)

Photograph: courtesy Mid-Day

Also read: The Russy Karanjia obituaries

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8 Responses to “‘A creative, courageous, committed editor’”

  1. kaangeya Says:

    Rusy Karanjia Amar Rahe!

  2. Doddi Buddi Says:

    Rusy Karanjia,

    Although he embraced the Safron a bit late in the day, I wish his soul finds the peace. I have fond memories of many nice photos and scandals that were printed by Blitz in the 70s and 80s.

  3. gaddeswarup Says:

    I remember, but not fondly, R.K. Karanjia, D.F. Karaka, and Baburao Patel. Karanjia did have some sort of impact and supported some good writers. After seeing this post, I googled about Sainath and Karanjia and found the following piece from an article of Alexander Cockburn (from the second article in the series ‘Travels with Sainath’)http://www.counterpunch.org/cockburn08042005.html:
    “For Karanjia, said Sainath, impact was everything. Blitz’s stories had sizzle and the phones burned with powerful people howling libel threats down the lines. Death threats came too, in such profusion that reporters would solemnly request the callers to postpone their homicidal visits for a day or two owing to the length of the line of people preparing to exact retribution. The Hindu fundamentalists in Shiv Sena (Shiva’s Army) got mad enough one time at a slur in the humor column that they sent a mob from out of town to burn three of Blitz’s delivery vehicles and break office windows. Karanjia was away at the time and Sainath, who’d let the humor column through without reading it, quaked at news of his return.

    When he saw his burned trucks Karanjia trumpeted his dismay and Sainath, taking full responsibility, was under heavy fire until Karanjia noticed Blitz’s business manager, an elderly Parsee, looking undismayed. So, Karanjia asked him, were the trucks insured? No, said the manager, still calm. Then the glorious truth came out. The trucks had been rented from the local Shiv Sena outfit, whose capo soon appeared at Blitz’s office distraught at his dilemma. He could not, he told Karanjia, get compensation from the arsonists since they had been sent from out of town by Shiv Sena’s supreme commander. Karanjia told him he could offer no satisfaction.”

  4. Merlin Says:

    Well I do remember Blitz for the bikini babes :)

  5. Bhaskar Chatterjee Says:

    Russy Karanjia along with Girilal Jain, Arun Shourie were at forefront of pro-Hindutva media onslaught in late 1980s/early 1990s. Sudhin Kulkarni has given a good insider view how things shaped up in case of Karajia. Let his soul RIP.

  6. Ranga Says:

    Karanjia wearing saffron and chanting Hindutva? The leopard indeed changed the spots! I read blitz in 1960s when I used to visit my cousins who were lapping up the scandals printed in that poaer. he was nehru devotee and a leftist ( communist?) to the core from reading what he wrote and what he supported. One of my relatives who made pots of money found himself the subject of investigation in the Blitz, and I read his
    money-making saga when a passenger in a train passed a copy of Blitz to me. We were returning from a North India tour in 1962, then a must for an engineering student after meeting Nehru in Delhi. Living in the West now I rarely read the obituaries.

  7. Anonymous Guy Says:

    An old school teacher used to read the Blitz before his class. Was a class which was held in the library – so he would have the paper open while we all settled down.

    The highlight of the class was if we could see the babe pic in the Blitz. As soon as the teacher closed the paper to start his droning, the paper was effectively over for some of us boys!

  8. Boring journalist Says:

    That Russy Karanjia a onetime media phenomenon has totally faded away from the memory of the present day tribe of journalists is evident from the faux pas noticed in the national newspaper The HINDU.

    It had carried the photograph BK Karanjia the film journalist of yesteryears instead of R K Karanjia in the middle page article written as a tribute to the departed soul by his one timeDeputy Sainath, the currently the Rural Affairs Editor of The HINDU in the issue dated 7th February.

    Its Readers Editor has got the mistake corrected in todays edition.

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