M.R. SHIVANNA, a true 24/7 journalist, RIP.

churumuri.com records with regret the passing away of M.R. SHIVANNA, an unsung hero of Indian journalism, in Mysore on Saturday. He was 55, and is survived by his wife and daughter.

For 30 years and more, Shivanna slogged away in remarkable obscurity and was one of the pillars on which stands India’s most successful English evening newspaper, Star of Mysore. Starting out as a sub-editor in the local tabloid, Shivanna, a son of a farmer, had grown to be editor of the family-owned SoM at the time of his death.

Shivanna was no poet. His prose wouldn’t set the Cauvery on fire, nor was it intended to.

First in at work and last man out of the office, he wrote simple functional sentences day after relentless day. While dozens of young men cut their teeth at Star of Mysore on their way to bigger things in Bangalore and beyond, Shivanna stayed on, lending his boss K.B. GANAPATHY the kind of quiet solidity every owner and editor can only envy.

Here, CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY, one of Shivanna’s myriad ex-colleagues, who moved from Star of Mysore on to Frontline, The Week and The Times of India, among other ports of call, pays tribute.

***

By CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY

“(MRS).”

For decades, lakhs of Mysoreans have seen these three letters of the alphabet appended to thousands of news reports in Star of Mysore and Mysooru Mitra, Mysore’s dour media siblings, steered successfully by its founder-editor K.B. Ganapathy.

For most readers, these initials are a daily mystery, unravelled only in the anniversary issue of the two newspapers in February and March, respectively, when a mandatory “long-form” piece or an interview appears with the full form of the byline: M.R. Shivanna.

But for the remainder of the year, (MRS) was a byword for his straight, unaffected style.

As a journalist, Shivanna knew his limitations and that perhaps was his greatest strength. In a world of flamboyant story-tellers, he was the odd man out. Shorn of scholarly airs or intellectual pretensions, MRS pursued his vocation with a constancy of purpose, a fierce diligence that is rare in a profession where careerism has taken hold.

At times it seemed as if MRS literally lived in the newsroom, straddling two worlds, two sensibilities.

He finished his work at Star of Mysore, which is an English evening newspaper, in the afternoon, only to seamlessly drift to the other part of the building and discharge his duties at Mysooru Mitra, the Kannada morning daily form the same group.

You called the office at any unearthly hour, and more often than not MRS would pick up the phone, ready with pen on paper. A bulk of the information from across the districts was communicated over phone by a network of stringers and reporters, who spoke in varying  degrees  of clarity. MRS was an expert in tactfully prising out ‘news’ from these guys, night or day.

MRS was a 24×7 journalist before 24×7 became business jargon.

***

In 1990, just before taking up my journalism course, I ventured to work in Star of Mysore as a trainee.

K.B. Ganapathy, after a cursory chat, called in MRS and asked him to take me under his wing and put me through the paces.

At first glance, MRS was distinctly unimpressive: He was frail, he had a funny moustache, he tucked his shirt out, walked with a slouch and was staccato in his speech. He fobbed me off to his colleague at the desk, Nandini Srinivasan, who helped me tremendously through the early years.

Over a period of time, slowly, steadily I built some rapport with MRS. Sometimes he would call me out for an occasional smoke which I would readily accept in the hope of having a good conversation. But MRS would keep to himself and allow me to do all the talking, seldom proffering advice or insight, a genial smile displaying his tobacco-stained teeth.

There was a manic phase, of about a month or so, when I drank with him regularly at a fancy bar in Mysore. These sessions were unremarkable, almost matter-of-fact,  as MRS insisted that the Hindi music be played at an exceptionally high volume. There was no chance for exchange of ‘journalistic views’ leave alone banter.

Through the years in college, my association with Star and MRS continued. He would give me occasional assignments and background on stories that I was following.  Although writing in English did not come naturally to MRS, he honed it over the years through repeated practice.

His news reports were structured tightly in the classic “5 Ws and 1 H” formula, and it served him well.

There were reams and reams of buff paper on which he wrote with a cheap ball point pen that leaked, smudged and grew errant due to over use. He had this peculiar habit of bringing the nib close to his lips and blowing at it, like as if he was fanning a dying cigarette. He did that always, probably to fuel his pen’s fervor.

As an old-school journalist brought up on letter press, MRS also used and understood sub-editing notation better than most journalists. He used a red ink pen to underline a letter twice for capitalisation, a hurried swirl to denote deletion, “stet” if he wanted something to stay as is.

And for all his limitations with the language, if you were ever at a sudden loss for a word, those standard ones that you use to embellish journalistic copy, MRS would spout it in a second. The words swam in his head all the time.

Instinct and Intuition guided his journalistic disposition.

Passion and Persistence gave it  further ballast.

***

In 1993, “MRS” won the Karnataka Rajyothsava award. And as it happens in journalistic circles, there were whispers of how he had engineered it all, how it was a complete joke, how he was underserving, etc. MRS continued unfazed, doing what he did best, day after day after day. In due course, the tired critics went to sleep.

Many years later, at the Taj Lands End in Bombay, I hastened to the breakfast buffet for a quick bite before a conference. I had by then quit journalism to join Intel.

I heard a familiar “Hello, Chethu”.

I swung around to see MRS holding a bowl of fruits.

Over breakfast, he told me that Intel had flown him down to cover the event and simply amazed me with the information he had collected about the company’s latest products and plans. He kept jotting down notes verifying and cross-checking facts as we spoke. That evening we promised to get together but it didn’t happen.

During R.K .Laxman’s  last visit to Mysore about two years back, MRS took on the entire responsibility of hosting him in the City. Apart from ensuring that the Laxmans stayed in a friend’s hotel he organised their trip to Chamundi hills for an exclusive darshan. Laxman was profusely thankful to him during the visit.

On their last day in Mysore, MRS called me over the phone. He began with enquiring about my well being and slowly moved on to  a long conversation on Laxman’s perspective on various issues around him. I took the journalist’s bait and went with the flow filling him with facts, quotes, trivia.

I imagined MRS at his desk, his pen scribbling away on sheafs of paper, periodically blowing into his nib, probably conjuring the headline, the lead, the middle for his copy.

MRS will continue to write wherever he is. In the end, the smudges don’t matter really.

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

***

IN MEMORIAM

Naresh Chandra Rajkhowa: journo who broke Dalai Lama story

Chari, a lens legend at The Hindu

Harishchandra Lachke: A pioneering cartoonist

T.N. Shanbag: Man who educated Bombay journos

Rajan Bala: cricket writer of cricket writers

Jyoti Sanyal: The language terrorist and teacher

Russy Karanjia: The bulldog of an editor

Sabina Sehgal Saikia: The resident food writer

M.G. Moinuddin: The self-taught newspaper designer

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15 Responses to “M.R. SHIVANNA, a true 24/7 journalist, RIP.”

  1. Sujata Says:

    MRS had the memory of an elephant. He was a walking talking encyclopaedia; you ask him about anything and he would have the facts on his tips. In Mysore, he was the most authentic source to confirm news. People often called him for free consultation on anything and everything to which he would readily oblige. He was definitely an asset for SOM which KBG would find it hard to replenish.

  2. Brijesh Kalappa Says:

    NIcely written piece on a person that I have spoken to on the phone- I had no idea that I was speaking to such a remarkable personality. May his soul rest in ever lasting peace!

  3. ranganatha marakini Says:

    RIP. Ranganatha Marakini

  4. mysore peshva Says:

    This heartfelt, personal obituary made an excellent read because it unraveled MRS with sympathy and grace. It highlighted MRS’ affectionate devotion to Star of Mysore.

  5. subbulakshmi Says:

    only you could have written thisi chetu all love :)

  6. Aravind Says:

    The man who would make me wait endlessly for a couple of minutes meeting when I was an internee was also my first reporting chief… he had an amazing knack to get information even from a caller complaining about as simple a thing as a dangling electric wire…

  7. Nandini Srinivasan Says:

    This morning when I went to pay my last respects to Shivanna ( as I called him) at around 7.00 I was probably the first one to be there, just like I presume I was one of his first ‘editorial assistants’! As I saw him lie there, I realised my eyes were full….In those days when getting a byline was a great achievement and it took all your brains to make people feel you can write too, Shivanna was the one who guided me, rebuked me, appreciated me and told me very clearly not to have the” i”m- from- Bangalore-so-i-know-all’ halo around me! He taught me how to translate news instantly from Kannada to English, without being the quintessential ‘english-snob’ as he called it! Like Chetan rightly says, he may have been very far away from anything called ‘stylish’, but what set him apart was his unique style! Thanks Shivanna for all that you taught me and helping me stay grounded at the very beginning of my career!

  8. Manivannan Says:

    Unsung hero. Sincerity thy name. Rarely we come across such unassuming, simple persons in our times. He defied assumptions. Unforgettable person. May his Soul rest in peace.

  9. ERR Says:

    Good bye to MRS….The tireless affable workhorse..

  10. Bhamy V Shenoy Says:

    Shivanna: I will miss my Guru.

    It was with shock and great sadness I read the news item about my friend and guru Shivanna. One may wonder how he could be my guru. I learnt the art of patient hearing to collect facts from my interaction with him. Most have the human weakness to show off that they know more than others, which would be a great liability to any journalist. Shivanna was a rare exception.

    I cannot count the number of times I must have called him at all times of the day (even as late as 11 in the night) to get the latest news or to share the breaking news with him.

    He had an encyclopedic memory on the important facts involving civic problems of the city. He could recall who was behind what protests and the real reason for such protests.

    He was brilliant while receiving information on any news item. He never disagreed though he had different views. Never did he say even one word to show that he knew more about the news item than I did which was some time the case. He always showed inquisitiveness to collect facts and encouraged to talk freely. One never knew if he would even act on that news item or not. But I always left with a good feeling.

    He had a great talent to give apt and attention grabbing title to any story. I had the benefit of his talents. I can always count on him to change my long winded titles.

    Mysore lost a well informed journalist (there are not that many in Mysore) who knew a lot about what was right and wrong, who were corrupt and not corrupt, competent and incompetent leaders and bureaucrats in Mysore. It would be a fitting tribute to his memory if some young journalist brings out a book on his achievement and lessons they can learn.

    Salute to my guru who might not have known that I was his admiring student.

  11. Shivaranjini.S Says:

    i fall short of words for my everloving Appa… all i can say is though im very much younger to u all who has written the artical or commented on it.., being his daughter i thank u all for remembering him here with ur personal experinces… since my very young age i’ve seen him training his juniors but im so unfortunate that i could not get his guidelines formally… love u Appa…. U’re always there in hearts of all who respect u and love u…

  12. Baloo Says:

    I had always heard from my friends and colleagues in Mysore about Shivanna, but never had an opportunity to meet him. In journalism, we had, and still have, people who could write either in English or in Kannada, or neither. Rare are those who know both, and rarer still are those who can write both. Shivanna had that enviable opportunity to write in both. As Chetan’s tribute reveals, Shivanna belonged to that very rare breed of craftsmen, to whom, facts mattered the most in a news report, language was only a medium — functional sentences could work as long as the facts were solid, strong. Thanks Chetan for `showing’ the journalist that Shivanna was to many outsiders like me through your excellent piece.
    May His Soul Rest in Peace, and his family get the strength to bear the loss.

  13. Not A Witty Nick Says:

    Connects many dots, this post. RIP Sir!

  14. Yogesh Devaraj Says:

    Namma Mysooru lost another illustrious son. MRS will be forever an integral part of city’s journalism history. Many of us did not know much about the person (other than MRS initials), get to know through these candid and touching obituary pieces here. ಬದುಕಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಸಾರ್ಥಕತೆ ಕಂಡುಕೊಂಡ ಈ ಜೀವ, ಚಿರನಿದ್ರೆಯಲ್ಲೂ ಸಾರ್ಥಕತೆ ಕಂಡುಕೊಳ್ಳಲಿ.

  15. U.B. Vasudev Says:

    Chetan, thanks for a wonderful/poignant piece about the 24/7 journalist, MRS. I called him several times while I was editing Vikaasa, the World Kannada Conference 2004 in Orlando commemorative at the suggestion of late GTN. Almost always, my calls to him was afternoon because of the time difference. He would be there and take the call. He was very helpful always and sent me a few photos of the important personalities of erstwhile Royal Mysore which are in the publication. I did not get a chance to meet him last time we were in Mysore and needless to say, I will never have a chance to meet him again.
    May his soul rest in peace!

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