They don’t make journos like VNSR any more

churumuri records with regret the passing away of V.N. Subba Rao, the former chief reporter and chief of bureau of the undivided Indian Express—and a guru and mentor to hundreds of young journalists—in Bangalore, on Tuesday morning. He was 81 years old and had been ailing for a few months.

VNSR, as he was known to his myriad friends and colleagues, was brilliantly bilingual, churning out thousands of words each week in English and Kannada at frightening speed, from the intricacies of Karnataka politics, most of whose practitioners he knew on first-name terms, to the shenanigans of the Kannada film industry.

He wrote his weekly political commentary column “In Passing” on a typewriter with barely a mistake in the copy, the rhythmic sound of the carriage making music across the corridor of No. 1, Queen’s Road where the Express was nestled in its glory days. That column shifted to Deccan Herald, where he worked briefly.

Upon his retirement, VNSR launched a tabloid political weekly and a film weekly, both of which folded in quick time. Unlike modern-day political commentators, Subba Rao proudly wrote Kannada movie reviews with the zeal of an intern and attended every press conference without fail.

The New Delhi-based political commentator, A. Surya Prakash, who got his first job with the Express in Bangalore under VNSR in 1971, said: “The net value of all the journalists who learnt their craft under Subba Rao must run into a few hundred crore rupees.”

K.S. Sachidananda Murthy, the resident editor of The Week in New Delhi, who too worked under VNSR, sent this message to friends: “Let us remember his great leadership, quest for exclusive news, soaring prose, unquenchable curiosity and grooming of many of today’s stars of journalism. A life fit for celebration.”

For one who dealt with the high and mighty of Karnataka politics, VNSR had the unique ability to be surprised even by a small fire. His trademark reaction to every story and tip-off, big or small, was a simple “Howdaa?” (Is it so?) followed by a noisy hands-free swipe of the nose which seemed to suffer from a perpetual cold.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: T.N. Shanbag: Man who educated Bombay journos

Rajan Bala: cricket writer of cricket writers

Russy Karanjia: The bulldog of an editor

J. Dey: When eagles are silent, parrots jabber

E. Raghavan: Ex-ET, TOI, Vijaya Karnataka editor

Pratima Puri: India’s first TV news reader passes away

Tejeshwar Singh: A baritone falls silent watching the cacophony

K.M. Mathew: chief of editor of Malayala Manorama

Amita Malik: the ‘first lady of Indian media’


K.R. Prahlad: In the end, death becomes a one-liner

M.R. Shivanna: A 24×7 journalist is no more

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

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12 Responses to “They don’t make journos like VNSR any more”

  1. Machimanda Appaiah Deviah Says:

    VN Subba Rao was my chief reporter for about ten years at the Indian Express. By far the kindest hearted boss I ever had. I had just joined Times of India when VNSR called me and told me that I could join Express if I wanted. Although I had great respect for the late E Raghavan who was Chief of Bureau at Times in those days I had no hesitation in chucking up my Times job and joining Express. It was decision I never regretted. God rest his soul. VNSR was repsonsible for starting and mentoring dozens of journalists during his life time. We all will miss him.

  2. Sudhir Narasimhan Says:

    I was fortunate to have started my career as a trainee reporter under VNSR. He led his team by example and we would go out and do that extra bit to get an exclusive just to see that smile on his face. The Indian Express reporting team under him was a highly motivated bunch of talented and committed journalists who broke some great stories. I learnt more about journalism during my time at Indian Express than I did in the last 22 years. Chief ( as he was affectionately called) commanded great respect from everyone and had no favorites in his team. He was accessible to all including rookies like me. The last time I met him was a couple of years after he had moved out of Indian Express, when the Karnataka department of Information took journalists for a tour of North Karnataka. Sitting next to Chief was a great learning experience as he explained to me the the socio-economic conditions of each town/region we passed through. He told me how it was important for journalists to know everything about the state we cover. True, they don’t make journalists or Bureau Chiefs like him any more. Good bye chief. We will miss you. May your soul rest in peace

  3. A Journalist Says:

    Sadly, he was a journalist in Bangalore. Not in Delhi, the so called Mecca of Indian ‘journalism’. Even semi-literates, pimps and part-time brokers made it very big in Delhi just because they were in Delhi. Not because they had talent.

  4. Umesh Says:

    May VNSR’s soul rest in peace.

  5. Suresh Panje Says:

    Yes, when dear friend Sachi (Mr. K S Satchidananda Murthy) sent me an SMS this morning at 9’o clock, I felt very sad. Just yesterday, I happened to spend my weekly holiday at the home of a young journalist, Ruchi Gupta who used to work with me for an NGO in New Delhi. She had come to her mother’s place with her child and currently, after her Master’s degree, she is pursuing a specialised course in Features Writing from IGNOU. And while she discussed about her new course, I mentioned about the doyens who taught me nuances of writing and journalism by mere interaction. They ranged from Mr.Nair and Mr.Mohan Padmanabhan in Calcutta, Mr. Behram Contractor (Busybee), Mr. M V Kamath, Mr.Raju Bharatan, Mr. Ramesh Verma (journo-turned PRO of ACC), Mr.Desai (also a journo and later GM of PR with Bharat Petroleum) and Mr.Pavri in Bombay, Mr. Subba Rao and Mr. K N Subhramanya in Bangalore, Mr. Panduranga Rao in Hyderabad and Mr.Maniktala (ex-PTI), Mr.Ratan Chopra, Mr. Pran Chopra, Mr.Dharmaraja, Mr.Kotru, Mr. Sitanshu Das, Mr. R K Murti, Mr. N Kunju, Mr. I Ramamohan Rao and his daughter Smita Prakash in New Delhi.
    And I never realised that the very next day (today), I would receive the news about Subba Rao being no more amidst us. I felt very sad.

  6. 'mudi' malnad Says:

    He had great talent, good writer, above all nice humanbeing but was confused, he was strong in film journalism but wanted to be known for ‘main’ stream journalism. he was close to Vijaya madam of ‘rupathara’ & narayanaswamy ( aparna’s father) and host of others)} At one point he used to attend every press conference immaterial of who is hosting it. To his luck his movie magazine didn’t work well.

  7. Gouri Satya Says:

    My contacts with Subba Rao is of about half a century. I met him for the first time when he came to Mysore with a Bangalore team of journalists for attending some programme, which I do not remember. From then on, we used to meet often. He was a great human being, gentle, and inspiring. I thought of calling him two days back, but had lost his cell number in my mobile. Thought of obtaining it from my brother and today I have the sad news of his demise. I miss you Subbu, More than a relative, you were a good and great friend. I can only pray RIP.

  8. induramesh Says:

    I found him a very good broadcaster in the 80s and early nineties. Last met him at the marriage of the son another media friend and found him as interesting in things as he used to be earlier. RIP Mr Subbarao.

  9. A Journalist Says:

    I am withdrawing my earlier comment.

    – Obit was over the top. Why is everyone praising VNSR to the skies just because he is dead?!! Ridiculous to heap praise on him after calling him mediocre all his life!! Puzzled why we are so hypocritical. Good to be respectful of the dead, but should we lie and go overboard with flattery? Obits must be balanced and objective even when they are respectful.

    I was going through some of his old writings, he had no depth, nothing. Very ordinary writing. Was a ‘Please all’ ……..journalist.

  10. chetan Says:

    saw him once on tv. he and his friends had produced a fell good middle class kannada movie with a new hero, the movie flopped, he became brankrupt. he said he still lived in a rented house.

  11. Baloo Says:

    Two things i always remember about VNSR – his trade-mark suit that made him look youthful and smiling face. Don’t remember if he ever got angry.

    Sad — the never travelled in a plane.

  12. Brahmanyan Says:

    In passing away of V.N.Subba Rao I have lost another good friend of mine. I have known Subba Rao from the day I joined Express, Bangalore to head the accounts department in 1966. He gave his best years of service to Express . While he was heading the reporting section as its Chief Reporter, many able youngsters joined Express, whom he had trained so well, today many of them are in top positions in various News papers all round the nation.

    Balasubramanian A.

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