Archive for the ‘People’ Category

T.S. SATYAN: Small, simple, casual, basic, humble

12 December 2012


Tomorrow, December 13, is the third death anniversary of Tamabarahalli Subramanya Satyanarayana Iyer better known as T.S. Satyan, the legendary photojournalist and contributor and well-wisher of churumuri.

Here, a friend pays tribute.



All photographers working with life-forms, more so humans, would at some time or the other have wished they had the power to become invisible.

A power to enable them to take pictures without the subject becoming conscious of being photographed.

The sight of a camera has something hypnotic on the human mind.  It deep freezes expressions and transforms them to look anything but natural. A kind of rigor mortis of the facial muscles sets in. Further damage is caused when the photographer announces his readiness by saying ‘smile please’.

Barring blissfully ignorant children who have  not yet come under the spell of the camera, the effect is universal.

Even veteran actors struggle all their lives to look their natural self in front of a camera.

The incredibly true-to-life human portrait that T.S. Satyan was able to capture in his camera was largely due to his remarkable skills of camouflaging  not only the camera but himself as well.


Satyan’s  presence in a crowd was hardly noticeable. The man was of average height, lean, brown skinned, soft spoken, dressed in a dull bush shirt and pant, wore chappals for foot wear, and seldom established eye contact.

As nondescript  as R.K. Laxman’s ‘Common Man’.

He even spoke the language of the common man.

Unlike most of us who are prone to draw attention or be recognized in an assemblage of people, Satyan worked hard on remaining  unnoticed. He seemed to have perfected the art to the extent he came close to being non-existent. Being physically small made, his movement too was easy and without a rustle. He took small steps when he moved.

Everything about him was casual and unhurried.

Satyan belonged to the age of black and white films and SLR cameras. He refused to be lured by the technological marvels of the digital camera.

He remained a Brahmin in that sense.

The camera he used was basic, compact and each exposure required manual settings.  He carried the equipment in a cloth bag slung over his shoulder which reached down to his hip.  It had a wide opening at the top which enabled him to remove and slip in with ease.

The camera came out of the bag only after he had seen a setting worthy of a picture.

With a basic camera that Satyan carried, there wasn’t too much scope for fiddling with the settings.  He seldom carried more than one lens and therefore no fuss about changing them and drawing attention.  The picture quality was discovered only after the film was processed.

To Satyan’s generation of photographers, the mind, the eye and the body had to be in total sync, before freezing the frame.


Once I spotted Satyan in Devaraja vegetable market; his favorite haunt in Mysore where he has taken some of his best known pictures.

I resisted the temptation of  catching up with him.  Instead,  I walked behind him keeping a distance.

There was a young man selling raw peanuts.  Satyan stopped a distance from the vendor, stood awhile possibly assessing and exploring  the possibility of a picture.  He then went round the subject looking at the surroundings, frequently looking up at the mid day sun and the shadows it cast.

He then went and sat on a folded gunny sack used as a mat not far from the peanut vendor and the heap of his merchandise in front. The young man momentarily noticed the presence of a stranger sitting close by. I soon noticed that Satyan’s disarming smile and the banter that had put the youngster at ease.

After perhaps a few pleasantries, the peanut vendor went about his business unmindful of the stranger.

The time Satyan sat there hunched and cross legged, the world went by including the local populace.  Neither the vendor  nor the many shoppers noticed that the man sitting there was a celebrated photo journalist whose photographs had appeared in the  prestigious Time and Life magazines.

A recipient of the coveted Padmashri award and a internationally acclaimed  photographer.

Contrary to my expectation, Satyan did not take a picture of the young man. When he got up to leave, the peanut vendor picked up a fistful of peanuts and offered it to Satyan. The gesture was gratefully accepted and Satyan put the offering into his camera bag.

Later when I caught up with Satyan,  I found him feasting on the nuts that he had received.

Curiosity got the better of me when I asked Satyan why he had not taken a picture of the peanut vendor.  It was when he told me that the young man was too conscious of his presence.  With this acquaintance established with the peanut vendor,  he would come back at a later date to shoot him.



Satyan once volunteered to take pictures of children of  the Pratham Mysore Balavadi schools.

When we arrived at Kesare, one of the less developed areas of Mysore, Satyan insisted that we park our car at a distance and walk the last stretch to the school where the children had assembled to make a quiet entry into the school.

He preferred to be by himself with the children and sat on one of the steps outside a class to talk to the children in Urdu as it was predominantly a Muslim locality. The chocolates that he had carried in his camera bag attracted the children like ants to a honey pot.

Of the hour that we spent at the school, Satyan played with the children for a good part of our stay.  They were all over him playing and tugging at his clothing and his bag.  All the  pictures that he finally captured were taken in less than ten minutes.

The children continued to play paying little or no heed either Satyan’s  camera or his work. Needless to say, the man had given thought of all possible situations that he was likely to encounter before venturing out on the assignment.


I met Satyan through his son Nagendra. I was drawn to Satyan from our first meeting both because of my interest in his  profession,  his inimitable sense of humor and his unique story telling abilities.

During our meetings, Rathnamma, his wife, would sit through the evening unmindful of the number of times she had heard the stories.  Except for the occasional reminder not to exceed the quantities of his favorite cashew nuts,  she remained the quiet dutiful wife.

On the 13 December 2009,  I was away in Bangalore when I received a call from his son Nagendra informing me that Satyan was no more.  By the time I reached Mysore that evening,  the house was nearly empty with only members of the grieving family.

True to his persona, Satyan had made quick and quiet exit.

This time to remain truly invisible and  forever.

Also read: Once upon a time, early in the morning

The R.K. Narayan only I knew

Once upon a time during the Quit India movement

Mysore’s shortest man was only in height

The Raja said, ‘Why don’t you go with Mohini?’

The cop who stopped the maharaja

The genius of the Indian villager

Hurgaalu and Black Dog on the way to Vaikuntapura

T.S. SATYAN: Once upon a time with Sir C.V. Raman

‘Simplicity and grace born out of true greatness’

What Minoo Masani’s wife thought of Sonia G

5 November 2012

These are quite extraordinary times we are living in. The floodgates have opened, indeed the floodgates have been prised open. And what till not long ago used to be taboo topics—the wheeling-dealing of Robert Vadra, the business acumen of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, the status of Priyanka‘s marriage, etc—is now meat and drink.


Ramachandra Guha in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

In Zareer Masani’s recent memoir of his parents, And All is Said, he quotes a letter written to him by his mother in 1968.

“Yesterday we went to Mrs Vijayalakshmi Pandit’s reception for Rajiv Gandhi and his wife,” wrote Shakuntala Masani, adding, “I can’t tell you how dim she is, and she comes from a working-class family. I really don’t know what he saw in her.”

And All is Said was widely reviewed when it was published, but no reviewer seems to have picked up on this comment. Shakuntala Masani was the daughter of Sir J.P. Srivastava, once one of the most influential men in India, an industrialist with wide business interests and a member of the viceroy’s executive council besides.

Shakuntala’s husband, Minoo Masani, was a well-educated Parsi from a family of successful professionals, who was himself a leading politician and writer. By upbringing and marriage Shakuntala Masani was a paid-up member of the Indian elite. Hence the condescending remarks about the working-class Italian whom Rajiv Gandhi had chosen as his wife.

Read the full article: Family romance

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Is this Congress’ Bofors—II?

A hero who served the living & dead of all castes

14 September 2012

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: Last week, Mysore saw the passing away of a man whom most people of any substance will perhaps never miss. But the less fortunate ones amongst us, whose number is legion and who are considered a burden on society, both while they are alive and strangely even after they are dead, will perhaps begin to notice his absence from their midst very soon.

Ghulam Hussain, the nondescript and soft spoken man whom I knew over the past 30 years, bid a silent adieu to this world and to his most humble and thankless existence without me even knowing that he was dead. I discovered that he was not only dead but buried too only when I picked up Star of Mysore on the evening of that fateful day of his departure.

He was perhaps the only person in our midst who served the living and the dead alike, unmindful of who they were or to which caste and community they belonged, as long as they just happened to be the unfortunate ones who belonged to nobody.

I first ‘discovered’ him prowling the dingy and humid wards of K. R. Hospital, way back in the year 1982 when I started my post graduation in medicine. To be very frank and honest even at the risk of inviting the wrath of those who already knew him better, I first saw him only as a pesky nuisance and interference in my work.

He used to walk about in the wards, very often during the non-visiting hours, softly conversing with patients and making enquiries about their ailments with doctors and post-graduate students.

Now, which post-graduate student, especially of a subject as lofty and as hallowed as medicine, who feels he is the absolute lord and master of the ten rickety and ramshackle beds allotted to him, will tolerate the presence, let alone the interference from a miserable looking man in faded clothes and much mended leather chappals during his work?

But very quickly and thankfully the realisation dawned on me and my colleagues too that while we considered our work very noble and noteworthy this man was only making it a little easier for us with his presence by our side.

He would be in our ward, often a little before us and enquire about the poorest of the poor patients who needed some medicines or lab tests that were not available in the hospital.

Incidentally, there was no dearth of the facilities that were then not available in the hospital and so we would sheepishly tell him what would do much good not only to our patients but to our reputations too.

He would write down the requirements on a small scrap of folded paper and walk over to the next block of the hospital only to reappear the next day with a day’s medicine for each one of his beneficiaries that would keep their hearts and hopes ticking.

How he managed to garner funds for this kind of work was beyond our understanding but he was always a beacon of hope for anyone unfortunate enough to fall sick with no one to turn to.

He would always tell me that he was only a social worker of the Jamat-e-Islami-e-Hind which had entrusted him with what he was doing under the president ship of Altaf Ahmed, another silent toiler for the cause of communal harmony and service to the downtrodden, sans communal barriers.

Ghulam Hussain would not only look after the material and medical needs of poor patients but would also visit them after their operations and console them through their periods of anxiety and apprehension if they were seriously ill.

His reputation as an honest and sincere worker had grown so much that many rich and well to do people would immediately agree to extend financial help to needy patients if it was routed through him. In the unfortunate event of the deaths of any destitute in the city he would be the first one to arrive at the scene and arrange for the last rites fully in accordance with the person’s religious affiliations.

That he never saw human life on the basis of baser considerations becomes evident from the fact that once during communal clashes that briefly tore asunder the harmony of our City, he stood between an armed group of Muslims and two young Hindu boys who had been cornered.

He told the threatening goons in no uncertain terms that they would have to first kill him before laying their hands on the two helpless boys. Knowing who he was, they quietly dispersed into the lanes and alleys without a word of argument with him.

His association with the K. R. and Cheluvamba hospitals continued till his own end.

On the sixth of this month when he perhaps for the first time realised that his own end was near, he took his assistant Faiyaz Ahmed to the RMO and introduced him as the man who would henceforth continue his work. Just four day after this, Ghulam Hussain was no more, having died as quietly as he had lived and worked.

The measure of this very poor and modest man’s greatness can be gauged from the fact that at his funeral there was no space for all the mourners to stand in the mosque. The prayer had to be conducted in a big playground alongside. All this, while he himself was perhaps standing in surprise with his head bowed before his maker to get his rightful due.

(With inputs from Prof Riaz Ahmed and Dr Irfan Ahmed Riazi)

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

Five reasons Laxman was Very Very Special

20 August 2012

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: As the cricket ball swings or spins towards slip and gully after leaving the bowler’s hand, every batsman with a coaching manual in his kit either prepares to shoulder arms and let it go past to the wicketkeeper, or cut and drive it in the direction of cover and cover-point.

Alone among modern batsmen, Vangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxman aka V.V.S. Laxman, had the unique gift to whip it to exactly the opposite direction—between squareleg and midwicket—as spectators and viewers ooh-ed and aah-ed while the bowler and fielders suddenly adjusted their field of vision.

Verily, he was, in a manner of speaking, the world’s greatest leg-break “batsman”, those supper wrists turning anti-clockwise as a matter of course.

If Hyderabad was famous for its biryani, so was it for V.V.S. Laxman’s silken grace while he was at the crease.

He lacked Rahul Dravid’s concentration, Sachin Tendulkar’s power and Virender Sehwag‘s devil-may care approach, but each time when the team was in dire stress he delivered. And how!

Granting every batsman will have to pack up and go one day, what made VVS the special player that he became, a legend in his own way?

#  Laxman had supreme confidence in his ability for he become the ‘Rescue Man’ time and again. He revelled in adverse and completely hopeless situations like the one in Eden Gardens in 2001. The tougher the opponent, the tougher the situation, it was more or less certain Laxman would deliver.

Australians by nature are tough as nails and never give an inch. It is this ability to take them on his terms that they came to admire in Laxman immensely. In him, they saw one of their own. That is why his 281 after being put to follow-on will rank one of the finest ever seen in Test cricket.

#  Laxman had to do the recue act most of the times with lower-order batsmen and more often with tail-enders. He gave them the confidence and it is in his company some astonishing draw or victories that have been achieved.

Ishant Sharma,  Pragyan Ojha, Zaheer Khan, Anil Kumble all brought famous wins with Laxman at the other end battling the opposition and also battling his perennial back ache.

# Laxman ‘s batting was sheer poetry in motion. You could see Keats and Shelley guiding with him when he was on a song. Even when India was losing a match in Australaia, his 167  littered with boundaries, made the Aussies feel they had lost the match.

# Laxman right from his Ranji Trophy days had the habit of chalking up triple centuries in quick time. He never occupied crease for the sake of it, never doddered around eighties looking for the hundred, never clobbered a cricket ball. Yet runs came in quick time, sheer timing and placements doing the job.

# Laxman after Dravid was the best slip fielder in the side. Most of our fast bowlers had a reason to be thankful as they knew they had safe pair of hands in second slips waiting for the snicks.

Nobody will ever know why such a one-man rescue team, who represented India for 17 years was ignored when it came to the World Cup. Their reasoning was he was far too slow. Those who are singing hosannas of him today themselves saw to him he was dropped from side in favour of  Dinesh Mongia.

He had a poor tour in England and Australia but so did almost the entire team save Dravid in England. The so-called one-day experts hardly measure up to exacting standards of Test cricket and it would have been wiser to have Laxman  around to guide the youngsters at least in the home series.

What made Laxman who was selected to play against New Zealand and who should have played against Australia and England at home suddenly announce his retirement? Did Krishnamachari Srikkanth tell him he was required for only series against New Zealand?

Did any of the cricketer turned commentators question his usefulness to the team anymore?

Why did Laxman decide not to play even in front of his home crowd in Hyderabad and quit in a huff?

We will never know.

Now it looks like it was a farewell match he played in Mysore when he scored 169 just 10 days back while playing in Shafi Darashah Tournament  for Hyderabad against Karnataka.

Good bye, VVS. You brought that rare grace and charm that could have only come from the land of Jaisimha and Azhar. The days of wristy flicks are over in Indian cricket.

Also read: India’s greatest match winning batsman is…

Not bones, he has ball bearings in his wrists

The right arm of the Gandhi no one remembers

31 January 2012

V. Kalyanam (left), the former personal secretary to Mahatma Gandhi, arriving for the Sarvodaya Day celebrations organised by Bangalore University, in Bangalore on Monday. Now 92, Kalyanam was 28 and a few inches from the Mahatma on the day the 79-year-old “stopped three bullets from their deadly trajectory of hate”.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: 77 years ago, when the Mahatma came to Mysore

As Gandhi said, “I wish to wrestle with the snake”

External reading: Incidentally, we must never forget

Another gig for ‘Papa Rock’ in another world

10 January 2012

In the Bharat that is India, it is only those who play by the book, who stick to the code, who do not stray from the straight and narrow, who get the 21-gun salute. The game-changers, the pathbreakers, the non-conformists, the iconoclasts barely get a look-see from even the most modern of media.

Artists, yes. Graphic artists, no.

Classical musicians, yes. Rock stars, no.

Last Thursday, Amit Saigal, one of the titans of the Indian rock music scene, met a watery end in Goa to almost deafening silence from the media which otherwise thinks it reflects and celebrates India’s youth. Here, a childhood friend pays tribute to a true rockstar.



I was on my way to Dabolim airport from Anjuna on Thursday when my phone rang twice around 1.30 pm flashing “Amit Saigal“. I had called Amit two days earlier when I was at Ashwem beach; I knew he was staying there.

My call had gone unanswered – so typically Amit, I told myself.

So, when I saw his name flash on my mobile phone screen I thought he was returning my call. But I could not take it immediately as I was checking in at the airport.

Once I had done so, I called Amit back on his number. It was not Amit on the other side; it was Gavin, Amit’s friend from Australia, with whom I was vaguely familiar. Thanks to the noise of the airport announcements and Gavin’s accent, I could barely make out what he was saying.

And then Gavin said: “Amit is dead.”


Amit and I had known each other since we were five years old. We had gone to the same school, St. Joseph’s in Allahabad. Amit stood out due to his unusual looks among us, Allahabadis. His complexion was western white; his hair was light in colour, almost blond.

He was built stoutly; he looked handsome.

Teachers at our school pinched his cheeks often. He was never the one who scored high grades but had a flair for writing English. Due to his appearance many of us thought he was a foreigner or an Anglo-Indian and kept some distance from him.

In school, Amit remained a bit of a mystery for us even though he would try his best to make us laugh with his fake ‘angrez’ accent, which mostly went beyond our comprehension. He could mimick very well at school functions; he was good at holding an audience’s attention.

Despite his well-heeled background (a bahadur used to bring hot food every afternoon at the lunch recess for him) anyone of us who broke ice with him found him to be just like us.


Amit Saigal came from an aristocratic family of Allahabad engaged in the business of printing UP government’s school books and stationery. His grand uncle was an Independence revolutionary of sorts and ran a publishing company by the name of Chand Press in the 1930s and ’40s.

The Saigals lived in a sprawling bungalow in the Civil Lines area and owned furniture and cutlery that would rival the Nehrus of Anand Bhawan. The Shankaracharya had stayed at the Saigal household at a time when Maharshi Mahesh Yogi was his mere sevak.

After we had finished our school, Amit’s father sent him to England to attend a printing technology fair. The experience could come in handy in running the family press, or so Saigal senior thought. But when Amit returned from ol’ Blighty, his suitcase only contained literature on his future port of calling: rock music.

Rock music in Allahabad of the 1980s might sound like Teejanbai performing for the Pope, but the truth was slightly different. Due to a sizeable Anglo-Indian community, there were a small yet die-hard rock music loving gentry.

With the help of the gear he got from his England trip Amit started a rock band on the Prayag.


Amit and I lost touch with each other after school, after my family moved to Delhi. In 1993, with his now ex-wife Shena, Amit started India’s first rock magazine from Allahabad Rock Street Journal, a sort of cut-paste job from foreign music magazines peppered with profiles of a few Indian rock bands.

Initially RSJ was a sheaf of stapled sheets put together by Amit and Shena and personally handed out by them at IIT festivals. But soon the magazine became hugely popular among the student communities of the metros. Over a period of time, Amit became a cult-like figure among the youth of India’s north eastern states.

He once received a fan’s mail, which the letter writer claimed to have written with his own blood.

When we met again around 1996, our professions were a bit similar. Amit asked me to design the glossy format RSJ. The cute little boy from school had grown his hair. It was turning silver now, flowing below his shoulders like a rock star.

He looked even more incongruous than in Allahabad.

“Don’t you get cat-calls in Allahabad for your women-length hair?” I asked.

Amit turned around and said: ‘Ham phorener hain na.’

The fact was Amit couldn’t care less.

That was Amit. He conformed only to the extent where he would not make his peers too unhappy with what he did. His rock star spirit was genuine; he did not work at it, he was born with it. He liked himself to be a bit on the edge, but one foot was always firmly planted on the ground.


Indian independent musicians will remain ever indebted to Amit Saigal for the possibilities he opened up for them in his lifetime. In the mid-90s RSJ started an annual three-day independent rock music festival, The Great Indian Rock, at Delhi’s Hamsadhwani theatre to a capacity crowd of 10,000.

For the first time Indian rock bands from across the country found a professionally managed platform to perform for a large audience. GIR over the years discovered many amateur rock bands which have graduated to professional bands now.

Fondly called “Papa Rock” by the army of musicians he unearthed and honed, Amit started club gigs called Rocktober-fest in many cities of India. The surge of live-bands we see now playing at different bars and restaurants all over the places in emerging India were triggered by RSJ a good decade back.

In 2004, RSJ took the rock band Orange Street for a 4-country rock tour of Sweden, Norway, Estonia and England. This again was the first time an Indian band was touring Europe on this scale. I followed the band on this tour as a writer and a photographer for my magazine Outlook*.

In 2009, Amit’s RSJ banner was up for more than 200 nights at different gigs all across India.

This November Amit kickstarted a weeklong international music festival in Delhi, The India Music Week.

We met a few times during the festival and he told me how physically exhausted he was putting together a festival of this size. He wanted to take a break from work, to re-energize himself in Goa for a few weeks, like he always did at the end of the year.

I told him I would join him towards New Year Eve.

Around 10 in the morning on January 5, Amit sailed out with Gavin and a few others on Gavin’s boat from Panaji dockyard to sail to Palolim. About 100 metres before Palolim beach the boys jumped into the calm waters of the Arabian sea for a swim. They were a having a lot of fun swimming.

Amit said to Gavin that next year he would bring his daughter Aditi over.

Amit floated on his back gazing the blue skies above, his favourite position when he used to be in the water. After a while, his mates noticed he was floating face down. They sensed something was amiss. They pulled Amit on to the boat, gave him the oxygen mask to breathe. But it was too late.

“Papa Rock” had already left to organise another gig, in another world.

File photograph: Amit Saigal takes the mike at the author’s wedding at Amber in Jaipur in November 2009

Also read: North meets South on the banks of Cauvery

Vinod Mehta on Arun Shourie, Dileep Padgaonkar

7 November 2011

“India’s most independent, principled and irreverent editor” Vinod Mehta has just published a memoir. Titled Lucknow Boy, the editor-in-chief  of the Outlook* group of magazines, recaptures his four-decade journalistic journey via Debonair, The Sunday Observer, The Indian Post,  The Independent and The Pioneer.

With trademark candour often bordering on the salacious, the twice-married but childless Mehta reveals that he fathered a child in a tryst with a Swiss girl in his 20s, and that as a young copywriter in Bombay, he posed as a prostitute’s boyfriend to get her sister married off (and got paid Rs 500 for his services).

Along the way, Mehta also slays two very holy cows of Indian journalism, Arun Shourie and Dileep Padgaonkar, revealing their hypocrisy and duplicity in the way they dealt with colleagues while grandstanding in public as suave, softspoken, scholarly men of letters.



Over the years, Arun Shourie and I have not seen eye to eye on many issues—something I don’t regret. Shourie, as editor of the Indian Express, had broken the big Antulay story, ‘Indira Gandhi as Commerce’ [in the early 1980s].

The expose revealed that the Maharashtra chief minister, A.R. Antulay, had started an organisation called the ‘Indian Gandhi Pratibha Pratishtan’ through which he collected illicit funds from builders. The corruption scandal forced Antulay to resign.

Arun Shourie and the Express, now implacably opposed to Indira Gandhi and the Congress, had bagged a big Congress scalp. Among journalists and sections of civil society Mr Shourie was flavour of the month—or shall I say many months.

A young reporter in the Free Press Journal with friends in the Express came to see me. He said he had a story, but was not sure if a recently launched paper like the Sunday Observer had the nerve to publish it. According to him, the chief reporter and several other senior reporters in the Express were sulking because Arun Shourie had hogged all the limelight.

While they acknowledged Shourie’s contribution, much of the legwork for the scoop had been done by the Express bureau, a fact which was never acknowledged in the story. Staff morale apparently was at an all-time low.

‘Shourie and the Penthouse conspiracy’ duly appeared. ‘Penthouse’ was mentioned because Mr Shourie allegedly sat in the Express penthouse with Ramnath Goenka and wrote the expose.

It did not take long for Arun Shourie to come back. He demanded a full rebuttal in the form of an extended interview with him. ‘Your story is a complete fabrication,’ he charged.

Kumar Ketkar, then a young and pugnacious Bombay journalist, jumped into the fray. In a letter to the editor [of The Sunday Observer], he noted: ‘The self-righteous breast-beating of Shourie is a fast spreading gangrene in the profession of journalism. If not checked in time, it could acquire the dimensions of witch-hunting and Macarthyism.’

And concluded: ‘Free from any constraint of veracity, Shourie is always able to provide exclusive stories.’ The debate on our letters page continued for many weeks.


On 19 October 1989, The Independent published an eight-column banner headline, ‘Y.B. Chavan, not Morarji Desai, spied for the US.’ For two days the story went largely unnoticed. Except for Mid-Day which carried our Chavan report almost verbatim, the rest of the media kept away.

That did not suit the perenially insecure editor of The Times of IndiaDileep Padgaonkar.

While the other editors in the Times group were troubled by my presence, Dileep had a special and urgent reason to feel troubled. I and my team were producing an English paper every day which looked infinitely better than the paper Dileep was editing, and on many mornings it even read better.

Mr Padgaonkar’s insecurities when word got around that, at a meeting with his senior managers, [Times bossman] Samir Jain mentioned me as a possible editor of The Times of India.

Dileep and the Maharashtra Times editor, Govind Talwalkar, got together to ensure the Chavan story did not go unnoticed. In an editorial on 21 October, the Times viciously attacked me and the Independent. It went so far as to incite physical violence against me, suggesting that if it did occur, it would be my own fault.

Departing from its pompous, lofty, measured tone, the Times launched a series of vituperative onslaughts targeting me, which observers found astonishing since the two papers were ‘sister publications’. One opposition leader told the media that while the (Chavan) story was indeed objectionable, it was the Times group which created the ‘hysteria’ around it.

I hold no grudges against Dileep Padgaonkar. He is who he is. However, the man who once claimed he held ‘the second most important job in the country’ can be legitimately charged with single-handedly opening the door for the denigration and decline of the Editor as an institution.

When Dileep’s bosses asked him to bend, he crawled. Since then it has been downhill all the way for other editors.

(Lucknow Boy by Vinod Mehta, published by Penguin Viking, 325 pages, Rs 499)

Illustration: courtesy Sorit GuptoOutlook

Read an excerpt: Vinod Mehta on Radia tapes, Vajpayee, V.C. Shukla

Buy the book onlineIndia Plaza offer prize Rs 299


Disclosures apply

Also readS. Nihal Singh on Arun Shourie: Right-wing pamphleteer

Why Khushwant Singh fell out with Arun Shourie

‘Lone Hindu’ Dileep Padgaonkar gets it from M.J. Akbar‘s paper

How Dileep Padgaonkar christened a Pierre Cardin model

How the Sakaal Times dream became a nightmare

The waiter who rose to be a vedic encyclopaedia

18 October 2011

Mathoor Krishnamurthy (left), the executive director of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bangalore, passed away on October 6 at the age of 84. Mathoorji, as the world called him, rose from his humble beginnings as a waiter and bus conductor, to be chief of BVB’s London centre for a quarter of a century.

Captain G.R. Gopinath, the founder of the low cost airline Air Deccan, pays tribute to the slightly built scholar hailing from the Sanskrit-speaking village of Mathoor, who held audiences spellbound with his wit, intellect and wisdom.



Though I was acquainted with Mathoorji since long, I got to know him intimately only a couple of years ago.

I decided to host a Gamaka concert at my residence. (Gamaka a dying art, unique only to Karnataka, is where a singer adopts a suitable raga as he recites a poem usually from the epics, a raga or a rasa which verily captures the meaning and spirit of the lines).

I called Mathoorji for breakfast to my house to talk it over. He created an unforgettable impression. He was on the dot at the appointed hour. He was dressed impeccably in the traditional style of a Kannada Sanskrit pandit, with a crisp starched white cotton dhoti and waist coat on a white khadi shirt.

His eyes had a sparkle and he was sprightly and mercurial.

He could converse in flawless Sanskrit, Tamil, Kannada, English and many Indian languages.

When I told him that I intended to host a Gamaka concert on episodes from either Valmiki Ramayana or Mahabharatha, and if he could render a discourse on it both in Kannada and English, he was elated, for he never imagined that someone steeped in the business world would find either the time or have the inclination for such a traditional art form.

He had the energy and enthusiasm of an eighteen year old, and he readily agreed.

Sitting next to Mathoorji was an overwhelming experience—as an experience when you are by the ocean. Whether it was a discourse on the Bhagavad Gita on stage or when he conversed in family circles, he was both akin to a gushing mountain brook and the mighty ocean.

He had wit, great story telling ability that held your attention, and could recite extensively from memory from the Gita, Ramayana, Mahabharatha, Upanishads and Puranas, and also from all the great poets of Kannada and Sanskrit. He was a treasure trove of anecdotes and could hold you spellbound with stories both from his own life and from the mythological epics.

He was steeped in tradition and yet very modern in his thinking and a true Gandhian.

Even at 84, he was involved in multifarious activities – producing videos and audios, writing, publishing and giving a daily discourse on TV channels and also in the educational and cultural activities of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Bangalore.

But his most endearing quality was his humility.

He had seen extreme hardship during his younger days and pursued his studies living in ashrams and taking meals at the homes of well-wishers who offered free board. He had worked in various jobs as a bus conductor and a waiter.

When I praised him, he merely said, “We cannot take credit for anything. We are only instruments in His hands – you do your work and leave it to Him”.

He had come home 20 days ago. He was a bundle of energy. He invited me to a book launch on “GandhiUpanishad” which he had just written. He regaled us with stories and anecdotes and as is usually the case with scholars, he was wont to meander from one story to another.

As he was leaving, he quoted a few lines from the ancient ‘Subhashita’ on the virtue of speaking with love and affection.

I asked him to write it for me in his own hand in the small note book I had in my pocket.

This is what he wrote:

“On your tongue resides Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth,
Your tongue can win you friends and relationships,
Your tongue can land you in prison,
 And your tongue can also lead to death.
Is there any poverty for good words?”

Mathoorji  left us suddenly and his death was a shock to all who knew him. But his message lives on.

He showed us that work is worship, love of the particular need not be in contradiction to love of the universal, and non-violence in speech and action, cleanliness and perennial enthusiasm in daily activities and dedicating as much time as one can spare, to doing public good is way to happiness and salvation.

His life was his message.

File photograph: Mathoor Krishnamurthy with sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan, in Bangalore in 2009 (courtesy The Hindu)

Also read: How namma Vijay floored namma Gopi

An epitaph to the literate, educated middle-class

How “munde magane” launched churumuri

You may not know Rafiq, but he needs your help

14 October 2011

DEV S. SUKUMAR writes from Bangalore: Right through our conversation, I thought those were slices of raw meat there, placed in water on a plate, all bloody and flies hovering around it.

Later I realized it was a beetroot. It’s hard to make things out in the dim light of a single bulb.

Rafiq’s been eating raw beetroot.

The man I spent so much time with, partly wishing I had inherited so many of his remarkable skills, is sinking.

It’s a horrible time to be him, a free spirit in a body becoming fast dysfunctional, memories playing tricks, abandoned by his wife, robbed of his fond possessions, his works of art, and having to depend on the charity of neighbours for food.

The last time I saw him, at the south zone climbing championships, I had a hint of the trouble he was in. His voice was slurring badly, and he was moving with difficulty. He was invited to the dais along with his contemporaries – three or four senior climbers – and when he spoke he broke down, briefly, as he wished them luck.

I had never seen Rafiq breaking down.

Rafiq was a character. I’d heard something of him, that he kept a snake at home and that he was a maverick artist, but the first sight of him startled me. The first thought in my head was that his Maker had put random things together and constructed him.

His bulging eyes were set in the middle of his face; his hair and French beard, all spiky, seemed nailed for good on a face that was leathery and weather-beaten. Tufts of hair exploded from his ears, and that on a head with no neck.

He had a generous midriff, cloaked in a jacket in which he had all sorts of things. And he rode a Bajaj Bobby – a sort of daschund among bikes — that had become extinct in the 1980s. The overall effect was of watching some character right out of a comic book.

But what a character! Rafiq was the most carefree person in the world. You could drop by at his place any time of the day or night, and he would talk – of animals, birds, insects, bike engines, snakes, mountains, grasslands, hills, boulders, photography.

He was your outdoors man.

He knew every insect, every plant, every bird and every reptile – their Latin names, the calls they made, the games they played. He could distinguish male bird calls from the female, tell you whether it was a mating call or something else.

Where and how he could store all this information, I do not know, for Rafiq was not an academic. As far as I knew, he hadn’t even been to college. He had picked up everything himself.

Similarly, his talents at art were self-developed and just as remarkable. He would do murals from dealwood, which was then considered just packing material. He told me he’d learnt it after seeing a documentary on TV.

He would take a plank of wood, study its grains, and see something in his mind’s eye: Cleopatra; a herd of horses; various forms of (his favourite) Ganesha.

He was just as good an artist of junk. He would go to the scrap yards, pick up some piece of metal – a discarded engine, a handlebar, a shock absorber – and weld it all into some magical piece: an armoured knight; a praying mantis.

He had made an owl out of dealwood. It was something between a mural and a sculpture, an owl on top of a pier.

“You know, that’s because owls have no more place in the cities,” he told me. “This is an owl at the edge of its existence. The pier is its last place on land… our cities have made it impossible for birds like this to survive.”

He had made the mural after the Surat plague, which he blamed on the extinction of natural predators of plague-carrying rats.

I’ve spent days and nights with him, listening to his tales of the Himalayas; of rock climbing in Ramnagaram or Savandurga or Turhalli; of the names they gave those rocks based on the difficulty of climbing; of how he once had a monkey named Jango and what a hit it was with the girls; of how snakes belong to the wild, they can never be domesticated.

(He once told me of the time he tried to carry a cobra in a train; he had put it in a bag, and soon the thing starting wriggling and scared the wits out of everybody.)

We used to sit in his office next to his house. He called it his machan – which it was, because you had to climb into it through a narrow ladder, and he kept all sorts of things there, including his sand boa.

With Rafiq, all of the outdoors came alive; it was not just facts or interesting information – it was lived knowledge, something that came with deep love and personal experience.

What made it all so special was that he was like a sage of the wild, always cheerful and ready with another wilderness story. Somehow, with such a man, you’d never expect anything to go wrong.

Of course, there was his fondness for pan masala.

I remember one conversation vividly. I knew a guy named Riki Krishnan who was an expert on bats, so one day I took Rafiq to meet Riki and they hit it off well. Apart from their common interests in other living things, they shared a love for pan masala. I’d heard horrible stories about it, so I asked them if they shouldn’t be dumping the habit.

Riki grinned, and said, yeah, I know all about it, how it causes fibrosis, how it screws your mouth and taste buds so you can’t eat anything else, but you know, once you’re hooked on to it, you can’t do without it.

And Rafiq nodded.

Riki’s dead. He was diagnosed with cancer.

Rafiq’s barely able to speak.

He says it’s due to a stroke he had after his studio, with all its equipment, was burgled. But he’s barely able to open his mouth, and his words are slurring, so I guess the pan masala must have something to do with it.

I think the burglary of his studio broke him. He had some expensive equipment there, and once that was gone, there was nothing to fall back upon. He told me he’d lost all his prized photo slides as well.

He had some excellent collections – of insects, birds, reptiles – that he would show school children during camps. Rafiq was so good with kids. He was like a Santa Claus of the wild, and he had a fund of stories and a booming laugh that made them all love him.

Once he told me, long ago, that he had had such an adventurous life, he wouldn’t mind it if he “kicked the bucket right now”. But right now he’s a shadow of that brave old self.

His words are slurring, he doesn’t have food to eat, and he weeps at every other thought.

“Life’s a funny thing,” he told me today. After a while he asked me: “What’s your name again?”

(Sports journalist Dev S. Sukumar is the author of a Prakash Padukone biography titled Touch Play)


Those who wish to help Rafiq may contact him at:

No.285, 20th Main Road

Marenahalli, Off Chord Road

Vijayanagar, Bangalore 560040

A Hindu Iftar for a good Muslim doctor at work

6 August 2011

A 2008 image of Mysore deputy commissioner P. Manivannan at an Iftar at the Muslim girls’ orphanage

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: The holy month of Ramzan, which is the harbinger of much happiness and good cheer to Muslims the world over, has come. This month marks a period of fasting, alms-giving and special prayers which Muslims all over the world undertake as ordained by Allah in a bid to cleanse and rejuvenate their souls.

All Muslims believe that it is a very pious and spiritually rewarding act to provide food for anyone at Iftar, the time when people break their fasts immediately after sunset.

So it is a common tradition among Muslims to arrange Iftar parties for their friends and relatives by turns which become occasions not only to enrich their souls but for happy socialising too. Many well-to-do Muslims with noble intentions arrange such parties to feed the poor too.

But we have been discovering of late that a new breed of politically motivated Iftar parties are becoming commonplace not with the object of winning any spiritual rewards but with the motive of winning the hearts of Muslim vote-banks.

While the head of a Muslim seminary has recently issued a fatwa or religious edict that Muslims should not attend such politically motivated Iftars he has been reminded almost immediately by many Muslim organisations through a fusillade of repartees that he has no locus standi to issue it.

Since everything is fair in love, war and politics there is nothing anyone can do about this unholy trend and I am sure it is here to stay and reap its earthly rewards.

But I would like to highlight here a different kind of Iftar party of which I have been a beneficiary for the past so many years and the kind of which we need to encourage to foster brotherliness and inter-religious harmony at a time when these qualities seem very elusive and intangible.

Every Tuesday I have my weekly outdoor clinic at the town of Kollegal which is a rather long drawn affair that goes on till late in the night. This has been a tradition that I have chosen not to abandon after I had to wind up my regular practice there nearly nine years ago when I had to move over to Mysore in search of higher education for my children.

Every Tuesday, unfailingly, during every Ramzan, O.P. Mahesh Kumar and Jagadish, my two Hindu friends there have insisted and ensured that I along with my clinic staff break our fasts with the freshly cooked, piping hot food they bring from their homes just before sunset.

They are ordinary souls of modest means with neither motive nor ambition but they do so with simple love and affection. Now, how is that for a really pious and holy act?

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician, who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where a longer version of this piece originally appeared)

Representative photograph: Mysore deputy commissioner P. Manivannan at an iftar at the Muslim girls’ orphanage in 2008 (courtesy The Hindu)

You are never too old to say, ‘Remember me’?

27 June 2011

This is a picture to both salute and to smile. The former first: the man in the middle of the frame, the veteran food scientist T.N. Ramachandra Rao, passed away in Mysore on Friday, after having lived a full life of 96 years and with over 100 research papers and three patents to his name.

What is so special about the picture is that seated to the right of Rao is his nursery classmate, Lokamatha. The two went to school in Tumkur and met at a marriage ceremony in Mysore in December 2008 after a gap of—wait for it—85 years. To Rao’s left is his wife, Kamalamma, who survives him.

Photograph: courtesy Star of Mysore

Also read: Once upon a time, in New Public English School

Once upon a time, shortly after the lunch break

Once upon a time, in Nirmala High school

Once upon a time, in Marimallappa‘s high school

Once upon a time, in Maharaja‘s high school

Once upon a time, in Maharani‘s college (yes!)

Once upon a time in Ramakrishna Vidyashala

Once upon a time in CFTRI high school

How Ananth Kumar danced to Niira Radia’s tunes

12 May 2011

A 2003 Lankesh Patrike picture showing then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee calling on Pejawar Swami (seated), with Niira Radia in tow

Every good scandal deserves to be immortalised between covers, and Niira Radia, the star of the 2G spectrum allocation scam, gets her due through a new book, “Close encounters with Niira Radia“, by the controversial lawyer and former parliamentarian, R.K. Anand.

Anand, who was stung by NDTV in the BMW hit-and-run case while trying to influence witnesses, gets his revenge through Radia, who coincidentally counted NDTV Imagine among her clients.

Edited by former India Today executive editor Inderjit Badhwar and published by Har-Anand publications, Close encounters with Niira Radia promises to be a “dramatic tell-all account by India’s top criminal lawyer of the character and con games of the corporate lobbyist whose activities have shaken India’s power class”.

In reality, it is little but a collation of reports and analyses on a “sprightly, bubbly and vivacious woman who at the age of 35 burst on to India’s political and business centre stage in the form of a whirling diva and whose every fervid gyration spun a web of cunning, duplicity and intrigue, ensnaring a veritable who’s who of those who run this nation’s business, political and journalistic empires.”

But the book does have its moments, and one of them is Niira Radia’s alleged proximity to the Karnataka BJP leader and former Union civil aviation minister, Ananth Kumar, which reportedly had his wife Tejaswini Ananth Kumar running to the doorstep of prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.



“During 1996-97, I used to get medicines for my wife from the United States and Niira Radia was always a great help making arrangement for the safe transport of these life-enhancing drugs through her client, KLM. Niira had become a sister to me and I began treating her as one.

“The links between us grew stronger when she shifted her residence to a farm house near mine. As a neighbour, her visits became even more frequent.

“We chatted on just about every subject. But underlining all our bonversations was Niira’s emphasis on becoming the most successful businesswoman in India. She was driven by this motivation.

“It became obvious to me that she was going in for a big kill. What exactly that would be, I could not fathom. But it would be big or nothing at all. At that time I had no idea that she would spread her wings into the political arena to satisfy her craving for business and power.

“So it came as a shock to me when I discovered, one day, when visiting her farmhouse, dancing closely with NDA minister Ananth Kumar to western ballroom music….


“Niira always thought big. She was not satisfied with piddling assignments. Her ultimate ambition was to start her own airline. To achieve this target she needed the help of the new aviation minister, Ananth Kumar, who was a member of Parliament from Karnataka.

“No longer a stranger to the ways of Delhi and the art of cosying up to the high and mighty through a liberal use of contacts, name dropping, and invitations and parties, Niira had wasted no time in getting on the inside track with Ananth Kumar from his early days as minister.

“The BJP’s return to power in 1999 as well as Ananth Kumar’s regaining his former portfolio allowed her to continue to fly loftily in the aviation skies.

“She also had an added advantage. She knew more about the aviation industry than half of Ananth Kumar’s own top bureaucrats. Ananth Kumar, himself a neophyte, a rookie minister in the NDA government, found in Niira a good teacher about the intricacies, pitfalls and vicissitudes of the powerful aviation sector.

“Needless to say, he was also smitten by the femme fatale who was now so sure of her magic with men.

“She did not hide her closeness to him. Friends often saw them together at Sudesh Farm, Asola, in Delhi, where Niira was still living with Rao Dheeraj Singh – a former Sahara executive.


“Niira had her sights set. At whatever the cost, she wanted to sell helicopters to the governments of Maharashtra and Karnataka, Ananth Kumar’s home-state. With his help, she managed to clinch the deal for the two state governments.

“The hefty commissions she received went into Niira’s London and Channel Island accounts, recalls her partner Singh.

“The next window of opportunity for Niira as she continued to pursue her dream of conquering the skies by becoming an airline magnate was the air show in Bangalore….

“Niira like a female version of Icarus, had already begun spreading her wings. She was determined to influence the Indian government to buy aircraft from Airbus. She knew from her deep knowledge of governmental decision-making in this area that a new acquisition policy for fleet enhancement and acquisition for Indian Airlines and Air India was in the offing.

“From Ananth Kumar she learned that the process would be fast-tracked for both the flagship domestic and international carriers…. So persistent was her interference in the affairs of Indian Airlines, that the manging director P.C. Sen objected to her meddling. Niira’s benefactor, Ananth Kuamr, responded by removing Sen from that post.

“During the time that the aircraft acquisition policy was being changed Niira was a frequent visitor to Ananth Kumar’s official rsidence at 10, Prithviraj Road. According to intelligence reports, Niira and Ananth Kumar frequently travelled abroad.

“Ananth Kumar was actually a country bumpkin—a hayseed as the Americans put it—who learnt sophistication and speech and social graces from Niira. If the roles in Pygmalion had been reversed Ananth Kumar would have been Eliza Doolittle and Niira Henry Higgins.

“The upshot of this courtship was that as aviation minister Ananth Kumar changed the acquisition policy to favour Airbus on the specious ground that Indian Airlines and Air India no longer needed large capacity long-range airplanes but rather only short capacity long-range ones—which the Boeing company was not manufacturing.

“The deal roughtly worth Rs 22,000 crore at a 10 per cent commission would work out to a windfall of Rs 220 crore for Niira.


“But the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. The BJP government headed by Atal Behari Vajpayee fell short of acquiring a confidence vote in Parliament and came tumbling down. New elections were called.

“Niira and her accomplices worked round the clock to ensure BJP’s return to power—especially return of Kumar to this portfolio as aviation minister. There was too much work to be done, pending contracts to be signed.

“Apart from the Airbus deal, one other pending project during this corresponding period was the construction of an up-to-date flying school. Singh was in charge of this project. The deal had been finalised between Radia and Ananth Kumar.

“Ananth Kumar’s role as minister was to ensure that the Airport Authority would provide the entire Mysore airfield at a nominal lease amount and obtain the mandatory clearance from the government of Karnataka… Ananth Kumar deputed no less a person than his own private secretary, Krishna Kumar, to help break the ice with local officialdom.

“Meanwhile, elections were in full swing and, according to Rao Dheeraj Singh, sacks of money were delivered in Bombay, Bangalore and Delhi by Niira to finance the re-election and comeback of Ananth Kumar to his former portfolio.

“The money was collected mostly by Ananth Kumar’s confidant and officer on special duty, one Diwakar.


“Kumar made a comeback to his portfolio when the BJP returned to power after the election in a coalition called the NDA. But his tenure was short-lived and he could not deliver on the deals he had made with Niira.

“The problem was that his association with Niira had taken the colour of a scandal, and Ananth Kumar’s wife Tejaswini made a personal complaint to prime minister Vajpayee. The PM promptly re-assigned Ananth Kumar to the culture and youth affairs and sports ministry.”

(Excerpted from Close encounters with Niira Radia, by R.K. Anand, editor Inderjit Badhwar, Har-Anand publications, pp 326, Rs 595)


Photograph: courtesy Gauri Lankesh

From 2G into 3Gs before you can read this line

10 February 2011

Ratan Tata, the chairman of the Tata group, a trained pilot like his predecessor J.R.D. Tata, steps into a supersonic McDonnell-Douglas, now Boeing F/A 18 Hornet (above), and sits pillion behind pilot Mike Wallace at the Aero India show, in Bangalore on Thursday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

‘Buddha, Basavanna, Shakespeare and Marx’

9 February 2011

PRITHVI DATTA CHANDRA SHOBHI writes: A few years ago, most likely in 2005, while watching the proceedings of the Karnataka legislative assembly, I heard M. P. Prakash speak. He was then the deputy chief minister in the Congress-JD (S) coalition government.

I don’t remember the context or the issues involved but I clearly remember his speech. And that’s because in a 20-minute response to a debate in the assembly, Prakash invoked Shakespeare, Basavanna, Karl Marx, Gautama Buddha, and for good measure, several other Kannada poets.

It didn’t matter whether he was quoting them accurately or whether his invocation was even necessary. By then, the new breed of Karnataka politician had entered the Karnataka Assembly and it felt so strange to hear Prakash refer to Marx and Shakespeare.

But then Prakash was known to be a different kind of politician – as someone who enjoyed the company of books and writers, of theatre, arts and cinema. He wasn’t simply an enthusiast but an active participant in arts and literature – as a writer, actor and theatre director.

Prakash’s sensibilities were such that when Janata Party was in power in the 1980s, the intellectuals of Karnataka wanted him to take charge of the education ministry. When he was the minister for Kannada and culture, our writers and artists felt he was someone approachable, and further that he would understand their needs and perspectives.

In this regard, he filled the void left behind by K. V. Shankare Gowda of Mandya.

In India: A Million Mutinies Now, Sir V. S. Naipaul writes extensively on Karnataka, which he sees through the eyes of Prakash. In his earlier works on India, Naipaul wasn’t optimistic about the changes taking place in the first three decades of independence, but if he revises his opinion and sees reasons for optimism, if he has a more nuanced understanding of the complexities and contradictions of Indian society and polity, the credit for that at least partially should go to Prakash.

More significantly, Prakash was a politician a writer or thinker could interact with and learn from.

In the last ten years, Prakash was struggling to retain his political base in a Bellary district that had been overtaken by the Reddy revolution. His only son too had apparently become part of the new and booming economy of mining and had benefited from that.

While that may hint at a sad change that had come about in this one time socialist, it also shows the tragic side of Karnataka’s politics: even someone like Prakash had come to believe he needs the mining wealth in order to survive in politics.

Prakash’s demise creates a void in Karnataka politics, which will remain unfulfilled for a while. We may find some faults with him, but he remained a man of culture in an arena that’s increasingly becoming bereft of just that and where fistfights and physical threats have become order of the day.

I would like to remember the man who spoke of Shakespeare in the Karnataka legislative assembly for it is going to be a while before we hear such chatter.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: What M.P. Prakash told Sir Vidiadhar Naipaul


24 January 2011 records with deep regret the demise of Pandit Bhimsen Gururaj Joshi in Poona this morning. The Gadag-born Bharat Ratna was 90 years old and had been ailing for some time.

Also read: Balamuralikrishna, Bhimsen Joshi & ‘amritam

When Bhimsen Joshi said, ‘akka, haadi torsala‘?

The Bharat Ratna adorns a real gem from Gadag

When the soil, air and the peda aid the vocal chords

Adolf Hitler finally reacts to “Barkhagate”

24 November 2010

So what if “mainstream media”, assuming such a beast exists, ignores the Niira Radia tapes in the 2G scam involving, among others, topguns of journalism like Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi and Prabhu Chawla?

Also read: This is “All India Radia”

RAVI BELAGERE: Income, outgo, assets, liabilities

4 October 2010

With journalistic integrity, both individual and institutional, increasingly under question with the spurt of paid news, private treaties, mediating, brokering and other wheeling and dealing, there have been growing calls for journalists to also declare their assets and liabilities, much like politicians, judges and bureaucrats.

Ravi Belagere (in picture), the colourful and sometimes controversial editor of the Kannada tabloid Hi Bangalore!—whose ad-free menu is a heady cocktail of crime, cinema, sleaze, politics and literature—has been doing just that on the pages of his paper for years now.

Every September, the popular and prolific Belagere, who also writes and publishes books, hosts television shows, acts in movies, and runs a school on top of his journalistic duties, publishes not so much a list but a confessional of what he holds and what he owes.

This is Belagere’s deeply personal “P&L statement” for the year gone by (translated from the original Kannada), published in the October 7 issue of Hi Bangalore!.

If nothing else, it offers a start.



“It is account-giving time once again.

“For someone who rode to Bangalore on his motorcycle with Rs 380 in his pocket, if I am anything today, it is because of Hi Bangalore!. For 15 years, I have been a humble servant of you, my reader, and it is my duty to present my accounts before you, my master.

“Except for two buses which I purchased for Prarthana School, I did not obtain any moveable assets  this year. For my personal use, I have a Skoda and Volkswagen, with the Skoda being put to greater use. But, as you are aware, in the second-half of the last year, my movements were restricted [due to an illness].

“There is a Maruti Omni in the garage for the use of the office staff. The Ind-Suzuki and Bullet motorcycles that are so dear to me, continue to remain parked there.

“I did not buy any new clothes either but I did buy books as if they were going out of fashion.

“I purchased a house-site in ‘Karishma Hills’ on the outskirts of Bangalore in the name of [third son] Karna and work on a new house has begun. I have bequeathed my Padmanabhnagar house, Amma, and a flat to my daughter Bhavana. The other house in Seshadripuram is already with my other daughter Chetana. At the moment, my wife Lalitha, mother-in-law, children, grandchildren, me and the dog stay in our Banashankari house, Ammi Jaan.

“Last year, I had purchased a house that [woman Friday] Nivedita had bought and donated it to Seena (nick name of Srinivas), who has been with me and been my shadow for nearly 30 years.

“As for my office, my friends keep teasing me,  ‘This is your Brindavana’. In Brahmin patois, Brindavana means final resting place. This office is my own.

“I have only one bank account, at Karnataka Bank, and have debts of nearly Rs 4 crore.

“Last year, I paid income-tax of Rs 54,44,450.

“Both the newspaper and the publishing house are in the black. The monthly employee costs of Hi Bangalore! is about Rs 4,20,000, and Nivedita is the highest-paid employee.

“There are 349 employees in Prarthana School which has 5,900 students. Their annual wage bill is Rs 2,00,82,000. Prarthana has four buildings of its own, and a small playground. Besides, I have rented two rooms. This year,too, principal Sheela was honoured by the government for the 100% pass-rate in SSLC.

“As you are aware, I devote a portion of my profits for poor students and the sick and ailing. Several children, all the way up to engineering and medical students, are availing the scholarship instituted in the name of my friend ‘SitanadiSurendra. The good news this year is that one of the girls is appearing for the IAS. Tens of heart and kidney patients, cancer victims, HIV-afflicted are benefitting from the donations.

“All the money for these ventures comes from you, the reader. My task is merely to distribute it.

“This year, thanks to my laziness, I did not write a single book. The publication of O Manase suffered hiccups for the same reason.

“From the moment Hi Bangalore! was born, my friend R.T. Vittal Murthy has been with me through thick and thin. He is my biggest asset.

“After this declaration, what more is there to admit?”

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: ‘Editors and senior journalists must declare assets’

Complete coverage: Editors’ Guild on paid news, private treaties

The Times of India and the Commonwealth Games

The decentralisation of paid-for news begins

Pyramid Saimira, Tatva & Times Private Treaties

Times Private Treaties gets a very public airing

SUCHETA DALAL: Forget the news, you can’t believe the ads either

Does he who pays the piper call the tune?

SALIL TRIPATHI: The first casualty of a cosy deal is credibility

Selling the soul? Or sustaining the business?

PAUL BECKETT: Indian media holding Indian democracy ransom

Does he who pays the piper call the tune?

PRATAP BHANU MEHTA: ‘Indian media in deeply murky ethical territory’

The scoreline: Different strokes for different folks

A package deal that’s well worth a second look

The brave last words of Prabhash Joshi

‘Only the weather section isn’t sold these days’

It takes 3 Idiots to call the bluff of Pauper Tigers

If you trust polls, trust in Indian media dips

About an inch shorter than the latest KKR recruit

11 August 2010

M.S. Balasubramania, the snake-catcher and conservationist better known as ‘SnakeShyam, displays a seven-feet-long python, reported to be slithering at an apartment near the Infosys campus in Mysore on Tuesday night. The greenish-black reptile, about four years old, weighed nearly 20 kilograms.

Shyam, who has been at it since 1982, handed over the prize catch to the Mysore zoo on Wednesday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: Without expectation of reward or recognition

19,999 after he caught the first one in 1982

Has namma R.K. Laxman drawn his last cartoon?

21 June 2010

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: A question mark hangs over India’s most famous exclamation mark after a further slip in health of Rasipuram Krishnaswami Laxman, the iconic cartoonist of The Times of India.

The 86-year-old Laxman, who has drawn cartoons for ToI for 63 years, has been airlifted to Bombay, reportedly after suffering a “mild stroke”, and is receiving treatment at the Breach Candy hospital, family sources say.

(A report in The Times of India says he suffered three mini-strokes between Thursday and Saturday.)

Already a shadow of his former self after a first stroke seven years ago which affected his left hand, R.K. Laxman, as he is known to newspaper readers, was first admitted to the Sahyadri hospital in Poona, where he currently lives, but was airlifted to Bombay on Sunday evening.

Mysore-born Laxman was last spotted at the engagement ceremony of his grand-niece in Bombay earlier this year.

Despite his first stroke, Laxman returned to draw the “You Said It!” pocket cartoon for The Times of India every morning, although the state of his health showed in the scraggly lines and often times in the cartoon being desultorily buried in the inside pages.

On days he doesn’t come up with a cartoon, ToI dips into its archives.

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

Also read: Making all of us smile can make one of us cry

Look who inspired R.K. Laxman‘s common man!

External reading: The Ramon Magsaysay foundation citation

Will media activism secure justice for Bhopal?

8 June 2010

The farcical judgment in the Bhopal gas tragedy case has come—25 years and 6 months after the accident.

The media pats itself on the back for securing justice in middle-class, urban, people-like-us stories like Jessica Lal, Sanjeev Nanda and Ruchika Girhotra.

Will the TV stations get into a similar activist mode on behalf of the 15,274 killed and 574,000 affected in Bhopal, especially when one of the eight convicted, Keshub Mahindra, is a major advertiser?

Yesterday’s judgment has offered a chance for journalists to put things in perspective on a pre-television era tragedy.


Internationally acclaimed photographer Pablo Bartholomew writes in today’s Hindustan Times on how he got to capture the picture that defined the Bhopal tragedy:

“The Lok Sabha election campaign started on December 1, 1984, and I decided to start working in Patna and make my way to Amethi in the Sultanpur area in Uttar Pradesh.

“While in Patna on December 3, I heard on the radio: 30 dead in gas leak in Bhopal. Ignored it and took the plane to Lucknow.

“Drove towards Sultanpur to arrive at a dhaba by 9 pm. On a black-and-white TV, saw the most bizarre news footage of dead people being wheeled on wooden handcarts. Toll: 120 dead.

“Decided to go to Bhopal.

“Maybe it is a denial, a kind of guilt that I have not been able to do enough on a personal individual level for the people, the situation. And that is I guess the shallowness of 95 per cent of the journalism we do. We all tend to walk away. It’s the next story that we look to and the story is just a story.

“This experience really scared me. Showed the ugly side of modern development and what corporate greed and negligence was all about.”

Elsewhere, in the same paper, N.K. Singh, then a junior reporter in the Indian Express, pens a first-person piece on the trauma of reporting the tragedy.

The human tragedy waiting to happen in the city mosques had been prophetically predicted by the outstanding journalist Raajkumar Keswani (in picture, left) years earlier. “Bhopal jwalamukhi ki kagaar par (Bhopal on the edge of a volcano),” ran a headline for Keswani‘s piece in 1982.

N.K. Singh writes that he too was alerted to what was to unfold on December 4, by Keswani.

“I was fast asleep under a warm quilt in Bhopal when the phone rang. My friend Raajkumar Keswani, a journalist living in the old quarters of the town, sounded agitated, a little incoherent and was gasping for breath and coughing. He said there was a commotion in the street, people were running around and something had happened.

“‘I am having a problem breathing,’ he said….

“On the evening of December 3, 1984, as I sat on my typewriter to write the story of the world’s worst industrial disaster, tears started welling up in my eyes. That evening, and for many evenings after that, tears would keep rolling down  my cheeks even as I hammered at the keyboard to meet the deadline of the newspaper.”

For his work on Bhopal, Raajkumar Keswani was later decorated with the B.D. Goenka award.


Last year, on the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, Shreekant Khandekar, the former Bhopal correspondent of India Today, recounted the experience in an article in Outlook magazine:

“I was just 28 and had to work alone because everyone else was busy with the forthcoming general elections. Thankfully India Today was then a fortnightly and my deadline was still a week away….

“I needed the dope for a detailed illustration, showing how things had gone wrong. I found a local studio that was Carbide’s official photographer. I bought more than a hundred photographs of the Carbide premises from every conceivable angle. I also plotted the layout of the plant on a sheet. Then, at the back of every picture I noted the angle from which a particular piece of equipment had been photographed.

“Meanwhile, I had located a former safety officer of Carbide who now worked in Delhi. I flew down and ran him through what I had. He said it sounded technically plausible. And when our artist put together an illustration based on the photographs and layout sheet, the safety officer was amazed by its accuracy.”

Photographs: courtesy iconicphotos, blogger


Pablo Bartholomew: We journalists just walk to the next story

N.K. Singh: ‘For several nights, I wept as I typed’

Shreekant Khandekar: The dead line

Who’s running the Feudal Republic of India? ANC.

30 May 2010

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: I met the Ace Political Expert (APE) at Cheluvamba Park doing his yogic walk. After a couple of rounds, he sat on the stone beach.

He beckoned me to sit and I asked him the question that was bothering me since the prime minister’s national press conference last week: “Who exactly is running our country?”

After taking a long breath, APE said: “There is a coalition government but there is collision at each and every step.”

It was a bad pun, but I let it be.

“Could you be more specific? Is Manmohan Singh running the country?”

“It is illusory to feel Manmohan Singh is running the country. He is running away from running the country, by visiting various countries. In effect, he is on the run most of the times.”

“He is not going anywhere. He himself said so during his press conference,” I interrupted.

“He meant Rahul Gandhi may have to wait a little longer to take his place as per the norms of the feudal democractic republic of India.”

“If Manmohan is not running the country, what about Sonia?”

“Well, Sonia is running the country and she is not! Let me explain. She wants the home minister to have a dialogue with Maoists. But Chidambaram is confused whether he should start a dialogue or act like Vedanta’s lawyer and box the Maoists for the bauxite. So he is doing nothing. Worse, he is doing a daily Q&A session with Barkha Dutt on 26 /11 forgetting there is an external affairs minister to do that job in S.M. Krishna.”

“This is all so confusing.”

“S.M. Krishna was busy monitoring and mentoring Shashi Tharoor who is anyway beyond mentoring and monitoring. That’s how he landed in a sweaty soup during IPL.”

APE continued: “Sonia wants the prices of tur dal and loki to be controlled but Sharad Pawar has apparently better things to do. He is busy getting new suits stitched for the post of ICC chief. So Sonia is not running the country either.”

“Sometimes it looks it is the opposition that is running the country.”

“That’s how it seemed to me too looking at the way Arun Jaitley supported the government to take tough action against Naxals and Maoists. I thought he was guiding Chidambaram. But Digvijay Singh’s bashing up of Chidambaram indicates neither UPA nor Congress is running the country. The much tom-tomed opposition unity on cut-motion fell flat on its face. So the opposition are not running the country either.”

I was getting desperate.

“The electronic media is all the time hysterical with their ‘Breaking News’ song-and-dance act. Are they running the country?”

“Sometimes I feel the troika of Prannoy Roy, Rajdeep Sardesai and Arnab Goswami are running the country. But their agenda is mostly restricted to the Ruchika case, Aarushi murder case, etc, followed by a lengthy acrimonious debate. If they don’t have any agenda, they bring in Lalit Modi’s IPL3 which always has something to offer—-cricket, Bollywood starlets, midnight parties, millions of dollars, match fixing , N. Srinivasan’s homa before the finals etc.”

“Could the armed forces be running the country,” I wonder.

“It looked like that when we won the Kargil war. But the fudging of records of Kargil war, painting heroes as villains and villains as heroes, and the periodic selling of our defense secrets like in the Navy warm room look belies such thoughts.”

“What about the ministers,” I asked.

“Mostly they are busy with their scams or tantrums. DMK’s A. Raja, the telecom minister is known more for his 2G scam. Instead of being a rail mantri, Mamata Banerjee is in Kolkata trying to overthrow the Leftists there, be it in the state, municipal, or panchayet  elections, or even a local football match. I don’t think ministers are running the country either.”

I was getting exasperated.

“If Dr Singh is running away from the country’s problems, Sonia has no idea, ministers are not running the country, who is in charge or are we on auto-pilot?”

“ANC,” said APE.

“You mean African National Congress?”

“No. The ANC here  is Anarchy, Nepotism and Corruption!” said the APE.

“Are they running the country?” I asked.

“They are ruining the country!” concluded the APE.

CHURUMURI POLL: Anand, India’s greatest ever?

11 May 2010

After travelling thousands of kilometres by road over 40 hours to meet a temperamental rival who wouldn’t let volcanic ash come between him and the title, Vishwanathan Anand has been crowned the world chess champion once again.

The soft, self-effacing Spain-based Indian has been there, done that and won the laurel before, of course. But it is still worth asking: is the 40-year-old Anand the greatest sportsman India has produced? Greater than Sachin Tendulkar? Greater than Leander Paes? Greater than Pankaj Advani?

Or, are all of them great in their own ways?

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: India’s greatest sportsman?

TWEET THIS: Shashi Tharoor & Globalisation 2.0*

13 April 2010

The minister of state for external affairs, “Row Bahadur” Shashi Tharoor, often uses the Princess Diana analogy to explain globalisation to the great unwashed:

An English princess with a Welsh title leaves a French hotel with her Egyptian companion, who has supplanted a Pakistani; she is driven in a German car with a Dutch engine by a Belgian chauffeur full of Scottish whisky; they are chased by Italian paparazzi on Japanese motorcycles into a Swiss-built tunnel and crash; a rescue is attempted by an American doctor using Brazilian medicines, and the story is now being told to you now by an Indian visiting Berlin. There’s globalisation.

On the day the effluent discharge about the Cochin franchise in the IPL reached the upper reaches of stratosphere, here’s how “Tweetiya No. 1” could describe Globalisation 2.0 using Dame Sunanda Pushkar:

“A Kashmiri beautician who migrated to Jammu marries a Delhi man, divorces him and goes to Dubai;  she runs a spa there and marries a Kerala man who dies in a road accident in Delhi, after which she moves to Toronto. Now in advertising, now in construction, now in IT, now also in travel business, now also in automobiles, she divides her time with Mumbai, and makes friends with a electrical appliances company based in Gujarat and a diamond jewellery company with offices in Antwerp.

“Introduced in society gatherings by a London-born, Calcutta-schooled, American-educated United Nations executive assistant—with twin sons in Hong Kong and London—who had a column in a Madras newspaper and trusted a godman in Puttaparti before he was elected from Trivandrum, as a “friend from Canada”,  the girl from Sopore magically lands a free 18% stake worth between Rs 70 crore and Rs 100 crore in the Cochin franchise of the Indian Premier League run by a Marwadi hailing from Uttar Pradesh who is deputy chief of the Punjab cricket association. The deal is signed in Bangalore. There’s globalization.”

* Tongue in cheek

Photograph: courtesy The Indian Express

Also read: Shashi Tharoor on globalisation

Shashi Tharoor on saving the saree

CHURUMURI POLL: Will Shashi Tharoor survive?

Since 1907, two world wars, 15 prime ministers…

31 March 2010

On the eve of the dawn of his 103rd year on this planet, Sri Shivakumara Swamiji of the Siddaganga Mutt in Tumkur, performs morning pooja on Wednesday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: What role should swamijis, religious gurus play?

Madi, the mutt head, and the hand that helped

Should swamijis travel abroad by air?

How religion met politics while you were asleep

Say it again: ‘I’m happy seeing my parents happy’

27 March 2010

The inclusion of Ranganath Vinay Kumar in the Indian squad for the Twenty20 World Cup is much deserved, statistically speaking. But it is also nothing short of seismic, sociologically speaking.

The man hails not from traditional urban cricket centres like Bangalore and Mysore, but the humbler cotton cocoon of Davanagere. It wasn’t on the lush green grounds of some international school that Vinay cut his cricketing teeth, but on the hard outfield of the Mothiveerappa high school grounds.

He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth, with his mother dropping him off at a coaching class in a fancy car; the servant lugging the kit. Rather, like Vinod Kambli, he was born on the other side of the railway track; his father driving a hired autorickshaw to eke out a living for the family.

And unlike plenty of recent worthies who have been fast-tracked into India’s most coveted club, Vinay has had to strain every sinew in match after match, with bat and ball. There was no “godfather” holding a gun at the heads of the selectors. Despite the bucketful of wickets he had soaked up in the last three seasons, he wasn’t considered good enough for a BCCI contract by the worthies.

But, unlike the benne dose (butter dosa) that his hometown is famous for, all who know him and have dealt with him, have only one thing to say: Vinay is the Rahul Dravid of bowling: gutsy, hard working, tough as nails, never say die and streetsmart. The word impossible has been scratched out of his cricketing lexicon.

And, surely, anybody who remembers a dead coach on the biggest day of his life, has his heart in the right place?

Here’s how sections of the media covered the selection of a true son of the soil.


Cricinfo/ A break that was long overdue: “Vinay’s friend, Harshan, used to tell him, ‘If you get Sachin Tendulakar”s wicket, you will definitely play for India. Whoever has bowled him—S. Sreesanth, Piyush Chawla— has played for India.” Last year, in the IPL in South Africa, Vinay got Tendulkar with a beauty in Port Elizabeth. So Vinay called Harshan, and asked, ‘Okay maga [mate], I have got his wicket, now tell me, I’ll play for India or what?’ Harshan, like the selectors, had an excuse ready. ‘No, I told you to get him bowled.’

“In the third season of the IPL, at the Brabourne Stadium, Tendulkar was in much better form than he was in Port Elizabeth. He was moving across and playing unbelievable flick shots from in front of the stumps. Vinay, though, got one to nip in a touch extra, and hit the exposed leg stump. Harshan texted immediately, ‘Get ready to play for India.’ Six days later, when he was driving to another friend’s place, on a short break from continuous IPL matches, Vinay got the belated call-up.”

The Times of India/ Auto driver’s son rises: ” Having been let loose for a couple of days by the management of his IPL side, the Royal Challengers Bangalore, Vinay chose to go for a long drive in his Santro, mostly in a bid to escape the tension that has always enveloped him and his family whenever the national selectors meet. Had this scene taken place a few years before, he could well have been moving about in an autorickshaw, not the usual hired one but the one driven by his dad Ranganath to keep the family fire burning.”

Hindustan Times/ Happy to see my parents smile: “I had been expecting this for a while and every time I would be disappointed. My parents would ask me why I wasn’t getting selected despite good performances. Sometimes I would tell them that perhaps I wasn’t destined to play for the country…. Now I am happy seeing them happy.

Maybe God wanted me to work harder and longer…. We weren’t financially strong, and me being the eldest, it was my duty to take care of them. But looking at my interest in the game, they encouraged me to continue playing. They never made me feel guilty about the fact that I wasn’t helping them in running the family.””

The Hindu/ Vinay has a legacy to live up to: “Indian cricket’s latest heroes are continuing to emerge from the hinterland. Vinay is a fresh example of an iron-willed small-town lad carving his space under the sun.”

Deccan Herald/ Gutsy Vinay gets T20 cut: “The wait, which appeared eternal, is finally over. His State team coach K. Sanath Kumar’s reaction was laced with a tinge of sadness when Abhimanyu Mithun was picked for the first Test against South Africa in February. While he was all happy for Mithun, he was disappointed that the big-hearted Vinay missed out on the opportunity. However, Sanath is a happy man now, with Vinay getting recognised at last.”

DNA/ Bangalore medium pacer pulls a fast one: “The wait is finally over for Indian cricket’s ‘Nobody’s Child’…. It’s been a long journey for the son of an automobile spare parts dealer in the small town of Davangere. Despite taking the highest number of wickets in first class cricket in 2007-08 and 2009-10, Vinay was not considered for a central contract by the BCCI. But he did not lose hope and believed that his day would come.”

Cricinfo/Maybe God wanted me to work harder and longer: “Few people get the chance early, few have to wait. We weren’t financially strong, and me being the eldest, it was my duty to take care of them. But looking at my interest in the game, they encouraged me to continue playing. They never made me feel guilty about the fact that I wasn’t helping them in running the family.”

CricketNext/ Vinay ready to put his best foot forward: “”I am very happy for my son. I am sure he will perform well for the country,” said Soubhagya, his mother. “Though the call has come later than what we had anticipated, I am happy for him. My son is a very hard worker. I am confident that he will make India proud,” said Vinay’s father Ranganath.

The Telegraph/ Vinay thanks selectors: “I would also like to thank my coach Prakash Pawar, who is no more, and L.M. Prakash for recognising my talent and developing me into what I am today. K. Jeswanth and K. Sanath Kumar were also instrumental in shaping my career. I’m grateful to former Karnataka bowler Y.B. Patel. He would say that I will go on to play big cricket and always encouraged me. Even on his deathbed, he told someone to hand over a kit bag to me. I haven’t used it. I treasure it.”

Vijaya Karnataka/ Dil khush: “Whenever the selection committee sat down to pick the team, I would sit in front of the television to see if my brother would be included. I felt proud when he sent titans like Sachin and Saurav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag back to the pavilion. My brother just loves Rahul Dravid. He has his pictures pasted in every corner of our home,” says his sister Vinutha.

Top photograph: courtesy

Bottom: Vinay’s mother Soubhagya (right) helps sister Vinutha (centre) stuff doodha pedhas into the mouth of his coach L.M. Prakash in Davanagere on Friday (courtesy Praja Vani)

Also read: A real workhorse from the land of benne dose

Gundappa Vishwanath: From Bhadravathi, the Bhimsen Joshi of cricket

Javagal Srinath: The world’s most famous Mysorean?

Oh my god, can this be India’s all-time best XI?