Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lessons ‘the old MH’ learned me – Part 1

My dear family, students, friends and colleagues,

Like the ordinary people whose heroic stories they tell and the peaceful places they belong to, local papers are charming. No big city paper can ever hope to (though it may pretend to) match the intimate way a small local paper grows up and on its readers.

I chose to work for 13 years in one such local paper, Maharashtra Herald (MH) – Pune’s very own local. Tuesday, 22 September marked the birthday of MH, founded by Abel David in 1962 as Poona Herald.

I salute you, my dear MH.

In this personal memoir, I will not try to write a history of ‘the old MH’ – before it was taken over in 2003. Far abler seniors – Harry David, Taher Shaikh and Y.V. Krishnamurthy – deserve to write the first pages. I shall tell a few stories, hoping to catch the feel of ‘the old MH’.

For me, two relics in Pune camp reveal that MH existed, once upon a time: first, the board of the Maharashtra Herald printing press on East Street; second, the location of its last office, above Nehru Memorial Hall and opposite Supriya, before ‘the old MH’ was taken over.

The silver jubilee edition of MH in 1987 includes a memoir by Dileep Padgaonkar called, “Salad days on East Street”, in which he writes of visiting the old MH office on East Street, hoping to bump into some of his old mates, who used to share that tiny space on the wooden floor, where he started his career in Poona Herald.

If I went there today, would I spot ‘the old MH’ office? East Street is become a stinking gutter, clogged with parked cars and choked by multi-storeyed buildings. Nothing on the ground – except the MH board – can evoke those days, which survive only in my mind’s eye.

“We are all in the gutter,” said Oscar Wilde, “But some of us are looking up … at the stars.” This memoir is dedicated to each of my colleagues at 'the old MH' who learned me to keep looking up.

My first full-time job as a journalist

While I was looking for a job, my wife’s friend, Vijay Lele, told me to meet Mr. S.D. Wagh, the editor of MH. Mr Wagh’s secretary, Duru Notani (later Tejwani) was the first person to welcome me to MH, at the top of the narrow staircase, outside the editor’s cabin. In the left-hand corner, a teleprinter rattled away.

After the interview, I asked Mr. Wagh about my working hours. “Twenty-four hours,” he said, trapping in three words the future of us journalists. (The 24x7 farce of ‘breaking news’ had not yet been concocted.) Thus began my first day in the profession of full-time journalism on 2 May 1983, as a sub-editor on a salary of 600 rupees per month.

(During my lecture a few days ago, I told my first-year students of journalism this story, to clearly convey the ‘24 hours’ attitude to work that is expected, if they want to become sincere, hard-working and alert journalists.)

Initiated into the taboos of the tribe of scribes by the silent Mathew Fernandes (one of the many Goan gurus who have learned me the lessons of life), I slowly stumbled across the subtleties of subbing. One by one, I met and grew to know, to love and be loved by, our three seniors – Taher, Murthy and Harry.

Since MH was the only English paper to be delivered at the doorstep and hit the stands, first thing in the morning, it was ‘the local paper’. (The Times of India and Indian Express used to come down to Pune by road from Bombay, late, in the afternoon.)

But the Yinglish snobs turned up their noses and looked down upon the evergreen ‘Cinema Calendar’ in the MH, where the matinees were devoured by college students. But everyone read the obituaries.

I worked ‘24 hours’ in MH from 1983 to 1996, being graciously granted ‘leave without pay’ during 1990-93, while I accompanied my wife, who studied abroad, to take care of our daughter J.K. Pallavi, who was then three years old.

Don’t give an opportunity to those who would wilfully distort your words

In Part 2 of this series, I shall describe who did what; where and when; why and how: the 5 Ws and one H at ‘the old MH’. Here I will take off from a Shashi Tharoor sentence that triggered this post: “I now realise I shouldn’t assume people will appreciate humour. And you shouldn’t give those who would wilfully distort your words an opportunity to do so.”

Tharoor is speaking about how Sonia sycophants like Jayanti Natarajan, disguised as Congress spokespersons, have wilfully distorted his “cattle class” tweet. Tharoor says you should not give humourless sycophants a stick and then not expect them to hit you with it. How I recall literally conjuring a stick out of my mind and giving it to a sycophant in ‘the old MH’ to beat me with it.

Our editor Mr. Wagh, a strict disciplinarian, used to write his editorials, longhand, in his cabin. My wild imagination converted him into a “waghoba” (tiger) in his den. ‘Wagh’ into ‘waghoba’. This nickname fell on the eager ears of a flatterer, who dutifully forwarded it to Mr Wagh.

One day, Mr Wagh called me into his cabin and asked me whether I called him “waghoba”. When I said yes, he smiled and said it was not proper for me to call him so, in front of others who may wilfully distort my words, implying that I thereby intended to disrespect the editor. I said I did not intend to hurt his feelings. And there the matter rested.

Till now … when the Tharoor tweet stirred a secret recess of my brain, while I was thinking out this tribute to ‘the old MH’. And out sprang a … ‘waghoba’.


Any one who has worked in ‘the old MH’ may be asked, “What is the secret of the success of MH”? This is my answer: we borrowed a human recipe used by all parents who bring up their children: loving, caring and sharing; a sense of belonging.

The next post on “Journey of life: rules of the road – Part 2” will appear on or after Sunday, 4 October 2009.

Your support is my strength,
- Joe.

Pune, India, Wednesday, 23 September 2009.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Journey of life: rules of the road

My dear family, students, friends and colleagues,

Describing life as a journey and asserting, “The journey is its own reward” are two common ways of seeing life.

For me these two ways are true, because travelling had been an integral part of my life till the age of 31, when I got married in 1982 and, for the first time, thought of settling down – in Pune. Moving from station to station with our father, a railwayman in the Signals & Telecom Department of the Central Railway, I had become a wanderer, a gypsy.

What are the rules of the road in the journey of life? The first and foremost is: the strong and the mighty shall protect the weak and defenceless.

While at Maharashtra Herald (MH) in Pune, I had the opportunity to interview ordinary as well as extra-ordinary persons, irrespective of their standing. But one extra-ordinary man whom I recall as ordinary and common is “S.M.”. These initials belong to one of Maharashtra’s greatest political leaders of the twentieth century, the late S.M. Joshi and the initials “S.M.” stand for: “Simple Man”.

For an MH photo-feature, with pictures by one of India’s finest photo-journalists D. Sanjay, we had interviewed “S.M.” during an entire day, travelling across the city to the places that were significant in his life.

Towards the end of our interview, I asked him, “Which was the one virtue he felt he lacked in himself but admired most in others?” The simple man replied, “Karuna”, using the Marathi word for “compassion”.

Compassion, above all, is the one human quality that is, for me, at the root of the first rule of the road in the journey of life: “The strong and the mighty shall protect the weak and defenceless”.

Glorifying greed; mocking the poor

Nowadays, this rule of the road must be underlined because the global free-marketeers, like the gamblers and smugglers and thieves of yore, inspired by the politics of Thatcher and Reagan, have glorified greed and mocked the poor, in the name of freedom for the individual and the market.

And though Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaks of “inclusive” growth, I believe that is mere lip service to win votes, while his colleague Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, executes the brutal agenda of Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation; what I call LPG, the poisonous gas which will most surely destroy the weak and poor in India.

Some shocking indicators are the unacceptable number of infants who die every year and severe malnourishment among children in India. Among adults, look at the suicides among farmers and starvation deaths in villages, due to agrarian distress. You must find out the horror of the figures for yourselves.

On the road, this rule translates simply: the first priority should be for the pedestrian, the citizen who walks on two feet. But look at our cities. The pavements are being cut and the roads are being taken over by cars and two-wheelers.

In education, this rule means: priority for primary education in the villages. In health: save the girl child, ban female infanticide.

For the environment: embrace trees to the death, like Shahid Amritadevi and 362 other Bishnoi martyrs at Khejarli village, near Jodhpur in 1730.

In journalism, save and cherish the reporter of facts, the most endangered species in journalism, from the rampage of the advertorial-writers, the deception of the PR agencies, the target-mad circulation and marketing departments –- the whole gang of space marketeers, in the pay of corporate profiteering.

Add to this list. In general, resist the bullying and persecution of the minorities by the brute majority in any sphere of Life and Nature.


I have kept this post brief, down to 600 words, because I want my readers to participate – my family, my students, my friends and my colleagues. Do you agree with my first rule of the road on the journey called Life? Do you have some other rule that you would place at No. 1? What are some of the other rules along the road to Life?

I thank all those who sent me their best wishes on completing three years of my second innings. I hope I can live up to your expectations and make our coming years worth our while.

Your support is my strength,
- Joe.

Pune, India, Sunday, 6th September 2009.