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.


Mohan Sinha said...

Nice piece. Only my "mother-in-law" could have put it so nicely!
But seriously, thanks for bringing back the nostalgia.
Let me tell you what an Indian Express senior once commented, "Give us two subs from the MH and we'll show everyone what editing is all about." I am assuming he was paying the MH desk a compliment!!

feddabonn said...

fascinating post, joe.

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

one of the things i took away from college was the idea of 'reader response theory', which suggested that the author of a text had no control over the text's interpretations, and that a reader's (mis)interpretation was as valid as any interpretation the author originally intended. while i still believe in this principle, i have been experiencing, over the last two day this wilful distortion you talk about, and am beginning to question my loyalty to reader response. timely (for me) for thought!

Joe Pinto said...

To my dear colleagues from 'the old MH' and those who knew 'the old MH' personally:

Some of you are sending me personal mails and calling on the phone. I will reproduce edited excerpts from some of these conversations.

D. Sanjay: Great. Truly a 'Down Memory Lane' trip.

Meera Joshi: Thanks for offering some nostalgic moments. The old MH office on East Street, with a narrrow staircase, wooden floor, platter-platter of typewriters. Gone are the days! I want to visit that office once. Aata tithe kay aahe mahit nahi.

Vivek Kulkarni was in MH till 1986: He called and we had a long chat about the processing and production department.

अब्द said...

Dear Sir,
Your posts give us an opportunity to "look up... at the stars."
(While reading this, I tried to find a star but what I found was this quote: "Hope is the dream of a waking man -Aristotle".)

Gauri Gharpure said...

what splendid time travel.. it's always a pleasure to hear from you about MH, for there's so much passion and warmth. The assignment with YVK in the second year also brought out many fascinating anecdotes. how is he?

Joe Pinto said...

My dear Gauri,

These are THE days for you to gather precious anecdotes like fallen leaves, so that you may share them later, when you have become one of India's finest veteran journalists.

Then, people will want to listen to you, my dear Gauri, because they respect you and love you for the honest work you have done.

I will sms YVK's mobile number to you. He will be thrilled to hear your voice.

Peace and love,
- Joe.

janhavi said...

I had been a working professional in a big IT giant since two years. Never in my life have i experienced any such belonging towards my company - thats probably because people out there talk just about codes, deadlines and money. I have just now started my internship in the Indian Express and already i am feeling bad about the day when i will finish it and would have to go back to my lifeless office.
But even being a small participant myself, i think that such memory lanes have a huge impact on ones personal growth, bonding and relationships.
I hope i get to stay and work in such a place and develop similar nostalgic memories.
Thanks for sharing such a piece.

Joe Pinto said...

My dear Janhavi,

If you want it, you will find it. "Ask and you shall receive. Seek and you shall find. Knock and the door shall be opened unto you."

Peace and love,
- Joe.

The Cloudcutter said...

Lovely to read about the good old days in the print media.

Rs 6oo was really a pittance though. I guess my first salary of Rs 3,500, as a trainee journo in 1996, sounds princely compared to yours in 1983.

But yes, my first boss also said, rather barked, at me, "No Sundays off, no other holidays either."

The 24x7 mantra was thrown in too for extra measure and I actually did not get a single day off once for 4 months at a stretch!

sudheerg said...

hey Joe (that's the title of jimi hendrix's first hit, incidentally), like our once-in-a-blue-moon ex-MH gang meets at Vaishali, PGI or wherever, 'lessons the old MH learned me' is a rekindling, a travel back in time, to a world that exists no more - vanished amid the clutter of malls and chatter of mobiles... but those of us who trudged up the old MH office stairs will always recall the clack of the teleprinter, the 'tiger's lair' and the community lunches, and of course the 'subbing' and bromide cut 'n' pasting... of the 24-hour MH shift. Kudos...
sudheer gaikwad

Anil Farande said...

I know the old Poona Herald the cost of newspaper was 15 paise in 1980, I was a subscriber of Poona Herald since 80's till it became Maharashtra Herald and recently The Sakal Times. We use to check the today's movies column as we were very passionate in watching movies in old west end theatre, Capitol talkies , Empire Talkies. I know Sunil Bansod, and Paul were working in Poona Herald that time.