Sunday, June 30, 2013

My dear friend and close comrade Balu is no more – Part 1

By Joseph M. Pinto

Dr Y. Bala Murali Krishna, one of India’s most honest correspondents, attached to the United News of India (UNI) agency, as well as one of India’s world-class science writers, is no more.

For me, it is also a deep personal loss.

"Balu" as he was fondly called, was one of my closest friends and professional colleagues in journalism. We first came across each other when I joined Gomantak Times (GT), a small daily newspaper in Panaji, as editor in June 2003 –- exactly ten years ago. He was then the UNI bureau chief in Panaji, Goa.

We stayed close to each other in the Sant Inez locality: Balu in the government quarters, allotted to UNI, and I in a small flat, opposite Sant Inez Church.

One of our favourite breakfast points was an Udipi hotel, opposite his office-cum-house, where he learned me how to eat idli-sambhar -- like he did. As a native of Mangalore and a resident of Mumbai, I had believed that the art of eating idli-sambhar (popularised by Udipi hotels around the world), was our prerogative. But Balu, an Andhra man, learned me his way: first, mash the rice-idli; soak the mash in lots of sambhar; eat with a slurping spoon; finish and burp!

We hit it off -- for both of us it was "mutual respect – at first sight"!

We shared a hundred things ... and more passion, in common. He was one of India's world-class science writers and I had been a founder-member and one of the first three general secretaries and full-timers of the Lok Vidnyan Sanghatana ('science for the people') in Maharashtra.

While in a local paper at Pune, Maharashtra Herald (estd. 1963-2003), I used to write science pieces. But Balu learned me how to put an everyday human face on to science and technology (S & T). He had an uncanny knack for uncovering how the inventions and discoveries of modern S & T touched the everyday life of the common masses.

His science pieces did not impress with needless mumbo-jumbo; he mercilessly stripped away the jargon of S & T and its mysteries were laid bare for all to know and use.


When I met him in Goa, I used to wonder how a world-class science writer survived in a land hyped by the media merely as a tourist hot-spot. The answer came to me slowly but surely:

“Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.”

(Shakespeare, As You Like It, 2.1.13)

"Exempt from public haunt", Dr Balu found precious stories – “tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything” – where no one else even cared to look. Vividly, I recall the day he called me early one morning for our ritual idli-sambhar.

Today, he wants to go to Kamat, an Udipi hotel, near the big white church that greets you as you enter Panaji. We sit on the first floor of the hotel, from whose windows you can look down into the road. He has made a discovery and wants to share it with me!

Near Kala Akademi, along the Mandovi river-side, there used to be open spaces (before Parrikar ruined them with up-market Goa Film Festival depredations), which were given out for exhibitions. A handicraft fair is going on. And here he has discovered artisans and their handiwork!

Balu is an excellent photographer too. In a fabled era, when the world wide web (www) has not been invented and “convergence” has not become a horrible buzz-word -– a swear-word to seduce rich-lazy-louts into mass-com assembly lines, extracting exorbitant fees –- Balu is one of THE great & good & original all-rounders.

He has learned himself most of what he knows and practises; is not ashamed to work hard at journalism and learns the little skills and tiny techniques, expected of an effective communicator. At the same time, he is a trade union leader, to the core, and does not allow newspaper and agency managements to overload working journalists with unfair working hours and practices. He mourns the extermination of proof-readers, when he catches ‘devils’ in print or online.

Patiently, he guides me around the handicraft fair. He is intimate with many of the artisans; he is meeting some of them for the second or third time. A mere handicraft fair is, to him, a gold-mine for a series of features! Balu boldly dares to go – and find stories – where no one else even cares to look.

I pick his UNI dispatch from the scroll that evening; illustrate it with his pictures; anchor the front-page of GT with his little gem the next morning. I have given Balu a byline for his story and a credit for his pics – an unusual treatment of an agency item. But Balu is not the usual hack.

"Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air."

(From "An Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" by Thomas Gray)

That event marks the official beginning of our enduring friendship, which ends today with his sudden but expected death.


Just a few days ago, I spoke with him, inviting him to Pune for our daughter’s wedding on 15 July. I know he cannot come and tell him so. He is undergoing dialysis at home and every time I chat with him, his fading voice warns me that my dearest friend is going to be with us only for a few days more.

Today morning, his daughter Jyoti calls to say, “Dad passed away last night”.


I was close to Balu and his family too. Journalists keep their personal and private lives separate from their professional work. But it was as if Balu was allowing me into a secret room few knew even existed.

When I wanted to attend the wedding of his son, Vamsi, Balu invited me into his home in Hyderabad. I stayed with his family, took part in the celebrations, and won the privilege to become a member of his family.

For this honour, I have been more grateful to him than all our professional associations put together. It was as if he was saying, “Joe, you are not only my close comrade in journalism but you are my dear brother also.”

Balu, I miss you!

End of item.


Anonymous said...

Very touching, Joe. One can never truly fathom another's man loss or grief but your tribute to Balu is befitting the man. Sorab G

H R Venkatesh said...

I would really like to see one of his science pieces that he wrote!

Miss.Tejashri said...

Sir, would like to know more about Dr Y. Bala Murali Krishna sir... Simple and honest people are inspiration to us.

Do share more writing about him.

Rest in peace Dr Y. Bala Murali Krishna sir.

Joe Pinto said...

HRVR -- As soon as I am able to locate and collect his science pieces, I will send some to you.

Gauri Gharpure said...

It is when the end is near, or when people suddenly go, that their qualities are revealed crystal clear. In Mr. Balu's case, he was one of those rare people who won hearts all along the way. I hope his goodness survives in the form of the people he worked with and touched. Am sorry for your loss.

Joe Pinto said...

My dear Sorab / Gauri / Teju,

Dr. Balu was already settled in Goa, before I arrived in June 2003. He gave me a "UNI backgrounder" to Goa -- detailed, lively and personal !!!

Much of this confidential briefing includes so-called eminent celebrities, whom he could deflate ruthlessly. I will include some of his descriptions in the pieces to come.

Now that u r in Goa, u may want to speak with journalists and others u know -- and who knew Dr Balu -- about their impressions and opinions of this journalist.


Mahashweta Devi wrote a biography of Jhansi Ki Rani in 1956, listening to the folklore of people from the Bundelkhand and other regions.

Mahashweta Devi believed, "I have always believed that the real history is made by ordinary people. I constantly come across the reappearance, in various forms, of folklore, ballads, myths and legends, carried by ordinary people across generations . . .

"The reason and inspiration for my writing are those people who are exploited and used, and yet do not accept defeat. For me, the endless source of ingredients for writing is in these amazingly noble, suffering human beings . . ."

Likewise, Dr Balu sought out stories in the lives of ordinary people. Though he was an agency reporter par excellence, he did not re-cycle hand-outs from the government and corporate houses or plant stories at the bidding of PR agencies.

Like my most sincere & honest students as well as colleagues, Dr Balu was a rare, sincere & honest reporter -- an endangered species among journalists.

I miss him so much . . . as the rains wash Goa clean ! ! !

Peace and love,
- Joe.