Thursday, January 18, 2018
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john f kennedy

I had acquired experience of about a year and a half in The Leader when in November 1963, President Kennedy was shot dead. That was a sensational news. But on the night shift of The Leader that night an old brigade was on duty. So when the newspaper came out in the morning, it was almost flat compared to the Northern India Patrika which created a sensation by flashing some very emotional moments. I recall the Patrika had given a big picture of Jacqueline Kennedy with the headline, ‘ “Oh no” she cried.’

Much later when I inquired who the gentleman on night duty was I was told that there was a sub-editor by the name of Dilawar Hussain who had worked very hard on the page that night. The Leader was floored. But what could be done ? The newspaper had fallen on bad days. It did not have even two news agencies. It was working just on PTI whereas in those days the upcoming UNI was giving out smashing stories.

Mr Sri Prakash was the chief sub on the night the burial of Kennedy was to take place. He told me: ‘We can beat the Patrika only through some intelligent tricks’. He was my senior, very experienced and who would instantly assess the news value of any item that even incidentally came his way. So the Reuters sent a long story titled, ‘Pre-funeral’. As every one knew the Americans on such occasions made foolproof arrangements and fixed timings that were strictly adhered too. The pre-funeral report was written in the most colourful style, made highly emotional  by the touching phrases used and the graphic details of the sad environment which was expected to be prevailing at the time of the burial ceremony.

Shriprakashji told me: ‘The burial will take place at 3 a.m. At that hour when the first flash comes we might barely be able to take it in the Varanasi edition. And that flash will not be spicy at all. You go through this item and change the tense. Turn it into past-tense. And we will have it composed and ready.’ He told me: ‘I challenge you that Patrika hasn’t considered this.’ I went ahead and edited it and converted the future tense into past tense. And when I went through it, I realized how wonderful it was. We had the item ready with attractive headlines, The page was made up. We were waiting for a flash. At exact 3a.m. the flash came: ‘President Kennedy buried’ K.D.Bannerji instantly phoned us in the press through an intercom. Sri Prakashi released the page. The huge Rotary printing press started moving with a roar. The next day we inquired from our Varanasi office  as to how the Patrika had carried the news in its  Varanasi edition. We were informed that the Patrika had barely taken a flash, nothing more whereas The Leader reached Varanasi with screaming headlines. In the city too, the Patrika report was based on the factual story. It lacked the colour of the pre-funeral report which we had converted into a past-tense story with very close intimate details. That was an intelligent way of dealing with the situation.

On another day while on night duty at The Leader, K.D.Banerji and I saw a glow of light towards the Stanley Road side. We at once rang up the fire brigade people who told us that a big fire was blazing in Beli and that they had sent several fire engines to deal with the situation. That was enough for us. I wrote the item captioning it as ‘3a.m. story’ Big fire in Beli. The fire was big. But what was bigger was our news sense to turn it into an item with the ‘3a.m. story’ attracting the readers.

When there was ceasefire with China in 1962, the Patrika scored in a big way. The Leader gave the headline in single-column, adding a sub-headline that it was a mischievous  trick by China. But the Patrika carried it as a banner headline with lots and lots of details. Undoubtedly the Patrika carried the day. But then such errors of judgement are always there. And the gentleman who had made that big error of judgement was one of the senior-most and the brilliant-most members of the editorial staff, Mr Shivanand Mukherjee. But he was handicapped by the presence of a staff comprising colleagues who would hardly take interest in their work. If Mr Mukherji went on leave and the night duty week came, the members of this shift one by one took leave so that ultimately there was none. Subeditors from other shifts had to be sent there. Mr Amalendu Ghosh had nicknamed this shift as ‘Vanishing Shift’. Those were the days when I was learning; and I can say with pride that the things I learnt in ‘The Leader’ have stood me in good stead. One of these was that there is no substitute for hard work. I learnt that from the silent example of Mr R.N.Zutshi who would  not rest even on Sundays. That is the principle I have followed too. I write on all the seven days of the week. And for this I give credit to Mr Zutshi more so because he never asked any one to follow his example. He impressed us with his example. 

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