Sunday, February 25, 2018
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I take you back to June 1962 when I received a call-letter from The Leader press, asking me to report. That was my first adventure with journalism. I had to first call on the then general manager of the Newspapers Ltd. running `The Leader’.  The late B.P.Thakur was a very stern and firm administrator. But he received me very cordially. The first question he asked me was: ‘Why have you entered this profession.

You still have time to revise your decision. If you were my son, I would never advise you to enter this profession.’ I told him it was my hobby. He shrugged his shoulders and said: `There are two things. Merit counts a lot; but it has to be accompanied by an opportunity too. I will give you opportunity. You will now have to show your merit. And I therefore would appreciate if you write a weekly feature on local affairs.’ On a cordial note the meeting ended. I next called on the editor, Pandit Rameshwar Nath Zutshi. We hadn’t met before. But he said: `I know you very well through the letters to the editor that you have been writing’. He was a man of very, very few words. But he too said: `I see that you have a good academic record. Why have you come here ? This profession will hardly suit a dashing young man which you appear to be. People come here only after they have tried elsewhere to get a break but failed.’. I told him that was not so with me, that I hadn’t tried anywhere else and that I had come here because I love the work’. Mr Zutshi said:`I would not have liked you to come here. But since you insist then let me tell you that initially it will be hard work and nothing much. The opportunity to write will certainly come, but gradually’. He wished me luck. And then he became a little informal and said: `I was abroad recently. There I met a couple who had stayed in Allahabad in 1929 in Barnetts Hotel. They wanted to know how Barnetts were doing now’. Mr Zutshi knew that I had links with Barnetts.

Back home when I broke the news to my father, he was chatting with Professor A. N.Agarwala. They knew each other very well as daily they would meet on the tennis court. Dr Agarwala was the Head of the Commerce Department of AU. My father asked him his opinion about journalism as a career for me. Dr Agarwala told him, `Journalism is hardly a profession. It is more of a tapasya’. My father looked at me with a smile. I think he was not sure whether to encourage me or discourage me. But he respected my sentiments and asked me to go ahead even though he realized that in monetary terms my other brothers would be far better off. The pay scales were very low. A sub-editor used to get a mere 125 rupees. Mr B.P.Thakur, as a special favour, gave me the starting salary of Rs.150 but said that in the appointment letter he could not state that he was appointing me as a sub-editor or a reporter because their scales began at 125. He therefore appointed me as ‘a journalist’, much to the surprise of others though clever ones among them could understand that this had been done so that I may bypass others.

I was asked to join on June 11, 1962. It was a Monday. I was called to  the morning shift. But I was first asked to call on Mr Ram Gopal, the Assistant Editor. He had probably been asked by Mr B.P.Thakur to give me a feature to write. Even before I joined the desk, Mr Ram Gopal asked me to start writing a weekly feature to appear every Monday. He  selected the title.`We will call it “Flashlight on Allahabad” and you will write it under the pen-name of “Wayfarer”. You will present the copy to me every Friday. It will be seen and passed by me and thereafter it will go for composing’. I then went to meet the News Editor, Mr Suresh Chandra. He told me: `You were called at 10 a.m. originally. But the shift in which I wanted to induct  you meets in the evenings from 4p.m. till 10p.m this week. You will have to join that shift as you will get the best guidance there. I will therefore request you to come at 4 p.m.’. He was very, very polite, very encouraging and made me instantly feel at home. The best thing about Suresh Babu was that he was a very loyal friend who would never betray a colleague. But he was very, very formidable in dealing with the sharks in the profession who throve more on politicking and less on solid and hard work. Therefore Suresh Babu had to spend a lot of time indulging in defensive politics. But, as I said, he was a man of simple habits. He had moved with freedom fighters and personally knew leaders like Dr Rajendra Prasad. He hailed from Arrah in Bihar and had come to Allahabad to study. He used to himself write letters and articles under different names to take up any social cause. He was looking at a page proof. The headline was, `Rajarshri Tandon passes away’. I missed a heart-beat. `When did this happen ? He was all right till yesterday’. Suresh Babu smiled. He said: ’He is alive but is in a critical condition. Hence we have done advance planning. At the eleventh hour when the news will come we may not be able to do full justice to it’. I saw the page. A big picture of the Rajarshri was there in the centre of the page with the banner headline announcing his death. I shuddered at the very thought.  Suresh Babu said: `In press line we have to do this to score over our rivals’ That was 11th June, 1962 when I saw the page proof. Tandonji expired on July 1, if I remember rightly. But the page had to be slightly altered. This is because on that very day Dr B.C.Roy, Chief Minister of West Bengal, also passed away. His picture in the double column with the news item was accommodated on the front page at the bottom towards the left.  I was talking about my first day in The Leader and my meeting with Suresh Babu. But my actual working started from 4 p.m.. About the actual  experience I had on the first day, I will write later.

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