Thursday, January 18, 2018
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Enter journalism via Kumbh
Veteran journalist, the late P.D.Tandon would often say that he entered journalism via the column of the letters-to-the editor. What a coincidence. I got there through that very process. I remember the first letter I wrote in the local press was a very small one in Patrika (then Amrit Bazar Patrika) and `The Leader’. It pertained to the toll tax that had been imposed on the Kumbh Mela entrants into the city in 1954.

There were loud protests in the city. I joined the chorus too. I was not interested in the issue so much as I was in hoping that if I flow with the current which was being projected in the newspapers, my letter too would be published. And so it was. So, on the auspicious occasion of the 1954 Kumbh, I sneaked into local journalism by having my letters published in the Amrit Bazar Patrika(later Northern India Patrika) and the now defunct ‘The Leader’(which closed down in September 1967)
But I shot into limelight when a controversy started raging in the press about the desirability or otherwise of holding matinee shows in cinema halls. Late Principal Kedar Nath Gupta of Agrawal Intermediate college ( now Allahabad Inter College) was forcefully writing against the holding of matinee shows as these tended to tempt students to leave their classes and visit the cinema halls. He was ably supported among others by readers like A.B.Shorewala and others. I sent in a letter opposing them strongly. I said that it was wrong to blame the matinee shows for truancy in schools. I put the entire blame on the teachers and principals of these colleges who failed to enforce discipline among their students. I provoked them by saying that students are heard saying, `Voh class to boring hai, voh Sir to bore hai. Chalo picture dekhi jaae’. These comments were published by `The Leader’. They created a furore. And so a procession of letters written by teachers in support of Principal K.N.Gupta appeared one after another in `The Leader’ and the Patrika. Their ego was wounded. And I rubbed salt on their wounds by writing: `Why don’t the students of St. Joseph’s College and the Boys High School; leave their classes and go to see the matinee shows ? Have they got a magic wand with which they control their students ? If they do have one, I would request them to give this magic wand to the principals of these schools too who cannot control their students but want that matinee shows be abolished’. That was the last straw. Many hard-hitting letters appeared against me. The Leader’ used to publish the address of the letter-writers too. Since in those days my father was running Barnetts Hotel (in partnership with Mrs Nirmala Verma), I gave my address as follows: care of Barnetts Hotel. This would add fuel to the fire of anger against me. Someone even went to the extent of writing that those living in the lap of luxury do not have any idea about the ground reality.
There was no one supporting me as students hardly wrote in those days. So I thought of fudging support. I told my friend Jeetu Deb (son of late Prof S.C.Deb) that I would be using his name in a letter I would send in my own support. He agreed. I put maximum fireworks in that letter and signed it as `Jitendra Kumar Deb, son of Prof.S.C.Deb, Hawaghar, Allahabad.’ The letter was very, very `loud’ if I may put it that way. It caught the attention of Prof. Deb himself. He questioned his son about it but only in a very casual manner. Jeetu hadn’t read the letter till then. And people were congratulating him. He just didn’t know where to look. He merely smiled and later told me: ‘You should have given me a copy of what you had written. Hum to phaste phaste bache’. But the impact of the letter was terrific. By the `The Leader’ and the `Amrit Bazar Patrika’ seemed to be relishing the publication of my letters.
Then suddenly, after this letter, the controversy stopped. Someone told me that the cinema owners were advertisers who had put pressure on the newspapers not to publish anything against them. But a small news weekly of the size of an exercise book appeared on the stands on University Road. It wrote that one teacher went to The Leader colony to protest against the publication of my letters. But before he could reach the editor, Mr R. N. Zutshi, he was surrounded by the colony people. Their allegation was that the teacher had indulged in eve-teasing on the premises. He was presented before the editor. According to the report published in that magazine, `New Times’, the teacher told the editor that he had gone there to meet him and protest against the indiscipline that a reader (meaning me) was spreading by encouraging students to leave classes and attending matinee shows. The editor reportedly told him: But what you have done here cannot be regarded as a part of civilized and disciplined behaviour’. The controversy ended. The matinee shows continued.


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