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Editor Who Saw The Future | The Indian Express

Editor Who Saw The Future | The Indian Express

Editor Who Saw The Future

As the country, and journalism, changed, TVR Shenoy never seemed overtaken

Written by E P Unny | Published: April 19, 2018 1:42:38 am
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(source: wikipedia)

This byline broke hard news and harder reader loyalties. The latter wasn’t easy. Way back in the 1970s, the typical Kerala home was deeply committed to its first paper, which even for the English-knowing was a Malayalam daily. Our circles that swore by Mathrubhumi made a ready switch to the Malayala Manorama where a certain T V R Shenoy was reporting the Bangladesh war.
India was winning the 1971 war but the writing had none of the triumphalist tone of the ruling classes. Nor did it talk too much about the inevitable misery of war. Among the earliest reporters to reach Dacca, this little known young man was writing for the language press with the élan of a big time professional. It was as good as the best we saw in the English dailies. Under a matter of fact title, “Two weeks before victory”, the series was an absorbing read with rich detailing and matching feel. The prose was as agile as a sports reporter’s.
When one got to know a bit more about TVR, as his early Indian Express colleagues in Mumbai — called him (he began with The Sunday Standard), the sports connect seemed natural. He played badminton for the Bombay University, was at Centre Court for the Wimbledon final whenever he could, loved his bridge and chess. A bigger surprise was that the writing pretty much profiled the man. He worked and lived the way he wrote.
He was as off-beat as he was methodical and carried his wide reading and learning lightly. While relaunching The Sunday Mail as a four-metro weekender, the first thing he did as editor was to move the Delhi office out of a damp basement near Savitri Cinema. We moved to Niti Bagh, a residential colony, into a big lived-in bungalow, an unlikely office space for the likes of veteran M L Khotru, more welcoming to a cub reporter who wore a python to work. Though the young woman’s fearlessness wasn’t widely shared, no one complained because the editor’s air of homely informality was infectious. The barsati was photographer Praveen Jain’s dark room and the cartoonist’s cabin was a barely redone kitchen. The place had its uses though. The paper had an immediate neighbourhood of Supreme Court lawyers. We were abundantly sourcing legal punditry.
This was central to Shenoy Saab (that was how the byline was known by then). He belonged to a peer group that saw the Nehruvian nation’s Constitution being serially mauled by arbitrary ordinances and periodic amendments that culminated in the Emergency. He would quote at length from Jurist H M Seervai and hold forth on the Kesavananda Bharati case. The legalese would be lightened soon enough by recalling a cartoon that put the Constitution of India in the periodicals rack.
“I am grateful to the Emergency,” he said. “I got my music back. I had little work to do as Manorama’s bureau chief, thanks to the censors. I spent some of the spare time recording Carnatic music concerts”. He kept adding to his collection of music and books. You never saw him very far from piles of newspapers, periodicals and heaps of books.
Similar clutter surrounded him in office, home, hotel rooms and finally the hospital. He was forever ready to switch from work to leisure and back. By the 1990s, he seemed to have internalised the nervous energy of the country’s coalition era. Of the Delhi between the big parties. This unsettled air never quite left him even when his favourite Vajpayee led a stable government. “Only a stone settles,” was his preferred one-liner. He wrote columns, lectured, mentored, bantered and travelled even more than before.
The mind that was honed to stay abreast of news perhaps saw ahead. In 1990, he was already talking about graphic editing as a career advancement for the news cartoonist. Even earlier, in 1985, he had commissioned for Malayala Manorama daily cartoonist writer Ravi Shankar to sketch and report the Karnataka elections that Ramakrishna Hegde eventually won handsomely. Today we have a word for this genre — graphic reportage.
Not much cartooning can happen without a supportive editor. Shenoy Saab was generous.
The writer, chief political cartoonist of ‘The Indian Express,’ was cartoonist for ‘The Sunday Mail’ when T V R Shenoy edited the paper
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