Once a newsman, now a 'was-man', G. V. Krishnan retired in 1998 as a Times of India correspondent. During his two decades with Times of India, he was posted in New Delhi, Bhopal, Chandigarh and Chennai. He was earlier with the National Herald, New Delhi, and on the news desk of The Northern Echo, a British provincial daily, in the mid-1960s. Krishnan, settled in Mysore, blogs at My Take by GVK. His email is
Poor academic record - low second division in BA (Hons.) and a high third in MA - had something to do with my becoming a journalist, if only because it effectively ruled out most other job avenues. In the early sixties there weren't many options for the likes of me. My grades were too low for a teaching job. Many of my batchmates took up teaching while preparing for the IAS entrance exam. Some, who had influential parents, got covenanted jobs with Metalbox, ICI and other foreign companies or became assistant managers in the tea estates.
My father, a government babu, wanted me to appear for the IAS exam. I did. And spent hours daily 'group-studying' with friends at the Janpath (New Delhi) Coffee House. Not surprisingly, I flunked the exam. I couldn't blame the coffee house. For all others in the study group got through the exam and eventually rose up to the level of a joint secretary and above.
In fact, it was through a coffee house contact I learnt of a job opening at The Press Information Bureau (PIB) in the Union I & B Ministry. The basic qualification was a graduate degree and a diploma in journalism. A senior PIB official, K.K. Nair (better known for his writings on art and culture under the pen-name 'Chaitanya'), recommended my appointment on a temporary basis, on condition that I pursued the diploma course through evening classes conducted by the Punjab University department of journalism. Mr Nair made the temperrory job offer, after reviewing some of my writings in a youth magazine during my Delhi University days. Besides, my having done post-graduation from the Delhi School of Economics probably weighed in my favour.
I was appointed 'Assistant Journalist' at a salary of Rs.450 a month - a princely sum in 1961. Newspapers paid much less those days. Fresh graduates recruited as probationary sub-editors at the Press Trust of India (PTI) got a monthly stipend of Rs.150. Entry level salary at the Times of India didn't exceed Rs.300. It was less at The Indian Express. Many of my seniors at the PIB had switched over from newspapers to the then better paying government jobs.
H.Y. Sharda Prasad, who made a mark as press advisor to Indira Gandhi, was once on the editorial desk of the Indian Express. My boss Pratap Kapur, had given up a job on The Times of India to become Information Officer in PIB.. The then head of the PIB photo publicity unit P.N. Khosla had come to the government from the News Chronicle. It was during my stint at the photo publicity unit (1961-64) I had occasion to come in contact with well known photographers, T. Kasinath, who headed the Photo Division of the I & B ministry and T.S. Satyan, who worked for Life magazine.
Though I was lucky to have landed a government job I was not happy. I wasn't among those who relished a secure 10-to-5 job; fancied working hours kept by newspaper journalists. While in the PIB I used to envy news reporters whiling away the afternoons at the coffee house; late-shift sub-editors at The Hindustan Times (then located on the first floor at the Connaught Circus) dropping in at the Scindia House Milk Bar around 10 p.m. for a quick bite.
Before long I started looking around for an opening in a newspaper. At The Statesman, which then had the last of its British news editors, they wanted me to go out and get a story before they would interview me. As the news editor put it, "when I joined this paper in Calcutta the editor sent me out on a monsoon story before I was offered job." Monsoon was ruled out for me. It was then mid-summer in New Delhi. I chose to write about a joyride in a glider because I could persuade a friend at the gliding club to take me up for a spin. The next day I reported to the news editor, who tossed at me a noterpad made out of waste newsprint.. He asked me to do 750 words, right there, in his presence. Some 45 minutes later I handed in my copy. The news editor went through the first few paragraphs and said, "No, not the Statesman standard."
I tried next in The Times of India, which had advertised for trainee journalists. You were required to submit a 1,500-word essay on a topic of current interest. I wrote something about Indian agriculture having been a gamble in the monsoon. This was the pet theme of my economics professor, Dr. B.M. Bhatia, at The Hindu College (Delhi). Anyway, I got called for an interview, where they quizzed me about some recent TOI edit-page pieces. They discovered that I wasn't a scrupulous newspaper reader. No job for me.
Moving down the Press lane, I knocked the door at The Patriot. No go. By which time I got so frustrated with the government job that I quit the PIB and left for England to take my chances there. But then, for someone turned down by the Patriot - as its news editor put it, 'your English is poor, grammar, pretty weak' - I got a break in journalism at a British provincial daily, The Northern Echo. But that is another story.
Cross-posted: Zine5 dot com
© G V Krishnan