Remembering the good, the bad…

Posted: August 21, 2010 in Media
Tags: ,

I read a few days ago of the death of veteran and very respected journalist Gopalrao Patwardhan. My overriding memory of Gopalrao (I don’t think he would like me to address him as Mr Patwardhan) during my brief association with him was his gentleness.

I met him last year at the Ranade Institute during a get-together and as I sat next to him after touching his feet, he looked up and said “Sinha? How are you. You had left Pune hadn’t you?” I had met him last, probably in 1998, before I left for Delhi and was amazed that he even remembered me and my whereabouts so many years later.

That’s not all that I remember Gopalrao for. In 1987, when I moved residence from Pimpri to Salunke Vihar, I required a phone since I then worked at Maharashtra Herald. I asked a colleague what I could do to get a phone quickly, since in those days getting one was a tedious procedure where one had to wait months, and sometimes years for a connection.
One of my colleagues suggested that I speak with a journalist called Gopalrao Patwardhan, who was then a member of the Telephone Advisory Committee (TAC) and had the authority to sanction two connections. I agreed but the colleague spoke to him instead and handed over my papers. A few weeks later I was told that my phone connection was sanctioned.

When I finally met Gopalrao at a Pune Union of Working Journalists (PUWJ) meeting I thanked him profusely. He modestly replied that he really hadn’t done anything at all. He had the power, so why not use it to help someone, was his take. We spoke every time we met at PUWJ meetings or any other events till I left Pune.

After my phone connection was sanctioned a gentleman from Pune Telephones paid me a visit. He gave me this rather tedious spiel about this and that, about how difficult it was to get a phone connection and how lucky I was. I could guess where the conversation was headed, and it went something like this:

Phone man: You don’t know how hard I had to work to get a phone line for you.
Me: Really?
Phone man: Yes, so difficult; no phone connections; I had to use my influence.
Me: But why phone was sanctioned through the TAC.
Phone man: Yes, but you see the line is in my hands. So, what’s in it for me?
Me: What do you mean?
Telephone Man: I am going out of my way….
Me: You realise you’re asking a bribe from a journalist
Phone man: Not a bribe, Sir, just a token of appreciation.
Me: OK what do you want? I won’t pay you a rupee, do you drink?
Phone man: Yes, Rum
Me: OK.

I don’t think the telephone man, in his wildest dreams, was prepared for what came next. Once I had the phone connected and working, I procured two bottles of Old Monk Rum through a friend from the Army canteen. Then I marched into the Pune Telecom office with the bottles of Old Monk very visible to all and sundry, and plonked it on table in front of the telephone man.

“Here are your bottles of Rum, Sir,” I said loud enough for people around to hear. “And thanks for the telephone connection.”

Mr Telephone Man went a bit pale and start stuttering that he didn’t drink, didn’t want it, didn’t mean it, and then pretending that the bottles lying on the table were invisible! The shocked look on the guy’s face and the bemused one on the faces of the onlookers were worth a million bucks. Task accomplished, I picked up the bottles and strode out triumphantly.

I’ve mellowed down since then and become a lot more circumspect! Considering the manner in which not just the media but even sections of the industry are run today and having experienced it firsthand, I think one has to accept that the days of yore, will remain just that, the days of yore. It’s a harsh reminder that everything is not black and white. There are those grey areas that exist everywhere, which one has to accept as a part and parcel of our existence. Also, freedom of the Press does not mean freedom from Administration. Accept that and move along.

But coming back to where we started, here were two men – one who believed in giving without expecting anything in return, and the other who was always looking for returns on his investment!

  1. Waah Sir!
    I am sure we all get such men around us, it’s just that sometimes we ignore to relate to them so much as u did. What u did to the telephone man would have been one of its kind in his lifetime.

  2. Santosh Chowdhury says:

    No flattery but the mohansblog is one of the most well written piece of everday collection of views and travelogues I have found so far. Not many seasoned journalists in this country who have ”been there done that” could write on remembering the good and the bad so well!! Congrats sir and wish to read more and more!!

  3. Joe Pinto says:

    My dear Sinha,

    The late Gopalrao Patwardhan was the journalist who came to the Maharashtra Herald office on East Street in Pune sometime in 1983 and recruited me as a member of the trade union called the Pune Union of Working Journalists (PUWJ). I thank him for it.

    Many journalists in the 1980s and later did not like or want to be known as “working” journalists, especially since the Marathi word for “working journalist” was “shramik patrakar”.
    And “shramik” has the connotation of the “working classes”.

    A sizable section of journalists in the 1980s and later, as also today, are allergic to the words “working class” because they believe those words are “tainted” with the blood, sweat, toil and tears of the working classes.

    And what do journalists have to do with “menial work”? But Gopalrao and many of us with him stuck to the “shramik” nomenclature.

    Now you have “managing” editors or editorial managers, slick in PR as well as “leveraging the synergy” of advertising and circulation markets, as opposed to the working and thinking editors of my time, who were the leaders of the editorial team and the conscience-keepers of the public.

    And the “writing” editors along with “on-the-spot” reporters are becoming an endangered and vanishing species.

    Thank you for remembering a stalwart journalist. Those of our students and the younger generation of journalists, who read your blog, have got a wonderful insight into an honest human being, who was also a journalist — something that cannot be said about nine out of ten persons, who claim to be journalists today.

    Peace and love,
    – Joe.

  4. janhavi says:

    I cannot comment on Mr. Patwardhan as i am not that much aware about his work and he was much before my times.

    But whatever i have understood about you from your posts and lectures. . what you did was absolutely as expected.

    Bravo !!!!

    I inspire me a lot !!!

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