Always The Editor

Posted: January 25, 2011 in Media
Tags: ,

When I began my career in journalism with the Maharashtra Herald in 1985, the one person I ‘feared’ was my editor S.D. Wagh. I think it was his demeanour that scared the crap out of me or probably the fact that he was THE EDITOR. Since he did not know me, we hardly spoke and that was what was scary. When I introduced myself to him in his cabin, he just nodded. No other introductions! So to me he was an unknown quotient and to be kept at a safe distance. We joked that when the lion (wagh) came out of his den, just keep away.

But as I grew in my job and got promoted my interactions with Mr Wagh also grew. By the time I was a senior sub editor, I had to work on page 1 and that was where I observed him closely. Like all editors, if he decided that a story had to appear, IT DID. No amount of cajoling or pleading helped. His word was final. Mr Wagh also believed bylines were to be earned, unlike today when they are flung around like confetti at weddings.

All through his tenure at the MH he was always THE EDITOR and that line was never crossed, either by him or by us. While he was friendly with the editorial staff he was never the kind to get personal. He even occasionally asked one of us to accompany him for a cup of tea, but the distance was always there.

As some of us – Babu, Joe, Roger, Sudheer and I – prospered under Mr Wagh to take on senior roles, we came to understand how the lion’s brain ticked. Every evening we would decide the ledes for the day and wait for him to show up after his evening walk. We would wait as he went through the stories. At the end of the exercise we would be smiling, because our choices invariably tallied! Once he understood that we had developed a semblance of news sense, he often left us to decide the stories, but God forbid if we missed one.

On one occasion, when a very senior reporter submitted his copy, Mr Wagh asked me for a red pen. Then flipping through the six-odd pages he ran the red pen through them. Soon the pages were a mass of red as he slashed the story from six pages to roughly two. I was watching the reporter turning from distressed to extremely annoyed, to hopping mad! He too first pleaded and then demanded that he be allowed to retain the entire copy. But Mr. Wagh just looked up at him and said very quietly, “That’s all there is in the story.”

“And I won’t use it like this,” the reporter snapped. Mr Wagh, just shrugged and flipped the copy over his shoulder. The story didn’t end there. The next day the reporter re-typed a two-page report and filed it!

He was also not the kind who paid compliments at the drop of a hat. On one occasion he called me to his cabin and asked me to do an editorial on Jennifer Capriati. The young US tennis star had cracked from the pressure of becoming the youngest US Open tennis champion and was found in a hotel room stoned out of her mind. She was the most celebrated case of a burnout in those days. After the editorial appeared he called me in to this cabin and said, “Wonderful piece, it seems it’s written from the heart.” I remember this incident because this was one of the few occasions he complimented my writing!

He was also rarely cowed down by threats and warnings. For years he had been receiving threats and once had almost been assaulted by angry Sikhs during a peace march in Pune, for an editorial in the MH supporting the army action on the Golden Temple. He told us that the Police Commissioner had advised him against walking past some ‘sensitive’ localities after the editorial appeared, but he refused to heed the warning.

The day Gen Arunkumar Vaidya was shot in Pune by terrorists was a day like none other for Puneites. And it wasn’t any different for us at MH. Within 30 minutes of the shooting, our office was swarming with cops toting automatic rifles. A news agency had received a letter which stated that Mr. Wagh was the next target. While we all joked that ‘Waghoba’ had become famous and some of us were even worried (exaggeratedly) about our lives, the man himself was planning to take his customary evening walk completely unmindful of any threats! I think that evening, if the commandos had not barred his way he would have done it too!

When he retired from the MH we all gave him an affectionate send-off and though we bumped into him occasionally, he never came to the office again. I left MH in 1998 and moved on to greener pastures and never heard from him or of him again. He may have been an ‘ordinary’ editor to many, but he was the first newspaper editor I worked under, and one I was always in awe of.

Last evening I learnt from a former colleague at the MH that Mr Wagh had suffered a cardiac arrest and passed away, at his home in Malvan in Sindhudurg. In today’s day and age when editors are appointed according to the ‘market’ their papers are sold in, S.D. Wagh was the quintessential journalist editor.

  1. Sunayan Bhattacharjee says:

    Simply brilliant! Nothing else to say! As I was going through the piece, it seemed like I was in that particular news room!

  2. Joe Pinto says:

    My dear Sinha,

    Thank you for your intensely personal memoir (“Wonderful piece, it seems it’s written from the heart”, I can hear him say, again).

    Mr Wagh interviewed me on the first floor of its East Street office on 1 May 1983, when I came to MH with Vijay Lele, who was already at the desk then. I joined the next day, 2 May, as a sub-editor on a salary of Rs.600 per month. I was 32, just married and on the threshold of my career as full-time journalist.

    When I had asked him about my working hours at the MH, he replied, “Twenty-four hours!” (I try in vain telling that to my journalism students these days.)

    After retirement, Mr Wagh had gone back to his roots in his native place Malwan, a coastal town, a little above Goa. I spoke to him sometimes when I used to visit Y.V Krishnamurthy at Preet Mandir, a home for abandoned children that Mr Wagh was close to.

    I was looking forward to visit him and have a quiet chat about his tenure, for one of a 20-part series that I am planning on, what I call, “the old MH”. This refers to my days at MH during 1983-96, as well as the memoirs of others before me like Harry David, Taher Shaikh, Y.V. Krishnamurthy.

    Others, who care, may also share their memories of the days when journalism was “Free, Frank and Fearless” as well as “Fair” because honest editors like Mr Wagh led a local paper, like the ‘old MH’. Eventually, all these memoirs can be compiled into a book.

    Today, editors have become glorified managers, who have lost their “nose for news”, because they have allowed themselves to be led (by their noses) at the hands of advertisement and circulation managers, who in turn are disguised as brand managers.

    I have so many stories to tell about Mr Wagh, which I will share on my blog and link them up to this touching post, my dear Sinha, as and when I write them up.

    The old MH (formerly Poona Herald) constitutes the inside history of Pune. Now the late S.D. Wagh, as one of its sincere and honest editors, is also part of that warm and intimate past.

    Here is a link to Part 1 of my series on the ‘old MH’ from my blog, “Against the Tide”, where I have recounted a tiny part of my relationship with the “Waghoba”.


    I will end by quoting his own words, on days when the tele-printer and the reporters brought in sad or bad news, “Is there nothing else on the ticker, Joe,” he would ask, “Make people happy!!” he would conclude, asking us to search out that positive angle, so that our loyal readers the next morning could wake up to a paper that restored love of humanity.

    Peace and love,
    – Joe.

  3. Rohit Patil says:

    Some nice words there about my Grand Father 🙂 . Hope to get to know more about the old days… I remember I used to visit him as young boy. Remember surrounded by commandos.

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