Posts Tagged ‘Maharashtra Herald’

Nearly two decades ago, as a member of the Pune working journalists union, I remember an occasion during one of our usual protests over something or the other, we had gathered outside the Pune Union of Working Journalists (PUWJ) office, which was then opposite the Congress Bhavan, near Bal Gandharva Rangmandir.

I don’t remember who the President of the PUWJ  was then. I remember, the late Taher Shaikh, who was my senior at Maharashtra Herald, was there with us as we gathered across the road from Congress Bhavan, It was he who spotted Maratha  strongman Sharad Pawar, coming out of the Congress office. We thought that if we all rushed towards him, he might listen to what the members had to say. We were still standing on the divider, waiting to go across in a group, when Pawar signalled with his forefinger that we were to stay put. Then he saw Taher and beckoned to him. After all, they had been classmates in Wadia College. But the rest of the journalists, including some senior journalists from the vernacular press who strutted around like they were the cat’s whiskers stopped in their tracks. Some were even rudely told to go back.

I was reminded of the incident while reading about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s complete silence when dealing with journalists. A lot of people have been asking why this prime minister is keeping a studied silence on issues which concerned the nation. And it’s not just he, but everybody else in his team also, who has suddenly shut up. The man who couldn’t stop talking before the election, has nothing more to say to the media. And to top it off, the royal snub was not being invited on anymore junkets with the PM’s entourage. No daaru, khaana and whatever else. To me it looks like the start of an extended dry day for the mainstream media (MSM)! I guess that’s why when that Ved Prakash Vaidek managed to speak with Hafiz Saeed, they wanted to get the former arrested for sedition! Honestly, guys, where does it say in any goddamn journalism manual or book that one cannot interview even the biggest terrorist? Desperation has its limits and the media is really letting it hang out!

Anyway, coming back to Modi and the media. Used to as they have always been, to speak to ministers when they need to, or having access to the PMO through a media advisor, this media has been clean bowled by the prime minister. Why should he speak when he’s got a lot of people ready to deal with the busybodies in the media who have questions to which the nation needs answers? I think it has dawned on a lot of mediapersons that they’ve been taken for one hell of a ride. They thought he was, oh, so accessible, so open, so unlike Manmohan Singh! It has now dawned on them that this guy is a different kettle of fish. I just think it’s because he doesn’t need to say anything anymore, because he and his party got what they wanted and got to where they wanted to!

Whether Modi’s silence is intentional or unintentional is something we aren’t going to know. Remember, this is the man, who sailed through every indictment made against him, without ever clearing the air, after the initial attempts. As every journalist, activist and politician threw everything at him, he stayed mum and moved on to bigger things. I’ve said this before, but his silence in the midst of all the loud noises from the other side, have only helped him get an even bigger image. He didn’t have to say a word. He remember him telling a news channel that he stopped talking because he felt people were anyway saying and writing whatever they wanted to. I guess he is employing the same tactics now. Let’s see if it works.

Now, even the most senior journalists don’t know how to approach the new MPs and ministers, because they are not quite sure how these MPs will react. It must be particularly galling for news anchors who believe they are on first name terms with politicians! Take Ravi Shankar Prasad, Sushma Swaraj or Smriti Irani, for example, who were so visible before the election? Have you seen them on a news channel after the election, taking part in any debate?

I get vicarious pleasure watching the way Modi is treating the mainstream media, especially those in the national capital who believe that when they order, any person, high or low, must come scurrying. It’s fun to watch them fretting and fuming about the silence from the prime minister and his ministers, and having to listen to only those who are supposed to address the media.

Imagine having to depend on twitter for updates about the prime minister – in just 140 characters!!



Reading about the German bakery blasts and the terror attack in New Delhi on Monday, brought back a few memories. Some time in early 1986 when I was just a year into journalism, we were sitting around after putting the paper to bed when three clean-shaved young men walked into the then Maharashtra Herald office on Thimayya Road better known as East Street.

They said they wanted to check out some affordable, rented accommodation and asked if they could go through the classified pages of the newspaper, which then was the only local newspaper in Pune, worth its name.

So as they flipped through the pages we asked them what kind of place they were looking for. They said they were looking for something quiet and nondescript, where the rents would be low as they were all college students and couldn’t really afford steep rents.

Salunke Vihar, the AWHO society was still relatively unknown but since I had a friend who stayed there I got to know that rents were affordable and being an Army colony, and still a little secluded there was some semblance of security. We too had decided to move there once my aunt retired from her job at Hindustan Antibiotics in 1987, because it was just a few kilometres from the MH office and would be more convenient for me.

I, being the ‘ever-helpful’ type (!), piped in, “Why don’t you try Salunke Vihar, the rents are affordable and three of you could easily afford to stay there?”

These polite young men chatted with us a little more, thanked us and left. By the next day we had forgotten about them and our life went back to its mundane existence of deadlines, leads and headlines!
Then in August 1986, Gen Arunkumar Vaidya was shot in Pune and like I had mentioned in an earlier blog, our editor S.D. Wagh had also got a threatening letter, so our office was chock-a-block with securitymen.

A few days later, we were standing outside the office in the evening, doing a little ‘bird-watching’ when two youths on a motorcycle slowed down as they passed our office and looked inside. A colleague rudely gestured at them questioningly, asking what they were looking at. The motorcyclists sped away.

Quite a few months later, we were in office when we heard that there had been a shootout in Pimpri, on the national highway and two men had been arrested. The cops announced that they had cracked the assassination of Gen Vaidya and Congress leader Lalit Maken.

A few days had passed when, (I think it was) Taher Shaikh who was covering the case, brought pictures of the three suspects to office, before and after they had been arrested. One set had them heavily bearded and in the other set of pictures they were shaved. I had no recollection of ever seeing these ‘terrorists’, but it was one of my colleagues who exclaimed, “You remember these guys? They had come to our office one night, wanting to go through our classifieds!”

Then another said that these were the same guys on the motorcycle who were looking into our office, that day when we were standing outside. Again, I had no recollection since I had more interesting stuff to watch on East Street than two weirdos on a bike!

Later, of course, I was horrified and a little flattered, because I mistakenly (and pompously) believed that if these were the same three guys, they had actually taken my advice and moved into Salunke Vihar – bang opposite the home of Gen Vaidya. He, of course, soon moved out of there into a bungalow in Koregaon Park, but they obviously kept tabs on his whereabouts even after that, till they finally shot him. Someone suggested in jest that I should go to the cops. When I didn’t even remember their faces I would hardly make a credible eyewitness!

I was then a fresher and too cocky trying to be a ‘journalist’. Now, I might think twice if someone asked me something, even if it’s not remotely suspicious, like the time! That’s what journalism does to people! But bizarre as it may seem, the faces of terror are just like yours and mine, aren’t they? How do you know that the person who asks you for information in the middle of a busy street is not a helpless citizen but a trigger-happy nut-case?

Gautam Sathe a friend who died some months ago had once described to me how he had escaped certain death thrice on the same night when Pakistani terrorists hit Mumbai in 2008. He added rather philosophically, “I really don’t know when I leave home in the morning, whether I’ll be back home alive in the evening.“

That’s the price the ordinary citizen has to pay, for the follies of the political class.

Vinod Kambli has always been the kind of person who seeks attention and thrives on it – on the cricket field and off it. And the latest incident where he has claimed that the 1996 World Cup semi final against Sri Lanka was fixed is another example of that. Before that was his outburst on TV that Sachin could have helped him get his place back in the team, but never did.

Sometime in 1988, a journalist friend called me to ask if I would be interested in carrying a feature in the Maharashtra Herald, on the other and lesser known half of the Tendulkar-Kambli combination. Vinod Kambli was then a 17 year-old-year living in a one-room tenement in Kanjurmarg, in the suburbs of Mumbai, unlike his more famous and younger-by-a-year friend who lived in Bandra.

He and Sachin had just set up a world record score of 664 in schools cricket, and while everyone was raving about the talent of the cherubic Tendulkar, who was already been spoken of as a player to watch, not too many people were talking about Kambli.

So when this journalist friend spoke to me, I was not too convinced. But he used all his powers of persuasion to convince me of Kambli’s talent and the fact that the ‘biased’ Mumbai sports media couldn’t see beyond Shivaji Park and Dadar Gymkhana!

So we carried a full-page feature on Kambli and it made fascinating reading. Here was this boy from the lower strata of society, who knew that everyone was talking about Tendulkar, said he didn’t mind because Sachin was his best friend. The young Vinod would travel by local train to Shardashram School where both the boys would go through cricketing lessons under the watchful eyes of their coach Ramakant Achrekar.

He was sure that one day soon his time would come, that people would take his name in the same breath as they did Tendulkar. And they did, in 1993, four years after his friend Sachin made that spectacular debut against Pakistan. In his first seven Tests, Kambli scored two double-centuries and two single ones. Not even his best friend could have boasted of such a sensational start.

He then made that very telling comment, “Sachin used the elevator and I used the staircase.”

Nothing could have been better for Indian cricket at that point. I genuinely liked the kid and thought he deserved his success. From January 1993 to November 1995, Kambli had played 17 Tests and scored 1084 runs at an average of 54.20. He had scored 2477 in 104 one-dayers. Pretty impressive record, but then somewhere along the way, I believe his success went to his head. Unfortunately, his career never took off because he was, like many others before him, suspect against the rising ball.

There were also various instances of indiscipline and a tumultuous personal life, which probably also contributed to his slump. His behaviour on and off the field was in marked contrast to that of his friend Sachin, who was never involved in any unsavoury incidents – personal or professional. Even the fact that Sachin ended up marrying someone seven years older was overlooked by the media. And since Kambli was supposed to be his best friend it was natural for the media to compare the two. In this comparison, it was Kambli who invariably ended up with the bad reviews.

I remember speaking to some senior sports journalists, much more knowledgeable and experienced about the game than I was, and their opinion was that Kambli just wasn’t as good as Tendulkar and had been outmaneuvered by the opposition bowlers, because of his weaknesses outside the offstump. They also felt he had messed up his career by his antics off the field.

Around the time when he was out of the Indian team, I remember writing a piece for the newspaper, where I praised his batting in some first class match. Kambli’s first wife called me to complain about the piece. She said I had no idea what he was up against and instead of supporting him I was running him down! I didn’t have the patience to clarify and didn’t see the need to apologise.

A few years later, I was at a medical shop in Pune, near my home, when I saw Vinod in shorts and a tee-shirt buying a crate of beer. I remember thinking, as he struggled with a paunch to load the beer into the car, that this is what happens to players who get dropped. I then heard that he had got into a brawl at some disco in Pune, because some people tried to make a pass at his wife.

A few days later, the advertising manager David Sawant came to my cabin to tell me excitedly that Vinod Kambli was coming to our office to book a full-page advertisement on Valentine’s Day for his wife. Frankly, I had no interest in Kambli’s antics and couldn’t understand why he needed to announce his arrival. My caustic comment was, “Does he think he’s Sachin Tendulkar?”

For Vinod Kambli, I guess that’s what it has really been all about since he was 17.

Always The Editor

Posted: January 25, 2011 in Media
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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.

Encounter with the Big B – I

Posted: December 23, 2009 in Uncategorized
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I watched Paa recently. I was impressed by the 64-year-old Amitabh acting the 13-year-old. There were times while watching the film when I wondered whether this was really the Big B. I also liked the film because there was no melodrama, no over the top histrionics and the humour was subtle and at times quite funny.

I know the film was a straight lift of a film starring Robin Williams, but so what? Sholay, the Bollywood blockbuster of all time was lifted almost scene-by-scene and dialogue-by-dialogue, from The Magnificent Seven, the classic western starring Yul Brynner, James Coburn, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson. And as I watched James Coburn in The Magnificent Seven I could see from where Amitabh Bachchan got his inspiration, to be Jai’s Sholay! The thing is that most of the films done by Amitabh in the early days helped pay not just his bills, but that of everyone else associated with it. And no film of his ever left a producer broke.

But let’s give him the credit for still being at the top for almost 40 years. It would be difficult to imagine him in roles done by Naseeruddin Shah or an Om Puri, because for most of his life he’s been stuck in a stereotype that he found difficult to get out of. Would Amitabh be able to do the role that Naseeruddin played in say a film like ‘Wednesday’? With a little bit of effort, yes! Naseeruddin looks an ‘effortless’ actor.

When people ask Amitabh his opinion about him and SRK I think they’re crazy. Amitabh is in a different league altogether. He very rightly said somewhere that people should ask SRK that question when he is 64! The guy has been around for 40 years and is still a brand to be reckoned. How many actors are there today at that age who film buffs even care to remember? Look at Vinod Khanna or Rajesh Khanna. The latter is today acting in insignificant serials on Doordarshan, which no one sees.

The thing with Bachchan is that we’ve got so used to his baritone and his overpowering personality on screen that even if you see him in a completely different role, it’s difficult to take the man away from the role. That is why I liked Paa. It was different.

I remember the time when I interviewed Amitabh for the Maharashtra Herald in September 1997. He was in Pune for the shooting of ‘Major Saab’ after a five-year hiatus. I had got a tip-off from a friend who worked at the Hotel Blue Diamond that he would be staying there during the entire shooting of the film. The friend also helpfully gave me the phone and fax numbers of ABCL.

I dashed of an interview request by fax, because we didn’t have the benefit of the ubiquitous email. I got a reply to send me the newspaper’s profile, which I did within minutes. That was followed by a return fax from ABCL requesting me for a list of tentative questions. I mulled over that request, because revealing the questions would mean losing the element of surprise and the ability to pop a question that could take him by surprise. I also guessed why they were asking because there was enough fodder about his personal life, which any journalist could not resist asking.

I knew where this was going and after consulting with my colleague Sudheer Gaekwad, who was also the film and music critic for the paper, decided to exclude all personal questions. It worked because ABCL promptly replied that they would be happy to grant an interview when Amitabh reached Pune. (More)

Encounter with the Big B – II

Posted: December 23, 2009 in Uncategorized
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The funny part was I had forgotten all about the interview when I got a call from Bunty Behl, Amitabh’s PR manager asking me to be in Blue Diamond in 10 minutes, because the star had landed in Pune and would be at the hotel in 15 minutes. I just grabbed my Dictaphone, yelled at the telephone operator to tell the photographer to reach the hotel, and ran out of the office!

When I reached the Blue Diamond there was a crowd already there, but surprisingly not a single journalist, which I thought was a blessing in disguise. The photographer rushed in with his camera and family in tow. I couldn’t believe my eyes! But then it’s not every day you get to see an icon in the flesh and blood.

As he strode in to the lobby, there was a sudden hush. Everyone stopped doing what they were doing. The florist, who was busy putting together a bouquet, just froze and gaped. The porters gazed in awe and the girls at the Reception were smiling really hard trying to catch his eye. All eyes were on this denim clad, clean shaven (he didn’t have his French beard then) man, who obviously still had the charisma to stop traffic! I remember saying to myself, “heck, absence or no absence, this guy has class.”

I got the interview – all 25 minutes of it. Or was it 45? I don’t remember. It’s not every day you get to interview or shake the hand of a man called Amitabh Bachchan. So it all went in a daze. I even made a faux pas, which I am still embarrassed about till today!

When I had told my mother that ABCL had agreed to the interview she told me that

Amitabh’s parents – mother Teji and his father, poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan – had come for dinner to my father’s place in Patna sometime in the 1950’s or 60s. My father Bishweshwar Prasad Sinha was a well known barrister-politician-editor- writer and later part-time lecturer in Patna then, and knew a lot of important people. When I mentioned this to Amitabh after the interview was complete, I confused the date and mentioned one some 30 years earlier, which he firmly said was not possible. I shut up and left.

If he ever reads this blog post…Sorry Sir, I got the date wrong! But I stand by the rest of my story!

The funny thing is just before the interview was scheduled in Amitabh’s suite, I was with Behl at the Business Centre. Standing not even a foot from me in the cramped business centre was this stunning looking woman – flawless complexion and beautiful. Behl asked me if I would also like to interview her after the Bachchan interview. I shrugged it off because, whither Bachchan and whither she. I also didn’t really know too much about her career then, because she was more of a model then an actor. I also thought she was dumb.

Today when I see her as a guest on TV reality shows I really want to kick myself. She’s more stunning after motherhood, even classier now than before and is far from being the dumb woman I thought she was. So, while I interviewed Ajay Devgan and Nafeesa Ali during the shooting of the film in Pune, I never got around to interviewing Sonali Bendre.

We run into so many situations in life that seem ironical, don’t they?

Take my situation for example – Over a decade ago, I loved eating sweets, especially Bengali sweets. I could polish off a dozen rosogallos, by myself; devour chocolates, cakes, pastries…heck the entire bakery; I could feast all alone on an entire family pack of ice cream; I was delighted when I met my wife-to-be and discovered that she baked the most delicious pastries. What more could I have asked for? Soon after that I was diagnosed with diabetes. A cruel twist of fate or just irony?

Many years ago, unemployed and generally wasting my life away, I was having coffee at Vaishali, a popular haunt on Fergusson College Road with babu kalyanpur, a friend who then worked at the Maharashtra Herald, the only local English daily in Pune.

I had given him a letter for use in the mailbag column of the newspaper. It must have been really bad because the sub-desk at the MH never used it. But he asked me if I would like to work in a newspaper, since “I liked to write.”

I didn’t know whether he was being serious or sarcastic, but a job is a job and I jumped at it. At least, I wouldn’t have to ask my folks for any money for my next cigarette.

Well, I got the job and grew into it and I had babu to thank for it. From a trainee, I became a sub-editor six months later, and slowly and steadily climbed the ladder. When I quit the MH thirteen years later I was an Assistant Editor. I guess I didn’t do badly for someone who’s first attempt at letter writing found its way to a trash bin. It was ironic, because I had initially looked at it only as something that would keep me suitably employed and give me some money. But from an ordinary job, journalism became a passion that still keeps me going.

The initial years really made me wonder whether I was really cut out for such a job. and I remember an incident that occurred a few years after I joined that proved the proverbial turning point. I’ve narrated this incident to the students in my class, but my friend Joe Pinto believes I should document it. So here goes, just for the record…

Sometime in the morning of October 19, 1988, there was a ‘flash’ on the teleprinter that an Indian Airlines flight to Ahmedabad had crashed near there. I was alone in the office, when I got a call from a woman who asked me if a captain O.M. Dalaya was on the flight. I checked the list and replied that he was.

“Are there any survivors?” the voice asked.

“No ma’am,” I replied, and then out of curiosity asked “Please, may I know who’s speaking?”

“I’m his mother,” was the reply.

I felt a shiver run through me, and was numb as I put the phone down. My head was reeling because for me what could be worse that telling a mother that her son had died in an air crash?

When the chief reporter Harry David came in, I told him what had occurred. Harry is a gentle soul, never given to anger or a temper. Ironically, I was thinking he would pat me on the shoulder and sympathise with me for what I had just experienced.

He asked me if I had taken her number down. I replied in the negative, and the ‘gentle’ Harry suddenly became Dirty Harry aka Clint Eastwood. And like Dirty Harry, he didn’t yell or scream. In a cold, measured tone Harry told me that I had screwed up – big time.

This was worse than a shouting. He was basically telling me in his own way that I was a bloody duffer and should be banished from the newspaper office – forever.

I still thought I was right and tried to justify it, by telling him that I could not possibly have asked a woman who had just lost her son for her phone number. That only made it worse.

He raised his voice ever so slightly and said, “When my brother Abel died (Abel was the secretary of the Indian Hockey Federation and also the Founder Editor of the then Poona Herald)), I sat next to his body and typed the copy for the news agencies. You just missed the story of your life. NEVER let it happen again.”

Harry didn’t shout, didn’t go ballistic or froth in the mouth when he imparted that very important lesson in journalism and it’s something I’ve never forgotten. It hit home that for a journalist there is no such thing as good news or bad news – IT’S JUST NEWS and it has to be reported, at any cost.