Book Reviews

Witness to Many Eras

… BRP Bhaskar’s seven decades of Journalism

In 1952, as a twenty-year old fresh from college, BRP Bhaskar walked into the imposing, landmark building of The Hindu on Mount Road, Madras, to tentatively begin his career as a journalist. A septuagenary career that saw him don many roles at many places, but always keeping him, I feel, in a position from where he could lay down the rules of the game.

When he began his life as a journalist, I was in primary class, but two decades later when I too took my first hesitant steps as a journalist trainee in UNI, New Delhi, on ides of March in 1972, it was to BRP that I submitted my selection letter from the Press Institute of India. He was then the highly resourceful, all powerful News Editor of the agency, with a solid reputation in press circles as the last word in news agency journalism in the country. And he was a mentor to many like me, and his excellent Style Book for UNI served as a personal Bible to all neophytes in journalism to turn to whenever in doubt about using this word or that, writing this way or that.

Half a century after our first meeting, I consider it my good fortune now to have received for all pre-publication works, like editing, page making, proof correction and cover design, an excellent 336-page book of recollections by him, titled The Changing Mediascape, scheduled to be published shortly by the Kerala Media Academy.

It is at once his own life story as that of the institutions where he worked, at once local and international, educative, and entertaining. The media landscape the world over definitely witnessed vast changes from the early 1950s to the present. And BRP has captured the gist of such changes to add to the luster of his long but highly readable narrative.

For graduation from the University of Travancore (which subsequently was renamed as the University of Kerala), BRP’s optional was Mathematics though his intense desire lay in taking up a career in journalism. Did he at any time see a role model in Malcolm Muggeridge, who loved words and wanted to do nothing but use them?  ‘From the very beginning of my life,’ Muggeridge had said, ‘I never doubted that words were my métier. There was nothing else I ever wanted to do but to use them; no other accomplishment or achievement I ever had the slightest regard for, or desire to emulate. I have always loved words, and still love them, for their own sake. For the power and beauty of them; for the wonderful things that can be done with them.’

But in mathematics and journalism there appeared to be a mismatch. And there was also a clash of ideas at home. His father A K Bhaskar, himself a journalist and freedom fighter (he ran a Malayalam newspaper named Navabharatam), wanted BRP to set his eyes on a sure and steady government job. But BRP did not feel attracted to that option as his friendship with some of the journalists on the staff of his father’s very own Navabharatam had enticed him to journalism. 

But how would his mathematics background help him in his chosen career of writing? His mathematics teacher in college, Balakrishna Sharma, apparently had the last word. He was all encouragement to BRP when he said a grounding in mathematics would surely help him in journalism because “both disciplines require precision.”

And precision, or exactness or apt word for apt expression, I had often found, was the hallmark of BRP’s Leads and Combined Leads and Intros that enlivened UNI news copy day in and day out in the golden age of that agency in the second half of the last century.

His initial idea was to join The Indian Express at Madras through the good offices of Gandhian G Ramachandran, with whom he was close. It was his father who steered him to The Hindu, saying if he was keen on English journalism he should go for the best newspaper there was. His father offered to speak to its Editor Kasturi Sreenivasan during his next visit to Madras.

The Hindu tenure as a Sub-Editor turned out to be a springboard for BRP for greater heights in journalism. He learnt the basics there, but in a way, it could be said that it was a symbiotic relationship, as on many occasions BRP gave back to the paper the benefit of his youthful wisdom. The Madras days also saw the germination of the activist in him, as also the trade unionist.

It was while there that he got selected as one of the two Indian journalists that year for the Ramon Magsaysay Exchange Program for higher studies in the University of the Philippines. For the next nearly two years he was in Manila for a master’s degree in English and Comparative Literature, earning a covetable membership to the international academic honor society of Phi Kappa Phi in recognition of his excellence in studies.

The narrative on his Philippine years is greatly worth reading if only for an outstanding pen portrait of a quintessential journalist, fearless, outspoken, always standing by the side of truth, irrespective of its harmful repercussions: Ernesto (Ernie) O Granada of The Manila Chronicle. Ernie ultimately paid with his life for his fearless outspokenness against the despotic regime of President Ferdinand Marcos. Incarcerated by Marcos for some years, he came out a wrecked man, not surviving for long.

On his return from Manila, BRP’s first port of call was The Statesman of New Delhi, a paper that started publication during the colonial period and which still had Englishmen in top journalistic positions.

He learnt the fundamentals of launching a newspaper when he joined Edatata Narayanan and his team to begin publication of a leftist daily, Patriot. As a founder member of its editorial team, BRP had swell of a time there. 0ne of the highlights of this period he mentioned in the book was the way Patriot beat all other newspapers in providing visuals for the story on a late evening air crash in the Chambal ravines.

When the political perceptions of the editor got reflected in news stories and headlines, eroding objectivity, BRP chose to call it a day and put in his papers.

The loss of Patriot was the gain of UNI as BRP served that national news agency for 18 years in various capacities, most memorably as its News Editor who gave it a vision and a direction.

It was while working in UNI that BRP got the opportunity to associate with the formation of the Non-Aligned News Agencies Pool. As a preliminary to it, he was with Inter-Press Service, Rome, for some months to acquaint himself with its working. The Rome sojourn offered him a chance to visit Poland at the height of the pro-democracy Solidarity movement of Lech Walesa and write in-depth stories about it.

The biggest achievement of man during the last century was undoubtedly the Moon landing mission of NASA by which men were sent to the Moon and were safely brought back home. The remarkable account of how UNI covered this world event in perfect coordination with NASA takes up a supremely readable chapter.

BRP left UNI because of differences with the management and joined Deccan Herald, Bangalore, where too he left an indelible mark. He was deputed by the paper to visit many East European nations and the Soviet Union to witness and write about various international upheavals, like the collapse of communist regimes, the emergence of nascent democracies there, the symbolic breaking down of the Berlin Wall and the magnificent culmination of the Solidarity movement of Lech Walesa to wrest power in Poland. The resurgence of China as an industrial giant and the collapse of democracy in the ethnic Indian dominated island nation of Fiji following an army coup were other developments BRP covered after visits to those countries.

Formal retirement from print journalism did not mean end of the road for BRP. His vision, his energy and expertise were made use of when the first satellite television channel in Kerala, Asianet, was set up. At a time when there was no uplink facilities for such channels in the country, Asianet had to send telecast material to Subic Bay, Philippines, to uplink to a Russian satellite having footprint over India. The Asianet saga explained in detail shows how hard it has been for the pioneers of satellite channels.

BRP closes his book highlighting two themes that are socially very relevant today: Women in the Media and Dalits unseen in the Media.

The Changing Mediascape is in the process of production and is scheduled to come out later this month. 

His earlier book of reminiscences in Malayalam, Newsroom, has just won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award for 2022.

01-Jul-2023

More by :  P. Ravindran Nayar

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