Date:13/09/2003 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/th125/stories/2003091300820400.htm
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Looking back

TREADING SOFTLY - BUT MODERNISING APACE



Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru at The Hindu in 1948. Two generations of the family managing The Hindu can be seen: K. Srinivasan, G. Kasturi and S. Rangarajan, presently Managing Director.

The old era ended and the paper passed into a new one when Kasturi Ranga Iyengar's full-length portrait was unveiled in 100 Mount Road in March 1925 by Mahatma Gandhi. By the time Kasturi Srinivasan took over The Hindu, he had a sound investment to protect. So in spite of being almost as ardent a Congressman as his Tilak-admiring and battle-welcoming father, he preferred to tread softly. He continued to champion the freedom of the press. When Devadas Gandhi of The Hindustan Times was arrested during the 1942 Quit India agitation, The Hindu commented: "This is an order that simply takes our breath away... the Chief Commissioner makes it impossible for them (the press) to fulfil their duty to the public which is to give it all the news which in their judgement is fit to print." Srinivasan, presiding over the All-India Newspaper Editors' Conference (AINEC) that he had helped found in 1941, said: "There is no question of our willing submission to any proposal which in our opinion is derogatory to the profession or in any way prevents us from functioning as responsible newspapers." These convictions he demonstrated in action when, late in 1942, the Government banned publication of news of the fast by a Professor Bhansali.

In retaliation, Srinivasan led the AINEC in blacking out Government circulars, Honours Lists and speeches. When the Government reacted to these tactics by withdrawing facilities to the paper's reporters, The Hindu commented: "No popular Government would dream of brushing aside the public's rights so lightly as the Madras Government has shown itself ready to do, since it would clearly see that such action would really amount to cutting off the nose to spite the face." On January 6, 1943, it went so far as to suspend publication in protest.

As late as April 1951, discussing proposed amendments to the Constitution, The Hindu entered into a lengthy argument with Prime Minister Nehru, asking him to leave the Press alone. It pointed out that "quite a large number of galling restrictions on the freedom of the Press which were an unblest legacy of British rule, but which the courts have held to be repugnant to the Constitution and void, will be revived and become effective for mischief if the amendment should be adopted." The Hindu criticised Nehru for looking upon the Press "more or less as a kind of permanent opposition" and advised him to "free himself from the obsession" that the Press was "incapable of taking an unbiased or rational view of Government's policies."

The Hindu in the 1930s and the 1940s also paid considerable attention to the drums of war and the War itself. The Second World War had the newspaper looking at the international scene from various angles. There was the Indian viewpoint: "Great Britain has made no efforts ... to get into touch with leaders of Indian opinion ... This is the more surprising when it is remembered that a big, nay, decisive factor in any struggle into which she may enter or be drawn would be the attitude of the Indian people." The paper reiterated the point a few days later: "If India is to throw her weight actively on the side of the democracies in case a struggle is unavoidable, it is obvious that the shortest way to set about it is for Britain to call Gandhiji to the council table of the Commonwealth in this hour of crisis and to make it possible for him to respond to that call."



The first David Low cartoon to appear in The Hindu, August 15, 1933.

On the War itself, The Hindu made its viewpoint clear on September 1, 1939: "The lights are going out once again in Europe and soon there will be total darkness in which the evil forces of destruction will bring civilisation itself into jeopardy." The paper was unequivocal in its disapproval of the negative attitude of Britain's wartime hero, Winston Churchill, towards India: "There is little doubt that though he may win the war for Britain he would lose the peace if he had his way. He would do his best to restore the status quo with all its age-long inequalities, injustices and slaveries." It also criticised President Roosevelt for "so completely [failing] to grasp the central fact."

But while Srinivasan and The Hindu cogently argued the case for India's independence, both were uncertain about the ability of the masses to take charge of their future. As late as 1949, when the Constitution was being shaped, The Hindu was editorially suggesting that the introduction of universal adult franchise be put off: "It will not be an easy thing for the common people, defenceless in their ignorance, to resist plausible sophisters who beckon them to the promised land ... Nothing will be lost by postponing this tremendous and hazardous experiment for a few years."



In the pre-television era, The Hindu set up a large scoreboard on the front of its office building in Madras during cricket Test matches.

The Srinivasan era was one in which The Hindu adopted a firm but conciliatory attitude, convinced that freedom would come with negotiation. The paper and its leadership played no little role in the Congress accepting office in the States. No less was The Hindu's concern for India's economic future: as a newspaper of record, it published the first five-year plan dreamed up by an Indian, M. Visweswarayya, the great Mysore planner. On another occasion, the newspaper reflected that while a great leader might, facing a crisis in national affairs, enthuse the people to "superb heights of altruistic idealism," it was "bread and butter considerations that sustain[ed] the common man in his work-a-day life."

In the first year of freedom, the paper paid considerable attention to the direction Government should take in economic matters, taking a stand on paths of development: "Production is the need of the hour and production can be achieved only by hard sustained work... if we are to concentrate on production it is only common sense that we should not at the same time rudely shatter the fabric of economic relations by launching on what is vaguely envisaged as `socialism'." In 1952, The Hindu made its position on such issues even clearer: "There are limits to State action and quite definite limits to the improvements which can be effected by State ownership or management. The wise rule for the Government would be to limit the fields of its own direct management to the narrowest confines and to leave as wide a field as possible to private initiative and enterprise."



Rajendra Prasad's carriage passes in front of Kasturi Buildings, August 15, 1956. The building to the left is the office of The Mail.

Two other issues of significance on which The Hindu took significant stands during Srinivasan's stewardship were the formation of linguistic States and the status of Hindi. On the first question, it went along in resignation, commenting: "whatever the historical reasons or accidents which determined their birth, many of the existing provinces are unilingual for all practical purposes ... There is a dominant feeling in many areas and an overwhelming one in some in favour of giving every well-defined linguistic unit the right to govern itself in regard to its domestic affairs consistently with maintaining the larger unity of India unimpaired. ... if popular sentiment is predominantly in favour of such a settlement it cannot possibly be prevented in the long run and it might even be undesirable to make the attempt."

As for Hindi, The Hindu proposed that "the whole of India must be given a chance to familiarise itself with Hindi before bringing it for official use, where precision and clear understanding of meaning is essential" and that "before Hindi can take the place that English now occupies it must overcome certain serious defects which now make it unsuitable for use as a common medium."

Even as editorial policy was moderated and news and entertaining reading began to grow in importance under Srinivasan, management and business - aimed at modernisation - began to play a more significant role at 100 Mount Road. During the two decades before War's end, The Hindu made significant innovative strides. By 1925 it had grown to standard broadsheet size, publishing at least 12 pages daily, but still an evening paper.

As early as 1921, a rotary printing press, "the first of its kind in the East," had been installed at 100 Mount Road. Soon its capacity came under pressure, as the paper's circulation began to exceed the 17,000 copies the machine had to print when it was installed. It was only in 1928 that The National Press was financially in a position to install a new rotary. This enabled The Hindu to print a 24-page broadsheet at 30,000 copies an hour. In anticipation of this high-speed machine, the astute Srinivasan had replaced the traditional hand-composing practice of typesetting with mechanised Monotype, Linotype and Ludlow typesetting machines. It was not long before equipment to convert photography into half-tone blocks for printing arrived to complete the process of making The Hindu one of India's most modern newspaper presses.

Photography became a regular feature in the 1920s. Around this time, Srinivasan even introduced illustrated jokes to fill space at the end of columns. He took this a step forward when, in October 1925, the paper published its first political cartoon by one who signed himself `Horace' and remains anonymous to this day. The inability to find a regular cartoonist made cartooning in the paper not only infrequent but of variable quality. When The Hindu began publishing regular cartoons, they were by David Low; his work, introduced with some fanfare, first appeared in the paper in 1933 and continued until the celebrated cartoonist's death in 1963.



S. Parthasarathy ("S.P.")

Among the features introduced at this time was a weekly `Literature - Art - Philosophy' page. In 1927 this evolved into The Hindu's Educational and Literary Supplement, a separate folio-size publication that, like The Times, London's, Literary and Educational Supplements, gained an international reputation for quality and urbaneness. This publication went through various metamorphoses, but survives as the-once-a-month Literary Review that appears with the Sunday paper today. That paper itself started as The Hindu Illustrated Weekly, a stand-alone, differently formatted journal containing the best writing from the week's daily issues and targeting readers in other parts of India. With Dandapani Aiyer in charge - one of those rare journalists who had a passion for printing as well as photography - it was much sought after as a high-quality journal, both for its content and presentation and print quality. The Depression however proved its nemesis. In 1936, a broadsheet Sunday Magazine Edition, one of the first in the country and an adjunct of the main paper, made its appearance. Another quality publication, The Hindu Annual, which had appeared in 1923 with features and short stories by well-known authors, did not last long. When Dandapani Aiyer joined the staff in 1926, he persuaded Srinivasan to make it a glossy, illustrated publication priced at an unheard-of-at-the-time Re.1. The publication was to prove a popular gift item, but in the end proved unsustainable.

Other features Srinivasan introduced to make the paper live up to its reputation of being "The Manchaster Guardian of India" were `Commerce-Engineering-Industries-Machinery', which was ahead of its time in a non-industrialised country, and a weekly feature for women readers, "Our Ladies' Column", by the first woman graduate and women's journal editor in the South, Kamala Sathianathan. In the mid-1930s, after Srinivasan had become the first Managing Editor of a paper in India, The Hindu introduced a cinema page and a gardening page.

But as important as technological improvement and content upgradation were two transformations that occurred in the newspaper during the Srinivasan era - both of which he shaped with the greatest reluctance. In 1930, he experimented with bringing out The Hindu as a morning paper but soon dropped the idea. But the time zones of World War II demanded a morning paper and, so, from November 11, 1940, The Hindu arrived at the city reader's doorstep at dawn and soon became an inseparable adjunct of that Madras addiction, `morning coffee'.

The 1930s was also an era when the world's newspapers were beginning to front-page news. Srinivasan resisted the temptation but on June 2, 1941, a Monday, The Hindu startled its readers by front-paging the news. However, he assured them, this would be a practice followed only on Mondays - when advertising was lean and editorials were not written. It also proved to be only a wartime practice. It took 17 years to make the change permanent - on January 14, 1958. Before this happened, the paper meticulously prepared both readers and advertisers for the new practice with circulars and a month-long advertising campaign, followed by a sample of what to expect delivered to 85,000 readers in miniature.

The `new look' did not introduce the flamboyant layouts being followed by newspapers round the world. The Hindu continued with the restrained style it had learnt from The Times, London's, but in front-paging the news it offered for the first time a few double column headlines. Significantly, most readers welcomed the changes - and others that began to appear with greater frequency in the years since.

Yet another major change was the introduction of a new masthead. The Hindu had started with a stark typeface and then Gothicised it. Along the way it had added a crest that was better suited to the Raj - the lion and the unicorn accompanied by Britain's motto, Dieu et mon Droit (For God and my Right). In 1935, Kamadhenu the divine cow, representing prosperity, and Airavatham, the divine elephant, representing strength, replaced the Raj's animals and bracketed a shield that rested on a lotus. The shield bore an outline map of India with a conch in the centre. Blades of grass sprouted on both sides of the crest. Although neither name nor crest nor the changes were ever explained, the message was that the founders and those who followed them were clear that the `Hindu' in the paper's name was no communal statement. It represented the people of Hindustan and was synonymous with `Indian' (as had once been explained).

In 1958, there was a further change. The Gothic masthead was given up for a more modern, easier-to-read type. The simple new type, which continues to this day with some variation, is a harking back to what `The Triplicane Six' had started out with. And so was front-paging the news. Advertising on the front page in the 19th Century Hindu became a practice only a few months after the paper started.

A few other additions to keep up with the changing times were introduced in the newspaper during this era. Srinivasan's brother, Gopalan, Partner and also Publisher and Printer of the paper from 1927, was passionate about sport, particularly hockey, which he had played well in college. He hand a hand in launching India's first sports magazine, Sport and Pastime, on September 10, 1947. It was to become one of India's favourite magazines until its demise in 1968. Gopalan also contributed towards making the papers sports pages the best in the country - comprehensive and literate - , which they remain today. The other new publication was The Hindu Weekly Review launched in August 1953 to keep overseas readers in touch with the paper. Printed on `airmail paper' to make economic use of air transport, it carried the most important news stories and best features and local pictures of the week. All these improvements to the paper and additions to the National Press stable were backed by appreciation of modern technology combined with close attention to the economics of the business.

In 1929, when the first Indian air mail plane landed at Karachi, it brought The Hindu's first "air mail stories" from London - eleven of them. Over the years, Srinivasan, who was fascinated by air transport, was to strengthen the paper's commitment to using aircraft directly in the news business. In 1938, The Hindu became the first newspaper in the country to have a teleprinter connection from the Central Telegraph Office to receive the news. By 1949, when greater use of teleprinter lines became feasible, The Hindu was the first paper to make use of Government's offer, setting up its own link with Bombay and, then, with Delhi. Dedicated links to other cities were added later.

With communication becoming easier and faster, Srinivasan led The Hindu into taking a greater interest in the wider world. Frederick Grubb had from 1911 been The Hindu's London Correspondent, its first international reporter. When he retired in 1933, the newspaper opened in London its first overseas office, and Leonard Matters headed it. After World War II, The Hindu became one of the first Indian newspapers to have full-time correspondents in other countries. K. Balaraman went to New York in 1948 and was to stay there till 1961, establishing an envious reputation of reporting the American scene racily. He was to head the U.N. Correspondents' Association and the Foreign Correspondents' Association in the U.S. - the only Asian to do so till he left the country - and was once named the "Foreign Correspondent of the Year". K.V. Narain became the newspaper's correspondent in Tokyo, where an office was opened in 1957. There were Hindu correspondents in nearly a dozen countries.

Even as The Hindu reached out abroad, it expanded at home. With its circulation racing to 40,000 by the late 1930s, it needed larger premises. The Oakes' Mount Road workshop, owned by Spencer's, and the considerable unutilised space around it, were on the market. On this three-acre site, Srinivasan entrusted the design of what was to be named "Kasturi Buildings" to H. Fellowes Prynne of Jackson and Barker, architects. The civil construction was contracted to the Modern Construction Company.

Srinivasan was determined to have The Hindu celebrate its Diamond Jubilee in its new home, but he had to overcome the challenge of shifting the paper's printing press and related facilities without interrupting production. The answer was a new rotary printing press. The machine The Hindu ordered was the most modern available at the time; it was capable of printing 32 pages at a time at a speed of 40,000 copies an hour. The new press also offered spot colour printing simultaneously on the run. The Hindu thus became the first newspaper in India to offer colour in a newspaper. "Kasturi Buildings" was ready for occupation and the press ready for use only in December 1939, so The Hindu celebrated its Diamond Jubilee celebrations, due in September 1938, only after it moved on to the site that is now 859 and 860 Anna Salai.

100 Mount Road soon had a new tenant. When the George Town office of The Indian Express, owned by Ramnath Goenka, was gutted by fire in 1940, Srinivasan lent The Hindu's old home and old rotary to the Express, even as the fire raged. The Indian Express remained a tenant there until it moved into its own premises in 1948 after buying the old Madras Club building and campus. 100 Mount Road became progressively a monument to neglect till The Hindu, in a rush of insensitivity to heritage, pulled it down in 1996 to develop a high-rise building. The only fortuitous good that came of it was that "Kasturi Centre" now houses the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ); two of The Hindu's directors are trustees of the Media Development Foundation, the independent public trust that runs the ACJ.

Srinivasan was to display his generosity to competitors once again when, in October 1943, after rains had battered the city and left it flooded, he offered to print the newspaper of any publisher who had been affected by the power breakdown that had followed. During this crisis, The Hindu's AC power supply alone was restored quickly, as it was from the main power station. It is worth noting that Srinivasan made this offer when his own newspaper was suffering from the consequences of the War: reduced to half its circulation and four pages on five days and six pages on two days.

The Hindu celebrated its Diamond Jubilee in style - affirming its faith in democracy and "free discussion that is the life breath of democracy" and belief in its own educational role. It felt that abroad the masses were "educated enough to read greedily but not ... seriously" - thus "swamping the discriminating few" - and felt this should not happen in India. "It is not by bludgeoning the reader's mind," the paper contended, "but by reasoning with it that the soundest and most lasting results can be achieved." Stating that the pros and cons must be set out fairly and that it was incumbent on the Press "to maintain steadily this appeal to higher instincts," The Hindu eschewed the option of becoming a `popular' paper - "a tabloid". It felt news should not be sensationalised but mst be presented "in a well ordered manner... each item in its appointed place." Although it spoke slightingly of "so called human interest stories and similar shop window devices," the paper was not above offering extensive coverage of sport, especially cricket and horse racing and even had a correspondent writing regularly on fashion at the races. In the pre-television era, The Hindu set up a large scoreboard in the front of its office during Test matches. It once devoted columns of space over two months to a controversy that posed the question, "Did Sita, Rama's consort, lie and if so was it pardonable?" Like its original role model, The Times, London, The Hindu did not believe in personalising news by such popular devices as by-lines and photographs of correspondents. There was a sensation when T.G. Narayanan got a by-line - and a picture too - for his war reports from the Imphal front in April 1944.

Reflecting the importance of views and opinion, The Hindu had Assistant Editors and Sub-editors, but not a News Editor until the War years when C.R. Krishnaswami, Rajaji's son, was put in charge of news operations in the modern sense. The paper, however, got its first Chief Reporter in 1905 - R. Ganesa Aiyer, a Kasturi Ranga Iyengar appointment who remained in harness for 23 years. The attitude of these dedicated journalists was that the news must be presented as comprehensively and as unsensationally as possible and that all the facts at hand must be included - after checking and re-checking.

Some of The Hindu's most newsworthy achievements during this era came as much by good organisation as by chance. The newspaper carried news of the Japanese surrender when most of the country's other morning dailies (including The Times of India) missed the story. This `exclusive' for India was possible only because a stenographer was posted to monitor radio bulletins every night during the War. He conscientiously tuned in to the BBC for a last check at 4.30 am before going home, when printing of the first edition was under way. During a later era, in 1966, the paper scooped Lal Bahadur Shastri's death, carrying the story in the same issue that carried news of the Tashkent Accord. In this instance, all the sub editors had gone home but a teleprinter operator, who spotted the news, and a proof-reader informed the Editor. The Editor stopped press and had the `flash' carried. Then there was the case of Kennedy's assassination in 1963, the news breaking in India minutes after the first edition of The Hindu was airborne. The air fleet - a pioneering venture - was recalled and a new edition was hurriedly printed and airlifted to readers in far-flung parts of south India.

Such splendid organisation, which could convert even a half-chance into an "exclusive", coupled with rare business acumen that has been demonstrated in every generation of the Kasturi family - not usually found among press barons, leave alone journalists - is what has taken The Hindu from strength to strength, especially in the post-Independence years when it did not have the "nationalist" label any longer to help boost its sales. The circulation grew from a 50,000 circulation in 1955 to 100,000 in 1959 to nearly 933,000 today. This growth is testimony to the organisational skills of Kasturi Ranga Iyengar's sons and their successors.

The end of the Srinivasan era came in rather unhappy circumstances. Of Srinivasan it has been said - as was later said of G. Kasturi - that there was not a single detail in the organisation of a modern newspaper with which he was not familiar. Whether it was maintaining the traditions of the institution, news operations, editorial practices, dealing with officialdom, setting up of an index department, putting up a new building, ordering a new plant, responding to production crises, or opening an office in New York, Srinivasan familiarised himself with both the details and the issues involved and made informed, forward-looking decisions. It was remarkable with what unerring shrewdness and judgement he made major decisions involving outlays that were large for his time.

For all his strictness, he was generous with his staff. When pages were drastically reduced during the War, he did not retrench staff. Instead, as prices rose, he became the first newspaper employer in the country to pay a cost of living allowance. He also opened a fair price grain shop as well as a staff canteen - additional measures to reduce the burden on a staff saddled with steep rises in the cost of living. Work however he expected to be turned out to his high standards. He continued to respect The Hindu tradition of not asking an editorial writer to write against his convictions, but anyone who erred editorially or was considered undisciplined was sternly dealt with. Dismissal in the old autocratic tradition was not unknown. It was such a background that the paper's first trade union, founded in 1957, launched the first strike in The Hindu's history - on July 29, 1958. With the management taking an unrelenting stand and the strike turning militant, the situation got out of hand. On August 5th, the paper closed its doors for the first time since it was launched. A week later, after Chief Minister Kamaraj's intervention and a statement of regret from the striking workers, The Hindu was back in business with a weary comment on the consequences of labour organisations getting mixed up with political parties.

The paper recovered its health fairly quickly but its great Editor, shattered by what had happened, his paternalism unable to absorb the shock of his men `turning on him', went into a decline of health and spirits. In less than a year, he was dead - at the age of 72.

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