DVG, Kasturi Ranga Iyengar, Karunakara Menon and the Triumph of an Ideal

This article is part 47 of 51 in the series Life and Legacy of DVG

But before we narrate the story of how DVG’s fortunes unfolded after his return to Bangalore, it is pertinent and educative to provide a brief survey of his last days in Madras.

DVG’s journalistic mentor, Srinivasa Iyengar had returned to Bangalore after Press Gag in Mysore was published. Before leaving Madras, Srinivasa Iyengar had secured a job for DVG with Rama Rao, a Kannadiga who had prospered by running a lucrative mail order[1] business. Rama Rao would publish attractively-illustrated advertisements in newspapers and magazines for products such as scented hair oil, razors, combs, wrist watches, talcum powders, perfumes, and brushes. He would dispatch the products via VPP (Value Payable Post). DVG was recruited as an editor and copywriter for Rama Rao’s product advertisements, which were published in a Kannada literary periodical titled Nudigannadi which was later renamed to Veerakesari. But DVG’s job there was short-lived due to the aforementioned pressure from his father. At any rate, he remembers Rama Rao with great fondness, calling him “generous, affectionate and compassionate.”

As we shall see, experiences even in such odd jobs contributed quite a bit in shaping DVG’s overall outlook towards journalism, among others.

Two other editorial stalwarts also left quite an impact on DVG’s journalistic life. The first was the managing editor of The Hindu, Kasturi Ranga Iyengar. This is how DVG describes[2] him:

He was a man of few words and endowed with a serious disposition. Outside, he was a hard rock, inside, butter. Once when I met him, he placed before me a fat news report and said, “Condense this. It should be no longer than two pages.” After I submitted my revised copy, he went through it. Then, he took a blue pencil and struck out some of the sentences I had written and said, “read it now.” This was his method of editing…It appears that my writing style was harsh, direct and blunt. Perhaps this is why Kasturi Ranga Iyengar kept my writings under a tight leash and mercilessly edited them.

The other stalwart of journalism was Karunakara Menon, editor of the Indian Patriot. Prior to starting the paper, he had served as the predecessor of Kasturi Ranga Iyengar at The Hindu, and commanded enormous respectability in public life. He had a different view of the columns and reports that DVG contributed to the Indian Patriot. This is how DVG describes[3] his style:

Karunakara Menon was a superb orator, deeply committed to the welfare of the people. He accepted my writings without making too many edits. In his view, my harsh writing style was also an “expression of public opinion from one perspective.”

Kasturi Ranga Iyengar’s method was one of constant refining. Karunakara Menon’s method was to provide encouragement.

For a boy aged 18-20, both encouragement and refinement are necessary, right?

Reflecting on this sixty years later, DVG remarks that in the realm of journalism, these were two separate Manvantaras[4].

***

When DVG returned to Bangalore in 1909, Diwan Madhava Rao’s oppressive press law was still in force. The statewide closure of newspapers as a mark of protests had yielded zero results. As he wryly notes, the objective[5] of the veterans and elders in the journalistic fraternity to morally shame the Mysore Government had ended in failure: it appeared that the Government was perfectly fine having no newspapers at all.

Mulling over his future once again, DVG thought of opening a bookstore or starting a paper. The first option worked out initially. Accordingly, he started Swadeshi Library at Chickpet. It began publishing the Vande Mataram Series that included books, monographs and pamphlets on topics dear to DVG’s heart. A partial list of its publications is sufficient to give a flavor:

·      Samyukta and United India

·      Religion and Nationalism in India

·      Vedanta and Nationalism

·      Tolstoy and India

Like his earlier endeavours, Swadeshi Library met a premature end owing to various factors.

Unfazed, he started a Kannada weekly titled Sumati in June 1909. An endorsement and blessing given by the Mysore Star paper reads as follows:

This magazine does not contain topics related to current affairs. Its articles will neither praise nor criticize people. It contains articles and essays on topics related to law, philosophy, religion, and education. May it flourish forever. These are our blessings.

The annual subscription for Sumati was a princely sum of one rupee and eight paisa. Those who sent four annas (or twenty-five paisa) in advance would automatically become subscribers entitled to special benefits. They would be able to buy the annual issue running up to 1200 pages printed in the crown size at a highly discounted price. Here is a short list of the works brought out by Sumati:

·      Biography of the late Diwan Rangacharlu

·      Kanakaluka: a Kannada adaptation of Alfred Tennyson’s play, ‘The Cup.’

·      Eulogy of King George’s coronation

·      Children’s stories

·      Rammohan Roy

·      Vande Mataram

·      Haribhakti-saara

Once again, we come across the familiar refrain: Sumati’s destiny was ill-fated and shut down its operations in January 1912.

Around roughly the same period, a parallel development had occurred. A new biweekly (published on Wednesdays and Saturdays) titled Mysore Times had begun operations. It was printed at the iconic Irish Press located at the corner opposite the municipality park facing today’s Bangalore bus station. As a journalist and publisher, DVG was a frequent visitor of the Irish Press.

The editor of Mysore Times was an extremely wealthy lawyer named N.S. Ramaswamy Iyengar given to a life of extravagance and opulent tastes. His editorship of the paper was largely a vanity project. He had no real interest in running the paper and recruited DVG as Assistant Editor. In other words, the full responsibility of running the paper fell on DVG. Ramaswamy Iyengar would rarely visit the paper’s office and rarely wrote in it. Depending on his whim, he would occasionally write an essay or two on random topics, mostly his personal reminiscences and critiques of a highly subjective nature. He never contributed an editorial, never wrote on politics.

As Assistant Editor, DVG was tasked to visit Ramaswamy Iyengar’s sprawling bungalow opposite the Puttanna Chetty Town Hall every Monday and Thursday. When we read DVG’s subtle and dignified account[6] related to this episode, it is clear that these were not editorial meetings but the idle ruminations of a bored master delivered to a subordinate.

This set routine was struck by thunderbolt in the form of a letter to the editor, Ramaswamy Iyengar. The essence of the letter: a clash had erupted between the administrative and cooking staff of the Central College hostel. The reason for the clash was due to some unhealthy ingredient mixed in the hostel food. The incident was brought to the college management’s notice.

DVG published the incident in Mysore Times.

The head of the hostel’s cooking staff retaliated immediately by filing a defamation suit against the editor of Mysore Times, alleging that the paper had ruined his reputation. When Ramaswamy Iyengar brought this to DVG’s notice, he wrote an explanation defending the publication of the report. He said that the report was published after consulting with eminent lawyers and that there was no intention to defame anybody.

Then the full truth emerged. In reality, the cooking staff had been instructed by the management of Central College to file the defamation suit. The Principal was an Englishman named J.G. Tait and the hostel’s warden was Prof. C.M. Vijayaraghavachar. In other words, the highest echelons of Central College had closed ranks to hush up the scandal.

On his part, Ramaswamy Iyengar gave a written apology to the court and pleaded the plaintiff to withdraw the case. The matter ended there. Ramaswamy Iyengar had effectively thrown DVG under the bus: he neither informed nor consulted DVG before writing the apology.

DVG resigned the moment he heard this news.

In turn, his friends and well-wishers chided him for taking this hasty step. K.S. Krishna Iyer about whom DVG has written with great respect in his Jnapakachitrashale volumes said:

“You’re still a boy inexperienced in the ways of the world. Ramaswamy Iyengar is a big man. You must listen to him.”

DVG was adamant. He retorted:

“It is against my conscience.”

“Then what will you do for your livelihood.”

DVG’s gold standard reply was in Sanskrit:

“deśo viśāla: prabhavopi anaṃtā:” – The country is vast and opportunities are infinite.

If DVG learned the mechanics, craft and grammar of journalism under mentors like Krishnaswamy Iyengar, Kasturi Ranga Iyengar, and Karunakara Menon, he learnt the real ethic and philosophy of journalism on his own via this incident.

It was the earliest high point of his journalistic career and it was also a turning point.

From then on, DVG made a vow to himself that he would never work under anyone for the rest of his life.

DVG is among the meagre pioneers who truly deserves the exalted status of being an independent journalist in the profoundest sense of the word. Indeed, when we recall his aforementioned Manvantara comment, and when we survey the journalistic climate ever since, it is clear that “independent journalists” today fall in these broad categories:

·      Actors who have perfected the art of hiding the funding sources of their “independent” journalism

·      Disgruntled journalists who are unemployable owing to unsavoury reasons

·      Ambitious journalists with unrealized ambitions  

Thus, when DVG quit Mysore Times by the end of 1912 and was contemplating yet again, on his future, a lucrative job prospect reached him via a telegram dated 2 January 2013. It was from the selfsame mentor, Srinivasa Iyengar who had now relocated to Lahore. The telegram read as follows: please let me know your willingness to join the position of subeditor at the Punjabi at a salary of ₹ 100. D.R. Venkataramanan, DVG’s Kannada biographer stirringly narrates[7] what happened next:

DVG was faced with this question: should I take up an employment merely for work or should I live my life for an ideal?

In the end, the ideal triumphed.

And the triumph took the form of an independent journalistic venture, the peerless English journal titled Karnataka.

To be continued

Notes


[1] In those days, it was known as Postal Order Business

[2] D.V. Gundappa. Sankeerna, DVG Krutishreni, Vol 11, Government of Karnataka, pp 225-6.

[3] Ibid

[4] A Manvantara is a cyclic period of time identifying the duration and age of a Manu, the progenitor of mankind. Each Manvantara lasts for 306,720,000 years and repeats after seventy-one Yuga cycles. Each Yuga cycle comprises 4,320,000 years. Evidently, DVG uses the word Manvantara to denote the kind of sweeping changes that occurred in Indian journalism in just sixty years.

[5] D.V. Gundappa. Sankeerna, DVG Krutishreni, Vol 11, Government of Karnataka, p 231

[6] See: Appendix I: D.V. Gundappa. Sankeerna, DVG Krutishreni, Vol 11, Government of Karnataka, pp 231-4

[7] Quoted in Virakta Rashtraka: D.R. Venkataramanan, Navakarnataka, Bangalore, 2019, p 59

 

Author(s)

About:

Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.

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