The Felicitation of a Triumphant Journalist

This article is part 51 of 57 in the series Life and Legacy of DVG

This is how DVG invokes[1] Narada:

In the past Yugas, Narada performed the same tasks that news reporters today perform in our world. In the realms of our Devatas and demigods, he carried news of different worlds, drew attention to evil deeds and gave sage advice.

After giving a brief list of Narada’s glories with examples, DVG poses a searching question and sounds a call of conscience, relevant to all times:

In the present Yuga, this Naradaesque duty is required. But there is no Narada today. News reporters and journalists need to fill his place. But if Narada were to come to our present world, there is every reason to doubt whether he would enjoy the same reverence as before. This is because in our time, on this earth, independent thinking has increased more than ever before. Indeed, many of our newspaper brethren have laid down this dictum with enormous bravery: “Nobody should be swayed by the melody of Narada’s Vina and say yes to whatever he says.”

This section of Vruttapatrike is pregnant with multiple interpretative possibilities. DVG’s note on the bravery of journalists who laid down the foregoing dictum is also a subtle criticism. Indeed, in the decades after he wrote this, the full ramification of this “bravery” has become a verifiable daily reality in public and media discourse. The devaluation of Narada, considered a Rishi in our cultural heritage, has been swift, appalling and vulgar. In popular fiction and especially in cinema, Narada has been reduced to a clownish caricature whose only job is to generate controversy and stoke fighting among people. Narada was devalued because journalists of our time devalued journalism and themselves.

In fact, the philosophy and ideals of running a newspaper, the qualities and qualifications of a journalist that DVG elucidates in Vruttapatrike have today been realized in their flagrant violation.

On the mundane plane, journalism is a great training ground for and an incessant practice of democracy in its most profound sense. However, where the individual journalist and the newspaper owner was concerned, journalism was the “practice of soul-examination[2],” reminding us of Socrates’ famous maxim that the unexamined life is not worth living. It was DVG’s conviction that this soul-examination would “instill within the journalist and paper-owner a sense of remorse about his past deeds and behavior” leading to inner refinement in proportion to this practice. This is because the opinion-shaping and argumentation done in newspapers is directly related to ethics. In a democracy, the newspaper[3] is the “conscience of the Citizen Collective and the noblest work of conscience is discernment.”  

Indeed, few people have extolled the singularity and virtue of the journalistic profession as honestly and as passionately as DVG. But it was not the directionless passion of the activist but the purity of purpose of the Karma Yogi. As we have seen, DVG “chose” journalism as his profession by accident but once he embraced it, in the timeless Shakespearean sense, he “grappled it unto his soul with hoops of steel.” Perhaps his most eloquent and heartfelt exposition of this grappling embrace was his July 31, 1928 Presidential address[4] to the All Karnataka Journalists’ Association delivered at Bagalkot. Spread over thirty pages, the lecture is a majestic tour de force demonstrating his absolute command over journalism as a profession, calling, business, craft, and national service. His panoramic erudition gushes forth encompassing everything in its Gangetic current. Sadly, constraints of space prohibit me from capturing even the distilled essence of the lecture—it needs to be translated in full in multiple languages. Only a few highlights may be offered by way of giving its flavor.

Speaking about the condition of journalism in England, DVG says how there is an Institute dedicated to the all-round well-being of journalists. One of its services included a magnificent resort at Oak Hill where fatigued and stressed-out journalists could visit for rest, relaxation and rejuvenation.

DVG also notes the fact that most of our celebrated freedom fighters, thinkers and people of eminence were professional journalists or had cultivated the habit of regularly writing in newspapers and periodicals. This list includes Dadabhai Naoroji, Mohandas Gandhi, Krishnadas Pal, Surendranath Banerjee, Agarkar, Lokamanya Tilak, and Kasturi Ranga Iyengar, “whose names should undoubtedly be etched in gold.”

On the service and duty aspects of journalism, DVG writes that newspapers occupy the position of ministers in a monarchy but goes a step further: papers must actively dissuade the public from being sloppy and slothful, and must inculcate a habit of independent thinking among them. In his characteristic discursive style, he provides[5] a superb analogy:

The child must be able to easily digest the food that its mother feeds. But no mother will chew the food in her mouth first and then feed only the soft spittle to her child. She will cook the food properly and then give it to her child. Over time, the child will learn how to eat it properly and develop its digestive powers.

Thus, in DVG’s view, “journalists must not preach ideology but must delineate the process of arriving at wisdom” through erudition, logic, skill, finesse, law and justice. He also recognized the newspaper as perhaps the most powerful, popular and effective medium to spread mass education in even specialized areas. Towards this end, he calls upon editors to invite experts, scholars, professionals and experienced people from various walks of life to write columns and essays. This includes “pensioners, lawyers, legislators, municipal members, bureaucrats, doctors, scientists,” and even “Congress leaders.” And he led by example, as we have seen in the section on The Karnataka. At this distance in time, all of these have become commonplace in newspapers and periodicals, but we must recall the fact that DVG spoke these words at a time when newspapers in India—specifically in the Mysore State—were mostly groping in the dark for direction and guidance. In his[6] words,

So far, the major task of our newspapers has been to awaken people from slumber and to ensure that they stand firmly on their feet…Now the task is to inculcate awareness, understanding, knowledge and wisdom in them. If this is not done, their awakening will only culminate in disaster. The slumbering person is preferable to the ignorant person who is awake but charges forth with a sword in his hand.

This analogy evokes in our mind the story of the demon Kumbhakarana in the Ramayana. He was hastily awakened in the thick of the final war into which he rushed headlong armed with nothing but brute strength which was negated by the stupor of his ignorance.

An important purpose and goal of this continuous process of instilling wisdom among the people is the development of Samskara (refinement, culture) leading to order, stability and contentment in the society. Sans this, newspapers will become “that huge engine for keeping discussion on a low level,” says DVG quoting Morley. More fundamentally, he throws a razor-edged gauntlet to editors, newspaper owners and the general public: those who wish to rectify newspapers must first rectify the life of people.

When these high standards are scrupulously adhered to, and when a paper is run on the basis of these ideals, we get a journalist of this description:

When a person who runs a solid paper emerges triumphant, the felicitation that he becomes entitled to is no less than the felicitation awarded to a minister who governs a country.

To be continued

Notes


[1] Ibid p 160-1

[2] Ibid p 165. The English translation of DVG’S original Kannada phrase, “ātmaparīkṣeya abhyāsa” hardly does justice to the full gamut of its meaning.   

[3] Ibid p 166

[4] This was also the first convention of the Association. The printed form of the lecture is titled vṛttapatrike: adara kartavya, adakke sahāya (Newspaper: Its Duties, the Support it Requires), available in D.V. Gundappa. Sankeerna, DVG Krutishreni, Vol 11, Government of Karnataka, pp 156-188

[5] Ibid p 167.

[6] Ibid p 174

 

Author(s)

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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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