The Grace of a Sadhu and the Heart of a Poet

This article is part 53 of 57 in the series Life and Legacy of DVG

In the realm and history of journalism, it appears that “truth” is in a state of constant swirl akin to the invisible, monstrous air-rings of a typhoon. Almost since its dawn, truths reported by the journalistic profession seem to comprise several annuli in a maze of concentric circles: lesser truths, selective truths, subjective truths, incomplete truths, fashionable truths, limited but verifiable truths, and unverifiable untruths that became truths because they are unverifiable. The most notorious example of the last category is Walter Duranty whose journalistic infamy has immortalized him. At his peak, he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1931 for his[1] “intimate comprehension of conditions in Russia…marked by scholarship, profundity, impartiality, sound judgment and exceptional clarity…excellent examples of the best type of foreign correspondence." For two decades, Walter Duranty was stationed in Stalin’s Russia as The New York Times’ foreign correspondent. His reportage was considered truthful because the other side of the world largely had no way[2] of verifying.

The New York Times is both a relevant and representative example in this context. Also, because it remains an iconic global media institution till date. Adolph Ochs, the legendary American publisher who purchased The New York Times, overhauled its fortunes in a history-altering fashion. His stewardship transformed a dying newspaper into[3] a “cathedral of quiet dignity” and a “bible emerging each morning…that thousands of readers accepted as reality.” Readers across the world accepted that if something, in fact, anything, was printed in The New York Times “must be true, and this blind faith made monks of many men on The Times.” This formidable reputation directly owed to Och’s simple motto: “All the News That’s Fit to Print. To Give the News Impartially, Without Fear or Favor.” A lofty and admirable motto, no doubt. Yet, apart from the everlasting stain of Duranty, journalistic scandals have regularly emerged from the paper.  

In this hemisphere, DVG’s journalistic motto, as we have seen earlier, was just five pithy words: Public Life Must be Spiritualised. The process and purpose of spiritualizing is all-encompassing: truth, ethics, morality, compassion, fairness, justice, independence, and purity of conscience at all levels and in all realms, private and public.

In the interest of fairness, there were any number of papers in India in DVG’s time, which were in the eye of scandal akin to The New York Times. In Vruttapatrike, DVG dedicates a brief chapter[4] titled Lanchavatara (literally, the Incarnation of Bribery) to outline the fundamental character of such papers. He traces both their existence and underlying motivations to a verifiable, daily reality: “the world of newspapers is a melee of fame-hunters and fame-enviers.” Without naming the real-world papers that plied such journalism, he assigns fictitious but representative alternatives: Night-Queen, Daily Memorial, Art-Beast, Death-Dance of Logic, and so on.      

Indeed, this lived idealism and unquestionable truthfulness innate in DVG’s journalism earned him respect from even his most dogged opponents[5] in public life. When news emerged that he was nominated for the Mysore Legislative Council, these opponents too, joined the chorus of those who congratulated the Government for such a wise choice.  

Small wonder that the word “scandal” remains absent in the thousands of pages of DVG’s body of journalistic work.

In hindsight, an obscure episode in DVG’s life offers a nuanced insight into how he regarded the notion and mainstream practice of journalism in the West. DVG writes[6] how in 1920-21,

I declined scholarship or help from Government offered by Sir M. Visvesvaraya when he was Dewan, for me to go abroad to study journalism. I declined the offer because I felt that for one practicing journalism in Mysore, there is little that should be learnt in London or New York.

Our only reaction after reading this is wistfulness, a disconsolation of how far journalism has come, how low it has sunk especially in India. The immediate generation of journalists after DVG immediately looked in the direction of expensive journalism schools such as Columbia, Syracuse, etc. The consequence has been the creation of at least two generations of Indian journalists who might be adept at their craft but little of India has remained in them.  

And yet, despite confidence in his own abilities, professional competence and unwavering conviction, it appears that DVG is actually writing an introspective “note to self” when he says the following at the aforementioned address[7] at Bagalkot:

Above all, the journalist must have a philosophy of life. That philosophy must emanate from his independent study and contemplation leading to a firm conviction which he must reflect in his action and behavior...To arrive at such a conviction, the editor or journalist must first make an analysis of the reasons for the rise and decay of civilisations; he must have studied the history of various nations; he must have a working knowledge of various societies; he must have a solid grasp of world literature…   This entire process is truly the fruition of Tapas. And when someone like me thinks about it in such a fashion, my heart drops, my face becomes ashen. This is because these words don’t come from someone who has attained that Tapas. It is more the lament of a person who has not attained it…Most importantly, the journalist must consciously imbibe the grace of a Sadhu and the heart and talent of a poet. The greater the proportion of these qualities, the greater will his honour rise.

In fact, Vruttapatrike is a superb treasure chest of such quotable quotes. While these quotes primarily relate to journalism, they also have an independent or neutral quality about them.

To be continued

Notes


[2] Walter Duranty enjoyed his Pulitzer-prize celebrity status for a full decade till the New York Times recalled him from the USSR in 1941. In the interim, some editors at the paper began to have misgivings about his dispatches from Soviet Russia. He whitewashed Stalin’s disastrous collectivization of Russian agriculture that led to a national famine, killing millions in 1932-3. Even after the paper recalled him, it did not rescind the Pulitzer Prize despite sustained pressure from the journalistic fraternity. The full extent of Duranty’s notoriety came to light roughly in the 1980s after which The New York Times finally began publicly acknowledging his unsavoury record. For further reading, see: S.J. Taylor. Stalin's Apologist: Walter Duranty - "The New York Times's" Man in Moscow, Oxford University Press, 1990.

[3] Gay Talese. The Kingdom and the Power: Behind the Scenes at The New York Times: The Institution That Influences the World.” Apple Books, pp 17, 25.

[4] D.V. Gundappa. Sankeerna, DVG Krutishreni, Vol 11, Government of Karnataka, pp 264-5.

[5] See Chapter 6

[6] D.V. Gundappa. A Modern Tapasvi. Deccan Herald, 6 September, 1960. Emphasis added.

[7] D.V. Gundappa. Sankeerna, DVG Krutishreni, Vol 11, Government of Karnataka, pp 182-3.

 

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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