Vruttapatrike: A Classic Tome on Journalism

This article is part 50 of 55 in the series Life and Legacy of DVG

An exasperated American President Thomas Jefferson famously thundered at the beginning of the nineteenth century that “the man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.”

More than a century later, on the other hemisphere, DVG delivered an earnest lecture in July 1928 that would posthumously annul or soothe Jefferson’s fury over journalism. That lecture was subsequently expanded into a modestly-sized book in December 1928, which was further expanded, revised and republished in 1954. After a prolonged lull of thirteen years, DVG brought out the final edition in 1967, revising the manuscript even as he was suffering from cataract. As he gratefully[1] records, credit is also due to its publisher, Wesley Press, which patiently waited for more than a decade.  

Written in Kannada, primarily with an Indian audience in mind, Vruttapatrike (Newspaper) deservedly finds a place in the world’s annals of pioneering and lasting works on journalism. It still retains its preeminence as a classic work encompassing the history, philosophy, art, craft, grammar, mechanics, ethics, law, and the business of journalism. It also remains an enduring manual for both the profession and the professional of journalism. Just like how his Rajyashastra and Rajyangatattvagalu are theoretical and practical guides to administer an entire state, Vruttapatrike too, is an invaluable guide to start a newspaper from the scratch and run it successfully.

More profoundly, Vruttapatrike is the refined, wisdom-concentrate of living an outstanding life as a journalist and editor. Its authority derives from the purity of its purpose and its value from being moored in lived ideals. Especially in DVG’s case, the journalist cum editor was also an active and conscious participant of the tumultuous history of his time, a history that shaped him and he shaped in turn. The work was also written in a spirit of public service, which DVG[2] calls, “the urge of my inner life.” In the evocative words[3] of Sri H.M. Nayak,

DVG regarded his journalistic life as a sacred Dharma…This book gives us the Vishwarupa-Darshana[4] [Cosmic Vision] of Journalism precisely because he regarded journalism as a Dharma…The fact that not a single work surpassing this has emerged even after seventy years is not a matter of pride for the Kannada people.    

When DVG published the first edition of Vruttapatrike, journalism in India was on the threshold of adolescence but had already attained adulthood in Europe. He was also one among the undoubted pioneers of journalism in Karnataka (and India, broadly speaking). Two major instances testify to this fact. The first is how he foresaw and repeatedly emphasized on the need to evolve technical terms in journalism done in Indian languages. The second was his personal involvement in seeding shorthand in Kannada. Today it might sound anachronistic, even ridiculous, to even mention shorthand, which instantly died with the emergence of the Dictaphone. However, in DVG’s time, reporters and journalists were required to quickly and accurately transcribe say, two-hour-long speeches by politicians and other public personalities.

Other instances too, offer vivid but tangential testimonies to DVG as one of the eminent pioneers of Indian journalism as we shall see.

***

Characteristic of all his non-fiction writings, Vruttapatrike is sequined with a lovely literary quality starting from Page One.

DVG correctly traces the history of journalism to the invention of the printing press, a pivotal epoch that drastically altered human history like the invention of the wheel. He describes[5] the printing press as a “Great Power” whose chief Avatar was journalism, and that the praise of journalism is the “subject of this book.”

***

The story of journalism in India in Vruttapatrike, begins in the regime of Minto who was India’s Governor General from 1807-13, roughly coinciding with Thomas Jefferson’s presidency (1801-09) in the United States.

This story originates in a request from a highly unusual, even unlikely, place.

The Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Akbar Ali Khan is curious to witness the practical applications of the wonders that science and technology have created in Europe. The British Resident, Captain Sydenham readily agrees. Accordingly, three machines are shipped to Hyderabad: an air pump, a printing press, and a model warship.

When the British Government reads Sydenham’s report on this procurement, its immediate response is nervous imperial fury: a dangerous weapon like the printing machine falling in the hands of the Indian kings will have perilous consequences.

Sydenham had to go to great lengths to reassure his masters that no such thing would happen.

Doubtless, this is a fascinating tale of history but DVG’s commentary[6] on it is instructive:

This was the nature of the fear that they had about the printing press in that period. It would inform people about things they weren’t aware existed. It would provoke desires and wants that they didn’t have until then. It would stir new passions and courage. It would alter their psyches and thinking and conduct and behavior. The British had realized the printing machine’s capacity for all such mischiefs, long ago. This is the chief reason they were unhappy with the development of newspapers in our country—including papers in Indian languages.     

Following this, DVG encapsulates the full history of newspapers, finishing off with the contemporary journalistic scenario in Karnataka in less than fifteen pages. That is, from Bi-Sheng, the Chinese artisan who invented the movable type technology in the 10th century all the way up to 20th century Karnataka.

***

The aforementioned story of how Vruttapatrike evolved as a book from a 1928 lecture reveals another facet as well: DVG’s foresight, of which we have seen numerous instances in the preceding chapters. In this context, we notice DVG repeatedly stressing on the importance of laying solid foundations for a tradition of quality and honest journalism very early in its evolution. In his own[7] words,

Democracy…the rule of the people…will be the inevitable future of India no matter when it arrives…Newspapers have paved the way for democracy to be firmly established…Newspapers are both the vehicles and the weapons for our people to study and understand how they can govern themselves.  

Equally, DVG also understood the practical difficulties of adopting an alien political system like democracy to an ancient civilizational nation like India using newspapers as the medium. Which is why, as we shall see, he generously peppers Vruttapatrike (and other writings on journalism) with an awesome wealth of our own cultural metaphors. One such brilliant allusion is a section titled Narada-smarane, in which he traces the origins of the Indian tradition of journalism to Sage Narada, the divine news reporter, indeed, the first news reporter of the universe, in Hindu annals.

To be continued

Notes


[1] D.V. Gundappa. Sankeerna, DVG Krutishreni, Vol 11, Government of Karnataka, p 141.

[2] Ibid

[3] H.M. Nayak: Foreword in D.V. Gundappa. Sankeerna, DVG Krutishreni, Vol 11, Government of Karnataka, p xx.

[4] On a profound note, Vishwarupa-Darshana typically evokes the Vision of the Cosmos that Sri Krishna gives to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita.

[5] D.V. Gundappa. Sankeerna, DVG Krutishreni, Vol 11, Government of Karnataka, p 144.

[6] Ibid. pp 143-4

[7] Ibid. p 160

 

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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