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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 24 New Delhi June 2, 2018

T.V.R. Shenoy

Saturday 2 June 2018, by Amitava Mukherjee


With the death of T.V.R. Shenoy—Shenoy Saab to some, TVR to some others and Sir to me—Indian journalism has lost a doyen and a titan. Rarely have I seen a person more erudite, more humane and more unassuming than this towering journalist. He was absolutely free of pretensions and had many attributes which succeeding generations of journalists should try to emulate and follow.

Thaliyadiparambil Vittappa Ramachandra Shenoy hailed from Cherai in Cochin in the district of Ernakulam, Kerala. He had his education in the famous Maharaja’s college where Vayalar Ravi and A.K. Antony, two renowned Congress politicians of later years, were his contemporaries. Mr Shenoy had his higher education in the Bombay University too and spent some fruitful years in The Indian Express before returning to the language press by joining the Malayala Manorama group. He became its Delhi Bureau chief and was also the founder editor of the The Week. He later became the editor-in-chief of the Sunday Mail, the magnificent weekend newspaper, which has left its mark in Indian journalism.

Going down memory lane, the first thing that crops up in my mind about Mr Shenoy is his love and compassion for young journalists. Once, in the late 1980s when I was posted in the Delhi bureau of a national newsmagazine, there was an urgent need to contact A.K. Antony for an interview. I was trying desperately to reach Antony through my contacts in the Congress but failed to do so. Then someone advised me to seek Mr Shenoy’s help although I did not know him at that time. Fortunately I was introduced to him in the UNI canteen which Mr Shenoy used to frequent often. I introduced myself, told him about my problem and sought his help. To my utter surprise I found him extremely genial, patronising and quite friendly. He assured me, took my office phone number (at that time cell phones had not arrived in the Indian market) and said he would contact me in time. Next day I got a call from him and was given a number for contacting Antony. Accordingly the appointment with Antony was fixed.

In his personal beliefs Mr Shenoy was certainly ‘on the right side of the fence’. But it would be wrong to call him a Sangh journalist as has been recently done in certain quarters. His was a too refined, too sophisticated mind to deny the cosmopolitan secular character of the Indian society. But he had great reservations about the Congress’ handling of national affairs or the way it interpreted the concept of secularism. Yes, he did not have much faith in the public sector. Events have proved that the public sector in India has now become synonymous with leaking out of national wealth. I joined issue with Mr Shenoy on this aspect as I still feel that given proper handling the public sector can become the ideal prop for India’s economy. I found Mr Shenoy receptive to my ideas. Therefore it was not at all surprising that he had friends among the Rightists, Leftists, ultra-Leftists, academics, industrialists and common people.

As a journalist his greatest virtue was no doubt his impeccable honesty. Here I can recount one of my own experiences. The inaugural issue of Sunday Mail’s Calcutta edition was to hit the stands on a certain date at the fag end of 1989. The exact date eludes my memory. The issue was scheduled to go to the press around midnight. Hours before I filed a story concerning an industrial behemoth whose owner was known to enjoy friendly relations with Mr Shenoy. My story was hard on this industrial group and predicted that it was certain to be shown the door in its attempt to acquire a prestigious industrial venture in West Bengal. The desk in Delhi did not take any risk and sent it to Mr Shenoy for vetting. The editor-in-chief read it and instantly cleared the story for publication. I got the details from one of my friends in Sunday Mail’s Delhi office at a much later date.

Quite a few people think that Mr Shenoy had the best personal library in Delhi. As soon as the front door of his previous residential apartment in Kidwai Nagar opened, one was bound to be struck by the long rows of shelves filled with books running all along the wall and reaching upto the roof height. Mr Shenoy was a good story-teller and he could talk on almost any subject. I had the good fortune of listening to him on a wide range of subjects—religion, colour prejudice, Western morals, Pakistani attitude, Indian history etc. He had great interests in mythology and ancient Indian history and could mix a lot of humour while speaking on these topics.

A pure and unalloyed sense of humour was a shining aspect of Mr Shenoy’s character. I have no idea what kind of ailments had taken over him during his last days. But he once told me that he had the problem of enlargement of heart and for that he may have to go abroad for treatment. “Now I am an extremely proud man. Do you know why? The answer is simple. I am a large hearted man,” he told us with a triumphant air. Everybody present burst out laughing.

I always advise some of my relations, who are young and promising journalists in Kolkata’s media world, to follow Mr Shenoy’s style of writing. He usually wrote crisp, simple sentences. But his words always flowed like fountains and carried inner meanings behind a veneer of humour. His columns in The Week, Mathrubhumi and the Gulf News bear shining examples.

Mr Shenoy was an old world journalist having a soft corner for a Right-leaning political philosophy. He enjoyed good relations cutting across political spectrums. Among the persons he rated highly were Atal Behari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani. But there was another person in the Sangh Parivar milieu whom he held in the highest esteem. It was K.N. Govindachaya. I had the fortune of listening from him about Govindachaya on a number of occasions. It will be extremely interesting to know how he rated the present leadership of the BJP that includes Narendra Modi too. As far as I know his estimate about Narendra Modi was not at all positive.

Mr Shenoy was grace and self-respect personified. I still remember his letter to us in Calcutta after resigning from the post of editor-in-chief of the Sunday Mail. He had reasons to feel cheated and aggrieved. But there was no hint of it in the letter. He resigned on a certain April 1—the April Fool’s Day. But his letter told us that his resignation was real and it was no April Fool Day joke. The sadness and sombre tone in the letter was unmistakable.

May his soul rest in peace.

The author is a senior journalist and commentator. He was Sunday Mail’s correspondent in Calcutta when T.V.R. Shenoy was its editor-in-chief.

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