R Seshadri, editor who played good, long innings

R Seshadri, editor who played good, long innings

He joined DH in 1948 a month after its founding and retired as news editor 3 decades later; his granddaughter remembers him on first death anniversary

R Seshadri in the newsroom

I was 14 when I decided to take up journalism as a career. I love writing. I enjoy interacting with people. And I want to tell interesting stories. 

All of that inspiration came from my grandfather R Seshadri – who’d spent more than three decades at Deccan Herald.

Growing up, I would listen to his fascinating tales about how he took up journalism at a time when India was thirsting for independence. He would talk about the challenge of putting out a daily newspaper and the privilege of being the first to witness history on the run.

Simultaneously, I lapped up lessons on accuracy, brevity and the correct use of the English language.

And there was all that excitement when he recounted stories of how he would rush to the newsroom in the wee hours to rework the front page because Neil Armstrong had set foot on the moon or because President John F Kennedy had been assassinated.

All of it seemed so near and real. And I was bitten by the bug.

Today, on his first death anniversary, I deem it a privilege to reminisce about his years at the Deccan Herald.

My grandfather joined the paper on July 16, 1948 –exactly one month after it was founded. He stayed on for 34 years – working first as senior sub editor; then as chief sub editor, and finally as the news editor for 18 years. His stint straddled nearly half of the paper’s 70-year history.

He got into journalism because he was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s clarion call for freedom. He took part in the Quit India movement in 1942, boycotting college and joining protesters at a rally in Gandhi Park in the temple town of Kumbakkonam in Tamil Nadu.

“We were a fiery lot in those days,” he wrote in a 1998 article for the Deccan Herald. “Most of us had been part of India’s freedom movement and that fire still glowed in us.” He started his career at a Tamil daily, Bharat Devi, in Madras, and later worked for The Indian Express and the Globe News Agency.

In 1948, he moved to Bangalore and jumped on board the fledgeling newspaper started by K N Guruswamy. While his job description was to edit, he often took the lead in managing crises. One such instance was in 1959, when some workers at the paper went on a flash strike. My grandfather travelled to Madras and brought workers from there to operate the printing press and bring out the paper the next day.

He would also undertake readership surveys travelling into the hinterlands of Karnataka, talking to readers and newsagents to understand what they expected from the Deccan Herald.
In a pre-TV, pre-Internet era, the newspaper was the only source of information. So when news broke at untimely hours, it reached the readers through special editions. This happened in January 1966 when news of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s death in Tashkent came in at 3.50 a.m. And my grandfather was out in the newsroom putting out a special edition.

Similarly, when Pakistan leader Z A Bhutto was hanged in 1979, my grandfather and his team brought out a special evening edition. “He was a very good organiser,” recalls K N Harikumar, former chairman and managing editor of The Printers (Mysore) Ltd, publishers of Deccan Herald. “He had a command of all the people in the newsroom and he gave them direction.”

Of course, that came with an uncompromising adherence to deadlines. “He was a strict disciplinarian but he had a heart of gold,” says Jagan Mohan Reddy, 80, who worked on my grandfather’s team from 1963 to 1982. “He was jovial and would crack a lot of jokes.”

What was also remarkable about him was his passion for journalism education. Starting from the late 1970s he used to teach editing at Bangalore University and the University of Mysore. He was on the board of studies and the board of examiners for both varsities.

As a teacher, he had a reputation for being extremely punctual. He revered the Wren & Martin as his Bible. “He was a fatherly figure,” recalls Dr M N Vani, former professor of communication at NMKRV College for Women, where my grandfather taught editing.

He was associated with the R P Institute of Communication and Management (Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan) for more than three decades – serving for many years as principal. He taught editing and public relations. In 1992, he was given the ‘TriDecennial’ award for dedicated service to the institution.

Even after retirement, he never quite stopped being an editor and teacher. It used to be fun watching him read newspapers. He would explode every now and then over egregious grammatical errors.

As his protégé, I got impromptu lessons whenever I visited him from Chennai. He would quiz me out of the blue about the right usage of words like ‘few’ and ‘a few’ or the difference between ‘alternate’ and ‘alternative.’

In later years he closely tracked my career. I’d send him clips and wait in agony for his response, feeling a sense of triumph if I could stand up to his scrutiny.

As a writer for Forbes Asia I travel the length and breadth of India interviewing billionaires and wealth creators. And I realise that one important trait – which I’ve imbibed from my grandfather - has really helped me.

I see myself as the reader’s representative. It does not matter who I am interviewing. My job is to ask questions on the reader’s behalf. And that has always helped to keep my reporting and writing in perspective.

My grandfather, who was 96 when he passed on, was an active and critical reader of the Deccan Herald well into his 90s. As he noted in an article he wrote for the paper in 1998: “I have always been passionate about this newspaper and I hope to see it reach more journalistic milestones in the days to come.” As for his legacy, I believe it lives on---in me and in the legions of journalists he has trained over the years.

(Contributing editor for Forbes Asia. If you have a story or photo to share about R Seshadri email seshadrimemorial@gmail.com)