#70YearsofDH: The story...

June 17, 1948. The day Deccan Herald, the first English newspaper of Karnataka, hit the stands. Today, the newspaper celebrates its 70th anniversary. Here's the history of the daily that’s synonymous with truth, reliability & authenticity

Guru

On a bright morning of 1948, as the fragrance of freshly won freedom wafts through the air, a gentleman attired in traditional white dhoti, well-tailored jacket, and an elaborately wrapped turban arrives at Bengaluru’s M G Road in his gleaming black Cadillac, inspects a dance club, and purchases it without losing much time, with the intent of starting a movie theatre, but ends up launching a newspaper, though he has zero experience in journalism or print business. After the initial birthing pangs, the newspaper soon becomes a household name in Karnataka, upholding the highest traditions of journalism. And today, the Deccan Herald celebrates its 70th anniversary.

The story of K N Guruswamy, the founder of Deccan Herald, is truly fascinating. Born in 1901, Guruswamy was the eldest son of Rao Bahadur Kanekal Nettakallappa, a prominent businessman of Ballari, who later shifted to Bengaluru. The family which belonged to the Ediga community, traditionally involved in toddy tapping, won excise contracts and expanded its business across the State.

Guruswamy, who joined his father’s business when he was barely 18, soon learnt the tricks of the trade and was actively participating in excise auctions. With the demise of Nettakallappa in 1928, the responsibility of running the business and maintaining the large family including six siblings fell on Guruswamy and his wife Kadiramma.

As the business prospered in the 30s and 40s, sack loads of coins would be dumped at the Nettakallappa residence in Basavanagudi. Though Guruswamy had begun moving out of the excise business during the 70s, two developments in the 80s hastened his exit. Contaminated liquor sold by some unscrupulous elements led to the death of over 330 people in 1981, while the introduction of Indian-Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) reduced the demand for toddy and arrack. He had completely withdrawn from the business by 1986, a wise decision considering that the government in the coming years would totally ban the sale of toddy and arrack.

During the 40s, Bengaluru, a cantonment city directly administered by the British, was bustling with soldiers due to World War II. South Parade, as M G Road was then called, was the hub of all activity with people from across the city, especially British residents and soldiers, converging there for shopping and entertainment. One of the popular melting pots was Funnel’s, a dance club owned by an Irish couple, who had put it on sale perhaps to return to their homeland after India gained Independence.

When Guruswamy saw the building, he instantly decided to acquire it and convert it into a movie theatre. After all, Funnel’s was flanked by two theatres, Plaza and Liberty, and movie was big business with the population in the cantonment town steadily increasing. But destiny had other plans.

The concept of India as it is today being not yet born, Bengaluru was under the Mysuru kingdom ruled by the benevolent Wodeyers under whose patronage art, culture and literature flourished. But despite Bengaluru’s cosmopolitan nature, it did not boast of a credible English newspaper it could call its own.

The Kannada press was buoyant with the establishment of the first newspaper, Mangalooru Samachara, by Hermann Mogling, a missionary, in 1843. The first Kannada magazine, Mysuru Vrittanta Bodhini, was launched in 1859 by Bhashyam Bhashyachara.

The Diwan of Mysore, Arcot Ramaswamy Mudaliar, was instrumental in convincing Guruswamy to start an English daily. Thus was born The Printers (Mysore) Pvt Ltd. The next task was to decide on a name. Since Bengaluru was located in the Deccan Plateau, Justice P P Medappa, who later became the chief justice of the State, suggested ‘Deccan Herald’.

The capital required was about Rs 5 lakh, 75% of which came from Guruswamy, while K Venkataswamy, Moola Rangappa, M K Swamy and Dondusa bought shares in the company to raise the remaining amount.

The launch team comprised Pothan Joseph, a celebrated editor whose column ‘Over a cup of tea’ soon became a sensation; S Krishna Rau, a luminary in the field of journalism; E V Scott, a seaman-turned-news editor; and Ron Hendricks, who made the sports pages the most popular section of the newspaper.

CGK Reddy, the first general manager, played a stellar role in cruising the publication through its initial years, K P Krishnamurthy was in charge of the advertisement department, K J George was the press superintendent, while Bhaktavatsala Moola was the first company secretary.

Except for the editorial, the newspaper comprised a rag-tag team which knew nothing about the newspaper business, be it journalism, advertisement, sales or circulation. But what they did not lack was conviction, though critics were quick to write the epitaph of Deccan Herald even before it was born.

Funnel’s was redesigned in three months, while the team worked on a feverish pitch to get the product right. But on the eve of the launch, it was found that the rotary press was cutting the newspaper in the middle instead of on the edges. The management then hurriedly sought the services of the press of a Kannada newspaper and printed a few hundred copies, which left much to be desired. Deccan Herald was launched on June 17, 1948 as a tabloid with a cover price of one anna, as auspicious rains lashed Bengaluru. It later became a broadsheet.

Dogged minds

“Deccan Herald was a scatter-brained idea. No director had prior knowledge of newspaper business. The circulation was low and the advertising revenue poor. The newspaper had no library and we had to rely on Pothan Joseph’s phenomenal memory. Though Deccan Herald got off to a disastrous start, it was built on a strong foundation,” says Scott, the daily’s first news editor, in his book Fragments Held in Store.

In October 1948, Guruswamy launched a Kannada daily, Prajavani, with T S Ramachandra Rao as the editor. Though there were about 130 Kannada publications around that time, only Prajavani survives to this day along with two or three others. Prajavani provides complete coverage of the happenings in the State, while at the same time bringing news from across the world to the people in their mother tongue.

Print business has a long gestation period. Within two years of launching Deccan Herald and Prajavani, the company almost went bust in the absence of adequate cash flow and had to obtain a bank loan in 1950 to tide over the crisis. Around this time, Guruswamy received a huge income tax notice that forced him to sell all but three of the 35 buildings he had purchased out of the proceeds of his excise business. He barely managed to save his own home and Funnel’s.

It was only in 1956 that the company could break even, with the first profits trickling in, a good eight years after the take-off.

Undeterred by the initial losses, Guruswamy went on to launch Sudha, a lifestyle magazine edited by E R Sethuram in 1965, and Mayura, a monthly literary magazine in 1968, which too boasted of a string of illustrious editors.

On the personal front, Guruswamy was issueless and had adopted his brother K N Anjanappa’s son, K A Nettakallappa, who rose to become a well-known journalist, but died at the young age of 47. Nettakallappa, along with Prajavani editor Ramachandra Rao, also founded the Press Club of Bengaluru. Guruswamy passed away on June 17, 1990, after 42 years at the wheel, and the mantle fell on Nettakallappa’s sons, under whose stewardship The Printers (Mysore) Pvt Ltd has broken new ground.

The eldest son, K N Hari Kumar, is now the advisor to the governing council, K N Tilak Kumar is at the helm of affairs at Deccan Herald and Sudha, while K N Shanth Kumar manages Prajavani and Mayura.

From its inception, Deccan Herald has been witness to several momentous developments in the history of India, and has adapted itself to change with remarkable alacrity. The newspaper took birth just a few months after India gained Independence in 1947, and had to play the role of a vigilant watchdog even before it could establish itself on a firm footing. However, the first big test came during the Emergency, from 1975 to 1977.

When many publications decided to “crawl when they were asked to bend”, Deccan Herald fiercely guarded its independence, refusing to be subservient to the powers-that-be.

The founding father had laid down that Deccan Herald and Prajavani should be politically neutral and remain an independent voice without subscribing to any ideology, and to this day the publications have kept the flag of objectivity, integrity, impartiality and truth flying high.

Deccan Herald was also a keen observer and an objective commentator as Karnataka shaped its history from a princely state to a province of the Indian union; the amalgamation of Mysore kingdom with India and Maharaja Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar shunning his royal robes to take over as the governor of the new state; the first general elections in 1951-52 and the appointment of Kengal Hanumanthaiah as chief minister; the formation of Mysore state in 1956 following the unification of all Kannada-speaking areas and its renaming as Karnataka in 1973.

It also seamlessly adapted itself to the changing environment as Bengaluru transited from a pensioner's paradise to pub city to Silicon Valley to a start-up hub. All along, the newspaper has not been merely reporting news, but engaging the readers in an engrossing conversation on issues that matter to them the most. Today, Deccan Heraldis a truly ‘glocal’ publication with its strong local moorings and equally robust coverage of national and international news.

The tottering organisation that everybody had once written off is now an institution in itself with Deccan Herald, Prajavani, Sudha and Mayura commanding a combined readership of nearly three million; the website launched on April 15, 1996 records 14 million page views per month; over 1,200 stories are published every day with a contingent of about 750 journalists and contributors. Deccan Herald had also challenged the status quo by being one of the early publications to hire women journalists.

With the launch of the Hubballi edition in 1989, the newspaper is now printed in Mangaluru, Mysuru, Hosapete, Davangere and Kalaburgi besides Bengaluru, catering to the aspirations of the people of different regions of the State with a sound complement of local news.

The newspaper has been in the vanguard of investing in cutting-edge technology right from its inception. The first newspaper in Karnataka to boast of an imported press, Deccan Herald shifted its printing operations from M G Road to Kumbalgodu in 1998. Way back in 1985, it had set another benchmark when it became the first newspaper in the South to go colour in the main edition.

Right from day one, Deccan Herald has strived to have a candid dialogue with the community through unbiased news coverage, columns, cartoons and photographs. Over the decades it has evolved as the most comprehensive newspaper with supplements like Metrolife (a potpourri of food, fashion, culture, theatre and local happening in Bengaluru), Sunday Herald (a medley of thought-provoking articles on art & culture, heritage, entertainment, humour, travel and literature) and Living (a mixed bag of articles on lifestyle, health, fitness, fashion and food). Through its news pages and numerous supplements, Deccan Herald provides an unbeatable coverage of politics, literature, business and economy, science and technology, foreign affairs, ecology, lifestyle and sports.

With Bengaluru emerging as one of the most dynamic and fastest-growing cities of the world, the newspaper has evolved as a relevant and reliable platform to advertisers who have been a source of strength from the day it was a shaky tabloid to the present. The blue-collared worker at the printing press who spends sleepless nights, the newspaper boy who unfailingly delivers the mint-fresh copy at your doorstep day after day, come rain or shine, and several other unsung heroes have also contributed in no small measure.

Deccan Herald has also witnessed many setbacks in its journey of seven decades. The launch of an evening English daily ended in failure. The Delhi edition launched in 2011 had to be shutdown. Having been the market leader for several decades, it had to face stiff competition towards the end of the 90s. But none of these made the newspaper waver from its commitment to its readers, or take unethical shortcuts to reach higher circulation figures. Even in the most difficult of times, Deccan Herald never strayed from its path of being a family newspaper that does not succumb to titillation.

Deccan Herald is as native to Karnataka as raagi mudde, Davanagere benne dose or jolada rotti — it is the very essence of the State. On its 70th anniversary, the newspaper holds forth a commitment to continue to be an untinted window to the world and a mirror of honest reflections, upholding its core value of providing impartial and unadulterated news, views and analysis. This is a promise that Deccan Herald has always kept, and shall always keep.

Around the time

1948. Even as India was celebrating its Independence from British rule, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated. A war between India and Pakistan over the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir was on. All the 500 princely states, except Hyderabad State, which had enjoyed autonomy under British colonial rule until Independence, agreed to surrender sovereignty to the new democratic India. Talks with the Nizam of Hyderabad over the same were on. It was in this emotionally-charged time that Deccan Herald took birth. Accordingly, the lead story of the first issue of Deccan Herald was on the failure of talks on Hyderabad. It also had an update on the Indo-Pak war, among others. Priced at one anna, the inaugural issue that was launched on Thursday, June 17, 1948, had eight pages, along with a special supplement on the momentous occasion, also with eight pages. While the main edition dealt with news of national and international importance, including sports, the special supplement had interesting articles covering every aspect of our lives — hobbies, photography, books, children, fashion, theatre, films and so on. The issue also had advertisers from diverse domains like automobiles, textiles, jewellery, utility products and so on. It is interesting to note that some have continued their association with the paper to this day.

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