Editors are unique who are rarely seen but only read. However, when one is not only an editor but also the founder-owner of a newspaper, then the equation changes. And to run a newspaper for 40 long years and create a unique space takes courage and above all, a certain kind of chutzpah. K.B. Ganapathy (KBG), Editor-in-Chief, Star of Mysore, the only english evening newspaper in the city, seems to have all these qualities. When he was asked for this interview he said no. He was not convinced that he should appear in his own newspaper. Finally, he relented and SOM Features Editor N. Niranjan Nikam sat in a tête-à-tête with him at his home, aptly named ‘Fourth Estate.’ Excerpts…
By N. Niranjan Nikam
Star of Mysore (SOM): You have entered the 41st year of publishing this opinion-maker newspaper. What are the thoughts in your mind?
K.B. Ganapathy (KBG): First let me clarify. Opinion is always subjective. Star of Mysore cannot have opinion-making power as you assume. At best SOM has merely kindled thought among its readers. After 40 years in SOM and nearly 50 years as a journalist, I think I have chosen a right profession which is also my passion. I have always been in love with words and I started reading novels and other books during my younger days. That love affair with books continues and I am happy.
SOM: How did you venture into a field which is considered risky? When you started in 1978, did Mysuru have other evening newspapers?
KBG: More than 20 — all single sheets. I was in Bombay and Poona for nearly 14 years. Evening newspapers were there. But when I came to Mysuru, I realised that the papers here, compared to what I saw in Bombay, were pathetic. I found it more of a racket.
SOM: What were the initial years like? You also started the Kannada morninger, Mysooru Mithra, two years after you started Star of Mysore.
KBG: Any venture will have teething troubles. Since we already had a printing unit, starting a newspaper in tabloid size was not a big deal. As I was an English language journalist, I thought I should start an English newspaper. There were only two English newspapers, one was Samachar and the other Mino News. They were an apology for a newspaper as they were just one sheet tabloid — two pages. Samachar had better language, the other one was grammatically poor. Thus, there was space for a quality paper like SOM.
But for your question on Kannada newspaper, it was a bold step. Within two years of starting SOM, we were taking off vertically and it was encouraging. I thought being in Karnataka, being fairly proficient in Kannada, I should start a Kannada paper. I did not start it as a city newspaper but as a district-level newspaper. At that time, Mysuru district included Chamarajanagar and had a population of about 25 lakh. So I thought it was possible to get a good share of readership from the rural people who would get a Kannada newspaper at a throw-away price compared to the State-level papers. The paper clicked and it is now 38 years old.
SOM: The two columns you write, Abracadabra and Hocus-Pocus, are very popular. What is this magic all about?
KBG: There was no magic as such. People took a liking for Abracadabra simply because in a tradition-bound conservative society like Mysuru, suddenly the newspaper reader discovered that there was lot more to modesty and puritanical life than they found in the earlier newspapers. The language was very unorthodox, occasionally the four-letter word too was used. This column was even irreverent and iconoclastic. I wrote about man-woman relationship and about sex without inhibition, all inspired by Osho Rajneesh of my Poona days. He was my Philosopher-Guru. Hocus-Pocus is a brief comment on contemporary events and day-to-day news but Abracadabra has a different dimension and a flavour of its own. People here in Mysuru accepted these columns.
In fact a situation arose that shop-keepers who got the paper would look for this column and if they thought that it would not be proper for their daughters to read, they would not take the copy home (laughs heartily).
I wrote about life in all its aspects and dimensions and people got addicted to SOM. In fact, the name Abracadabra itself is exotic, derived from an Arabic word meaning chanting some gibberish to hold the other person spellbound or mesmerised.
SOM: You have found a legion of admirers and friends. However, there are many who don’t like you.
KBG: You see, neither a leopard can change its spots nor an Ethiopian his colour. I have been like this all my life (he breaks into Kannada). I have dealt with people without any hang-ups or any complex. When I meet an important person, I do not feel inferior. Likewise, when I meet people who are poor, uneducated, I never feel superior to them. And since I do not hate anyone, I do not think anyone hates me. But I may dislike a person and they too dislike me.
SOM: People are amazed at your memory and the way you quote from books and celebrities.
KBG: I did my Diploma in Journalism from Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (BVB), Bombay. We had experienced professors, who were actually working journalists and editors. We were asked to maintain a scrap book and it is very important. I don’t think these days anyone uses scrap book as we have Google. I would keep many scrap books, number them year-wise and preserve them for reference. It used to help. That is my memory.
In fact, Khushwant Singh, who edited Illustrated Weekly of India, always carried a small notebook. By a fine coincidence, he was carrying the same kind of small book that I was carrying when I met him at the Administrative Training Institute over a drink. R. Gundu Rao was the CM at that time and he always used to say that the Congress party was like ‘Indira Gandhi Krupa Poshita Nataka Mandali.’ Singh asked me “What is the meaning of it?” I started to explain and he fished out this small note book from his pocket and started taking it down. So there you have a memory book.
The Editor of The Statesman, London, was telling us that he could write his best pieces only when he used his pen and paper and not when he dictated to somebody or when he typed it. He found his memory suddenly come alive as he wrote.
SOM: Newspaper industry is almost a 24×7 job. But you have never stopped having fun.
KBG: That is where the fun is, I never thought work as labour. My work gave me more pleasure than pain. Job is fun. Once you start loving what you do then what you do is fun. When an employee lets me down or writes a bad copy which I am unable to edit I miss the fun part of journalism.
SOM: What about the journey from a Jawa motorcycle to Benz car?
KBG: I wanted to get rid of Jawa motorcycle. I was using it in Poona for almost six years. I would always send a secret prayer, “Please help me God to get rid of the motorcycle and get me a car.” My prayer was granted after two years of starting SOM. Then there was no looking back.
SOM: Many challengers have come to topple SOM. Many people say that you are plain lucky?
KBG: It is said luck comes when preparation meets opportunity. In my case there was preparation and also opportunity. In the case of others they were jealous. Some thought they could beat me with their money. They had the opportunity but no preparation or knowledge of newspaper business. You cannot be an angel investor or a venture capitalist who does not know ABCD of journalism and expect the newspaper to succeed. No way.
For small or medium size newspaper like ours, it has to be editor-owned. Here in Mysuru, people with lot of money thought they can hire journalists and succeed.
SOM: You have reached a stage in life where you have decided to withdraw from daily responsibilities, after your two sons joined you. In family-run businesses, this is the most difficult decision. Have you come to terms with it?
KBG: I am very lucky. Both my sons, Vikram and Mickey, are well-qualified and capable of running my enterprise and that has given me the confidence to pass on the baton to an equally good runner who can breast the tape. My son Vikram is a very good writer. In fact, his column In Black & White is read more widely than my column Abracadabra now. Many of these family-run businesses collapsed because the inheritors were not competent or did not like the line of business they inherited.
SOM: Not many evening papers are distributed to homes like a morning newspaper. Star of Mysore has this unique distinction. How did you manage to accomplish this feat?
KBG: My guess is that home distribution would have started in Mysuru when it was a very small city. Take for example ‘Sadhvi.’ It used to be home-delivered in the down-town area only. Those days there were only one or two extensions. However, the pattern of distribution continued. And for delivery boys it was an additional income. When I started SOM, the system of home delivery was already in place.
SOM: You express your views very strongly. You are not biased, whereas now-a-days we can see this bias more in television. What is your view about this trend?
KBG: It is a bad trend. Newspaper is a public platform and you should not be biased. I have written the first editorial ‘A Star Is Born’ on 16.2.1978. There I have very clearly said that we will neither be partisan nor will we become slaves to any ideology.
SOM: In your company there are people who have stuck with you for many years. Any comment?
KBG: The answer is in the book I have written. The reason why they stuck with us is because they found the working atmosphere congenial and there is less interference from the management. Naturally, an employee who is contented with this kind of office atmosphere and satisfied with the modest salary for a small town like this, does not feel like looking for another job.
SOM: You have written a book on the occasion of the 40th anniversary titled Star of Mysore — Story of a unique evening english newspaper. Why did you choose the title eponymous with the name of the paper?
KBG: My first choice, in fact the only choice for the title of the book was ‘Paper Tiger.’ It was the title I held on to with considerable pride. One day, my son, Vikram, over a dinner mentioned that ‘Paper Tiger’ may not be the right title.
I asked why and he said there was already a book with the same title. Moreover, it means a tiger without any power or strength unlike a real tiger. So by giving that title I would be saying that Star of Mysore is not a powerful newspaper but only a weak, paper tiger. It was then I thought I should change the title.
SOM: How much did you enjoy penning this book and how candid have you been?
KBG: I did not really enjoy writing this book. It was a labour not of love but of compulsion; manifestation of a long suppressed desire to expose those who were my tormentors without naming them.
These are such dangerous times of highly sensitised society with individuals who turn violent even for a trivial or frivolous reason. As a result, I was not able to write this book with names of the people or detailing the events as they happened. I had to camouflage those tormentors and write in a euphemistic manner. Like nature, I have only half revealed the truth, an intelligent local reader will be able to read between the lines.
SOM: Apart from the lady behind you, what is it you attribute your success to?
KBG: My hard work. However, I must add this to your presumption. If there was no matching support for me from the home front, it would have been impossible for me to succeed, that too in a field which is very difficult to succeed even to a modest level.
The household must be run by the home-maker as an inspiration to her husband. Be it cooking what he likes, dining together at the table, bringing up children, gardening, keeping the house in ship-shape without bothering the husband while at work. This will help her husband to concentrate on his work. I am lucky in this. My wife Ralie stood by me through thick and thin like a rock.
SOM: Is your success a well-kept secret like the Coca-Cola?
KBG: There is no secret at all. Has Coca-Cola any secret? Ask George Fernandes, the hero of Emergency days and a Union Minister in the Janata Party Government. He got his own brand of Coca-Cola called Double Seven (77) saying “there is no secret in Coca-Cola. It is a formulation of Ahmedabad Sugar, Ganga Water and Coca-colour.” Anyway, the reason for success is perseverance, never-say-die attitude. As the Founder of CNN Ted Turner said, “I tell my boys either follow or lead or get out of my way.” Even when things are going wrong, you know it can be corrected by timely decision. I am not a tomorrow’s man and a newspaper man cannot afford to be one.