INTERVIEWEE* Name: Surendra Nihal Singh [SNS]
- Occupation: Journalist and writer
INTERVIEWER* Kai Friese [Kai]
Medium: Video + Audio recordings* Format: Audio .wav
- Language: English with a few Hindi exclamations
- Location of Interview: India International Centre, Delhi
- Date of the interview: 08 February 2016 12:58:18
Clip name/DURATION: * SNihalSingh.WAV
- Length 00:45:40
- Bit rate: 1411kbps
- Size: 461 MB
- Date modified: 08/02/2016
| Interview Starts
1:21 [Kai] : Where in Bombay --- [SNS: in Delhi] ---- in Delhi? ---- [SNS: They had moved rather] --- were they already on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg then or ... ? --- [SNS: Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg].
1:33 [SNS] : So that's how it ... ---- [Kai: And what did that job involve ...where...where?] ---- sub-editing, basically. I was sub-editing.... 1:47 unknown...unknown paper for three months and then I got a pittance. Of course in those days ---- 1:54 [Kai: You could get by] --- rupee ---- [Kai: went a long way] --- went a long way.
1:59 [Kai] : And who was the editor of the Times?
2:02 [SNS] : Mankekar.... (corrected himself) Shyam Lal was the editor. --- [Kai: Oh! he was...] ---...before he went to Bombay and then Mankekar. And then I got fed-up because, you know, it was 160 Rupees or something a month although I was living with my parents so that's how I could afford it. 2:21 And then I did a stint in the Red Cross as a Assistant Publicity Officer, which was interregnum before looking for another journalist (job). And then I joined the Statesman as a Staff Reporter, Delhi -2:39 [Kai: In Delhi?] ---- Yes ---- [Kai: That was what year? I know it's probably down in...] ---- 2:44 Yeah, that was well '54. I started as the Sub-Editor...roughly three years later...roughly. ---- [Kai: what....'57...'58...] ---- And then of course that was, you know, the great days of the Statesman. Unlike what was to become of it. So I did a lot of writing...write a column six-days a week. It was quite tough...called 'Yesterday in Delhi,' which was basically to interview somebody of interest.3:18 Often a visitor either from abroad or from other parts country.
3:27 [Kai] : But not a particularly political column?
3:29 [SNS] : No! I mean it could be political but basically it was not. And the ...I did interviews with the poets, writers… Mulk Raj Anand for instance people like him. And just stray visitors. So that was a tough assignment but good assignment in terms of visibility, of course in those days we didn't have any personal by-lines. 3:58 So it was just a Staff Reporter. 4:04 And then it went on from there. You see the progression to Special Rep Correspondent or we call him/it Statesman Special Representative, which is political reporter. Basically we were attached to certain parties, political parties like (the) Congress Party (which) I was attached to.
4:24 [Kai] : You were attached to the ...the United Congress Party ... at that stage it was still...before the split.
4:29 [SNS] : And the...from there then I went to Parliament, I was the Parliamentary Correspondent. 4:39 And then ---- [Kai: This is still in the late '50s...early '60s? So Nehru's around] ---- Yes, yes, Nehru was very much there. He was a hero to me because in those day....
4:54 [Kai] : Did you interact with Indira also at all or not in those days?
4:57 [SNS] : Oh! Yes, yes. I used to interact regularly with Indira when I was a Political Correspondent. But if you want a chronological thing then after that I went to Singapore. ---5:10 [Kai: For the Statesman as ...] --- for the Statesman as the South East Asia Correspondent. I was out on the road most of the time. This was in the '60s.
5:18 [SNS] : South East Asia. So this was Vietnam War days ---- [Kai in the background: Vietnam War], Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation. So I was on the road half the time if not more. So it was fascinating area and fascinating time. My area was up to Japan. ---- [Kai: Wow!] ---- 5:39 And I covered the coup Burma, having covered... I went to Burma, Ragoon, after the coup.
5:46 [Interview interrupted by the coming in of the waiter offering to serve Masala dish...---- 5:51[SNS] : what what...what about you? Try some. ---- [Kai: I'll...I'll have a bite, sure] 5:55 [Kai: I can pause it any time]
6:00 [Kai] : You covered the coup in Burma?
6:03 [SNS] : Well, just after the coup. I was the first correspondent to land there to meet with the military chaps. ---- [Kai: Ne Win.] ----- Later on of course (they) wouldn't allow me in. But it was a fascinating. Sukarno in Indonesia and Macapagal in the Philippines, met all these characters, you know. So it was a very interesting time.6:29 So after five years, I told the paper...I said... 'look, you know, while I...long time and also I enjoyed it...it's not that... so...and then the idea was that I....I, you know....I studied Russian, so I was interested in going to Moscow as a correspondent for the Statesman. Never had a correspondent in Moscow. So in between they applied to Pakistan because there was no Indian correspondent...this was after '65 war...and there was a PTI person but you know PTI range is very limited. 7:20 So then the idea was...they said, yes, you can go to Moscow....open a bureau there.' Statesman was a very good employer in those days. In the meantime the Pakistanis came back and said, 'No...no...for Nihal Singh...we are ready.' I just pulled (Muffled spot) kind of stuff. 7:44 So I said, 'I’ll go there but for six months'. So I went there for six months.
---About the background of SNS
---wanted to be a doctor while in school --- fascinated with the use and abuse of language--- did B.A. (Hons.): English----- was to go to London to do a course in journalism ---but started as apprentice sub-editorship at the Times of India, Delhi, in 1954.
---- Details of time at Times of India ---Shyam Lal as the Editor, office at Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg --- got pittance of Rs.160/month
----Left the Times to join Red Cross as Assistant Publicity Officer
---- ‘Yesterday in Delhi’ not a political column but interview of poets and writers-- Mulk Raj Anand
---no by-lines in the 1950s
---SNS as Parliamentary Correspondent in the 1950s…saw Nehruvian era---interacted with Indira.
---SNS’s chronological timeline
Statesman as South East Asia Correspondent ---spent lot of time on road.
--covered Indonesia- Malaysia confrontation + Coup d’état in Burma (first to meet the military: Ne Win) ---oversaw upto Japan.
---Sukarno in Indonesia and Macapagal in the Philippines.
--- Change in assignment and region after 5 years-Sent to Pakistan as Indian Correspondent for 6 months (PTI had one but limited range)
| 7:51 [Kai] : Islamabad only or did...were you allowed to travel freely in Pakistan?
7:55 [SNS] : Well, I was living Rawalpindi but to capture that mood (the capital) was in the process of moving to Islamabad...so I used to, had to commute to Islamabad. 8:05 This was the Ayub Era (Note: Field Marshal Ayub Khan). And then I went to Moscow. 8:10 (muffled spot) 8:13 And I was there for about...I mean the whole idea was opening a bureau was that I'll be there at least five years, you know because no Indian paper had a bureau there except for the pro-Communist, you know the Communist lot who were living in subsidised housing including PTI was living in subsidised housing.
8:35 [Kai: Aacha (Right)! So Patriot also had someone or they did not exist at that point?8:39[SNS] : Yes, yes, Patriot had one (muffled spot- NAME)??? Krishnan who later became General Manager of PTI. And then of course there was a commotion in the Statesman in the meantime because Pran Chopra had a fallout with C. R. Irani who had taken over increasingly. 9:04 I was a casualty in a sense…I think they thought it was very expensive to maintain a bureau because I was paying the western rates, you know, of rent and living that kind of thing without any subsidy. And then there was another commotion in the Statesman when Brahmachari who was the Editor temporarily for six months. He had a quarrel with the Political Correspondent and he called the Chief of Bureau in Delhi. ---- 9:34 [Kai: Okay! Who was who?] ---- Mukherjee. ---- [Kai: And about what? What was the nature of it?] ----- 9:40 I don't...I don't really know the details but I think, one of the reasons I heard later because I was sitting in Moscow...was that he was stringing for a hell of a lot of other news agencies (CHECK) including Economist, Canadian Papers…so they felt... I think they reasoned that he was giving less attention to his real job and more to earning money because you know journalists pay very well. 10:13 So Brahmachari had earlier written to me that you know we find this very expensive...your Moscow posting...what would you like? Would you like to come to Delhi or would you like some other...? I think the London post was vacant ... was going to be vacant at that time. So I said.... My wife was Dutch...So I said, since my wife is Dutch, so it would be nice for her to live close to home'. Later...few days later they said, 'no no...sorry...you have to come to Delhi and take over as Political Correspondent' ----- 10:56 [Kai: ...because of this...] ----- discord. 11:01 So that's how...that is one phase of it.
11:06 [Kai] : I'll just pause this.
11:09 [Kai] : So we got brought to Delhi or coming back to Delhi.
11:14 [SNS] : So that was of course the most interesting time in newspaper terms.
11:19 [Kai] : So this is now...we've come to what year? This is...
11:22 [SNS] : '69...just before the (Congress) split (Note: In 1969 it split into Congress (O) and Congress (R))...the split in the Congress (Kai in the background says 'the split in the Congress' at the same time). And I was went to Bangalore for that famous session...Congress Committee Session. And before the Emergency I used to interact with Indira Gandhi quite a bit...met her as a Prime Minister. And as Political Correspondent, you know, I had certain, what shall I say, status, quote-unquote in terms of political reporting and so on.
12:17 [SNS] No, no...Pran Chopra was a different era. He didn't come into the Emergency period.
12:21 [Kai] : No..No I mean in this period when you were back in Delhi as Political Correspondent did you feel that the equation in the paper had changed significantly?
12:31 [SNS] : It was changing...hadn't quite changed yet. I mean Irani was obviously exerting his....he wanted to own the paper basically...it was a trust and so on. Then he wanted to be the big boss that kind of thing.
12:48 [Kai] : So more of an individual thing not ...not...not an issue of ...
12:51 [SNS] : Well, he was in the process of taking over the paper basically. So it was more than an individual, he was destroying an institution.
12:58 [Kai] : Yes! No, I only meant it to mean it wasn't so much a matter of ... of...of the Tatas meddling in ....
13:05 [SNS] : No...no.. Tatas were not meddling. Actually when they thought of the idea of trust taking over the paper from the British owners, it was a corporation of British owners, was the of the Tatas not to get involved in Statesman because their business was suffering, you know, because Statesman used to be, of course, be an independent newspaper; and it was often very critical of Mrs Gandhi's actions, as...as so was I. 13:42 And they felt that it was washing off that's why there was no interest really. So that is what Irani exploited and that led to ultimate downfall of the paper, which meant that overtime he had too many of his cronies as trustees and so on except for one chap, a professor who finally resigned and... 14:15 Now as far as Emergency is concerned I was the Resident Editor. I think you must have heard it, yeah, so I don't want to repeat what you already know. As Resident Editor I was in the firing line. And of course you must have read about my certain situation Shukla.
---Stayed in Rawalpindi---Ayub era- move to Moscow to open a bureau there---stay on for 5 years--- did not stay in subsidised housing unlike PTI representative and a few others.
---About commotions at the Statesman (a) with Pran Chopra & C. R. Irani + (b) Brahmachari the temporary editor’s tiff with the Political Correspondent.
---writing for different agencies (NOT CLEAR WHO WROTE)
---SNS staying in Moscow too expensive--- asked to suggest a new venue---wanted to go to London as wife was Dutch--- but SNS asked to move to Delhi to take over as Political Correspondent.
----SNS back to Delhi before 1969 split in the United Congress.
---- SNS present at the Congress Committee Session of 1969 when the split took place…Interacted with Indira Gandhi quite a bit.
---- Did SNS suffer because of Pran Chopra and Irani rift?---No
---But any changes in the paper because of the rift?
--- very minimal as this was the beginning of Irani transforming it---details of the transformations under Irani.
---Role of the Tatas.
---Tatas wary as their business was suffering since Statesman was critical of Mrs Indira Gandhi.
---Tatas did not have any real interest-boost to Irani’s ambitions ---- SNS was Resident Editor during the Emergency.
--- Problems with Shukla during the Emergency.
| 14:34 [Kai] : you can ...you can repeat that...yeah.
14:39 [SNS] : So..yeah...which I got....I thought looking back situation very funny. The way he ...tried not only to ...to censor the paper but also to tell me what to print and how to print it. And again it was because, my instructions to begin with to leave blank space which was not allowed the next day. And then I told the desk to concentrate on foreign news for the front page. 15:17 And there was this particular occasion when Rajya Sabha passed a...one of those subservient bill, you know, basically destroying the freedom of press, which I had it on front page at the bottom with insight. And it was all about Egypt, and you know, various international stories on the whole front page to which he objected. He said, 'what is this Rajya Sabha passing an important bill and you don't...you just take a little bit in the bottom and you ...' So then I told him, I said, look I thought censorship meant what you couldn't print but if you want us to print what to print and how to print it, then you have to pass some more legislation,' 16:14 which I get it but he didn't expect it from me, from a journalist.
16:20 [Kai] : And these kinds of meetings were summons...you'd be called to his office or...?
16:27 [SNS] : Yea, yes...Office and he had all prepared himself for it because he had the previous day's paper with the PA who brought it once I was there. And he put it before me and said, 'what is this?' 16:44 And then 16:48 you know Nanporia (Note: J.N. Nanporia) was the Editor, Chief-Editor that time in Calcutta and he was a bit of a ...very talented man but not a fighter in any sense.
17:06 [Kai] : Petit bourgeois vacillator .
17:09 [SNS] : Yes, you know. He looked at it as bread and butter, you know. So Irani offered me Chief-Editorship. This was during the Emergency because he knew me, you know, that I would stand for ...
17:29 [Kai] But so oddly I mean Irani despite the damage he did to the paper in the long run, at this point he shows some spine and principle. No?
17:37 [SNS] : Yes, yes that he did. And particularly because when the Government realised, Shukla realised, that I was going to take over as Chief- Editor, he did his damnest to prevent me from taking over as Chief-Editorship. 17:53 So Irani at a certain point went incommunicado from his Calcutta residence to avoid that pressure. So you know, he persevered. 18:08 There was that side of Irani too apart from his very large ego. (long pause)
18:18 [Kai] : And Nanproia then left or ...?
18:21 [SNS] : Yes, he retired. He still wrote for the paper. …a column, but otherwise he left.
18:33 [Kai] : And so then for the remaining part of the Emergency you were in Calcutta?
18:37 [SNS] : I was in Calcutta...till I resigned I was in Calcutta.
18:42 [Kai] : Was it more comfortable in terms of censorship or more difficult given that Siddhartha Shankar Ray was ...
18:47 [SNS] : Well no. It was more comfortable because Calcutta is, you know Calcutta, I mean Emergency or no Emergency...there were enough people to defy it in various ways.18:58 So ...And you were not in the front-line in terms dealing with the Government of India- the Central Government. And it was a relaxed atmosphere. You know, and Statesman as you know it was a great institution in Calcutta...I mean people had tremendous respect for it and they went out of the way to have it. 19:25 So yes, it was more comfortable.
19:28 [Kai] : Can I ask...? I remember myself that the Statesman and the Express were the two papers that one associated with...you know...holding out and ... and...showing some independence in that period. But what could you really get away with ... what forms did resistance ...defiance...independence take--other than the blank editorial which was quickly stopped.
19:59 [SNS] : no, in two ways. One was in the third edit. You know The Light Leader as it was called. Our standard of English was far superior to that of the censors, so we got away with murder. I mean, you know, in ironical terms and so on. And the second was we had a...every Sunday...section quotes...famous quotes...So we brought in defiance through these quotes. There again they were too dim to catch on to it. So these were the two ways we tried to fight the censors.
20:44 [Kai] : Was there much of a culture, I mean, I've heard a lot of this in Delhi and even Bombay of ... of people producing cyclostyle magazines, basically underground publications but home-made ones. Was that going on a lot in Calcutta?
21:00 [SNS] : Some of it but not too much. I think there was a, I would say, in more literary terms. You know every Bengali is a poet, you could say. So they used to write poetry or a certain song, so it was defiance in that sense greater than handing out cyclostyle sheets...some of them yes. I think it's very noisy.
21:26 [Kai] : Yea, we can...shall we move a bit?
21:30 [SNS] : You can pull up that chair for the recorder.
21:34 [Kai] : Yea, I'll do that. 21:43 Continuing your time in Cal (Read as 'Calcutta') hmmm also did you have much interaction with...with journalists in other papers....with the Express or Times of India?
22:01 [SNS] : Yes...yes, we met..we met at the Press Club for instance and actually yeah the day the Emergency ended, I went back to office at night to write the Edit and edit. ---- 22:14 [Kai: In Calcutta?] ---- In Calcutta. And then after that we all adjourned to the Press Club to drink to the end of the Emergency.---- [Kai: Turned into a party I guess.] ----Well that was great.
---the working of the censors ---blank editorial as a sign of protest against censorship---not allowed to repeat.
---The manner in which interactions with Shukla took place --- SNS was called to the office--- Shukla planned for them.
----SNS takes over as Chief-Editor of Statesman from J. N. Nanporia.
---Irani showing spine and principle against the censorship.
---Shukla trying to hinder SNS’s promotion --- Irani going incommunicado to avoid censors.
----SNS in Calcutta during remaining years of the Emergency.
--- Statesman defied through better language skills---through quotations.
---Any cyclostyled underground activity in Calcutta.
----Not too much.
---Any interaction with other journalists while in Calcutta?
---Yes. SNS writing the Edit when election results were declared.
| 22:28 [Kai] : You're talking about the...after the elections results or when she declared...?
22:31 [SNS] : Yes, yes ------ [Kai: Haan!] ---- After the election results.
22:36 [Kai] : Yes, I remember that day myself. 22:40 But you had no interaction with Indira herself in this period?
22:44 [SNS] : No, because... I wrote about it in my book that aaa immediately after the Emergency (was) imposed I had a meeting with her, and ...normally I used have meeting every few weeks or so. And on this particular occasion, which was the last time she saw me, she said she had some house-guests from Britain or something like that. And they were praising the order that the Emergency had brought, and so being undiplomatic as I was, I said, 'well, what do you expect your house-guest to say?' She never called me after that.
23:32 [Kai] : Good for you.
23:36 [Kai] : And after...the election results after '77 was over, did you resume any contact with her or senior figures in Congress?---- [SNS: No] --- now you were on a different role.
23:49 [SNS] : no...no.. (Note: to the resuming contacts).... Yes... (Note: to being in a different/role). Then I did. Of course I was away for quite a bit. You now, I ...Well, after I resigned from the Statesman which was the end of the '70s...right in the end, then I did some freelancing...I think some column writing.
24:14 [Kai] : But do tell that story as well...about what brought you to resign?
24:19 [SNS] : I told it in the book.
24:21 [Kai] : Ah! Okay, you don't want to go there.
24:23 [SNS] : Yes, and then one of the people I met was over lunch at the American Embassy, the Consul I think. I was still as....Then of course I was offered the Editorship...I was offered two editorships. One was The Illustrated Weekly of India at Bombay and before I had the final meeting I was offered that by the owner.... just before that Mulgaonkar rang me up, who was the Chief-Editor of The Indian Express. And he said that, 'I don't want to be beating about the bush but will you take over from me as Chief Editor?' So it all just happened and of course I ... I scraped that basically I was not a magazine man in a sense. 25:22 Although I was willing to learn. So I took over as the Chief Editor of the ---- [Kai in the background : Express] ---- Indian Express. And then Goenka was a genius in his own way, Ramnath Goenka but a very disorganised one. And he was leaning to the Hindu-right, and ----- 25:47 [Kai enquires : Leaning or those connections were quite firm?] ---- Yes with Nanaji Deshmukh and so on but he sent me an edit from Madras where he was at that time. You know there was this incident of the Dalits conversioning (read as 'converting') en masse to Islam to get rid of their status in the society; and he sent me an edit which was poisonous.
26:18 [Kai] : Written by himself or...?
26:20 [SNS] : No ...no...his stooge Gurumurthy (Read: S. Gurumurthy) or what was his name …. which I am sorry to say I threw into the waste paper basket because I should have preserved it. ----- [Kai: yes!] ---- But I was very angry. Anyway just to illustrate one of those things and he was very disorganised because ... The Express was very disorganised when I joined it. There was Arun Shourie who ran his own empire. He had his own connections...political connections so on, and all weaving around Goenka because he wanted to please Goenka. And then the ...it was not fully...well staffed. There was no method. 27:09 And then I came to the conclusion, and of course Arun Shourie was very unhappy with me because, you know, his habit was that there were no rules for him. I mean, you know, he...edit...main edit page article has a certain length ... any newspaper has that...and he came up with twice that length. So I spiked it!
---Did SNS interact with Mrs Gandhi in course of the Emergency?
---No longer unlike before. SNS’s last meeting with Mrs Indira Gandhi.
---Nature of SNS’s relations with Mrs Gandhi and other Congress’ seniors post-election.
--Resignation from Statesman in late 1970s.
---Being offered two Editorships- Illustrated Weekly of India at Bombay and The Indian Express, Delhi.
---On time at the Indian Express---Ramnath Goenka and his inclinations towards the right-wing --- Nanaji Deshmukh----SNS rejecting an article that vilified Dalits en masses conversion to Islam, written with the aid of S. Gurumurthy.
---Express as being disorganised---Arun Shourie’s role and web around Goenka.
---Confrontation between Shoruie and SNS.
| 27:36 [Kai] : He thought he'd take the whole page or what!
27:39 [SNS] : So after that of course I mean (laughs) ---- [Kai : had an enemy?] ---- I knew he would spread poison with great ??? He would go to breakfast at Goenka's flat, you know, in Delhi, Sunder Nagar he used to have a flat that kind of thing. And I didn't believe in that kind of aaa slavery, shall we say, though for other purposes. So finally I came to the conclusion that I want to leave...just won't work out because I don't want to spend half the time fighting the establishment in the paper. I mean one can fight the government establishment not the establishment within. So he tried to prevent me 28:25 in that he... and I said finally 'no'. And then it happened there was a lunch...I was still the Chief Editor of course but nobody knew about it. He (Ramnath Goenka) said don't tell anybody until I ...I appoint a successor. So I said, 'fair enough.' And this lunch at the Council I think Press Council (CHECK) he was hosting a lunch for the President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in New York and Washington...at that time they had two offices...now they have only in Washington D.C.. 28:59 And ..so I asked to see him privately the next morning at his hotel. And I told him, 'look I couldn't tell you then because it is supposed to be a secret because I've resigned and I have been working on Indo-Soviet relations for a long time trying to specialise in them and so on.' So give me a brief note which I did. So I said I want two years because to shift everything and you know...just for a year, it wouldn't be worth it. So he came up with the offer. And I could choose Washington D.C. or New York. At that time New York was also...there was an office. And they...while I was there after one year, they cut down the New York office to save expenses. 29:57 But then I couldn't. They hired a place in Asia Society for me..the remaining one year because there was no point in moving for one year to Washington D.C. 30:08 So that was it and before I was leaving New York after I...for two years. There was Twentieth Century Fund...whose title has been changed now with the transition. And I knew the Director Ross-Ham who unfortunately died later, who had invited me as Editorial Statesman to be a member of India International Panel, which they had hosted, the Twentieth Century Fund. So he invited me for lunch. He knew I was leaving and then he said, 'would you like to spend a couple of years in Paris?' 30:55 So they had a project of...you know there was this antagonism between the US Government and UNESCO...of doing a book on UNESCO. So there...I went to Paris for nearly not quite two years nearly one and a half years. The project itself which came out in a book form but independently. It didn't work out with them. So and then before I was leaving Paris for India, Vijaypat Singhania who's the owner, you know, the Singhania family, he said if I could drop in and see him in London...he was visiting. 31:42 And he ... he started a new newspaper. And he said, 'can you be the founding editor?' So instead of Delhi I went to Bombay. And that didn't work out either. Although I think what we produced...I was there only...I mean took one year to ...to ... 32:08 [Kai interjects: get it set-up] ---- Yeah! Set it up. And then I was there for 32:13 barely for three or four months after ... that after publication because he called me one day and he said....you know, thinking that a newspaper is like a bar of soap, you know...this is up-market...please make it down-market. So I said,' please find a new editor.' 32:32 So...he says, 'suggest me names.' So I said, 'yes...Vinod Mehta, if you want down-market. So that's how it is. And then the...after that I had a friend in Bombay who had connections in the Gulf and he offered me the ...he said, 'are you interested in this?' I said, 'I'll try it out.' This was Khaleej Times in Dubai. Excuse me. (There's probably a break in the recording before continuing)
33:12 So I was invited on a visit to UAE anyway and then I saw the Khaleej Times bosses and that was it. So I...And I was there for nearly seven years as Editor but the great thing was thanks to it I can still live a reasonable life because I hadn't saved anything, you know.
33:37 [Kai] : In the Indian career?
33:39 [SNS] : In the India career. So this was tax free with bonus and you know in Indian terms a lot of money. And of course what I enjoyed most was getting around the world. So I went to South Korea from there...South Africa...and, you know, all over the region.
34:04 [Kai] : But it must be odd to now be running a newspaper that in a sense was devoid of local politics since people say there is no politics in the Gulf...?
34:17 [SNS] : Yea, no politics but there were two pages ...two or three India pages...two or three Pakistan pages...so on…so it was an expatriate kind of a thing. ---- [Kai : That's true] ----
34:31 And then they wanted me to stay on and on, and I said ,no, thank you.'
34:34 [Kai] : You did stay for quite a while ...not?
34:36 [SNS] : Nearly seven years. ---- [Kai : That's a long time.] ---- because every time the renewal came every three years or so and they said, 'no no you stay on a bit.' So finally I said, 'no, I have to go.' I had nothing...no job to go to but I just want...I thought I'd better get home and not stay in this artificial environment, you know, these are expatriate cities basically in terms of living...very comfortable and all that but after a time you get bored. 35:07 [Kai] : Yes! I don't know how you did it for seven years.
35:10 [SNS] : Oh! Because I was travelling.
---Shourie and sycophancy.
---SNS resigns—attends lunch for President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) in New York. and Washington--- SNS starts a two year stint at the New York office--- But the New York office shuts down after a year though SNS stays on.
---SNS invited by A. Ross-Ham of the Twentieth Century Fund after the two years period with the CEIP to be on the India International Panel.—Ross-Ham offered SNS a job for a book on UNESCO--- left Paris after one-half years.
---SNS’s meeting with Vijaypat Singhania---SNS as the founding editor of the new newspaper---Description of problems with the newspaper----SNS resigns.
---SNS unhappy with Vijaypat Singhania’s way of working.
---SNS joined Khaleej Times, Dubai, for seven years.
--- Time at Khaleej Times help SNS save money---tax free---travelled a lot.
---Nature of publication of Khaleej Times.
----SNS leaves Khaleej Times.
| 35:14 [Kai] But a...for a bit of perspective ...in retrospect the story of Indian newspapers if you like, do you see it essentially as a narrative of decline or of growth and decline or ...?
35:34 [SNS] : Well they are brighter than they were... ---- [Kai : You mean glossier?] ---- yes, glossier, lot more pictures and of course colour and so on. But the standard has certainly fallen...steeply. (a.) Standard in English language is shocking in English language newspapers. I mean some of what...it is illiterate...what they print. 36:00 So sub-editing standards have fallen sharply...mainly because of people who are sub-editors ...their knowledge of English is not very good to begin with. Secondly I think there is a perhaps more, with exceptions. Express I would say is pretty good these days...is the best paper in view today. ---- [Kai: Mine too] ---- Generally people seem more afraid apart from sensationalising like Time of India does, which in many respects is illiterate. It's a yuppie paper, I call it because of the kind of editorial page articles they have and their whole slant is yuppie culture, you know. 36:45 And...for instance today's lead was this- Lead Story was the chap who murdered his girlfriend and married a woman his parent's wanted the next day. To have it as a lead story for a serious newspaper, I mean...I think it's scandalous. Okay you have a bottom spread if you like or side story...so that shows you... I mean I ...I take the Times...I get only two papers now...used to get a dozen. Express is my main paper which is think the best. Hindu I gave up long ago because it is motherhood and apple pie. ---- [Kai : Very dull] ---- very dull 37:37 And you know its not with it...with the times; and I wrote a very caustic letter to them once because François Hollande came, not on this visit but previous visit when I was reading...subscribing to the Hindu and they changed him into a woman...lead...second lead...twice...two days running. Françoise Hollande!...Where do you go if a paper like Hindu does not doesn't know the difference between male and female in French, and its not an esoteric language. 38:18 Of course, I...I've lived in France and I've studied French but even an ordinary person...ordinary literate person should know.
38:28 [Kai] : Yes, Hindu used to have some standards in...
38:33 [SNS] : Yea, so they published my corrections but without my ---- [Kai: caustic remarks] ---- yes. Why have you transformed the gender? French President! So I think generally speaking, I would say the standard has fallen.
38:50 [Kai] : But you also ...you also spoke of fear.. in what way... you need to fear the government or fear of the bosses or fear of the owners...?
38:58 [SNS] : No, now the editorship is a ... in one of the interviews I've said... I don't know whether you saw the Youtube ---- [Kai : No, I didn't.] ---- There's a ...just after this was published- my memoir- I had a long interview with ....... (Note: possibly with Sunil Sethi, NDTV) on the... which is on Youtube. If you... ---- [Kai : I'll look for it] --- look for it, you'll get it, where I said that I couldn't be an editor any longer because editor is supposed to be in the pocket of the proprietor. And in my time in the Statesman and even the Express, it was quite different. I mean they treated the editors with respect, including by the owners. Now they don't care. In Times of India of course evolved into something that there's no editor..no real editor because the proprietor is the editor. So...it's crazy and it shows. 40:01 For instance, I'm talking of print now ...of television channels after Ambanis bought CNN-IBN, which is a good channel in a way; and anyway Ambani speaks you'll have his own idiot box (CHECK if it’s Idiot box). 40:21 So...but talking about the papers I think it's certainly standard has declined very much. In terms of the language, certainly. And in terms of display of stories and so on.
| ---ON SNS’s view of the quality of Indian newspapers.
--Quality has declined---lower standards---less command of language skills—Express still being the exception.
--- Example of low standards Times of India and its story on a man murdering his girlfriend a day before marrying his parent’s approved girl being the Lead.
---On quality of Hindudull
---example of Times low quality---incident of misspelling François HollandeSNS wrote a caustic letter pointing the error.
---On fear of the government---of the bosses or owners.
---SNS refers to his youtube interview—Editors are now pushed around unlike in his time when they were respected.
---One Ambanis’ buying CNN-ABN.
| 40:43 [Kai] : Could you ..you lay that primarily at the owners' doors?
41:28 [SNS] : No..no, I think it obviously left a scar ..a deep scar because, I mean here we were touted as the greatest...largest democracy in the world where there's a free media, free press and here we are two national newspapers and a few periodicals excepted, everybody fell in line.
41:54 [Kai] : But what....what else could they have done? I mean, you think in case of Times of India for example, the bad reputation is deserved? ... that they were particularly ... ---- 42:07 [SNS: Supine, and the worst of it was and I wrote it, I don't know whether you got that far, that they were the most obedient people as far as the censorship was concerned. They wouldn't take the risk of putting half a foot out, you know. They were that careful And the day the Emergency ended] ---- Shyam Lal wrote a very famous --- [42:30 SNS: Shyam Lal wrote this ..all the way...the whole two columns...normally they have till three edits...the whole editorial column] ---- I have to read that. So that was seen as an excessive gesture!? ---- [42:44 SNS : No! Taking all his bile out of eighteen- month long Emergency, which I thought was extraordinary. Okay... you had to submit for various reasons I suppose...keep your job whatever but then you behave with a little dignity, I mean...You criticise the government...fine ... for what they did but very first occasion to take your bile out and two column length...I don't know whether ...it...anybody's written that kind of ... that long an editorial in Times' history.]
43:24 [Kai] : I must find that. So this is again the day after the election results or after the Emergency was ...they declared that it would be suspended. ----- [SNS in the background : No no (Note: to day after election results)... yes yes ( Note: to after the suspension of Emergency) ] (Both Kai and SNS speak simultaneously)
43:36 [Kai] : yea yea I hear also that he basically he felt his...he was under threat of being removed.
43:45 [SNS] : Yea...okay ??? (CHECK) want to save his job. But what really got my goat was this and I wrote an edit on, also of course on the same day naturally after the...And I said, 'she's done some good.' You know...despite all my criticism, I said, 'she has done the country some good. I must acknowledge it.' I mean outside the Emergency.
44:20 [Kai] : Haan ... but 44:23 the scar remains for the country and country's politics certainly but ...but...you don't think journalism was also transformed in a good way by being tested...by this...because many people see the immediate post-Emergency period as a kind of golden age where journalists were very motivated and you know a certain kind of crusading (long pause) zeal ..an energy entered into...
44:55 [SNS] : Yea, fair enough after a point that's true but for me the ... the biggest lesson was how pliable we Indians are given the real test.
45:08 [Kai] : And that remains ... ---- [SNS : That's right]
45:14 [SNS] : You know, all right there are circumstances where you have no option and you need a job...but the manner in which we did that -! ---- 45:22 [Kai : Perhaps...perhaps the maliks noticed that if the government could push the journalists around then they could as well...could be] (long silence)
45:38 [Kai] : Okay...good.
| ---to what degree are the owners responsible for the newspaper?
---On impact of Emergency on journalism.
---it left a deep scar---made a mockery out of the largest democracy.
---On what newspapers could have done?
---could have taken more chances rather than cower down…example of the Times—the day after the end of Emergency, Shyam Lal vented his ire in a long edit—SNS snubs it personally.
---SNS feels that venting post-Emergency by S. Lal was undignified.
--- SNS acknowledges that apart from Emergency Mrs Gandhi did some good for India.
---SNS agrees but it brought home the pliancy of Indians as a rule.