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Sunday, February 28, 2021

First draft of history

Recollections of the ‘Indian Express’ newsroom on the day Gandhi died

Written by H. Y. Sarada Pasad |
February 3, 2009 1:37:09 am

Ramnath Goenka had bought The National Standard in Bombay a couple of years earlier,and had brought a number of sub-editors and press workers from the Indian Express in Madras. I was one of them. The office of the paper was situated in Sassoon Dock in Colaba. On 30 January 1948,I was on the afternoon shift which would have ended at 8 pm.

When the horrifying news came on the teleprinter,my mind went back to my meetings with the Mahatma. His grandson,Kantilal Harilal Gandhi,who was a friend from my student days in Mysore,had taken me to meet him a few times. The Mahatma had wanted to meet his friends,because,as he told him: “I will judge your character according to the company you keep”. The Mahatma asked me what I wanted to become. “A journalist”,I had replied. “Oh,out to change the world,eh”,he remarked.

But there was no time to reflect. Pothan Joseph was the editor. Hev told me to take charge of the edition,because there was no knowing when the night chief sub-editor would be able to turn up. To a young journalist not yet 24 this was a big opportunity. It was quite a task to keep track of the flow of news. Apart from PTI (or was it still API?) we had UNI,AP of America,UPI and any number of feature services flooding us with reports and statements. Joseph had told me: “Don’t disturb me until I finish the edit,which I expect to do by 11.” We had an assistant editor called V.B. Kulkarni who was given the task of producing a life sketch of the Mahatma,and he was able to come up with a fine piece of some 4000 words. The night shift chief sub-editor,who was senior to me,came in well after 8. But I continued to function as chief sub-editor of the night shift as well. We had a very enterprising chief reporter called BSV Rao. His reporters were busy phoning up people and preparing reports on the city’s reactions.

It must have been 9.30 or 10. A frail elderly figure approached the news desk with a sheet of paper in hand. I looked up,irritated to be interrupted,and asked: “What is it?” He replied: “My tribute to Bapuji”. In my youthful arrogance I said sharply: “Today,everyone is issuing their own tribute to Bapuji”. The man said very gently: “But I am his son”. It was indeed Harilal Gandhi.

I know I should have left aside everything I was doing and attended to him,especially since I knew his son Kantilal in Mysore. But I was more concerned with coping with the flow of copy. I just called out to BSV Rao to handle him. I have a recollection that we published his statement but if I am asked what it contained I would not be able to say.

The late H.Y. Sharada Prasad worked at the Indian Express from 1945 to 1955. The above is an excerpt from an essay he wrote on Harilal Gandhi in 2004 for a study by Gopal Krishna Gandhi.

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