V.N.Subba Rao.

There will never be anyone like him. Only VNSR knew how to make even an intern feel like a star reporter, and swathe the junior most rookie reporter into the big story, and make her feel she made an important contribution.

He was among the four who interviewed me at Indian Express, and was always proud to introduce me to as “the young lady who stood first in the written test”, We had endless conversations on our ride home in the 10 pm van , and one could say ANYTHING to him, and be rewarded with that crack of laughter which was so  VNSR. as he enjoyed the little digs that you were allowed to take at him .
Do you know what “Subba”  means? I asked him once and he said, “Bhus bhus nagara havu”…….his arm swaying menacingly at me, like an angry cobra hissing for revenge, and I said all we need is the Nagin music playing in the background. Alladi, you are a khiladi, he had guffawed. Most of the time I was  “Ms Jayashri Gadkar, ”  my namesake, the actress who played Kausalya in DD’s Ramayan.

I never knew anyone who has mentored so many reporters and felt proud of each of them. It was a few years later, when I had moved to TOI, and to reporting, that I realised  VNSR  had nursed a little disappointment about my choosing to be on the desk, rather than in reporting. I ought to have been his protege’  not just the girl who topped the written test,  had known the full form of Kuvempu at the interview , and   whose  conversation greatly amused him at least most of the time.  But  I was  just a happy sub,  awed by the fact that this awesome man’s  words were in my hands, and I could tell him why don’t you put it , like, so, it looks better, and he’d say “Howda?   (is that so? } and  say, go ahead, change it .

I remember that it was he who introduced me to  Suryaprakash,  long anointed my mentor , by me.  I was getting into the office for the 2.30 p.m shift ( I was just six months into my  job, just a trainee,  in fact.) when VNSR caught up with me in the lobby (Time Office , it was rather pompously called) and with him was Asp,  a man of many legends , narrated, yes, by VNSR , in that way he had of  proudly  talking of his proteges.
I was tongue-tied,  at first, and then VNSR   said,  “Prakash you know, she stood first in the written test…” and  then resumed the conversation with Asp, but of  course, thanks to VNSR, I was in it too. And when I said, apropos of something that I now forget, “yes, I remember when I was young……..” and VNSR emitted another of his sharp guffaws, and saying ” that can’t have been very long ago!”
I’m quite sure Asp doesn’t remember this, but I will never forget it.

Later,  meeting him at press conferences, or  in the lobby of the Legislative Assembly, or at the Press Club,  I marveled at  the way he delighted in the drama of politics and cinema. As Sachi ( K.S.Sachidananda Murthy, Resident Editor, The Week), another protege who has made his mentor immensely proud, says,  he never shed the curiosity and enthusiasm of the cub reporter till the very last.   I marveled too, at how  seamlessly I had graduated to  being “a colleague”  with whom he discussed news and issues  as an equal, and  how easily one could catch the infectious enthusiasm for news when one was around him. News was always worthy of celebration when he was around it.

There was also an unusual absence of cynicism in the way VNSR  practiced journalism.  He belongs in that endangered list of  journalists who maintain the distance and detachment required of a conscientious journalist who  owes  fair, objective reporting and opinionating to the reader.

I cannot think of a single politician or film star who had an axe to grind with VNSR on account of his  writing.   People like Hegde welcomed even criticism , and  surely  did some quick course-correction after reading him.  Film personalities like Vishnuvardhan  enjoyed much camaraderie with VNSR, but probably agonised that his verdict on their film could make it or break it. After all the man had a  felicity with words in English and Kannada, and in the era when there was no such thing, he was a walking Google/ Wikipedia of all things Karnataka.  Because, though he played confidante to many Chief Ministers, and other politicians and film personalities, and he knew many of their secrets, he never betrayed their trust even as he practiced the most impeccable  journalism.

Though he never “groomed” me officially,  to be an Ekalavya of sorts, within his orbit, watching him, talking to him, listening to him, I would count myself among his many proteges for whom he always had the time, and  who practice his kind of journalism.

Goodbye, my mentor, friend, your unwavering faith in me and those like me , and the unconditional affection you showered on all of us,are inimitable, and hence unforgettable.


  1. chandrakanth.r says:

    ‘Howda’……. VNSR did spot the talent in you…. somewhere along the way you frittered it away (you had the potential to lead from the front…). Anyways, thanks to you, I remember my first meeting with VNSR. I was a student of mass communication at Bangalore University and for the weekly communication club, I was to invite VNSR to deliver a lecture on reporting. That was my first ever meeting with any journalist.
    I remember another first impression of a giant of Indian journalism, G.Kasturi. I was being interviewed by GK and K.Narayanan, the News Editor of The Hindu. I was tested ‘which is the first hydel station in India’. After a pause, I answered ‘I think it is Sivasamundram’. GK retorted ‘In journalism, there is no I think, it is or it is’nt’.

    1. Jayasri says:

      Indeed, it took me 13 years to realise that! I agonise over that every day! VNSR was an exceptional journalist and a great maker of future journalists. Thank you for your chastising words, you are one of the few allowed that privilege! Indeed there are many wasted opportunities that I rue every day! Mostly i regret not moving on when I ought to have.
      Now tell me, where are you? and why did it take VNSR’s passing away for you to drop a line?

  2. Chandrakanth says:

    Hi Jayasri,
    I came to know of VNSR’s demise through you. Though I stay in Bangalore, I didn’t know about his death as I am a social recluse (seldom read newspapers… but still do The Hindu crossword… do you still?). I do not connect with the media here.
    Unlike the Hindu days, when I had plenty of time, now I am crazily full of work. After my three year stint in Dubai, I returned to Delhi where I was for about a year working for a defence and aviation publishing house. I still work for them, but from home in Bangalore. I also edit one other online magazine on urban infrastructure and another of natural stones. The redeeming factor is that I get to travel in India and overseas, mostly Europe.

    How is it going for you? Any book in the pipeline?

  3. Jayasri says:

    Hi, Chandrakanth,
    Indeed, I’m doing a good deal more writing these days, and hoping to turn them into a book. I go on facebook chiefly to see what’s going on in Bangalore, and trying to blog a little more regularly. My mom passed away in Jan, and my brother died in June, so its been a little tough lately.
    I think you are doing an excellent thing being a recluse, because nowadays news and social media chase you everywhere, probably even to the moon. I’m afraid I don’t do the Hindu crossword, I don’t look at the Hindu if i can help it..
    I;m glad you enjoy your work and get to travel , you always revelled in that, I know.. Is it possible to check out the online mags that you edit? do let me have your no , on email – alljay2000@yahoo.com.
    Hi to Nimmi how are the kids doing.

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