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.