Prabhash Joshi as I remember him-2
Posted November 20, 2009on:
After he emerged from the near-isolation in the backroom of the Gandhi Peace Foundation after the Emergency was lifted, Prabhash Joshi appeared keen to acquire proficiency in English language; he had also discovered, or re-discovered, the virtues in the traditions and customs as prevailed in ancient India, including the Varnashrama Dharma (the Indian version of apartheid).
He was never a hater of English language but firmly believed that this language had no future in India, nor was the continuous use of English language in the interest of the people of the country. Whenever he came to my place and saw me typing something on my Olivetti portable, he would invariably make some snide remark.
His self-esteem probably suffered during his “Prajaniti” days. As part of his contribution to Jaya Prakash Narayan’s movement, Ram Nath Goenka (RNG) had started a weekly called “Everyman’s”. It was edited by Ajit Bhattacharjea. Thereabout was also launched “Prajaniti”, with Prabhash Joshi as its editor. In its contents, “Prajaniti” was independent of “Everyman’s” for all practical purposes. Still, “Prajaniti” was always referred to as the Hindi weekly of “Everyman’s”. Besides, the senior journalists on the staff of the Indian Express had almost a supercilious attitude towards the Hindi-walas.
He got books from the Indian Express for reviews. He would zealously write and re-write till he was reasonably satisfied with the draft. Then he would ask some of his close friends to check it for grammar and syntax and re-write it again to incorporate the suggestions. This habit he maintained even when he became resident editor of the Indian Express in Chandigarh; he would get his pieces checked by a senior member of the editorial staff, who had exceptional command over English language. Joshi believed in perfection in whatever he was doing.
Before he was sent to Chandigarh to boost the circulation of the Indian Express there, Joshi spent some time in the chairman’s office in Delhi. Never lacking in ideas, he had found for himself occupations, which impressed the chairman immensely. As the Indira Gandhi regime and the Emergency were nearing their ends, the Indian Express had started recovering and RNG had virtually risen from the ashes to take control of the company. (He had suffered serious ailments during the Emergency and had been in Kerala for a prolonged Ayurvedic treatment). The lifting of the Emergency had served as a potent tonic for him.
Prabhash Joshi put up in the chairman’s office the boards with charts showing daily circulation of the newspapers published from Delhi. Sipping from a glass the blackish liquid (prescribed by his Vaidyas in Kerala), RNG looked with unconcealed glee the Indian Express curve going up spectacularly day-by-day while the curves of the other newspapers either went down or rose only marginally.
Next, it was found (by Prabhash Joshi, of course) that the Indian Express had on its staff a galaxy of senior journalists but the other editions were not making full or proper use of their reports/articles. With RNG’s consent, a large table was placed in the chairman’s office. Young men and women sat around it and scanned the editions received from other publication centres through air containers. In the evening, Joshi would prepare a report describing which of the important stories/write-ups had been missed or played down in which edition. With the approval of the chairman, the message was sent (on behalf of the chairman) over the teleprinter to editors and news-editors in all the publication centres. Soon many of the senior journalists — and not only in Delhi — were trying to cultivate Joshi. This was, in a way, Prabhash Joshi’s revenge against the senior journalists of the Indian Express who had once sneered at the Hindi-walas.
Joshi’s obsession with his recognition by the English-walas had become so great that when RNG decided to make him resident editor of the Chandigarh edition, Joshi requested RNG to get the appointment letter signed by S.Mulgaonkar, then editor of the Indian Express. Mulgaonkar would not do it, for his own reasons. Joshi waited (and worked as resident editor in Chandigarh) for some months till RNG was able to persuade Mulgaonkar to sign Joshi’s appointment letter.
It was a different story with “Jansatta”. It was never referred to as the Hindi edition of the Indian Express. Of course, it was known as the Hindi daily of the Indian Express Group. Moreover, in the Hindi-speaking States, particularly in the smaller towns and the countryside, the Indian Express was rather identified with Jansatta. Joshi had created a band of dedicated and hard working reporters and always stood by them. The news stories and the articles that appeared in Jansatta had made Prabhash Joshi almost a legend in the Hindi-speaking areas. His own writings touched the hearts of the people who discussed them as they would discuss the scriptures.
Prabhash Joshi’s reversal to the ancient Hindu lore was a bit intriguing. He was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s writings and had been closely associated with Jaya Prakash Narayan’s Total Revolution movement. He never gave the impression of being a religious person. The same was true of his wife, Usha. She would participate in all the Hindu religious festivals but more as part of habit than a matter of faith. She always displayed an amusing attitude towards godly things.
It came, therefore, a real shock to many to see both Prabhash and Usha Joshi not only supporting the obnoxious “Sati” system but actively guiding the Sati-supporters on how to commemorate the “sacrifice” of Roop Kanwar, the 17-year-old girl who had allegedly consigned herself to the flames on the funeral pyre of her husband, Maal Singh Shekhawat, in a Rajasthan village in 1987. Prabhash Joshi was then living in a spacious house in a trans-Jamuna colony. While women’s organisations demonstrated in front of the Jansatta office (Indian Express building) on the Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg in protest against Joshi’s pro-Sati writings in Jansatta, meetings (many of the participants having come from Roop Kanwar’s Deorala village) were constantly taking place in his house to discuss as how to best glorify Roop Kanwar.
Prabhash Joshi’s writings eulogising the superiority of the Brahmans among various castes is only a comparatively recent phenomenon and has received a lot of critical mention in the Hindi media.