An Ode to the Last Editor

Here are K Balachandran's (formerly with the Malayala Manorama and Varthamanam) poetic musings in the new year. ('The last editor' does not refer to any particular one, but a motif of a rare tribe, mostly extinct, save for a few who are still around.)
Ode to the last editor
By K Balachandran

Your tense is past, but there you are quite alive
not as a daunting photo in an album, but

painted green in  the wall of memories, of admirers,
numerous, who bow low with such reverence that
is unknown in these (vain)glorious times.

When, 'editor at large' is more fashionable a title
than the more potent omnipresent editor.
You even seem a false memory, in these times,
when 'entrepreneurial journalism' thrives.

It seductively whispers on every
media person's ears:
' Awake! arise!!
Radias of the world are
here to welcome to their fold,
You take home a piece
of what you tease out
in one piece'

All you earned extra, was respect,
that too, how effortlessly!
Your qualities rare, were there
for any one to see!
Not the Oxbridge pedigree,
or the scholarship  truly astounding.
But true native spirit and energy,
vision, farsight and due diligence.

Though at times, it was thought
your manners bordered the rude.
Yes, you were not without warts, still
how dazzling your persona was!
Not grandiloquent at every instance
or inclined to rhetorical flourish
at the drop of a walking stick.
No wise-owl act aimed at oneupmanship,
Your words always matched deeds.

Not  just professional excellence,
but also qualities of heart and head.
You never short-changed the editorial team,
to make any unfair gain
Those who got the by-lines
were sure to have toiled for it.
Favourites you sure had, you said
but favoritism you have never known.
That uncompromising stance
for many 'shining stars' of today would seem
way too moralistic, to be practical.

'In that placid, halcyon days, those
old chaps could afford to be foolhardy.
The captive market allowed it
Look! the kind of competition we face
now, we may have to call a spade
even a  gleaming golden sword
to make both ends meet!'

I can hear the smarty pants
Of this day unabashedly chant.
What an unadulterated truth!
Yes that's the most favourite phrase,
Of this topsy-turvy media times
Some even bend backwards
to do all kinds of acrobatics
to bring the extremes together
(Top honchos of  business and
big guns of  politics mostly)
with the gift of one's gab
and make as much hay
when those stars shine,
and don't feel a wee bit of pang
even when caught red-handed.
Their chatter still ring
in the telly till morning!

The last true blue editor, a tribe of few,
regrettably now long extinct
( that's what we strongly suspect)
who in letter and spirit, edited each column
of their journal, with their able team
till they found it absolutely
fit to pass on to the reader
who was all eyes till the time
the paper fell with a thud in the
front veranda of one's house!

Those rare luminous beings one
only could wish now to see in legends.
and myths of yore, too good to believe.
Yet very much there, making
even ' the light more clear ', finding
meanings for the jaundiced world,
in a jumble of happenings spread
page after page, every passing day.

Driven by a sense of mission, they were
witnesses to the making of a society
just shook free from the colonial yoke.
Not mere onlookers, they were but
players in the task of shaping destiny
of the new nation, shoulder to shoulder
with visionaries,statesmen and the like.

They knew like the palm of their hand
the art of playing on the heart strings
of the reader, who was close to the paper.
The 'big one' who held the purse string
had a big heart too, and never interfered
in the matters within the newsroom
lone lion, was he of the editorial jungle.

An old fixture almost like a treadle press
not even rotary, much less than the
offset press or what followed, the
sleek beauties that caught one's eyes.
long before the newsrooms were
crammed with swanky electronic toys,
and even before the present day
master chef, the ubiquitous computer,
and in the days when teleprinters
ruled the roost in old-world newsrooms
with their noisy garrulousness.

Then human touch was the most
in news and the minds that played it,
to the tune of the people
of this magnificent land
making their hearts sing with a beauty,
you could no more imagine news,
mere daily news, is capable of creating
with words not at all embellished
and photos, just unglamorous black and white

The reality of the world, like in an abstract painting
is what you make out from the scattered
colors and symbols; patterns slowly emerge,
when you look careful and long enough.
The ancient minds who reached to the
far edge of universe with just power
of their minds, and nothing else,
I guess, knew this.

You see what you wish to see in terms of pattern
and through that create a private world for you and others
According to the prompting of the wish in the mind
which sees black or white or grey in between.
Even Science, now would admit this.
A  dictum in psychology says it the best
'You are what you think you are'.

An editor of that vanished tribe knew
The news of the day were a mere tool for
him to talk to the receptive mind of his readers,
engage them in a meaningful dialogue on
what the world means to them at times of strife
and  that of tranquility, or in creative quest.

In the news they saw future, of the nation
and to them that was the mission.
Each one of them shared a dream
and for them the news was a means
to show others, what  the dream is.
Would you blame them for that?
If you do, blame more, those
who never had any dream.

One doesn't read news,  just to see
what happened to the world the day before,
But also to dream what it would be,
What the eagerly awaited tomorrow, holds for us.
The day after, yet to come, is more of concern
than the withered day before.

News is as good as gazing into the crystal ball
to see future, and the last editor
with his incomparable humility
had wisdom non pareil to know that
the crystal ball in fact, is one's mind.
Unless your collective unconscious had the beauty,
and the power to imagine the magnificent
how would you conjure up a future good enough
for flowers of exquisite beauty to bloom,
in the humble gardens of this land, far and wide?

As an editor he had a mind focused on the real
the best, the subtle and the unchanging
values of life, we are now impatient to shed
as it blocks our way to the new and the exciting,
what if, the new one is transient and impermanent?

It is the order of the day,the roots
are breaking in the onrush of change.
The ground rules of the news change in
a flash in this rush hour, when media get unbounded,
and out there for a kill, 'shoot at sight' is the
new norm for news, shoot first, consume it whole
and think later, or even better, think there is nothing
as later to think as there is more news
to cover, and news is nothing but excitement.
Thrills with entertainment thrown in for good measure!

But there was this time these magnificent beings presided
when even time and tides of life danced
to the gentle move of their magic wands.
Then, the greatest hurry you encountered
was a very human one, to meet the deadline,
that happy challenge, and pleasurable tension
to get the latest to the reader, the earliest.
The reader who had time to even 'sit and stare' at the paper
and the news it brings, what lovely times!

The last editor before the fading out of the limelight
that lit the exalted seat, was the conductor of the
orchestra most intricate, after that things went
topsy-turvy, everything  was reorganized, as cogs in the wheel of
'selling the stuff' of editorial grist, just a bit of
mix in the magical brew of 'product sell'.

A vending help, with an editor's name and style!
Awaiting the fate to become yet another 'product manager'
was bit too much for the last editor, who decided
to fade away from the impending makeover,
which in fact was a corporate takeover.

The 'Scholar Gypsy' in  the editorial
high chair is no more there.
A little tipsy perhaps was he from a drink,
too much, sometimes which gave him a glare.
But his mind was alert to the pulses of times,
and he went far beyond his call of duty of daily news.
Many are there who still remember the ghost
of the last editor, this gentleman in white dhoti and
immaculate kurta, or even in a fashionable suit
with a pipe on his lips, sometimes walking thoughtfully
along the corridors of the darkened newsroom
that fell silent in the small hours.
When the news to be born in the morning,
shakes its impatient legs in
the womb of time, awaiting its turn.

The last editor has gone forever, do you think?
At lonely moments when you crave for meaning
after a busy day spent, chanting into your cell phone
incessantly till the point you feel you are going to faint,
choked by information overload, wallowing in trivia
that stick to you like mud, you remember him
as a benign spirit who with his quicksilver tongue
spoke of a future, which he tried hard to bring
through his writings with his golden pen.

We build new edifices on the very foundations of ceased old orders. So
there is no escape from the remembrance of the things past. Quantum
physics says that even when death occurs sometimes not the whole stuff
(material and otherwise) vanishes, leaving a bit of this and that to
make others feel the presence of ghosts. Not many are aware that the
serpent worship in the
Hindu faith (particularly in Kerala temples) is the totem remains of
our Jain past,and Ayyappa
is the totem form of the Buddhist past. Orthodox Christian rites are
the preserved form of
Judaic past.So the past never goes away. Like it is preserved in the
innermost layer of our
lizard brain which is always afraid and wants to run away, in a self
preservation instinct brought from the dinosaur days.

But the interregnum, the time of changeover, is one of confusion,
paranoia and insanity, which will follow now. That's going to be a
tough act for most practitioners of this trade, as one has to find
one's way out from this jungle. But I really doubt the towering figure
of the 'true blue' editor will be walking on this changed world again.
He would live in our journalistic equivalent of dinosaur days.

Hence this ode, I thought, was appropriate as a record of thought of
journalists at this time of a shaking earth.
K Balachandran

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