A journalistic legend passed away on February 1 in Mumbai. His name? Russi K. Karanjia, former editor?indeed founding editor?of Blitz, probably Mumbai'sfirst English tabloid weekly set up in 1941. Karanjia then was barely 29 years old. It was a brave act for a young man, then working for The Times of India to do, to give up a prestigious job and go out on his own. The word Blitz is derived from the German word blitzkrieg, meaning lightening war.
When Karanjia started his weekly, the second World War was then two years old and the Germans were showing the upper hand with air raids on Britain. The word had become familiar in India and had an ominous meaning. Karanjia cashed in on it in great style. It was certainly fighting a lightening war on the media scene and became a success almost overnight, with Karanjia becoming a dreaded warrior. Blitz made a big thing about the Nanavati Case and was then probably the most sought after weekly, especially among the upcoming generation of those times. Karanjia had a good friend in Jawaharlal Nehru who gave Blitz discreet support which added to Russi'simage. He had become unassailable. Blitz could take on anybody, in power and out, without the least worry and that was common knowledge, which made him all the more powerful. As an editor, however, he was great and his staff doted on him. He would shout at them but didn'ttake it amiss if they shouted back. In a way, as one of assistants wrote, his staff was his extended family. He was the patriarch.
Blitz was considered pro-soviet and anti-American which is probably why he never was invited to the United States. Strangely enough, his political icon was Fidel Castro, of all people, whose photo adorned his table till the last day he went to office. Blitz closed shop sometime in the nineties after Karanjia had an accident which damaged his brain. Karanjia was Blitz and Blitz, Karanjia. One could not survive without the other.
The weekly had a place in Indian journalism in the Nehru-Indira Gandhi years and Karanjia seemed to be the right man for the right job. Perhaps time had overtaken his relevance as frequently happens even to the great and mighty. If the Mahatma could be marginalised by 1946, Russi surely understood that Blitz has had its day. In his last years he was bed-ridden but not forgotten as the obituaries following his death eloquently show. Many will remember the sign outside his office which read: ?You don't have to be crazy to work here, but it helps?. Russi was not crazy but his devil-may-care approach made him appear like one. He fed on sensationalism and sensationalism led Blitz. And now both have gone beyond the horizon.
One wonders how Blitz would have dealt with the story of India completing the destruction of 93 per cent of its chemical weapons stockpile?a destruction it had promised to the international community known as Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), established to ensure a chemical weapons-free world. According to the latest update of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the Indian armed forces have completed destruction of Category I chemical weapons stockpile that includes bombs, grenades, canisters, etc. that contain chemical agents like the deadly Sarin, Mustard, Phosgene VX, etc.
The PTI story received prominence in Hitavada but not many newspapers used it. If that was not news, what is? India had in June 1997 become one of six states that declared possession of chemical weapons stockpile and production facilities. By 2005 India was also the only one to meet its deadline for verified chemical weapon destruction and for inspection of its facilities which shows its honesty and dependability to stand by its given promise anyday.
Should practicing journalists accept State Awards? That question has been raised by a Chicago-based journalist and commentator in a recent issue of The Free Press Journal (January 28). The issue has risen following three Indian journalists getting the Padma Awards this year. According to Mayank Chhaya, the columnist, the answer is ?an unequivocal No?. Why? Chhaya concedes that it is possible to argue that national honours should be seen as something non-political and with no strings attached. One can also argue, he says, that some honours are above narrow political considerations. However, he adds, ?given India'sdeeply patronage-laden system, it is obvious that someone, somewhere in that system made a studied decision to honour certain individuals and not others and it is, in the end, a political judgment?. So? Chhaya'sargument is that ?unlike other professions for which state honours are justifiably given, the whole raison d?etre of the media is to be able to keep enlightened distance from the rest of society so as not to be influenced but even create the perception of not being influenced?.
Further he says ?it is entirely possible to be able to accept the honour without in any way compromising one's journalisitic credibility?. However, as long as one continues to pursue this unique profession which meets everyone but befriends none, it is important to maintain distance?. It is interesting and also somewhat intriguing that the issue of three journalists getting Padma honours has not been discussed by the media. Is it because they are afraid that if they do so they might be charged with sour grapes and sheer jealousy?
Chhaya has certainly clear views on the subject. As he put it: ?Accepting the honour would not necessarily make them less discriminating journalists. However, declining it would definitely be a measure of how seriously one takes the larger philosophical question of the media'srole versus that of the state?s?. In the past, some journalists have received Padma awards even while serving as editors. But one can'timagine an editor like Karanjia accepting an Award. Or, for that matter, some of his predecessors in the media field. It would be interesting to know what readers think. Or would they dismiss this issue as being irrelevant? I would be happy to receive readers? comments. In the end their views on journalistic dharma should prevail.