|3 Musketeers: Pradeep, Shyam and Sainu|
I was looking for a full-time job at that time. Routine classes were almost over and we were focusing on completing our project works. With my studies, I was also doing part-time work as Special Correspondent for a leading regional magazine group. I thought it was the right time to try my luck in English media. There were a few more like-minded friends who were willing to give me company.
Stop Flirting, Start Focusing
We were looking for a hard-hitting break. That break came in the form of a telephone call from Trivandrum. The message that resembled a telegraph note was conveyed by Shyam and Sainu, two of the vibrant buddies from my batch.
The core message that ignited my mind read like this, “Rush to Trivandrum. We got a job in yet-to-be-launched newspaper. The editor is looking for one more promising chap. Appointment is like first-come, first-served basis. We strongly recommended you. Initially he will pay Rs 3500 per month. After 3 months, the salary will propel like a rocket. Don’t waste your time flirting with girls at our university campus! Take the first train to Trivandrum. We will inform the Editor about your arrival.” The message ended in a chorus voice.
My eyes started twinkling, my heart began to pump up more blood to left side of my brain, the so-called haven of creativity (grey cells).
My Bad Habit
I have this bad habit of visualizing things well in advance. When it comes to reality, 99% of the visualized scenes undergo a dramatic shift. Anticipation on the tremendous scope of working in a start-up newspaper boosted me to the extent that the very next day evening, from Kottayam, I reached Trivandrum. As those two vibrant chaps who recommended me for this esteemed post were staying at our super seniors’ house, I also decided to add extra burden to those seniors.
Satyan the Great
After completing the tiresome first day in office, my friends came with all praise for the owner of the newspaper, Mr Satyan, who is the prime focus of this article.
During dinner session at a hotel, Shyam told me that Satyan is a very nice guy and he gives full freedom to express our views. “He gave me the responsibility of creating the content/page split for the newspaper. Could you imagine the significance of this responsibility? Even editors with over 15 years of experience never get this opportunity. You can give all your ideas. This is the best place. In start-ups like this we can learn a lot of things as we are allowed to do end-to-end works.”
Shyam played the right card. He knew my aversion towards monotonous works and my quest for challenges. Once again my eyes twinkled, heart pumped up and grey cells got activated.
Soon after reaching the room, we three sat on the floor, brimmed with excitement, I told Shyam and Sainu, “Let’s come up with a solid plan for page and content split.” I took a white paper and pen from my travel bag and munching the snacks kept by seniors for their drinking session, I started the brainstorming session. I jotted down the number of pages needed for the newspaper, column-split for each page covering national, regional, international, culture, religion, sports, business, entertainment etc. etc.
Like an army officer, who is bestowed with the responsibility of calking out strategy to block enemy attack from the line of control, I led this strategy meeting for an hour. During our serious discussion, two super seniors, who were already placed in regional media, were gulping one peg after another and in between those pegs they gave us their creative thoughts.
All Set for the Big Day
After this strategic meet, I got the gut feel that I’m all set for the big day. Next day, with a lot of interest, we headed towards Satyan’s house. His house was located in the suburb of Trivandrum. At first sight, he looked like a 40-year old guy. He was wearing traditional Kerala dhoti and full-sleeve white shirt that is tucked in till elbow. Boasting four-day mustache and beard, he welcomed us with a whole-hearted smile.
As we entered the house, I auspiciously kept my right foot forward! The hall of the house was converted into a temporary office by placing a cupboard, table with a rolling chair for Satyan and four plastic chairs for the expected guests. On the left side of the hall, there was a room that resembles a prayer room. In place of idols of deities a clap board was kept there.
Satyan’s Ignited Mind
When the conversation started, I raised this question, Satyan told me that right from childhood, he cherished the dream of becoming a film director, later, after several years of hardships, he directed a movie, the shooting of which was halted mid-way because of some financial crisis. In a bid to rekindle that long cherished dream, he started worshiping the clap board with the hope of directing a film sometime in future.
After going through some bitter experiences, he shifted his ambition from becoming a movie maker to a media baron. Diverting the topic towards the upcoming newspaper, Satyam told us that, as of now, this is a small team. As we joined even before the launch of the newspaper, our future in this new, yet-to-be-named organization would be bright, brighter and brightest.
He added that he has applied for title registration at Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI), New Delhi, which would get the approval any time soon. He also claimed that he enjoys the close company of the then senior Union Minister from Kerala. Clarifying the financial source for running the newspaper, he said that he is in the process of selling his ancestral property to fund this prestigious newspaper project.
Out of curiosity, I asked Satyan “What will be the name of our newspaper?” He said, “Man to Mahatma!”
I mumbled the name once again “Man to Mahatma?!!” that too for a newspaper?!!
With a little confusion and in order to get more clarity, I asked him, “I hope, we are planning to launch a newspaper. Do you think this title is apt for a newspaper?”
With eyes wide open, Satyan once again went back to the memory lane, “A few years ago, I had a plan to launch a magazine with this name. It didn’t materialize. So, this time around, with you guys, I’m going to make it happen.”
I looked at Shyam and Sainu who were sitting next to me. They also had this confused look with weird smile. Without even realizing our concern, Satyan continued, “We need to prepare ourselves for the launch. Write and edit as many back-up articles as possible!”
I interrupted him, “But what about reporters and designers?” “We will appoint them soon. Initially, I don’t want to spend too much. So let me know if you have friends who can work as designers and reporters,“ he gave us an instant reply.
Stumbled by one surprise after another, I took a voluntary retirement from asking anymore questions. Meanwhile, Satyan continued with the same thrill and tempo, “As I told you earlier, I have applied for RNI registration. I know a central minister. I can take his help if there is any delay in approval. For finance, I’m going to sell my ancestral property. Once it is sold out, we will get enough funds to run this newspaper for a year or two. Within that time, we will be in a position to make profit from the newspaper revenue. We need sales person in each district, tell me if you have any friends with MBA background. We will provide a motorbike and mobile to these people. The prospective candidate should be vibrant and reliable. Recommend your friends and give them this great opportunity to grow with us!”
The focus of further discussions was entirely on deciding the page split of the newspaper. We listed down all our suggestions; he took some, neglected a few and set aside some suggestions for future. We continued the brainstorming session till 5 PM and Satyan asked us to leave for the day and also asked us to come early tomorrow.
Day 2: Surprises Continue
More shock awaited us when we entered Satyan’s house the second day. He welcomed us with a bundle of old newspapers and innumerable newspaper cuttings. In an earnest bid to clear the air, he said, “For a long-time I’m stockpiling a collection of interesting news stories in the hope of using it for the newspaper when I start one. Don’t underestimate these as published articles. We are targeting unique readers who read only our newspaper. All other newspapers have their own set of unique readers. So rewrite these stories, change the story angle, give a catchy heading then the story is ours.”
At this point, we three realized that something is really going wrong. Satyam asked us to pull our chairs closer to him. He started assigning us work by distributing paper cuttings to each one of us. “This is for national page. This news item is for international page. This one suits well for the third page, which is for regional news. Edit and rewrite it. I will have a final look.” He gave us whitepapers and told us, “Use both sides. Don’t combine two different stories. If you find any two stories worth combining, do let me know.”
He started cutting stories from newspapers while we were sorting and prioritizing the newspaper cuttings handed over by our esteemed editor!
I and Shyam skillfully brought out our acting skills to pretend as if we were deeply dedicated, at times, we showed more dedication than Satyam himself. But Sainu, because of his candid nature, started showing aversion right from his day three at office. When Satyan went out to fetch the latest newspapers, Sainu threw one of his newspaper cuttings somewhere to the corner of the room.
As Satyan already scattered paper cuttings with unimportant news all over the hall. Sainu’s newspaper cutting vanished among those papers. As Sainu and Shyam started abusing Satyan, I started abusing them for pulling me into this. While Satyan was away, we went out of the house to have some fresh air. After a few minutes when we noticed Satyam coming back with another bunch of newspapers, we rushed into the house and started working.
Satyan entered the room with the same old smile, sat on his chair, we passed cold smile targeting Satyan, he asked, “How far have you done with rewriting?” As an attempt to confuse him, Shyam said, “Initially it takes more time for rewriting, second and third rewrites take lesser time that the first one!”
When Satyan went out and came back the second time, he saw Sainu stretching on the chair by resting his two legs on Satyan’s table. Satyan’s smile vanished and he became little serious, but to our benefit, he didn’t comment anything about that.
Satyan asked us to complete 10 rewrites per person. When we were indulging in rewriting, Satyan was churning the newspaper cutting given to us. He noticed that one story on Christian societies in Kottayam missing. That’s the same story, the paper cutting of which was thrown by Sainu to the extreme corner of the room.
My eyes started looking at the corner of the room where the paper was thrown. We unanimously said that we didn’t get that particular paper cutting. Satyan was very sure about his memory skills. “That was an important story. You should learn to identify news values in a story. Mugging up journalism theories and vomiting those theories in exams and getting marks will not make you a real journalist. I know the importance of that missing story, it attracts Christian population. You people from this generation are very much careless, ” he said in an irritated tone.
In the evening, a short lady in sari came to the place and introduced herself as Satyan’s wife. A few minutes after her arrival, Satyam went out leaving the responsibility to his better half. After finishing the rewrites for the day, we handed over the copies to Satyan’s wife.
She spoke with a lot care and compassion. From her conversation, we understood that the couple has no children and Satyan has no job or any regular source of income other than his ancestral property. He made several attempts to direct a movie but the failure of which affected him a lot. Satyan’s wife has a job in Regional Cancer Center, Trivandrum. She financially supports the family and takes care of Satyan's needs.
“Even though he failed to find any perfect profession for himself, like other jobless people, he didn’t spoil himself by getting addicted to any bad habits. I’m happy for that and I’m more eager to make this newspaper venture a success,” she shared this with a Monalisa smile.
She compelled us to have dinner with them. When Satyan came, she served us Idlies and tasty Coconut chutney with motherly care.
Sainu’s Day Out
Soon after dinner, we left Satyan’s place. On the way to our room, Sainu said, “I’m not going to come tomorrow. I’m going home. I spoke with my father, he said that ‘this is not the right way to start my career and this will not add any value to my qualification. It’s completely a waste of time!”
I and Shyam were shocked. Shyam tried to convince Sainu, “You heard everything Satyan’s wife said. Both of them have high hopes on us. If we leave now, it will be a great disappointment for them.”
“In this case, I’m confident that there is no long-term career for us. So, it is better to leave early than leaving later at a crucial point in time,” Sainu was firm on his decision.
The very next day morning, Sainu took the first train to Malapuram. Before leaving he said, “Just tell Satyan that I left because of some family emergency. After 2 or 3 days I will call him and inform that I’m not coming.”
When we entered Satyan’s place, he asked us that expected question. “Where is Sainu?” “Because of some family emergency he went to his home town,” Shyam replied.
After a few minutes of thought, Satyan said, “Don’t ask him to come back. Yesterday, I saw him resting his legs on the table. I’m not happy with his attitude!” We were little shocked, but we took it as a smooth way for Sainu’s exit.
Prediction & Predicament
Sainu predicted it right, our confidence drained drastically day after day. We brought in all our courage and positive attitude, but gave up within three days after Sainu’s great escape. The first half of the first day, we spent it for rewrites and the second half was for brainstorming, during which, Satyan asked us yet another Shocking question, “Do you have anyone in Delhi, who can help us in registering the title of our newspaper?”
Without expressing the underlying shockwaves, we said, “We don’t know anyone in Delhi”.
The second day made things worse; Satyan took us for a visit to check the print cost for publishing newspaper. We followed him like a Hutch dog from one bus stop to another and to all major printers’ office in Trivandrum. Satyan’s way of bargaining and unprofessional approach irritated many printers and a few of them shouted at him saying that, “You better come up with a budget. Running newspaper is not child’s business.” On each of these situations, we felt very nervous and felt pity for Satyan. At that very point, we decided that it is not going anywhere. So, it is better to quit early that delaying the decision.
During our one-week association with Satyan, we met only one person, other than his wife, at his home. We were the only three ‘recruited’ for running a newspaper and the registration of which was also left to us! We spent all the mere savings we had in this one week. We decided that, staying in Trivandrum and tolerating all these experiments or foolishness of Satyan for getting the first month salary, is not the good idea.
The next day, with a lot of preparation, we met Satyan. With a little hesitation, Shyam started by saying that, “Satyetaa, we need one week leave. We have to submit our dissertation and attend viva.”
With an expression of apprehension, Satyan said in a low voice, “If possible finish your work in 2-3 days and come back. Or else it is okay, I have confidence in you guys. Come back as soon as your exams get over.”
Getting Cash at Cancer Center
We needed money to go back to Kottayam. So, we told Satyan our critical situation and asked him to give us the one week salary. Once again, Satyan gave us an uneasy look and started searching his pocket and took out a bunch of 10 rupee notes, and went into bedroom to start further search. Without any success, he called his wife on mobile and told her that we are leaving to attend exams so he needs money to pay us.
I and Shyam looked at each other. After the phone conversation, Satyan locked the house and asked us to follow him. We took a bus and got down at Regional Cancer Center, where Satyan’s wife was working. RCC has a big campus, we took a long walk. On the way, we found several cancer patients and their families. In 20-25 minutes we reached an office door with restricted access. Satyan asked us to stay at the reception. After a few minutes, he came with his wife. She asked us about the reason for our leave. We told her the same reason. She also said, “Come back in a week's time.”
Satyan asked his wife to arrange money. She looked at us with a smile. We got a guilty feeling in us. After 15 minutes, Satyan’s wife came with the same smile and she gave the money to Satyan. After having a secret discussion among them, they decided the amount for each one of us. Satyan gave us a few hundred rupee notes to me and Shyam. We didn’t check the amount. We smiled at both of them. They repeated, “Have a happy journey. Come back in a week's time”.
We said good bye to Satyan and family at RCC and on our way back we felt sorry for Satyan’s wife. We left Trivandrum and never went back to Satyan’s place or never got any call from him. Till date we don’t know whether the title “Man to Mahatma” was registered in RNI or not, but that title left an ever-lasting impact in our minds.
Many years have passed. Sainu with his 'attitude problem' survived several hurdles and making his mark as an IT journalist; Shyam has already gained experience working in most of the leading newspapers in North and South India; and I had a roller-coaster career that revolved around online, print and now Social Media. Even though we three took different paths later in our careers and made identities of our own, we started our journalism career in English from Man to Mahatma.
A Few months ago, I and Shyam even thought about making a trip to Trivandrum in search of Satyan and his Man to Mahatma. Distance and time made us postpone that decision.
Satyan’s mobile number is not there in my contact list, but those memories are still there with me. Those memories help us compare our achievements, as the journey towards our dream career started from the unfulfilled dream of Satyan.
In that sense, Satyan is a Man and a Mahatma for us.