A complete Editor

Published : Oct 19, 2012 00:00 IST

G. Kasturi acknowledges the grand ovation given by The Hindu employees as N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief, and N. Murali, Joint Managing Director, look on during The Hindu's 125th anniversary celebration in Chennai on September 13, 2003.-THE HINDU ARCHIVES

G. Kasturi acknowledges the grand ovation given by The Hindu employees as N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief, and N. Murali, Joint Managing Director, look on during The Hindu's 125th anniversary celebration in Chennai on September 13, 2003.-THE HINDU ARCHIVES

G. Kasturi had an unparalleled record of leadership of The Hindu extending over four decades. As the Editor of the newspaper, he was committed setting it on the path of modernisation.

IT was the 125th anniversary celebrations of The Hindu on September 13, 2003. The University Centenary auditorium in Chennai was packed to capacity with employees of Kasturi and Sons Limited (KSL) and other special invitees. The function was about to begin, after the arrival of Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, who was the chief guest. The hush in the hall caused by the high level of security for the high-profile guest was suddenly broken by a few claps. The spotlight was on N. Ram, the Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu, and N. Murali, the Joint Managing Director of KSL, and an elderly man, gracefully clad in white dhoti and a beige-coloured silk shirt, they were leading to the dais from the side. The applause quickened, and like the Mexican wave, was undulating, moving from aisle to aisle, row to row, and reverberating through the hall as the man of gentle deportment, a little surprised and a little embarrassed perhaps, stopped to look at the employees seated in the audience, his eyes moving to take in all of them in one sweep.

The thunderous applause that greeted G. Kasturi, the former Editor of The Hindu, on that day showed how much he was revered, and how much he had made his employees a part of the organisation he had led with single-minded devotion and set on the road to modernity. When G. Kasturi passed away at 2 a.m. on September 21, 2012, at his home in Chennai, he must have been a contented man. For he had lived to see the 134th anniversary of the founding of The Hindu the previous day, September 20. Incidentally, on September 20, Vice-President Hamid Ansari released the redesigned issue of Frontline magazine, of which Kasturi was the founder-Editor, in New Delhi.

Kasturi was 87 years old when he passed away. He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Kamala; sons K. Balaji and K. Venugopal; daughter Lakshmi Srinath; five granddaughters; and two great-grandchildren. When asked what kind of father Kasturi was, Venugopal replied, He never got angry. In the last 50 years, I can count on my fingers the number of times he got angry.

Kasturi was up-to-date with technology. He was a hands-on Editor in all aspects of the newspaper industryreporting, editing, photography, colour separation and correction, proofreading, page layout, printing technology, printing ink manufacture, newsprint prices, distribution, circulation, and so on. In his book Editing: A Handbook for Journalists, senior journalist T.J.S. George says: In India, S. Mulgaokar is one of only two editors of note who worked to attain mastery of the composing room and the printing floor. He could look at copy and say exactly how many column inches it would be in type. The other is G. Kasturi of The Hindu. While Mulgaokar is also a writer, Kasturi has severely confined himself to the intricacies of types and machinery and the nuances of production values. The Mulgaokars, the Kasturis and the Evanses of this world became distinguished editors not by writing profound prose, but by visualising news and features, innovating typographical reforms, turning available printing facilities to maximum advantage and playing decisive roles every day in the choice of stories, the selection of pictures and the writing of headlines. Such are editors who edit.

Born on December 17, 1924, Kasturi studied at P.S. High School, Chennai, and joined Presidency College, also in Chennai. He received his Masters degree in economics from the University of Madras. He joined The Hindu in 1944 and became its Joint Editor 15 years later. Kasturi was its Editor from September 1965 to January 1991. He was also the Managing Director of KSL, proprietors of The Hindu Group of publications.

Although he was the longest-serving Editor of The Hindu, he never projected himself in the newspaper. His photograph never appeared in the newspaper when he was its Editor. There have been only a few news items in The Hindu about him. Two brief reports about him appeared in the Social and Personal column. One of them, published on August 28, 1960, says, Mr G. Kasturi, Joint Editor, The Hindu, left Madras this evening by air for Bombay en route to Berne. Another, published on May 14, 1962, says he left the previous evening for Paris. A news item, published on May 15, 1962, says Kasturi was one of a party of 35 leading figures of the International Press Institute for whom the President [Charles de Gaulle] gave a welcoming reception at the Elysee Palace on the eve of its conference here.

Another news item, which appeared on January 24, 1991, is headlined, G. Kasturi retires. It says: After an unparalleled record of service and dedicated leadership extending over a period of four decades, Mr G. Kasturi retired as Editor of The Hindu and Managing Director of Kasturi & Sons Ltd., on January 20, 1991. The Board of Directors expresses its deepest gratitude and appreciation for his invaluable role and historic contribution as Editor and Managing Director in the shaping of The Hindu in its editorial and technological aspects and in institution-building.

In a tribute to Kasturi, published on the front page of The Hindu on September 22, N. Ram, who is now whole-time director of KSL, said, My uncle, Shri G. Kasturi, was a major figure in the post-Independence history of Indian journalism and the newspaper industry. Along with his uncle, Shri Kasturi Srinivasan, under whom he trained as a newspaperman, he was the longest serving Editor of The Hindu. Many a leap in newspaper technologyoffset printing, facsimile transmission of whole newspaper pages, photocomposition, full-page pagination, colour scanning found its first Indian champion in my uncle, who was always hands-on, side by side with technical experts. He was enthusiastic about Internet journalism and digital technology and almost till the end was regularly on his iMac working on page design and photographs and savouring the best of international newspaper websites. He believed that Indian newspapers had to raise their game in terms of production values and must not take their readers for granted. Significantly, he lived to see the 134th anniversary of the founding of The Hindu on September 20 and passed away a couple of hours into September 21. The Hindu was his life.

K. Narayanan, former News Editor of The Hindu, in an article titled Remembering GK, published on September 22, calls Kasturi a visionaryboth on the journalistic and technical fronts. He firmly set it on the path to modernity. He would religiously read dak and city editions from the various centres from which The Hindu was published. He introduced the system of appointing correspondents in district headquarters and transferring them every five years or so. He liked meeting the district correspondents when they came to Chennai because they gave him an insight into the pulse of the masses at large. Narayanan adds in his article: Mr Kasturi scanned a large number of newspapers, national and international, learning from them even while he critically evaluated them. The Friday Review, the Open Page, the Science and Technology Page, the Agriculture section, all now part of The Hindu, were his innovations. The Survey of Indian Industry was another innovation.He was committed to maintaining the credibility of The Hindu. We can publish a news item a day late but we should be authentic about what we publish, he told this reporter. He never liked reporters hedging in their copy: It is learnt or It is said He wanted reporters to be sure of what they were reporting. He was a perfectionist. He never accepted shoddy work. He was also worried about the authenticity of the advertisements appearing in The Hindu. When some advertisements announcing the death of persons turned out to be fake, instructions went out that those who wanted to advertise the deaths of relatives should produce the death certificates.

Kasturi was skilful in editing. With a few deft touches here and there, he would transform bad copy into a readable story. He paid attention to detail. He advised this reporter not to recycle the information you used 20 years ago when you write about Prithvi missile launches now. He wanted value addition to be given to readers, by comparing Indias missile programme with those of China and Pakistan. Readers want value addition, he said.

When The Hindu was expanding its footprint, Kasturi used aircraft to distribute the newspaper across south India for delivering the dak edition. KSL first charter-hired Indian Airlines aircraft for the purpose and later acquired its own aircraft. He was the first to use the link with the Indian communication satellite INSAT 1-B to bring out a facsimile edition of The Hindu from New Delhi in 1986.

A visionary

The article titled Visionary who set The Hindu on modern path and published in the newspaper on September 22, 2012, is replete with rare insights into Kasturis persona and his tremendous contribution to the building up of the newspaper.

The article says, He was the principal driving force behind making The Hindu the first mainline newspaper in India to go for computerised phototypesetting, during 1980. Despite the new skill set that it demanded, The Hindu creditably kept on board during this major technological transition from hot metal press to computer-based operations the same people who were working in the earlier technology: the company gave them training and reorientation to take on the new roles. Nobody had to be sent away.

Narayanan, in his article, explains how Kasturi achieved this:

When in 1980, the newspaper switched to phototypesetting and paste-up mode for pages (making the transition from the hot metal technology), he would be present in the page make-up section, along with members of the editorial desk, at 9 p.m. daily, showing workers how to cut the printout and paste it on the base sheets. He did this till the workers had acquired the skills. He said later that he had told the foreign suppliers of the equipment that his efficient workers would master the techniques in six months. With his active guidance, they did.

If in the early days of colour printing The Hindus production work received praise, much of it was due to the interest that Mr Kasturi took in the whole operation. When colour transparencies were used, he personally scanned them for the colour separation process. Frontline, from its early years, was acclaimed for its colour pictures. Mr Kasturi spent hours, selecting them, scanning them and then proof-correcting.

It was Kasturis idea to start Frontline in 1984 when a colour printing press that KSL had bought had excess capacity.

Kasturi always ensured that The Hindu office looked spic and span, every corner scrubbed, every window pane and blinds cleaned.

R. Vijaya Sankar, Editor of Frontline, says: It was September 1988. It was just a month after I had joined the paper as sub-editor. As I was late for work, I was rushing into the corridor of The Hindus editorial section. I almost banged into a man in white on the corridor. He stopped for a moment, calmly looked at me and started walking again. As I was watching him walk down the corridor, he stopped, bent down and picked up a scrap of paper lying on the floor. I was still watching him. He walked up to the dustbin in a corner and threw the paper into it and started walking again. The next day I saw the man in white again on the same corridor. I asked one of my colleagues who he was. I was told: Mr G. Kasturi, the Editor.

Kasturi had a passion for photography and a fancy for cameras. He took to surfing the Internet like a duck to water. He would surf the Net for several hours to study the pictures of internationally reputed photographers. He was keen that The Hindu should publish quality pictures with high reproduction values. His judgment of photographs was infallible. He insisted that pictures should be sharp.

Kasturi would study photographs with a magnifying glass and judge whether they were sharp or out of focus. He stopped a photographer who was walking down the aisle of the office in Chennai and told him, You should have your eyes checked. Some of your pictures are out of focus. It turned out that the photographer suffered from short sight.

Kasturi insisted on coordination between the reporter, the photographer, the graphics department and the sub-editor. He hated seeing photographers seated in their room. He wanted them to go out and bring good pictures.

D. Krishnan, Photo Editor of The Hindu, has this to say:

Called for a job interview by Mr Kasturi in 1978, I took along a bunch of photographs that I had shot, to show him.

He picked up one and asked, At what time did you take this photograph?

Taken aback by the question, I tried to bluff my way through: Around 11 a.m.

He immediately shot back: Recollect and guess again! And then he proceeded to tell me what time it must have been taken: Notice the shadow of the batsman and the fielders. It must have been after 3 p.m. The position of the sun at Chepauk would create this shadow only after 3 p.m.

At that moment, I realised that even if I got the job, I would have to be very careful with the Editor ( The Hindu, September 22).

N. Sridharan, Chief Photographer of The Hindu, said the former Editor would insist that a photographer discuss with the reporter the story he was working on.

A photographer should understand the story. Only then he can take a good picture, he used to say. He not only learnt about photography from the Internet but taught us digital photography. His knowledge of photography was amazing. He described a digital camera as a virtual computer, said Sridharan.

Kasturi even fabricated bouncing pads, a simple device with Velcro belts which can be tied to the camera. Bouncing pads bounce the light to enable a photographer to take good pictures.

In the past few years of his life, Kasturi set up a studio near the photography section on the premises of The Hindu in Chennai. He would visit the studio once a week, summon the photographers, personnel of the graphics department and designers and take classes for them. Photographers used to look forward to learning from him on these occasions. With his passing, there is a void in the studio today.

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