A. Saye Sekhar……….. It was sometime in August 2003, “The Hindu” launched a novel page by the name “Newscape”. The story selection for the page was indeed quite a process with an Associate Editor Mr Jacob anchoring the page.
Stories, which were really exclusive that could draw eyeballs from across the country, consisting of an essentially variety content were preferred. The “Newscape” was a premium page, for it’s the back cover of the daily newspaper.
The Hindu’s back page was famous for the extraordinary coverage of sports. Celebrated writers used to occupy the pride of place on the back cover. There used to be at least three to four sports pages, culminating in the major sports news of the day getting featured on the back page.
In a radical move, then Editor-in-Chief Mr N Ram effected some changes in the algorithm of the pages and the sports were moved to end at the last but one page.
The stories sent for consideration for the last page — “Newscape” — that were not selected for the “Newscape” page would come back to respective State desks and the same used to be published in the state pages.
The sudden spurt of beautiful features on the State pages and the numerous riveting stories on the back page obviously caught my attention.
Getting a story published in the national pages itself was a Herculean task those days. There used to be the Page-6 which was christened as “From The South” where all the front-page anchor stories (bottom stories of the page) of the respective Southern States used to find place on that page. For instance, the sixth page of Andhra Pradesh edition would have stories from Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka, and maybe, if space permits, from any other State.
There used to be a mixed fare of States in the inside pages, where important news from different States used to be featured. It was almost impossible for juniors to make it to that page.
Thanks to the Tobacco Board and Chilli Market Yard and some sensational incidents, my stint in Guntur got me a reasonably good number of opportunities to write for national pages.
As the years passed by, the newspaper too changed its presentation with a view to attracting more readers with regional content at the cusp.
After N Ram took over as the Editor-in-Chief, he brought about some new changes and more opportunities opened up for reporters.
I don’t want to digress too much into other things. Maybe I will write that on some other occasion.
Coming back to “Newscape”, I got to know of the launching of the page and a big circular that was sent to all reporters much later. One day, my Chief of Bureau (Resident Editors used to be called that those days) Mr Dasu Kesava Rao and News Editor Mr Kurien separately called me and asked why I was not even attempting to write for the “Newscape” page and whether I did not read the circular. When I said I had no knowledge about it, Mr Kesava Rao forwarded the email to me and asked me to read and send a story pitch.
I gave a quick read and the story idea that occurred to me was indeed a godsend. It was just a couple of months before that I returned from the United States of America after a close-to-four months Rotary International’s Group Study Exchange program.
When I went to Devon Avenue in Chicago, Illinois, I understood that there is a Mahatma Gandhi Road and the extension of it is called Mohammed Ali Jinnah Road. While MG Road had Indian shopping, the Jinnah Road had Pakistani stores.
When I was strolling on the road, I thought this was like Guntur because MG Road in Guntur culminates in Jinnah Tower Centre. Perhaps, nowhere in India there is a memorial for Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan.
When I discussed with an avid reader, a music connoisseur and a very good friend Mr Sagar Vasireddy, he liked the idea and encouraged me to send this as a story pitch. But I decided to write the story itself and send it and let the bosses decide.
Sagar gave me the idea of the song by African American Stevie Wonder and White Briton Paul McCartney who sang in tandem: “ Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony side by side on my piano keyboard. Oh Lord, why don’t we? We all know that people are the same wherever we go…”
Thus the story took off and was woven with a brief description of the places about which I could draw a comparison.
Then, a brief history of how Jinnah Tower in Guntur. I am writing those few lines too here. “One story is that Judaliyaquat Ali Khan, a representative of Jinnah visited Guntur in the pre-Independence era.” Khan was felicitated by Lal Jan Basha, grandfather of the then Rajya Sabha member S M Lal Jan Basha (no, he is no more). He got a tower built in the honour of the Muslim League leader.
Another version was that two successive municipal chairmen of Guntur, Nadimpalli Narasimha Rao and Tellakula Jalaiah, were responsible for the construction of the tower as a symbol of peace and harmony. And, some text was padded and the same could be read by enlarging the accompanying picture.
Lo and behold, the story made it to the back page. Thus, after several operose attempts from Andhra Pradesh, mine was the first ever story to have been considered for publication from Andhra Pradesh on the back page, “Newscape”.
On the day when the story was published, the then Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi (Shiv Sena) got my phone number and called me and congratulated me. Some diplomat from Pakistani embassy contacted me to invite me as a State Guest to Islamabad. I requested them to send a request to the Editor-in-Chief and he would take a decision. Somehow, it did not materialise. But, the story remained a thing of pride for me.