A journey back in time to Goenka's days

There is a lot more that is not known about the man and his fights with the govt, particularly during the Emergency

Published: 18th June 2016 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th June 2016 04:34 PM   |  A+A-


Ramnath Goenka was not the founder of the Indian Express. But he was overwhelmingly the Father of Express — this was how our editorial advisor, TJS George, summed up the man for the book he edited, The Goenka Letters — Behind the Scenes in The Indian Express. The 135 letters written or received by RNG, as he was known, form part of this book which has, however, not included the many anonymous letters/notes/petitions that he had received from  known and unknown about questionable deeds by men in power during those times. The only other book on RNG was the one authored by BG Verghese, former editor of Express.

Is there a lot more that is not known about the man, his temperament, his fights with the government, particularly during the Emergency, and how he handled multiple activities, ranging from steel business to a newspaper? Yes, says Geeta More, who joined as secretary to RNG in the 1980s and remained with him until he passed away in 1991. Last week, Geeta was in Chennai on a private visit and a senior colleague who hosted her suggested that we meet up. I was equally keen to know about the man who shaped the newspaper with which I have now spent 29 years. The only occasion I happened to see the grand old man was when I was a cub reporter in Hyderabad in the late 80s.  He was on a visit to Hyderabad and was put up at a hotel close to our office, then located on the banks of Hussainsagar lake. He was to be picked up at the hotel by 10 a.m. but the driver was apparently slightly late. Impatient as he always was, RNG started walking to the office and almost everyone went into a shock as he entered the administrative building, holding his dhoti in one hand. I am sure he would have riled at the person in-charge.

Geeta had several such episodes to narrate. On one trip to Delhi, RNG finished meeting with an important person and was keen to get back to office at Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg as quickly as he could. He was prodding the driver to step up the accelerator but the chauffeur was, for some reason, moving at the pace he wanted to.  RNG looked at Geeta, sitting next to him, and frustratingly asked her: “This fellow is older than me. For how many more years do you want to keep him?”  He then asked the driver to stop the car, got down and sat at the steering, asking the driver to take the rear seat.  Once the car reached the office, the security person opened the rear door, as was the practice, and to his shock saw the driver coming out even as the “owner” got down from the front door and started walking towards his chamber. The driver, with his head bent, did not even dare look up!

Geeta, who believes that several facets of RNG are still not known to the world, says a couple of senior journalists who had worked for Express during his days are keen on coming out with another book. She has a lot of insights to offer if the project takes off.

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Not many journalists keep pets. Because I have Toto, the one place I frequented the most after relocating to Chennai in July last is the Madras Veterinary College (MVC). On my very first visit, I was impressed with the institution. Unlike a government-run hospital (would say much better than govt hospitals for humans I have seen elsewhere), the surroundings are clean and both doctors and support staff are friendly. The systems in place are also worth studying. If a junior doctor writes the prescription, he/she would brief the senior, get it endorsed and one can then proceed to the pharmacy where medicines are given free of cost. There are not many computers but the case-sheets are meticulously kept (as per numbering).  On a revisit, the owners will have to show a slip given to them and the case-sheet is taken out within no time for the benefit of further examination by the doctor concerned.

I am told by the doctors that this is the biggest vet hospital in Asia with almost all facilities including a critical care unit. General medicine practitioners apart, the hospital has specialists to deal with ortho, kidney, heart and other such ailments in animals. The college came into being in 1903 during the British Era when it admitted 20 students for a three-year diploma course in veterinary science. It became a part of the Tamil Nadu Veterinary & Animal Sciences University (popularly known as TANUVAS) when it was established in 1989, the first such varsity in Asia.

The sad part, though, is doctors say Chennai is not an ideal place for either pets or plants because of the humidity. I realised this within months after I moved to Chennai when my wife joined me with Toto. The small fellow (spitz) is now 13, well past the average life span of his specicies, but was fine while in Hyderabad. Within a fortnight of moving here, probably missing home and the place he was used to, Toto fell ill but recovered.  Soon, Toto and his mom left for Hyderabad only to come back a month ago. And, the story repeated itself with doctors this time diagnosing that he is suffering from Chronic Kidney Disease for which there is no cure. One senior doctor said the “stress” of changing the place also adds to what appears to be age-related illness. Should I shift him to Hyderabad with the mother? On a lighter note, he said, may be it is good “for you, for your wife and the pet.”

MVC is the best example to dispute the theory that government hospitals are no good.  They can be managed well if we want to. Wish more governments pay attention to strengthening public hospitals, at least for humans if not animals, so that those who cannot afford high cost are also not left to the mercy of private clinics.


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