MRV: Reporter, friend, and now, an author

M R Venkatesh’s slim volume – in tribute to Ramachandra Gandhi and Daya Krishna – tells me more about its author than I had ever known/found out about him in our two decades of friendship. We were colleagues in my Chennai newspapering days; we used to meet on a daily basis; and have been together on many media junkets all over Tamilnadu. This was in the 90s. 

Reading his recent work – A Gandhi and a Socratic Gadfly – I realize that, in all those years of close contact, I never did try to learn of him as a person. We had spent our time together talking shop, which, in the case of newspaper reporters, pertained to political development of the day, our office politics, hassles of reporting, peer group gossip, and other such mundane media matters. Some journalists later write books on the mundane matters, and even make money. 

I can’t see Venkatesh doing a self-serving biography after retirement (anyway, he still has quite a few years before he hangs up his boots). What he has done instead is write a booklet on a couple of teachers who had impacted him during his university days in Jaipur. And MRV worked on this, in addition to his daily newspapering for The Telegraph, Kolkata, as its Chennai-based correspondent.   He has also shared the cost of printing with an old professor and some university alumni members.

 I was aware MRV had taken Philosophy at the university; but I didn’t know he topped in it at Madras university and went on to do research at Rajasthan university (1983-84) as UGC scholar. This ought to make you and I wonder what a guy with philosophical bent of mind like him is doing in a newspaper.  MRV knew as a student that ‘philosophy bakes no bread’. He chose print media for his bread and butter; joined the PTI news agency as a trainee journalist in 1985. (Wonder what his stipend was then; in the 60s when I was interviewed – and didn’t get through – for such an opening in PTI, New Delhi, the going payment was Rs.150, monthly) 

 If I have skirted around the subjects of MRV’s work, it is because I know little about Ramachandra Gandhi (other than his connection with Gandhi  and Rajaji, as their grandson), and even less, about Prof. Daya Krishna. It seems other journalists were no more knowledgeable. Which was perhaps why the media widely ignored Prof.Daya Krishna’s demise.  MRV recalls he knew of no major newspaper, other than The Hindu, that carried an obit on Dayaji. 

This was when Prof. R S Bhatnagar, a former associate of Dayaji, got in touch with MRV in Chennai to get something written. It was a shame, if he, a leading figure in the field Indian philosophy, were allowed to go so unnoticed. Dayaji’s colleagues and some former students, worked out modalities of publication. MRV readily offered to bear part of the expenses, apart from writing the volume. 

Interestingly enough, Prof. Daya Krishna, had some years earlier contacted MRV (as journalist, he seemed the obvious choice) to ask him to write a piece for JICPR – the journal of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research –  on Prof. C T K Chari, an outstanding thinker who died unsung in Chennai. Prof. Chari had been on the faculty of the Madras Christian College for nearly four decades. As MRV mentions, even the local papers in Chennai did not take note of Prof. Chari’s death.  

In his tribute MRV writes about the Kachori afternoons with Dayaji, when the philosophy professor let his students have a free-wheeling discussion on matters that lent themselves to what he termed ‘creative philosophizing’. The weekly afternoon of chats, laced with Jaipuri tea and kachori, came to be known as the ‘Jaipur Experiment’; an event to which Prof.Daya Krishna invited many notables, by turn. The invitees included Prof. Ramachandra Gandhi.  

That was when MRV, then a research fellow, came to meet Prof. Gandhi. Describing his meeting at the university guest house MRV writes that he picked up enough courage to express his desire to read out to Prof. Gandhi a paper he (MRV) had done some months earlier, on ‘the problem of death and the Self’. Prof. Gandhi listened to our friend (full 15 minutes of it), and then “gave me a very concerned look, the wrinkles of his Rajaji-like forehead indicating unease, if not downright anger”.  MRV, in his paper, had made out a philosophical case for justifying suicides in some human contexts at a certain level.

“I don’t know what motivated you to write this,”  Prof. Gandhi lashed out at MRV– ‘it was then that one saw the fire, the passion and the commitment blazing forth in one sweep’. Prof Gandhi proceeded to demolish MRV’s paper, titled pompously as ‘Meditation on Death’. “It was too stunning,” writes MRV, “and at the same time a very humbling moment, a kind of ‘satori’ (the Zen way of sudden enlightenment) for me as a student of philosophy”. 

MRV’s  not-for-sale publication is purely for the interested readers. They may contact the author at melapalayamv@yahoo.com 

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6 Responses

  1. I found this piece by Sri GVK moving and evocative. I had come in contact with one of the three people mentioned above: Prof Dayakrishna. As a student of philosoply in Madras, I saw him in several conferences in the early seventies. The Department in Madras, where I did research for a short period, was conservative and Advaitic to the core. Prof Dayakrishna certainly knew his classics, but my memories of him are of a refreshing, modernist Indian schloar who looked like Tagore and had the same inquisitive and open spirit.
    Incidentally, one of the best tributes to Dayakrishna I saw was by Dr Pratap Bhanu Mehta of the CPR in the Indian Express.

  2. Excellent.Don’t think anyone could have bettered this,GVK.For someone who was also associated with MRV as a colleague in Economic Times ,Chennai,for over five years,I have always cherished my association with him.Yes, the fact remains that during all these years,one knew so little about MRV in terms of his interests and philosophical bent of mind.What always drew me to him was his commitment to work.I did know Dr Ramchandra Gandhi as I was lucky enough to be his student in Delhi University –I must confess though that I was very poor in the subject that he taught–Logic.Nevertheless,as a person,Dr Gandhi always encouraged discussions and debates .He was particularly active as a member of the Philosophical Society in our college.It was indeed unfortunate to read about the scant respect that the Delhi government showed him while taking his body from India International Centre,where he had died.

  3. Dear Shri G.V.Krishnan and Tyagaraj Sharma,
    Thanks very much for your kind words on my little book on two distinguished contemporary Indian thinkers – Ramchandra Gandhi and Daya Krishna-. The credit for it really goes to Prof R S Bhatnagar who gently persuaded me over a few months to write it so that a wider audience comes to know about them.
    Your words have completely humbled me and bowled me over. I really did not expect to write such a book. I should also thank my Editors at ‘The Telegraph’ who gave me the permission to go ahead with it.
    I had missed the obit piece on Daya Krishna in the ‘Indian Express’ as Mr. Prakash has pointed out in his response. It must have been the Delhi Express which we don’t get to see in Chennai.
    Working with Shri.GVK and Tyagaraj for ‘The Times of India’ group in Chennai was a very valuable experience for me in life. I hope to remain your good friend always.
    With warm regards,
    m.r.venkatesh

  4. WEST BENGAL GOVERNOR GOPALKRISHNA GANDHI’S UNFORGETTABLE GESTURE

    Dear Shri. G.V.Krishnan and Tyagaraj Sharma,
    Without being unduly self-centric, this is one piece of information I cannot but share with you and your blog readers.
    On last Saturday morning (March 15, 2008) I had rushed to Kancheepuram to pray at the Goddess Kamakshi Amman Temple after long, long years. I had also taken two copies of my tribute to the late Philosophers Ramchandra Gandhi and Daya Krishna, to be given to the Kanchi Mutt Sankaracharyas later.
    Even as I was about to step into the Temple, I received a call on my cell-phone and to my utter surprise and disbelief, a soft and gentle voice said, “I am Gopalkrishna Gandhi speaking”.
    For a moment I was too stunned for words that the brother of Ramchandra Gandhi and the present Governor of West Bengal should take the trouble to ring me up from Calcutta.
    On the previous Sunday, I had presented a copy of my little book to Shri. Gopalkrishna Gandhi with my card tucked along with it, when he had come to preside over a function at the Music Academy in Chennai.
    Shri. Gopalkrishna Gandhi, not only thanked me for having reached the book to him, but also felt that I had penned a nice and touching tribute to Ramchandra Gandhi. I profusely thanked him for his extraordinarily kind gesture at the end of that brief conversation. It is indeed an unforgettable Statesman-like gesture on the West Bengal Governor’s part. In all humility, I felt like sharing this with you and your blog readers.
    With thanks and regards,
    m.r.venkatesh / Chennai / March 18, 2008

  5. I wish we had more MRVs in our journalistic fraternity.
    When we invariably attend press conferences where “gifts ” are given to us, and we accept them without qualms, with some of us suggesting what gifts are to be given , unashamedly telling the organisers that ” we have too many wall clocks, wrist watches”, gifts other than these are welcome” here is a conscientious journalist, who shares expenses of the cost of publication of the book.Salute to MRV.Many thanks to Mr GVK for you for introducing your good friend. Krishna vattam

  6. Kudos to Shri MRV for his piece on Professor Gandhi and Professor Dayakrishna! I’ve met all of them and think that on several occasions Shri MRV exhibited more clarity and openness to criticism than his venerated subjects. I hope that he has not failed to exercise his characteristically acute critical mode of appraisal on those subjects. I dare say that the distinguished departed philosophers did have a penchant for “Classical Indian Metaphysical Obscurantism”!!!

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