India: Chapter 35

In random sittings with various people, we’ve all heard someone say that certain jobs come from within. For renowned newsman and author TJS George, journalism lies in his bones.
Photo: Nagaraja Gadekal
Photo: Nagaraja Gadekal

In random sittings with various people, we’ve all heard someone say that certain jobs come from within. For renowned newsman and author TJS George, journalism lies in his bones. Being in the field since 1947, George has been a practitioner of reportage for 75 years. In 2022, he has come out with his new book The Dismantling of India: In 35 Portraits (Simon & Schuster IN), Rs 899), where he constructs the history of India through 35 biographical portraits of personalities who have held the nation’s attention, for better or for worse.

Writing the history of a country, especially one as big and eventful as ours, through the stories of its people is an arduous task. So, how does one go about telling the story of a billion with only 35 folks? “In my judgement, these 35 people represented the many aspects of India. We’re a huge country with a mixture of cultures. I made the choice on the basis of whether they were influential or not in making India as we know it today. For example, I think a man like Veerappan was influential. I may not agree with what he did, but he contributed a certain element to the culture that is India.

Hence, he’s also in the book,” says George, whose book begins with a biographical account of JRD Tata. He believes that since the idea behind this book had been inside him, he can’t give an estimate of how long the working process has been. “I can’t say how long it took me to write it as I did not look at it that way. I did not measure it that way. This book had been inside me for a long time, and now it’s born,” says the Padma Bhushan awardee. George has been a witness to most of the pertinent events of free India throughout his journalism career.

An observer of all the glory and some of the pain. When he was working at The Searchlight in Patna, Bihar, he became the first editor in free India to be charged with sedition for his critical editorials against the then-Bihar Chief Minister KB Sahay. But that was during the 1960s. As of 2022, there have been multiple reports of attacks on Indian journalists. George feels this is a result of particular changes that have happened to the nature of this country.

“My opinion on this is very clear. You look at the difference between Jawaharlal Nehru and Narendra Modi, you’ll get your answer. The early years of Independence saw cultural differences blend into one national character about which everybody was proud. Those days are gone. With that, a lot of things India was proud of are dead. What we now have is a very different kind of leadership with its own notions of what India is and what it should be. I have no hesitation saying that culturally India has gone backward,” says George. Was there ever a golden period of journalism in India? “I don’t like the term ‘golden period’.

But I would say that there was a time when it was possible to write whatever you wanted, and you were respected for that depending on the quality of what you wrote,” he says. In the final piece to his 25- year-old column, George wrote that the ‘the essence of India will go on, unaffected by the manipulations of powerseekers. Many might say that some of the current powerseekers have been trying to do exactly that.

So why is George so sure that the essence of this country will remain unaffected? “Maybe that has something to do with my personality and outlook. I am optimistic about India and what it will be like in the future. There are many who are not. I am just putting my viewpoint in front of readers, that’s all,” he concludes.

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