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July 13, 1999

Remembering Janardan Thakur

V Gangadhar

Editors are busy people. Very few of them have time to spare for poor columnists. That was why I was surprised when Janardan Thakur invited me to come and meet him after he had taken over as the editor of Mumbai's The Free Press Journal. It was his second stint with the paper and he was keen to leave his mark on the paper.

That was not my first meeting with Thakur. Way back in 1975, when I was a staff reporter with the The Times of India, Ahmedabad, I had run into him during a state assembly poll. Gujarat was a stronghold of the Morarji Desai-led Congress (O) and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was keen to break this stranglehold. She campaigned vigorously in the state and Janardan Thakur who was the political correspondent of Hindustan Standard Calcutta, covered the poll campaign. He seemed to know every political leader and I envied his political savvy.

We exchanged pleasantries. He told me about his plans for The Free Press Journal. Throughout his life, he had been a political correspondent but now he was responsible for the entire paper. He wanted to focus more on the city's problems and drove his reporters hard. To a great extent, he succeeded in making the FPJ a more readable paper. The suburbs got extensive coverage. Pot holes, examination results, academic issues, Bollywood and local personalities got their due. 'The Talk of the Town' and the 'Spectrum' sections became more colourful.

Thakur encouraged my political satire column and I also interviewed quite a few bigwigs for the 'Talk of the town' section. He got quite a few well-known names to write for the paper -- cricket writers K N Prabhu, Raju Bharatan, art critics Dyaneshwar Nadkarni, O K Joshee and so on. Often he admitted the difficulties in running a paper on a shoestring. Like every good editor he complained about inadequate funds for the editorial work. But he carried on.

Somehow, he also managed to find time to write yet another book, Nehru to Vajpayee -- Prime Ministers. It was his fifth book, all on contemporary Indian politics. I had read two of his earlier books. All the Prime Minister's Men dealt with those close to Indira Gandhi particularly when she declared the Emergency. The book on V P Singh was a hatchet job and it was clear that he did not like the Mandal Man.

Janardan's contacts in Delhi were legendary but I had an impression politics had begun to bore him. He was no longer keen to return to Delhi but planned to spend his post-retirement days in Mumbai. "I like the dynamism of Bombay," he once told me. "What a variety of people! Delhi had only political netas, their chamchas and the babus. After a time it gets so boring." He was flat hunting after leaving The Free Press Journal and vaguely talked about some of the places he had seen in New Bombay.

I did not make friends easily but Janardan Thakur was an exception. He liked professionalism in journalism and quite often asked how I was able to write on so many different topics. He was not convinced with my explanation that a freelancer who had to survive only on his writings had to be versatile! Once a month or so, I dropped in at his office, had coffee and gossiped.

As an outsider, I did not know how he ran his office. He was proud of his young team, mostly girls, who were doing a good job. The Free Press Journal was a paper with a tradition, having been founded by the legendary Sadanand. Thakur keenly desired the paper should recapture some of its past glory.

I guess he and the management parted as friends. In fact, two months after leaving the paper, he returned, this time as a weekly columnist. He began a column 'Shifting Sands' which was vintage Janardhan Thakur. Fate willed that the column would not go beyond two installments. But there is someone in the family to carry on the tradition. Son Sankarshan Thakur with The Telegraph is one of the brightest, young journalists in the profession. He will carry on the good work.

Janardan Thakur dead