Remembering ‘GK’

Remembering ‘GK’

G. Kasturi was a visionary — both on the journalistic and technical fronts. We should plan for ten years, he would say. In the 1980s, when television came to India, he said that would be a big challenge for newspapers; we have to adapt ourselves, change the way news is presented. He also spoke of the “explosion of news,” the continuous flood from different sources in different forms. Proper planning was needed to handle and make use of this, he said.

His commitment to the profession and the organisation was total. A perpetual learner, he used to say he learnt all about newspaper production from Dandapani Iyer ( who, as the volume A Hundred Years of The Hindu ( 1978 ) notes, was “in charge of the picture page and the press… A lover of photography, [ he ] made the picture page popular.” )

Mr. Kasturi scanned a large number of newspapers, national and international, learning from them even while he critically evaluated them. The Friday Review, the Open Page, the Science & Technology page, the Agriculture section, all now part of The Hindu , were his innovations. The Survey of Indian Industry was another innovation. Constantly experimenting with type face choices and layouts, he introduced many changes. He held that no foreign expertise was needed to design pages innovatively. Editorially, he believed in the middle path for The Hindu . A news story must give all versions, without taking sides. People may call you dull, but ultimately they would believe you. Credibility was the newspaper’s biggest asset, he would say.

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Keeping himself abreast of technological advances, he adopted many of them — which enabled The Hindu to face competition confidently. And when something new was being tried, he involved himself fully in that, till it was successful. A new – model printing press which he had ventured to buy had major teething troubles. He would stay in the printing section till 3.30 a.m. till the printing was over. Invariably, he was back in his office at 10 a.m. This continued till the new machinery was settled in. When in 1980 the newspaper switched to photo typesetting and paste – up mode for pages ( making the transition from hot metal technology ) he would be present in the page make – up section, along with members of the editorial desk, at 9 p.m. daily, showing workers how to cut the printout and paste it on the base sheets. He did this till the workers had acquired the skills. He said later that he had told the foreign suppliers of the equipment that his efficient workers would master the techniques in six months. With his active guidance, they did.

If in the early days of colour printing, The Hindu ’s production work received praise, much of it was due to the interest that Mr. Kasturi took in the whole operation. When colour transparencies were used, he personally scanned them for the colour separation process. Frontline , from its early years, was acclaimed for its vivid colour pictures. Mr. Kasturi spent hours selecting them, scanning them and then proof – correcting. Photography and photographic reproduction were a passion. Post – retirement, he spent a lot of time experimenting and innovating with camera and computer. And he shared his ideas on and experiences of angles, lighting and cropping with the photographers and the artists / designers from The Hindu Group. He kept working on new page design ideas.

Even while experimenting and innovating, he set store by convention. Is there a precedent, was his question whenever the use of controversial or promotional stuff was discussed. He set the parameters and guidelines for the news department. No questions were asked if these were adhered to; all he wanted was that the publication or non – publication of a news item was based on a conscious, considered decision. He was often economical with praise; asked about this, he would say, good work is what is expected of all of you. He exercised his editorial prerogative to see that his name or picture did not appear in the news pages. Mr. Kasturi was accessible to staff members, especially those with a personal problem. Instances of alcoholism, few and far between as they were, distressed him in particular, and he did his best to help such persons. He made it a point to meet every visiting outstation correspondent, stringers included, and get their feedback on the newspaper.

( The author joined The Hindu as a Kasturiranga Iyengar Scholar in 1955, and went on to become its News Editor, working under Mr. Kasturi. Eventually he handled Frontline , the magazine, and retired as Associate Editor. He remained an Editorial Consultant, first for Frontline , and then The Hindu , and became the newspaper’s first Readers’ Editor. He lives near Coimbatore in retirement. )