Khasa Subba Rau strode like a colossus in his lifetime, as a patriotic journalist covering the birth pangs of a free nation, as a freedom fighter who braved lathi-blows of the British in Chennai and as a crusader against corruption and other evils that seeped into the system in the post-independence era.
Intrepid, no-nonsense journalist who pursued his craft with passion, he dared to take on the likes of Nehru and Rajaji. Encapsulating the life and times of such a multifaceted personality would have been a challenging task for a biographer.
This book has adopted a relatively easier format of ask contemporaries and admirers to write about him.
There were very many, from Rajaji himself to former Chief Ministers, veteran journalists and people from varied fields. They were requested to write after Khasa’s death in 1961 by his friend Vuppuluri Kalidas but these works remained unpublished. Octogenarian, P. Vaman Rao, former chief correspondent of The Hindu, Hyderabad and Khasa’s son-in-law took up the task of putting them, about 100 pieces, together now.
The articles bring out the persona of the versatile journalist though sometimes these do appear like singing paeans, something intrinsic and expected in such a format. Nevertheless the reader is taken back in time when Khasa, the stormy petrel, held sway, writing incisively and dissecting issues confronting a nation that was struggling for freedom and the painful transition period that followed. Not just the issues, his critical evaluation of tallest of leaders and their policies find space in the book.
Vaman Rao in his article presents liberal extracts of Khasa’s acidic writings on Nehru in his extremely popular column ‘Sidelights’ in ‘Swarajya’. A sample: “Mr. Nehru’s latest feat is to accuse critics of his pet scheme of cooperative farming of ‘spreading lies among people’.
Till recently the Nehru-thunder struck lightning and could make his countrymen tremble at its power and potency. But lately as a practitioner of righteousness he has lost ground.”
Some of the writings show how he developed enduring friendship with Rajaji after being his trenchant critic for the role he played in the dismissal of Tanguturi Prakasam as Chief Minister of composite Madras State.
An upset Rajaji wrote to Khasa to remove his name from the free-list and save a copy of Swatantra. Yet it was Rajaji who paid him the richest tribute: “Khasa had become a symbol for fearlessness and justice for all and his journal was an institution of the highest national value.”
The book also provides insights into Khasa’s journalistic works, its cadences and tone reflecting his angst.
(K. Venkateshwarlu is The Hindu’s deputy chief of bureau in Hyderabad)