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.
One project he talked about involved storing all such material in a library (to be built in memory of his father, Kasturi Gopalan), along with all the books The Hindu received, and files of the newspaper, which could be accessed by the public and used by research scholars. That did not fructify.
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 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, critically evaluated them, and picked up ideas. 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.
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 was in the printing section at 3.30 a.m. and stayed till the printing was over. And invariably he was back in his office at 10 a.m. This continued till things became normal with the printing unit.
When in 1980 the newspaper switched to photo typesetting and paste-up mode for pages (making the transition from hot metal technology) he was 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 kept doing 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. And they did, with his active guidance.
If in the early days of colour printing, The Hindu’s production work received praise, much of it was due to the interest that 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. 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 the members of the staff of the organisation, 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 out such persons. He made it a point to meet every visiting correspondent, stringers included, and get the general 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.)