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A true professional

Upright, generous and considerate, he stood up for individual rights and for the freedom of the press. UMA BALAKRISHNAN remembers veteran journalist S.A. Govindarajan.

SAG ... man of many talents.

ON August 15, 1961, the Managing Editor of The Hindu, G. Narasimhan presented a silver plaque to S.A. Govindarajan, Senior Assistant Editor on the day of his retirement from The Hindu after nearly 40 years of service. August 15, 2003 was the birth centenary of S.A. Govindarajan (SAG), an eminent and endearing journalist who served in The Hindu for nearly forty years.

Born in Thanjavur a hundred years ago, he had his early education in Kalyanasundaram High School. Later the family moved to Madras. He joined Presidency College and graduated with Honours in the English Language and Literature, winning the Thomson Scholarship and the Bilderbeck prize.

The famous Dr. Rangachari introduced him to Kasturi Ranga Iyengar, editor of The Hindu. He served under Rangaswamy Iyengar and Kasturi Srinivasan. The latter was his mentor and friend, for whose editorial skills he always retained sincere admiration. His paternalistic style of running the newspaper was much liked by SAG.

In 1942, his services were lent to the Government of India as Press Advisor. He was the member of a three-man panel along with C.P. Johnson of The Statesman and Altaf Hussain of The Dawn (later Information Minister of Pakistan). His censorship was fair as acknowledged by Devdas Gandhi of The Hindustan Times.

He returned to The Hindu in 1948. In the 1950s, he wrote a column under the pseudonym SAGE. He was also involved in social work, establishing a Boys' Town for the YMCA in Fort St. George, and forming the "Fifty-Fifty club" with Boron, the British Deputy High Commissioner. (Boron and SAG would make equal contributions for the purchase of books, which were distributed to children).

After retirement from The Hindu in 1961, he was honoured by the academic world when he was made Professor of Journalism of Osmania University. He secured faculty assistance from the Kennedy Peace Corps, represented by Bradford. On his return to Madras in 1969, he took up, on the personal urging of K.M. Munshi, the position of Honorary Principal of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan's College of Journalism and later of the Rajendra Prasad College of Mass Communication and Media, where he worked till the end of his life (1973). The institute had many affiliated colleges whose students appeared in various examinations in western India.

As professor of journalism, he was encouraging and generous in appraising his students and helped them find places in notable newspapers long before `placement' became a policy in universities.

Besides innumerable editorials, articles, and two books — one on G. Subramania Iyer (freedom fighter and founder-editor of The Hindu) and the other Briefly Noted — stand to his name. The first was published by the Information Department of the Government of India. Later, he brought out Personal Preferences, a collection of his articles and speeches.

Being a great Shakespearean, he produced his own version of "Hamlet" with the aid of Norminton of the British Council and S.S. Vasan of the Gemini Studio.

An active member of Madras' social and cultural circles he was President of the South-India Journalists Federation (SIJF) in 1955. He represented The Hindu in the All-India Newspapers Editors conference the same year.

He was a cricket-lover and member of the Madras Cricket Club and also secretary of the Sportsmen's Club. Along with C.R. Krishnaswami and S. Parthasarathi (later Editor of The Hindu) he co-authored a book on India's cricket tour of England in 1932. The authors called themselves "The Three Stumps".

A supporter of the YMCA, he sponsored sales carnivals and other events. A champion of women's education in the truly liberal sense, he helped many a shy diffident young woman face the academic world.

Widely travelled, he found delight in the vibrant young United States of the 1950s but London was his favourite overseas city and Madras his life-long love. A great admirer of Winston Churchill, his house at Sriram Nagar in Alwarpet was named "Winston".

Many eminent people used to drop by or were entertained (as varied a company as Tenzing Norgay or S.S.Vasan). His house was alive with intellectual ferment like the Parisian cafes.

He was the member of a Press delegation invited to Egypt by Nahas Pasha. (R.K. Laxman drew a colourful cartoon of SAG in a fez and smoking a hookah to the great amusement of family and friends.)

He was sent by Kasturi Srinivasan to Ceylon to interview Sir John Kotelawala. He gifted SAG with a jade Buddha, which SAG presented to Tenzing. It is enshrined in a small temple in Darjeeling.

He remained steadfast and loyal to his first employer, The Hindu. Many times over, he declined offers to lead other well-known Indian newspapers. A true professional journalist — candid, upright, constructive, enthusiastic, generous and considerate — he always stood up for individual rights and for the freedom of the press.

Dignity and cheerfulness were his hallmarks. Devoted and filial, he was his mother's favourite child. SAG refused a prestigious job in New York because his mother, an orthodox lady who refused to cross the sea.

Even in the nadir of Indo-Pakistan relations, Altaf Hussain had warm memories of him as a friend. His life was gentle and the elements so mixed in him that Nature might stand up and say to the entire world `This was a man'.

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