A friendship in black and white

A photograph of the team behind Janayugam published in K. Saradamoni's book.

A photograph of the team behind Janayugam published in K. Saradamoni's book.

“It is a saga of courage,” wrote N. Gopinathan Nair, the first editor of Janayugam weekly and newspaper. He was writing about the birth of a Leftist daily in a politically-charged time. His article was published again as part of a book ‘The Scribe Remembered: N. Gopinathan Nair – His Life and Times’ edited by Nair’s wife K. Saradamoni. The book is a collection of articles written by and about N. Gopinathan Nair.

Among them is a piece by him that recalls how a few men in their 20s set about publishing a newspaper in 1947. The story of Janayugam’s beginnings is also one about the friendship of two men from Kollam – both named Gopinathan Nair. N. Gopinathan Nair, fondly called Valiya Gopi Chettan , and R. Gopinathan Nair, known as Kochu Gopi Chettan, had been friends long before Janayugam began. When they were about to start a newspaper, Valiya Gopi donned the role of editor while Kochu Gopi became the publisher.

“They had to wage a long struggle to begin the paper,” says Shakunthala Gopinath, wife of Kochu Gopi, at her home in Tripunithura here. It was nearly impossible for a bunch of Communists to get a licence for a paper at the time.“But Kochu Gopi’s father, who was the palace physician of Travancore, managed to get his son a licence.”

Though they got the go-ahead in 1947, they could not find the money to set up a daily. “My mother-in-law Janaki Amma then pawned her gold ornaments and gave Gopi Rs. 2,000 to get started , ” says Ms. Shakunthala.

But the money wasn’t enough to start a newspaper. Impatient to make their stand known in the political struggle, the group decided to put out a weekly immediately. Thus was born the Janayugam Political Weekly in 1949.

The weekly created waves with its fearless articles that lambasted political groups for their hypocrisy. But the attention also meant that the weekly had to be closed down several times due to political pressure. The men behind the publication had to go into hiding or they were thrown into jail.

“An arrest warrant was issued against Kochu Gopi even on the eve of our marriage,” says Ms. Shakunthala. “My father-in-law intervened to get the warrant cleared so the wedding could go on.”

Despite a severe shortage of money, the weekly managed to pull on. Janayugam staff mostly worked without pay. They pawned everything they owned, gold and property, and resources poured in from well-wishers and the working class – whose voice the paper represented.

“We even got eggs as donation from people,” Ms. Shakunthala remembers with a smile. With public support, the weekly became a daily in 1953. But as the paper grew to greater heights, political intervention in its affairs also increased. “A director board was constituted. But none of the pioneers who started the paper were included,” according to Ms. Shakunthala. When the paper started to turn into a mouthpiece of the Communist Party, the two friends decided to call it quits in 1962. “They understood each other so well that they never even had a conversation about leaving the paper. One day, my husband took his party card and resignation letter and handed it over to Valiya Gopi. ‘Hand these over too when you give up your party card and editorship,’ he told him,” she recalls. Thus, the two friends left the paper they had created.

A photograph of the team behind Janayugam published in K. Saradamoni’s book shows seven young faces. All of them left the paper soon after, but remained friends for much longer. Of the seven from the original team, only A.R. Kutty remains. The veteran journalist, now in his 90s and living at Palluruthy, is a frequent visitor to Kochu Gopi’s residence, where he reminisces of the old days with Ms. Shakunthala and family.

“When Kutty sahib was here last week, he remarked that some of the chairs in our house looked just like the ones they had at the old Janayugam office in Kollam. They are actually the same chairs,” says Ms. Shakunthala. As they had no money to buy furniture, Kochu Gopi had borrowed tables and chairs from his father’s home for the office. Janayugam gave birth to many of Kerala’s leading political and intellectual figures. “Even the first newspaper agents of Janayugam are now all MPs and MLAs,” Valiya Gopi once remarked. The main team behind the paper, however, still remains largely unknown.

Incidentally, the paper is celebrating 2013 as its golden jubilee year, though Janayugam itself was first published in 1949.

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Printable version | Oct 6, 2022 3:19:05 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/a-friendship-in-black-and-white/article4443637.ece