A page for my Guru: D. Sitaram
|Veteran journalist D. Sitaram.|
Dharmavarapu Sitaram (D. Sitaram), 87, is non-descript. The more you know of him, you will discover that he is an intrepid. Without formal schooling, he strayed into journalism in his teens (17) as a cub-reporter with ‘Hyderabad Bulletin’ and went on to survive in the hazardous profession, working as a staffer or retainer for many newspapers, including The Statesman, Economic Times and Patriot and weeklies like Link and news-wires such as United Press of India (UPI) and United News of India (UNI).
Even after five decades of service and post-retirement, the veteran journalist continued his association with the print media by contributing to a leading English daily and language newspapers in the Deccan city of Hyderabad.
During his illustrious career, Mr Sitaram was known to be a stormy petrel as he would not bend or crawl to the powers that be. He was a bit of a thorn to successive governments in the state (Andhra Pradesh), especially under the then Congress chief ministers Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy and Kasu Brahmananda Reddy, as he would not compromise on truth, facts or objectivity.
Hence, it was not surprising that an insecure government forced the agency management to shunt Mr Sitaram out of Hyderabad in mid-60s, which saw him, one fine morning, in Calcutta (Kolkata). It was a blessing in disguise as opportunities unfolded. He also had a stint in Europe and held top posts in New Delhi and Madras (Chennai) in UNI.
Though Mr Sitaram launched in his own newspaper (The Skyline), in the mid-70s, ostensibly to settle scores with the government that sought to persecute him, he burnt his fingers in the process. Incidentally, it was the Emergency period in the country.
Journalists the world over suffer from jealousies and relish rival’s predicament. Yet Mr Sitaram enjoyed that kind of suffering. Due to budgetary constraints and mis-management, his English daily suffered a natural death. As fallout, he switched over from a four-wheeler to a two-wheeler for commuting and bid farewell to club life.
Journalists don’t die. They just fade into oblivion. Mr Sitaram’s approach was one of freedom and contentment.
Flashback: I was thrown out of my house at the age of 19 in 1992 when I left my Engineering course in Latur mid-way, to purse my dream in Journalism. It was during my trainee days with Deccan Chronicle, Hyderabad, under the strict editorship of Mr P.N.V. Nair (definitively a rare breed) that I first met Sitaram Sir – already in his late 60s by then. He was aware of 'my state of affairs' then, and always guided me and gave strong emotional support. "Arey baba, you got to be strong. Prove yourself and your parents will be happy," he would often say.
I slowly graduated in the company of Sitaram Sir, who came to office every day to write either an Edit piece or his popular Middle Column (Di Yes). "Good morning young man. Did you have your breakfast?," he would often holler from the corridor as he entered the office to date his Remington typewriter.
On a fine sunny July morning in 1993, Sitaram Sir, walked into the newsroom with a plastic cover and sprang a surprise: “Happy Birthday boy! Wear this now (a white shirt) and let’s go out. I have already told the Editor that I am taking you out. It’s a paid holiday for you.” He drove me to the famous Nizam Club in Hyderabad and introduced me to every single soul who came across. And the most striking one was late Gulam Ahmed, former India cricket captain. “Gulam, you know this young man?” he asked. When Gulam Sir smiled and shook hands with me, Sitaram Sir said: “He is a budding journalist. We are training him to become an opener.” And, the truth was it was for the first time, I heard about Gulam Ahmed!
As we settled for an inspiring session in the company of beer and biryani, Sitaram ensured that he shared tips to write for the reader. “Never write for your girlfriend, wife, landlord or mother. Write for the reader. Always,” he reminded.
I moved out of Hyderabad, but always remembered Sitaram Sir's golden words: "Writing is a noble profession like teaching and every time you write a piece, you are honouring Hindu Goddess Saraswati – the custodian of letters. Write straight as an arrow. Write fearlessly,” Sitaram Sir, often reminded me, during our 'spirited' sessions.
Even at 87, he wrote with the same passion as a cub-reporter. He kept printed articles in a file and ensures that every visitor is given a chance to glance at them. He wrote a column Old Hat in Hyderabad's newspaper The Hans India. Unlike the current-day ego-studded gadget-journos, practicing arm-chair and Google-Journalism religiously, often boasting -- "In my 12 years of Journalism.." "I completed 19 years.." "I was the first to write and now they have carried it after.." “I was…” “I can…” “It was me…” –-Sitaram Sir seldom speaks about his long-lasting affair with newspapers."We are all Ek Din Ka Rajas," he says.
Tarmak007 has a strong bond with Sitaram Sir and called on him during the blogger's trips to Hyderabad. During one of my visits in 2011, he expressed a wish to have a small type-writer in good condition, with proper carbon ribbon and other paraphernalia. "I am an old man. I am used to type-writers. See if I can get a second hand one. Arey baba,I know. It's computer era," he says. My colleague in Express helped me source a second-hand type-writer.
Every time I returned from his house, I am strongly reminded of the moving non-fiction novel Tuesdays with Morrie by American writer Mitch Albom in the late 90s. “Is there going to be an Indian sequel to it? Is it going to be my next book? Yes, may be! May be not,” the blogger wonders sometimes.
This page is my humble gurudakshina to a man who cared for a young journalist – when he needed it the most. Below are some of the columns written by Sitaram Sir after he crossed 85 years. He's truly an inspiring journalist of our times.
Sitaram Sir died on November 5, 2012, at the age of 87, in Hyderabad.
Some of the select-columns of Sitaram Sir below: