Monday, August 27, 2012

First award in memory of my father

The first award in memory of my father, noted journalist and author Narayan Athawalay, instituted by Lokavishwas Pratishtan in Goa, is presented by veteran journalist Aroon Tikekar to Navprabha editor Paresh Prabhu on August 16. To Prabhu's right is Anup Priolkar of Lokavishwas Pratishthan and to Tikekar's left is minister Sudhin Dhavalikar.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A salute to my father's journalism

Over 30 years ago, my father, noted journalist Narayan Athawalay, set up a residential school for the handicapped in Goa, solely through appeals that he made in his editorials in the Daily Gomantak. This August 16th, which would have been his 80th birthday, the school that was born from his words, is saluting them by instituting an award for journalism in his memory. The first award will be given to Paresh Prabhu, the editor of Navprabha. The award will be given to journalists who work for social causes.

When he took over as the editor-in-chief of Daily Gomantak in early 1980, my father was aware of the responsibility. He had fought in the freedom struggle for Goa and had been there a few times. He knew Goans hold the newspaper close to their hearts. The editor of Gomantak too, is held dear by them. He is their friend, philosopher, guide, even agony uncle. There were times when people would stop over at Gomantak’s office just to chat with the sampadak (editor). The editor’s cabin was always open for such people.

One day soon after my father, Nana, took over, a man called Vishwas met him. He had a deaf mute son and had come to tell my father of the trouble he went through to educate him. Back then, there was just one school in Goa for the deaf mute and as it was run by Christians, many non-christians didn’t send their children there. Transport being a problem as it still is in some areas in Goa, many such children were kept locked up in their homes. Vishwas had sent his wife to Pune to be educated in teaching deaf and mute children, and she then taught their son at home. He put forth the idea of a school for such children in Goa. Soon after this, a visually impaired young man met my father and said he worked in Mumbai where he travelled alone and people helped him everywhere he went, but in Goa he hardly found anyone coming forth to help him. Troubled by the experiences of these two people and convinced of the seriousness of the issue, Nana wrote an editorial and put forth the idea of a residential school for deaf and mute children.

The day the editorial appeared, the office of Gomantak was inundated with phone calls by people saying they want to help. For days later, people wrote to Nana and sent him cheques for the school. Soon a trust was set up with a few prominent Goan citizens and parents of deaf and mute children in our house, which was on the fourth floor of Gomantak Bhavan, the office of the newspaper. The trust was called Lokavishwas Pratishthan – after Vishwasrao Chougule, the founder of Daily Gomantak, in gratitude for the freedom he gave Nana to use the newspaper for the cause.

The school began on August 16, 1981 in a rented two bedroom house in Ponda. The living room and one bedroom doubled up as classrooms during the day. People continued to help even after the school began. Like a barber’s assistant, whose deaf and mute son studied in Pune, handed Nana 25 paise everyday to help run the school. The owner of a local hotel provided rice for one year. An ashram provided milk. Many others provided furniture. Local farmers gave coconuts.
Nana also approached well known politicians and citizens from Goa and Maharashtra to donate to the school and many did so.

As the school progressed, my family began to learn about the world of the deaf and mute. Most of them can’t speak because they cannot hear. If this fault can be corrected by hearing aids or surgery early in life, some of them are able to speak.
Years later, the Shantadurga devasthan trust at Kawale gave the school a plot the temple owned. The foundation stone laying ceremony of Lokavishwas Pratishthan’s ‘Shri Shantadurga Krupa Prasad’ complex took place in the presence of the honourable Swami of the Kawale math. Today the complex has a separate day school building for the mentally challenged, and a residential school for the visually challenged and the deaf and mute. The complex also has a spacious hall. The Lokavishwas Pratishthan’s school has twice won the state government’s award for the best educational institution.

But this was not the only time Nana’s words rescued people. In a boat accident at Madkai in the 1980s, 17 men and women drowned. Most of them had young children. Once again Nana appealed to Goans and they came forward to help. But all the money collected was not given to the families directly. Some of it was kept in fixed deposits and given to them and the children at intervals. In 2009 Nana turned 75 and many functions were organized in Mumbai and Goa to celebrate. At one such function in Goa, the families of those who had died at Madkai came to meet him.

Nana is known for his fiery words and articles that tore apart many a politician. He is also known for being an extremely unbiased journalist. Despite Nana’s acerbic attacks on his party and him, Bal Thackeray had great respect for him and put him up as a candidate for the Lok Sabha elections from the Shiv Sena.

A person who wrote what he believed in and stood by his word, Nana once even hit the great journalist and playwright Acharya P K Atre, with a chappal in the middle of a function, as he had declared he would! But he continued to hold Atre in great regard. In 1961 when Nana’s home in Pune was washed away in the Panshet flood, Atre came walking through the slush all the way to meet him and pointing to Nana’s head, told him, “What you lost was never yours. What belongs to you, is here.” Atre was fond of him and he especially asked to see Nana when he was on his deathbed.

I had grown up in Goa but since my parents always wanted to return to Mumbai, they decided I should give my SSC exams there. So I was packed off to Mumbai one year and they followed two years later. In a new school, I had no friends and I was away from my parents. One day the teacher asked us to write an essay about school and I poured my heart out on how I was missing my old school, friends etc. She loved the essay and read it out in class. Suddenly everyone wanted to talk to me! It was my personal lesson on how writing can change people. Nana was very happy to know about my essay. Subconsciously after that incident, I decided I wanted to do something in a profession that revolved around writing. Later I chose journalism, though I have never written about politics.

Having seen Nana do so much as a journalist, I entered the profession with stars in my eyes. I didn’t take long to understand it had turned so dark there were no stars. But Nana always encouraged me. I remember once I was complaining about how I hadn’t got an idea to write about. He refused to accept that. He said one can never run out of subjects. “If nothing, go to the kitchen and write about the different sizes and shapes of bottles that we have,” he said.

I am a journalist in an era of media partnerships and official radio partners. Even a film is not criticized honestly if the production company has a tie up with the newspaper. Investigative stories are preferred over a human interest story. While there is nothing wrong in this, I wish I could see more human interest stories on
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Nana’s teacher, G P Pradhan, who also happened to teach me, once told us journalists should write about the good things in society. Why is it that only the bad is highlighted?

More importantly, especially in English journalism, I see that not even one journalist takes a firm stand on an issue. While few Marathi newspapers are interested in the Maharashtra vs Karnataka fight over Belgaum for instance, this subject does not have much mention in English newspapers. Similarly, journalists slam all politicians, even those who are involved in good work. Magazines take up a cause like cancer awareness, but it is not followed up.

I have my view about the profession, and some seniors may not agree with me. But having seen Nana work, I also believe that one person can make a huge difference. I am also fortunate that I work in a place where seniors give me the opportunity to write about issues I choose. I know I am a journalist in a different era, and I am under no illusion that I can emulate Nana. I only want to work with the lesson I learnt from him, that words have the power to change everything.