My years in Journalism

By Shamboo Nath Gurkha

Our family lived in Budhgaer quarter of downtown Srinagar. This locality was a predominantly Pandit locality as were many other parts of the old city. This place was once the seat of power of King Rinchin, a Buddhist fugitive from Ladakh, who ascended the throne of Kashmir in 14th Century. The locality derives its name from King Rinchin.

I was born in Razdan family of the same locality, but was given in adoption to Gurkha family. Gurkha surname/nickname is shared by some members of the majority community too. Originally, Gurkhas were Kauls, with Gotra of Swami Kaushik. Initially these Kauls adopted the appellation ‘Waguzaris’ and finally the Gurkhas. This is the way most of the surnames of Kashmiris have evolved.

My father Pt. Shridhar Kaul Gurkha worked in the Accountant General’s office as Superintendent. He had read up to matriculation. He and his cousin Pt. Bal Kak set up a joint business, titled ‘Gwash Lal-Vishnjoo (father of Pt. Shridhar joo) and Sons’. This firm dealt in Import-Export business in items like handicrafts, Saffron, Musk, Rafal and Pashmina.

Pt. Janki Nath Trisal, son of Pt. Shridhar Joo’s sister used to stay at the parental house of his mother. After passing F.Sc., my father sent him and Balkak to Lahore to learn the trade of Soap manufacturing. On return, they set up a unit, titled. Himalaya Soap Works’ at Zainakadal. Pt. Kashyap Bandhu took great pride in our entrepreneurial initiative. Through his efforts, Mr. VN Mehta, the then minister for Revenue alloted 4 kanals of nazool land at Shireen Bagh Karanagar, where Dental College stands today, for 40 years. Modern machinery was installed, when the unit shifted to the new place. This soap became quite popular. After sometime our family added a Hosiery/Weaving Unit, ‘Mahalaxmi Hosiery and Weaving Mills! Initially, we used to import these items from Ludhiana. Peer Yahya Shah, a labour union leader who later rose to be Deputy Minister for Industry, was our employee. Subsequently, we installed a candle manufacturing unit, ‘Moonlight Candle Works’.

I had my primary education at Govt. School Rangteng and passed matriculation from Bagh Dilawar Khan School in 1940. Punjab University used to conduct these examinations. I joined Sri Pratap College for further studies and passed F.A. in 1942-43. Among my schoolmates who reached prominent positions in later life were Mr. Moti Lal Sopori (secretary in J&K Govt.), Poshkar Nath Bhan (an ace broadcaster, and an artist of repute), Mr. Kashi Nath Bakshi (a philonthropist), Pirzada Ghulam Nabi (Chief Engineer Power Development), Mohd. Abdulla Qadri (Deputy AG, Himachal Pradesh), Janki Nath Thusoo (Secretary J&K Govt.). After the installation of unit at the new place, our family also shifted to Karanagar, where we lived in the vicinity of ‘Stone House’ of Kilams and Warikoos. I was married in 1948 in Zalpuri family of Rainawari. We continued to live in this house till 1952. In 1967 disturbances our Karan Nagar house was put to arson.

Our family business worked well. The government helped by providing subsidy on raw materials, offering tax concessions and imposing heavy duty on imported soap. In 1953, Shri GL Dogra, the cabinet minister favoured the firm of Kishanchand-Bhola Nath of Amritsar, which manufactured Soap 999 and reduced the import duty. Gurkhas could not compete against this firm. Family disputes in our family and the competition ruined our business. I had been associated with family business from 1943-1952. I was jobless and shifted to Rainawari.

Journalism:

During my adolescence years, I was acquainted well with Milap, Martand and other prominent Urdu weeklies except PN Bazaz’s Hamdard. Pt. Kashyap Bandhu was quite close to our family and often visited us since we were the financiers of Martand and Yuvak Sabha. Bandhuji suggested to me to look for employment somewhere. We had once 70 people in our employment. To serve some employer in a subordinatre position looked humiliating to me. I sought his advice to join the profession of journalism. This was the time when there was little scope in this profession..

I joined apprenticeship for Katib under the supervision of my brother Shri Kashi Nath Razdan. He was rated among the best calligraphists of northern India of those times. I worked hard to gain the experience in this field. This lasted for one year. My brother wanted me to join Shama, a well-known Urdu periodical. Meanwhile a vacancy in the local daily ‘Khidmat’ had been advertised. I joined the paper, at a remuneration of Rs 40 a month.

‘Khidmat’ was a pro-government newspaper, owned by the ruling National Conference. Since the headquarters of National Conference was at Mujahid Manzil, the editorial office of ‘Khidmat’ and the ‘New Kashmir Press’ were also housed here. After some time ‘Khidmat’ office was shifted to Bund area. Subsequently, it was taken over by the Congress Party. Its editor was Maulana Syed Masoodi. After the dismissal of Sheikh Abdullah in 1953, Mr.Mohammad Amin Pandit functioned as editor for while. During the editorship of Shri NL Wattal, Mr MA Pandit worked as joint editor. Mr Pandit was honest in dealings and was a sound administrator. The paper had three brilliant Assistant editors – Shri Bansi Nirdosh (News Editor), Sofi Ghulam Mohd, Sh. Makhan Lal Mahaw. Mr Nirdosh was a literary genius. His play “Dechirant” became quite popular. Nirdosh was helpful to his collegues. He engaged in bitter polemics with Pt. RC Abhay, and the latter had finally to concede. Nirdosh worked partime in Aftab also.

Sofi Sahib was a well-known short-story writer in Kashmiri. The literary talents of Messers Nirdosh and Sofi Ghulam Mohammad made ‘Khidmat’ very popular. Sofi Sahib’s “Bechhakath” was liked immensely by the people. Another assistant editor was Mr. Gh. Nabi Turi, who later joined State Information Department. Mr. Sham Lal Saraf, the then Cabinet Minister was Chairman of the Press Committee of ‘Khidmat’, while Mr. Prithvi Nath Kaul was General Manager. The latter enjoyed proximity to Bakshi Rashid, brother  of Prime Minister Bakshi Ghulam Mohd. He had taken over after there were some allegations for irregularities against Mr. Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din.  Shri Sham Lal Wali was Head Katib.

My interesting memories about the days at ‘Khidmat’ are some instances which relate how the government of the day handled the paper and its staff. Once, Shri MA Pandit had gone to visit Nishat Bagh. On seeing him there, the Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah had felt quite annoyed. On another occasion, when Shri SL Saraf visited the press, Mr PN Kaul, General Manager, presented him the gradation list of the staff. When Shri SL Saraf showed indifference. Mr Kaul lost his temper and told Mr Saraf, “You were illiterate and have became a minister. Has this gone to your head”. Mr Kaul was recuperating from heart attack. Unable to bear the humiliation, he collapsed the next day. Mr PN Kaul was an efficient administrator. He mobilised advertisement support to make ‘Khidmat’ self-sufficient.

Bakshi Rashid once rang up Shri Nand Lal Wattal. The phone was picked up by Gh. Rasool Arif, an employee of the paper. He had stammering speech. Bakshi Rashid could not make out what he was saying and abused Arif. The later told Mr. Wattal that Bakshi Rashid had abused the editor. A man with dignity, Mr PN Kaul talked to Bakshi Rashid. He told him”, I don’t require your job. You have started even abusing the editor’. Bakshi Rashid narrated him the sequence of his talk and told him Arif had misrepresented the facts to his editor. The following day Bakshi Rashid came to the ‘Khidmat’ office and slapped Arif. The management even wanted to sack Arif for this.

The Katib, Mr. Wali for sometime had been referring to the Chief Minister as Bakshi “Ghulam” only in news head lines of Khidmat. This came to the notice of the Chief Minister. Incidentally, PoK Radio in its propaganda had been using the same name for the Prime Minister. Mr Bakshi in a lighter vein enquired from the editor, “where have you brought this Muslim from PoK. Is he not happy with my name?” Visibly embarrassed Mr. Wattal told him the error had been committed by a Kashmiri Pandit, Mr Wali. On another occasion, a serious lapse occurred when the paper carried a byline ‘Bakshi Ghulam Mohd. Ki Wafat Par’. Next morning, the paper made brisk sales. The workers felt angry and excited. ‘Khidmat’ staff cut sorry figure. The editor tactfully avoided taking up calls from the PM’s office. Six months later, the PM told Mr. Wattal to carry on the business as usual and prepare a rejoinder for Mr. GM Sadiq, who had floated DNC.

In 1968 after his release from jail, Sheikh Abdullah one fine morning forced his way into the office of  ‘Khidmat’ and the ‘New Kashmir Press’ and locked these. He said the press and paper would be shifted to Auqaf building at Budshah Chowk. This decision was strongly resented by the staff. They requested Sheikh Abdullah to allow them to take blocks and other material that were to be printed as advertisement. He gave them a weeks time. For nearly ten days the New Kashmir Press functioned from the Auqaf building.

During my years at ‘Khidmat’, I came closer to Mir Ghulam Mohd. Rajouri, who later became minister and speaker. He was widely read, liberal, an intellectual who surpassed his peers and had flair for writing. Mr Rajouri remained as secretary of Legislature Party and later held portfolios of Education,Transport, Industries and Health. As Health Minister, he deducted pay of Accounts Officer for negligence in informing the department about the retirement of an official in time. After Kamraj Plan, he joined Congress-O. He was President of the Organisation, while Mr BK Vaishnavi was its General Secretary. In the 1967 assembly elections, he was dropped from the list of candidates selected by ruling Congress to contest elections. Syed Mir Qasim had resigned from the Presidentship of the State Congress. Mr Rajpouri went to meet Sadiq. Mr Mir Qasim was also there. The chief minister, referring to Mir Qasim, told Mr. Rajpouri that Qasim was tired of politics and read out a newly composed verse of poet Dina Nath Nadim to indicate this fatigue. To avoid direct reply, the chief minister asked Mr. Rajpouri to meet DC Anantnag and himself left for Jammu. Rajpouri contested as an independent against Gh. Qadir Mir of Murran. A mischievous cartoon was drawn to mock at Gh. Qadir Mir, a lower rung worker then. Ten thousand pamphlets were also distributed. This made no impact and Mr Rajpouri lost. The ongoing factionalism between Mir Qasim and GM Sadiq hurt interests of Mr Rajpouri, first at selection level and later during elections.

Mr Rajpouri, stunned by this defeat, retreated into journalism. He launched weekly ‘Imroz’, which  did not go beyond four issues. The first issue of the weekly carried an analysis of the political situation, in which Mr. Rajpouri had delineated four trends.

When Mr Rajpouri launched Jahan-e-Nav as a daily in 1969. I was appointed as its editor publisher and printer. It used to be a weekly after it was started on 13 May 1955. It became a daily later. Mr. Rajpouri could write in Urdu and english with ease. Our editorial staff included Messers Tahir Muztar, Jagar Nath Khyberi and Parwaaz Qureishi as Assistant Editor. One Deepak Kashmiri, an employee of the State Transport Department also contributed articles besides preparing Sunday Film edition in colour. He hailed from Budgam and later became a choreographer in Bollywood. His father was District President of National Conference in Budgam. Deepak worked partime for Jahan-e-Nav. Jagar Nath Khyberi’s satirical column increased readership of the paper manifold. Mr. Muztar wrote editorials and looked after the news section. State government had stopped giving advertisements to Jahan-e-Nav. We got DAVP ads. People also gave donations. Jahan-e-Nav sold around 2000 copies. It made good impact. This unnerved the state government. Mr Rajpouri was principle contributor in writing. Jahan-e-Nav, unearthed scam in the Food and Supplies Department. ‘Chinar’ led personal on Mr Rajpouri, caricaturing and debunking him as Rajkapoori, Band-master etc. The State government also tried to implicate him in case of Paddy seedlings in Pulwama district. All this was done to silence Jahan-e-Nav.

In late 1960s there was mushroom growth of Urdu newspaper. Papers like Daily Chinar (edited by Peer Giyasdin), Daily Aftab (edited by Khwaja Sonaullah), Srinagar Times (edited by Sofi Ghulam Mohd.), Naya Sansar (edited by Gh. Rasool Urfani), Navjivan were launched. Daily Hamdard was being edited by Gh. Rasool Arif, who was Katib of Khidmat. Martand was critical of Sadiq administration on the issue of communal quota policy of 70:30. Srinagar Times was avowedly critical of administration. JN Khyberi wrote a scathing satire ‘Gadisaaz’ on Sadiq. Soon after this administration ordered closure of Jahan-e-Nav and Srinagar Times. The latter resumed its publication after two months. Mr Rajpouri wanted me to start the paper again but I was reluctant. Ban on the paper was a frustrating experience for me.

1967 Agitation:

During Pandit agitation of 1967, Khidmat’s policy remained neutral and did not take any sides. In an incident at Fatehkadal, police lathicharged the protest demonstration of Pandits. A 70 year old Pandit fell unconscious after receiving few blows. An old Haji took the Pandit to his house and nursed him. The following day he himself took the injured to his home. The Haji went to see Mr. Rajpuri and asked him if Sadiq was going to kill even 70 year old Pandits. What right has Sadiq to call himself secular, he asked. Mr Rajpouri told him that since he was related to Sadiq he should himself go to put forth his complaint. The Haji told Sadiq,” I was an eyewitness to brutal canecharge on a 70 year old Pandit. Throughout night I felt restless”. Sadiq phoned up Rajpouri. He told him he already knew about the incident.

A man-eater Lion, brought from Kargil was let loose for few minutes to frighten people arrested in 1967 agitation. Pt. Sham Lal Shastri (Shalla) editor of Desh, who too was detained, received few injuries, before his fellow-prisoners could over power the Lion.

One evening during the 1967 agitation, a police party landed at my residence to arrest me. During this agitation the police detained people without any warrants. They had confused my name with my neighbour Pt. Shamboo Nath Mujoo. When they asked me if I was Pt. SN Mujoo I replied in negative. I knew they had to arrest me. I rang up Mr. Rajpouri and protested in making life hell for me while they enjoyed. Mr. Rajpouri spoke to Sadiq, saying, “have you to kill all Pandits. Mr. Gurkha is working with Khidmat and Jahan-e-Nav and is serving you people only. What has he done”. Rajpouri also spoke to Syed Mir Qasim and Gh. Rasool Renzu, the Home Secretary. It was after this incident that the police restrained from detaining Pandits without proper warrants. Most of the Gazetted officers among Kashmiri Pandits of Rainawari, including Sh. Vishnath Jalali, Marshal of Assembly were detained.

Desh:

Pt. Kashyap Bandhu had launched ‘Martand’ on behalf of Yuvak Sabha in 1931 and remained associated with it till 1938. After differences with Yuvak Sabha, he floated ‘Kesari’, an Urdu weekly. Later, he launched ‘Desh’ as a weekly. Such columns ‘Pagal Ki Diary’, ‘Man Ki Mouj’, ‘Challant’, written by Pt. Kashyap Bandhu became extremely popular. Pt. Gangadhar Bhat Dehati of Murran was sub-editor of the paper. In 1947 Bandhu Ji handed over the paper to Sham Lal Shastri. Desh was the first paper to highlight the cause of peasantry in Kashmir and attacked usury, corruption etc.

Pt. Ramchand Abhay was associated with Desh since 1947 and discharged editorial responsibilities. Kashmiri Pandits had two associations-SD Yuvak Sabha and Samaj Sudhar Samiti, headed by Pt. Gopi Krishan of ‘Kundalini’ fame. The Martand was mouth-piece of the former. Sudhar Samiti’s organ was Jyoti (started in 1948). It used to be printed from Shivala and Pt. RC Abhay was its first editor. I worked partime with ‘Desh’ from 1955 to 1967. In 1967 Prof. Omkar Nath Bhat, who taught English at Vishwa Bharti College, was its editor. He was brother-in-law of late Janki Ganju. Prof. Bhat was a fine person and a capable journalist. He also wrote commentaries for the Radio. Before this assignment he performed the job of editor for weekly ‘Rehnuma’ owned by Mubarak Shah Qadiri. Mr. M.S. Qadiri was a teacher. He had become a member of upper house after having defeated poet Dina Nath Nadim. Pt. Triloki Nath Handoo (later associated with Sarda and Indian Times) was Assistant editor of ‘Desh’. Mr. Makhan Lal Mahav joined ‘Desh’ in 1967 as a parttimer. He wrote powerful satire. Bakshi Gh. Mohd. was a great fan of Mahav’s ‘Lateefe’. Mahav was quite innovative and enriched the paper with new ideas. Khwaja Khazar Magribi also wrote satire in ‘Desh’. Pt. Som Nath Ganjoo was an employee of ‘Desh’. During 1967 agitation ‘Desh’ highlighted atrocites and discrimination against Kashmiri Pandits.

Martand:

I joined Martand in 1970. Pt. Shamboo Nath Kachroo was editor besides being printer and publisher but Shri JN Khyberi After Khyberi was executive editor. After him the mantle of editorship passed on to me. Martand was a 4-page daily paper. The paper had no editorial staff or reporters. Mr. Prithvi Nath Bhat was its manager, while Shri Dina Nath Ogra managed the accounts. Soon after Sheikh Abdullah took over the reins of government in 1975 monthly paper of State Information Department carried a sectarian write-up ‘Kashmiri Pandit Firka Parast’ (though the paper’s brief was to cover only developmental issues). Strangely, a copy of this issue was not sent to me. We couldn’t understand the motive behind this write-up, which threatened to provoke communal animosity against Pandit minority. ‘Martand’ serialized my rejoinder in four parts. This unnerved the people behind this derogatory write-up. I was called by the Principal Information officer and asked why I was attacking the Sheikh Abdullah government. I edited Martand for 6 years. It sold 1800 copies.

I left Martand in 1981 and joined Morning Times, owned by Bashir Ahmed Naushad. It was a daily paper and served as official organ of youth federation. The paper committed a faux paus on the occasion of death anniversary of Shamim Ahmed Shamim. Sheikh Abdullah was still alive. Instead of writing ‘Shamim Ki Wafat Par’ it wrote ‘Sheikh Abdullah Ki Wafat Par’. There was great hue and cry. The lapse was on the part of Katib Master, Shri Mohd. Shafi and not on the part of a ‘Jansanghi’ as alleged by Late Maqbool Ahmed one of the veteran journalists of Kashmir.

After leaving Morning Times, I had brief stints at Daily Wullar, owned by Sh. Gh. Mohd. Dar, Daily Naqashband, owned by Bashir Bin Qasimi, a contractor and a good draftsman, Srinagar Express , owned by Abdul Rehman Mir (cousin of Mir Lasjan) and Vakil, owned by Shri Poshkar Nath Vakil. Mr GM Dar would also write for the paper and pursued a pro-NC and pro-India line.The other papers also broadly followed a policy which did not hurt national interests. I worked with Vakil from 1984 to 1988. It was associated with Hindu Mahasabha and sold 500-600 copies. It got advertisements worth Rs 8000 per month. Vakil sold 200 copies.

In 1988 I launched my own daily ‘Bahar-i-Kashmir’ (circulation 1000 copies). On 19 May, 1990 after the terrorist attack on my house, I had to move to Jammu. At that time Shri Makhan Lal Mahav and myself were the only two Pandit journalists staying put in Valley, despite all odds.  In 1990 myself and Shri ML Kaul, formerly Joint Director of AIR started an Urdu Weekly ‘Jan Shakti’. I brought out my own ‘Janat-i-Kashmir’, weekly in 1994. I continues to survive.

I had also the privilege to cover Assembly proceeding both before and after 1990 for Radio Kashmir. During my journalistic career I had the privilege to cover visits of such luminaries-General Cariappa, Marshal Bulganin and Nikita Khurshchev and President Sanjeeva Reddy. Soon after Wazawan session was over, Khrushchev, overwhelmed by huge reception, told the audience. “If you have any difficulty, you go up the hill and shout at us. We will come to your help’. Shri Jagar Nath Khyberi and Mr Rajpouri have been my ‘Gurus’ (teachers) in journalism. I wrote editorials for ‘Desh’ and discussed these with editor Shri Sh Shastri. He was a very mature person with good grasp of politics.