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Birth of two newspapers

WHEN THE birth centenary of Ramnath Goenka was remembered recently, so too was what he had done for the Indian Express. When C.S. Narasimhan died a few weeks before that, his ties with the Swadesamitran were hardly recalled. Both papers, however, had longer histories than the period when they were under the stewardship of Goenka and Narasimhan. Curiously, their impact on the two papers they steered was diametrically opposite; Goenka took the Indian Express to new heights, while Narasimhan presided over the disposal of a paper that had lost its steam, not a little due to Goenka's challenge.

The Indian Express had its roots in Madras's first morning daily, the Daily Express, which was founded in 1921 by R.W. Brock. He was the Editor of the Madras Times, a post he lost when J.O. Robinson of Spencer's took over both the Times and The Madras Mail that year, merged them and made Arthur Hayles, who came with the latter, the Editor of the combined publication which Hayles renamed The Mail, intent on making it more than a Presidency paper.

Brock felt he could make a success of his Daily Express by providing in it a large dose of entertainment. He pioneered the women's page, children's corner and magazine section in Madras. But when he decided to return home a year or so later, his successors could not make a go of the paper and closed it in 1927. Four years later, a fearless and irascible Ayurveda physician, Varadarajulu Naidu, took over the Express and made it the Indian Express. Naidu, described as the `Tilak of South India', had started an outspoken Tamil weekly, Tamil Nadu, some years earlier and had made it a daily in 1927. But unable to run both papers, he sold the Indian Express to Sadanand of the Free Press Journal, Bombay, who left it to his manager S.V. Swami and Editor K. Santhanam to run.

They took a loan from Ramnath Goenka to modernise their Mooker Nallamuthu Street press and start, in 1934, a Tamil newspaper, Dinamani, to take on the Swadesamitran. Unable to service the debt, they allowed Goenka to take over the Indian Express in 1939 - and a newspaper empire was born, presided over by a proprietor to be described as the `Indian Citizen Kane.'

As pugnacious as Goenka in his approach to journalism was G. Subramania Aiyer, who had founded The Hindu in 1889 and who left it to nurture the first major Tamil newspaper, the Swadesamitran. He had founded the Swadesamitran as a weekly in 1882 to add a Tamil voice to the challenge he was posing in The Hindu to the Madras Times and The Madras Mail. When he left The Hindu, he made the Swadesamitran a tri-weekly and, in 1899, a daily, the first in Tamil. Associated with it for short spells in the early 1900s and 1920s was Subramania Bharati, the Tamil poet-patriot.

Subramania Aiyar's pen "dipped in a paste of the extra-pungent thin green chillies" - as Subramania Bharati described his Editor's writing style - got him in trouble with the British in 1908. The persecution he faced thereafter broke his indomitable spirit and he was an ailing man when, in 1915, he handed over the reins of the Swadesamitran to A. Rangaswami Iyengar, Kasturi Ranga Iyengar's nephew and right hand man at The Hindu. Rangaswami Iyengar brought in his kin C.R. Srinivasan to manage the paper.

When Rangaswami Iyengar left to take over the editorial reins of The Hindu in 1928, Srinivasan became Editor, manager and proprietor of the Swadesamitran. His trenchant prose and his informed and soundly-argued writings helped the Swadesamitran enjoy its finest era. His death brought his son C.S. Narasimhan to the helm of affairs.

When the editorial standards Srinivasan had set could not be matched and the challenge of the Goenka-backed Dinamani could not be met, the Swadesamitran went into terminal decline.

Its real estate became the VGP property at Round Tana.

S. MUTHIAH

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