B.N. Nayak, an unsung hero of Indian journalism, one of the many pillars on which ‘The Times of India’ stands, departs at 70

“Telling people, who did not know Mr So-and-So was alive, that Mr So-and-So is dead,” is one of the better definitions of the basic functions of journalism.

And so it comes to pass that newspaper readers in Mysore, who (mostly) did not know who Mr B.N. Nayak was, are being informed today that B.N. Nayak is no more.

***

Although Nityanand Nayak gets the mandatory two-paragraph mention reserved for the dead in newspapers—one para with name, age, occupation, and another para with who he or she is survived by, and the location and time of the last rites—B.N. Nayak was not just another Mysorean breathing the last of its salubrious air.

For unknown to most readers, B.N. Nayak was for 45 years a newspaper dealer, distributing a range of newspapers and magazines in a number of languages. He was, in a sense, the peddlar responsible for the morning fix.

More importantly, for 44 of those 45 years, B.N. Nayak was The Times of India‘s dealer in Mysore, a City with an abdundant heritage of journalism.

***

When Mr Nayak got into the distribution business as a 25-year-old, it wasn’t the ToI readers know of, today.

The paper was just called The Times, a ploy employed by Bennett Coleman & Co Ltd (BCCL) to circumvent exisiting monopoly laws (MRTP, it was called, monopolies and restrictive trade practices, a precursor to today’s Competition Commission).

When The Times was launched in Bangalore in 1984, it was distributed in Mysore from an office Nayak and a deceased uncle of his, Mr Shenoy, shared with the Kannada daily Samyukta Karnataka in the decrepit Lansdowne Building.

After Nayak took over sole responsibility, the action shifted to Premier Book House, a store he ran at Makkaji Chowk in the heart of the City, where he offered a journalism-mad young man big discounts.

Distributing ToI back then wasn’t also quite the glamourous or profitable proposition it is today. Readers were reluctant to shift loyalties from Deccan Herald and The Indian Express. Copies of the Bombay edition of The Times of India were used to persuade readers to try the new offering.

For the longest time, circulation of the Bangalore edition of The Times of India languished in the low thousands, in fact in four digits. If it now sells over 400,000 copies, it is because of the efforts of unsung heroes like B.N. Nayak.

Not just Nayak but many like him, who do not get their due.

***

A key figure in The Times of India‘s rescue, revival and resurgence in Bangalore was its results and market development (RMD) head Franklyn James, who was a gangling executive when he started out.

(Sunil Rajshekhar, who now heads the Independent & Public Spirited Media Foundation (IPSMF), was their boss, as the branch head in Bangalore.)

Franklyn, who slogged it out with the likes of Nayak in various towns and cities to get ToI going, recalls Nayak’s “integrity, sincerity and commitment, combined with hospitality”.

“I was part of his family,” says Franklyn, who in this picture (right) can be seen with Nayak’s wife and their two little daughters, who later excelled in academics to become a doctor and an engineer.

***

Warm and garrulous, Nayak was quick in his conclusions. In recent conversations, he bemoaned declining newspaper reading habits and predicted dire times for the industry going forward.

COVID confirmed his worst suspicions, and Nayak was of the opinion that circulations would not return to status quo ante. Minimum, 10% will go, he said.

But there would be space for newspapers.

“The affection of people towards the milkman and the newspaper boy are very different from most other services,” Nayak said.

***

In the high-stress, dog-eat-dog world of newspaper distribution, Nayak quite combustible at dawn, dealing with vendors, hawkers and others in the food chain.

This morning, at the key distribution points for newspapers in Mysore, there were the mandatory “flex” sheets stuck on trees and poles, mourning the demise of the President of the “Mysore District Press Representatives’ Association”.

But how many passers-by, how many readers, would have known that Mr B.N. Nayak who was alive when the newspaper vans arrived yesterday was not today?

And how many would have realised reading the two-paragraph obituaries, that for all the efforts of newspapers to convince readers that newspapers were safe from COVID contamination, a leading newspaper dealer had succumbed to it?

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