‘Mr KN’, a legend at ‘The Hindu’: a “Dronacharya who moulded a generation of Ekalavyas”, an elder brother who helped faraway correspondents scale new heights

Journalism is more than just bold-face owners and editors, whose face appears on TV or who advertise their greatness on social media every few minutes. There are many unsung heroes down the food chain, quietly going about their job with dignity and dedication.

The Hindu lost two former news editors on the recently. Here, Mathihalli Madan Mohan, a longtime special correspondent of the paper based in Hubli (now Hubballi), in Karnataka, pays tribute to one of them: K. Narayanan aka KN.

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By M. MADAN MOHAN

K. Narayanan was the quintessential News Editor, a tribe which is going extinct in the realm of Indian journalism. He was a Dronacharya, who mentored a generation of ‘Ekalavya’ journalists, bringing perspicacity, precision and perspective to their craft to serve the paper’s readers better. 

Mr KN proved to be good foil to the dynamic Editor of The Hindu, G. Kasturi. For, it was the desire of G. Kasturi to bring the paper’s correspondents into the mainstream of news coverage. For those were the days when the only communication between the correspondents and head office was the monthly cheque.

When Mr KN was made the News Editor, Mr. Kasturi gave him the task of having closer interaction with the correspondents languishing in the hinterland outside and making them veritable instruments of meaningful news coverage. This job was done with aplomb by Mr KN. Thanks to his efforts, many of the correspondents proved true to the trust and confidence placed on them.

I was one of the lucky ones to be noticed by Mr KN. I covered Goa and North Karnataka during my four-decade-long service in The Hindu. It is Mr KN who drew me out of the slot of the district correspondent (based in Hubballi) and enabled me to write stories with a regional, state and national perspective. 

Mr KN was a man of few words but a lot of action. He always encouraged correspondents to write novel stories and a pat from him was all we waited for. He taught us the art of writing wholesome stories with no questions left for readers to ask. He was not a run-of-the-mill News Editor who occupied the chair, but was a proactive captain of the news gathering team, wedded to the task of providing a varied fare to readers. 

My first ever interaction with Mr. KN was way back in 1968. I had then been transferred to Hubbali after my brief stint in Goa. The caller with a soft voice from the head office in Chennai identified himself as Mr KN and asked me whether I could join a press party being taken by the Defence Ministry to Nasik.

I agreed to do so only after confirming the call was genuine as it was rare for a district correspondent to get a call from the head office. The assignment, as such, was not a big success, but this proved to be the beginning of fruitful relationship between me and Mr KN.  

Mr KN kept a close watch on day-to-day developments and was very much interested in follow-up stories. One such instance was the story by me in 1983 on a railway line left hanging because of a landslide in the Western Ghats, which had disrupted rail link with Goa.

I was in Uttara Kannada district covering the rain havoc. I had started the work on the hanging railway line story on my return when I received a message from Mr. KN asking for a follow-up story. This story with a map and photo of the hanging railway line was featured as the lead story in our paper.

The celebrated Jain Muni Elacharya, who was close to Indira Gandhi, had embarked on a fast in a village near Kolhapur in neighboring Maharashtra. I drew his attention as to whether I could do the story taking shape in Maharashtra. Mr. KN immediately gave the go-ahead signal. The resultant story was carried in the “In the State” column on Sunday.

Vocalist Kumar Gandharva, who hailed from Karnataka, stayed in Madhya Pradesh. When he was awarded the Kalidas Sammaan award, I sent across a telegram asking him whether a story could be written for the “men in news” column appearing on Sunday. Mr KN again sent back a quick reply in the affirmative. I did the story, despite my preoccupation with state election coverage.

In 1983 India hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting (CHOGM) with Goa, which I was covering, being chosen as a retreat. Since such international meets were covered from New Delhi, I had no plans to visit Goa. But Mr KN rang me up one morning and asked me to be in Goa as he wanted someone to be there in case something unexpected were to happen.

As it was a last minute assignment, my colleagues in New Delhi could not arrange for a pass. I still went ahead to make my own arrangement and filed two page-one stories. Mr KN then asked whether I could solely contribute for the special supplement on Goa to mark CHOGM. I contributed 10 stories and all of them were edited by none other than Mr KN himself.   

I was able to do many stories of national importance under the Hubballi dateline, which included edit page articles. Once when my article about a national conference was unusually lengthy he asked me: “Do you think I should keep one sub-editor to exclusively sub your copies?” This was his way of rebuking.

During assembly and parliament elections, I regularly gave pre-election surveys and post-election analyses that practically covered half of Karnataka. My efforts were appreciated in writing by Mr KN. 

Under Mr KN there was no limit for work one could do. His encouragement was always there. I was lucky to get a boss like him. 

Let me end this on personal note.

It was my eldest brother, the late Mathihalli Nagaraja Rao, the Resident Editor of Samyukta Karnataka, who groomed me initially in journalism. It was Mr KN, who as an elder brother, helped me scale newer heights in the profession. I regret not visiting him when he was not well as my own health condition came in the way.

(Mathihalli Madan Mohan was a special correspondent of The Hindu, based in Hubli, now known as Hubballi)

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Mr KN (centre) with N. Ram, former Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu. His wife Rukmini Narayanan is at left.

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Cartoon: courtesy E.P. Unny via Asiaville

Screenshot: courtesy The Hindu

Photograph: courtesy Asiaville

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