The great West Indian writer C.L.R. James famously wrote: “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?” In other words, there is a lot more to the game than just the game.
The question can be rephrased in journalism: “What do they know of journalism who only English and Hindi journalism know?”
It’s a good question to ask after the passing of the Kannada journalist, author, publisher, anchor and entrepreneur Ravi Belagere, at the age of 62.
The colourful and controversial editor of the Kannada tabloid Hi! Bangalore was probably India’s most successful multimedia wordsmith, across platforms, yet largely unknown to non-Kannada readers and audiences.
Ravi Belagere, a former sub-editor at the Kannada dailies Samyukta Karnataka and Kannada Prabha, found instant success with the launch of the tabloid in 1995, with its energetic use of the language.
He built up a loyal following with its TRP-rattling “Crime Story” on ETV, hosted tasteful music shows to acclaim, and wrote dozens of books. But the compliment he most liked was to hear ordinary autodrivers say: “ಸಕತ್ತಾಗಿ ಬರೀತಾನೆ ನನ್ಮಗ” (bugger writes beautifully).
Like many high-flying editors, #RaviBelagere attracted charges of blackmail and extortion. But the Bellary man who came to Bangalore with Rs 380 in his pocket turned it on its head with an annual declaration of his cars, homes, debts and taxes paid.
Uncharacteristically for a Kannada journalist, Ravi Belagere was comfortable in English and Hindi, and came close to the writer Manohar Malgaonkar, from whom he purchased his estate.
He was weighed down by ill-health—and the souring of old friendships—in recent years. But as a man wedded to the word, spoken or written, he had few peers among his contemporaries. Khushwant Singh, whom he saw as his mentor, would be pleased with a life well lived.
The Kannada daily Vijaya Vani runs his last column on Sunday, November 15, with a footnote that it was mailed the day before the journalist’s demise.
In this episode of J-POD, the veteran Kannada journalist D.Umapathy, a colleague and long-time friend of Ravi Belagere, discusses his journalism and his contributions.
The Delhi-based Umapathy calls him genius, albeit a flawed genius who lived life kingsize, living 10 lives in one, but he says he could have used the power of his pen and reach to greater effect.