The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The master of ceremonies
- Russy Karanjia knew how to make different things click together

Why not admit it, the first time, more than sixty years ago, one had come across the expression "Coca-colonialism" was not on the pages of People's War, the organ of the Communist Party of India, but in Russy Karanjia's Blitz. Those were thrilling times, the Soviet Union, having helped the Allies to defeat Nazi Germany, was at the peak of its glory. Radical thoughts and ideas were in the air, dreams merged into promises and vice versa, Blitz, making its debut, created a stunning impression on the minds of young collegians in Bombay, Bangalore, Madras, Calcutta and Delhi. The news of Karanjia's passing on the first day of this month releases, even if for a brief while, floodgates of shy memories.

The end of the Second World War, the INA trials, the long-awaited hour of freedom, in its train partition of the country, grisly killings, pillage and migration of population. But, alongside these negative themes, the resolves and aspirations of young Indians: to learn how to build a resurgent India that would scale dizzy heights of prosperity through purposive economic planning, how the emerging nations of Asia and Africa could form a solid phalanx of amity and understanding so as to blow away the left-over vestiges of colonialism, how to guard against the already evident designs of Yankee imperialism, how support from the Soviet Union could help India tide over the problems of transition. With Jawaharlal Nehru at the helm of the nation's affairs, many of these ideas became ruling ideas. Russy Karanjia, the debonair man-about-town, knew the art of making different things click together; he appropriated the ruling ideas to give Blitz a particular slant establishment circles could live with. But, while all this was happening, India, Karanjia wanted to assure the country's young set, would also be a 'fun' thing. Such was the juxtaposition that went into the making of Blitz. The response was tremendous; the proprietor-editor did have no reason to look back.

The change Blitz brought about was as much in approach as in the arena of ideas. Indian journalism - in English as well as in the regional languages - was by tradition an integral part of nationalist hyperbole. Politics in that era was a serious avocation; so too was journalism, dull, ponderous, heavy-going stuff. Doyens like Ramananda Chatterjee and C.Y. Chintamani wrote as if they were on a tryst with divinity, newspapers were paraphernalia of a holy mission, no sense of levity was expected to intrude upon them. The generation of Pothan Joseph and Chalapathi Rao tried to descend from the pulpit, but, even with them, the style of writing continued to be hectoring, the headmaster sternly talking down to the boys.

Russy Karanjia chose to go for a clean break. The American GIs roaming the ramparts of Bori Bunder must have given him the idea: why not borrow their lingo even while berating policies and activities of the US administration? Newspapers anyway needed to come close to the vocabulary of the ordinary householder. Blitz began experimenting with reportage; it was often almost informal conversation, with dollops of gossip. It was both chatty and colloquial, a quixotic cocktail of concepts and stratagems. Easy-to-handle tabloid size, the paragraphs invariably in different fonts to emphasize individual items, regular columns by men like Mulk Raj Anand and Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, plus some cheesecake, in the manner of London's Evening Standard, tucked in a couple of back pages. Karanjia was a staunch believer in sensationalizing for the sake of sensationalizing. He would thus print, next to a ponderous piece on the eternal bliss of Indo-Soviet friendship, the salacious story of a sex escapade, perhaps followed by an intended-to-be-bloodcurdling account of a grisly murder. Old-timers will still remember the lengths the weekly went to expose the innards of the Nanavati case, which, to Karanjia's delight, involved both sex and murder. The hypothesis could not be more overt: the more people felt like puking, the more copies they would buy.

It was an exciting new formula: splicing low-grade society gossip with political preaching. This adventurer with an affluent Parsi background was an unabashed sponsor of socialist causes, going gaga over the Kosygin-Bulganin visit, interviewing Zhou Enlai for three or four pages running, waxing eloquent on the Bandung spirit. Blitz drove its frenzy into fever pitch during the brief weeks of the Anglo-French machination aimed at seizing the Suez Canal; Anthony Eden's resignation and Guy Mollet's discomfiture were hailed as the inexorable consequence of resolute Afro-Asian solidarity, and was not Gamal Abdel Nasser, together with Mohammed Sukarno, bound in an unshakable bond of camaraderie with Jawaharlal Nehru?

There were incongruities though. Consider, for instance, Karanjia's strange obsession with the Shah of Iran. The Pahlevi dynasty could apparently do no wrong. Given the strident anti-colonialism it held as its credo, Blitz should have sided with Mohammed Mossadeq rather than with the King during the turbulent early Fifties. Nothing doing; the rest of the paper could burn with revolutionary zeal, at least one page was reserved for assorted mishmash concerning the Shah of Iran and his beautiful Queen.

Karanjia was unfazed; for nothing succeeds like success. Blitz was show business, and the editor was the master of ceremonies; the point was not what he presented, but how he presented it. Never mind his Shah-philia, Karanjia rode the radical route with the likes of no less than Krishna Menon, going to extraordinary lengths to mobilize support for Menon during his famous fight for a Bombay parliamentary seat against J.B. Kripalani, the imagined standard-bearer of dark reaction. Blitz would carry reports of that campaign even as it would carry accounts of dazzling parties at the Taj crowded with film stars and business magnates. Not just Krishna Menon, Blitz would spare generous space for front-rank communists of the stature of S.A. Dange and Aruna Asaf Ali as well. Other celebrities all the while cropping up in the pages of Blitz would include the crème de la crème of radical chic, such as the socialite, Bakul Patel, her politician husband, Rajani, the physician, A.V. Baliga, and the lawyer, A.S.R. Chari. Blitz was at the juncture a social register for Bombay. It was, at the same time, many things more. That was its badge of honour as well as its meal ticket.

Karanjia and Blitz attracted, in due course, envy. The fellow Parsi, D.F. Karaka, tried to provided some competition with his Current - and its anti-Left rhetoric - but proved no match. For at least two decades, Blitz had the field all to itself. There is however such a thing as nature's attrition. The Indo-China imbroglio of 1962 presented Karanjia with his first crisis. That apart, the formula of being all things to all men and radical too was destined to come a cropper sooner or later. Karanjia and his paper fought their final war when they took on, in 1967, Sada Patil and the entrenched hegemony of the Congress party machine in Bombay. In an echo of the Menon-Kripalani event, Blitz went to battle and vanquished Patil; the victory of George Fernandes was only incidental.

That was the last hurrah. It could be ennui, it could be the contradictions finally catching up with Blitz. Maybe political radicalism of the Left genre had lost its savour. Blitz faded into oblivion even as Russy Karanjia himself, struck down by a severe illness, receded from the limelight. It is a shameful thing, one came to know that he was alive all these years only when one read about his death.

He was not everybody's cup of tea. No matter, Karanjia changed, for better or for worse, the face of Indian journalism.

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