Book Review by Jayant Krishna
Scent of a Story by Shankar Ghosh on the life and times of the celebrated doyen of English journalism, Dr SN Ghosh, is not just a tribute from a son to his father. More than just a biographical portrayal, it chronicles various shades of journalism as it stood in the pre and post-independence India. Dr Ghosh was not only passionate about The Pioneer which rose to much eminence during his stewardship but had a life-long romance with the newspaper.
Dr SN Ghosh was the longest serving and the first Indian Editor of The Pioneer which had the honour of being India’s second oldest English newspaper. Dr Ghosh’s long innings also saw India coming to terms with several sweeping changes in its politics, society and the economy as a newly independent country. Dr Ghosh’s overseas trips and several interesting encounters also feature in the book. Not many know that Dr Ghosh had a great sense of humour as well. The book is largely a first-person narrative of Dr Ghosh’s life spanning Allahabad and Lucknow and that makes it quite absorbing.
The Pioneer has had a rich legacy with several stalwarts being associated with it including Rudyard Kipling as its Assistant Editor, Alfred Percy Sinnett as its Editor, Winston Churchill as its War Correspondent, Harivansh Rai Bachchan as its Reporter and Sudhir Dar as its Cartoonist. With support of the Rajas of Mahmudabad and Jahangirabad and others, the newspaper’s headquarters in Lucknow were designed by the renowned Australian architect Walter Burley Griffin who was also instrumental in the creation of capital city Canberra.
Dr Ghosh chronicled later years of India’s freedom movement, the Bengal Famine, the Indo-Chinese war, the early days of Ram Janma Bhoomi movement and the rise and fall of several state Governments in Uttar Pradesh. As the most important state of India from an electoral standpoint, Dr Ghosh’s political analysis of the state’s ground realities were quite sought after all over the country and even abroad. The commercial pressures and corporate takeovers of The Pioneer by Jaipurias and Thapars also find an interesting mention in the book.
Dr Ghosh had several close rendezvous with Acharya Kriplani, Motilal Nehru, Gobind Ballabh Pant, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, Chandra Bhanu Gupta, Naval Tata, Lal Bahadur Shastri, VP Singh and Rajiv Gandhi; and chronicled them and many other leaders in his daily during his long journey. Several members from Dr Ghosh’s family have also featured in the book including those who also narrated stories which, coupled with several dining table conversations, provided fodder to Shankar Ghosh to write these very interesting memoirs.
As a child and young adult often contributing to the daily The Pioneer, I always found him to be a true-bred sahib, a stickler and a principled man. He used to be the ultimate word in English journalism in that part of the country for several decades. As I conclude this book review, I also take this opportunity to salute this widely respected man who practiced value-based journalism all his life.