Ten minutes into my first walk of the year, at the heaven-sent but Maharaja-made Kukkarahalli Lake in Mysore, I bumped into Manmohan, an old friend of mine, younger than me by four or five years.
Manmohan had already washed away the guilt of the night before by doing the 4-km ‘pradakshina’ on the periphery of the lake and was shooting the breeze with his pals, all of them separated at girth.
He saw me, recognised me, and decided to walk another round.
‘Prachina Vidhi,’ if you get me.
26 years ago, when I met him first, Manmohan used to be an ever-smiling peon at Mysore’s leading morning Kannada newspaper, ‘Andolana‘. A smile which suggested that he knew that we, journalists, were a bunch of good-for-nothing-else-in-life types, goofing around with words.
Manmohan’s “tasks” in the pre-‘Bigg Boss’ era—for a grand salary of Rs 800 per month—included going to the bank to deposit cheques; collecting photographs and “news” sent by rural correspondents from the mofussil bus stand; fetching coffee, ‘chakkuli’ for staffers; reining in editor Rajashekhar Koti‘s terror of a son, Ravi, etc.
All on a bicycle, owned by ‘Andolana‘.
It is said (correctly) that there is nothing in journalism a Labrador cannot be trained to do in half a day. True to that aphorism, Manmohan had secretly picked up enough skills of the ‘Andolana’ production room to become a “paste-up artist”.
“Paste-up artists” were the people who designed newspapers before NID geniuses started ruining them—pasting columns of waxed bromides of “matter” on tracing paper, for “plates” to be “washed” and made, for newspapers to be printed.
Anyway, to cut a short story long, peon Manmohan had jumped ship to Mysore’s insanely popular English evening daily ‘Star of Mysore‘, where he became a full “page-maker”, under the tutelage of the great K.B. Ganapathy, let’s say for Rs 3,000 or so per month.
Life was now on a Luna.
So, when Manmohan started walking along with me yesterday, I expected him to regale me with gossip of Mysore’s newspaper world, of drunks and divorcees, of corrupt racketeers, of some old worthy living in penury—of making ends meet in Anno Demonetisation, 2017.
Instead, Manmohan blew me away.
He said he was now on his own, running an outdoor media advertising company, which fitted state-owned KSRTC buses with ads. He had started the company even while he was working at ‘Star of Mysore‘, sold a stake to a larger OOH firm after a few years, and was raking it in.
He now employed eight people.
He earned in six figures each month.
He drove a Hyundai i20.
He had got his sisters married off.
He had got his relatives educated.
His children went to my school, CFTRI School.
He was a member of two clubs, Chamarajapuram Club and Madhu Club.
He drank two pegs a day.
As Manmohan narrated his story, I innocently asked what had become of the tiny shack in K.G. Koppal, where his large family lived, where he had once served a festival meal in an alley so narrow that only one set of people could sit by the wall, with the plantain leaves spread out in front of them.
“Oh, that’s history. I have a home in posh Sharadadevi Nagar worth well over a crore. We all live together under one roof.
“Earlier, when we made a few extra rupees, we had meat in our meal. Today, I can afford a festival meal every day of the year.”
Manmohan isn’t Manmohan’s real name.
It is S. Kumar.
I introduced Kumar as Manmohan just so that we can remind ourselves that there was a world before Narendra Modi, and that it resulted in far greater energy, enterprise and success without the catchy slogans or blustery bull shit that have hypnotised and made fools out of most of us
Happy new year, Kumar.
(This piece was first published on Facebook on January 2, 2017)