Letter from a Concerned Editor, to Sri J. Mathrubhootam, c/o The Hindu paper

Respected Sri Mathrubootham

I am as surprised as you are that you should be receiving this letter. Consider it an honour. 

As a class, Editors, note the capital E, Editors only write to an authority higher than themselves, of which there is only one, the Prime Minister, as Dileep Padgaonkar revealed in a not-so-odd moment of weakness. But since there is no point in writing to the reigning Raj Rishi if we cannot praise him to the high heavens, compare him with celestial objects, and acknowledge in every vowel and consonant that he can walk on water with fire in his lovely eyes, which are on the camera and the ‘likes’ he may get for it, and which might or might not get him into his favourite book, the Guinness Book, I write to you “Mr Mathrubootham”.

You will have noticed two things in the preceding sentence. The first is that it is 420 characters long, which is the size of three full tweets. That’s how we Editors write. No “bloody nonsense” kind of staccato. Our words are murky; our voice passive; our ideas complex; our metaphors mixed; our lines clogged with clauses, cliches, qualifiers, zombies, non sequiturs, with the result that by the time you finish reading a paragraph you will have forgotten what we started with, which is sometimes not a bad thing. At the Editors Guild, to whose membership you can only be invited, not apply for, we have a nice word for it: gravitas, although not all of us have it.

Second, you will have no doubt noted the double quotes around your name, “Mr Mathrubootham”. That’s how we Editors suggest that we know a lot more than you think. We also use (sic). So, admit it, “Mathrubootham” is not your real name. It is a pseudonym and a poor one at that. Who, in these ‘Achche Domini’, would have 12 letters in a surname and want the immigration Nazis to strip-search you about its origin? What kind of publication would allow an “old” byline like yours to adorn its pages when readers are getting younger, advertisers are chasing them, and the CEO makes sure we don’t forget he has two teenage kids, a boy and a girl, on the path to literacy? 

So, who are you, “Mr Mathrubootham”? You claim you are in your 80s. Are you? Just because you call your wife “Kamalam” are we to believe you have not cooked her up too? Are you really a “reader”, or one of the permanent staff trying to make some “side money”, like the chief reporter of the world’s only English newspaper published in Punjabi, who encouraged reporters to go out into the field and report, because he ran a taxi company, which handled its travel logistics. I ask, because which other “reader” is getting so much space as you in the newspaper which recently told other readers to buzz off by crunching the space available for their letters?

Ayyo, what has the world come to,” you might wonder, as you marinate your dentures tonight, but remember, “Mr Mathrubootham”, it is our right, our responsibility, as Editors to be suspicious, sceptical, even cynical of everything. It is written in our unwritten code of ethics. 

You might also ask why it has taken so long for these questions to be asked. Well, truth be told, your letter has been appearing in “Siberia”, also known as the Magazine section. It is where everything that didn’t get into the main paper is sneaked in by a 20-something caught between Instagramming her pedicure and Facebooking her manicure during office hours. I wasn’t interested in your travails and tribulations till I heard people talking about it at the Club. You may take that as a compliment.

You cannot mess with an Editor on bylines, “Mr Mathrubootham”. Certainly not with this Editor who has changed at least half-a-dozen names to make them more print-friendly. And who, in the insouciance of his youth, was caught writing a fake letter to spice up matters on the Edit page. For some reason, I signed it off as “Frank Noronha”. The folks from the local North Canara Association came marching to the office, produced a directory of all Christians in the city, and said there was nobody by that name. It ended well because the Editor intervened, but imagine being introduced to the chief spokesman of the government of India, 25 years on. His name: Frank Noronha.

The future is always tense, “Mr Mathrubhootam”, more tense than what a Concerned Reader thinks.

So, I ask again before they make Aadhar card mandatory for newspaper readers writing letters to the Editor: who are you? Are you really who you say, or are you just playing the Tam Brahm card in a Tam Brahm newspaper by talking about tumblers, neighbours, light bills, children in foreign lands and ‘votha kozhambu’, which makes it quaint for non-Tam Brahm readers who think Kapil Sharma is a comedian? Or, are you a Periyar-vaadi, secretly trying to destroy Tam Brahms by mocking them, because “Mr Mathrubootham”, I notice that one of the anagrams of your name is “Abhor Tam Mouth”.

Why can’t you be NDTV’s Sreenivasan Jain, whose name itself is quite suspicious because, well, it is a portmanteau of an Iyengar who was the Diwan of Mysore, and well, a Jain from Old Delhi, who was deewana enough to marry his daughter? Think about it, “Mr Mathrubootham”. Why else would you have chosen a name which is ranked 41,962 among rare Indian names, because only two people, just two people, in a survey of one million Indians had it, yours included. Did I hear you shudder when I mentioned Vasu’s name? You should. Why else would he have called you the “journalistic discovery of the year” if he did not have a vested interest? 

You might ask how does it all matter now when you are writing about simple, harmless things and everybody is loving it. Well, that’s precisely the problem. Everybody is loving what you write and it hurts an Editor where it hurts most—between his ears—to know that somebody could be writing such mundane stuff in such simple words and getting applause for it, while all our outpourings fed to us by think tanks and academics from Oxford to Harvard to Backward barely gets read or talked about. Imagine, everybody starts writing like you, and everybody understands what we are talking about, and everybody starts loving it. 

We are not McDonald’s, “Mr Mathrubhootam”, everybody can’t love it. 

So, time to come real before we bust your ‘R’s. 

You are too good to be true.

Yours sincerely

Krishna Prasad