Newspaper synonymous with the Capital
Hindustan Times has always been Delhi’s number one newspaper. It is also perhaps the only newspaper amongst the top dailies of the country that was associated with India’s freedom struggle. This particular fact makes this paper very unique in every sense of the word.
I was invited to join this great institution in the middle of 1995 as a Senior Editor after a successful stint as the Metro Editor and Deputy Resident Editor of the Delhi Edition of Times of India. I took over my assignment as the head of the City/NCR section on September 1, 1995 and remained the City Editor (I, initially, also looked after the Metropolitan which was subsequently replaced by HT City) for more than six years before being appointed as the Political Editor.
Though, I have been in this paper for 13 and a half years now, my association with the HT is much longer than many of its present employees. I had started reading the newspaper when I was seven or eight years old and Hindustan Times was the only paper that used to come to our house then. Therefore, I can recall a number of salient features of this newspaper as a reader and also because God has been kind and has given me a good memory.
I will like to mention that my reading habit as far as HT goes had become so strong that when I even worked in other newspapers like the TOI (as a reporter in early eighties and Metro Editor in the early nineties) and the Hindu, I would start my day by reading Hindustan Times. After seeing the main pages, I would shift to the paper I worked. Apart from habit, it was also because reading HT would help in making an assessment of what one had missed or scored on.
A permanent feature of HT till I guess 1998 or 1999 was the comic strip featuring Garth that would appear every day on the Sports Page. Garth was an obsession with readers of this paper and every adventure of his which featured this huge Hulk as the central character and good Samaritan, his lady love Astra and good friend, Prof Lumeire would be a big hit.
I can tell you that Garth was so popular that Phantom, Mandrake and Tarzan that figured as strips in other papers were totally overshadowed by this one strip. Had the promoters of Garth not discontinued it back in the US, I am sure it would have been one of the continuing features of this newspaper.
On Page two, another comic strip under the classified advertisements that initially appeared was about Buck Ryan, a detective. This went on for some time but finally got replaced in the same position by James Bond, whose films and novels had become a big hit. James Bond also got discontinued sometimes in the seventies. Another famous cartoon strip that was hugely popular was about Chandu. It carried on for many years but got discontinued. HT also had great cartoonists and I can recall some cartoons by Rajinder Puri and certainly many by Sudhir Dar.
The most classic cartoon by Dar which remains etched in my mind was made during the Simla summit where Mrs Gandhi dressed like an eye surgeon is making Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto sitting on the patient’s chair, read words in different sizes which spelt out Bangla Desh in full. The earliest recollection I have of the HT’s front page was when John Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. I was a very small kid and I do remember, that the next day paper had a big portrait of JFK in the top middle and bold letters over it announcing John Kennedy assassinated with something on Lee Harvey Oswald as well. The bottom part of the paper had the news about some top brass from the forces being killed in a helicopter crash in Jammu and Kashmir.
If I remember correctly the dead included Lt General Daulat Singh (perhaps in line for the Chief of Army Staff’s position), Lt General Bikram Singh and Air Vice Marshal Pinto (perhaps in line for the Air Chief’s position). Again as a small kid, one can remember the coverage of Jawaharlal Nehru’s death. Hindustan Times had issued a special coloured photograph of Panditji to its readers. I also recall the time when the paper carried detailed stories on Lal Bahadur Shastri’s miss a meal campaign and about the heroic deeds of Havaldar Abdul Hamid in the 1965 conflict.
The paper also had detailed coverage about Shastri’s death in Tashkent. Similarly, the January 25, 1966 edition prominently carried the item about Indira Gandhi taking over as the Prime Minister. These are some of the early childhood memories and HT had started a feature on “Our Village Chatera” in its magazine section.
The magazine was very popular and used to feature Blondie by Chic Young on the back page. Subsequently, it introduced a plus minus sixteen page for young readers that was looked after by Leela Manilal. I was in class ninth when I visited the HT office (then located in the Bombay Life building at N block which houses the offices of the DSIIDC today) to give my first contribution to Leela Manilal. She accepted it and encouraged me to contribute regularly.
Hindustan Times had great journalists on its staff and over the years and during my college and university days in the early and mid seventies, I started reading serious stuff. Raj Gill who was the Chief Reporter used to write a very good city column and Narendra Aggarwal, Sumi Krishna Chauhan, Prabha Dutt, Nandini Chandra Chauhan and Chand Joshi amongst others had become household names.
AR Wig, who subsequently became the Chief Reporter and from whom I eventually took over as the City editor in 1995 was one of the best crime reporters of his time. Wig did many top stories including the riot in Tihar jail and his coverage of Billa Ranga was exceptional. His column, Take it from me and one by Prabha Dutt, Follow Me Around‘ were immensely popular. There was also KR Sunder Rajan who used to write very incisive political commentary on the edit page and so many others like MK Dhar who left their mark on this newspaper.
The paper also had the distinction of employing some of the top Editors of those times. Amongst them were BG Verghese, Ajit Bhattacharya, Hiranmay Karlekar, Khushwant Singh and HK Dua. I had started working as a young, bright-eyed reporter from January 1980 onwards and I must mention here that HT had so much clout that it could make government take immediate notice.
I remember that when Hari Dev, a legendary police office who was then ACP, Parliament Street got wrongly suspended following a fire at Panchkuin Road because someone had wrongly briefed Rajiv Gandhi, then the Congress general secretary, it was Prabha Dutt, the paper’s chief reporter who took the lead with others following her that led to his reinstatement. I can talk about HT’s clout since I have worked in other papers and have experienced this from close quarters.
Subsequently, I also enjoyed competing against the HT and one would have a sense of satisfaction when we would beat HT’s coverage. One such moment was when in the mid nineties while I was with TOI as the Metro Editor, we had scored over everyone else on the coverage of the Memon family (minus Tiger Memon) returning to India from Nepal, thanks to some brilliant very good work by my colleague Shailesh Shekhar.
It is a competitive environment and HT continues to do well and occupies the number one position in the heart of us Delhiwallahs. But a lot needs to be done so that Hindustan Times always remains on top.