V.N. Narayanan has been a journalist for 53 years, having written and edited such national newspapers as The Hindustan Times and Indian Express. Since July 2000, he has been associated with Bhavan’s Journal, first as Associate Editor for about 20 months and as the Editor of the journal since 2003. He wields a versatile pen which could write with equal facility from light poetry, music review and sports reporting to serious literary articles and comments on national, international and constitutional affairs. Besides English he can read and write in five Indian languages.
Born and educated at Madras Narayanan joined journalism straight from college in 1961. After a spell of apprenticeship in The Hindustan Times followed by a -three-year stint as Sub-Editor, he joined The Statesman, New Delhi, in 1965. He joined The Tribune as Assistant Editor in 1975 and steadily mounted the professional ladder to become Resident Editor of Indian Express in Bangalore and Chandigarh and re-joined The Tribune as its Deputy Editor in 1982, became its Editor in 1986 and was elevated as the group’s Editor-in-Chief in May 1987. He became the Editor of The Hindustan Times in 1994 and left daily journalism in 1999. He is now Editor of Bhavan’s Journal which he joined in May 2000.
The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan-that Institute of Indian Culture in Bombay-needed a Book University, a series of books which, if read, would serve the purpose of providing higher education. Particular emphasis, however, was to be put on such literature as revealed the deeper impulsions of India. As a first step, it was decided to bring out in English 100 books, 50 of which were to be taken in hand, almost at once.
It is our intention to publish the books we select, not only in English, but also in the following Indian languages: Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam.
This scheme, involving the publication of 900 volumes, requires ample funds and an all-India organisation. The Bhavan IS exerting its utmost to supply them.
The objectives for which the Bhavan stands are the reintegration of Indian culture in the light of modem knowledge and to suit our present-day needs and the resuscitation of its fundamental values in their pristine vigour.
Let me make our goal more explicit:
We seek the dignity of man, which necessarily implies the creation of social conditions which would allow him freedom to evolve along the lines of his own temperament and capacities; we seek the harmony of individual efforts and social relations, not in any makeshift way, but within the frame-work of the Moral Order; we seek the creative art of life, by the alchemy of which human limitations are progressively transmuted, so that man may become the instrument of God, and is able to see Him in all and ail in Him.
The world, we feel, is too much with us. Nothing would uplift or inspire us so much as the beauty and aspiration which such books can teach.
In this series, therefore, the literature of India, ancient and modern, will be published in a form easily accessible to all. Books in other literatures of the world, if they illustrate the principles we stand for, will also be included.
This common pool of literature, it is hoped, will enable the reader, eastern or western, to understand and appreciate currents of world thought, as also the movements of the mind in India, which though they flow through different linguistic channels, have a common urge and aspiration.
Fittingly, the Book University’s first venture is the Mahabharata, summarised by one of the greatest living Indians, C. Rajagopalachari; the second work is on a section of it, the Gita by H.V. Divatia, an eminent jurist and student of philosophy. Centuries ago, it was proclaimed of the Mahabharata: “What is not in it, is nowhere.” After twenty-five centuries, we can use the same words about it. He who knows it not, knows not the heights and depths of the soul; he misses the trials and tragedy and the beauty and grandeur of life.
The Mahabharata is not a mere epic: it is a romance, telling the tale of heroic men and women and of some who were divine; it is a whole literature in itself, containing a code of life, a philosophy of social and ethical relations, and speculative thought on human problems that is hard to rival: but, above all, it has for its core the Gita which is as the world is beginning to find out, the noblest of scriptures and the grandest of sagas in which the climax is reached in the wondrous Apocalypse in the Eleventh Canto.
Through such books alone the harmonies underlying true culture, I am convinced, will one day reconcile the disorders of modern life.
I thank all those who have helped to make this new branch of the Bhavan’ s activity successful.
I am a mere co-ordinator of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s Family. That does not qualify me to write a Foreword to a “small sample” of the writings of one of free India’s most genuine and perceptive journalists, whose innate humility and utter disregard for fame prevented him from acquiring the status of a celebrity in his chosen field. But I dare say that when an authentic history of the first seven decades of independent India comes to be written, the historians will have to go, among others, to V.N. Narayanan in their search for the true understanding of the personalities including the Common Man and events which shaped or disfigured modem India.
So I am gleefully returning to the tradition in the breaking of which I had derived almost vicarious pleasure by writing this Foreword as the co-ordinator of the Bhavan’s Family and not as one who has the qualifications to write it. But then, sometime in life, you have to make a compromise and give it the honourable name of ‘exception.’ I hold Narayanan in too profound an esteem not to accede to his command.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn counts two “psychic diseases of the 20th Century”: “Hastiness and superficiality.” He adds in good measure: “These diseases, more than anywhere else, are reflected in the world of journalism” (I would add a third one: ego). All the three never have dared to come anywhere near VNN. I love VNN and admire his humility from which stems his affection and respect for his readers. Profound knowledge, scholarship and amazing sincerity sit lightly on the tip of his pen. Like ~n Anees Saleem character in “Vanity Bagh”, he seems to have realised: “Glory comes stamped with a date of expiry.” Depth, Courage and wonderful subtle humour (which sometimes assumes dark colours) are the hallmarks of his writing. There is nothing flimsy or flippant about it.
Genuine humility (not that of Dickens’ Uriah Heep) makes a person fearless. Not the king-size ego which is so brittle that it cracks at the slightest knock. Read his pieces on Punjab of the eighties and early nineties and you will understand what I mean. Read his article on K.P.S. Gill and you will stand and applaud his grip over the subject and his fearlessness.
I had been to Amritsar a few years ago. I was pleasantly astounded to see the affection and respect in which VNN was held both by the Hindus and the Sikhs even after two decades of his departure from Punjab. And why not? As the Editor-in-Chief of the Tribune group having three dailies in three languages, Narayanan had actually influenced the events by first reaching the truth and then hammering it on the heads of all the three groups: the common man, militants on both the sides and the Government and its pathetically over-enthusiastic and heartless top police officials. It was journalism at its very best. Positive thinking, faith in India’s unity, out-of-this-world fearlessness and almost maddening sense of journalistic responsibility made Narayanan face the distinct possibility of murderous attacks on him and his wife with a smile and cold courage. No wonder, he still has his presence in the psyche of the people of Punjab. Show me any other journalist, howsoever big and glamorous his name might have been who has achieved this kind of affection and respect of the people. This is the greatest award VNN has received, notwithstanding his G K. Reddy and B.D. Goenka prizes.
Rarely does a journalist become both, a sharp observer and a willing participant in the events under the cross-fire of horrifying terrorism thus effectively contributing to the solution of one of the most difficult, complex and tragic problems that free India has ever faced. Tagore said : “The only battle is between the truth and the untruth”. VNN has always stood by the side of the truth. At some place, he quotes Raja Rao: “Truth needs no victory. For Truth itself is victory.”
Phenomenal is one apt word to describe the writings of VNN, whose pen is still alive and active after 50 years of ceaseless outpouring of a brilliant intellect and sensitive heart, whose roots are deeply entrenched in the cultural and spiritual heritage of our Motherland. His writings go beyond nameless editorials in six different national dailies and included contributions to several newspapers and magazines of India and journals abroad.
VNN was invited to deliver an address to the World Parliament of Religions in the USA. He could not make the trip because of the then prevailing situation in Punjab. But his paper was not only read but also discussed by outstanding spiritual minds of our time. It is included in this collection. His two lively contributions to multi- volume “Dictionary of National Biographies” show his scholarship and vision.
A great benefit readers derive from VNN’s writings comes from his voracious interest in reading. You get a glimpse of some of the brightest brains and most sensitive hearts the human race has produced. He quotes an Italian author: “Reading is life itself’ and adds: “the truly educated person is one who realizes that reading transcends literacy and education.”
No subject is too small or too big for VNN. Read about his sojourn to the Co Iambi an town of Cartagena. With remarkable subtle humour, he shames us of our lack of civic sense. Read his piece on the insensitivity, absurdity and injustice of our justice system and M/s. Know-alls who sit on the elevated benches believing all the wisdom of the world emanates from them and the black-robed gentlemen standing in front of them believing that reaching the truth is the least of their concerns. That is precisely why VNN’s writings go beyond journalism and effectively enter into the realms of literature. What the readers would see here is but a small, but representative, sample of his writings. I would recommend to the readers to begin with “The Aesop’s Fly”.
My favourite author, G.K. Chesterton wrote about Dickens’ “Pickwick Papers; “Pickwick is but a sample of Dickens, like a lump of coal or a piece of leather. But the piece of leather blocked the street and the lump of coal set the Thames on fire.”
Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan is indeed fortunate in having Shri Narayanan as the Editor of the Bhavan’s Journal. I pray to the Lord and the Divine Mother to grant him good health. May he continue to enlighten us with his writings.
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