​​​​Star of Mysore: Trials and Tribulations
of an Indian Newspaper Editor

By M. P. Prabhakaran



K. B. Ganapathy, the author of Star of Mysore: Story of a unique evening english newspaper*, is a close friend of mine. So, if you are looking for an objective review of the book, you are going to be disappointed. If what I have written reads like an unabashed accolade, I plead guilty as charged. It’s my way of showing my greatest appreciation for what my friend has achieved, both as a journalist and as a businessman.
Many of you may have heard this saying: “You can either be a journalist or a businessman.You can’t be both.” As a person whose first and last experiment in straddling the two professions flopped in less than two years, I have to agree with those naysayers. But Mr. Ganapathy is one of the rare exceptions. This book can be presented as Exhibit A to make the case against them. And the subtitle of the book could as well be The unique story of a successful journalist who also made it as a businessman.

Ganapathy and I met as journalism students at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay (now Mumbai), in the late 1960s. What began as a nodding acquaintance between us developed into a strong friendship over the years. It did not mellow one bit even after we moved on and started living continents apart: He now lives in the southern Indian city of Mysore (now Mysuru) and I, in New York.
In our early days in journalism, we were always broke. Novices in journalism were paid pittance in those days. Though broke, and at the bottom rung of our career, our desire to excel professionally knew no bounds. When our career path seemed headed for a dead-end, we started entertaining the idea of leaving socialist India in search of greener pastures in the capitalist West. In his impatience to rise, Ganapathy even switched his career to advertising, as an account executive, for a short period.
While working at a leading advertising agency in Bombay, he spotted an ad from a Kuwait-based firm looking for an account executive. Though a Gulf emirate is far from ideal for a steadfast believer in civil liberties and freedom of expression, he decided to apply for the position. His plan was to use Kuwait as a springboard for his eventual hop to the West, preferably the U.S.
He was ecstatic when, at the end of the interview for the job, he was told by the representative of the Kuwait advertising agency that he would receive the appointment order in a few days. I remember celebrating the joyous outcome over a drink at the auntie’s bar (speakeasy) near our bachelor pad, which we shared with another journalist friend, the late Colin de Souza. (In those days of farcical prohibition, most speakeasies in Bombay were operated by elderly Goan women. Hence our reference to them as aunties’ bars.) The Goan feni was our favorite, and also affordable, drink in those days.
Ganapathy quit his job at the Bombay ad agency the very next day. His relationship with his immediate boss at the agency had soured by then, anyway. So, he did the quitting with gusto. The fact that he would have to wait only for a few days to start on the new job was another reason for the hasty decision.
He had not anticipated that collecting various documents associated with traveling and employment abroad was going to take weeks, not a few days. After going through the frustrating process of doing it, he impatiently waited for several more days for the promised appointment order. Alas, as ill-luck would have it, that never came. What he received from the Kuwait agency, after a couple of month’s impatient wait, was a message expressing its inability to get a visa for him.** The war that was going on in the Middle East at the time was the reason cited by the agency. Ganapathy was crestfallen.
I was with him in our bachelor pad when he received the numbing news. He and I sat there, he staring out the window and I staring at the wall and occasionally glancing at him. Neither of us uttered a word. After several minutes, I was able to persuade him to get out of the place and “join me for a walk.” He knew what I had in mind. Without a moments’ hesitation, he followed me. We were headed for the auntie’s bar. At the bar, after several minutes’ silence, sipping feni and munching potato chips, he managed to utter these words: “If I had any inkling of this, I wouldn’t have resigned the job in such a haste.”
In a few more days, he announced to me and Colin the next major decision he made in his life. The decision was to leave Bombay for good, move to Poona (now Pune), and start all over again from scratch. That was the end of our Bombay life together, sharing everything, except sex (both of us are straight) and dirty private thoughts.

By the time we reconnected, both Ganapathy and Star of Mysore, the newspaper he started on February 16, 1978, had become household names in Mysore, a city in India with a rich history and a population of over a million. Observing him happy at work and happily married with two children who were shaping up well at the time, I recalled that fateful evening in Bombay when he received the heartbreaking news from the Kuwait ad agency and said to myself: “That was the best thing that happened to him in his life.”
Of course, the success he has achieved has also to do with his ability to see challenge in every crisis and willingness to take risk. Not that all risk-takers have been successful. But without taking risk, none has achieved anything worthwhile in life.
If crises in life make a person stronger, Ganapathy is a living example of that. Refusing to be dissuaded by “the fear of the unknown” (which he talks about in the book), he ventured into newer and newer areas. Star of Mysore, which has been lighting up the media skyline of Mysore every evening for 40 years now, is the outcome of one such venturing. The book of the same title that he has brought out now gives us an idea of the trials and tribulations he went through in making the paper the leading English daily of the city.
“Finances of the firm used to be tight” in its early, formative years, he says in the book. On one occasion, he had the humiliating experience of being told by an angry employee who did not get his salary on time: “If you can’t pay wages, why employ us?”
On another occasion, a report in his paper – that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) “planned to sabotage the Mysuru-Chamarajanagar Railway line” – made the city police furious. The reason? The report, which turned out to be based on bogus tips, had “made the Police sweat out from early morning till afternoon searching for [the nonexistent] bombs.” They found a creative way of punishing Ganapathy: They descended on his house in full force at 10 o’clock at night, saying that they “had intelligence report that LTTE had planted bomb” in the house. Ganapathy and his family were asked to get out of the house and remain on the road until the search was completed. By the time they did it, at one o’clock in the morning, Ganapathy was convinced that the search was in retaliation for the LTTE story that was erroneously published in his paper. It was alluded to by no less a person than the head of the police team that conducted the search.
The book also has some blood-chilling sections that discuss how some stories in the paper even endangered Ganapathy’s life and how he “was saved by the timely and effective intervention” by a politician-friend of his. Of course, the politician, Shankaralinge Gowda, was showing his gratitude for the help he received from Ganapathy and Star of Mysore in his rise in Mysore politics. Vivid narration of threats from thugs who were the targets of those stories and counterthreats from Mr. Gowda adds to the readability of the book.

The “Prologue” to the book also gives some clues to Ganapathy’s work ethic and management style, which are influenced by David Ogilvy, “the wizard of advertising.” According to Mr. Ogilvy, as quoted in the book, “the best results are produced by men and women who don’t have to be told what to do.” Ganapathy considers himself lucky that he is blessed with such men and women as heads of the paper’s “five critical departments.” They are: Meera Appaiah – editorial; T. S. Gopinath – circulation; Maria G. Fernandes – advertising; K. Kumar – printing; and H. P. Prasad – accounts.
An institution in which the boss micromanages everything and refuses to delegate responsibilities seldom survives the boss. Ganapathy has taken care to make sure that such a fate doesn’t befall Star of Mysore. Aware that he, like me, is over-the-hill, he has put his two sons, Vikram Muthanna and Mickey Bopanna, at the helm of the ship, and is contemplating retirement. Before disembarking, he has this to say to his two sons: “Follow the advice of Ferdinand Magellan, Portuguese explorer, ‘The sea is dangerous and its storm terrible, but these obstacles have never been sufficient reason to remain ashore.’”
Bon voyage, Vikram and Mickey! Make your father proud.

* Published by Talukina Venkanaiah Smaraka Granthamale, Mysuru, India; 144+viii pages; price: Rs. 250 (paperback) and Rs. 350 (hardcover).
**In an earlier version of this article, which appeared in Star of Mysore , I had mistakenly stated that the message Mr. Ganapathy received was about the Kuwait agency's reneging on its job offer. I have since been corrected by him that it was about its inability to get a visa for him. My erroneous recollection is much regretted. –M.P.P.

(Published on May 1, 2018.)

(Comments from readers are welcome. Send the comments to 
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​K. B. Ganapathy (right) with the author, on a cruise to the bottom of the Niagara Falls. Mr. Ganapathy and his wife Ralie had spent a few days with the author, in New York, during their visit to the U.S. in the summer of 2007. As Ralie volunteered to take the picture, she couldn't be in it. (Time was when selfie had not yet become the fad it is now.)
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