Mike Grundy, my mentor and my boss for many years and I were taking an early-morning flight many years ago. Those days, the airlines (Jet and Air India mostly) would keep a newspaper in the front pocket of each seat. Mike grabbed it, saw the name ‘The Hindu’ and asked me, if it was a right-wing newspaper. I laughed, paused for a moment and said, “No Mike. It is probably the most pro-left newspaper you can get in India.” Present day travellers would not find any newspaper inside aircraft (no frill flights). Even if there is one, I don’t think anyone is going to read them, as everyone is busy fiddling their phones during flight.
Mohan has sent a WhatsApp message in the group citing a questionable article in ‘The Hindu’ and commented “Ramesh told this paper is trash forty years ago.”
My gripe against ‘The Hindu,’ at least in the initial years was not because of the political views they espoused. I think the paper had a policy of neutral views with little tilt towards the establishment and the ‘Indian Express’ was pro opposition. The articles that appeared in the ‘Indian Express’ were more incisive, written by journalists like ‘Arun Shourie.’
What I remember till date is the eye catching headlines in the ‘Indian Express’ especially in the sports columns. The Hindu had great sportswriters covering Cricket from the famous Jack Fingleton to R. Mohan and the quality of their essays were fantastic. More often than not, I would need a dictionary to understand what was being said. But the paper would spoil the whole thing by putting a mundane headline. On the contrary, I still remember couple of Headlines in the Indian Express after all these years. The first is ‘Cook leaves Rice behind.’ The headline is still struck in my memory but not the story. When I started my research yesterday for this blog, I vaguely remembered that the headline was about county championship and nothing else. Rice, I could guess must be Clive Rice but for Cook, I could not get any details. Both are from South Africa; since South Africa was banned for many years from participating in international sports events due to their apartheid policies, their crickets made a living by playing County Cricket in England.
The problem in identifying Cook is this. If you Google ‘Cook’ now, you would get a million articles about Alastair Cook, sorry, Sir Alastair Cook, the famous English batsman. Jimmy Cook, the hero of this story played county cricket only for three seasons and in one of the these seasons, he has beaten Clive Rice to become the top scorer. Clive Rice incidentally was a great allrounder and he won three of the five top allrounder titles in two years competing against some of the greatest allrounders of the game, Kapil Dev, Sir Richard Hadlee and Ian Botham.
That’s the power of a good headline. It stays with you forever. I don’t remember what would have been the headline in The Hindu that day. May be ‘Rice is the topper’ or something similar. The typical headline in Sports page on cricket in The Hindu would be Gavaskar 165 N.O (Not Out) and Vengsarkar 106 N.O in double century partnership. You can see the headline, understand what happened in the match the previous day and skip the article.
The next one is from the Indian County Championship, the Ranji Trophy. Back in the seventies and eighties, domestic cricket was followed very closely by lovers of the game. So the headline I saw one fine day during the season is still etched in memory: “After a Patil Storm What a Patel Calm!” In the Ranji trophy game, if there is no clear result, the team which had a higher first innings score would get more points or go to the next round. So the team which did not do well in the first innings would play hard to get a positive result. Patil (Sandeep) from Bombay Ranji team was swashbuckling hitter and Patel (Brijesh) from Karnataka was a prolific batsman. When Bombay lost out in the first innings, Patil made a whirlwind century and the team declared, asked Karnataka to bat hoping to get a result by bowling them out. Karnataka which had a lead in the first innings did not go for a win but batted out for a draw with a dour innings from Brijesh Patel. Hence the headline in the Indian Express newspaper the following day, “After a Patil storm, what a Patel Calm.” Let us not even waste time in hazarding a guess what The Hindu’s heading might have been.
It is not just the newspaper headlines. The opening scene of a movie also creates an interest (for e.g. Bond films) which keeps the viewers glued to the movie screen. One film I remember (apart from Bond films i.e.) is the famous Jean-Luc Godard’s 1966 french movie –Masculin Féminin. Satyajit Ray in his book “Our Films, Their Films” has written about this opening scene. If you are a serious cinema lover, I recommend this classic to get an understanding of world’s cinema. I quote from Mr. Ray:
The means by which Godard is able to discard plot is simply by doing away with the kind of obligatory scenes which would set the audience speculating on possible lines of development. This forces one not to anticipate but only to watch and absorb. Let me give an example. Masculine–Feminine opens in a restaurant where a boy and a girl, sitting at separate tables set at least twenty feet apart, strike up an acquaintance. They talk, but since the camera is at a distance from them, and since there is heavy traffic on the street outside (seen through the glass door),, we do not make out what they are saying. Godard here reverses convention by keeping the noise of the traffic deliberately and, if I may say so, realistically, above the level of conversation. This goes on for some time when suddenly a man gets up from another table, walks out of the restaurant, and is immediately followed by a woman who takes out a pistol from her handbag and shoots him down at point–blank range. The boy and the girl make some inaudible comments on this, and the scene ends.
It remains to add that the boy and the girl continue to be the focal point of the film, while the murder is never brought up again. At a cursory viewing, it would be easy to dismiss the scene as pointless and incoherent. But on second thoughts (or perhaps second viewing), it might begin to dawn on one that the scene not only presents actuality in a more truthful way than one is used to in the cinema, but it also makes some valid comments on our life and times. Film grammar tells us that essentials should be stressed, and enumerates the various audio-visual ways of doing so; but what if a director has a totally new angle on what is essential and what is not? In the scene just described, what has been established beyond dispute is that a boy and a girl met in a restaurant and talked. What they said is, to Godard, inessential. It is also established that while they sat talking a woman murdered a man (Husband? Lover?—inessential) within their sight.
Ray, Satyajit. Our Films Their Films . Orient Blackswan Private Limited. Kindle Edition.
I believe a good beginning, in this case a great headline or an opening scene is what would make the reader or viewer get attracted to the story and egg him/her to go further.
I looked online to find out some of the interesting headlines which had appeared in the recent years. Couple fo them caught my eye.
The first one is on Nasa losing their historic footage, Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon.
The next one is Ireland claiming their connection with President Obama.
I request the readers to remember the best headlines they have come across and share it here.
But not all is lost if you were a ‘The Hindu’ reader. It had better quality of Newsprint Paper (I don’t understand, to this day, how they managed this when there were severe restrictions on Newsprint imports) and better print layouts. It had less grammatical errors and typos (important for the generation whose knowledge of English came from reading ‘The Hindu’). Also they were the first print colour photographs in the Newspaper in India. And of course, when you sold the back issues of the paper, at the end of every three months, to the old newspaper vendor, you could get 50 paise more per kilo of paper than the Indian Express.
Featured Image – Clive Rice with other great allrounders of that era. Picture Courtesy – ESPN Cricinfo.