CPR, the column and grid of the Express

Updated: Jul 27 2006, 05:30am hrs
Every organisation has a few people on whose backs it rests. For 30 years, CPR (or Comandoor Parthasarathy Raghavan to give him his full Iyengar due) was one such, a pillar of the Express Group.

He passed away on Tuesday as he had lived quietly and without fuss. He was 70 and had been suffering from a prolonged lung condition. He is survived by his wife, Roshan and two sons, Tarun and Aditya.

CPR joined the Indian Express in 1961 because, as he would say in his usual Delphic way, with my abilities, only journalism could absorb me. He had little time for anything except hard news and good editing, especially good editing.

These abilities were put to test very early when Ram Nath Goenka, the legendary proprietor of the Indian Express, decided that he must start a financial paper because the Times of India was planning to start one. Typically, Ramnathji wanted to be first, and into the breach were pressed the services of CPR and his men. Thus was Financial Express born.

CPR remained with FE for almost the rest of his working life, the last 17 of which were in Delhi where he had come in 1974 to start an edition. An old style professional to the core, he was the column and the grid of the paper, as well as its conscience-keeper and workhorse. When new editors came they were relieved to find CPR there he would greet them with that special come-into-my-parlour glint in the eye to hold their hands. When they went, it was CPR who stepped in to keep things going until a new one came along.

As might be expected of a man who provides the continuity, CPR could tell a lot of stories, not all of which are publishable. One of his favourites was the way in which, late one evening in July 1979, a staffer came and breathlessly handed him a packet, shouting keep these safely and ran off. The packet contained lascivious photos of an important politicians son. These eventually brought down the Janata government, not because they were published by an Express group paper but because copies were soon available in the Central Hall of Parliament, distributed by those who had taken them.

I first met CPR in November 1981. I joined FE in February and was given a desk and chair just outside his cabin. The next day a venerable critic who used to go everywhere with a dog, came to see CPR. The dog was tied to my chair and when he tried to nip me, I gave him a whack. He started yelping and the critic, incensed, asked CPR to take action against me. He promised, as only he could, that he would sack me immediately. Later he told me, you kicked the wrong b.....

From then on, CPR could do no wrong in my eyes, as indeed he could not in the eyes of hundreds of staffers whom he recruited, trained and sent on their way to greater glory while he himself minded the ship.

Amongst his admirers was Ram Nath Goenka who treated him like another son. There was a strong bond between the two which none of the editors in the Group shared. Ramnathji would speak to him in Tamil and the two cracked many a joke between them while the others looked on baffled.

CPR retired soon after Ramnathjis death in 1990 and was asked to work on his biography. This was eventually written by B G Verghese who had edited the Indian Express during 1982-86, and published in 2005.

For the last five years, we were neighbours. His breathing difficulties became more and more pronounced because of the sudden increase in pollution caused by highway construction.

I would often see him in the evenings sitting on a bench, holding court, heckling passers-by and engaging in furious discussion. He stopped coming to that bench last November. Now that bench, too, will miss him.

TCA Srinivasa-Raghavan

The writer, a senior journalist , worked with FE and IE from 1982 to 1989