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C P Kuruvilla: The spirit of journalism past

(Dec 3, 1940-Feb 14, 2015)

Kanika Datta 

C P Kuruvilla

Former Executive Editor C P Kuruvilla, or "Kuru" as he insisted everyone called him, died on February 14 in Kochi after a long illness. He was 74.

departs six weeks before Business Standard completes its 40th year, an anniversary he would have been happy to celebrate; he was closely associated with the paper for approximately half its life and shaped its unique character in those years.

He joined Business Standard as News Editor in 1976, recruited by the Sarkar family of ABP Group, which owned the paper then, from Financial Express in Delhi. He was a key appointment to transform the paper from its stolid amateurism into a readable and coherent business daily. This he did by bringing with him many of the stalwarts of the early years: Kewal Varma, N Rajagopal, R C Murthy, S C Anantharaman, Shekhar Bhatia, R Vijayaraghavan and R Jagannathan among them.

For most of us who worked with him, represented an era of that has long passed; lively, quirky, intuitive, non-profit oriented, arbitrary, unstructured, fearless and, above all, imbued with an abiding and healthy cynicism. He taught us never to be dewy-eyed about the "good news" in corporate press releases ("Companies are supposed to make profits," he would say, relegating a big company's results to an inside page).

As the paper's Executive Editor, he never chose to exert himself to network with businessmen and industrialists. He presided over a journal that earned the derisive title of "Business Scandal" in the business community, principally because it front-paged the kind of stories other journalists longed to do but would not dare. The fact that advertisers occasionally withdrew their ads because of this did not bother him either (nor, it must be said, the newspaper's extremely forbearing owners). He was never heard to admonish a reporter when this happened or a story was refuted ("professional hazard", is how he laconically described it).

had an unerring eye for talent, putting a premium on ability rather than qualifications. He steadfastly refused to recruit from schools or courses. He also unabashedly promoted those he considered good. But he himself would have been uncomfortable in today's world of celebrity editors. He applied his own considerable talents to the backroom, building up one of India's best editing and rewrite desks. Although he was a poor oral communicator, he had a genius for "carpentry", as we called subbing, that would be hard to find now and displayed a laser-precision news sense that stood many of us in good stead long after we'd graduated from his tutelage.

His scrawled entries in the daily log book became staple entertainment, especially if you weren't the butt of his coruscating derision. No one was spared. Once an editor lazily headlined a story on the Gulf War (this was the long Iran-Iraq war) thus: "The Gulf War goes on". Kuru pasted this in the log book with the sardonic comment: "Readers, of course, think otherwise".

Judged by today's severe standards, Kuru, who worked with Business Standard till 1995, would have been considered wayward in his management style. He was the opposite of a control freak, delighted to delegate to his senior staff, especially in racing season when the turf and the bars beckoned. He battled his demons with engaging humour and never insulted even his most junior colleagues by trying to hide his weaknesses. Working under Kuru, you learnt and grew up fast. As someone who pathologically abhorred the cliche, he would probably consider that a better epitaph than RIP.

First Published: Sat, February 14 2015. 21:30 IST