Why I Write, What I Write

Professor (Dr.) Santosh Kumar Tewari*

In 1946 George Orwell wrote an essay ‘Why I Write’, published in a magazine ‘Gangrel’ in England. I simply like the sound: why I write. Therefore, the first half of the title of this write-up is from Orwell and the rest is mine. This article has two parts. The first one is a little bit autobiographical, whereas the second is for budding writers and journalists. The autobiographical part is on how I grew up as a writer. In the second part, which is for budding writers, I’ve discussed how I select my topics for writing. It also includes the thumb rules I keep in mind while putting my pen to paper or pressing my fingers on the computer key board. Since my childhood I wanted to be a writer. When I was working in newspapers, writing was my livelihood. When I switched over to academics, it became my habit. I wish that writing should become my passion.

In the 1960’s I wrote some short stories in ‘Navjivan’, a Hindi daily of the ‘National Herald’ group of newspapers, owned by Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru. I also wrote a piece for ‘Kadambini’, a Hindi monthly of Hindustan Times group. Initially, I tried for a job in daily newspapers, but failed. I went to legendary editor S.N. Ghosh of the ‘Pioneer’ for a job, but there was no vacancy. However, he was very polite to me. He came to his office-room doorstep to see me off.

Ghosh played a very long innings in the ‘Pioneer’ as its editor. When I told my father that I had gone to see Ghosh for a job, my father told me that at the start of his career he also had gone to Ghosh for a job, and Ghosh had treated him with the same politeness and had come to the door to see him off.

Later my father got a government job, and after retirement he pursued his first love of writing poems, and slowly became an acclaimed poet. My father never wrote for money, and I also don’t write for money’s sake. However, ‘The Times of India’, ‘Nav Bharat Times’, ‘Hindustan’, ‘Amrita Prabhat’, ‘Vidura’, ‘Media Mimansa’, etc. always paid me for my writings.

When I couldn’t get a job in newspapers, I started my own magazine ‘Tarun Prahri’ in 1970 at the age of 19. My Sindhi friend was its publisher and I was its editor. My friend had a good business mind. The magazine ran for more than two years and earned good profits. After that I launched a Hindi monthly for children ‘Bal Bandhu’ in partnership with another friend, but due to his death its publication stopped after two years. Later I worked for some other magazines and dailies. Among the dailies, I worked for were ‘Dainik Jagaran’, ‘Amrita Prabhat’ and ‘Nav Bharat Times’. I had the privilege of working with Narendra Mohan (1934-2002) and Rajendra Mathur (1935-1991). Both were acclaimed writers. Narendra Mohan was editor and proprietor of ‘Dainik Jagaran’, and Rajendra Mathur was the editor of ‘Nav Bharat Times’. In ‘Amrita Prabhat’ I happened to meet several times the legendary journalist Tushar Kanti Ghosh, who was its proprietor too. Working with Rajendra Mathur was great fun. I also happened to know closely Amrit Lal Nagar, a great Hindi novelist. All of them have contributed to my life as a writer.

However, essentials of writing I learnt by sitting at the feet of my father Gaya Prasad Tewari ‘Manas’ and my journalist friend and philosopher S.R. Nigam. Nigam was a former staffer of the ‘Hindustan Times’, ‘Tribune’, ‘National Herald’, UNI, etc. My father passed away on 27 September 2009 and Nigam on 15 September 2010. Nigam also established journalism department in Garhwal University in the 1970s when B.N. Bhatt was its Vice Chancellor.1 Now its name has changed to Hemvatinandan Bahuguna University. It is sad that Nigam, a senior professional journalist, was treated badly by the university administration. Therefore, he left the job after one year to join ‘Hindustan Times’ New Delhi. All his students also got jobs after completing their course.

After his departure from Garhwal University, the next Vice Chancellor, U.C. Ghildyal wrote in a letter, “I feel ashamed of the treatment meted out to Sri S.R. Nigam about whose pioneering effort in establishing our Journalism Department I have already heard enough. …”2 After the death of my father and Nigam, I realized that they were my gurus in the field of writing. In my view no art can be learnt without a guru. Whatever, I’m today in the field of academics and writing is because of the two gurus and also because of the solid support rendered by my mother Smt. Manorama Tewari to me throughout my life. My mother passed away in April 2008. My schooling was in Hindi medium in Lucknow. Until 1989 I wrote only in Hindi, except three-four pieces which I wrote for the daily, ‘Northern India Patrika’, published from Lucknow and Allahabad. During 1985-86 I edited some issues of English monthlies Laghu Udyog Samachar and DIC Newsletter of the Government of India, but it was simply editing. I didn’t write for them.

In 1982, when I was working for the Hindi daily, ‘Amrita Prabhat’, Lucknow, I was awarded a Thomson Foundation Scholarship for doing an advanced course in print journalism. The course was held at London College of Printing, London. I took leave from office to join the course. When I was leaving India for Britain, Tuhin Kanti Ghosh, grandson of Tushar Kanti Ghosh, asked me to write a travelogue after my return from abroad. I wrote a travelogue, which was serialized in five parts in ‘Amrita Prabhat’ Sunday magazine in its editions of Lucknow and Allahabad.3

That year the Thomson Foundation selected 12 journalists across the globe, mostly from third world countries. Out of them, two were from India and both from the Hindi press. Apart from me, the other journalist selected from India was Shravan Garg, who was then working on ‘Nai Duniya’, Indore. Later on he played a great role in the successful launch of several editions of ‘Dainik Bhaskar’ group of newspapers. In 1989, when I was working on ‘Nav Bharat Times’ Lucknow, I was awarded a British Scholarship for doing doctorate from University of Wales, Cardiff, UK. The scholarship was jointly sponsored by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and University of Wales, Cardiff.

Since 1989 I’ve been writing in English. Only four-five times I’ve written in Hindi. I was in Britain from October 1989 to February 1993. I took leave without pay from ‘Nav Bharat Times’ to join Ph.D. programme in Cardiff. So I wrote only in English. After coming back to India in February 1993 I rejoined ‘Nav Bharat Times’, Lucknow, and I was happy with my job there, but the edition was closed down in June 1993. So I switched over to academics on the strong advice of S.R. Nigam.

I could get a job in newspapers after the closure of ‘Nav Bharat Times’, but Nigam advised me not to do so. He said if I got a newspaper job, I would get satisfied, and I would never look towards academics. According to him I was more fit for academics. Jobs in academics were not quickly available, but I followed his advice. I remained jobless for more than one year. Then I got a job of reader (associate professor) in the discipline of journalism in Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla, in 1994. Later I became professor in mass communication in Assam University, Silchar, in 1996. Thus by following Nigam’s advice I became professor in just two years of my stint in academics. I left Silchar in 1997 to join the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda as a professor of journalism. Then I left Baroda University in 2011 to join as professor of mass communication in Central University of Jharkhand, Ranchi. In the early phase of my academic career I used to write articles, because in our university annual reports, our departments had to give a list of publications by the faculty members, and most of them had few publications. I was head of the department in every university I joined. So as head I did not want my department to lag behind in terms of published articles. Due to my long experience in journalism, I knew how to write publishable articles. I always enjoyed writing, and slowly it became my habit.

In his essay ‘Why I Write’ Orwell says that there exists in every writer “four great motives for writing”. These motives exist in different proportions in every writer, and they are:

  1. Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, …
  2. Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world… Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed.
  3. Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.
  4. Political purpose. Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea.

It can be seen how these various impulses must war against one another and how they must fluctuate from person to person and from time to time. …I am a person in whom the first three motives would outweigh the fourth.”4 My writings are the result of 20% Orwellian first and third motives, i.e. sheer egoism and historical impulse, and rest 80% of my wish to share my little knowledge of journalism and general experiences of places and people with my readers. I wish writing becomes my vice. Hemingway said, “Once writing has become your major vice and greatest pleasure, only death can stop it.”5

In fact just a few hours before his passing away at the age of 89, my father was writing and correcting his poems. My father died in an accident. On 27 September 2009 he went for a morning walk and never returned home again. He used to work till late at night. He had the habit of writing and rewriting his poems several times. On his death I was extremely sad. Some magazines asked me to write on his life and works. Rajendra Nagar Library, Lucknow, which my father established about 50 years ago, also asked me to write on him for a souvenir.6 For me, writing these articles was like writing his obituaries. However, I got some peace of mind after doing them. In most of these articles I mentioned his Hindi poem ‘I don’t have any complain with any one’.7 I have been writing regularly for more than four years in almost all issues of ‘Communication Today’. It was some time in 2009 when I happened to visit the Centre for Mass Communication, Rajasthan University, Jaipur, for taking a Ph.D. viva. I met Professor Sanjeev Bhanawat there.

He is not only the editor of ‘Communication Today’, but the journal is entirely his venture, and the full credit for the success of the journal goes to him. The journal is now 16-year old. In Jaipur I told him how journalism education started in the Indian subcontinent and what was the role of Professor P.P.Singh in its early growth. P.P. Singh started journalism department in 1941 in Punjab University, Lahore. After partition of the country P.P. Singh brought that department to India. Today Punjab University has the oldest surviving journalism department of the country. P.P. Singh was also the first professor of journalism in India. After listening to me, Professor Bhanawat asked me to write an article on P.P. Singh for ‘Communication Today’.8 I told him that I could write such articles for his every issue and he asked me to write regularly for him. My pen sharpened because he gave regular space to me for writing in ‘Communication Today’.

In my Hindi writings I was encouraged by Rajendra Mathur who was editor-in-chief of all editions of ‘Nav Bharat Times’. Rajendra Mathur had a good quality paper and I had a pen which he allowed to be used for his newspaper. Not only ‘Nav Bharat Times’, I got similar encouragements when I was working on ‘Amrita Prabhat’.

Thumb rules of my writings are:

First, it should serve some purpose for readers. That means it should have an utilitarian value.

Second, all aspects of a subject can’t be written in one article. If there is a possibility, I break it into two or more articles.

Third, I do a lot of rewriting of every piece I write – some times more than twenty times. I never get tired of rewriting my pieces. Good writers are always apprentices in the field of writing.

Fourth, my average sentence length is less than 20 words. Short and simple sentences are easy for readers to grasp.

Fifth, I avoid difficult or flowery words.

Sixth, before sending for publication I show my writing to some of my colleagues for suggestions. Occasionally, even a stalwart like Rajendra Mathur used to show his editorials to me and ask for my suggestions, whenever he visited my Lucknow office.

Measure of success of non-fictional writing is that its utilitarian value should be great and strong. Its target reader should have an urge to keep its copy for his or her future use. During the last one year or so, i.e. 2013-14, the topics on which I wrote are:

S.R. Nigam: An Unknown Practitioner of Communal Harmony 9; Baba Saheb Ne Anuchched 370 Ka Virodh Kiya Tha 10; Right to Privacy in India and USA 11; A New Book on Media Law (Review of Ram Jethmalani’s book) 12; Dav Par Hai Media Aur Rajniti Ki Sakh 13; Future of Printed Word 14; Understanding Science Communication 15; Recent Trends in Financial Journalism 16; Make Your Writing Readable 17; and Need for a New Social Media Theory 18. Most of these write ups were published in ‘Communication Today’ the target readers of which are journalism and mass communication faculty members and researchers. In my view, the above topics have utilitarian value for their target readers. Features, articles, etc. fall within the category of non-fictional writing, whereas fictional or creative writings include stories, novels, poetry, etc.

Creative writings have different measures for their success. They should touch the hearts of their readers. They should bring tears to the eyes of their readers or make them laugh. Once my father was reciting his poem in public, a very old and poor woman came to him wiping her tears with her shabby dhoti-pallu. She touched his feet and gave him one rupee as a token of her appreciation of his poetry.

In my view, that one rupee was a measure of his great success. The woman was poor, but she couldn’t resist herself from expressing her appreciation by giving him that small amount as a gift. My father was greatly touched by her gesture.

Writing has several styles – descriptive, analytical, literary, satirical, expository, critical, narrative, etc., but in journalism all these styles should, according to Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911), have a common purpose – “public interest”.19 Writing is like any other performing art. That art can be cultivated by any one by sheer hard work and practice of re-writing.

I like George Orwell (1903-1950) for his thinking, reasoning and interpretation, but he is not my role model in the art of writing. My icons are Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), Munshi Premchand (1880-1936), Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) and Thomas Paine (1737-1809), because of their sheer brevity and simplicity.

I wish to restart writing in Hindi, my mother tongue. Not to write in Hindi means I’m outraging my true nature. All writers, even the budding ones, have some reasons to write. They can find those reasons only by an honest introspection. The established writers know their reasons very well, but usually they don’t reveal them.

References

  1. Tewari, Santosh Kumar ‘S.R. Nigam: A Tribute’, ‘Communication Today’, Jaipur, July-September 2010, Vol. 12, No. 3, pp. 125-126
  2. Letter no. DO/27/79-80/949 dated 29 March 1979 of U.C. Ghildyal, Vice Chancellor, Garhwal University to S.P. Nigam, Vice President, National Union of Journalists (India), Lucknow.
  3. Tewari, Santosh Kumar, ‘Badalate Mausam Ke Beech’, ‘Amrita Prabhat’, Lucknow and Allahabad Sunday magazine 11 July 1982 pp. 1 and 3; ‘Cohabitation – Yani Sirf Saath Rahen’, ‘Amrita Prabhat’, Lucknow and Allahabad, Sunday magazine 18 July 1982 pp. 1 and 3; Yahan Dharm Ki Bhi Ek Duniya Hai’, ‘Amrita Prabhat’, Lucknow and Allahabad Sunday magazine 25 July 1982 pp. 1 and 3; ‘Yuddh Aur Kism Kism Ke Akhabar’, ‘Amrita Prabhat’, Lucknow and Allahabad, Sunday magazine 8 August 1982 pp. 1 and 3; ‘Pravasi Sansar: Do Sanskriyon Ka Dabav’, ‘Amrita Prabhat’, Lucknow and Allahabad, Sunday magazine 22 August 1982 pp. 2-3
  4. Orwell, George (1970) ‘Why I Write’, ‘The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell Vol I An Age like This’, New York: The Penguin Books, pp.25-26
  5. Plimpton, George (2002) An Interview with Earnest Hemingway (in) Wanger-Martin, Linda (Editor), ‘Earnest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises: A Casebook’, New York: Oxford University Press, p.20
  6. Tewari, Santosh Kumar, ‘Papaji aur Pustakalaya’, ‘Souvenir of Rajendra Nagar Library’, Lucknow, published on its 51st founding year, December2011, pp. 55-59; ‘Kavivar Gaya Prasad Tewari ‘Manas’, ‘Harsingar’, Sahitya Mandal, Nathdwara, Rajasthan, January-September 2011 Vol. 14, No.1,2,3, pp. 101-103; ‘Ab Yaden Hi Baaki Hain’ (part 1), ‘Brij Nandini’, Mathura, May-June 2010,Vol.5, No.9-10, pp. 12-14; ‘Ab Yaden Hi Baaki Hain’ (part 2), ‘Brij Nandini’, Mathura, July-August 2010,Vol.6, No.1-2, pp. 15-17
  7. Tewari ‘Manas’, Gaya Prasad (1997) ‘Ham Geet Hi Gungunate Chale’, Lucknow: Hindi Parishad, pp.12-14
  8. Tewari, Santosh Kumar ‘P.P. Singh: A Pioneer in Journalism Education’, ‘Communication Today’, Jaipur, April-June 2010 Vol. 12 No. 2, pp. 18-24
  9. Tewari, Santosh Kumar ‘S.R. Nigam: An Unknown Practitioner of Communal Harmony’, ‘ Sadbhawan Sandesh’, May 2014, pp.32-34
  10. Tewari, Santosh Kumar ‘Baba Saheb Ne Anuchched 370 Ka Virodh Kiya Tha’, ‘Panchjanya’, New Delhi, 20 April 2014 Vol. 68 No. 47, p.36
  11. Tewari, Santosh Kumar, ‘Right to Privacy in India and USA’, ‘Communication Today’, Jaipur, January-March 2014 Vol. 16 No. 1, pp. 1-7
  12. Tewari, Santosh Kumar’A New Book on Media Law’ (Review of Ram Jethmalani’s book), ‘Communication Today’, Jaipur, October-December 2013, Vol. 15, No. 4, pp.152-154
  13. Tewari, Santosh Kumar ‘Dav Par Hai Media Aur Rajniti Ki Sakh'(An interview with Achyutanand Mishra, senior journalist and former Vice Chancellor of Makhanlal Chaturvedi University, Bhopal) , ‘Media Vimarsh’ Bhopal, March 2014, pp. 12-14.
  14. Tewari, Santosh Kumar ‘Future of Printed Word’, ‘Communication Today’, Jaipur, July-September 2013, Vol. 15, No. 3, pp.52-54
  15. Tewari, Santosh Kumar ‘Understanding Science Communication’, ‘Communication Today’, Jaipur, April-June 2013, Vol. 15, No. 2, pp.42-47
  16. Tewari, Santosh Kumar ‘Financial Markets and Journalism: Recent Trends’, ‘Jigyasa’, Varanasi, Vol VI No. 2, June 2013, pp.103-107
  17. Tewari, Santosh Kumar ‘Make Your Writing Readable’, ‘Communication Today’, Jaipur, January-March 2013, Vol. 15, No. 1, pp.91-97
  18. Tewari, Santosh Kumar ‘Need for a New Social Media Theory’, ‘Communication Today’, Jaipur, October-December 2012, Vol. 14, No. 4, pp.1-5
  19. Pulitzer, Joseph ‘Planning a School of Journalism – The Basic Concept in 1904’, ‘The North American Review’, New York, May 1904, Vol. 178, No. 5, p.44

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