Dr M V Kamath – Mangalorean Star
Padma Bhushan Dr Madhav Vittal Kamath, the former chairman of Prasar Bharti and the contemporary honorary director of Manipal Institute of Communication, Manipal, is among the very few living people from the Press who have closely witnessed the freedom struggle for Independent India. He has devoted more than four decades of his life for Journalism and is also the author of more than 45 books including his autobiography ‘A Reporter at large’.
Dr. Kamath was born in Udupi on September 7th, 1921 in the family of M Vittal Kamath, an Udupi based lawyer. He had two siblings comprising of one elder brother and one elder sister. His ancestors were basically from Goa who left Goa around 1760 at the height of inquisition. His mother tongue used to be Konkani. He did his primary and secondary education in Udupi itself, but went to Government College, Mangalore for his intermediate studies.
After this he joined the St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, for graduation although he wanted to become a doctor initially. He started his career as a chemist but later he came into the world of journalism and finally made it as a lifelong career. He says, “I was born in Udupi and Udupi has stayed in my blood. No matter where I go and have traveled far and wide many years, it is to Udupi that I have always wished to return because that is where I was born and brought up, where I learnt my ABC, made friends and tasted the life.”
Mr. Kamath has worked as the Editor of Sunday Times for two years (1967 – 69) and then rejoined Times as the Washington Correspondent for nearly 10 years (1969- 78). He has also served as editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India. Kamath was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2004.
In the contemporary days one can meet him writing columns and books in his cabin with the very old typewriter or interacting with the younger generation.
Dr M V Kamath talks to Manish Kumar, Team Mangalorean.com in Manipal and shares his experiences of the last 88 years and four decades in journalism:
You are among the very few people from pre-Independent India who has seen the struggle for Independence closely. What memories can you recollect from that era?
I have a number of memories with me of the pre-Independent era. According to me the movements that had a massive effect on the struggle were non-cooperation movement, Satyagraha and lastly the quit India movement. Soon after Gandhiji came from South Africa in 1919, the first thing that he emphasized was non-violence and non-corporation movement against the British. He also led the Salt Satyagraha movement and the famous Dandi March, which compelled the British to ponder over the power of freedom fighters.
In your autobiography ‘A Reporter at large’ you have mentioned about some of the unsung heroes who fought for independence. Do you remember any such incidence that is related to any such unsung hero that inspired you?
Yes, I can recollect one incident that really affected me at that time. The story is about a professor from St. Aloysius College, Mangalore. Once during the Salt Satyagraha movement, he went to make salt from the sea; he was holding his hand -made salt from the sea in one hand and in another hand the national flag. The police asked him to drop both but he denied. The annoyed British policemen then had beaten him very badly. He was bleeding profusely. His wrist was broken and he could not hold anything. During the Quit India movement in 1942 his legs were broken too.
This incident affected me a lot. When I was a reporter in 1992, I wrote a column about this man who inspired me a lot. In a few days after the publication of my article, I got a call from the same man and he urged me to meet him. I agreed and started preparing to welcome my hero. The next day one lady came and knocked on my door. The lady asked me to meet the man downstairs. I was surprised as to why he couldn’t come to meet me upstairs. I came and was astonished to see him. He was not in a position to hold anything. He was on a wheelchair and was made a handicap by the beating from the British. So this was the level of dedication for the nation at that time.
Have you ever participated in the war against British when you were young in any way?
In 1942, I was a chemist and a congress volunteer too. Those times being a congress volunteer was a matter of pride. Being a congress volunteer I used to distribute pamphlets and helped in managing the meetings of the congress. I attended the AICC meeting at Gwalior maidan when Quit India resolution was passed. At 1946 the war was over and again there was a meeting by the congressmen and again I was there as congress volunteer. In 1946, I became a reporter.
You also got the privilege to cover the independence midnight at Government Secretariat where a lot of congressmen and other prominent people assembled. How was the eve of Independent India?
The eve of the Independence Day was the most remarkable day of my life. The scene was very patriotic. Many patriotic songs were sung on the event. Front rows were occupied by the congressmen who had fought and struggled for the day to come. Around 1000 congressmen were there. Behind them were prominent people like J R D Tata and others.
Seconds were passing like years. Around 11:59 at night the band started the national anthem and almost all spectators were in tears, remembering the days of struggle. Even I could not prevent myself in doing so. It was the greatest day of my life.
You have got a chance to meet the history makers of India personally, who are now considered as idols like Jawahar lal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and others. Can you share one incident when you met any one of them?
I met Indira Gandhi once in Paris when I was a foreign correspondent there. She was not PM that time. We met at a farewell along with my wife. Then my wife asked her to come with us for a film on Kennedy and she came with us happily. My wife wanted to invite her for dinner. But I asked what she would give her. She (wife) said that we had only left over. She heard our conversation and expressed her desire to come along with us. She came to my house at Paris. My wife made some items that could be prepared easily. Indira Gandhi and I had a long talk that night. We started around eight in the evening and continued till 2:30 in the morning. She discussed many things with us like how her husband proposed to her and many other things related to her personal life.
Soon after Shahstriji died she became the PM of India. We again met at Paris when she returned from the commonwealth PM conference at London. But now she did not recognize me.
We have heard you anyhow managed to meet Nehru who was considered as a man who was known for not giving interviews? Tell us something about that incident?
I was at that time working for Free Press Journal. I was waiting for the saloon carrying Nehru at Kalyan station along with one photographer and one journalist from Indian Express. We were like chota bacchas (small kids) that time. Anyhow we managed to take the train. Suddenly Nehru noticed us. He asked who we were. We introduced ourselves although we were afraid. We came near him and started noticing his activities. He was silently reading books. I still remember the name of the book, it was ‘The Green Hat.’ I made a note of that. Near Thane station he noticed the transport of some war materials on trucks. He got angry and murmured ‘What a waste of money’ and suddenly asked “what do you boys think of this?” We anyhow got our stories and finally got to know more about Nehru.
If anyone visits your office, one may get surprised that in the modern era of computers, you still use type writers.
You can compare this to a situation where an old wife asks her husband why you don’t marry a young girl, why you are still with me (smiles and clarifies), it is like my old wife who has shown loyalty to me for years. How can I reject it?
Many people think that we have not valued the freedom we got after so much of struggle. How do you see India after almost 60 years of Independence?
I agree that there are a lot of problems in the society. But the scenario is changing. In the last 60 years India has witnessed fantastic changes in various sectors. We are getting more and more advanced in technology. Now we can build our own aircraft carriers, we can build our own nuclear submarines; we can send man on the moon if we want. We have the talent and the energy to be the No.1 country of the world. We are great and will be greater in the coming few years.
Mangalorean.com considers it a great privilege to have Dr M.V. Kamath as its Mangalorean Star for March 2010. We thank you Dr. Kamath and wish you good health in the years to come.
Submitted by Manish Kumar, Manipal
Manish kumar, Manipal (Writer of this interview), India:
Thank you all for going through this interview and appreciating the living legend.
@Mr. Ajit Suryanarayan: If you want to contact or meet Dr. M V Kamath give me you email id, I will get back to you. Mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ajit Suryanarayan, India:
Very interesting article. I am the son of late Mr G.S.Bhargava, a vetran journalist. I am anxious to get in touch with Mr M.V.Kamath. Can you please give me his address, telephone number and/or his email id.
S. Raman, India:
The incident of the usung hero narrated by Dr.Kamath is really moving. Through this we, who were born post independence could feel the pains and sacrifices made by our freedom fighters. Dr. Kamath is always held in very high esteem by me ever since I first read his article in Times of india when he was its NEWYORK correspondent (was his column titled “Washington Diary”?) and later as Editor of illustrated weekly. I pray Almighty for a very long life and good health to our revered Dr. Kamath.
To spend some time with Dr.M.V.Kamath is an investment in knowledge. I had the specialpriviledge of having intereacted with him on many occasions. If it was not for him, the script of my first book ‘Ad-ventures of a PR Man’ would not have seen the light of the day. His forecast came very true. Only last month, he was kind enough to release the 3rd sequeal of my first book – ‘Moe Ad-venturesof a PR Man’. I feelvery small, when he compares my writing to the great RKN of ‘Malgudi Days’.
I have also enjoyed his hospitality last year, for couple of days. He would not allow me to move the plates/cups from dining table to kitchen. He says, go and read paper, this is my job’. I feel very small.
I pray Almighty that to shower on him good health,long life so that we will have more occasions to share his experience.
Leeladhar M.Puthran, Baikampady, Mumbai, India:
I had the good fortune of interacting with Mr. M.V. Kamath at ‘The Times of India’, when he was writing the book ‘The United States and India 1776-1976. This book was published by The Embassy of India, Washington D.C., USA on the occasion of completion of 200 years of Indo-American relationship, and printed in India at The Times of India Press, Bombay.
My boss Mr. Ramesh Sanzgiri, Art Director of Times of India had designed this book. Another Kannadiga, Ms. Shanti Aarons (she worked as a Copywriter in The Times of India) had done the Pictorial Research for this book. My duty was to re-type the corrected copies and also captions for the huge number of historical photographs collected from the Times of India Archive and also from various sources in India and the world.
But by chance if you happen to lay your hands on this book, you will be surprised to read that the credit line – ‘Copyright Text © M.V. Kamath, 1976’. A layman may not know that it is written by Mr. M.V. Kamath. All his efforts and his handwork is masked in this ‘copyright’ and believe me this word was selected by Mr. Kamath himself. This is the greatness of the man. He wanted to remain humble.
During that period he was the Editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India and used to occupy a room in the south corner on the 4th floor of The Times of India Building at Bombay. He used to come with a bush shirt, and some times an over coat. He walked briskly on the corridor and the peons sitting there would stand up and salute him. Mr. Kamath had a friendly and warm smile in reply for all of them.
Taking advantage of this familiarity with him I had once gone to his home at Khar, Bombay one evening some years after he left The Times of India, requesting some favour. He was equally warm at that occasion and enquired about my well being. Mr. Kamath is a great man, but very humble and down to earth. I wish him many more years of active life and pray the Almighty to give him many more years of good health.
Dr M.V. Kamath…
“don’t we all wish Dr Mr Kamath be an advisor to The Government of India with all his exposure and experience” ?.
I remember reading his columns in a magazine The Week……fearless and forthright.
W V R Lobo, Canada: Canada:
Hi Master Kamath,
Greetings ! Kamath’s writings on Kannada Sunday Papers, was inspiration to me when I was young !! Indeed my eyes runs first to the Kamath corner on Sundays. You are young mind as Konkan India !!!!
Your selection of Padma Bhushan M.V. Kamath as the Mangalorean star is most appropriate and deserving. Your depiction of his life history, clears up my confusion. I thought that there were more than one M.V. Kamath.
I knew of one M.V. Kamath during 50’s who worked for Free Press newspapers. It is nice to know that He was an alumnus of St. Xavier’s College where I studied during the 50’s and then
I proceeded to USA In 1959 for further studies. Then I lost track of the most of Indian personalities.
During 70,s and 80’s, I used to visit India once in three or four years. And made it a practice to visit with Dr. T.M.A. Pai who was gracious enough to receive me and spend time explaining as to how he built these institutions. Once he passed away, I was introduced to Mr. Ramesh Pai who was kind enough to invite me to address different managerial groups in Manipal. Mr K.K. Pai was already introduced to me when I addressed the Lions club or Rotary club a few years earlier.
I knew Mr T.A.Pai personally when he was in charge of Syndicate Bank during my student days. I met him again and saw him off at N.Y. Airport as he was offered to take over the chairmanship of Food Corporation. It was, I was told, his first trip to the United States. I could be wrong. Whenever I came to India I also met him in Udupi where he maintined an office during his ministerial assignments. It was interesting to note that Mr. T.A. Pai was a product of Sydnham college, Bombay where I attended evening classes for a two-year Sydnham diploma in accountancy when I was attending Xavier’s for a baccalaureate degree. There were so many happenstances.
During my visits to Manipal, I was given several books and booklets on Manipal and related subjects. One of them was ‘The Innovative Banker’ by M.V. Kamath. I wondered then whether it was the same M.V.Kamath who used to write for Free Press. At another time, When I was invited to address students at T.A.Pai Institute of Management, I was given a booklet where I found another Kamath as a member of the governing council listed as Dr. M.V.Kamath, Management Consultant residing in Madras. I was really confused. But I kept it to myself.
A couple of years back an enterprising individual sent me a bi-monthly publication purely by chance. Again, I was introduced to another M.V. Kamath who was in their editorial board and there was a refreshing article on international issues under the byline M.V. Kamath.
Though I never met him, I always wondered about these different M.V.Kamaths. It is obvious now that it must have been the same person in different manifestations. Padma Bhushan M.V.Kamath, an illustrious son of this area amply deserves to be addressed Padma Bhushan and be recognized as a morning star. His contribution to the fourth estate, the watchdog of our political system, had been extraordinarily meaningful.
I wish him good health and expect many more years of literary gift of wisdom to our people.
joe Gonsalves, USA:
Joe Gonsalves, Mangalore – U.S.A. Sunday, March 07, 2010
Mr Madhav Vittal Kamath. You are indeed a man of name and fame and mangalorean.com has done some justice to your wonderful career by providing an account of you to us who regularly go through the media. I am an old timer myself almost your age and perhaps a similar career but certainly not an illustrious person like you. I am a 1922 model born 1st. January 1922 and junior to you by a few months. Therefore let me address you as Madhavanna. Whatever party you may belong to, you are a person of great character not mincing words. Kudos to you Madhavanna. You stated that you commenced your career with Free Press Journal. I wonder whether you knew one Sam Castelinho who too was working for F.P.J almost the same time as you.
Talking about careers, please do not feel that you have missed a vocation in life. You have done far better as a writer and infused ideas into people. You say that you went to places with your type-writer. I did the same. You started life on Rs.16/- a month and I commenced work almost on a equivalent salary and had a break only in 1953 when I was selected and posted as a manager in the then British Company. I was a road roller and my work took me to all the metro cities in India and to England and presently I continue road rolling as I spend a good part of time in U.S.A.
It is my hope to see you in Mangalore when you are here next.
Respectfully submitted by an admirer of Vittal Kamath.
Shridhara Achar Bangalore, India:
No doubt Dr.M.V. Kamath is one of the pioneering distinguished journalist from coastal Karnataka.During my coleege days whenever I saw Kamath`s name in Times of India and Illustrated Weekly of India I felt proud of this veteren Mangalorean. He is really a star Mangalorean.
Nelson Lewis, Bahrain:
Dear Dr. M.V. Kamath,
I consider you as one of the pioneers of the post-independent journalism and recall that you were a fearless writer and I used to enjoy reading your columns in the Mid-Day in the 1980s. You used to take pot shots at Indian politicians, including other personalities. If I am not mistaken, you used to stay at Vile Parle those days.
I had written to you a letter those days and was surprised to get your reply.
I am very happy to note that you have been chosen as the Mangalorean Star: March, 2010.
I wish you all the best.
Good Interview. But ended abruptly. The interview does not cover later Part of Mr. Kamath’s Life. His experiences as the Chief of Prasar Bharti. Journey to Padma Bushan. etc. Anyways a good attempt by the interviewer. Would be happy if we could get to read more about Mr. Kamath.
SHENOY R, India:
But now she did not recognize me.
-M V Kamath
Reminded me of the story of Kuchela. Lord Krishna recognised Kuchela who was poverty sricken and came to him hoping that he would give him some thing to help. He brought beaten rice [avalakki] for Lord Krishna. Lord Krishna treated his childhood friend well and sent him with lots of goodies and cash. Such was his love for Kuchela[Sudhama]. The late Mrs Gandhi also recognised, but not Kuchela. She recognised only Chelas. So take it easy Mr Kamath. Your contribuition to journalism is great. I remember you as reporter for Times of India from Washington. Congratulations to Mangalorean dot com for recognising him and making him the Mangalorean Star. M.com has increased its prestige by the process.
Austin Prabhu, USA:
Congratulations to Dr. M. V. Kamath on being named as the Mangalorean Star for the month of March, 2010. You well deserve this honor Dr. Kamath. An insipiration to our younger generation. Keep up the good work; wish you all the best in your future endeavors.
Madhuri Kumar, India:
Good interview. Keep it up.
Kudpi Rajanikanth Shenoy, India:
Dr M.V. Kamath is a giant among the journalists and is also a source of inspiration for freelancers like myself. It is interesting to know that he was a Chemist before taking to journalism.
Thanks Manish for nominating a great person such as Dr Kamath as Mangalorean Star.