VN Narayanan: A gentle, unassuming Editor

VN Narayanan, former Editor-in-Chief of The Tribune Group of Newspapers, died at the age of 75 in Singapore. Narayanan steered The Tribune during the difficult decades of militancy in Punjab with a firm resolve that belied his slight frame. Born on March 27, 1940, Narayanan earned his BA (Economics Honours) from Vivekananda College, University of Madras, in 1960 and Masters Diploma in Public Administration from the Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi, in 1961. He played table tennis for his college and won chess tournaments in Madras State.

VN Narayanan 1940-2015

VN Narayanan 1940-2015

A year later, he joined Hindustan Times as sub-editor, followed by a stint in The Statesman, from where he joined The Tribune as Assistant Editor (’75-’79), after which he became Editor of Indian Express, Bangalore (’79-’81), and Resident Editor, Indian Express, Chandigarh (’81-’82). He rejoined The Tribune as Deputy Editor in ’82. Hand-picked by Prem Bhatia as his successor, he took over as Editor-in-Chief of the paper in ’86. He served the paper till ’94, when he left Chandigarh to join Hindustan Times in Delhi as Editor.

VN Dutta writes in The Tribune: Witness to History: “As an experienced journalist of long standing, Narayanan was a learned man with felicity with words. His editorials clearly bore a major influence of R Madhavan Nair and Prem Bhatia’s writings…. Like his predecessors, he tried to maintain the high standards of journalism. Despite the pressure, threats and menace of militant violence, which he faced in difficult times, he kept his head cool and wrote his editorials with poise and equanimity.”

A desk person at heart, he took particular interest in the middles, which he personally selected and edited even as Editor-in-Chief. It was a mark of honour for anyone to have his middle selected for publication. Employees looked particularly at his subtle editing. He had a beautiful handwriting and his brief notes to his colleagues, largely encouraging, sometimes pungent, were always pithy and treasured. His book, Tryst with Terror: Punjab’s Turbulent Decade, came out of the Punjab experience. I Muse, Therefore I am was a collection of his articles on diverse subjects published in Hindustan Times on Sundays, followed by India at 50.

While at The Tribune, Narayanan reaped a rich harvest of recognition and honours. He was a Fulbright Scholar, received the Jefferson Fellowship in 1985 and the G K Reddy Award in 1988. Narayanan faded away from the public eye and memory after he resigned from Hindustan Times as Editor, following charges of plagiarism. He moved from New Delhi to Bangalore and confined himself to the activities of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. He was chief editor of Bhavan’s Journal and Principal of HB College of Communication and Management. He had heart problems in the last few years. He was in Singapore, which is now home to both his daughters, Ramya and Vindhya, when he passed away on December 5. He is survived by wife Radhan and two daughters.

Few would dispute that VN Narayanan’s tenure in The Tribune was his finest hour. It was here that he practised journalism in the vein of his illustrious father, VK Narasimhan. He loved Mohammad Rafi songs, Urdu poetry, Shakespeare and PG Wodehouse and had a subtle sense of humour. He could be self-mocking and was fiercely protective about his junior colleagues. With a gentle presence, he maintained distance from power and pelf and would be remembered as a man who was accessible, humane and self-effacing — traits that are in short supply, especially in these times of in-your-face journalism.

This obituary by Roopinder Singh was published on December 9, 2015 in The Tribune, Dainik Tribune and Punjabi Tribune.


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