Id come out of some of these sessions just ashen-faced, he said. I couldnt handle that intensity. A coded lexicon evolved to describe these councils and their cast. In a darbar, jain met his full court of editors; in a darshan, a pilgrim walked into jains sanctum alone. K subrahmanyam, the late strategic affairs analyst who worked on the opinion page, called jains business managers pakkavadyams, referring to the cluster of accompanists around the main performer in a carnatic music concert. Less charitably, subrahmanyam, who survived one bout with cancer, labelled these sessions with jain—supposedly beneficial, always sapping—as chemotherapy. Sometimes these meetings are conducted at Sujagi, jains residence opposite the taj Mahal Hotel in central Delhi, a tasteful but austere house with few idiosyncrasies. (One of them, though, is piped music; a visitor in the early 2000s swears that he heard, to his surprise, buddha bar trickling out of the speakers.) More often, the meetings will happen in jains office on the fourth floor of the times Group building.
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Behind the times, a frothy, cinnamon-dusted history of the newspaper, bachi karkaria, one of its marathi columnists, describes a discussion in jains Mumbai office, during which an editor had slumped a few degrees too many in her chair. Jain slid a folded slip of paper to elizabeth her across the desk. In his spidery handwriting, it read, very discreetly, and without seeming to be reacting to this note, please do not sit with your knees pressed against the edge of the table. These assemblies have been pleasant for some; one former editor said that jain was one of the best teachers I have ever had. Talking to him focused your mind. It made you think through your position on something. For most participants, they were harrowing, like a subtle but perpetual test of obedience. He never directly dictated the edit line. He engaged you in long conversations, and you had to read between the lines, absorb the message, come back down, and write your edit, subrahmaniam said. One editor quit the paper because the constant effort to glean jains meaning grew too wearying.
If youre smart, youll shut it down and not go any further. Jain is always polite and soft-spoken, but he watches his audience keenly, a former. Economic Times editor told me; his eyes constantly flit around the room, and just when you think he isnt looking at you, youll find that he is, to see if youre listening. Strict rules of engagement govern jains meetings, some of them apple even written out explicitly as instructions from Bennett, colemans management and distributed to new editors. You arent supposed to look at your watch, for instance, said Vidya subrahmaniam, a former staffer on the editorial page and now an associate editor. Even if you have an appointment with the prime minister, that is secondary. No cross-talk is allowed. You dont scrape your chair along the ground, and you accord jain rapt attention.
Simultaneously, though, jain has been exacting and forceful in his mission to shape the. Times of India— its editorial philosophy; its news priorities; its gimlet-eyed focus on the bottom line—in his image. His demands can sound abstract or whimsical, and he is frequently elliptical about spelling them out, but he is insistent that they be met. Jain, who will be 59 in March, has a capacious memory, and he recollects, nearly verbatim, much of what he has read. The active samir is a treat. If he argues with you on some point, it means hes willing to be convinced, said md nalapat, once the coordinating editor of the. Nalapat left the newspaper in the late 1990s, although he remains close to jain. But total silence means deep disagreement, and theres no convincing him.
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After a cordial conversation in 1986, when jain was still finding farm his feet around the paper, he pointedly told one editor, decades his senior: Its so nice discussing these matters with you. But when others come to see me, they bring a notebook. Maybe you should too. In response, the editor told me, his voice still bearing embers of anger, i said: you may own the paper, but this is not tolerable. Then I came downstairs and wrote out my resignation letter. Really diligent scribes can leave jains office with aching wrists.
In large gatherings elsewhere, jain prefers to remain a passive observer, but in these little conclaves, he can talk, in mixed English and Hindi, for an hour or more at a time. He is nothing if not discursive; his homilies have ranged over editorial matters, brand-building and marketing, the nature of art, the psychology of his readers, sex, literature, and—most commonly—religion and spirituality. Over the last two-and-a-half decades, jain has imprinted himself indelibly onto the. Times of India, and thereby onto Indian journalism. In his newsroom, jain is sometimes referred to, discreetly, as Supreme being, and his will can be difficult to fathom. He preserves an Olympian detachment from his newspapers coverage of politics, and editors attested to me that he never once calls to inquire about the next days headlines, let alone to push a line in favour of one party or another.
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In the collective memory of, times of India journalists, the notebooks loom large; no conversation about Samir jain can be complete without mentioning them. If jain, the vice-chairman of Bennett, coleman company limited and publisher of the. Times of India, invites you into his office for a chat, youre expected to carry a notebook, and youre expected to take notes. We all had our Samir jain notebooks, and anxious managers outside his cabin would hand us new ones in case wed forgotten ours, said an editor who worked at the newspaper during the 1990s. I even remember the type: Ajanta. 3 notebooks, spiral-bound, in different colours. New initiates into jains meetings have made the mistake of decorating the pages of their notebooks with aimless doodles; old hands learn at least to scrawl down key words, lest they be quizzed the next day or the week after. It can be a chore; it can also be downright galling.
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