By Mitali Chakravarty

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Title: Reluctant Editor

Author: PN Balji

Publisher: Marshall Cavendish, 2019

 

The Reluctant Editor has a forward by the prominent Singaporean lawyer and diplomat, Professor Tommy Koh, which tells us that the author, P N Balji “is one of Singapore’s veteran newspaper journalists and editors, and a very good one”. The narrative is not just an account of the Singapore media seen through the eyes of a veteran journalist as stated obviously on the book cover, but also a quick sketch of a man who is introverted and self-effacing.

We do not find the author talk much of himself or his work, but he does give an extensive report on the media history from the early 1970s to the early 2000s in Singapore, including episodes like the Toh Chin Chye case, where a false allegation was made in a newspaper report on an ex-minister of Singapore. PN Balji had been in editorial positions in The Straits Times (ST), The New Paper (TNP) and the founding Editor-in-Chief of Today.

The historic evolution of all the newspapers in Singapore and the government’s involvement in monitoring the media is clearly spelt out — even to the point of deciding what kind of newspapers were necessary for communicating with people. Described as a “brash” newspaper, The New Paper was started to bridge the gap between those who read and comprehended the one hundred and seventy-one-year-old newspaper, The Straits Times, and the people who don’t understand the ST. The New Paper was started to “speak the language of blue-collar workers”. A tabloid and later a morning daily, it needed a set of different writing skills as Professor Koh tells us in the foreword. His article in simple English had to be rewritten by the editor to make it comprehensible for the readers of TNP.

 

It took me a while to recognise Herbert.

I was visiting my parents in Bombay after some years, and a friend had dropped in. When I walked her to the gate, Herbert was standing across the road. As he crossed over, he greeted me, “Utuma!”

But for that, I would not have known him, for the yellow-eyed, shabbily clad dark youth had little in common with the chubby, curly haired neighbourhood boy who had anglicised my name in our childhood.

“Seeing you after a long time!” Herbert exclaimed.

“Fifteen years at the least,” I replied.

“Where are you living now?” he wanted to know. I told him that I had moved to Delhi and asked him when he had got back from Kuwait.

“When Mummy died,” he said. “You know that we’ve sold the house?”