Publisher of political weekly ‘Goan Observer’ muses and broods about the good times and now bad times in which a small spunky weekly is trying to survive with its head held high in victory, never defeat, even as closure stares it in the face for want of a helping help in cash and perhaps more so in kind …
By Tara Narayan
AS publisher of the Goan Observer this is not easy for me write or sum up. It seems as if it was only yesterday that Rajan Narayan and I got married in 2001 when he was the editor of the oHeraldo. In an incident to do with the then fairly new Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar over what should be permitted to be published and what not permitted…Rajan Narayan resigned, picked up his bag and left the premises of the office on moral grounds and extreme disgust in 2002. Later he confided he had a few nasty words with his ambitious proprietor Raul Fernandes and enough is enough, he has put up with enough torture. Torture? I asked humorously, and he said, yes, torture, when men become rich they know how to torture their employees.
It was time to say goodbye to 20 years of blood, sweat and the joys of a fleeting fame of sorts if not fortune. How else can I put it? This man could have asked Manohar Parrikar anything over or under the table and would have got it too. But at what cost in terms of peace of mind? For good or for bad Rajan Narayan doesn’t know how to plead, beg, kowtow or suffer bullies gladly…if it means compromising with his conscience.
When he resigned barely within two years after we had tied the knot in our jhat phat marriage it was a moment of disquieting emotions and fears for me. My main worry was we would have to leave his wretched basement flat at Dona Paula which he called his home, a hole in the wall home about which he spun many fascinating stories about his life and times in Goa and how many political footfalls of the high and mighty his flat had witnessed. Not his of course. Also some very desperate aam aadmi would come knocking on his door at midnight for some favor or another and which they knew only Rajan could swing for them.
Rajan Narayan has grown up in a never say die world. It didn’t take him long to start to his own political weekly to take on the Manohar Parrikar era of brave and oftentimes turncoat governance. It was time to say goodbye to the oHeraldo. Never mind that he was the founding father of the English edition, which he turned around from a time pass society Portuguese paper to a dynamic English, laying a foundation so correct that in a few years it became a paper to reckon with and take pride in.
A lot happened to Rajan Naryan during his 20 years of editorship of the oHeraldo and this included a savage beating with iron rods while returning home to his basement home in 1989 (when he had taken on then Speaker of the Legislative Assembly Dayanand Narvekar who was being accused of sexually molesting his young secretary)… an incident for which Rajan is still paying the price health wise. Anyway, this is to say with a heavy heart Rajan bid goodbye to his baby which he nurtured into an adult with a gratuity check of less than Rs1 lakh in 2003, no goodbye party naturally. The parting was bitter-sweet and what is the height of arrogance will always be a matter of debate.
I had Rs2 lakh to give him, he had his Rs1 lakh and a few friends contributed goodwill and share money out of sympathy. On a song and prayer in our hearts the first issue of the Goan Observer came out on the stands on November 15, 2003, with the cover depicting Red Riding Hood taking on the wolf (presumably an avatar all politicians take when in power at some time in their careers). Soon our covers became hot topics of Saturday tea-time discussions – the animal in every politician had a field day taking a bow or so to speak. Ten years down the line readers thought the Goan Observer was a “manimal” zoo or farm!
HEY, perhaps it was a bit of nagging guilt that Rajan Narayan’s parting with the OHeraldo was due to him and Manohar Parrikar invited us out to dinner at the private room of the International Centre Goa. I rather liked him, he came across as such an aam aadmi chief minister, giving us a lift in his own car. Mr Parrikar tried but didn’t succeed in wooing over either the former editor of the oHeraldo or editor of the Goan Observer – I am told after his swearing in as chief minister Mr Parrikar had come to Rajan’s basement flat at Dona Paula to seek his blessings.
Mind you Manohar Parrikar and Rajan were friends and respected each other’s point of view and much later on whenever I met the CM at some press conference he would enquire about Rajan and how he was keeping, promising to visit him. But sorry, politics wise they had a difference of opinions. An inherently democratic man like Rajan would have little in common with an inherently undemocratic man like Manohar Parrikar (whatever else his good qualities).
This memory I hate to remember. Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar invited us out for dinner on two occasions at the International Centre Goa’s private dining room – but the bills came home for me to pay! When queried a sheepish Mr Parrikar said, oh, he didn’t think the ICG would present a bill seeing how it was seeking funds from his government! Well, all this and much more I’ll skip here by way of memories.
First ten years the Goan Observer did very well and kept the hubby in a gregarious mood, for everyone he invited turned up at his annual birthday party bashes on July 4. Mama mia, he planned them meticulously and they were extravagant affairs. The bol sans rival would arrive from Fernando’s Nostalgia from down Raia in south Goa and later years I recall even my trenchant German friend Manuella Machut, who has a soft corner for Rajan, would carefully bake and bring her apelkuchen or apple cake…all the way from her Nachinola farm house where she kootchie cooed with a parrot called Rama, a bull called Bully, a goat called King Arthur and any number of cats and dogs. We know Manuella loves animals over human of the species any day!
OUR first few years at Tropicana Apartments at La Campala Colony buzzed with joi de vivre and soon we also had a desktop publishing business going, doing books for those who wanted help in writing and publishing. Income was good enough, we moved out of his basement when the landlady Aunty Libby’s daughter fussed about a water tank we had fitted; to a much nicer large flat overlooking the sea in the distance at Dona Paula. IIn my non-existent wisdom went on a shopping spree, bought too many things to be comfortable at home, invited too many people to come over for Saturday/Sunday lunch or dinner.
One regret. When we shifted to bigger offices at La Campala Colony I wish I’d bought the Tropicana Apartments flat – for want of a few lakh rupees I’d said No and live to regret it to this day. It didn’t occur to me then that I could have borrowed some money from family and bought the flat, then there would have been none of this wasteful shifting from rental home to rental home upmarket or downmarket in the last 20 years of my life in Goa!
For an Opposition paper swearing by the cardinal principle of the Fourth Estate and that is to be pro-aam aadmi first and last, the going is necessarily always uphill. We covered our costs, made enough money to be happy shifting homes and finally ending up in Dempobhat at Tonca where a lot of bad luck besieged us…I rue the fact that neither Rajan or me thought about what the morrow may bring.
Even if we say so, we have been good employers. Our young staffers were happy as they got hitched in marriage one by one and the babies came along (Rajan’s favorite assistant editor Jonquil would bring her little boy to sleep off on a crèche in the office!). There were Melanie, Pravina, Marrissa Veena, Gauri, Pradnya, Ashwini, Melba, Anwesha, Gabriela, Suresh, Badshah, Gary, Deepak, Sheetal, Sanju, Anna, Almas, Gaurish, Karen, Reggie and a few more, many left later for some reason or another; some for more lucrative opportunities in journalism when electronic media got big… we sailed along with Bindiya, Heena, Saish, Ranjeet, content to be unpopular with the government and chief minister of the day until with some smart moves Goa became a saffron or BJP State. It was a new challenge to focus on with political upheavals and the Goan Observer’s editor in and out of hospitals, often on his knees, but refusing to buckle.
Vindictiveness there was and so was a lot of appreciation (I won’t mention the names helping us generously to stay alive and kicking, I won’t name them here only for it may embarrass them). We tightened our belts and carried on, cut down on staff, petty expenditure, took on part-time staff…in the last three years and especially this year both political déjà vu and criticism came our way: What is this nonsense of Opposition politics! Just say nice nice things only about everybody in and out of power – or don’t write about politics, what’s the point of saying nasty things about U-turns and petty blackmail and outright rejection…da, da, da!
I must tell you though that the Goan Observer has some very senior diehard fans and now and again I get a call from senior Goans complaining that this week’s issue hasn’t come, nor did it come the week before last and could we do the needful in delivering the copies? There are readers I love and then question everybody in the office about what’s going wrong? Please ensure a personal delivery by hook or by crook…this is after we decided to focus on being subscription-based, we discovered our issues posted on Saturday at the GPO in Panaji reached subscribers on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or not at all.
Life was less rosy and we’ve looked high and low for angel investors to help keep our print issue alive and kicking, put in money, improve the online issue, improve marketing…share ideas and swing them, help make money and share it generously! Even buy us out – an honorable 17-years-old weekly with a squeaky clean record but increasingly bankrupt. I would like to keep the spirit of a Rajan Narayan alive and kicking if you’re asking me. A few did come but all they wanted was the Goan Observer’s name, they didn’t want us! They wanted to dump us in the garbage bin of history for Rs50,000 or less. Rajan Narayan in between loose talk of jumping off the high bridge Manohar Parrikar built would tell everyone to go to hell, “I’m not letting anyone turn the Goan Observer into maybe a whore house!” I would say, what whore house?
So it goes, my friends, if I were rich I would commission someone to do a biography of the life and times of Rajan Narayan or even make a film…surely the proprietor of the oHeraldo owes him something for he got beaten up in the line of duty in 1989 and since his case was botched up at the GMC by a Dr Sharma, surely the State of Goa owes him some compensation – the goons who beat him up went free and the case was never pursued on behalf of Rajan Narayan by anyone.
Now I know Rajan Narayan is a political animal and although he pretends to relax and seeks recreation, he knows how to do neither. The Goan Observer is his raison d’etre for staying alive, but this last year bad luck has been dogging us vis-à-vis payments and advertising drying up. Yes, a few friends have sustained us by way of advertising and I thank them from the bottom of my heart. I’m not saying here that the weekly cannot do with a whole lot of quality improvement, it does.
A friend made sure we got the State lottery prize numbers to publish and this just about paid the high billing of printing the Goan Observer, but then someone took the lottery contractor to court and the money stopped…we cut pages, we economized, it is no longer news that this year’s Covid-19 lockdowns have reduced print media to near groveling status, some have shut down for want of strong backers.
The big publishing houses have a finger in many pies so they can sustain losses. Small-time media like the Goan Observer to compete with the on-line and digital media mania also went online with its issues and surprisingly did much better vis-à-vis readers — but alas, not financially to even pay our ground level office charges! Covid-19 was the last straw and stab in the back of the weekly and today we’re where we not only beg for advertising but also beg to be paid! We’ve decided we need a month off from printing to review our options, call it a chintan baithak if you like.
To all our senior readers who are it’s most ardent readers I will confess that like them I too find online reading frustrating and not good enough – I much prefer the written word in black and white in my hand. Print media is down in the dumps currently but surely it will rise again to restore the quality of life we once enjoyed?
GOAN OBSERVER ACTIVITIES IN 17 YEARS
• Tara Narayan thought folk were interested more in health than politics so she brought out a monthly titled
Mind & Body, Heart & Soul’ for about four years. The magazine was welcomed both by general readers and the medical community but alas there was not enough advertising revenue to support its growth. • We diversified into desktop publishing and printed the books: Our authors were writer and niz Goenkar Ben Antao (settled in Canada) --The Tailor’s Daughter’,
Penance’,Blood & Nemesis’; Mario Sequeira of
Killing Me Softly”; PG Kakodkar ofMy 40 Years With SBI’ , Irineu Gonsalves’ of
All Rounder’; Lata Bhatikar ofMothering & Smothering’; plus an
Exposition 2004 Guide’ was done by Goan Observer team. Our most well-researched book is on the victory of the Opinion Poll in Goa -- commissioned by son Dattaraj Salgaocar,Triumph of Secularism’ by Rajan Narayan. Rajan Narayan was also commissioned by Chief Minister Digambar to write a book on the history of the Golden Jubilee of Goa’s Liberation — `Sampurna Swaraj’ by Chief Minister Digambar Kamat.
• Apart from books we did and are able to execute with our lifetime’s resources and contacts, several posters in English and Konkani during medical emergencies. For example, when swine flu entered Goa and much like the coronavirus pandemic caused panic and havoc amongst Goans. This is just to mention some highlights of GO’s activities apart from staying alive and kicking with its mainstream weekly.
Goan Observer is taking a break! There will be no print issues in October, only online editions. As publisher and wife I have my differences of opinion with him but I am his friend first and see him turning into what one friend mockingly tells me, a dinosaur or a relic of diehard journalism! Tell him to roll with the times. Okay, will do. Until then don’t be sparing in your criticism. Anyone can praise, only a few have the courage of their convictions to criticize which pinches and per chance makes for a better today or tomorrow for all. In a democracy everyone has a right to be seen and heard and to stay alive in pursuit of excellence and happiness – from the highest to the highest to the lowest to the lowest!