Monday, November 24, 2008

K Jayachandran: Journalist, Cult Figure and a Friend Who Played with his Life

IT IS difficult to believe that K Jayachandran died ten years ago. Time flies, and for those of us in the daily news business time flies with supersonic speed.

Still the fact remains: It was on November 24, 1998 that a few of us took the body of K Jayachandran, leading journalist and television person, from the mortuary of Baby Memorial Hospital at Arayidathupalam in Kozhikode, and accompanied him on his last journey to the Calicut Press Club less than one km away, where he lay motionless unmindful of the grief and distress of his friends and admirers.

He had a large gathering of friends and admirers, in fact even in those days he had emerged as a cult figure with a dedicated band of followers. He was something very close to the godmen and godwomen we see in plenty in Kerala society these days, with lots of followers who look upon their idols as god's incarnation. No questions asked, only veneration there.

But Jayachandran was something more than a cult figure. He was a journalist with fire inside his belly, who relentlessly spoke up for the poor and the dispossessed. He was, surely, the best example of a subaltern class journalist among us. He was a committed journalist, who took a clear and decisive stand on issues, fought for those things which he thought were important for him and was willing to face the consequences.

He had to pay the price for his principles. Ever since 1979 when he became the Wyand correspondent of Mathrubhumi where he had made history with a series of earth-shaking stories, he was one of the very few journalists worth their salt in our state. Still, he lost his job very soon thanks to his unwillingness to play ball with the management baying for the blood of a colleague.

In Wynad, his best known story was about the policemen hurrying to scoop up a wild animal died in the huge land-slip that killed many people. The police were there to rescue people but their eyes were on the buck that was killed and would prove to be an excellent dish for the evening drink party.

Jayachandran got them on camera, published it in the newspaper next day and was promptly picked up by the police, bashed up and was almost dead.

But he was never bothered about it. I had seen him many times during those days but he never complained about the torture he had to face in the police custody.

It was this courage that marked him as a journalist. Vimsey (V M Balachandran) who was news editor of Mathrubhumi recalls an incident with regard to Jayachandran in his memoirs. Those were the days of Emergency and Jayachandran was a local reporter from Kayanna, his home town very close to the Kakkayam police camp which became quite notorious in later days.

One of those days Jayachandran came to his office with a report about a rumour that spread in his village that a young student, named Rajan, had been killed in police torture in a camp in Kakkayam and his body dumped in Urakkuzhi, the deep water-fall nearby in deep forest. It was a rumour but he thought it was important. Hence his story.

Vimsey was in two minds. He knew Emergency was not a a time to play with police; censorship was in place though Mathrubhumi had not been subjected to it much being a nationalist or Congress newspaper. But it was a news item that rankled in his mind and he talked to V M Nair, then managing editor. V M Nair lost no time to seize the copy, tear it up, burn the pieces and then flush it away leaving no trace of it in the newspaper office.

There are so many memories about Jayachandran and the kind of journalism he practised. After leaving Mathrubhumi, he was with Sadvartha for a brief period before joining Asianet, where he soon became a cult figure and a political bigwig. But that part of his story is a different one; and I often felt he was a celebrity though at times he came out with brilliant stories that shook the people from their complacency.

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