Russi Khurshedji Karanjia, popularly known as R K Karanjia, founder-Editor-in-Chief of the erstwhile famous tabloid, Blitz and author of a number of books, passed away in Mumbai on February 1. He was 95.
“He was just down with fever because of the cold. He died in his sleep,” said his niece, Virginia Rai, who also worked as a journalist in Karanjia's now-defunct tabloid Blitz, which he had launched in the 1940s. His daughter, Rita Mehta, was away in Dubai at the time of his death. Mehta and her husband Carl arrived in Mumbai late in the evening on February 1.
R K Karanjia, brother of noted film journalist B K Karanjia, is survived by his daughter Rita Mehta, Editor, Cine Blitz. Karanjia was controversial yet innovative. Bold and experimental. Ironically he died the same day, February 1, which was the day Blitz was launched.
He was cremated on February 2 at the Chandanwadi Electric Crematorium in Mumbai in the presence of scores of media personalities and eminent citizens. His last rites were performed in a departure from Parsi tradition in line with his wishes.
Born on September 15, 1912, R K Karanjia was son of Dr Khurshedji Karanjia and Ms Aileen. He started writing while he was still in college and also worked briefly as an assistant editor for the Times of India in Mumbai. After launching his own newspaper, his aggressive style of writing earned him the admiration of thousands of readers in India and abroad. During World War II, he functioned for some time as a war correspondent, reporting from the action lines in Burma (now Myanmar) and Assam regions.
In 1945, he shot into the limelight by publishing exclusive photographs of late Indian revolutionary leader Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and his Indian National Army.
Later, he launched a campaign and successfully raised a sum of Rs.1,25,000 for the treatment, relief and rehabilitation of Indian soldiers at the British General Hospital, Pune.
During the historic Quit India Movement, Karanjia launched a Blitz campaign to release Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru from jail. For this, he was fined Rs.3,000 by the British rulers of India. Along with Feroz Gandhi, former prime minister Indira Gandhi's husband, Karanjia had exposed a financial scam involving noted industrialist Haridas Mundhra.
He also ran The Daily, a tabloid morninger. Both, The Daily and Blitz, had to be shut owing to various difficulties. He remained a Member of Rajya Sabha from January 11, 1991 to January 10, 1997.
Closely associated with Indian Prime Minister late Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru and Defence Minister late V K Krishna Menon, R K Karanjia had a distinction of taking interviews with eminent personalities like British Prime Minister late Sir Winston Churchill, French President late Charles De Gaulle, USSR Prime Minister late Nikita Khrushchev, Chinese Prime Minister late Zhou En Lai, Palestinian leader late Yasser Arafat, Egyptian President late Gamal Abdel Nasser, Yugoslavian Preident late Josiph Broz Tito, Iranian Emperor late Reza Shah Pahalvi, and Cuban President Fidel Castro.
In the death of R K Karanjia, India has lost its oldest journalist. He was a Parsi. Interestingly, another eminent Parsi late Dosabhai Fremji Karaka, founder-Editor of Current Weekly, had become his competitor in Bombay, now Mumbai, in the 1970s.
At Karanjia's Framrose Court residence in South Mumbai, relatives and a few friends gathered in the afternoon of February 1. V Gangadhar, who was a columnist with Blitz for several years, recollected his association with the editor. “I worked as a syndicated columnist in the weekly tabloid Blitz for a column, “Topsy Turvy”, for 15 years. He always encouraged me to write bold columns, a complete opposite of other editors of those times, since many did not accept satire,” he added.
Calling Karanjia a “human journalist” as opposed to an intellectual one, Gangadhar said he believed in constant change. “He was prepared to do anything new, untested. Even though he was accused of yellow journalism, he exposed many scandals,” he said.
Gangadhar recounted an anecdote from a couple of decades ago. “He strongly believed in yoga. When a yogi walked into his office and claimed he could walk on water, Russi without fearing about the goodwill of the paper encouraged the yogi and put up a banner of Blitz at the event. After two steps on the water, the yogi sank. That is Karanjia for you. He was not worried about reputation, he laughed out loud with those present at the event. But one thing was clear — this man had the guts to try something new.”
A supporter of non-alignment, at a time when various editors interviewed first world leaders, Karanjia travelled all over the world interviewing leaders from Vietnam, Egypt and Cuba.
“He was an aristocrat by birth but believed in Marxism... he was never an ivory tower editor — his room was always open for people,” said Gangadhar.
Karanjia was known as the father of tabloid journalism in the country and the first investigative journalist. But the powers that he exposed called it yellow journalism at a time when most newspapers were staid establishment papers. "Fearless and free" was how he described Blitz. He had said on the death of Frank Moraes that "God broke the mould after he made Frank". In the words of R R Jha, special correspondent, The Times of India, Lucknow, one can say that of Russy Karanjia.
Noted nonagenarian columnist Khushwant Singh used to say about him that he was a journalist who could prove white black and black white.
Other senior journalists too paid glowing tributes to Karanjia, saying he had changed the face of Indian journalism. "He was into it way before anyone even knew or understood what investigative reporting was all about," said D K Joshi, Editor of Hindi newspaper Jan Samachar. Joshi worked closely with Karanjia as chief reporter in Hindi Blitz.
P Sainath, former Deputy Chief Editor of Blitz, said: "Karanjia thought first as a journalist and then as a newspaper proprietor. He allowed everyone in his staff to grow individually and never victimised anyone."
Ms Farzana Contractor, former Editor of the Afternoon Despatch & Courier and current Editor of Upper Crust magazine, said: "An era has ended with the passing away of Karanjia."
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condoled the passing away of the renowned journalist.
"Shri Karanjia was a respected and veteran journalist who received acclaim and recognition within and outside India for his rich contribution to the world of journalism. His outstanding achievements as a media personality set many new landmarks in the field of journalism," Manmohan Singh said in his message. "I pray that the departed soul may rest in peace," he added.
Leader of the Opposition L K Advani also paid glowing tributes to him, describing him a ''doyen'' of Indian journalism who ''blazed a unique trail'' in the profession for decades. In a condolence message, Advani said Karanjia had traversed a fascinating ideological journey.
''A doyen of Indian journalism who started his career before Independence, Karanjia blazed a unique trail in his profession for several decades. The legendary Editor of Blitz, which was once a popular weekly in the country, he traversed a fascinating ideological journey,'' Advani said.
Karanjia had, in the final phase of his professional life, become a sympathiser of the BJP and had supported the Ayodhya movement, Advani claimed.
R K Karanjia and his Blitz are credited to produce a number of eminent journalists. Renowned Urdu journalist Hasan Kamal is too a product of “Urdu Blitz”. Persons like Khwaja Ahmad Abbas used to write the famous “Last Page” of Blitz. His tabloid was read for sensational news, investigative stories and the spice which was missing in morning papers. It was also being brought out in Urdu and Hindi.
The most worth-mention point was the fact that whether you liked him or not, you could not have had stopped yourself from taking and glancing through his tabloid. This was his way of journalism, quite different from others.
In June 1965, Egyptian President Nasser decorated Karanjia with Egypt's top civilian honour, “Republican Order of Merit Grade I”.
There is no doubt that R K Karanjia dominated the media for a long period for his own style. It is very difficult to assess what kind of a person he was? Did he believe in any ideology or religion?
However, it won’t be difficult for those, who knew him through his style of journalism, to assess that he was a self-styled journalist, believing in adventurism. This was the point upon which he never compromised. It didn’t matter whosoever person or whichsoever issue would get his support and get benefited. That’s why it was the adherants of the Left ideology who found in him an advocate for their cause for a number of years. He became too close to late V K Krishna Menon and late Khwaja Ahmad Abbas in India. Meanwhile, he was considered an envoy to the Leftists and Communists like Gamal Abdel Nasser, Nikita Khrushchev, Zou En Lie, Josiph Broz Tito, Fidel Castro, Yasser Arafat as well as to the Rightists like Sir Winston Churchill, Charles De Gaulle, and Reza Shah Pahalvi.
Therefore, it won’t be correct to assess that his coverage of the movement for Ramjanambhumi and giving space to Francois Gautier's column in Blitz should be meant as his support to the BJP in this context.
The fact was that he was unpredictable. He could have had gone any way and any direction in pursuance to his set agenda. This was his style that won him friends and admirers, irrespective of any ideology, in different sections of the society. Says Dr N K Afandi, a scholar and social activist: “So far as adventurist journalism is concerned, he had got no parallel. To me, there were only two such persons in journalism in the 20th century---one R K Karanjia, and the other late Aamir Usmani, Editor of the erstwhile Urdu monthly Tajalli.”
(With inputs from Indian Express, Asian Age, and Indo Asian News Service)
Obituary by Tarun Vijay, Editor, "Panchjanya"
Obituary by Vir Sanghvi
Obituary By P Sainath
Obituary by Sudheendra Kulkarni