The Pioneering Doyen
By Subhojit panda
Life is a struggle and you should never give up. Stick to your profession and do not compromise with your principles!” These are the golden words said by 82-year old distinguished journalist Sarat Mishra who was conferred the prestigious Raja Ram Mohan Roy Award 2017 by the Press Council of India on 16th November at the Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi. “I was happy to receive the Award. I dedicate the Award to the young journalists of my state who are truly dedicated to journalism,” says Mr. Sarat Mishra who became the first Odia to recieve the coveted Award.
“I knew nothing about journalism. My father was a bureaucrat during the British era. He was disciplined, fearless, strict and honest by nature. He wanted me to become a civil servant but I dreamt of becoming an Army officer. I was into NCC and had also won a national-level shooting championship. In my first attempt, I went to Meerut after clearing the initial stages of Second Lieutenant post but as destiny would have it, I was asked to return back by the Board members in the final stage. Angry over my decision to appear for Second Lieutenant exams, my father didn’t allow me to go to Meerut the subsequent year despite making it to the final round again. In my third attempt, I once again faced rejection in the final round on disciplinary grounds,” said Mr. Mishra adding that he also missed a chance to become an Indian Air Force officer after his training session in Dehradun was temporarily terminated following the Sino-Indian War in 1962.
Mr. Mishra faced another misfortune in life when he couldn’t appear the IAS exams due to some unforeseen circumstances. “May be I was destined to become a journalist. But I’ve no regrets in life. Despite facing so many challenges, rejections and adversities, I’ve never learnt to give up,” says Mr. Mishra who idolized his father.
After completing M.A in Political Science, he once accompanied his friend to the ‘Eastern Times’ office for some work. Late J.B. Patnaik who helped the English daily, noticed him and requested him to visit the office regularly for casual meets. Mr. Patnaik was so impressed by his personality that he asked him to join the Eastern Times team as a subeditor. “Despite no knowledge on journalism, I accepted his offer. My father disliked journalism as a profession so I kept this hidden. It was a learning experience working for the English daily then,” says Mr. Mishra.
He soon realized that he was tailor-made for a profession as demanding and challenging as journalism. “Since childhood, I believed in living life on my own terms. So the profession gave me a lot of scope to work independently and giving back to the society through work. I came across many allurements and temptations but I never compromised with my upbringing and ideology. I stayed true to my ethics and believed in bold and clean journalism. I was looked down upon by my friends and relatives as journalism was a low-paying profession then. But I never paid heed to them and lived an independent, dignified and respectful life,” says the fearless journalist.
Then he switched over to the national English daily ‘Amrita Bazar Patrika’ (ABP) in 1967 where he continued for thirty years till he retired in 1996 as the Joint Editor. “The journalist I’m today is because of my experience at ABP. While working for the Eastern Times, ABP started an Odisha edition in Cuttack. Inquisitive to know more about a national English daily, I stepped into their office without any prior appointment. (Laughs) Impressed with the working style, I began visiting the office regularly and the staff became fond of me. In no time, I was asked to join their team as senior sub-editor. But it was a sweet-bitter experience working there. My colleagues weren’t supportive and after a year, I joined the Calcutta office of ABP”, he reminisces.
While in Calcutta, Mr. Mishra too had a long struggle. From facing racism at work to being loaded with official assignments, he had to fight his battles alone but never did he give up. “My Bengali counterparts were envious of me. I was constantly on my toes as my colleagues were waiting to point out my mistakes. So I was extra-careful at work. I became used to late working hours. There was immense pressure on me to deliver but I accepted all challenges with zeal and passion.”
He took the lead while launching ‘The Sambad’, an Odia daily in Bhubaneswar after he was brought on board by Late J.B. Patnaik, the then Chief Minister of Odisha in 1984. “The Sambad was started with an aim to revolutionize journalism in Odisha. It is satisfying to see how the Odia daily has grown from strength to strength since then.”
Mr. Mishra recollects an incident that occupies a special place in his journalistic career meetings Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar (formerly called Burma). In 1995, Mishra was chosen by the Govt. of India as one of the 12 journalists from across the country as goodwill ambassadors to Burma. Burma was going through a political turmoil those days when Suu Kyi was under house arrest. “Upon landing there, I was shocked to see the political crisis in Burma-
Receiving Raja Ram Mohan Roy Award 2017
and how the military Junta rule had crippled the country. Despite winning the elections, Kyi was under house arrest and was prevented to meet her party supporters and international visitors. Intrigued by Kyi’s story, I made up my mind to meet her and cover her story. But I was sternly refused by the locals that I might end up getting arrested if I meet her. The next day, I and a few of my colleagues made our way to Kyi’s bungalow. The way we trespassed the security and military junta by faking our identities cannot be put into words.
With Padma Shri Awardee
Mr. Manoj Das
Kyi was such a nice lady. She treated us with coffee and told about her struggle against the military junta. She also said that she would be fighting for the people till her last breath. Fearing our arrest, she instructed her volunteers to drop us at a secured location. After a brief meeting, we made our way through a forest and reached the hotel safely. Though our secret meeting had already become a sensational news worldwide, with God’s grace we had a safe return to India thanks to the timely action by the Indian Government,” says Mr.Mishra, adding that he was surprised to find a village in Burma mostly inhabited by Odias then.
After a prolonged stint with ABP, he was invited to launch another Odia daily Anupam Bharat in Berhampur in 1996. “Initially I was hesitant as I had mostly worked with the English dailies. But the desire to start an Odia daily in South Odisha for the first time gave birth to Anupam Bharat that went on to become the most sought after Odia daily in that region back then. Apart from in-depth news coverage, introduction of feature journalism coupled with separate sections for literature, entertainment, culture, spirituality, education and more spurred Anupam Bharat to newer heights in South Odisha.”
In 2005, the journalism icon was invited to join the leading Odia daily ‘The Samaja’. “When I joined The Samaja, the Odia daily was going through a turbulent phase. So I had to again start from scratch to revive its fortunes. I took up the onus of infusing young blood into the team. A number of constructive reforms were also introduced to make way for bold and ethical journalism that helped in increasing the circulation of the paper,” says Mr. Mishra during whose tenure The Samaja was conferred the prestigious ILNA Award as Best Nationalist Language Newspaper of the Country, by the then Prime Minister of India Dr. Manamohan Singh in the year 2008. Subsequently, he retired from The Samaja in June 2010.
In 2013, Mr. Mishra launched Ama Samayara Pratinidhi, the first Odia news and feature fortnightly of the state. “There was a need to bring out a magazine of national standard. The magazine was characterized by in-depth and insightful analysis of issues and had stories ranging from politics and economics to culture, entertainment and literature.”
Receiving Lifetime Achievement Award
From Harish Chandra Buxipatra Memorial Trust
Thus after 36 years of English journalism and 20 years as Editor of different Odia print media, Mr.Mishra called it quits at the age of 80 in 2016. The great journalist credits his passion, determination and perseverance for the success of the journey. Despite no formal training in journalism, he has created an enviable niche in the field that will continue to inspire the journalists for generations to come.
He seemed visibly tensed about the current scenario of journalism in the state. “There was no internet or media institutes then. Yet I worked with full passion, dedication and energy. But unfortunately only a handful of journalists exude such confidence and passion today. Bold and impartial journalism has almost taken a backseat”, rues Mr. Mishra.
He is a recipient of several prestigious awards and accolades at state and national level. In 2009, he was honoured with the illustrious Ekamrashree Award by the then Governor of Odisha Sj. M.C. Bhandare followed by the Sambaadika Ratna award by the National Journalists Welfare Board in collaboration with the central and state I&B departments which was presented by Supreme Court Justice Mr. Dipak Mishra in 2013. He was conferred the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Harish Chandra Buxipatra Memorial Trust presented by Union Petroleum Minister Sj. Dharmendra Pradhan in 2014, the Biju Patnaik Global Excellence Award for Journalism and the Utkalamani GopabandhuMeritorious Award and also the ‘Best Media Personality of Odisha’ award by Teflas Foundation of Mumbai and Times of India in 2015.
Mr. Mishra has a piece of advice for the aspiring journalists. “Journalism is never an easy profession. One has to work dedicately, stay focussed and not succumb to any external pressure. Journalists represent the masses hence they have to be impartial, compassionate and honest in their approach. Do not run after awards or accolades. Getting respect from the people is the biggest recognition.”
After being a part of the journalism fraternity for nearly 56 years, the legend now wants to relax and serve the lesser privileged section of the society. “I want to financially help the orphans and mentally-retarded children and nurture them. I would like to become a fearless and independent journalist in my next birth as well,” says Mr. Mishra before signing off.