Desk journalists, or sub editors to news editors involved in editing and display of news stories and features, etc. are the unsung heroes of the media. These men and women generally remain anonymous as the reporters and writers, under whose byline the stories get published, get all the credit.
Even the best of professionals among them, therefore, are not known beyond their circle of colleagues and friends. It is they who toil hard to put in the latest news and provide headlines and display which is what the readers see the next day or the next publication.
But there are very few who stand out and are respected for their skills across publications and particularly if one has mentored more than a generation of new comers in the profession. That too with the elan and efficiency which few could match.
One such professional was Karan Jit Singh, KJ to friends, who met with a violent death in his house in Mohali along with his 92-year-old mother on September 22. Till the time of going to the Press, there was no clue to the identity of the killers although the Punjab government has set up a Special Investigation Team to crack the mystery.
The gruesome murder of a 64-year old man and his mother is shocking in itself but this to happen to a gentle person like KJ benumbed all those who had known him or had interacted with him. No one had ever heard him talk in a harsh tone or to have even raised his voice in any argument. He was not the kind of person who would humiliate anyone or even hurt a fly.
Always well dressed, wearing full-sleeve shirts even during summer time, with elegantly tied turban, soft-spoken KJ remained a bachelor. Reading books was his passion and being tech savvy he quickly adapted to modern gadgets.
He was the kind of person who would leave a lasting impact even if one had met him for a brief moment. He was among the first ones on the desk who held my hand as I attempted my first baby steps in the field of journalism. He had joined the office a couple of years before I did in 1979 and we hit it out well as we shared the cab that dropped us home after late night duties. He started taking personal interest in the news reports I was filing and gave valuable tips to improve the copies. My effort, therefore, was to see that my raw copies were subbed by him. In the days of hand subbing it was possible to manipulate such choices! He would not only re-write the âintroâ, remove grammatical mistakes and give a great headline, but would add value to the reports by âdebriefingâ me.
Over the years we became good pals and got into the phase of âsplitting a bottle of beerâ, coined by him, once in a while. Both being light drinkers we actually took turns to take sips from a bottle of beer while discussing all kind of issues. Even during the later years, after I had moved on to other cities and he to other newspapers, we resolved on the phone to meet for âsplitting a bottle of beerâ but that remained just a resolve during the past decade.
Yet despite his friendly nature and a special relationship with me and some others, he always drew a line on private or family matters. He never discussed even his heartbreaks and family with the closest of his friends. He invited only a few to his residence and they too had limited access. Thus none of his friends have any clue about what was happening in his personal life. He had told none of his friends about any threat from anyone although he did apparently tell his brother that some people were stalking him. He was wary of people visiting his house and would lock his gates before dusk.
Given his gentle nature and pleasant smile to everyone he met, and association with journalists cutting across newspapers, his violent death came as a huge shock. Most found it unbelievable that someone could be nursing such a strong grudge against him. Hundreds of comments poured in from friends and acquaintances as the tragic news spread.
KJ had played a stellar role during the launch of Chandigarh Newsline, the first city newspaper in the country under the leadership of Kanwar Sandhu, the then Resident Editor of the Chandigarh edition of The Indian Express. While I headed the reporting team, initially as the Bureau Chief and then as Associate Editor, KJ was in the team that was involved in planning, editing and designing of news pages. This again gave us a platform to work together closely.
Kanwar Sandhu, now an Aam Aadmi Party MLA, too paid rich tributes to KJ and said his âediting and layout skills were exemplaryâ. He wrote that KJ âlater went on to work for Times of India and became the Senior News Editor of The Tribune. Though I had not met him for some time now but his diligence at work and quiet demeanour remains fresh in my memory and will remain so always. Farewell, KJ my friend!â.
Social media was flooded with comments expressing shock over his death and appreciating his professional competence. Among those who wrote comments were a large number of colleagues and particularly those belonging to the younger generation who had learnt so much under his mentorship. The lavish praise for his professionalism and knowledge emanated from the hearts of those who had ever interacted with him, including his peers in the profession.
âLet her be, at least now …. Gauri Lankesh met with a violent end. She was not violent. Only she firmly believed in what she did and spoke her mind about it. Time for a dignified mourning for a fine journalist and not wasteful talk whether âactivismâ makes one a lesser newsperson or not. By doing so, we are merely laying bare our own, hyperactive allegiances, little elseâ.
Who and what was behind his murder is still shrouded in mystery. Let it be and everyone fervently hopes that the killers would be identified, prosecuted and convicted but it is time for a dignified mourning for a fine journalist.