Free Press Journal

Book review: The Eighth Ring

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Featuring some of Kerala’s tallest figures over almost a century, The Eighth Ring is a rich portrait of a remarkable man, his family-clan and their stirring times.

The Eighth Ring – An Autobiography

K.M. Mathew


Publisher: Penguin

Pages: 391; Price: Rs 699

The first copy of this book was presented to the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee. The ‘Eighth Ring’ is an English translation of the autobiography of K M Mathew who was the Editor and Publisher of Malayala Manorama. The President complimented the Manorama Group for treating journalism as a mission and commitment to society. The media in India has always supported the freedom of individuals and has not compromised on freedom of speech and expression. The history of Indian journalism is closely linked with our Freedom movement. The Press was the progenitors of many of our leaders.

K M Mathew is the Bhishma Pitamaha of journalism in Kerala. This book is a chronicle of the growth of journalism in Kerala. Dovetailed with it is the poignant tale of the travails of one family and how like the proverbial phoenix it ascended from ashes. K. M Mathew dedicates the book to his mother, whose ornaments were made into rings and given to her nine children. Mathew, being her eighth child was the recipient of the eighth ring, which provided the title of his autobiography.

Mathew takes us from Kuppupuram to Kottayam, Thisruvananthapuram, Madras, Delhi, London, Istanbul andbook review Berlin on a journey that is at once arresting and entertaining. The book is vivid with photos which show the memorable events in the life of this legend.

Mathew was born in 1917 and lived for 93 years. He began his career as a rubber planter in Chickmagalur in Karnataka and later joined the family-owned Malayala Manorama in 1954 as its General Manager and Managing Editor under his elder brother  Cherian. Mathew became the Chief Editor of the newspaper on the death of Cherian in 1973.Under his stewardship, Malayala Manorama witnessed expansion and modernisation. He was noted for espousing young talent with several professionals being specially trained to adhere to popular style of journalism that radically altered the role of newspapers in Malayalam. The paper was eminently reader-friendly and with the latest production techniques designed by Mathew scaled new heights and ensured a massive circulation.

Mathew was a figure to reckon with in the world of journalism. He was the President of the Indian Newspaper Society; Chairman of the Press Trust of India; Founder-Trustee and Chairman of the Press Institute of India and Research Institute for Newspaper Development and a consultant to the International Press Institute. Government of India honoured him with a Padma Bhushan in 1998. His wife made a name for herself with a range of cookery books and was the Editor of Vanitha, a magazine for women, until her death in 2003.

One of the darkest chapters in Mathew’s life was the monstrous assault on his family and Press by the malicious Dewan of Travancore, Sir. C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar, who systematically destroyed their bank – Travancore National and Quilon Bank, sent to jail Appachen and his companions and confiscated the properties of Malayala Manorama. Got its offices locked up for nine years in 1938. He even threatened K M Cherian, “I will ruin you.”

The veteran Editor writes in his book “not to display his war wounds or to trumpet the historic events he had witnessed, but out of a childlike desire to share with everyone the tenderness of his parents and the unshakable faith he had in Malayala Manorama’s destiny”.

The book is chockfull of racy anecdotes about hundreds of  persons Mathew encountered. There are graphic images of eminent people. Especially of interest is the story of how Mathew arranged the meeting of his wife with Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher, the then Prime Minister of England.

Mathew played a pivotal role in Malayala Manorama for fifty four years. He has in this book noted the highs and lows of his father and the historic events in the nine decades of his life. The Manorama was established in 1888. Initially a weekly, it became a bi-weekly 11 years later. It became a daily only from 1928.