Mumbai: It was by a quirk of fate that I met V Gangadhar. In 1977, I was a trainee with The Times of India in Bombay. One day another trainee and I were suddenly transferred to the Ahmedabad edition because they faced a staff shortage there. By then Gangadhar, 13 years my senior, was the star reporter and features writer there. Although I was a lowly trainee, he once called me over for tea at his home, where I met Rupa, his charming wife. In a few weeks’ time, Gangadhar left The Times to join Reader’s Digest (RD) as its assistant editor. I was there for his send-off.
Venkatachalam Gangadhar was not only a nine-to-five Digest editor; he found time to do so much more. He read a lot and was an expert on literature. Before journalism, he was a university English lecturer in Ahmedabad and Rupa was, he once told me, his “prettiest student”. He also wrote a lot. And unlike the serious biographies and dramas in real life he wrote or edited for RD, he produced funny stuff that editors across India lapped up.
V Gangadhar's pen names
He used several pen names, like Trishanku and Vidushak. At one point, around 1991, his humorous columns could be read in some 25 newspapers across India. That’s when he decided to resign from RD and write even more. I soon attended one more Gangadhar send-off. In time, he also became a sought-after journalism professor.
One afternoon in 1983, Gangadhar invited me to join RD. Soon I, too, became a Digester, his co-assistant editor. I got the cabin next to his. Gangs, as he was affectionately called, was the office humorist too. His jokes could be subtle or sarcastic, and he never bothered much about political correctness. He liked to mimic the way Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar pronounced war (vaahr), for instance.
A well-known humorist
Once, after a south Indian girl reportedly got tangled with the law, Gangadhar remarked: “We Madrasis would never get into trouble if we just stayed home and made idli and sambar.” Another time, when a sub-editor in our office returned after her wedding, Gangs remarked wickedly: “You have a well-laid look.”
Gangadhar will be missed. He passed away quietly just before 1am on Tuesday. Says Snighda Hasan, one of his former students, now herself an editor: “He taught us feature writing at St Xavier’s College and what a delight those lectures were! Soaked in his decades of experience as a journalist, sports writer, columnist — they were full of hilarious anecdotes told deadpan. Terrible loss.”