An early morning sms from a close friend, another Manorama alumnus, informed me about the passing away of Mr K.M.Mathew. Later,when CNN-IBN flashed the news and it was followed by streams of reports on next day’s newspapers, Malayalam as well as English, although I wasn’t deeply sad, I knew it affected me in some ways.
Mathukkuttichayan is my first employer. Going through the obituaries, the heart-felt accounts by so many whose lives he has touched, I had a trip down memory lane to a day in the beginning phase of Monsoon six years ago. The rain did not assume its full fury yet. It was July 8, 2004 I walked into Malayala Manorama to join as a sub-editor trainee.
The octogenarian patriarch of the giant newspaper organisation personally handed over my appointment letter, shook hands with me saying “welcome to Manorama”.
There were three in my batch. We were taken to his cabin and as a matter of practice; the HR had made it a small ceremony. He was very active and enthusiastic to meet the new entrants to the big newspaper family he had carefully nurtured for many a decade.
The white dothi-jooba clad grand old man was an endearing presence in the quiet atmosphere of that afternoon. I still remember his light and gentle words, a brief address in simple and straight sentences in Malayalam interspersed with English.
I had often shared with my friends the first and foremost thing he said; “We shouldn’t write in our paper something that a fifth pass cannot understand”. It of course speaks of his wisdom in identifying fortunes at the ‘bottom of pyramid,’ that the benefit of simplifying newspaper language.
I think it is this approach of his that made Manorama a popular choice across Kerala. But one thing I am sure is that this was his life’s philosophy – to be simple. His next advice was to maintain humility always. I remember that he chose the English word ‘humility’ to drive home his point.
“The fact that we are journalists from Manorama should not make us arrogant. We should be humble while dealing with others,” he said. The next point in his five-minute speech to three of us was a practical advice – to keep a scrap book always.
I understood the profound influence of this brief interaction on me only when I realised the memories of those words, of not just the tea and cashew nuts we had in his cabin, was this clear in my mind.
I had another personal encounter when I went to his cabin to meet a young foreign couple who were travelling around the world on a jeep in their effort to raise public sympathy towards Alzheimer patients.
A few weeks into training, I was on bureau duty that day when a call from his office came asking for somebody to report about this foreign couple who visited Achayan and I was sent.
He had a friendly humerous chat with them along with tea and biscuits and made me a party to the conversation. The story about this couple came in the local edition, I think it was my first in Manorama as a staffer. The headline, if my memory serves me right was, ‘Ormakalillathayavare Ormikkaan’, (to remember those who lost memories).
Eight months later I was transferred to Calicut and I did not see him in person ever after. A year after I joined, I quit Manorama in pursuance of a career in English media.
I went to the head office for finishing the formalities and meeting my seniors and friends in Kottayam office of Manorama. Mr Mammen Mathew, achayan’s eldest son, editor & MD of Manorama, allowed me an appointment despite being so busy that day.
I told Mammen sir I have quit Manorama and joining Indian Express. He said “All the best and God bless you. In case of any need we are all here”. It was such a touching moment.
I still keep with me the letter of appreciation he had sent me for one of my stories. Another letter which is an invaluable preserve is the one I received from Editorial Director Mr Thomas Jacob when I left Manorama.
In retrospect, Manorama has been a fond memory, thanks to a culture of love and compassion which is Achayan’s legacy.