Khasa Subba Rau




Man is a mirror unto himself and a measure for others; but often the mirror is tarnished and the measure misapplied when he tries to impose his opinions on others, who, while not being displeased with them as such, have no wish to accept them because of the ego that irritates in its vanity to influence. There are twists in human nature that the nectar of life cannot sweeten and straighten; one may revile a friend and praise an enemy–which is a twist. Long and continued residence in the littoral of the intellect makes one a stranger to the heart, which alone is endowed with the gift of sympathy and forgiveness. But it is easier to be vengeful than to be forgiving. The mirror and the measure fail in their faith. And why then should one behold the mote in another’s eye, but consider not the beam that is in one’s own? It will ever be so, the fault is universal. Only by his capacity for forgiveness shall man save himself and humanity. Such forgiveness ennobles Sri Khasa Subba Rau.


On February 16, 1946, he put to bed the first issue of Swatantra, an English Weekly founded and edited by him. Its name went up like a clarion cry; it caught like magic; and in the final dark phase of our freedom fight it sounded like a voice of fulfillment of our long and arduous endeavours, our hopes and aspirations. Sri Subba Rau, the reputed journalist, had come into his kingdom; his shining light was free of bushels once for all. “To refrain from honest criticism,” he wrote in his first editorial to the journal, “To refrain from honest criticism of means employed is disservice to the cause. A fearless critic is a friend. A journal that prefers to flatter or be silent for safety’s sake is by no means a friend. Swatantra is, indeed, larger than Swaraj and should permeate all life and govern means as well as ends. This journal proposes to be true to the name it has ventured to give itself. It will support as well as subject to criticism whatever is of importance in public life and attempt to guide popular opinion, and not content itself by merely reflecting it as it stands a any given moment.


These are the words of a man of character whom I met for the first time in the summer of 1941. I had just then published a collection of my short stories, Naked Shingles, and from a mutual friend came to know that Sri Subba Rau liked them very much, and, as I wished to know more of what he felt, called and saw him. During the past two decades I have seen something of the big guns in the newspaper, film, and book-publishing worlds and have been shocked at the reputation they had managed to attain with the shoddy stuff that they are made of. Circumstances do shape men but they cannot stop merely with that; they should reveal and affirm the worth, the mettle, the mind’s splendour of the person they mould, to foresee and control events. And the strength for such an affirmation can only proceed from a fundamental benevolence. Sri Khasa Subba Rau has, among other rare qualities, this rarest quality of benevolence.


A handsome man in his early fifties, of more than medium height, neither slim nor stout but striking the golden mean that makes for handsomeness, fair of complexion, with hair grey and thinning on the head, broad brow, firm jaws, strong chin, sensitive lips, shapely long nose, Sri Khasa Subba Rau suggests the aristocratic type. But his most arresting features are his eyes that shine with a dewy glow behind gold-rimmed spectacles: eyes wakeful, watchful, and yet meditative, introspective; soft with the shadow of a strange sadness, indicative of a deep tenderness in all the workings of the inmost being: thoughts, dreams, doubts, decisions. His manner is genial; his voice gentle and reassuring in conversation–it can rise to a tremendous pitch and stridence in arguments and speeches from public platforms; hesitant while vehement, as though an acute intelligence were trying in vain to quell all indignation. His dress is always simple: a dhoti and a sleeveless shirt of white khaddar, and occasionally an uttariya of a generous length.


Born in the town of Nellore, Sri Subba Rau belongs to the community of Yajnavalkya Brahmins. He was educated in the Presidency College, Madras, and later in the Teachers College, Saidapet, from where he added to his B.A., the degree of a Licentiate in Teaching. He began his career as Headmaster of a High School in Kandukur in the Nellore District. With a mind already steeped in the spirit of nationalism, he was captivated by the Gandhian political philosophy; he threw up his job and associated himself with the Non-cooperation movement. He became an inmate of the Satyagraha Ashram at Pallipadu, a few miles away from Nellore. Digumarti Hanumantha Rao, founder of the Ashram, was a high-minded gentleman and a member of the Servants of India Society. He left the Society because it was not ascetic enough for him. He, I am told, exercised a great influence on Sri Subba Rau. Taking informally to journalism, Sri Subba Rau was for a time in Patna, helping Sir Ganesh Dutt Singh edit the Beharee. Then early in 1923, he joined the staff of the Swarajya founded by Sri T. Prakashem and served his Chief brilliantly till the paper closed down after a glorious run of about fifteen years–a period packed with some of the most exciting events in the history of the political emancipation of the motherland. And in between writing the peppery leaders, and with a diligent eye on the office routine, he appeared for the pleadership examination; he passed the test but never practiced. He next edited the Free Press Journal in Bombay, the Liberty in Calcutta, and the Indian Express in Madras, from which he walked out one fine morning–mornings are always fine when one wants to walk out of a place which has grown suffocating–for his soul was sick and hungered for free air and light. An editorial sanctum can easily turn into an oubliette, with the hand of the capitalist proprietor ever on the catch of the trapdoor. Sri Subba Rau was free and he came into his kingdom, founding Swatantra.


In the course of the last two years I have met Sri Subba Rau frequently, yet I have not asked him to sit for me. I have seen him more at work; he allows himself very little leisure. And that little leisure he has utilised in learning to drive a car, as a recreation from the exacting editorial labours, taking me twice or thrice through the busy thoroughfares of the City, while his chauffeur was getting ready his master’s diploma of graduation. His mind is ever on the alert, seeking, seizing the minutest detail of any problem he has to deal with. In this my carte du pays of him, I can but do him the barest justice; to the many of his great and winsome qualities his impeccable taste in everything that heightens the joy in living–clean, vigorous, integrated–, his love of books and beautiful furniture; his genuine interest in men of letters and literary topics–he serialised Sri K. S. Venkataramani’s Kandan, the Patriot in Swarajya–; his spirit adventuring like a paladin, burning to do the right and see righteousness done. In him the temperaments of both an artist and an ascetic find their star like equipoise; no hurt, however heavy, could make him bitter. Here is an incident as proof. During the turbulent days of Civil Disobedience early in 1932, while picketing before a foreign cloth shop in the City, he was beaten most brutally by a European sergeant. His body became a list of contused wounds and fractures, his life was despaired of. But Sri Subba Rau took it all without the slightest hatred or bitterness in his heart. A great act of heroism. Few besides Gandhi would be capable of being so noble.


The most remarkable trait of his character is his adherence to the highest ethical standard in the affairs of life, his unfailing generosity that knows no distinction of caste, creed, colour, community. To illustrate: In accordance with the terms of a Will of his grandmother, a rich lady, a property which brought in an annual income of over three thousand rupees was to be inherited by him, but there was a queer clause in the Testament which stipulated that, to enjoy the inheritance, he should feed a thousand Brahmins one particular day in the year, sanctified for religious worship. Sri Subba Rau insisted that he would feed all those who were hungry and naturally lost the inheritance which reverted to the next of kin. He was not sorry.


Journalism, to Sri Subba Rau, is not mere diurnalism–all in the day’s work; he bestrides this shifty, shady, intriguing world like a Colossus, with the fire and intrepidity of a crusader. He doesn’t kotow to the tycoons of Big Business; he is no respecter of the personalities in public life. His two books Men in the Limelight and Sidelights make superb reading. His criticism pierces like a spear where it should pierce and penetrate through but in speaking the truth he is charitable, he speaks it for the good of him who is blamed. He is exceptionally impersonal, but his vehemence often overflows, which has given rise to remarks in certain quarters that he is inconsistent and clouded in his judgments. His animadversion of the Communists alternating with appreciation of them, is a puzzle to many of his friends; however, his personal regard and loyalty to individual Communists, it is believed, is the reason for such deflection. He may change, but at the moment he is thoroughly sincere. To measure his services to the country, would be merely insolent, the services of Khasa–to quote the words of the wise Venkataramani–“impersonal, austere, unbending, his sense of service as dainty, pure, and selfless, based on justice and our ancient dharma from which we can no more escape than from our river valleys…this tireless, sensitive, courageous and catholic Editor in the plushed discomforts of modern journalism!” Aymeze loyaulte (Love Loyalty) is the note on which I end, loving him for this noblest and loftiest of all human ideals.