By Sudeep Sonawane | Opening Doorz Editorial |November 16, 2022
Sachin Tendulkar will release the late sports editor S K Sham’s book, Platinum Touch: An Intimate Study of Mumbai Cricket, at the Press Club, Mumbai, on Saturday, November 19. His niece Sadhana Singh and her sister Smita Sharma completed his unfinished book. S K Sham died on November 28, 2011.
S K Sham learns to drive at age 49
Sweat beads trickled down the left side of his temple. My boss was tense. Usually upbeat and talkative, he sat silently in the red Fiat. He gripped the steering wheel. His face showed stress. Through his golden frame spectacles, he gazed intently at the line of cars and buses idling on the base of Pedder Road Flyover, in south Bombay. I sat next to Subhash K Sham. My right hand clutched the locked handbrake. I was his driving instructor. “I will release the brake when the traffic moves forward,” I told Sham. He nodded. “Apply slight pressure on the accelerator. Do not press firmly.”
Sham shifted the gear from neutral to the first position. I released the handbrake as he pressed the pedal. The car moved forward smoothly. He passed the uphill and downhill tests. We passed Kemps Corner, Wilson College, and the five cricket gymkhanas on Marine Drive. We then passed Metro Theatre, Azad Maidan, and General Post Office and reached Raymond’s Building at Ballard Pier. The Indian Post daily newspaper was on the third floor. We both worked for this newspaper.
Sham learned to drive a car at age 49. He had passed the driving test long back. He needed me as a guide and for moral support to learn to drive on Mumbai’s congested roads. For more than one month I travelled from my parent’s home in Chincholi, Malad, to Sham’s home in the plush Hindu Colony in Dadar (East). I drove his car for a few days till he got familiar with the route. Later, he started driving short distances from Dadar to Parel. As his confidence increased, he drove from his home to our office.
The Indian Post and the complete men
Raymond’s garments owner Vijaypat Singhania launched The Indian Post in 1986. The broadsheet closed within three-and-a-half years. Nihal Singh was the first Chief Editor followed by Vinod Mehta and last Nikhil Laxman. Sham was the Sports Editor. He selected me to join his young team of sports journalists. Sportsweek magazine and Mid Day newspaper’s Associate Editor Sharad Kotnis had recommended me to Sham.
The sports journalists’ team comprised brothers Ivan and Daryl Crasto (both from Free Press Journal), David D’Souza (ex-Sportsweek), and Vijay Mrutunjeya. Martin D’Souza (ex-Free Press Journal), Ignatius Godinho, Bosco Wroughton (ex-Daily), and the late Don Monteiro (ex-Free Press Journal) joined later as The Indian Post became popular in the market dominated by The Times of India and The Indian Express.
S K Sham: old-school journalism
Sham represented old-school journalism. K N Prabhu (ToI), Ron Hendricks (IE), A T P Sarathy (Daily), all three senior to him, had a similar approach. His peers included Khalid A H Ansari (Sportsweek owner), Leyland D’Souza, Sharad Kotnis, Rajan Bala (IE), G K Menon, K B Bhaskaran, Joe and John Crasto (all ToI) and V V Karmarkar (Maharashtra Times). Most of these sports editors continued the legacy of British editors in the 1970s and 1980s. They were strict on grammar, and style and insisted on verifying scores. Sports journalism calls for attention to detail because it uses numbers in scores and results. Sham too ensured his team followed the five Ws (Who, What, When, Where, and Why) and used correct grammar.
Editors of that bygone era read books. They often quoted British novelists and poets in their reports. They quoted from the works of Byron, Dickens, Shaw, Wodehouse, Wordsworth, and Keats. Shakespeare’s popular works were often featured in headlines. Example: ‘All’s well that ends well’ and ‘To be, or not to be’. One popular quote, credited to English bowler Cliff Gladwin who said, “Cometh the hour, cometh the man,” after scoring the winning run, a leg-bye off the last ball of the match against South Africa on December 20, 1948, was often used by Sham in headlines. Ravi Shastri used this quote last week while doing the T20 World Cup commentary in Australia.
“Headlines and photograph captions should attract the attention of readers,” Sham would often tell us at The Indian Post. “A poor headline drives away readers. Work on your headlines.” One of Sham’s best headlines in the late 1970s was ‘New zeal and India win’. Indian cricket team defeated New Zealand on January 1 after partying on December 31.
Having learned to give alluring headlines from Sham, I wrote two memorable ones. ‘Pakistan kneel before Bishop’ after West Indies fast bowler Ian Bishop took five wickets while I worked for The Indian Express. The second was for The Independent, ‘Australia hit rock Botham’ after Ian Botham played a winning hand.
Sham disliked cliché headlines. We juniors regularly used the phrase ‘reigns supreme’ and ‘cake-walk victory’. Sham often reprimanded the concerned sub-editor, saying, “If I see one more ‘reigns supreme’ in the headline, I will end your reign in the sports department!” He rebuked us more in humour than anger.
S K Sham: Point Blank
Sham had a good sense of humour. His writings reflected it, especially in his weekly column ‘Point Blank’. He had started this column at The Free Press Journal. Working the afternoon shift with him in command was fun. Especially during the horse racing season. Like cricket, horse racing has elaborate reports. Sham put me on horse racing duty. I was editing reports submitted by our racing correspondent Cecil Hendricks.
Cecil Hendricks’ reports were flawless. They did not need any editing! I learned the finer details of horse racing under Hendricks and Sham. I vividly remember one hilarious incident during the holy month of Ramadan when Muslims fast and pray. Sham was reading aloud the race card details to me. I was typing the data since our regular Data Entry Operator Prasad Patil was on leave. Horse racing punters know there are three key people to follow in any race: The horse owner, the trainer, and the jockey. After Sham read out the three names of one horse, I paused and looked at him.
“What happened to you, Joe?” (Sham often called juniors Joe!) “Punters should not bet on this horse,” I told Sham. “Joe, do you plan to replace Cecil Hendricks?” he said tersely. “No. Anyone putting money on this horse will lose.” “Why do you say this?” he asked. I replied, “The owner, trainer, and jockey are Muslim. All three are fasting. Perhaps, the horse is fasting too!” He broke out into a loud guffaw. He got up laughing and walked to the News Desk repeating the joke to editors, who too, burst out laughing.
S K Sham: Stories from the days gone by
Sham regaled cricket journalists in the old Press Box at the Wankhede Stadium and the balcony on the second floor of Cricket Club of India at Brabourne Stadium. He entertained us with the 1960s and 70s-era anecdotes when on-field action was boring. He had style, swagger, and a deep voice. The audience saw and heard this in his football and hockey commentary for Doordarshan and All India Radio. Sham often spoke with a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, depicted by Clint Eastwood in his hit spaghetti western films.
In the days gone by, readers trusted news reports. Fake news did not exist then. Maybe the occasional howler! Overall, journalism was good then. People were good. Life was good. I miss those good old days.
(Sudeep Sonawane, an India-based journalist, has worked in five countries in the Middle East and Asia).
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