ABP has let everyone, anyone who worked with it ever, down

The house we knew and loved was big-hearted and generous, a house that always gave back to those who gave their best to it.

 |  It Could Happen to You  |  3-minute read |   17-02-2017

I still have the little gold coin the Anandabazar Patrika Group had gifted all of us on its 75th birthday, way back in 1997.

Even in the dark days of 2015-16, when a fiery battle raged between ABP and Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, the house had sent letters to journalists, individually, apologising for its inability to give them the yearly increments.

That’s the house we knew and loved: big-hearted, generous, a house that always gave back to those who gave their best to it.

That’s why, people had tears in their eyes, along with Editor-in-Chief Aveek Sarkar, in September 1999, when a devastating fire ravaged 6, Prafulla Sarkar Street, in Calcutta. That’s why, stepping over the trail of destruction and shock, they had brought out the next day’s papers - from a make-shift little office on 14, Madan Street, close by.

The Telegraph has promises to keep, pledges to honour,” read the editorial the next day. “Grow with The Telegraph. The best is yet to be.”

It's about an identity 

“ABP is not about its excellent products, it’s about an identity,” that’s what MD Aniruddha Lahiri, a Unilever man who had turned around the laidback publishing house into a smart entity between 2001 and 2006, forcing it to foray into the world of television, used to say.

And that "identity" to us meant a host of tangled dreams, images and aspirations: a house of stories, with rooms and floors filled with daredevil editors, journalists and photographers, best-loved authors, scholars and filmmakers, paint brush-wielding artists and computer-savvy designers.

You could expect to see, laugh or chat with anyone up and down those corridors anytime: a smiling, barefoot MF Hussain; an Edwin Taylor, the famed design director of the Sunday Times, London, going around with his sketchpad; even a (younger) Mamata Banerjee, bringing in baskets of rakhee for her journalist "friends". 

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Space for the maverick 

Aveek Sarkar used to go around the newsroom in his perfectly-pleated dhoti, telling us: “Keep the tone irreverent.” That’s what we learnt. And, perhaps, that’s why executives from McKinsey & Company, engaged to streamline the company in the late-1990s, were shocked when our editors told them: “We don’t have any competitors. We compete only with ourselves.”

As editor MJ Akbar, who worked with ABP for 15 years, once said: “What ABP always had was a whole, huge level of excitement.” It’s “greatness”, he believed, was that it allowed all sorts of differences to co-exist: “It always had a fabulous cast of characters. And there was always space for the maverick.”

With its mass sacking, ABP has, clearly, given up that space.  

Not just. As stories percolated about how it treated its people in the last three months - putting up lists of sacked employees, people scrambling to find their names, howling in humiliation - it became clear that ABP no longer cared for the fundamental value that once took it to great heights: a genuine respect for its people.

It has let everyone, anyone who worked with it ever, down. A sad, sad moment for journalism.

Also read: Former Telegraph journalist breaks silence on the mass ABP sacking in this letter

Writer

Damayanti Datta Damayanti Datta @dattadamayanti

The writer is deputy editor, India Today and reports from hospitals.

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