Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Legacy of Eigya Gopal

In the absence of any well documented and well maintained record of the history of journalism in Manipur, it is difficult to single out an individual much less a publication and study the evolution of journalism in the State down the years. Yes, we had in Hijam Irabot, unarguably the first political leader of Manipur, who is credited to have brought out a journal during his days, but that had more to do with spreading the socialist ideology or thoughts to the peasantry and was not strictly journalism as understood universally. However, this is taken as a something of a benchmark in the march towards modern journalism in the State, as we understand it today. Much water have flown down the river, and the newspapers published in Imphal today can be said to be the flowering of the seeds sown through the ages by pioneers, who took to this profession, either out of passion for the nature of the work involved or through one's political affiliations. Just like the rest of India, which saw the emergence of some journals during the freedom movement against the British imperialists, such as Kesari and Young India to name just a couple of them, in Manipur too, political parties also jumped onto the bandwagon and it was not so long ago that the Congress mouth piece Simanta Patrika and Eehou of the Manipur People's Party were in circulation. Of all the newspapers produced to propagate certain ideologies or champion the cause of a political party, it was the CPI sponsored Khollao which perhaps managed to transcend the fine dividing line between a paper strictly devoted to the interest of their political party concerned and mainstream journalism, which is broadly understood as apolitical. Along with the presence of the political mouth pieces, there were some vernacular dailies such as Paojel, Sanaleibak etc. In between there was Prajatantra and Huieyen Lanpao, which had their own list of loyal readers and patrons, especially during the days when Salam Bharat Bhusan was the Editor of Huieyen Lanpao. The late Lok Sabha MP, N Tombi Singh can be credited for giving a thrust to English journalism in the State by launching Manipur Mail in 1980, though this paper has definitely seen better days. In between, Manipur witnessed the rise and fall of a number of newspapers, both in English and vernacular and in a very positive development, we witnessed the coming to age of quite a number of promising youngsters (then), who chose to tread the hitherto uncharted course of journalism as a career outside the State in publications such as Times of India, Statesman and The Telegraph, just to name a few. This is besides those who worked or are working in news agencies such as the Press Trust of India, United News of India, India Abroad News Services, Reuters, AP, AFP etc, and other agencies. Compared to some of the vernacular dailies and those who are contemporaries of the Sh Gopal as well as those who have been in this line for the last two decades or so, we at The Sangai Express can be said to be the new kids in block and are not exactly in the position to write something about the evolution of journalism in Manipur, but there are compelling reasons when we really need to look back to the past, if one is to understand how the multi-coloured, 8 or 6 paged newspapers, you get to read with your morning cuppa has come about. And one of the reasons is Sh Gopal Sharma !
In talking about the evolution of the press or media through the years, where does the late Sh Gopal Sharma, or fondly called Eigya Gopal by the present, younger group of journalists, stand ? First and foremost is to acknowledge the fact that the history of journalism in Manipur can never be complete without a mention of Poknapham which he founded and edited till his last breathe on August 9, 2010. Literally starting from scratch, the late Gopal Sharma managed to inch his way up the ladder, professionally and when he breathed his last, he had left behind a newspaper empire, which had managed to carve a niche for itself in the minds of everyone. So how would history place Shamurailatpam Gopal Sharma in the history of journalism in the State ? This is interesting, for the fact that many saw him as more of an entrepreneur and an excellent manager more than a journalist, as understood in the classical sense of what a journalist is. In fact there were times, when journalists, during the rare moments they get together, would opine that it was time for Eigya Gopal to hang up his boots as Editor and solely concentrate on the management. Lest we are mistaken, we go on record to state that there was no malice at all in this observation and in fact it rather demonstrated the concern for the late man, who was also a diabetic and could do without all the headaches, that come in the form of some telephone calls from some hoodlums in the garb of revolutionaries. It was amazing to see, how this man, who made his way to the very top from the bottom most level, was so adept at changing his approach or thoughts according to the needs of the time. So from the letter press, Poknapham, smoothly made the made the transition to modern technology, with computers and printing machineries, that would not have thought of or even dreamt about, when Eigya Gopal first took his step in the field of journalism. The transition from the letter press to the hi-tech printing technology today, could not have come without planning to the last detail. This Eigya Gopal executed perfectly and from a one leafed newspaper, Poknapham, was transformed into an eight paged newspaper with multi-colours and all the features, special columns, etc that go to make a newspaper a complete newspaper. However it would not be doing justice to the late soul, if his entrepreneurial skills are taken into consideration at the cost of his career as a newsman, for the fact stands that all his man-management skills and the keen sense of observation and competitive spirit are qualities, which he could have picked up only as a newsman. Sure Poknapham is our rival in the circulation business, but business is business and has nothing to do with admiring the grit and character of a man like Shamurailatpam Gopal Sharma.

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