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A tribute to Alfred D'Cruz

Today marks a month since the passing away of Alfred D’Cruz (91), veteran journalist, historian and author. He was a stalwart of The Times of India and retired as the Chief Sub-Editor after nearly 40 years of dedicated and meritorious service. Alfred D’Cruz was co-author, along with Prof. Jose Patrocinio de Souza, of the book “Saligao: Focus on a Picturesque Goan Village”. Several of the essays featured on Saligao Serenade draw inspiration and content from this book. As a tribute, Saligao Serenade reproduces, below, a condensed version of an interview with Alfred D’Cruz, conducted by Frederick Noronha, back in January 2002.

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Black and white… and read all over: Alfred D’Cruz’s five decades in journalism

by Frederick Noronha

Alfred D'Cruz

Alfred D'Cruz

Over the past five decades, he has read millions of words, knocked other people’s writing into shape, and put together countless newspaper pages. Octogenarian newspaperman Alfred D’Cruz, a Goan by origin, distinctly remembers so many interesting people, events and issues that are otherwise part of history.

“In those times, (prominent newspapers like) The Times of India had no women employees. Neither were ball-points used. We used sharp pencils, unlike like now where both ball-points and women journalists are very much in force. One must add, the women journalists are doing a good job too,” he quips, taking just one aspect of the vastly changed times, as he recently looked back on his long innings with the media.

Speaking to this writer at his ancestral Saligao home in Goa, the Mumbai-based D’Cruz narrated times under British editors, Goans who made it in Bombay’s journalistic scene, the heady days around Independence, and much more.

D’Cruz says that around the time of Independence, he was the first Indian to be selected by The Times of India directly from St Xavier’s College. He worked with the then British editor, Sir Francis Lowe. “Claude Scott was then news editor; perhaps the best news editor the Times ever had,” he recalls.

Says D’Cruz, a “deskman” through and through for most of his career: “Sir Francis often said that a good sub-editor is the backbone of any newspaper, as he can make or mar a newspaper.” But, over time, the arrival of computers to the newspaper world has changed things vastly, he feels.

Not necessarily for the worse. He politely declined to agree with this writer — a former deskman too — that the speed with which computers move could make it difficult for seniors to train cub-journalists, and corrections in one’s copy are less obvious than on paper.

Nonetheless, his word of advice is that journalists still have to continue to work “with one eye on the clock, and the other on the dictionary.”

Memories

Over his long innings, D’Cruz worked under nine editors — two Europeans and seven Indians. He retired when Girilal Jain was the editor of the Times in the eighties.

Later, he helped bring out an eight-page supplement when the ‘Old Lady of Bori Bunder’ turned 147 years old. He also helped with the Times of India Reference Book.

But donkeys and journalists never retire, as they say. D’Cruz had a stint with a real estate magazine, and then worked at Vinod Mehta’s Sunday Observer, which he rates as being India’s “first and best Sunday paper.”

Which memories are most strongly etched on his mind, after all these years?

D’Cruz narrates that at one stage, even the current President of India, K R Narayanan, had undergone a brief stint in journalism. “He was in transit to the UK, for studies, and missed the ship. So he worked as a reporter (for a brief while). He took meticulous care (of his copy),” D’Cruz recalls.

The late Behram “Busybee” Contractor, editor of the Afternoon Dispatch &Courier newspaper, was also a legend at the Times. “In fact, Behram started his ‘Busybee – Round and About’ column there. His copy never needed editing. He would just sit down behind his computer and keep on at it, doing his writing, with great care, clarity and sometimes humour… when required.”

Goan journalists

Going down memory lane, D’Cruz recalls times when Goans also worked in prominent slots in the Bombay media world.

This octogenarian newspaperman remembers two prominent Goan writers in English — editor Frank Moraes and his son Don. “Frank liked to know every member of his staff. He invited batches for his cordial beer parties at his residence. That was a time for him to get together with reporters and sub-editors.

D’Cruz recalls that the noted Bombay-based gynaecologist of Goan origin Dr Shirodkar and Frank Moraes stayed in the same building, and both would often meet at the lift, on returning home late at night. “Both were late, for different reasons. One delivered babies, the other delivered editorials.”

Simon Pereira, whom D’Cruz recalls as coming from Parra, edited the Evening News, also from the Times stable. He wrote his ‘Bombayman’s Diary’, which then was the “talk of the town,” as D’Cruz recalls.

Sales Andrade from south Goa was a one-time news editor of The Times of India. Frank Rodrigues was also a senior on the editing desk. Frank, incidentally, is the father of retired Indian Army chief General Suneeth Rodrigues.

“When I saw a three-line message on the ticker saying Brigadier Rodrigues was the only Indian officer selected for higher training to England, I tore off the copy and handed it to Frank, saying ‘Here’s the future commander-in-chief of India’. Frank puffed on his cigar and said, ‘Maybe. But I may not be around to see it’,” recalls D’Cruz.

Arthur Souza-Godinho was another senior on the editorial desk. His encounter with a “ghost” near The Times of India office is still remembered by veterans like D’Cruz. This locality is, incidentally, believed to have been a cemetery for British officers in colonial times.

Press Trust of India (PTI) journalist Oscar Ribeiro, who later went on to join the ILO in Geneva, also prided himself on being a “simple village boy” while in Goa, and recalled his humble roots often.

D’Cruz’s observation is that South Indians — those whom he worked with, on English-language newspapers — tend to be very thorough in their grammar. “They handled their copy with great care and could handle the English-language with much ease,” recalls he.

One reason that gave Goans of the time marketable skills was the high-quality English education imparted in some of the prominent schools, particularly around the Bardez area of those days.

Nakuru (East Africa)-born D’Cruz returned to India at the age of 10. Here, he studied at one of the pioneering English-language schools, Mater Dei of Saligao in Goa

Later, he moved to that other great English-language school, that prepared a generation and more of Goans for wider opportunities — St Joseph’s at Arpora.

Recalls D’Cruz: “In St Xavier;’ (College in Bombay), many professors were Europeans, some Germans. One thing I miss now is a ‘brains trust’ session. The best of brains were featured on the panel, and such sessions were arranged by the Young Men’s Christian Association.”

Editors of yore

There were many interesting editors and colleagues whom D’Cruz rubbed shoulders with during his long journalistic stints.

“B G Verghese had just come back from Cambridge. He was a very unassuming man and was on the desk for a brief while. He went on to become a brilliant editor,” says he.

D’Cruz recalls M J Akbar — today editor-in-chief of the multi-edition The Asian Age — from his stint with the Illustrated Weekly of India, another publication that has unfortunately since folded up. Khushwant Singh, the editor-turned-columnist and book-writer, he remembers as being “very amiable and one who mixed freely with the staff.”

M V Kamath, the former foreign correspondent and ex-editor, is another name that D’Cruz recalls.

“I’ve very happy memories of Vinod Mehta, who was always on his toes right till the paper went to bed. He was a very hardworking editor who went through almost all the copy himself, never missing anything. That’s uncommon; other editors left (finer issues) to the chief sub or sub-editor to handle. Vinod Mehta also had a keen nose for news; attractive design and tight-editing were his forte,” he adds. Mehta was also someone who “stressed the importance of accuracy and brevity, while dismissing superficialities.”

D’Cruz recalls the period around 1947 as “one of the most exciting.” On the staff, everyone — whether seniors or juniors — wanted to share the excitement of Nehru’s tryst with destiny. “We were asked to give a number of headlines, from which one would be chosen. Fortunately, my heading ‘India wakes up to new life’ adorns The Times of India.”

He also had a brief encounter with Nehru, who asked him what he was doing for the freedom of Goa. “I said I was pledged to ‘ahimsa’ (non-violence), but was espousing the cause in the press. Nehru’s cryptic reply was, ‘Oh, I see. The pen is mightier than the sword’.”

Reminiscing

Sitting in his home that his father laid the foundations for, D’Cruz reminisces nostalgically, effortlessly recalling the old days.

“Mario (Miranda) has done a sketch of our old home as it earlier was. I narrated to him what I remembered from my memory. This work was exhibited in Brazil too,” says D’Cruz. Pointing to the high ceiling of his ancestral home, D’Cruz — whose memory remains razor-sharp — says a civil engineer educated in Leeds and Stanford had noted that the high-ceilings helped the house remain cool “because of the greater volume of oxygen.”

D’Cruz explains that old homes had a raised plinth, and were built at higher-than-ground level in Saligao too because during the rains the water used to otherwise flood in. To raise his home, boulders were brought in from the Assagao hillock, he says.

“It combines the European Renaissance style with that of a typical Goan balcao,” says he. D’Cruz says his father was a civil servant in Nairobi decades ago, and he had built the home. Alfred D’Cruz himself was born in 1921 in Nakuru, East Africa, where his father was then based.

Stint in Kuwait

Interestingly, a little over a decade ago, at the age of 67, he went to the Gulf, to take up a post-retirement stint with the Kuwait Times as an assistant editor. There, he worked under a Far Eastern executive editor and an Arab editor-in-chief. “I learnt a lot,” he recalls, and colleagues included Indians, Pakistanis, Arabs and Americans.

But the Gulf War of 1990-91 interrupted that stint, and D’Cruz remembers being evacuated from the desert, after “living on just one apple and one tomato a day” due to the war.

It has been a long time, and D’Cruz looks back on his sixty years in Bombay and his experiences as a journalist right from 1947. But this has not tired him or dimmed his enthusiasm for life, and gaining more experiences.

“I’m still writing freelance, and cherish the printed word. I’m a voracious reader,” he says. Son Sunil has taken to advertising and journalism in Muscat, and has profiled leading cricketers. Daughter Sarojini is a scientist in the US, and another daughter Susheela Soares, was earlier with The Times of India too.

His interest in music and sports continues with gusto. “I’m even becoming something of a cook, and love to prepare chicken,” says he. Strangely this taste grew just months back, and the octogenarian says his stint in Kuwait “that forced me to do cooking for survival” could have brought out latent talent.

Journalism in India

Looking back, D’Cruz is happy that opportunities have grown vastly for the Indian journalist. “In terms of writing and makeup, Indian magazines are on par with the leading magazines of Europe,” he feels. Even if the value of the rupee has drastically fallen, salaries have grown. For instance, in 1947, he recalls having worked for Rs 100 per month.

“The desk is a good training ground for journalists. Many leading writers — whether Somerset Maugham or Hemingway — started as journalists too,” he points out.

He disagrees with the view that editorial standards in India — as reflected in some prominent newspapers too — are slipping. “TV has pushed down the reading habit. But a good book will always continue to have readers. For in-depth analysis, you will have to go back to paper,” says he.

2 comments on A tribute to Alfred D’Cruz

  • Wasy D'Cruz

    Fr. Mascarenhas:
    Hope you are well. I noticed that there have been no new entries
    recently. Hope all is well with you and this site.

    Wasy (ossie) D’cruz

  • vithal ashvekar

    can i know about the first Muslim who was converted from sonarbhat arrarim and also some information about sonarbhat arrarim

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