Sports Journalism

Jagannadha Rao, a giant in Indian sports journalism, dies at 77, leaves grieving colleagues

Senior sports journalist and a colleague for years pays tribute to the departed soul.

G. Rajaraman

NEW DELHI: I can hear his calm voice echo in my emotional mind. “Raman, I want you to be objective and entirely honest,” it commands endearingly. “Don’t hold back.” Truth be told, K Jagannadha Rao, the former Sports Editor of Press Trust Of India, who passed on April 18 after a hard battle with illness, would have it no other way.

I was fortunate to be his colleague in PTI between December 1986 and July 1992 and blessed to be a beneficiary of his large-heartedness long after I moved from the agency. From encouraging me to travel to New Delhi and be a part of the desk to letting me report on different sport from diverse locations in India, he played no mean role in my evolution as a sports journalist.

He was a titan among sports journalists but never presented himself that way. Having broken the story of Pakistan Army’s offer of surrender to the Indian troops in the bloody Bangladesh liberation war in 1971, he remained a quintessential reporter even when he grew in stature as a widely-respected sports journalist.

In his 38 years with PTI, he reported from six Olympic Games and two Asian Games where he paid particular attention to hockey, a sport that he loved with all his heart. But it was the leader of the PTI sports desk that he left an indelible impression, handling reporters with different mindsets from across the country with aplomb and getting them to deliver with pride in their hearts.

It was in the 70s that he almost single-handedly insisted on the establishment of a sports desk in New Delhi. His persuasive skills and determination met with success when PTI decided to accept his idea. It was just as well that this happened well before the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi as he was able to bring together some of the finest talent to report on the sporting extravaganza.

Then again, his contribution to sports journalism in India goes beyond the stories he reported to the number of talented reporters he groomed in his own nonchalant manner. The number of his colleagues who rose to the pinnacle in their careers, thanks in no small measure to Rao Saheb’s encouragement, is not a small one. It is also to his credit that some of India’s first women sports journalists were enrolled by PTI in the 80s.

He made friends with diverse sports officials and athletes with an effortlessness that left the juniors admiring his social skills. Among his favourites were former India cricket captain Lala Amarnath and Kumar Saheb – as he fondly called IOC member in India Ashwini Kumar, an erstwhile President of the Indian Hockey Federation. It is easy to imagine his happy soul being spoilt for choice in heaven to share a chilled tumbler with.

Till his last days, he remained a helpful, caring soul, calling reporters when he enjoyed a good piece of reportage – just as much as he would hold out a friendly warning when he spotted something amiss. The hordes of younger journalists who would feel motivated after a conversation with Jagannadha Rao will miss his benign presence in their lives.

A well-read man, who was inspired by his journalist brother KV Gopalaratnam, each conversation with him would be incomplete if he did not exchange notes about families. He was effusive in his praise of his wife, Prabha, and daughter Aarti for the selfless support they gave him through thick and thin. He was generous with his blessings for the families of all his colleagues and friends.

Few would ever recall him complaining of the aches and pains that he underwent in the past few years when he underwent treatment for cancer. He battled it hard, with the gentleness of a master batsman flicking the ball almost as if he were unwilling to belt it and the tenacity of a prize fighter. His friends and colleagues will cherish his memories and celebrate his life.

For, Jagannadha Rao, him who loved life and lived it well for 77 years, would not like it any other way.

The Sports Journalists’ Federation of India condoled the passing of one of India’s passionate sports scribes. “Jaggu Sir’s demise is a great loss to the profession,” said Subodh Malla Barua, SJFI president from Guwahati.

“Whenever I went to New Delhi on assignments, I made it a point to meet Mr. Rao. As a youngster in 1982, I met him for the first time during the Delhi Asian Games and was bowled over by his friendly nature. His reports from Olympics and Asian Games were a treat to read. He was such a big influence on my career as far as multi-discipline coverage was concerned,” said S. Sabanayakan, Vice-President, AIPS Asia, from Kolkata.

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