Fr. Varghese Paul, Enriching Journalism Away From Home
By Joe Palathunkal

When Varghese Paul Chollamdam boarded a train to Gujarat in 1963 leaving behind his verdant homestead in Muvattapuzha, Kerala, he had hardly imagined that he would one day be an accomplished journalist and writer in the mother tongue of Mahatma Gandhi. But by joining the Jesuit Order which was reputed for its intellectual rigour and discipline, he was initiated into a life of serious study and reflection. Indeed it was a potential step towards a mission dedicated to the service of letters and words.

And as the days went by eminent models emerged before him from the same Jesuit Order inspiring to learn Gujarati and to take up a mission with the pen. Amos Padiri, Joseph Beschi, Robert De Nobili, John B Hoffmann, Thomas Stephen, Padmabhushan Camille Bulcke, Carlos Valles – they were all Jesuits from Europe who contributed immensely to enrich Indian languages through their studies and writings. “Definitely, they served me as inspiration then and still continue to do so,” says Varghese Paul as he comments on his writing career in Gujarati with a successful detour to journalism.

His forays into journalism began on a significant note in 1975 when he got a diploma in professional journalism from the London School of Journalism, London. From then on he was fully into this field enriching it in various ways as a trainer, editor, writer and founder of agencies and associations related to the print media.

Training people in journalism was a dream close to Varghese Paul’s heart. The diploma from London enabled him to realize this dream with expert knowledge and professionalism. “I was keen to pass on my skills and expertise in the field to interested people,” says he alluding to the several short-term journalism courses he has conducted all over India.

One of his earliest training programmes was at the Xavier Institute of Communications, Saint Xavier’s College, Mumbai, with a month-long seminar cum workshop in journalism for 22 editors from the church press in February-March 1980. In the same year he conducted a week-long workshop on reporting in half a dozen cities around India .”Well, it was a challenging experience for me to conduct this for editors some of whom have been into the job for years. But I was fortunate to get experienced journalists from the local press including the veteran Mr. M. V. Kamath of the illustrated Weekly of India to give lectures to the participants,” says Varghese Paul with a certain amount of satisfaction and a sense of achievement. “We had even a convocation ceremony,” continued he “in which a great editor like Mr Krishnamurthy of the Free Press Journal spoke stressing the need and importance of keeping oneself up-to-date especially in a competitive field like journalism.”

In the year 1980 itself he conducted week-long workshops on reporting in half a dozen cities all over the country. During the last 30 years he has conducted nearly 100 short-term journalism training programmes benefiting at least a 1000 people. His participants were not only from the Catholic community but were also from other church denominations, and some were even from non-church groups. One such journalism training programme this writer attended in Bangalore in 1979 had even participants from as far away as Thailand.

After founding the SAR News agency in 1980 he experimented with another methodology in imparting journalism training. The in-service training in professional journalism he started at his Greater Kailash II of SAR News office in Delhi had a few young aspirants some of whom now hold responsible positions in professional journalism. Jose Kavi, presently the bureau of chief of UCA News at Delhi & Tony Joseph of the Business World Consulting Editor, Kolkata are a few among them. One of his stated goals in imparting journalism training to various types of people from all over India was “to create a sense of journalism in the new generation of our country”.

That goal continued to follow him wherever he went. When he returned to Gujarat in 1984 as the editor of the Gujarati monthly publication “DOOT”, he continued his in-service training programme here also. This helped a few young Gujarati aspirants in journalism to get placement in a couple of leading Gujarati dailies and other journals.

In 1999 he gave this same in-service training programme a new twist by recruiting graduate youngsters from the tribal and dalit communities of Gujarat for a one year diploma course in Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s institute of journalism at Ahmedabad. Every year he selects half a dozen youngsters for this programme and provides a stipend for their fifty percent expenses.

“I would not have been what I am today but for Father Varghese Paul. Besides the lectures I heard on journalism at the Bhavan’s back, home he gave us a practical training in his office. What I remember most is his affable nature in dealing with us students and guiding us,” says Rajendra Vasava, a tribal young man from South Gujarat who completed the course with Varghese Paul and now work in a tribal information project of the State Government. Some others also who have gone through his journalism training have similar sentiments and perceptions about this man who enriches the print media with a rare dedication.
The founding of the South Asia Religious (SAR) news agency by Varghese Paul in 1980 was a major contribution by him towards the enrichment of journalism. Though the SAR mainly covers church- related stories, yet it is a major contribution in the field of journalism as a source of information dissemination. Now with its main office at Bangalore , SAR still continues as a vibrant news agency. In spite of his busy schedule, Varghese Paul even today contributed nearly 30 stories annually to the SAR which he conceived and cradled years ago.

In 1986 as recognition for his contribution to journalism he was elected as the President of the South Asian Catholic Press Association (SACPA). He organized SACPA’s first ever fully represented meeting at Kathmandu , Nepal in 1988. He is also an active member of the Geneva based Catholic Union of the Press (UCIP). “My association with the UCIP began a quarter of a century ago in 1977 when I became an active member of the Indian Catholic Press Association” and he calls UCIP “the biggest body of press media personnel in the world”.

To encourage journalism among the Christians of Gujarat he founded the Gujarat Catholic Press Association (GCPA) on March 17, 1985 , and the Gujarat Christian Press Council (GCPC) in December 2002. Besides encouraging journalism another situational imperative prompted him to start the latter. As he says he founded the GCPC “sensing the need for united efforts of all Christian communities in the face of ever growing communal and fundamentalist forces in Gujarat “. How can one forget the unimaginable brutality staring at us from the communal inferno of February-March 2002 when hundreds were massacred across the State! GCPC was Varghese Paul the journalist’s response to such a situation.

Another feather on his cap is his unique distinction in heading the 92 year old Gujarati monthly “DOOT’ for the longest term. He was its first Malayalee chief editor and he edited it for 15 long years transforming this nondescript monthly of readership into a publication with nearly 60,000 readers. He changed its contents and layout drastically and got famous Gujarati writers like the Sahitya Akademi Award winning litterateur Joseph Macwan to contribute to it regularly. During his editorship the Doot office became a meeting point of well-known Gujarati Christian writers and journalists for “relaxed chitchat discussions on media matters over a cup of tea” as he says with a smile.

Today with 17 books to his credit in Gujarati brought out through well-known publishers like “R R Sheth & Co, and “Rannade Prakashan” the 60 year old Father Varghese Paul Chollamadam from far away Kerala has become one with the Gujarati language and its nuances which he learned assiduously to give a vision to a people whom he has accepted as his own. Some of the titles of his books like “Culture of Love”, “Wealth of the Heart”, “Happiness of Life”, “Feast of Relationship”, and “Look at a person as a Human Being” speak volumes about that vision. Now every Monday he contributes the lead article to the one lakh circulation Gujarati daily Sambhav under the general title “Social Vision”, and that his readers appreciate the vision he gives to them is amply demonstrated through the various awards and prizes they bestow on him. The latest is the “Gira Gurjari Award” from Kala Gurjari for his book “Culture of Love”. And he can feel legitimately proud of the fact that far away from his home state he not only enriched journalism but also a people and a language with a rare dedication and commitment which spans 30 years of service to the print media.

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Book Review
Love, Youth & Family

(Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ, Insight Books, Pauline Publications, 143, Waterfield Road, Bandra, Mumbai, 2009, pp.176, price Rs.80/-)

This first book in English by Fr. Varghese Paul, who has authored over thirty well-acclaimed books in Gujarati, is very creditable. The book deals with love, youth and family, and with issues of justice and social evils that affect families. The author’s main concern is to help people to live a happy life.

The book contains examples, true stories and anecdotes, of both happy and unhappy families, and happy and unhappy marriages. One theme that runs through its pages is whether family life and the life of individuals is happy. The author shares some of his personal experiences with unmarried, married, happy and unhappy individuals and couples. Social concerns touched on include female infanticide, wife-beating, unconcern for elderly parents, injustice to the Dalits and Tribals, women-trafficking and illiteracy. The author is convinced that it is love that keeps a family united, happy and healthy; he examines obstacles to love and offers guides to promote a culture of love, unity and cooperation. Teenagers and youth need their parents’ love, presence and ‘quality time’ much more than money and gifts.

A theme that finds repeated expression is respect for the human rights of each individual in the family. The author pleads for equal rights for men and women: and many examples are given to show the evils of not respecting the rights of women. Emphasis is placed on forgiveness and hence there are many true stories of forgiveness. Other areas touched on are problems in inter-religious marriages, sibling rivalry, fostering self-confidence in children, the responsibility of parents and grandparents towards their children and the importance of the family in bringing up children in a culture of life and happiness.

Love, Youth & Family
(Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ, Insight Books, Pauline Publications, 143, Waterfield Road, Bandra, Mumbai, 2009, pp.176, price Rs.80/-)

In today’s world, helping the youth to grow in a positive way has become a growing concern for the parents and teachers all over. Despite our advancement in technology & science and demand for a high degree of professionalism in work places, the youth feel neglected and looking for guidance and understanding. The book ‘Love Youth and Family’ has all the ingredients of helping the youth to cope with the challenges of post modern world.

No doubt, the teenagers and youth need their parents’ love and guidance more than gifts and money. This need can be fulfilled only through the parents and children spending quality time together. In spending time together they will understand the basic face about the love: that God has loved them first and they should respond to God’s love by loving themselves and each other in and through God.

The family is the source of human love which transmits divine love to each of its members. This book “Love, Youth and Family” is a practical tips to a healthy relationship. The book also treats other topics of interest like justice and social evils.

The book is published by Daughters of St. Paul Publications. It has 30 small chapters. They are down to earth practical suggestions given how to deal with the teenagers within the family circle and encourage them to find their own way and make their future life a happy one. It’s an important tool for those working with the youth. All that is required to make youth happy is in the book. The book will inspire the youth and those in ministry to make a big mileage for the betterment of the Society.

Review By : F. Sunil Rosario

By Joe Palathunkal
“How to Make LIFE Worth Living” by Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ, Insight Books, Pauline Publications, 143, Waterfield Road, Bandra, Mumbai, 2009, pp.168, price Rs.80/-

In September 2009, Arvind Pathak and wife Mamta decided death was the only solution to their growing financial difficulties. The 38-year-old MBA poisoned his 11-year-old daughter, then his wife. He consumed the poison himself and raced out of his house, screaming about what he had just done. Pathak is one in a growing list of couples who conclude that life can never solve their myriad problems.

The above introduction to a report on family suicides in The Times of India (9/10/2009) indicates something about the sociology and psychology of family suicides and, as the report mentions in its title, in India in tends to be a middle-class phenomenon. Psychologically, middle-class people are in terrible emotional turmoil when they meet with extreme financial problems because they are not willing to do more menial jobs and eke out a living, thereby lowering their image, and so they choose death.

Is life worth living? This is the most frightening and threatening question faced by millions of people all over the world. Presumably, almost everyone faces this question at least momentarily, sometime. Varghese Paul’s book, How to make life worth living is a commendable attempt to find an answer.

It has been published at a time when people worldwide are struggling to find meaning because of the economic meltdown and terrorism, and they face internal and external confusion. Dr. Viktor Frankel, who conceived the famous logo therapy, emphatically said that if you have a “why” to live, you can put up with any “how”. He observed this in the excruciating circumstances of a Nazi concentration camp.

Today, it appears, many lives are beset by meaninglessness and the associated pain. Amidst all this we can find meaning, according to the author, if you find,

“that something inside of us which helps us to stand erect and hold our heads high. I believe it is our ethical, moral and religious values that make us stand erect amidst trials and difficulties…Our values, graced by love, help us stand firm in spite of the mingled yarn of problems and conflicts in our daily living.”

The author’s twenty-five essays encourage us to find the “why” of life in simple things and in simple ways. You may find meaning when you hear birds chirping or see the humaneness of Mother Teresa of Calcutta; or you may be inspired by the stories in this book, among them: “Justice for all means peace for all”, “Teachers are the key to education”, “Cultural and religious pluralism”, “Displaced persons and refugees”, “Let human rights rule your house” or “Fighting social evil – the Adivasi Way”.

Celine Paul, the author’s sister, found life worth living when she served in a village hospital in Eritrea., one of Africa’s poorest countries. A member of the Vedrunite religious congregation, she says, “My gut-level feeling is that my ministry as a missionary and a medical person is to work for and with poor people.” She reflects some measure of joy in being there to serve others. Albert Schweitzer provided medical service for Africans in the 1940s and received the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize. These people made their own lives worth living by giving meaning to others’ lives.

Problems arise when we measure life’s worth in terms of money, status or power. The leitmotif of this book is to discard these parameters to judge life’s value and, instead, to find meaning by serving others. The author’s experience when he met with a serious accident is just one of the descriptions of situations that invite readers to reflect.

Your life is much more valuable than the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, Jesus told us. The Hindi poet Sumitranandan Pant wrote: “Manav tum sub se sundartam” (Man you are the most beautiful). The book How to make LIFE Worth Living will prompt you to decide in favour of life when you are at the crossroads. The author encourages us to explore “all possible avenues to solve problems and to get out of difficulties.” Whey you face difficulties, remember the title of Robert Schuler’s book, Tough times never last, But tough people do. Varghese Paul’s book can help you to face tough times by seeing how others find meaning in anchoring their hearts and minds on abiding values.

Whoever you may be and however securely placed in life, I suggest that you keep a copy of How to make Life worth Living. It may serve as a wake up call at critical junctures in your life. Teachers who are engaged in value education may also find this attractively printed volume useful for their classrooms.