Dhaka, Bangladesh
Mr Regret

Off the track

Mr Regret

Geeta Pandey

Mr Iyer wears many hats - he describes himself as a writer, publisher, photographer, journalist, cartoonist and many other things. When I met the 67-year-old at his home earlier this month, he told me it was his childhood aspiration to be a journalist and it was that which ultimately led to him changing his name. The writer’s bug had bitten him early - as a college student in the late 1970s, he wrote an article asking the existential question many teenagers ask, “Who am I?” It was published in the college magazine and that was all the encouragement he needed to believe he could be a journalist. He began by writing “letters to the editor” - in today’s digital world, they would be similar to a comment on an online article - and many got published. He became more ambitious and sent an article to Janavani, a popular Kannada-language evening newspaper, on the history of Bijapur town. A few days later, he got it back with a “regret letter”. The letter began with the editor thanking him for his interest in the newspaper, but expressing his regret at being unable to carry the story. “I was disappointed, but not disheartened,” he told me. Over the next few years, he kept sending unsolicited letters, articles, cartoons, photos and even poems to English and Kannada newspapers. He wrote about temples and tourist places and also on topics of news interest. His letters complained about public grievances, poor bus services and garbage pile ups. Senior local journalists who had dealings with him in the 1970s and 80s say “he was the stuff an editor’s nightmares were made of”. A few of his works did get published, but most of them were rejected and within a few years, he had collected 375 regret letters from all sorts of organisations - “not just Indian, but also international”. “I was bombarded with regret letters,” he said. “I had no idea why my material was being rejected. I began thinking, what is it that I am lacking? But there was no attempt on the part of the editors to tell a writer or a photographer what the problem with his material was.” It was his “shabby” writing, said veteran journalist Nagesh Hegde who is credited with giving Mr Iyer his new name. “He was a good hunter and gatherer of news - he had a lot of talent for identifying stories, but he had no capability to write in an appealing manner and wrote very shabbily,” Mr Hegde told me recently. Mr Hegde, who wrote a popular weekly column in Prajavani newspaper, which was then the market leader among Kannada-language papers, had to constantly refuse material from Mr Iyer.

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