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Special Madras Week Issue | VOL. XXII NO. 9, August 16-31, 2012
Two at the top
By S. Viswanathan

A champion of economic journalism

P.A. Seshan

The Hindu recently organised a function to felicitate the Bhishma Pitamaha of financial journalism, P.A. Seshan (Leo), on his entering his 100th year.

In The Hindu dated July 8, 2012, P.A Seshan's (Leo) News & Notes on the economy appeared. So what's the big deal? Well, Seshan is 99 years old and has been writing in the paper for 60 years!

Seshan cut his teeth in journalism at Indian Finance, Calcutta, where his uncle, P.R. Srinivas, was the Editor. In 1957, Seshan shifted to Madras and joined The Hindu and worked for them for the next 37 years.

Seshan focussed on covering corporate performance. He suffered a serious handicap: he was near blind. That said, he had a phenomenal capacity to absorb information conveyed to him orally. He established close contacts with the new generation of entrepreneurs. He was liberal in writing about companies, big and small. In quick time, he became to the business community the face of The Hindu.

I came into contact with Seshan in the mid-1960s. I was then editing Mobile, a transport monthly, and Trade Wheel, a bimonthly on two-wheelers. In 1967, when I decided to venture into a publication with wider coverage of the economy, I discussed the project with Seshan and received tons of guidance. He introduced me to P.R. Srinivas who joined our editorial team and worked with us for the next ten years till he breathed his last. Well-known cartoonist, Thanu, drew cartoons for the wrapper and inside pages.

Those days, the business leaders of Chennai shunned publicity. I could discern two specific traits: when the company did well, they were concerned about the evil eye and desisted from speaking about their profits. Obviously, they would not want to speak when their company was not performing well. They were content being noticed by The Hindu. Seshan provided us access to annual reports of companies and guided us on their coverage.

For several generations of newspaper readers in the South, his column was the major source of information on corporate performance. Though Seshan retired officially in 1997, he continued to write an occasional column under his Leo's News & Notes.

The extensive coverage of corporate news provided by Seshan helped in the copious flow of corporate ads. Seshan also produced The Hindu Survey of Indian Industry as an annual publication. For this, he persuaded a wide range of business leaders and executives from the corporate sector to write on their sectors and on their companies. These write-ups provided information on the performance of industry.

Maintaining close relations with Chambers of Commerce, Seshan helped them produce special issues for seminars. I remember one such issue he helped produce for the Hindustan Chamber of Commerce. T.S. Narayanaswamy then headed the Chamber. HCC's dynamic secretary G.V. Rao and his colleague S.B. Prabhakar Rao worked closely with Seshan to produce The Progressive Madras State that remained for long a reference book for the development of the State's economy.

Deeply religious and attached to the Maha Sannidhanam of the Sankaracharya of Sringeri. Seshan has been supporting a number of social activities in his Palamadai -village.

I am indeed happy that this Tendulkar of economic journalism is getting ready to hit a century. These days, such loyalty and long tenure of dedicated service is a rarity. (Courtesy: Industrial Economist)

Musing on an accountant's world

G. Narayanaswamy's autobiography Beyond Auditing is a page-turner. It's a gripping story of an impoverished Kumbakonam boy who goes on to become a highly influential chartered accountant and public figure.

GN tells his story like a true accountant. Without a trace of hyperbole! The words are so matter-of-fact, yet they evoke emotions that strike at the very root of the soul.

Those who have interacted with him are aware of his direct and frank manner of talking to people and this is perhaps the best aspect of his book. He is frank, forthright and on target when he airs his views, whether it's about his mother pondering about her milk business or his views on the real-politik in the 1950s. GN has been politically active too; his association with the Swatantra Party in general and Rajaji in particular is one of the highlights of the book. GN has allowed us a glimpse of an era gone by.

G Narayanaswamy

GN has always been a seasoned master of his game, and his musings about his clients and their regard for their auditor may look odd today, when tax laws aren't as draconian and complicated as they were. His countless parries with Income tax Officers appear like a thing of the past; e-filing, e-processing and all things electronic have eaten into that part of the interface with the friendly neighborhood taxman.

In a profession where naming clients, talking about the system or even the world at large is taboo, here is a man who boldly treads his past with a certain style and clarity that makes you ponder whether GN was merely looking beyond auditing, or was there something more subtle for all of humanity here?

This is a veritable chronicle of our times and a vital document that historians in future will rely on to get a better understanding of the events described by GN from first-hand experience. (Courtesy: Industrial Economist)

– S. Srikanth

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