You are here
Home > Archive > Recalling the birth of Mobile

Recalling the birth of Mobile

Recalling the birth of Mobile

Recalling the birth of Mobile

This was stated by A.M.M. Murugappa Chettiar, head of the Murugappa Group, at the launch of Trade Wheel in ­Decem­ber 1964.

“When Mr. Viswanathan asked me to preside over this function, I readily agreed. As in everything else, whether in trade or industry or commerce, any spirit of adventure deserves to be welcomed. In industry I always welcome more and more first generation entrepreneurs. In technology fields. I welcome the increase in the number of qualified and able technicians. In the sphere of publications too. I welcome ­explorations into new fields. It requires courage to enter this sphere on one’s own. I also feel that, consistent with our growth in the industrial sphere and also the rapidity with which we are putting India on the industrial map of the world, it should add more specialised journals of specific interest. A matter of ­particular pleasure is that our chief minister Sri M. Baktha­vatsalam is participating in this function.”

This was stated by A.M.M. Murugappa Chettiar, head of the Murugappa Group, at the launch of Trade Wheel in ­Decem­ber 1964.

Two years earlier, I started my career in journalism by launching Mobile, a monthly ­focussing on transport and travel.

I began my career teaching at, first, Loyola College and, then, at Madras Christian ­College. Krishna Srinivas (KSri), editor of Poet, invited me to partner him in running his business. It was printed at a small printing press with a few cases of lead types and a treadle. There he printed the periodicals South Rail News for the Southern Railway, the Indian ­Chemical Manufacturer for a Bombay client, and Indian ­Industries and Poet, both owned by him.

He printed Poet out of love and mailed it at considerable expense to readers in India and several countries abroad whom he brought under the banner of the World Poetry Society. In the mornings he eagerly awaited the postman – an occasional subscription cheque of Rs 10 was ­expectantly looked forward to. The Pandian Bank in Ranga­nathan Street liberally took upto Rs. 1.50 as bank charges for discounting a Rs. 10 cheque. KSri would hand his wife Rs. 5 and used to take me and writer Sandil­yan to Nathan’s Cafe nearby. The three of us used to have breakfast for around Rs.  2.50 and the office attendant would be waiting for the balance one rupee! Remember, this was 50 years before Amma Unavagams. There wasn’t much money in the business even for KSri. He suggested that I start a magazine of my own. It was an honourable way of getting out of a rather tough unwritten partnership.

I had already begun campaigning to start a transport monthly, Mobile, for which I had applied for registration. It wsa at that time that I had to go to Delhi for a medical examination after being ­selected for an Air Force interview. When I failed it, I used my time in Delhi to campaign for advertising and booked the first advertisement for the cover page in colour!

In the next three months, I travelled to Bombay and Cal­cutta, familiarising myself with the state of automobile production and the transport sector. How cheap those days were! You could purchase a circular tour ticket from the Railways for your own itinerary. There were just two conditions: you could not retract on the travel and the total distance covered must be more than three times the ­distance of the farthest station. I drafted the route as Madras-Calcutta-Jalandhar-New Delhi-Bombay-Arakonam-Coim­batore-Cochin-Trivandrum-Madurai-Trichy-Madras. The price for a third class ticket was Rs.  75.

Since this was a single ticket, I could demand reservations from Madras for the different segments. The clerk at the counter protested: he had to send nearly a dozen telegrams at railway’s cost to ensure onward reservations. Two years later, when I stabilised the business, I graduated to first class. The cost of the circular tour ticket then was Rs. 250. The rate was telescopic; the more you travelled the less you paid per km.

There was little capital with which I started. But living was cheap and easy. With a couple of hundred rupees you could land up at a cousin’s house in Calcutta or Bombay, move around in trams, electric trains or city buses and campaign ­continuously for about a month, ­collecting material for articles, and advertisements and subs­crip­tions.

I received good support and encouragement from several friends in business. Most ­notable among them was the Gandhian S.N. Ramasami who worked as Advertising Manager for TVS. He was impressed by my foregoing a steady job after taking two post-graduate ­degrees and taking the risk of ­entering a field totally on my own. As mentioned earlier, it was a clean slate, being little equipped for journalism in the form of any knowledge, leave alone expertise, on reporting, editing, proof-reading or production. I used to spend long hours with him discussing the transport sector. He introduced me to several specialists including the head of engineering at Simpson’s, H.B.

Stanford, who helped me so much to familia­rise myself with the intricacies of the automobile industry. M.K. Raju of India Pistons, K.S. Ganapati of Bimetal Bearings, A.K. Bose of Wheel & Rim Com­pany and A.R. Venkata­raman of Simpson & Co., S. Seshadri of PanAm, Mendiretta of Caltex, Makarand Desai of Tube Investments, and N. Maha­lingam of the Sakthi Group were others who gave me their support in the initial years.

The clean slate beginning was a big help in several ways. It lent for out-of-the-box thinking and course corrections. I had an interesting and extremely useful encounter with Seshadri, Sales Manager of PanAm in Delhi. I dropped into his office (without appointment) and requested advertisements. He pointed out that my publication was a small one from remote Madras with limited circulation and said that PanAm had to advertise across the globe, reaching prospects through mass circulated newspapers. I submitted that my specialised publication Mobile was reaching high-end business literates who were high-flyers and that he could reach them at low cost. When he still pointed to budget constraints, I offered a barter arrangement: ad space for air tickets. We agreed on the ­release of 12 back cover colour ­advertisements in return for a ticket to Europe!

With the concentration of British-collaborated ventures in Madras, I explored the possibi­lity of covering the collabo­rators’ plants in the UK. Stanford wrote to his friend in British Leyland who referred my ­request to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. SMMT agreed to provide local hospitality and facilities spread over two weeks to visit ten manufacturing plants of automobiles and auto components. These included Rootes Motors, British Motor Corporation, Leyland Motors, Standard ­Triumph, Forte Dunlop, Joseph Lucas, York Trailer, Edbro ­Tipper, Raleigh Industries, and J. Payen & Co. Each company ­being visited provided five-star hotel accommodation and transportation on the day of the visit. For the two week-ends, I shifted to the Indian YMCA which offered a room with bed, breakfast and dinner at 35 ­shillings (Rs 23) a day!

I also managed to get invited on a two-week visit to Germany. The Press Bureau of ­German industry offered to ­provide ­facilities for visiting the manufacturing plants of a consortium of six German companies – AEG, Mannesman, Krupp, GHH, Demag and ­Siemens – that constructed the Rourkela Steel Plant; the German government then offered to provide facilities to cover Daimler Benz, VDO, Volks­wagen and the Han­over Fair.

Getting the permit from ­Reserve Bank for travel was a herculean task. For nearly a month, I had to visit the ­Exchange Control Department (ECD) of RBI to get the clearance. All I had requested for was £150 for the month-long visit. The ECD manager ­relented at around 4 p.m. on a Saturday and issued the P-form which entitled me to travel to Germany with an exchange of 3  pounds and 10 shillings, but not to UK. Stanford kindly offered to ­arrange any foreign exchange I needed in Europe. I rushed to Delhi the next morning. Luckily, in those days, airline companies
worked seven days a week and I could collect my ticket from PanAm and catch the flight to Frankfurt that night.

The visit to Europe (SMMT said it was the first such facility extended to a non-European journalist) provided deep ­insights into industry and ­management: Europe was booming with post-war reconstruction almost complete. A single auto manufacturer, Volks­wa­gen, was producing 6200 cars a day! India was producing in three plants around 20,000 a year. The visit led to the phasing out of Mobile and the launching of ­Industrial Economist. (Courtesy: Industrial Econo­mist.)

Author :
Reported On :
Listed Under :
Skip to toolbar Log Out
Your Feedback Please