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Pothan Joseph: A rare journalist, who made people laugh at life, and at himself

By Alexander Luke*

Pothan Joseph was my grandmother's brother, she used to often remind me, I remember when young. Later it became clear it was not only she who talked of her brother, others held him in very high regard. When he died in 1972, I was 24 and still did not know much about him. “The Times of India”, in a lead editorial, used the word greatness for him. Others spoke the same way.
I would mention this connection to those in whom I wished to increase my worth and they would respond suggesting that while they did not think much of me otherwise, this fact definitely raised my standing with them. But the fact was I never met him. My grandfather and he were friends, he would often visit our house, my mother told me, for which a copious supply of toddy, which he preferred, would be stocked.
Pothan Joseph was a journalist active during the 1920s, 1930s and till the 1960s. He moved easily among the famous and great and also ordinary men and women who adorn the roster of our freedom struggle, these names feted him.
His life could be described as bohemian and was the subject of frequent gossip in family circles. His wit was Wildean, the column 'Over a cup of tea' was widely read. For a brief period he worked for Jinnah's “Dawn” paper and then left. When asked about it he said, “Jinnah and I had a brief affair which ended with the coming of 'Dawn'.”
At Gandhi's suggestion he entered an Ashram for a long stay. After a few days he quietly left, saying it was not the place for a mortal like him 
At a post office the pen they provided did not work. He gravely asked the lady at the counter whether this was the pen used for signing the Magna Carta. She told him to go to the enquiry counter. A cousin of my mother's was proposed for his daughter. Having met him earlier his verdict was, "He looks like an overfed Catholic priest."
Alexander Luke
At Gandhi's suggestion he entered an Ashram for a long stay. After a few days he quietly left, saying it was not the place for a mortal like him. He would often say his his personal reputation suffered because people compared him to his elder brother, George Joseph (a freedom fighter, he shared prison with Nehru and about whom Nehru wrote affectionately in his “Autobiography”) who, he said, was a saint. But otherwise, he would add, he was not such a bad person!
He was indifferent to public honours and recognition. What use is moss to a rolling stone?, he would ask. But in 1973 after his death he was awarded the Padma Bhushan. People remembered him because, other than being a great journalist, he made them laugh at life and at himself. Once my father advised me to be less serious and be cheerful like Pothan Joseph.
I have been trying unsuccessfully to follow this advice ever since!
---
*Former Gujarat cadre IAS official, known for having turned around several PSUs

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