Sham taught novices how to write alluring headlines to attract readers

Sachin Tendulkar will release former sports editor’s book at Press Club Mumbai

By Sudeep Sonawane
Surat, November 17, 2022

Sweat beads trickled down the left side of his temple. My boss was tense. Usually upbeat and talkative, he sat silently in the red Fiat. He tightly gripped the steering wheel. His face showed stress. Through his golden frame spectacles, he gazed intently at the line of cars and buses idling on the base of Pedder Road Flyover, in south Bombay; Mumbai’s original name.
I sat next to Subhash K Sham. My right hand clutched the locked handbrake. I was his driving instructor.
“I will release the brake when the traffic moves forward,” I told Sham. He nodded. “Apply slight pressure on the accelerator. Do not press firmly.”
Sham shifted the gear from neutral to first position. I released the handbrake as he pressed the pedal. The car smoothly moved forward. He passed the uphill and downhill test. We passed Kemps Corner, Wilson College and the five cricket gymkhanas on Marine Drive. We then passed Metro Theatre, Azad Maidan and General Post Office and reached Raymond’s Building at Ballard Pier. The Indian Post daily newspaper was on the third floor. We both worked for this newspaper.
Sham learnt to drive a car at age 49. He had passed the driving test long back. He needed me as a guide and for moral support to learn to drive on Mumbai’s congested roads. For more than one month I travelled from my parent’s home in Chincholi, Malad to Sham’s home in the plush Hindu Colony in Dadar East. I drove his car for a few days till he got familiar with the route. Later, he started driving short distances from Dadar to Parel. As his confidence increased, he drove from his home to our office.
Raymond’s garments owner Vijaypat Singhania launched The Indian Post in 1986. The broadsheet newspaper closed within three and a half year. S Nihal Singh was the first Chief Editor followed by Vinod Mehta and last Nikhil Laxman. Sham was the sports editor. He selected me to join his young team of sports journalists. Sportsweek magazine and Mid Day newspaper’s Associate Editor Sharad Kotnis had recommended me to Sham. He told Sham, “Tyala cricket leehita ye te. Toh Wilson College sathee khelaya cha.” [He can write on cricket, he played for Wilson College.]
The sports journalists’ team comprised brothers Ivan and Daryl Crasto (both from Free Press Journal), David D’Souza (ex-Sportsweek) and Vijay Mruthyunjaya. Bosco Wroughton, Martin D’Souza, Ignatius Godinho and Don Monteiro joined later as The Indian Post became popular in the market dominated by Times of India and Indian Express.

Subhash K Sham had style, swagger, and a deep voice. Audience saw and heard this in his football and hockey commentary for Doordarshan and All India Radio. Sham often spoke with a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, depicted by Clint Eastwood in his hit spaghetti western films.

Sham represented old school journalism. K N Prabhu (ToI), Ron Hendricks (IE), A T P Sarathy (Daily), all three senior to him, had a similar approach. His peers included Khalid A H Ansari (Sportsweek owner), Leyland D’Souza, Sharad Kotnis, Rajan Bala (IE), G K Menon, K B Bhaskaran, Joe and John Crasto (all ToI) and V V Karmarkar (Maharashtra Times).
Most of these sports editors continued the legacy of British editors in the 1970s and 1980s. They were strict on grammar, style and insisted on verifying scores. Sports journalism calls for attention to detail because it uses numbers in scores and results. Sham too ensured his team followed the five Ws and used correct grammar.
Editors of that bygone era read books. Book publishing was big business then. They often quoted British novelists and poets in their reports. They quoted from works of Byron, Dickens, Shaw, Wodehouse, Wordsworth, and Keats. Shakespeare’s popular works often featured in headlines. Example, ‘All’s well that ends well’ and ‘To be, or not to be’. One popular quote, credited to English bowler Cliff Gladwin who said, “Cometh the hour, cometh the man”, after scoring the winning run, a leg-bye off the last ball of the match against South Africa on December 20, 1948. Sham used this quote in headlines often. Ravi Shastri used this quote last week while doing the T20 World Cup commentary in Australia. Sports journalists have often used film names as headlines like ‘The good, the bad, the ugly’, ‘For a few dollars more’, and ‘From Russia with love’.
“Headlines and photograph captions should attract the attention of readers,” Shame would often tell us at The Indian Post. “A poor headline drives away readers. Work on your headlines.” One of Sham’s best headlines in the late 1970s was ‘New zeal and India win’. Indian cricket team had defeated New Zealand on January 1 after partying on 31st December. Having learnt to give alluring headlines from Sham, I wrote two memorable ones. ‘Pakistan kneel before Bishop’ after West Indies fast bowler Ian Bishop took five wickets while I worked for Indian Express. The second was for The Independent, ‘Australia hit rock Botham’ after Ian Botham played a winning hand.
Sham disliked cliché headlines. We juniors regularly used the phrase ‘reigns supreme’ and ‘cakewalk victory’. Sham often reprimanded the concerned subeditor, saying, “If I see one more ‘reigns supreme’ in the headline, I will end your reign in the sports department!” He rebuked us more in humour than anger.

Former Board of Control for Cricket in India President Raj Singh Dungarpur, former BCCI Executive Secretary Prof Ratanakar Shetty, commentator Raju Bharatan, Sham and former India captain Ajit Wadekar.

Sham had a good sense of humour. His writings reflected it, especially in his weekly column Point Blank for the Post. He had started this column at Free Press Journal. Working afternoon shift with him in command was fun. He often put on this shift on weekends during the horse-racing season held at Mahalaxmi Racecourse. Like cricket, horse racing has elaborate reports. They cover trackwork, weights and handicaps, racecard plus preview and finally the race day report. Sham put me on horse racing duty. I editing reports submitted by our racing correspondent Cecil Hendricks. His reports were flawless. They did not need any editing! I learnt the finer details of horse racing under Hendricks and Sham.
I vividly remember one hilarious incident during the holy month Ramadan when Muslims fast and pray. Sham was reading loud the racecard details to me. I was typing the data since our regular Data Entry Operator Prasad Patil was on leave. Horse racing punters know there are three key people to follow in any race. The horse owner, the trainer, and the jockey. After Sham read out the three names of one horse, I paused and looked at him.
“What happened to you Joe?” (Sham often called juniors Joe!)
“Punters should not bet on this horse,” I told Sham.
“Joe, do you plan to replace Cecil Hendricks?” he said tersely.
“No. Anyone putting money on this horse will lose.”
“Why do you say this?” he said.
I replied, “The owner, trainer and the jockey are Muslim. All three are fasting. Perhaps, the horse is fasting too!”
He immediately broke out into a loud guffaw. He got up laughing and walked to the news desk. He repeated the joke to editors who too burst out laughing.
Sham regaled cricket journalists in the old Press Box at the Wankhede Stadium and the balcony on the second floor of Cricket Club of India at Brabourne Stadium. He entertained journalists with 1960s and 70s era anecdotes when on-field action was boring.
Sham had style, swagger, and a deep voice. Audience saw and heard this in his football and hockey commentary for Doordarshan and All India Radio. Sham often spoke with a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, depicted by Clint Eastwood in his hit spaghetti western films.
Chief editors and sports editors had celebrity status in that era. There was no competition. Social media and the Internet did not exist. Now people with feature phones think they are journalists. Arguably, Sham would have roasted today’s digital media. Sham and his peers mentioned earlier represented the glorious and romantic era of newspaper journalism. Readers trusted news reports. Fake news did not exist then. Maybe the occasional howler. Overall journalism was good then. People were good. Life was good. I miss those good old days.
Sham died November 28, 2011. His nieces Sadhana Singh and Smita Sharma completed his unfinished book Platinum Touch. Former India captain Sachin Tendulkar will release the book this Saturday at Press Club Mumbai.

[Sudeep Sonawane, an India-based journalist, has worked in five countries in the Middle East and Asia. Email: []


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