The Joseph Family Website
Pothan Joseph - the doyen of Indian journalism
Pothan Joseph was the brother of Barrister George Joseph - who, in turn, was the father of Sarah Joseph. She was married to AG Joseph Panicker until her death in 1965.

Pothan Joseph was married to Anna from the Kandathil family. She was the daughter of a former Thiruvalla Municipal Council's chairman KM Mammen Mappilai. They had had three daughters - Grace, Anna (Cookie) and Sarasu - and one son, Jaiboy as displayed on this family tree.

The narrative shown below was obtained from an article written by Prof. J.V. Vilanilam, the former Vice Chancellor, University of Kerala. We appreciate its availability for use on this family website



Pothan Joseph was born in 1892 and died in 1972. He lived through a turbulent period during modern Indian history and made his mark on Indian journalism and is generally recognized as one of the greatest Indian journalists.

Image In his autobiography, Jawaharlal Nehru refers to how he and five others were considered ‘trouble-makers’ in the Lucknow District Jail. They were: Purushottam Das Tandon, Mahadev Desai, George Joseph, Balkrishna Sharma and Devadas Gandhi. The trouble-makers were transferred to a distant part of the jail, quite cut off from the main barracks.



Pothan Joseph (middle) during a reception in New York



No work on Pothan Joseph can ignore some vital details of the life of his elder brother, George Joseph, who became a barrister and later a political activist. The influence of George Joseph on Pothan’s life was decisive; Pothan became quite active and knowledgeable in politics and journalism mainly because of that influence.

We wonder how a young man from the Syrian Christian background in a small southern principality became part of the national independence movement, moving shoulder-to-shoulder with its stalwarts and sharing prison life in totally unfamiliar circumstances. Such was the nature of the public spirit and political awareness of the Josephs' of Chengannur.
Pothan was born on 13 March, 1892 as the second son of C I Joseph of Oorayil House, Chengannur. It is interesting that C I Joseph retained the Syrian Christian/Hebrew first name for his second son. He named his first-born George Joseph, famous later, as a lawyer and freedom fighter, as already mentioned, a close associate of Jawaharlal Nehru and for some time editor of Mahatma Gandhi’s Young India.

Jaiboy Joseph, the only son of Pothan Joseph, now living in Chennai after decades of creditable work in Public Relations, once said that his father was particular about the spelling of his first name as he spelt it — POTHAN. “He didn’t like to spell it as Pothen with an ‘e’ as that’s the way a charlatan journalist with the same name spelt it” Jaiboy said.

After completing his school education at Chengannur, Pothan went to Kottayam, about 22 miles from his native place for his two-year Intermediate Course at the CMS College there. It was perhaps the oldest college in the South. (It was established in 1816.) But what is of special interest is that Pothan had got married even before he became an undergraduate in college! That was the custom in those days.

The political awareness of the family, particularly of George Joseph, needs to be noted. Annie Besant selected two Indians to go to England and talk about the Home Rule League: one was George Joseph, and the other, Syed Hussein. Of course, their journey could not be completed as the British authorities interfered and sent them back to India. George was a brilliant speaker and writer. When he wanted to take part in the famous Vaikom Satyagraha and Gandhiji did not encourage it because he thought that the low-caste versus high-caste conflict should be settled by the people belonging to the Hindu religion whereas George Joseph saw it as an issue of civil rights of the citizens of India as a whole. George Joseph was right. The issue of Punyaham at Guruvayoor following the Central Minister, Vayalar Ravi’s grandson’s ceremonial feeding there, became a major political issue in the early part of 2007.

To continue with Pothan’s story, he took his degree in Physics from the Presidency College, Madras, where he had the opportunity of cultivating friendship with some potentially great men—for example, Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan. His father wanted Pothan to become a scientist or engineer but Pothan’s interests lay elsewhere. But “where else” was not clear either to him or his wife though Anna’s father persuaded Pothan to make a career in law. Pothan took his LL.B. degree from the University of Bombay. But a few months’ practice in Trivandrum at the High Court put legal ambitions to flight as he discovered that law was not his cup of tea.

Although Pothan worked in Kandy in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) as a lecturer in the Trinity College there, he did not like teaching; he left Ceylon. But strangely enough, he returned straight to Secunderabad where he joined the Wesley High School as a teacher. Actually, his prolific reading of the English classics, Shakespeare, the Bible and top-rated essays and fiction of the 19th century had already made writing second nature to him.

While in Secunderabad, he got a chance to write a column in the Hyderabad Bulletin owned by Colonel R. H. Cameron. Pothan got his first regular journalistic job – writing a column—at the handsome rate of Rs. 3 per column! He immersed himself wholeheartedly in that job and was thrilled that writing a column gave him a satisfaction which neither teaching nor law could offer.

However, southern India was not the best area for journalism in those early days of the 20th century. Except for The Hindu, there was no southern newspaper of note in English. Bombay, Delhi and Lucknow were certainly more fertile ground for daily publications, he guessed. The Bombay Chronicle under B. G. Horniman, the famous British exponent of the Indian cause, was popular, but Joseph did not get a chance to meet him. He had to survive somehow in the big city. So he took up teaching and the wardenship of a ladies’ hostel under the supervision of none other than the “Nightingale of India” (Sarojini Naidu). Sarojini remarked jokingly to Pothan that a dark, handsome, young man of his calibre would make wardenship of a girls’ hostel a little too dangerous for all parties concerned!! Pothan and Sarojini became friends and co-workers in later life.

Then a couple of senior journalist friends introduced him to the great Horniman who found him fit enough to work as a journalist in that paper at Rs. 175 a month. This was a break for him into the world of real exciting journalism. Horniman called Pothan Joseph “Potent Joe” and Pothan called his boss, “Gov’nor”. The two got along very well. This friendship gave him many opportunities to observe the mindset of freedom fighters at close quarters, especially because those were the days when the non-cooperation movement under Gandhiji’s leadership was gaining momentum.

Pothan Joseph had plenty of opportunity to meet and move with great personalities in his life: Gandhiji and his associates, Jawaharlal Nehru, Devadas Gandhi, B.G. Horniman, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, Ramnath Goenka, Chou-Enlai, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan, C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji), Sarojini Naidu, Kasturi Srinivasan, T. Sadasivam, M. Shivaram, Khasa Subba Rao, S. Sadanand, M. Chalapati Rao, Frank Moraes, Indira Gandhi, and many others. He used to get letters from them but he would keep them for some time and then leave them casually in his desk or in his books. But he never capitalized on his friendship with any famous person whose acquaintance he cultivated either professionally or personally. He would certainly refer to them or their ideas and sayings in his column. But in a few years he became an expert narrator of events with literary allusions, minute details and unforgettable expressions.

More than any thing else, Pothan Joseph, the inimitable editor, who started or developed 26 newspapers, was in the making. In fact, Pothan Joseph was later in his life, either the founder or developer of many famous newspapers – Hindustan Times, The Mail, The Indian Express and Deccan Herald of India and Dawn of Pakistan started in Delhi by Jinnah. Pothan Joseph was connected with dozens of newspapers either as editor or as columnist, but he was most well known for his delightful and deeply thought-provoking column "OVER A CUP OF TEA" which he had actually started in the early 1920s in the Voice of India started by him in collaboration with Horniman. He was notorious for the habit of rolling from newspaper to newspaper. But there was always valid reason for his rolling. That is why, perhaps, he asked a benefactor who pointed out to him that a rolling stone never gathered moss, “What’s the use of moss to a stone?”! Seriously, Pothan would always guard editorial freedom and demanded that the proprietors and managing editors (whom he called, damaging editors) should take good care of those who worked in the editorial wing and never encroach upon their freedom. Very often, he would defend the freedom of the editor himself or other editorial staff, against the unnecessary interference by the so-called management experts. Even before unionization came, Pothan Joseph pleaded for proper payment to deserving journalists, including himself. Those were the days of payment to editors in kind, occasionally, office furniture including desks and chairs!

The writings of Edmund Burke and John Stuart Mill were known to Pothan Joseph inside out. Shakespeare, the classics and the Bible were his constant companions. He would quote profusely from all these fertile sources of wit, wisdom, common sense, world view and close observation of nature, human strengths and weaknesses.

Though many have condemned certain of his bohemian habits, there is no doubt that he was the embodiment of sincerity and honesty. His sense of humour was prolific and pure. Occasionally it bordered on sarcasm but he knew how to laugh merrily at himself and put his opponents at ease. Jinnah once called him into his chamber and told him plainly that he (Pothan) was “elevating himself spiritually” too often and too much. Jinnah got quite a startling but cleverly scintillating reply: “Mr Jinnah, your parents were thoughtful enough to put “gin” in your name. As for me, I have to fend for myself.”

But the most famous example of Pothan Joseph’s brilliance as an editor, with a flair for language and legal acumen, was the “apology” he tendered through The Bombay Chronicle. When a resolution in the Bombay Legislative Council was rejected (it was about the selection of the Municipal Commissioner), Pothan wrote: “Men who behave like dogs should be treated like dogs.” The paper was asked to apologize. If the odious comparison of municipal councillors to dogs offended the members and officials, Pothan gave a larger dose of ‘dogs’ in his apology: He reverentially referred to the Home Member of the then Viceroy’s Executive Council as the faithful watchdog of the legislature’s rights, etc. In his one-paragraph-apology, the word ‘dog’ appeared at half a dozen places! And the apology had to be accepted. How can any legal luminary or judicial executive quarrel with expressions such as watchdog of the rights of legislators?

Another interesting controversy in those days was whether Shakespeare ever lived. Was not the great dramatist a pseudonym for the Earl of Leicester or some such dignitary of Queen Elizabeth I’s court? When the controversy raged, Pothan Joseph declared in his inimitable way: Shakespeare’s works were not written by Shakespeare at all, but most probably by another person named William Shakespeare. But his greatest service to journalism was that he could spot the best journalists and get them under his fold. This is exactly what happened when he was editing Hindustan Times (1932-1936). A bunch of excellent journalists he could mould included : Shamlal, Durga Das, Chamanlal, Edathatta Narayanan and the great cartoonist, Shankar. It seems nothing in India could escape Pothan’s verbal attention and Shankar’s graphic rendering of it.

But Pothan could, at times, lose his cool as when George Abell, Viceroy Wavell’s chief adviser and political aide was overheard at a dinner party referring to him as “that black man”, he simply punched Abell and walked out of the party as well as the job of Principal Information Officer to the British Government in India.

Despite all the camaraderie he maintained in his professional work, Pothan Joseph had bouts of sadness in his personal life. He had to undergo very tragic experiences. His wife Anna’s, and eldest daughter, Gracie’s untimely deaths, his frequently unsettled life and a host of problems, the strains of which would have floored anyone else. But not Pothan Joseph. Despite his debilitating accident in Bangalore in the last decade of his life, the consequent immobility, and the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” he had suffered, Pothan Joseph could face life with great equanimity and courage.

Where eminent administrators, entrepreneurs and political leaders like K M Panikkar and Madan Mohan Malaviya failed in keeping Hindustan Times afloat, Pothan Joseph succeeded, although it was his fate that the very people who enjoyed his patronage turned against him, not only in HT, but in The Indian Express and Deccan Herald and several other newspapers that attained national glory under his stewardship. But Pothan Joseph will always be remembered as a great journalist with great scholarship, sense of humour, convictions and daring that many greedy quill-drivers and head-shaking newsreaders of today’s media world lack. Above all, he had the straightforwardness to uphold the special role of the editor in the world of communication.

In the final analysis, Pothan Joseph was indeed an intellectual giant who drank deep from the springs of whatever has nourished and is still nourishing humanity—LIFE IN ITS ENTIRETY—AND SHARED IT WITH FELLOW-BEINGS HONESTLY, EFFECTIVELY AND WITH FULL CONVICTION.

Pothan Joseph's Family Tree
Pothan Joseph: Additional Information
Barrister George Joseph





Birthdays & Anniversaries

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