Chronicler of Bahrain
There could hardly be anyone more competent to chronicle the recent history of Bahrain than Soman Baby, who has watched the kingdom evolve into its modern status. With his ringside view of the development of Bahrain as a journalist for over three decades, Soman is acknowledged for his social commitment as much as for breaking news
if modern Bahrain were to have its story I chronicled, there would be hardly anyone more competent to do that than a man from Karthikapally in Kerala's Alappuzha district Soman Baby, a consummate newsman who has been a ringside observer of how life has shifted over the sands of time in Bahrain over more than three decades.
Soman's arrival in Manama, Bahrain, could not have been better timed: armed with an MA in English language and literature from St Thomas College, Thrissur, Kerala, and five years of experience with one of India's better-known media mastheads, the Malayala Manorama group, Soman moved to Bahrain in April 1978, joining Gulf Daily News (GDN), the country's first English language daily which was launched just a month before.
Start of a Long Innings
That was the beginning of an association that would span over three decades, during which time Soman moved from the level of a sub-editor, to that of a reporter and moving up the hierarchy to the level of Associate Editor.
After ending that long innings with GDN in June 2009, Soman joined Bahrain Telegraph, an international magazine, as its Editor-in-Chief.
He is currently the Managing Editor of Daily Tribune, an English daily in Bahrain which was earlier called Bahrain Tribune. This initiative is by Malayali business tycoon Dr Ravi Pillai, Radio Voice Chairman P Unnikrishnan and Soman Baby. They took over the broad sheetBahrain Tribune and converted it into the tabloid Daily Tribune, which was launched on September 12 , 2010.
Soman is also a Director of Royal Bahrain Hospital and The New Indian School. He is also a Director of Radio Voice and a Director of the Kerala-based Power Vision TV channel. He is also a founding member and a board member of the Bahrain- India Society.
During his long stint in the Bahraini media scene, many of Soman's interventions have been popular in Bahraini social circles: fifteen years ago, his articles on the problems faced by expatriate workers, particularly Indians, prompted the then government to consult him on this crucial matter.
After a special decree by His Majesty the King in 2007, on the establishment of LMRA (Labour Market Regulatory Authortiy), Soman was asked by the government to prepare a white paper on the impact of labour market reforms on Indian workers. His paper was accepted and its suggestions and recommendations are being implemented.
Scribe with Social Commitment
Over the years, Soman has come to be recognised and respected as the face of the Indian community in Bahrain, time and again lending his shoulder to support causes dear to the Indian community.
His close interactions with H H the late Amir Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa and his continuing good offices with His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, His Royal Highness Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, and the Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa are a matter of pride for the Indian community.
Soman's deep involvement with the expatriate community is reflected in the fact that he is the Global Chairman of World Malayalee Council, an organisation networking Malayali around the world. He was elected to this position at the global conference held in Singapore in August 2008 and was re-elected as the WMC Global Chairman for a second two-year term in Doha in August this year. His social commitment has also been acknowledged with several awards, including the 2009 Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, the highest award instituted by the government of India for overseas Indians.
During his long and creditable career at GDN, Soman has had the opportunity to cover several international conferences and Gulf Cooperation Council Summits (Meetings of the Heads of States of Bahrain Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman), besides covering the visits of international leaders to Bahrain, and important news beats like corporate activity and banking conferences.
Soman says his first and most memorable interview was with the late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at her office in South Block in 1981. “This was during my visit to Delhi as part of the official delegation accompanying the then ruler of Bahrain, the late Amir H H Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, who made his first state visit to India in April that year. This was a turning point in my journalistic career, and gave me an opportunity to have a close interaction with Bahrain's ruler, an association which I maintained until his death in March 1999,” reminisces Soman
Other leaders he has interviewed include South Africa's Nelson Mandela, former Indian President Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohammed, former UN Secretaries General Kofi Annan and Javier Perez de Cuellar, present UN Secretary General Baan Ki Moon, former Indian Opposition Leader L K Advani, former Indian Prime Minister the late P V Narasimha Rao, Prince Edward of Britain, Nobel Prize winner Professor Mohammed Yunus of Bangladesh and a number of GCC leaders and many international leaders visiting Bahrain.
“This was a turning point in my journalistic career, and gave me an opportunity to have a close interaction with Bahrain's ruler”
Dear Dad and Husband
His wife, Sherley, worked for Bahrain's oil industry for more than 20 years, and is presently a housewife. The couple has two daughters, Nisha and Susha. After a master’s in communication from the US, Nisha works as a communication executive with Gulf Air, Bahrain, and her husband, Abraham Mathew, is an IT consultant with Al Hilal Group in Bahrain. Susha, who has a master’s in broadcasting from London, was formerly with CNN IBN, Delhi and is currently a desk editor with Bahrain Television.
Of all his varied experiences, Soman keeps two of them close to his heart. The first was when His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa called him and daughter Nisha to his palace in Bahrain to congratulate her for carrying the Bahrain flag at the Parade of Nations at her university in Chicago. On that occasion, His Majesty encouraged him to write a book, which led to Soman's work, 'Shukran Bahrain'.
The second occasion was when Soman, as the CCIA chairman in 1997 led a campaign through GDN and other newspapers for two little girls from Kerala, Sajitha and Sanitha, who became orphans in Bahrain when their parents and only brother died in a fire. The effort raised Rs 3.50 million, and the children now live happily with their grandparents in Kerala.
As and when Soman, the second son of the late S Baby, a businessman, and his wife, the late Achamma Baby, sits down to chronicle his own life, there would be plenty more stories that pull at your heart strings.