FACT FILE

He writes for the auntie in Ang Mo Kio

In the early 1980s, Ravi Velloor was a rookie reporter with the wire agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) in New Delhi and he was so caught up in his work that he would sometimes miss the last bus home.

He recalls: "I was doing 19-hour days and when I walked out of the AFP office, the last bus would have left. So I just slept at the bus stop outside All India Radio, woke up in the morning, brushed my teeth and went back to work."

At that time, he was also stringing for London's Daily Express news- paper and working part-time at Time magazine's sister publication, Asiaweek. He wanted the experience - and he needed the money.

Then, in mid-1984, Asiaweek hired him full-time. His bosses raised his salary three times within six months and, on his third raise, he earned six times more than he had at AFP. From then, he was paid like an expatriate.

"I gave my mum some of it and blew the rest. I lived well," he says.

Asiaweek rewarded him richly because, within six months of joining it, he had covered five seismic moments in world history: the storming of the Golden Temple at Amritsar; then Indian premier Indira Gandhi's attempt to topple Andhra Pradesh's rulers; her assassination on Oct 31, 1984; the anti-Sikh riots right after that, which left thousands dead; and on Dec 2 that year, the Bhopal gas leak, which is still the world's worst industrial disaster.

Velloor's shoes were sticky from the puddles of congealed blood from rioters' corpses. He saw a Bhopal station master, dead in his chair from having inhaled the toxic gas. He himself had conjunctivitis from the fumes, but still filed 10,000 words for Asiaweek within three days.

More recently, during the terrorist attacks on Mumbai in November 2008, he walked out of the morgue where bodies of the victims lay, "suffused in formaldehyde".

He recalls: "The first thing I did after returning from reporting that day was to stand under the shower, in my clothes, for an hour. Then I took off my clothes and stood in the shower for another half an hour."

The eldest son of an economist and a mother from feudal aristocracy in Kerala, he went to school in Bangalore and grew up "with P.G. Wodehouse jokes swirling about me". He says writing is in his blood, as his granduncle V. B. Menon edited the Deccan Herald newspaper while another granduncle wrote for the Free Press Journal.

Today, he says, his son Dhruv and daughter Shriya "write better than me".

His yen to learn more about the Asian economic miracle, among other things, led him to give up Asiaweek for The Straits Times (ST) in late 1992.

In 2002, he joined Bloomberg to steer its Singapore coverage.

ST wooed him back in 2004 and made him its South Asia bureau chief, its foreign editor and now its associate editor for global affairs.

Now a Singaporean, India Rising is Velloor's first book, which he wrote at the prompting of ST editor Warren Fernandez. But at his book launch on April 21, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said he should write a sequel to India Rising, titled India Flying.

But Velloor thinks India will take some time yet to take off and so he wants to work on two other books: the first will be a novel, while the second will be a memoir with the working title Tales Of A Life Misspent, in which he will recall his encounters with, among others, the Dalai Lama.

What keeps him going? He says: "My primary loyalty is to the auntie in Ang Mo Kio... I love it when the Prime Minister likes something I've done. I love it when my editor has a good word for me. But the reader is most important to me."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 01, 2016, with the headline 'He writes for the auntie in Ang Mo Kio'. Print Edition | Subscribe