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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 46

Nikhilda’s Eternal Silence

Tuesday 4 November 2008, by Madhu Dandavate

Nikhil Chakravartty, affectionately called by his friends and colleagues as Nikhilda, died on June 27, 1998. He was a veteran journalist, a historian, a scholar, an intellectual with integrity and conviction, a Leftist shorn of dogmatism and, above all, a warm human being with a spirit of understanding and tolerance that helped him evolve a consensus on several controversial issues.

Nikhilda believed that nothing in the world was the last word in history, which was ever evolving and continually in flux. With this conviction, as an objective student, his was an unending quest for the truth about history and its interpretation.

Nikhilda wanted his ideas not to stagnate in the distant past but move with the mainstream of life with a forward thrust. This gave a refreshing dimension of dynamism to his thought process, liberated from the shackles of dogmatism. He was a Left activist, who occupied for a long time the trenches of underground life. But even then he did not allow his free mind to be buried underground.

Nikhilda’s life was multi-layered with varied interest. Besides his aptitude for political science, economics, sociology and literature, he had a deep fascination for Rabindranath Tagore’s songs and poems, his art and music. It was therefore in the fitness of things that the gathering of Nikhilda’s admirers at Delhi on July 5 did not take the form of a ritualist condolence meeting with speeches of eminent persons in public life.

Even the President of India with his dignified presence on the occasion, remained a silent participant of the gathering listening to the solemn tunes of Rabindranath Tagore’s muic and poetry which Nikhilda had loved and appreciated during his life-time.

NIKHILDA passed away at a time when there was a crisis of values in our society. In the present commercialised society, dominated by consumerist culture, there are many who know the price of everything but the value of nothing, not even the value of the values, of life. In such a polluting atmosphere, in the worst of circumstances, Nikhilda was not among those intellectuals, who saved their skins but sold their souls. The values of liberty and democracy, right to information, freedom of the press and autonomy of the electronic media, to which Nikhilda had an irrevocable commitment, were put to test during the Emergency of 1975. In this trying period, unaffected by the views and actions of some of his erstwhile colleagues, Nikhilda stood like a rock and the journal Mainstream which he founded was not allowed to be the mouthpiece of the establishment that suppressed people’s liberties and independence of judiciary and ravaged our democratic Constitution.

With his sharp memory, Nikhilda had at his fingertips valued information about several political events in India and abroad and interesting anecdotes about towering personalities in public life.

While Nikhilda had erudite scholarship and revolutionary fervour, he had the spirit of compassion for those who suffered. During the great famine of Bengal in the Second World War, Nikhilda moved from village to village to unravel the gruesome story of the victims of famine, which the British rulers were seeking to suppress.

While Nikhilda’s head was full of refreshing thoughts and ideas, his warm heart ever throbbed with sympathy for the socially and economically exploited sections of society. To deny the joy of life to them, was the greatest act of cruelty, he believed. Thus his perception of socialism had an aesthetic touch.

Nikhilda’s last wish was that there should not be expression of sorrow on his death through any ritual of a condolence meeting.

One feels that his wish was symbolised by the poetic words of the Czech martyr, Julius Fuchik, written in Hitler’s concentration camp. Before his execution, Julius Fuchick wrote:

I love life and
- for its beauty I went
- out to fight.
- I lived for joy.
- I am dying for joy.
- And it would be an
- injustice to place
- upon my grave an
- angel of sorrow.

These ringing words echo the eternal silence of Nikhilda.

(Mainstream, July 25, 1998)