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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 46

Salutations to a Dear Comrade

Tuesday 4 November 2008, by V R Krishna Iyer

[(TRIBUTE)]

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form, in moving, how express and admirable!
Dear Nikhil is dead. Is he? It is blaspheme to say he is dead. He dwells in the hearts of millions within Bharat and all over the globe. ‘Death, be not proud…for those whom thou think’st thou does overthrow, Die not, poor death, nor yet can’st thou kill them.’

I am in uncontrollable grief because I cannot accept Nikhil is no more. He has been everywhere, travelling, story-telling, writing, talking, conversing and critiquing without fear or favour, affection or ill-will. He was the rarest of rare among men I have come across; so affectionate, so profound, so eclectic, so universal, and so fundamentally socialist. I have read him with delight and wonder on a variety of subjects, in a miscellany of dailies and weeklies and other journals. I have found him wander to many countries, ignoring age and fuelled by the hunger to find out facts for himself which bear upon human destiny. Just a couple of weeks before his end I was in Delhi and telephoned him, since months had lapsed after I had met him last. I called him because I was told he was ill. He was. But he insisted that he would like to come over to Kerala House and meet me. I had no time to spare and so promised to look him up next time. That next time never became available. Because he was torn away from the terrestrial plane by Thanatos. I cannot forgive myself for my failure to meet him when he offered to come to Kerala House. Life is a string of blunders and unexpected omissions and commissions.

What a great soul he was, although he might not have believed in a soul. What a crimson human he was, although card-holding red bigots might have disowned him. What a brilliant journalist he was whose pen was pellucid, versatile and veracious, whatever the consequences be.

He was affectionate to a fault and came to Thiruvananthapuram all the way from Delhi to inaugurate the election campaign where I, knowingly disastrously, ran for President, at the instance of a bunch of parties, merely to establish that in a democracy Opposition in elections is a purposeful operation to be fought without acrimony but on principle alone. We worked together in the ‘Independent Initiative’ during the thrilling days of the eighties. We were friends for half-a-century, intimate as brothers and often on the same wavelength of thought. His integrity was beyond purchase and his leadership was beyond peer. How many among the millions of middle-class tuft-hunters and even the few noble humans of great distinction would have politely declined the offer of Padma Bhushan as Nikhilda did, since that intrepid, individualist humanist of non-negotiable integrity never permitted himself to be obligated to friends or foes or high authority. His wisdom was at the disposal of the nation; his concern and commitment for the humble Indian humanity was profoundly patriotic and of planetary ambience. Of him it might well be said that untruth was his great enemy, that communalism was his bete noire. Karl Marx once told his daughters what aptly applies to Nikhil Chakravartty, and so I quote:

What is your favourite virtue?
- Simplicity.
- Your outstanding characteristic?—
- Singleness of purpose,
- Your idea of happiness?—To struggle
- The vice you detest most?—Servility.
- Your favourite maxim?—I am a man and nothing pertaining to man is alien -to me.
- Your favourite motto?—One must doubt everything.

I am sad beyond words that Nikhil and I may not meet in Delhi again, but I do not believe this spiritual human has ended his tenure. Life is perennial and death is a punctuation mark. ‘I sing the progress of a death-less soul.’ Every cradle asks us whence; every coffin whither? Salutations to you, dear comrade! We have shared thoughts and will continue to share them.

(Mainstream, July 18, 1998)