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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII No 27, June 26, 2010

A Saint Editor

Sunday 27 June 2010, by Prabhash Joshi

Nikhilda had turned eightyfour. Some people live for hundred years and stay perfectly agile, alert and healthy. Though he had an ageing physique, Nikhilda was not a person who would live by obeying the regulations of keeping fit.

Four years ago, he took a taxi and went out in the hills. Alone. He was to meet me at the institutes in Mussoorie/Nainital. He reached there on time, attended the workshops, but again went out in the hills. I returned to Delhi and then left for Calcutta where I went to meet Renudi. Jansatta wanted to organise a function to mark Nikhilda’s fifty years in journalism in the city from where he began as a reporter.

Renudi was to be persuaded for an interview. She agreed. She came out to see me off and as I was getting inside the car, she asked: “Where is your Dada?” I told her that he was roaming around in the hills—alone. She chidingly remarked: “Why don’t you people tell him that he has crossed several years? He has grown old. He should stop loitering around uselessly.” After returning to Delhi, I told Nikhilda what Renudi was saying. Giving a shy smile, he said: “She talks like that.”

People of his age live with their wives/families so that their care can be taken. Dada had gout and he did not have a very robust heart as well. Still Renudi stayed in Calcutta and did her work while Dada lived in Delhi. His son Sumit lives in Delhi with his wife and son. But Dada did not stay with them. It was not that Dada had any misunderstanding with his son or daughter-in-law. They would frequent his Kakanagar flat and Dada also used to visit his son’s place quite often. After all, Dada had made Sumit quit his job and handed over Mainstream to him. Yet, despite the misinformation campaign in the media circles as to why did Dada stay in a government flat even when he had his own house in Gulmohar Park, Dada did not live with Sumit. He used to say that he had sold off that house to take care of the financial difficulties faced by Mainstream, and Sumit had bought one floor of the house.

When he came to know that he had a tumour in his brain which could be malignant, Dada went to live with Sumit. Until then, he lived in Kakanagar. Alone. But he never accepted that he was alone. Three boys and four dogs lived with him. Any guest would get a warm welcome. Staying in Kakanagar, Dada never believed that he was dependent on anyone or missed being looked after by his family or felt lonely in his old age. When it came to performing worldly duties, Dada would behave like an elder.

He never gave up travelling due to minor health problems. Only when left with no option would he cancel a programme or meeting. He was not careless about his health but, unlike most others, he never wanted to lead a resigned life depending wholly on his family. Such a life was unacceptable to him. He accepted the chairmanship of Prasar Bharati Board at the age of eightyfour. And everyone knows he was not a ‘ceremonial’ Chairman. He also used to write three to four articles every week. Dada would say that he needed fifteen thousand rupees per month to run his house. “If I don’t write how would I do that?” Dada would borrow money for Mainstream and pay back in instalments. By nature he was a worker whose last hope was on the fruits of his labour. He never liked comforts, care and goods of life. Naturally, he loved standing alone, on his own feet, in his own esteem, with all his humility.

Such a person developed a tumour in his brain. Death always chooses a unique way of taking away every person. It chose this excuse for Nikhilda. During an operation to remove the tumour, a knot developed in the nerve of his brain. Even that was operated upon. During these surgeries, he slipped into coma. Good for him that even while being medically alive, Dada never felt the pain and he passed away as soon as he regained consciousness. Dada lived a complete life. He lived a fulfilling life. His going was like a release from the chains of maya. By his going, many people have been orphaned—like one becomes on the death of his father or grandfather. And, Indian journalism has lost Nikhilda’s fatherly presence.

One day this had to happen. Remarkably, even when Renudi was no longer an MP (though Calcutta remained her constituency), Dada let her go there. This despite the fact that he had come to Delhi with Renudi after she was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1952. Dada stayed in Delhi while Renudi went back to Calcutta. She was so engrossed in her work that she could not attend the function marking Dada’s fifty years in journalism. That day, she was scheduled to address a meeting in Malda. Renudi passed away in Calcutta after a year or so. She was the niece of the Bengal stalwart and Chief Minister, B.C. Roy. She was a Leftist, and Bengal has a Left Front Government for over two decades now. Yet she lived as alone in Calcutta as Dada did in Delhi. This was not due to any discord in their married life—which was happy and satisfying. Even while studying in Oxford when they met and got married, both the Leftists were busy performing their respective duties.

They never had any problems with Sumit or Tanya. Dada always had love and a soft spot for Sumit. Though Sumit also came to journalism, Dada never tried to promote him. Someome once told me that the Leftist Nikhil Chakravartty could get hold of only his son to run his paper. But if you know the financial state of Mainstream, you will realise that Dada has put his son into paying his debts. And Dada was no Yashpal Kapoor who would use his political connections to erect a sound base for Mainstream. He used to take out a journal of opinions and felt that taking favours in the guise of advertisements amounted to corruption. Sumit too never used his father’s political connections and gladly accepted the responsibility of running Mainstream. But Nikhilda did not stay with such a son.

Dada had as much respect for his own independence as for that of others—even when it came to his wife or son. Such a pursuit is expected of sages and saints, but Dada led a wordly life. Yet, he never used his political connections for meeting his requirements or those of his family. And he did all this without ever boasting of his principles and sacrifies. Nikhilda did that naturally, unlike most others. Everyone knows the attitude of most people with journalistic/political connection—at least during the past fifty years.

Dada was born in a renowned Brahmo family. His father was a Professor of English in Calcutta. Dada, too, was a brilliant student and did his BA with Honours in History in the First Class from Presidency College. Then he went to Oxford where he became a Leftist, married B.C. Roy’s niece, and developed close friendship with P.N. Haksar, Jyoti Basu, Indrajit Gupta, Bhupesh Gupta and Mohan Kumaramangalam. On returning to India, he started teaching in a Calcutta college. Then he left everything and became a reporter for the CPI’s mouthpiece, People’s War. During this period, Dada reported on the infamous Bengal famine. He even became a CPI card-holder. But when the realities of Stalin’s excesses and the Russian occupation of Hungary began to unfold, Dada not only quit the CPI but started Mainstream to air his views. Soon, the journal became so critical of the CPI that the party had to publish a clarification in its mouthpiece that it had nothing to do with Mainstream!

Many others who had become disillusioned with the CPI joined the Congress. After the division of the Congress, the CPI not only became supportive of Indira Gandhi but even helped the Congress run its minority government. But unlike his friends, Nikhilda did not change sides. After leaving the CPI, he never became the member of any party. A person as fiercely independent as Nikhilda could not have belonged to any political party. This was so because a freedom-loving intellectual like him could never have liked the kind of falsehood and unprincipled alliances in which parties and their leaders indulge for grabbing power. It was not possible for Dada to accept the entire range of compromises made by the Communists. Yet, in his heart and thinking Dada remained a Marxist—of whichever hue. He had begun to believe in Gandhi as well.

From the times of Nehru till the Gujral regime was in office, the Leftists and Dada’s friends had a strong influence in the running of the government and in public sphere. Yet, Dada did not accept any office of power or profit. In 1990, he returned the Padma Bhushan, saying that it was imperative for journalistic objectivity and commitment that one should never be identifed with the establishment or even appear to be so.

The then President was also Dada’s friend and the government of the day was being propped up by the Leftists. Yet, Dada refused his own people. Such a nature is essential for living upto one’s beliefs, commitments and values, and for staving off greed and fear. Unless you keep journalism and its practice above political power, money and popular pride and do your work keeping this principle in mind, you cannot develop the fearlessness, commitment and independence of Nikhilda.

Nikhil Chakravartty lived the kind of life that a journalist faithful to his vocation should lead. He was a saint who believed in Marx. He lived life a lion surrounded by rats craving for crumbs. To mourn his going is to insult him; to live like him is to keep him alive.

(Courtesy: Jansatta)

(translated from Hindi by Ashish Sinha)