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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 27, June 25, 2011

Why I was Drawn To Him

Tuesday 28 June 2011, by Muchkund Dubey

I am among numerous others who felt being very close to Nikhilda. He had that remarkable quality, to quote Rabindranath Tagore, “of bringing those who are distant closer to him and making others his brother” ¼nwjds djsN vkiu cUèkq] ijds djsN HkkbZ½-I was drawn towards him because of the unbounded personal affection I received from him and because he embodied the qualities I have cherished most in my life. What drew me towards him was his simplicity; his refusal to be impressed by the vulgar display of affluence; his unimpeachable personal integrity; his total immunity to temptations of office, position or status; his spirit of self-sacrifice; his Leftist ideology in its deeper philosophical, social and humanitarian dimensions; and the catholicity, openness and vast range of his mind. He also showed a paternal indulgence for my limited knowledge of, but unlimited enthusiasm for, Bengali poetry.

He did not exactly belong to my generation but our two generations had a lot in common. I admired and envied him for his extraordinarily close proximity to India’s nationalist movement. I was touched only peripherally by this movement, but its ethos very much shaped my personality. Nikhilda, of course, was the very embodiment of that ethos.

Nikhilda exuded disarming innocence, though he was not innocent of the ways of our wayward world. He never compromised on basic principles, and yet he could be starkly pragmatic in his approach. He was impressed by new methods and encouraged new modes of thinking, but he was never carried away. He was committed to and worked for the furtherance of many worthy causes, but he always maintained a healthy sense of cynicism.

He was a passionate advocate of and an ardent compaigner for human rights, freedom of the press and democratic values. He worked for bringing together the peoples of South Asia. He often took up the cause of the developing countries and the non-aligned world—his work for Namedia will ever be remembered. And he was intensely interested in the nature of the world order. Yet, he displayed a remarkable sense of detachment, balance and perspective. Unlike several Left-wing intellectuals and many of his co-campaigners, he never went overboard, never subscribed to ideas which were patently outlandish, nor allowed himself to be made a pawn in others’ game-plans.

NIKHILDA has rightly been hailed as the Dean of the Fourth Estate. As a journalist, he was extraordinarily agile—in his rounds in Delhi and as an indefatigable traveller to every nook and corner of India. I used to see him quite regularly when as Foreign Secretary I was in the vortex of diplomatic activities. His visits were never like the pesterings of an unwanted journalist, but as a grace bestowed upon me by my most precious guest. Every time he was due to come to our house, it was an event in our life. Both myself and my wife used to wait for him most eagerly. During the moments we used to spend together I was always able to get a lot more from him than I was able to give.

People used to talk to him in an uninhibited fashion because they knew that the information and insights he used to gather through his conversations were never a direct input to any of his articles. They used to enter into some recess of his mind and remain stored there. What he used to produce always reflected his own reactions to events, his own insights into the interplay of economic and political forces in the country, his moral, and social conscience, his humanism and his global vision.

Nikhilda was a tower of strength for me not because I had often to seek his help, but just because of the feeling that I could turn to him whenever I wanted to do so. My requests to meet him were never parried or ignored, let alone rejected.
With his departure I have lost an affectionate and adorable friend and a genuine well-wisher. His departure has left a great void in my life. But I shall always remember him—through the copies of the Mainstream, through my meetings and conversations with Sumit, and through my frequent surmises as to how he would have looked at the endless series of political plays that will continue to be enacted at the national and international stage.

(Mainstream, July 25, 1998)

The author, a former Foreign Secretary, is presently the Director, Centre for Social Development, New Delhi.