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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 28, New Delhi June 30, 2018

What A Strong - willed, Honest Man!

Saturday 30 June 2018, by Humra Quraishi

I had first met Nikhil Chakravartty in the Spring of 1987. That was the time I was working as a Features Editor with a magazine and was assigned to do a feature on him. Of course, I had heard him at the various meets but had never had the privilege of conversing with him, although each time I would hear him speak at those forums I would be more than tempted to go up to him and tell him how I admired his forthrightness and the bravado with which he’d speak. There was that strong sense of conviction and earnestness with which he’d uttered each single sentence. Also, no matter how very fierce the opposition to his views and viewpoints, he didn’t look hassled or angry. On the contrary, a wry smile would spread on his well-featured face and he would then just quietly observe the reactions spreading around. Not one to be provoked or left rattled, that gentle calm look unchanging on his face and in his eyes. Not one to change his views nor his comments, he would behave like a gentleman. Unrelenting and determined not to dilute his stand, he would adhere to his views, unbothered and unafraid of the consequences.

And it’s with the same earnest passion with which he wrote. His essays on the then Kashmir situation were not just analytical but complete with ground realities and that ongoing focus on the human rights violations affecting the Kashmiris. And much in keeping with his principles he would make it a point to travel down to the exact locale before writing on the ground situation. As he’d told me in detail, “For my profession travelling is a must. I want to see and study the situations ... I prefer to travel alone and many times I travel by bus.”

And he was farsighted where Kashmir is concerned and this was because he was not writing from the air conditioned confines of a New Delhi office but travelling to the Valley to interact with the inhabitants and hear them out. Why just the Valley, he had travelled right up to Iran, Poland, Afghanistan with the same rationale—that is, a journalist ought to report only and only after seeing and studying the ground realities,

He had solemnly adhered to this practice, not letting health-related issues come in way. When I had interacted with him in 1987, he had already gone through a couple of setbacks on the health front but he made sure that he kept going in that determined way. To quote him,”I had a heart attack in 1971 and then there were stones in the kidney and all that slowed me down a little but I’m still going strong and keep traveling... till date I do a lot of work, for I believe that if an old car is kept in the garage for too long it just stops working! Also, don’t overlook the fact that my profession is such that one gets addicted to meeting people and probing around!” I still recall he had also talked with immense confidence of his being the way he was, “I’m a tension-free sort of person... also, temperamentally I’m very self-contained and I’m proud about this. If I’m sick I don’t like people coming over to see me. Also, I hate being dependant on anyone, be it my wife or my son...Nor am I worried or wary of death or dying. Why? Because till date I have cremated about 40 persons. What’s there to be worried or scared about death but, yes, I would hate to be dying in that lingering sort of way.”

Even in his lifetime he was one of those journalists who dared to write the truth; he spoke and wrote fearlessly against the political establishment and the mess around. He believed in delving into the causes, detailing all possible aspects. In fact, his features and essays on the situation in the Kashmir Valley should be preserved and compiled into a book, for they hold out some very hard-hitting realities of that traumatic phase that could be termed the turning-point in the recent history of the Kashmir Valley.

Another significant aspect about Nikhil Chakravartty that left me impressed was the simplicity with which he lived. In 1987 when I had first visited his home he was Chairman of NAMEDIA, editor of Mainstream, and his columns in the Sunday Observer were said to be ‘the pulse of the country’s political scenario’, yet his home in New Delhi’s Kaka Nagar—a DII type flat in a typical government colony—was equipped with just the bare basics. Yet it stood out because the outer gate to his home was painted in Post Office red and the drawing room carried a huge rocking chair, a couple of rugs and mats, and rows of books.

And it’s there that he had sat, talking in that spontaneous and friendly way. Commenting on a vast range of topics : On modern day Indian society, he had this to say— “It’s said that modern India society has less taboos and individual freedom is encouraged, but do let me add that with all our modern living a great amount of insensitivity has crept in. Norms have been shattered. There is no concept of Indian-ness left. Today only the RSS and Arun Shourie’s views are thriving in this so-called Modern India .... We have not developed culturally and that’s the root cause of our decay.”

He was equally blunt and didn’t mince words on the levels of hypocrisy in our society— “The Indian male has a hypocritical attitude towards women. It’s very much there. Also, the balance is missing in relationships; our society is one of extremes. Either we are totally withdrawn or head over heels in love ...It is a complex situation. And its deep rooted because of our social background, which is a mix of feudalism and modernisation. But someday we will definitely be able to get out this. Take the example of China where women were very oppressed but Mao’s revolution changed the whole nation.”

Though Nikhil Chakravartty didn’t talk of a revolution taking off in our country but he was very saddened by the Right-wing fascist forces paving way into our lives, destroying our age-old traditions. And he was more than concerned about the human destruction taking place in the Kashmir Valley. Apprehensive he was of the severe fall-out and of the dangerous offshoots.

If alive today he would have been shattered seeing the condition of the Kashmir Valley and of the hapless Kashmiris trying to survive in a state of siege, with boots controlling lives.

The author is senior journalist and columnist.

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