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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 28, June 29, 2013

Journalists’ Journalist

Monday 1 July 2013, by S Nihal Singh

Nikhil Chakravartty’s fifteenth death anniversary on June 27 is an occasion not only to recall his contribution to journalism but also to juxtapose that contribution against the present-day media scene. Several leading
journalists and others who knew him present their opinions in the following pieces.

Evoking the memory of Nikhilda, as he was universally known, is to return to a different world of Indian journalism. It was in large part before the era of 24-hour television, internet news and social sites such as Facebook and Twitter. In a sense, media, with print as the king, was less encumbered. And the levels of tolerance of dissent were higher.

There is no point in idealising the past. There was too much of armchair comment, less of on-the-spot reporting and investigation. Yet the commentaries in major Indian newspapers and periodicals in English and in Hindi and some regional languages were deeper and better thought-out and argued than similar efforts today. There has, indeed, been much progress in investigative reporting and analyses even after weeding out sensationalist and ill-researched and biased pieces. But by the same token, distractions such as TRP ratings for TV programmes now being called into question tend to distort news and feature stories.

Perhaps Nikhilda’s unique contribution was that before the age of television anchors and presenters, he was an icon in journalism—the journalists’ journalist: clear-headed, left by inclination, but more importantly eminently rational in his opinions. He was no rabble-rouser. During the Emergency of the mid-seventies he made his dissent known in subtle ways by sending out New Year cards quoting apposite words on freedom of the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.

Perhaps the age he lived in (partly shared by me) was a gentler time in spite of bouts of blood-letting the nation was subject to. There was more time for reason and argument, a greater regard for opposing views and an ability to differ while remaining friends.

My last recollection of Nikhilda is in the closing days of 1993 as I was preparing to go to Dubai to edit the Khaleej Times. I had asked friends to a party on the lawns of the India International Centre to say good bye. Nikhilda came armed with a present, a book on the world’s famous interviews. He had not forgotten that I began my career in The Statesman, which I ended up editing, as a staff reporter with an assignment six days of the week to interview a visiting person of interest or note under the rubric of “Yesterday in Delhi”.

The author edited The Statesman and Indian Express besides being the founding editor of The Indian Post and the editor of the Khaleej Times in Dubai. He has authored several books and was the recipient of the International Editor of the year award in New York in 1978 for his role as the editor of The Statesman during the Emergency.

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