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Mainstream, VOL LII No 1, December 28, 2013 - ANNUAL 2013

I owe my Journalism to Nikhilda

Sunday 29 December 2013

by Dadan Upadhyay

This is true. Had I not met Nikhilda, I would have never come to the profession of journalism. As my “guru”, he initiated me to journalism.

My memory flashes back to the early 1960s when I was still a student and had come to Delhi for admission into the University. When I arrived in Delhi, my father was out of the city for some days and had left a note for me to contact Nikhilda who at that time was living in an MP flat, allotted to Renudi, in North Avenue. I went to meet him at the flat not far from one of the staff quarters where my father was living. Let me say that Nikhilda’s father-like assuring treatment instantly took away all the “petty worries” of a young man who had for the first time come to the political Capital of India from a remote village in Uttar Pradesh. It was also for the first time that I met Sumit babu, who later became one of my closest friends. However, soon afterwards due to some unavoidable reasons, I left Delhi for Allahabad and got admitted into the University there.

But my association with Nikhilda continued. I used to visit Delhi during my University holidays which allowed me to frequently meet him. From my boyhood in a village, I had heard a lot of stories about him from my father relating to his crucial role when the CPI leaders were operating underground in Kolkata. These stories injected in me an intense interest to personally see him, meet him and talk to him about those days. It was quite gratifying for me that I was indeed able to speak to the same charismatic personality and towering journalist whom I had dreamt of meeting some day.

Nikhilda always used to tell me what books I should read and what good films I should go to see which were running at the time in cinema halls, at nearby Connaught Place. Sometimes, if he was going to the Party office at Asaf Ali Road, he would ask me to accompany him and introduced me to the top CPI leaders, including CPI General Secretary C. Rajeswara Rao.

After completing my study at Allahabad University, I went to Kolkata to work in a company. But I took no interest in the job I was doing. It was the heyday of the Left movement in Kolkata, with the emergence of the Naxalbari movement in West Bengal. People were staging street demonstrations in Kolkata on a daily basis. The Left movement had further radicalised me. I told about all this to Nikhilda during one of his visits to Kolkata, where I was living at a place very near to the house he used to stay in. I also told him that I was interested in journalism and sought his help in this regard. He listened to me very patiently, seemingly very thought-fully, and asked me to come to Delhi, if possible, the following week, assuring me to do whatever was necessary.

That was how my journey from Kolkata to Delhi, in early 1968, became a “journey to journalism” which I have, with a dedicated commitment, continued till today. Indeed, it is my humble tribute to Nikihlda who always called himself a “reporter”, armed with a “tiny” note-book in his pocket and a pen.

I always call Nikhilda my “guru” who taught me journalism starting from the ABC of reporting. In those days, he used to daily sit for sometime in the office of the India Press Agency (IPA) and it was there the I started my training as a reporter, personally under his guidance. He used to give me assignments for stories which he edited ruthlessly to my great disappointment. In order not to discourage me, he used to tell me : “This is not to dishearten you. You do not know, how PC (CPI General Secretary P.C. Joshi) used to edit our copies, I mean we reporters who returned after completing their education at Oxford and Cambridge.”

He was also very critical of those who trivialised journalism. “Journalism is literature in a hurry,” he would tell me.

Besides Nikhilda, the other senior colleagues at the IPA, who helped me in shaping my career in the beginning, were late Om Prakash Sabher-wal, popularly known as “OP”, and J. Sri Raman (JSR), a very competent, self-effacing and soft-speaking journalist, who too is no more with us.

After my basic training as a reporter at IPA for about three years, when I was just feeling a little bit “comfortable” with reporting work, one fine morning Nikhilda told me: “Senior people say you have a very good command over Hindi. So why don’t you come and take over the editorship of Muktadhara weekly (Hindi version of Mainstream weekly)?” I could not say ‘no’ to his invitation and the next day I came to Bhagat Singh Market to share a “barsati” as the editorial office at the top of a two-storeyed flat divided into two cabins, one for Nikhilda and the other one for me. I was very happy to sit near him in the cabin where he held weekly meetings with a host of senior journalists, including K.K. Mishra and Narendra Sharma, who regularly contributed to Muktadhara. My experience of working with them was very enriching.

Nikhilda took great interest in training and encouraging youngsters as journalists. He used to find some time on every Sunday out of his busy schedule for a group of youngsters to teach them the art of reporting and preparing them for the profession of a journalist, to use his or her pen as a weapon with the dedication to serve the common people. I was also lucky in the sense that he quite often used to share with me a variety of chocolates, and also “kulcha-chhole” especially on every Tuesday when he would sit at a stretch for hours in his cabin to write the Mainstream editorial and “New Delhi Skyline” under his initials N.C.

On the other hand, he had an unflinching aversion to government favours and state awards. Perhaps many people don’t know that Nikhilda had declined to be a Rajya Sabha MP, when former President V.V. Giri wrote to him of nominating him for the Upper House membership.

In this connection, I also remember that when the government awarded him Padma Bhushan to honour him on the occasion of the Republic Day in 1990, he was on a visit to Moscow. When I approached him to congratulate him at an Indian embassy reception at the then Delhi Restaurant (one of the first Indo-Soviet joint ventures), he told me: “I am going to write a letter to decline it. Independent journalists should not accept any government awards. It affects your work as a journalist.” “They should have beforehand consulted me about conferring the award on me,” he added.

The author, who has been residing in the Russian capital since the 1970s, is a Moscow-based senior journalist.

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