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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 28

Requiem for an Old Comrade

Monday 30 June 2008, by Som Benegal


An old ditty of World War I went: “Old soldiers never die, they only fade away.” Nikhil Chakravartty who was an old soldier, and comrade who left us ten years ago never died but, more importantly, has never faded away.

Nikhilda was a soldier but not of the military kind—he was a soldier, a dedicated soldier, in the unrelenting struggle for the emancipation of the poor, the depressed and the deprived of his country and, indeed, the world. He was a comrade who brooked no discriminatory divisions in society, considering all men and women as equal, who firmly believed that humanity is not cloistered nor confined by borders or national boundaries. But in his quest he was not dogmatic but liberal, open-minded and supremely tolerant, taking a humanistic, humane view of the creatures of our planet.

Nikhilda was, of course, in the entire span of his adult life, inspired by what, for some reason, is called the Left, but more fundamentally by Marx and his following—called Communists. But typically of his nature he was open to reason, to distinguish between right and wrong, and take a broad, accommodating approach which on many an occasion brought him hostility and derision from his Communist colleagues who, with some false notions of Marxism and socialism, could not alter from their rigidity or accept his wide-ranging view. It might be said that Nikhilda could rise above the horizon and take a 360 degree view of the prospect and reach a deeper understanding of reality and romance. But this could not impress many of his colleagues who pursued their fantasies despite some mind-blowing exposures which brought about catharsis for many comrades. I refer in particular to Khrushchev’s revelations at the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party or the radical changes in the adoration of Mao Zedong brought about in the Chinese inscrutably scrutable flowers of speech by Deng Xiaoping and others to a wholesome pragmatism which they still call ”Socialism”.

But by no means could Nikhilda be called an opportunist blown about the winds of change. He was steadfast to the end to his basic principles. He was firm, affable, unostentatious, very spartan, sincere with an infectious sense of humour. It was no surprise that he had friends and admirers across the political and social spectrum. And many of them came to him for his wisdom, understanding and advice. And I am revealing no secret that some even came as covert emissaries to seek his support and cooperation in some project or other regardless of the parties concerned. But in accepting the request he made it quite clear that he would not compromise his principles but do it only in the national spirit as he saw it.

WHEN I first met Nikhilda, there was an instant rapport between us which I cannot explain—perhaps some vibes were involved. He seemed to know me, having heard of me somewhere. But that friendship grew when some common friends came into the picture. A kind of high was reached when he decided to carry out the idea of his late great friend, the highly respected legendary editor Chelapathi Rau, to gather together the Indian media with that of the non-aligned countries into an organisation and hold an international conference to affirm solidarity with the Non-Alignment Movement. The result was NAMEDIA. It was an instant success though some of our media houses seemed to have reservations to begin with. Nikhilda asked me if I would help him. Much to my surprise he wanted me to be its Secretary-General. Nikhilda’s personality and dynamism ensured extraordinary cooperation from all levels of the non-aligned countries and our own Foreign Office establishment. After the ensuing Conference we continued with associated activities including a continuing project which resulted in a vision for Indian Television, which incidentally at that time became more visionary than just a vision. But one realises that much of it has now been adopted by new attitudes, appreciations and unceasing technological innovations.

Nikhilda, with his other friends, along with me enthusiastically took ourselves around the country doing our best with his leadership to “sensitise” the media about its positive role in national development.

Beyond his political awareness and command of the great issues confronting the world with a uni-polar hegemony sought to be impressed upon nations, Nikhilda’s greatest passion was his weekly Mainstream which he edited, published and made a vehicle for enlightened discussion on issues of the moment from every point of view. The diverse sources of his contributors, including some of the highest in the land, showed not only his concern for accommodation, but also in the response. He did not actually say “Let a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend” but he came close to it! Nikhilda’s own level-headed, clear-sighted wisdom in his articles ensured that his memory would never fade away. His work is being continued in the same tradition nobly by his son Sumit.

But, as was to be expected time had to take its toll and the departure of Renu, his staunch wife, companion and comrade, was a heavy blow, followed by his own physical infirmities. But it was astonishing how his mind, attitude, his commitment and dedication to the causes he espoused never wavered nor show any sense of decline.

Of Nikhil Chakravartty it could be said that his body may have perished but the essence of his inmost soul will linger on imperishable to inspire us

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