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Celebrating a legend

  • Published at 06:06 pm August 27th, 2018
An icon passes away

Kuldip Nayar was a beacon of dauntless journalism

Having finally found some time in the busy schedule of a business school, I settled down with a copy of Scoop, a memoir penned by veteran journalist and author Kuldip Nayar. 

I had just finished reading about Nayar’s meeting with Lord Mountbatten where they recounted the partition of Punjab and Bengal many years after 1947, when my phone displayed an eerie newsflash, followed by another, and then another: “Iconic journalist, human rights activist, and political commentator Kuldip Nayar passes away.”

Unlike so many journalists who have had the pleasure of meeting Mr Nayar, my interactions with him were, unfortunately, limited to reading only two of his books. I remember devouring the descriptive and thought-provoking Emergency Retold just before the final exams of my second year of engineering.

Nayar’s perspective, with his personal accounts, is probably India’s best-known work on the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in 1975. I soon vowed to read more of Kuldip saab’s work, but found myself struggling to find time in the hallows of corporate life. It was only after seven years when I became a student once again that I picked up another of Nayar’s books from my college library.

Born in Sialkot in undivided Punjab, Nayar shared his birthday with the Independence Day of Pakistan, and could often be seen lighting candles on August 14 as well as August 15 as a symbol of peace between India and Pakistan. He had an ardent admirer in my father and paternal uncles, since our family had migrated from Sialkot just before Partition. 

A unique course taught in our college’s curriculum is Management and Liberal Arts, where Partition plays a vital role in sensitizing students and leaving them with something to think about. When I mentioned this course to my father, a gastroenterologist in Chandigarh, his excitement was evident over the phone: “You must call Kuldip Nayar as a guest lecturer for this course! There is no one better to discuss Partition with,” he said, only to rescind his words instantly.

“No, wait -- let me see if I can arrange something. It would be a great opportunity for me to meet him as well,” I heard my father smiling on the phone. Such was my father’s fascination with Nayar, something that has been passed on to me, even though I have read only two of his books. Such was his charisma.

At the Delhi airport a couple of months ago, I picked up a copy of legendary poet Gulzaar’s Half-a-Rupee Stories, and was surprised to find mention of Nayar. I hadn’t realized what a close-knit community this group of intellectuals from India’s pre-partition days were. Gulzaar saab recounted the time when Nayar saw the apparition of a Pir Baba in his dreams when he was lodged in Tihar Jail during the Emergency.

The Pir Baba’s grave lay close to Nayar’s ancestral home in Sialkot. Nayar asked the baba when he would be released from prison, already having spent a few months in Tihar Jail. The baba replied that he would be released the following Thursday, and, sure enough, Nayar’s release orders came on the stipulated date. Gulzaar and Nayar were equally perplexed.

I know not much of Nayar’s journalistic journey, other than a couple of books and a few articles penned by him, but these limited writings have had a profound impact on me. I wished to meet Nayar in the coming years, as did my father, but it shall remain wishful thinking.

Sadly, there are not many from my generation who have had the privilege of reading Nayar’s work. As a testament to Kuldip Nayar’s legacy, former prime minister of India Manmohan Singh attended his funeral, as did several other important ministers, as well as Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s chief minister.

Nayar continues to be a beacon of dauntless journalism and India-Pakistan kinship. 

Rishabh Kochhar is a freelance contributor.