The best part of the brilliance of Kamal Sir (as I always called him) was how he wore it so lightly, totally unassuming of his reputation and seniority.
Despite the fact that he was 18 years my senior in journalism, he discussed story ideas and plans each day with me for the five years I spent with him in Lucknow. He was never jaded by the news; his eyes sparkled no matter what reports we were planning. ‘Hum Imambare se live karenge toh Lucknow ka flavour accha aayega,” he said to me last week about the daily show on UP elections he was starting this week.
Kamal Sir’s scripting was something one was in awe of. The way he used words, phrases, couplets was amazing. His journalism was old-school – the other day, his wife, also a very senior journalist, sent us the newsflash of the resignation of a UP minister – a hot political topic. His first words were, and this may sound trivial but it isn’t, “Ruchi ne bheja hai sahi hoga lekin hum log double-check kar lete hain (Ruchi’s information is always correct but let’s double-check this)”. In this age of cut-throat, fastest-finger-first journalism, he was an exception, and I am proud to say, one among many NDTV veterans who will not deviate from these principles, by far the best in the business, teachers for all of us of these solid journalism ethics.
On a personal note, his running joke with me about was about dealing with the pressures of the news desk. Once, when I returned after two weeks’ leave, the moment I entered office, he looked up and said, “Yeh toh bada accha hua ki aap aa gaye, ab aap six mahine tak chhutti mat lijiyega (welcome back and no more time off for six months).” We had a good laugh over it.
He and I had vastly different lifestyles. He was fit, very conscious of his health. Often in the last 5 years, I would order some meetha in office. Each time I tried to feed him one full sweet, he would say, “Dekhiye, itna meetha hum ek mahine main khaate hain, aap ek din main…aap basement waala gym kyon nahin join kar lete hain? (You eat as much sugar in a day as I do in a full month, why don’t you join the gym?)” and each time, I would promise, “Bas sir, kal se karta hoon (Sir, tomorrow for sure).” “Woh kal jab aa jaaye toh hamein phone kar dijiyega (phone me when this tomorrow arrives),” he would retort.
With Kamal Sir around, the office was always a lively place. Rajesh, our cameraperson, was admonished by Kamal Sir once for coming to office after 11 am on a slow news day. So for the next few days, as soon as Rajesh reached office, he would post on our NDTV Lucknow WhatsApp group saying, “Sir, I am in office”. One day, Kamal Sir showed up early, at 10 am. None of us knew. And voila, at 11 came the message from Rajesh: “Sir, I am in office”. When he was at some random intersection. This led to some solid fireworks in office.
His loss is a void that I don’t think can be filled. The presence of a veteran like Kamal Sir in office was reassuring in a high-pressure state like UP – his mere presence would help me soak up a lot of it. Now, with him gone, picking up the pieces will be very, very difficult.
(Alok Pandey is News Editor, NDTV 24×7)
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