Demise of a gentleman journalist
Posted August 10, 2011on:
The first reaction of Bhopal correspondent of ‘Outlook’ K S Shaini on hearing of Nasir Kamaal’s death was: “Oh, can’t be accepted”. Lucknow correspondent of ‘The Telegraph’ Tapas Chakraborty said: “It’s a bolt from the blue…so hard to believe…” (During his Bhopal posting, Tapas had come close to Nasir). ‘DNA’ news-coordinator at Indore and a long-time associate of Nasir Kamaal in Bhopal Rakesh Dixit emailed: “my good friend Nasir is no more. After all how many such nice people you come across in one life time? Very, very few…”
It will be difficult for his friends to decide whether Nasir Kamaal was a better journalist or a better human being. He took up with all seriousness whatever was entrusted to him, whether it was a journalistic assignment or a friend’s (even an acquaintance’s) request for a mundane task. His colleagues in the newspapers not unoften took advantage of his friendly nature by requesting him to look after their work as they had to go for a few hours, sometimes just to attend a drink party. Nasir was never heard grumbling or complaining.
Nasir did not drink but he was a heavy smoker, always keeping a packet of cigarette paper and a pouch of tobacco in his pocket. When he was around, whether at the Indian Coffee House or in a newspaper room, he would be rolling cigarettes for all his (smoker) friends. Both he and his friends accepted it as part of his duty.
An alumni of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Nasir had come to love Bhopal so much that he was reluctant to leave the city even when he was without a job (which was often) or had better offers. Only once had he accepted a job in a magazine in Bangalore but could not stay there long; he quit it and returned to Bhopal.
He had an uncanny knack for finding something amusing even in the adversities and he would narrate the incident to his friends with flourish. His columns, ‘Bhopal, Then and Now’ and ‘Time Machine’ in the Hindustan Times were extremely popular. There he gave an insight into the unwritten history of the life in the city of Nawabs with a fair sprinkling of wit and humour.
Nasir had of late been recruited by The Times of India to man the desk in the proposed Bhopal edition of the paper. He was in Mumbai for a sort of orientation for the launch of the newspaper. There he succumbed to massive cardiac arrest. Lemuel lall, a colleague of his on The Times of India at Indore was so distraught that he could convey this sad news to me only in three instalments. First he rang up to say Nasir was very ill; a minute or two later he said Nasir was actually critical; he rang up the third time a minute later to announce in a broken voice that Nasir was no more.
Shahid Parvez, chief of bureau of The Statesman in Delhi who had spent several years as Bhopal correspondent of the paper, spoke on the phone for a long time about his time spent with Nasir; he remarked: ‘what an irony that Nasir never wanted to leave Bhopal but he was away when his last time came’.
Rasheed Kidwai of The Telegraph has sent me a piece which Nasir had written for one of his columns in 2009 but did not go to print. It gives a peep into Nasir’s style of writing:
Shooting through the lense and lips
WAY BACK in the mists of time, in 1985 perhaps, I came in contact with a live wire. But the shock was the most pleasing one because ever-on-the-move-and-in-a-hurry, fast-speaking photo-journalist Prakash Hatvalne brought in a daily dose of witty remarks and fresh anecdotes (often involving himself) in the lives of the group of reporters at Free Press Journal’s Bhopal bureau. He had quit the State Government’s Public Relations Department and was with Bharat Bhavan. In the evenings, he found time to be among friends in his usual way of entering office one moment, exiting the next, and re-entering five minutes later.
A quarter of a century later, nothing has changed by the Almighty’s grace (except that now he is a winner of many national and international awards in photography). He still keeps flitting in and out of rooms and catching his words requires keenest of hearing ability.
Though he is restless most of the time — sitting and getting up from chair every two minutes or pacing the floor — he is in complete contrast of this persona while on the job. His patience is monumental when he is photographing a serious subject.
The restlessness and rapid-fire speech often cause merriment to friends but he is apt to use it to his advantage and wriggle out of tight situations. Once, during the first helmet drive in Bhopal some two decades ago, when the fax had just arrived on the scene in Bhopal, he was caught by a traffic constable for jumping a signal. Prakash launched into his trademark quick speech, “I-am-a-journalist-but-do-not-have-the-I-card-with-me. I-am-also-in-a-hurry-so-please-do-not-stop-me!” The cop insisted for some proof. Prakash’s confidence did not desert him. He put his hand in the shirt pocket and pulled out a fax message he had just received. “Mere-pass-proof-hai, ye-dekho-fax-paper!” The confused cop saw the smooth paper, turned it upside down, but couldn’t figure out what this man was saying. Finally, after a long look at the sheet, he said “Chalo maan lete hain ki aap patrakar hain, jaaiye”.
He has a wandering mind, (a wandering eye also, some say!), a quick wit, interesting views on global issues, a sound wisdom, an extremely helpful nature and very simple explanations for mysterious incidents. Once, there was a break-in at a journalist’s residence. The strange part was that nothing had been stolen. Friends were speculating the possible reasons. Some felt it was the State intelligence department’s way of ‘disciplining’ an anti-establishment scribe. Prakash, however, opined that it could be work of two desperadoes — a man and woman in search of a place!
‘Bhau’, as we address him fondly because of his Maharashtrian origins, is still trying in vain to make his friends pronounce his surname correctly. But how can Bhopalis, Punjabis, Bengalis and UPites, some of them phonetically handicapped, are expected to pronounce the sound that comes out when ‘LN’ in ‘Hatvalne’ merge seamlessly to produce a third musical sound? And did I tell you about his culinary skills and his ‘events management’ abilities?