On Matters That Matter

The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones

Thank You, Prabhash Ji

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This piece is a tribute to Prabhash Joshi, who died of cardiac arrest late on November 5, just after watching his favourite cricketer Sachin Tendulkar play the innings of his life in a losing cause. This is also a lament that the space occupied by journalists like Prabhashji, who have the printer’s ink in their veins and the ability to confront ethical dilemmas head on, has contracted further by his passing away.

The extraordinary thing about Prabhashji was that he remained ordinary; rooted to the grassroots and committed to the everyday concerns of the common man. The common man is a much-abused word in today’s media, Aam Aadmi, is the Hindi equivalent used quite often. I could switch on the TV right now and one of the English channels would be saying ‘but amidst all this there is no relief for the common man,’ or ‘the common man continues to suffer.’

A legendary journalism teacher asked our class as to why we thought that a particular newspaper was the best in the region. The answer given was that it satisfies the common man. The next question kept hanging in the air for a while longer: How do you know that an ABC newspaper satisfies the common man? The answer came from within me and 17 years later I still cherish the teacher’s accolade. ABC is the best newspaper in the region and I know that it satisfies the common man because it satisfies me. For Prabhashji it was not a statement; it was the way of life throughout. I don’t know from when the journalist became different from the common man? The headline that I just read in the Chandigarh Tribune says, ‘The man who felt the pulse of the people.’ Who are these people?

Prabhashji could have done all that by feeling his own pulse. He instinctively knew the concerns of the common man because he was one himself; and that perhaps was one of the reasons for his mass appeal. I am borrowing from a story in Sify that has quoted Pankaj Pachauri of NDTV news channel saying: “Prabhashji was someone who never came under any pressure, either political or market pressure. He was one of his kind. He single-handedly ran a campaign against communal forces at the time of the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign.” Hats off to you, Prabhashji!

Prabhashji loved cricket and Sachin Tendulkar was his favourite player; but it wasn’t just that and his reading of the game was tremendous. When I first heard Prabhashji on an NDTV cricket programme, it left me mesmerized. He was brilliant; and it is my bad luck that I could not hear his views on the game more often.

Renowned sports journalist Pradeep Magazine started his career when Prabhash Joshi was the editor of The Indian Express in Chandigarh. “There was a child in him; and I think Prabhashji understood that in journalism everyone is a victim of the system. He felt that sport was still innocent and his passion for cricket helped him remain sane and kept that child inside alive. I owe my career to him. The work he did after his retirement was phenomenal; as he had unshackled himself, and was no longer tied to any master,” Pradeep paused and carefully chose each and every word while describing Prabhashji.

That Pradeep Magazine had worked for about three years directly under the editorship of Prabhash Joshi was something I learnt only a day ago while reading another tribute. This is when I thought that a first job with Prabhash Joshi must have had a big impact on Magazine as a person and also as a professional entering the field. In my association with Pradeep Magazine, I have found him to be a simple man with a lot of warmth. The big thing is that he takes criticism even better than praise and will not let that affect his friendship. Most importantly; just like Prabhashji, he is upright and fearless.

Sometime in mid-1997, when I was about to move on from the Down To Earth, Prabhashji’s son Sopan had just joined the environment and science fortnightly. It was only for a few months that we worked together as colleagues. He was cheerful and spontaneous; and quiet about his father until the information leaked out through the HR forms he had filled.

Sopan took a media roundtrip before coming back to Down To Earth as the managing editor of the fortnightly. The few months in 1997 were enough to seal a friendship that has lasted more than a decade; though most often it is just a phone call. On that day I just messaged him; as I knew the cremation was at the banks of the Narmada. Yesterday, I got to speak to Sopan for the first time since the day the Hyderabad match was turned off after Sachin’s wicket in his home. Prabhashji had a bypass surgery done many years ago and also had a pacemaker since the last few years. He complained of chest pain that night and could not make it to a private hospital.

The travel schedule of Prabhashji was very hectic and he wasn’t resting as much as the doctors and the family would have wanted him to. I knew what an unreasonable question it was to ask Sopan as to why they did not stop him, or advise him against travelling. He said they used to try. It was easy to understand that the man who never got cornered or gave up under pressure by either the political or the market forces; would not have had it any other way.

It has been a big personal loss for my friend but he was composed when he returned my call yesterday; he spoke with ease and concealed grief. Sopan was straight as an arrow when we worked together in 1997, and I don’t think he would have changed much as the down to earth quality that he had came originally from living with an extraordinary ordinary man; who was father to him and an inspiration to millions.

Sopan also knows that it is a personal loss for me in a different way; the loss of one of the editors who placed ethics and transparency above all else—and both of us were quite sure that such people existed in the mainstream media. The dilemma for the editor is always ethical and never intellectual; and the person who has it in him/her faces it in a direct manner.

Mark Twain must have met a few editors of the kind that even I have had the pleasure of working with in my journalistic career of about 16 years when he said: “I am not the editor of a newspaper and shall always try to do right and be good so that God will not make me one.” The salaries have gone up many-fold and that in itself is a very good thing, though, it also has a flip-side; as the editors who can’t earn respect can at least resort to buying it.

Prabhashji was different. He earned it all his life.

2 Responses

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  1. The comment by Rohit Karir, a colleague and a traveller on the same road from the time when we were forced to para drop without the thought of as much as a parachute, was orginally-intended for this post about Prabhash Joshi but by error ended up in the post about my uncle. Thanks a lot for your wonderfully-worded comment Rohit.

    Hi Deepan,

    Heart-felt and brilliant — your tribute to Prabhash Ji.

    I really like the fact that you are writing almost everyday. There’s nothing quite like it isn’t it? To be drawn into something to the oblivion of anything else—can’t be bought, isn’t for sale—it just belongs. Period.
    A refreshing aspect of your writing is that you write how you speak. It’s also called ‘voice’. And yours doesn’t need a baritone.

    Deepan Joshi

    November 22, 2009 at 10:43 pm

  2. An excellent read! I remember Prabhashji as a reader from his days in Chandigarh. Jansatta was launched then and those were the peak days of terrorism in Punjab. You have very rightly said he was dear to the common man as he was a common man himself!!


    December 17, 2009 at 8:04 pm

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