‘Kamal was news tv before the circus took over’
It’s been a pretty miserable Makar Sankranti. Early this morning a call from my old NDTV friend Manish Kumar was a shocker: ‘Guru, Kamal Khan is no more’ It took me a while to digest what I had just heard. Two days ago, I had rung up Kamal to understand the exit of Swami Prasad Maurya from the BJP. Kamal was a treasure trove of information always and more importantly very generous in sharing it. We spoke for a while and I promised that when I was in Lucknow for the elections, I would have dinner at his place. Little did I know that it would be our last conversation. I still can’t process his passing away: he was young at heart and as fit as one could be: not a hair out of place when he had mike in hand .
A gentle soul, he reported like he spoke: like a poet with all the style and intonations that make Lucknow such a special place. Kamal was Lucknow at its finest: warm like the winter sun, harmonious like a quietly flowing Gomti and only a stanza away from a mellifluous shayari! When I first met him in the mid 90s, I was awe struck by his command over the language. We were all new to tv, struggling to adjust to a new medium but Kamal built an instant love affair with the camera. I would do a piece to camera in English and he would do it in classic Hindustani with the odd Urdu couplet thrown in. NDTV in those early days didn’t have a full timer for English in Lucknow so we did a lot of work together as I would fly down from Delhi (another outstanding reporter Rahul Shrivastava would soon join our Lucknow bureau ).. While Kamal’s ptocs were like a Gulzar sonnet, mine were typically prosaic: between him and our ever smiling cameraperson Joshi ji, they helped improved my Bambaiya style Hindi. Kamal introduced me to Urdu poetry, to book shops , to Hazratganj, to the political shenanigans of UP and yes, to tunde kebabs!(I tried to introduce him to drink once at the Lucknow press club which he chose to assiduously stay away from!)
We went once to meet Mayawati in the morning and she was in a foul mood. I got into a fight with her guards who weren’t allowing us entry, Kamal bhai just smiled and won them over. On another occasion when SP supporters were creating a ruckus outside the UP assembly and threatening to break our camera , Kamal pacified then. No one got angry with Kamal because he just never let you get angry with him: he would stand his ground in a crowd but without ever getting ruffled, almost as if he was gifted with a unique mental pause button amidst the turbulence of a news cycle. He exuded a reassuring calmness both on and off camera.
Even after I left NDTV, we kept in touch. He and his wife and muse, Ruchi, herself a fine journalist and son Aman who he doted on would be always there when I travelled to Lucknow. When the Hindi version of my 2014 election book was released, Kamal insisted on doing an event in Lucknow. Ever the perfectionist, he had made copious notes and as always struck the right note as the moderator. The audience loved our jugalabandi that evening. That was his innate skill: Kamal Khan was a rare tv journalist who never struck a jarring note in his conversations with anyone . That’s because he was above all else a thoughtful and sensitive human being. Those are sadly no longer valued traits in the hurly burly of breaking news where noise matters more than nuance. Kamal was news tv before it became a circus. He retained his originality even when many colleagues in the medium chose to take short cuts to fame (or is it infamy). That is why his ground reports were distinct: they always had a charm of news as it was meant to be reported without the frills and often with a strong human angle. I know that it wasn’t easy for him to report with integrity in this hyper polarised world, more so in a politically surcharged place like Lucknow. But that’s what he did till the very end. Even his final report just the evening before his tragic death reflects his deep passion and commitment to news gathering.
But most of all what I have learnt from Kamal Bhai (or rather dearly wish I could) is the art of being unfailingly polite and kind even in the most difficult of circumstances. In all the years I have known him, I don’t recall him ever raising his voice. He didn’t need to. The sharp clarity of his language was enough to convey the message As the saying goes, raise your words not your voice; it is rain that grows flowers, not thunder! Farewell my friend and we will surely have our tunde kebab one day again in a better gentler world. You will be much missed. Om Shanti.
मौत तू एक कविता है
मुझसे एक कविता का वादा है मिलेगी मुझको
डूबती नब्ज़ों में जब दर्द को नींद आने लगे
ज़र्द सा चेहरा लिये जब चांद उफक तक पहुँचे
दिन अभी पानी में हो, रात किनारे के करीब
ना अंधेरा ना उजाला हो, ना अभी रात ना दिन
जिस्म जब ख़त्म हो और रूह को जब साँस आऐ
मुझसे एक कविता का वादा है मिलेगी मुझको