There are few journalists who are consistent in what they write, back it with scholarly knowledge, and say it as it is, not as it should be to please bosses or the powers that be. Praful Bidwai was one of this rare species, a journalist who never gave up his freedom to speak out even when at times he was facing penury, and actually felt the pressure of joblessness and a column that the big guys in the newspaper ‘business’ were too terrified to print.
But through it all Praful never lost his sense of humour, sitting back with a smile, as his friends around him pulled his leg, made jokes with him at the centre, and recited impromptu verses about Praful and his Rewa car. (Yes he was passinate about the environment and climate change and made sure that he lived it with a eco-friendly car).
A meal with him anywhere, outside his home, was a ritual. It always began with a demand for water at ‘room temperature’. The waiters at the India International Centre were used to this, but for a new one, it took some time before he got a bottle of water that would pass muster. Praful had his own temperature for ‘room’, and while occassionally we would join in the conversation with some gusto, usually we left Praful alone until he had settled the preliminaries of a meal to his satisfaction!
At our homes Praful was more accommodating, but did have a say in ensuring the kitchen served him healthy snacks as against the fried stuff one might have put out. He always lingered on his food, the last to pick up a plate but the most appreciative always. In his own home he was an amazing host, cooking a dish or two himself, and while he was not a ‘in your face’ host—far from it—the effort to make his guests comfortable was visible to the discerning.
And this was the precision that he brought to his work as well. He was finicky, as a good journalist should be, about facts and spent time through research and conversations with the sources to get it all right. Till his last day, Praful never compromised with any political party or leader and stood for what he believed was right for India, and her toiling masses.
His was a strong voice against communalism, against nuclear proliferation, for peace, and above all for the diversity and pluralism of democratic India. He was a walking body of facts, but that did not stop him from making the morning phone call before he sat down to work for the day, to quiz even a junior reporter about a story, and the details that might not have appeared in the media.
Writing was a passion for him, and Praful never gave it up even in the days when he was out of work and when his columns had few takers in the corporate media world. Joblessness stared journalists like him in the faceas journalism gave way to corporate-political control, with the pressure to conform being hard and relentless. But he did not. And he refused to give in, and a new network gradually came into place with Praful at the centre. All because of his indomitable spirit, and as I like to say , his gentle smile!
No one could count her/himself as a friend of Praful’s without having had serious arguments, on issues of course, with him. But soon one learnt that these were just arguments, and Praful never allowed these to intervene in the personal space. One you were Praful Bidwai’s friend, you were a friend for life.
Praful was fond of his drink and that did lead to two major mishaps, that had him in hospital for months. But even in those worst of times his smile never disappeared, and he worked with the same precision with his medicines, diet, physiotherapy to get himself mobile again. He did each time, through accidents that might have left a less determined person than Praful in a wheelchair. For him this was not even a consideration.
Just as he did not compromise on what he believed in and stood for, so also he never compromised on life. Praful lived life on his terms and was one of those bachelors who ran a comfortable home, was surrounded by a bevy of friends, and never hestiated to reach out.
Praful Bidwai died as he lived. With friends, over a good meal, and with a drink in hand. And in an intellectural environment after his own calling. It is always those who are left behind who struggle to cope but who have come together to set up the Praful Bidwai Memorial Award. The recipient this year is the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti, an organisation founded by Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, renowned doctor and rationalist who was murdered in 2013, a terrible incident that was written about extensively by a shaken Praful Bidwai at the time.
Praful himself died two years later on 23 June 2015. But then voices like his never really die, and through every single person who stands up and speaks with passion, commitment, courage for the poor masses of India, for freedom, for peace, for rights he lives on!