“My goal in life is to be one of those people who are just light. You see them and you suddenly feel so warm you just want to hug them. They look at you and smile with the warmest light in their eyes… you want to be close to them and you hope that some of their light transfers onto you.” – Anonymous
Dear Kingshuk Sir,
We last met in February. You wore your radiant smile at work. I came with my wedding invite. We joked about your failing memory. Today I learnt, that was our final meeting.
I wanted you to come to my big day, but I knew you wouldn’t. I knew you’d instead be busy checking and rechecking every fact and every sentence in the news stories of that day, thinking up ways it could sound more objective (and perhaps clearer to “someone’s grandma working in the kitchen”).
Many writers I know love to weave purple prose – it reasserts their self-belief. But you were always one for brevity and precision. You tirelessly stood for pithy sentences that delivered facts in the most efficient and accurate manner. (Your spoken words, too, followed the same frugality.) And you ingrained the same principles in me. (Sorry for the long-winded transgressions I make today.) It’s little wonder that you came to personify the word ‘editor’ in my dictionary. For instance, I remember the day you introduced me to staccato intros. I’d written one accidentally, I believe. Today, I wrote one intentionally. I hope I did it right.
An editor, you were. But that’s not all you were. One day, after I had attended your editing class in journalism school, I searched for your TOI blog. I was sure one would exist and that it would talk about serious political and social issues in the most balanced tone possible. Your beaming face popped up next to this description:
Kingshuk Mukherji is first a parent who loves listening to and understanding all children have to say on everything — from their friends, to school, their peers and their teachers. He is also an associate editor with The Times of India.
Anyone who’s studied under you will relate to that first line (and chuckle on the last one). It would be a gross understatement to say that you were the favourite journalism teacher of mine and everyone else I have known to struggle in those halls. No, you were more a parent to all of us. We never feared angering you with our assignments (or the lack of them); you seemed incapable of losing your temper. We feared disappointing you. You believed in each of us more than any of us believed in ourselves. To let you down was to let ourselves down.
That hasn’t changed since, for me. Only now, it’s about leading a fulfilling life and not about submitting a worthy assignment. If I come anywhere close to achieving what you always believed I could, I will have lived a fantastic life.
Right from the moment I awkwardly stood up in your first class and announced my reckless ambition of becoming a travel journalist, you supported me fully. (In fact, you said that you wished you had taken that path.) It was the first time my dream had not been diluted down to its nearest common denominator.
Later in TOI, there were days I was put in your team. It was the only time I was given full freedom to design a special edition page (or any page). It was so unusual for a sub-editor that I panicked at the responsibility and gave it back to you. That was the only time I saw you get angry. “You’re the best student I’ve had, Sumeet. Now tell me which story should go where. You know this. I know you know this!” you said, hurt by my low self-belief, and handed the page back to me. I was never sure if I deserved that title or that responsibility. But those work-days taught me more about journalism than an entire academic year did.
On days when I felt lost in life and suffered bouts of depression, there was one person in office I could look towards. And you never denied me a chat. Over cups of machine-spewed coffee, in a quiet corner cabin of a bustling newsroom, we confided travel fantasies to each other. I told you my plans of being a travel writer and exploring the world. You said that one day you would walk away from that chaotic newsroom and live in a quiet, remote place – like Ladakh.
Come back, and live that dream. I insist, Sir.
No eulogy perhaps can articulate what we, your students, feel today. And I realize that the callously-phrased rant I quoted at the beginning of this letter isn’t the best way to pay homage to a man of such measured words. But when that line appeared on my social media feed a few weeks ago, the first person I thought of, was you. I did not know that that light was to go out sooner than any of us could imagine. The world is much darker for it.
Rest in peace and quiet, Sir. You’ve earned it.
Photo courtesy: Devlin Roy
(You can read Kingshuk Mukherji’s personal blog here: https://kingshukmukherji.wordpress.com/
and his delightful parenting blog on TOI here: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/author/kingshukmukherji/)