NDTV: There Will Never Be Another Kamal Khan – By Ravish Kumar
He did not just stand for journalism, its language or its principles. He also stood for his city Lucknow and his country Hindustan through his reports. Kamal stood for the old Lucknow before it was transformed by the firestorm of hatred in the name of religion. Before the language of its ruler changed. Before people sitting in constitutional positions spoke of violence, bullets and sending people to their afterlives. Despite that, Kamal stood tall just like its Imambara without which Lucknow is incomplete.
One cannot understand Kamal by stripping him away from that Lucknow. A journalist who was always known for his work had his identity now linked to his religion. Some within the government started to keep their distance from him. Kamal lived it down with Lucknow’s famous grace. “You know how it is,” he would just say sometimes; “If I ask, they will say he’s Muslim”. While they kept trying to push him towards the identity of his religion, he drew himself closer to the people. Every last report of his is witness to this.
It’s a testament to Kamal’s achievement that while remembering him today, people are remembering his work. It often becomes ritualistic but the way his work is all over social media today, from links to his work to his iconic PTCs (Piece To Camera), shows what an impact Kamal left on his audience. Twitter is flooded with segments from his reports. This is Kamal Khan. His work is his monument.
It is through that work that we have come to know Kamal Khan. And it was important to know him to understand that one does not become Kamal Khan by reciting the shers of Ahmad Faraz and Habib Jalib. Even for a two-minute report, he used to think all day, read all day and write all day. Those who worked with him knew that this is how Kamal bhai worked. It’s an inspiration to see someone treat their work with so much respect and dedication. If one collects hundreds of his reports on Ayodhya, one will find out that Kamal Khan had an Ayodhya separate from the political narrative of Ayodhya. How effortlessly he could speak about the Ayodhya that was smothered in the fire of hatred. His words cooled down these flames. He used to immerse himself in Tulsidas’s Ramayan and the Gita too. He wasn’t a journalist who would lift a line or two from somewhere to brighten up his report and call it a day. He knew the society of Uttar Pradesh was immersed in religion. And it was politics that turned that devotion into a rage. Kamal must have studied countless religious books just to speak to that society. And that is why when he spoke, they stopped and listened.
Because Kamal Khan could go through your eyes, into your soul and stir your conscience with delicate hands and remind you that at the end of it all, what actually matters is love and brotherhood. And that is exactly what the religion and the elders from the land of Uttar Pradesh have taught all along. The authority with which Kamal Khan could report on disputes related to Ram and Krishna was unmatched. Because he had a lot of hard-earned knowledge to back it up. Every time he would go to Varanasi, he would come back with a bundle of books. Before the days of Google, wherever Kamal Khan went to report, he would go with his books.
He was as hard-nosed as he was disciplined. He would often say no and was never a reporter who would say yes to everything. Kamal Khan saying yes meant someone in the newsroom breathed a sigh of relief. He did not say it casually or stubbornly but explained in detail the reason behind not telling a story. While doing so, Kamal Khan used to remind the people around him of a principle no one should forget – be it the seasoned editor or the new reporter. The more a reporter says no, with good reason, the more he protects his institution from weak and imprecise reportage.
There will never be another Kamal Khan. Because this country has lost the moral strength to repeat the process by which one becomes Kamal Khan. Even though there are countless institutions of journalism in this country where Kamal Khan is admired, and there are reporters who want to be like him, the institutions no longer have the spine to see them through. Let alone nurture them for three decades. Otherwise, the eloquence and grace that is being celebrated today by every other channel, would reflect somewhere in their content. Kamal Khan was the star of NDTV. His words will keep on twinkling with the light of serenity and grace.
This article first appeared in NDTV