Good and strong: remembering Praful Bidwai

By Anitha Sharma

To think, articulate, convince, argue and write about topics as wide and relevant as Secularism, Climate Change, Nuclear Disarmament, National Politics, Ecological Justice and People’s Movements is not an easy task for a single human mind. More amazing would be the gentle and non-violent way in which the most vehement and strong arguments would be framed and presented in a characteristic intense style. To coin path breaking and thought provoking statements like Ecological Solidarity, Media Jingoism, No more Ghettos to portray topics that troubled the mind like Climate change, Green Energy, Discrimination and Nepal disaster within a span of 15 days (June 1st – June 15th , 2015) and then to stop living on June 23rd …

This and much more was Praful Bidwai- journalist par excellence, an organic intellectual (in John Samuel’s words), a unfailing friend and comrade of people’s movements across the country and above all a fun-loving human being. Having seen his handsome face with a generous beard in columns especially Frontline for years, it was a special moment for me to encounter Praful in Thiruvananthapuram Press Club for a meeting organized by Kerala Independent Fish Worker’s Forum in May 2010. He was there to discuss and present his book “An India that Can Say Yes- A Climate- Responsible Development Agenda for Copenhagen and Beyond”. It was amazing how he presented the most complex of concepts in a simple, easy style. It was on that day I realized Praful’s uncanny capacity to understand the pulse of the other person as he wrote on the book he gave me “ in ecological solidarity”. That seems to me the best and most perfect solidarity that needs to be nurtured and developed among human beings and with the Earth as we go full throttle on this path called development.

Yes, Praful was always ready to be in solidarity with genuine and deep rooted fights and struggles for justice. More than alliances and negotiations, he was one willing to form friendships, maintain bonds, associate and support with the best he could offer and make all close to him be in the loop – this capacity to be inclusive and not exclusive made friendship with this smiling man so easy and open. This could be why Milton of Idinthakarai village in Koodankulam remarked when he heard of the sudden demise “We have lost someone who would come rushing whenever the need arose”. True, Praful always created a feeling that he would come rushing to your aid, listen to your cause and take it up with the same zeal as you!

The way in which Praful was able to extract certain concepts and opinions about crucial issues from the innermost recesses of your mind made each conversation with him challenging and liberating. The questions about the present status of the Left parties and movements, their stance especially about the environmental struggles in Kerala demanded honest and open sharing of concerns and anxieties. This makes awaiting the book that is yet to be released special but also painful. ( The Phoenix Moment: Challenges Confronting the Indian Left to be released in Oct 2015).

It was indeed a long forgotten era that was revealed during the memorial meeting by Praful’s old friend of the 1980s- V.Sasikumar who described Praful’s efforts in writing about the Silent Valley issue in Times of India by collecting information from friends in Kerala. The sharing by veteran journalist B.R.P.Bhaskar about the special genre that Praful represented through his style of meticulous research and seeking of information made the gap that his passing away creates a permanent one. The thoughts that Gouridasan Nair expressed about occasional phone calls from Praful with pertinent questions about the left party and the movement was but a reflection of the concerns prominent in his mind. The fact that Praful did note the almost marginal value that left gave to environmental aspects in the development dialogue was pointed out by Gouridasan Nair. The organic intellectual that Praful was with his ability to create an open space in thought was what John Samuel reminisced in the backdrop of three decades of friendship that he shared. Jyothi Krishnan shared her short but deeply etched experience of traveling with Praful to Koodankulam in 2012 with her family, his intense convictions about the need to shun nuclear energy, his attachment to her 2 children and so on.

If you can judge a person best with his/her attitude to children, it needs little time to judge that Praful had a sensitive, soft heart. He was so indulgent and appreciative of children that it took him very little time to notice them, acknowledge them and vibe with them. His indulgence came in the form of ice- creams and food, in laughing and enjoying their small pranks and antics and most unique in paying attention to them even in the middle of a serious discussion. He would greet children with a twinkle in his eyes and remark “ how adorable”. On the day we had the Condolence meet on a rain-washed evening in Thiruvananthapuram, 10 year old Arunima came up and secretly asked “ Did Praful uncle have children?’ On hearing No she said “ Am relieved to hear that. They would have been heartbroken otherwise”. This alone seemed a fitting tribute to the dear golden heart that pulsed for 65 years in his body.

It is with grief and a deep sense of loss that I relate the lines of the poem Turn of the Century ( Wislawa Symbroska) with the personality of Praful:

‘God was at last to believe in man
Good and strong
But good and strong
Are still two different people”

In the case of Praful, good and strong has been always the same person. This is what made him remain unflinching in his convictions, uncompromising in his style of writing, humane in his behaviour and consistent in his involvement. This could be why he did not achieve much, become member of many committees and earn awards and accolades. It is indeed a privilege and honour to have known – a good and strong one like Praful. This makes the intensity of the missing more.

Anitha.S ( in conversation with S.P.Udayakumar, Milton, Jyothi Krishnan, Santhi.S, Gokul.V.B, and members of the M.B.S Youth Choir who sang 2 songs against war, for disarmament and someone who left the world with his tasks half done).