Remembering Govind Talwalkar, the late veteran journalist who was committed to the idea of secularism

Govind Talwalkar did not belong to any specific school of thought, though he had some very strong and uncompromising convictions. He was liberal, in the British tradition. He was a great admirer of Mahatma Gandhi and he also believed that without Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India would not have emerged as a liberal democracy. He was a living legend for several decades and icon of the Marathi middle class. Naturally that huge groundswell of support and admiration surfaced on Wednesday, when the news of his passing away spread all over.

Though formally retired over two decades ago, he continued to write, even from the US, where he had settled with his two daughters. He was almost ageless. At 92, he was contributing to Marathi dailies and journals with such regularity and frequency that journalists half his age would feel ashamed. It was not just the output, which was of course huge, but the themes and topics he covered were truly vast.

Govind Talwalkar. Picture courtesy: Maharashtra Times

Govind Talwalkar. Picture courtesy: Maharashtra Times

From transfer of power in India and the British Rule, since the East India company in the early 17th Century, to the rise and fall of the Soviet communism, from a kind of renaissance to evolution of modern India, the intellectual storm in Europe in the 20th Century to the regressive Hindutva tendencies in India, the Partition and its catastrophic impact on the Indian subcontinent — all historical narratives he studied, researched, argued and wrote extensively.

His personal collection of books was mammoth and he was possessive of the books, which only a genuine book lover can understand. Napoleon to Nehru and Lincoln to Lenin, giant personalities attracted his scholarly attention. How he managed to read so much and also write in Marathi and English on such subjects is a mystery. Like everyone else, he too had only 24 hours per day but he had converted those 24 hours into 48 hours of work — reading and researching. From that angle, one can say that he lived nearly 150 years of working life.

Born in a typical lower middle class Brahmin family, lived early life in the ambiance of a nondescript suburb of Thane district, Dombivali, he developed intellectual pursuits and with them political ideas. That is when he was influenced by MN Roy school of Marxism and radical humanism. He met some stalwarts in that sphere. But he did not become "Royist" in the conventional sense, like many of his compatriots. That association with the intellectual world drew him to journalism. Initially, he worked under another "semi-Royist" in the Marathi daily Loksatta and then went over to Maharashtra Times, when the Times Group decided to launch the Marathi daily. That was in 1962. He became a full-fledged editor in 1968 and captained the ship till 1995.

Those were fantastically turbulent innings. He covered the Nehruvian, post-Nehruvian, and Indira Gandhi era. Later, supported young Rajiv Gandhi's efforts in modernising-computerising India and became a strident critic of VP Singh and also of RSS-BJP, because he felt they were taking the country backwards. He hated the idea of Hindutva and was committed to the idea of secularism. But he believed in the Western notion and Ambedkarite-Nehruvian connotation of secular India, and not cheap politicisation of a great concept.

From Milovan Djilas to Arthur Koestler, from Alan Bullock to William Shirer, from Bertrand Russell to Isaiah Berlin were his intellectual companions. He treated them like his cerebral family members. His books were his friends. He had few genuine friends, but they included the likes of YB Chavan and Inder Kumar Gujral, Nikhil Chakraborty and Sham Lal and Dileep Padgaonkar. Generally, he would not attend parties or Bohemian gatherings. He avoided public functions and did not appreciate the "celebrity" status when it was accorded to him. He really did not belong to the "lifestyle-celebrity-page 3" journalism. He was a quiet man and would choose company (and right kind of single malt with it).

He had a huge following among the readers but he never appeased them. He could be sharp and acidic in his attack, even if that hurt his friends and acquaintances. He never sought political position like a seat in the Rajya Sabha, which he could have got, because of his contacts in high places. He lived a frugal life and the only luxury he indulged in was book, books and more books.

He was a colossus and the younger generation perhaps will not be able to comprehend the personality and character of this legendary editor. He passed away, with him also his legacy.

Published Date: Mar 23, 2017 11:34 am | Updated Date: Mar 23, 2017 11:34 am