When I joined the staff of The Indian Express in 1981, the news desk editor, a kind elderly man, tried hard to persuade me that reporting was not for women. It was the desk job of editing copy that was more suitable for women, he argued. It was Darryl D’Monte, then resident editor of The Indian Express' Bombay edition and the person who had hired me, who encouraged and empowered me to be a full gusto reporter.
In the intellectual sphere, Darryl, who passed away on 16 March, will be remembered for his seminal work in journalism related to the environment and urban planning. But to those who had the privilege and honour of working with him, Darryl will be cherished as a gentleman who was deeply committed to social change through compassion and the joys of fraternity.
This allowed him to be a fierce votary of social and political justice, but never in ways that were denigrating of whoever the "opponent" might be. This held true even for professional competition.
For instance, in 1981, when another Mumbai-based newspaper group launched a new daily, Darryl gave me the assignment of doing a story on this launch. He did this even though some of The Indian Express’ best staffers had quit their jobs to join this "rival" publication. Why? Because Darryl’s attitude even in the professional sphere was that of "more the merrier."
The management of The Indian Express did not share this view, and were so incensed by our story on the rival that Darryl was transferred to a smaller city on a veritable demotion. As expected, Darryl then resigned and this turn of events gave India one of the seminal works on the burgeoning environmental movement – the book ‘Temples or Tombs: industry vs environment’.
Soon after leaving The Indian Express, Darryl received the prestigious Homi Bhabha Fellowship, which allowed him to dedicate two years to intense research and the formulation of a critique of the development model that India was following. ‘Temples or Tombs’ went on to inform, inspire and influence a wide range of activist groups. This book nourished the political soil from which rose the slogan "vinash nahin vikas chahiye" (we want development, not destruction) — made famous by the Narmada Bachao Andolan in the late 1980s and mid 1990s.
This stream of Darryl’s life led him to become the founder-president of the International Federation of Environmental Journalists. This was work he continued to do even as, in recent years, he struggled with cancer. Even though he was in somewhat frail health, he attended the historic climate summit in Paris and many of us relied on his analysis of the complex conundrum of climate negotiations.
Darryl’s intellectual and activist contributions to the environmental movement are well preserved for history. As is his role as co-founder of the marvelously joyous Bandra festival.
However, at this particular juncture, it is the essence of Darryl as a human being that must be loudly honoured, because it is an inspiration for all times. I will limit myself to how this manifest through Darryl’s presence in the news room.
In a culture where many senior editors acquire an aura of power and self-importance, Darryl remained warm, friendly and approachable.
In times of communal violence, be it in 1984 in Delhi or 1992-93 in Mumbai, Darryl insisted on viewing the violence only through the lens of human rights – never ever did he look through any political lens of making excuses for the violence, or even asking who threw the first stone.
In 1993, in the politically charged atmosphere, when the Indian middle classes first began to be polarised on communal lines, I went to him with a rather demanding proposal. By then, Darryl was resident editor of the Mumbai edition of The Times of India. That year was to mark the centenary of Swami Vivekananda’s famous address at the Congress of World Religions in Chicago. As a freelancer, I proposed a series of 18 articles that would begin in the week that Vivekananda sailed from Mumbai to the week after his address in Chicago.
As an old friend, Darryl laughed and told me bluntly that asking for an 18-part series was ridiculous. But, he quickly added, the series needs to be done. He fully supported the idea of an in-depth exploration of Vivekananda’s inner journey of the soul as well as its manifestation in his travels to the West. So, we agreed on a 6-part series which was published in the Sunday section of The Times of India accompanied by beautiful illustrations.
Above all, I thank and honour Darryl for supporting and encouraging my curiosity and restless questioning as a fledgling journalist. It was Darryl who, all the way back in 1981, told me about an initiative called Lokayan – dialogue of the people. It was Darryl who made space for a long article on this vital initiative which, in those days, was enabling activists and academics alike to collectively ponder and figure out how we could work together to make democracy more effective, more real in the everyday lives of people.
This search, this endeavour, is far more urgent and critically needed today. Darryl will remain an inspiration and be deeply missed in all such efforts. Perhaps the best tribute to Darryl, is for senior journalists to support and nurture that same quest by today's fledgling reporters.
Rajni Bakshi is a freelance writer and author
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Updated Date: Mar 18, 2019 16:46:50 IST