17 April 2008
Linc said, “Considering your capacity to cry rivers and oceans, you didn’t cry much.” And I thought, yes. Linc, who is usually much stronger than me, was breaking down every now and then, and frequently had a lost look in his eyes. How was it possible that I wasn’t reacting similarly? What stopped my tears?
It is his voice in my ears. I hear it all the time. To me, he is ever-present: in each book I read, each comma, each apostrophe that I will ever use, each sentence that I write, and re-write, for I hear his voice in my head, “Be human, be clear.” Somehow, his absence is not as strong as his presence was.
I was changed from the first day I met Jyoti Sanyal at journalism school seven years ago. He overawed me by his passion for lucid writing and also his sweep of knowledge, but I never remember being terrorized by him, as so many others do. I saw through his sound and fury quickly for the compassionate man he really was. (I realized his anger was not directed at individuals, but at the obsolete way of writing that has entrenched itself in India. He set up Clear English India in Kolkata, where I still work, to fight the evils of legalese, officialese, circumlocution and the like that plague Indian writing.)
He was fired from that school by a maniac, but Linc and I kept visiting him every week at his place in Fraser Town. It was there over cups of coffee he made that I learnt my editing. I pasted newspaper clippings on to a sheet of paper and edited on the hard copy. He corrected them with his red-ink pen. I think I still have them somewhere, must look for them. With each visit, my horizons of knowledge expanded and my love for him grew.
Sometime during those meetings, our relationship graduated from teacher-pupil to father-daughter. What fun and joy-filled moments those were! Those raunchy jokes he cracked, the anecdotes he shared, those conversations rich in information…, everything is cherished. Going back home after each visit, I remember thinking that each conversation could be the subject of a book.
My writing bloomed under his watchful eyes. About a year after I met him, he told me he saw a maturity in my writing. I felt like I’d won the Pulitzer prize. Those people who have ever been complimented by him know the weight and sincerity of those compliments. Then, one day, he told me I was among his smartest students. I simply laughed it off. That was too huge a compliment for me to handle. But he kept looking into my eyes, and said, “Yes Viju, you are.”
Just a year ago when I did a series of stories on street children for an NGO, he asked me to send it to P Sainath and get it published as a book. These are landmark moments in my life.
When he gave these compliments, I had shaken my head incredulously. But now I know I have to believe in myself and cannot look for reinforcements. He believed in me, so shall I.
He lived a simple life, and though he was associated with a business in his last years, was never really money-minded. What he loved to do was to teach and make more people convert to plain language and practise it. I hope I shall be able to further his work here at Clear English India.
You don’t meet too many great people in one lifetime, and get to know them closely and then work for them. I can’t believe my luck sometimes.
I remember you, Sir, for everything you gave me.
Continue to be the voice in my head,
and hold my hand as I write each word.
Sit here beside me as you would,
with answers to all the questions I asked.
You would say these words are unnecessary,
and would have deleted them right away from this post,
But Sir, thank you.