A Tribute to my brother Girish Nikam

Niranjan Nikam

girish-nikamMr Panini, my brother’s friend called me and asked whether I could come to Delhi as they have a condolence meeting today. I was really tempted to come all the way from Mysuru. But, I remembered my brother and how he would have admonished me. He would have typically said in Kannada, “Sumnirappa,” meaning ‘Please keep quiet,’ and then would have said, “Why do you have to come all the way to Delhi to listen to people talking about me. You already have travelled enough in the last one week. Take care of your health first!”

Hence,  my sincere apologies for not being there with his colleagues, friends, acquaintances and well-wishers. Mr Panini asked me to send a message. I thought I should instead send a tribute which I have written. I hope it will be read because there are a few facets of Girish Nikam which many of you may not know. Because, Girish, was a multi-friendly person for whom he had a special place in his heart for everyone. Here it is:

Why is it that I am writing a tribute to my brother Girish Nikam at a time when I am struck with a personal tragedy and unmitigated grief of his sudden passing away? Because, Girish, my dear brother is no ordinary human being or an ordinary journalist, who left this world. He was one of the finest human beings and an extraordinary journalist who straddled Indian journalism’s length and breadth in all the three fields print, television and social media.

If at all one needs proof of his stature as a national journalist par excellence, all one has to do is see the tribute Rajya Sabha Television (RSTV) has paid to an employee, filming his last journey.

He used to host one of the finest TV debate shows, “The Big Picture.” Only the finest minds in the country would appear on his shows and the range of topics were always current. Again, if one needs proof just see the tributes that have poured in and the way everyone has expressed their shock and grief at his untimely death.

Why am I so proud of my brother? I am proud because a small boy from Mysore rose to such great heights. But he did it quietly without any pretensions or razzmatazz. I also am proud because, he was a principled journalist in a profession where many of the big names whom I know have compromised in one way or another. I am proud because he was a daring journalist who took on the governments of the day without fear or favour firmly believing only in the causes he strongly believed in and they were all people oriented.

Girish Nikam is also extraordinary because he battled many physical problems and still rose to great heights. Let me start from the beginning. Girish is younger to me by three years. He was actually born in 1958 but as he was extremely mischievous boy, our father entered him into school advancing his date of birth by a year. He always had a grouse against it.

At the age of ten, he had an epileptic attack. He suffered it for almost thirty years. He was a competent cricketer and his friends used to call him Charlie Griffith as he was a fast bowler in the legend’s mold. One thing about my brother, he had clarity of thought from a very young age. When all his friends chose Science after their tenth and who went on to become doctors and engineers, Girish chose arts and entered Maharaja’s College where one of the subjects he took was journalism. He was a second class student throughout his academic career. But still he managed to get into one of the premier institutions in the country, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai for his post-graduation.

He started his career with Star of Mysore and as Mr K.B. Ganapathy has said in his condolence, he started as a crime reporter. But he also wrote about sports and he was always fond of recalling how he wrote about India’s first World Cup victory in cricket in 1983. He was brash, he was arrogant but it came out of his conviction of what he was doing as a journalist. Many of his journalist friends of those days talk about innumerable anecdotes about how daring he was.

One anecdote is worth recalling. Girish was working for Indian Express in Mysore after leaving Star of Mysore. The then Governor Ashok Bannerjee had come to Mysore and was staying in Hotel Lalitha Mahal Palace. He used to resemble a character, vampire Count Dracula, created by Irish author Bram Stoker in the famous novel by the same name Dracula which he wrote in 1897.

My brother after a few questions from the other journalists walked up to him and asked him point blank on his face, “Sir, everybody tells that you resemble Dracula. What do you have to say about that?” The journalists around him were stunned by this mischievous question and almost thought that he would be hauled up by the security guards of the Governor. I believe Bannerjee just smiled!

From being a crime reporter, Girish became one of the top political analysts in the country. How did this happen? Who shaped his ideas? He was very inquisitive like all journalists should be and many of them are.  He used to have endless discussions with his first mentor Srikanta Sharma, who was a socialist of the 1960s era. Then there was V.N. Subba Rao of the Indian Express and Mr K. Satyanarayana of Kannada Prabha who mentored him.

It was here in Indian Express covering the Assembly sessions that he came in contact with the seasoned politicians of those days in the early 1980s including the likes of Ramakrishna Hegde, J.H.Patel, S.M. Krishna and former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda. He knew all of them intimately.

He moved to India Today after his stint with Indian Express. He was in Madras for two years and two stories he did that come to mind was on Child Prodigies and then on unaccounted wealth.

It was Prasara Bharathi Chairman Mr A. Suryaprakash who invited him to Delhi in 1995. I was always sure that Delhi is the place for him because of his grasp of politics. My father was reluctant to send him. I told my father, he should go to Delhi (not that he would have listened to my father!). The rest as they say is history.

From the time Girish went to Delhi in 1995, February, till his last breath, he enjoyed the capital and survived the harsh weather. (I have to mention here that many Karnataka journalists who would be posted to Delhi would prefer to come back to the more sober climes of Bangalore and Mysore, except for the likes of Suryaprakash, Sachidananda Murthy of The Week and D. Umapathy of Prajavani who all are still serving in Delhi).

The year, he went to Delhi, was the year, I became a journalist. I free lanced with Star of Mysore for a year. In 1996 when Mr Deve Gowda became the Prime Minister, my editor Mr Ganapathy and I went to Delhi. It was sometime in October. We wanted to meet the Prime Minister and getting an appointment with the PM is not an easy task at all by any stretch of imagination.

These words of Mr Sachidananda Murthy who was already chief of bureau in The Week, still rings in my ears, “Girish can even take a tank inside the PMO.” The appointment was fixed and both my editor and I entered the Prime Minister’s chambers and spoke to him for ten minutes. He always did things quietly.

Then I came back and told my editor that I would like to join full time and Mr Ganapathy immediately obliged. I have been going to Delhi almost every year from then and I would go with a great deal of pride because my brother was there and I did not have to worry about anything.

There are two incidents in Delhi that I must reminisce. He really struggled hard in Delhi in his initial years. The salaries were nothing to talk about but for him the profession came first. He used to stay in a room that was on the balcony of a house with the smallest attached toilet in the world. But when I went to visit him he showed where he lived and then put me up in an air-conditioned guest house belonging to the Petroleum Ministry that was my brother.

It was the height of the telecom scam in 1996 when the former communications minister Sukh Ram’s house was raided and notes worth Rs 2.45 crore and another Rs 1.16 crore was recovered. There was a hue and cry and the opposition was going hammer and tongs against the ruling party. The Parliament was continuously being adjourned.

I happened to be in Delhi at that time and my brother took me to Parliament. It was just two years that Girish had moved to Delhi. Many of his journalist friends came to him and said, “Girish, Vajpayeeji is sitting in his chambers. Come let us all go and meet him. You must come with us because he knows you well.” I also tagged along. The picture is vivid in my memory. Girish leads the journalists to Mr Vajpayeeji’s chamber. The future Prime Minister lifts his head, looks at Girish and in his typical style just nods his head. Then Girish coaxes him to speak and what he said then I do not remember!

However, it was Rajya Sabha Television stint and the show he hosted “The Big Picture,” which gave him the biggest break. He was not into television. But he did have experience as he helped ETV chief Ramanujam in setting up a few regional Centres. Girish would always say, “You have to keep reinventing yourself to grow.”

Once the social media grew Girish became a Facebook addict.  Through this he made friends and touched many lives all over the world. He suffered a massive heart attack in September 2015, in New York when he had gone to cover the Prime Minister’s UN visit. He started putting out his health bulletin just a few days after his procedure, from the ICU. His friends were shocked and surprised at this extraordinary display of guts.

Everyone including himself used to say that he had survived because he got timely medical attention. The same scenario a year later in India, we all lost him. Because, when he complained of pain and asked be to rushed to the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital which is very close to his office on Gurudwara Rakab Ganj Road, there was no stretcher or ventilator.

Even as I got the call that he is serious, came the next call that he is no more. I rushed to Delhi the next morning from Kochi airport and reached the RML Hospital. I stood helplessly as I waited to have a glimpse of my brother. Everything had been arranged.

The body of my brother was taken to his work place, the RSTV Studio and placed for his colleagues and his host of friends and guests on his show, to pay their last respects. People irrespective of the party they belonged to came.

We brought the body to his home in Bangalore, where all his relatives, former colleagues and friends came to pay their last respect.

Girish was an atheist. Hence, we all respected his belief. There were no ceremonies and his body was consigned to flames. My soul mate Dr. Pamela Sanath and I immersed his ashes in Sangam in Srirangapatna on Friday (November 11) and thus the last physical link with my brother merged into nature. He always said that he wanted to go with his boots on. That is exactly the way he went.

These were his favourite line from the movie Mera Naam Joker which he had quoted to one of his friends on Sunday last when he was chatting with her

Kal khel me ham ho na ho
Gardish me tare rahenge sada

The feeling that he is no more has to still sink in. The Star of Mysore shone brightly in Delhi, the national capital.  Death be not proud. Adieu my dear brother. There are very few like you. But the Show Must Go On.

Pamela and I thank the Press Club of India and Rajya Sabha Television for this touching gesture of organizing a condolence meeting for my brother. Special thanks to the Rajya Sabha TV CEO Mr Gurdeep Sappal and the President of the PCI Mr Rahul Jalali.