Journalistic Memories of Another Time

Manohar Parrikar, the politician who walked the upper echelons of power would sometimes be more common than the commoner. His middle-class upbringing never let him forget his roots, which in turn helped him to place his feet firmly on ground. The greatness of the man was his simplicity, which not only got displayed through his outward appearance including ordinary attire, but his body language as well as behaviour. It greatly helped him to understand the problems faced by the man on the street – the common man. Countless press conferences, many interviews and pocketful of interactions with the man himself revealed his various facets from time to time. A humane face that oozed sensitivity!
Manohar Parrikar after coming to power as the Chief Minister in 2012 had become very sensitive to the political news coverage. He was perceptive to the news reports published in the local newspapers every day, and would finish reading most of these dailies early morning, even before the reporters, who filed the reports woke up from their sleep. Many a times, if the news reports were not favourable to the government, he would ring up the chief reporter of the particular daily. “You have erred in this report,” he would say, and provide clarification about the same. However, he would not forget to add, “Now that I am giving you correct version of the story, it does not mean you have to carry it in tomorrow’s edition. I am just giving you the right information.”
Many of the chief reporters of various newspapers had experienced this early morning chat with Parrikar. One of the reporters even had quipped that whenever he wanted to get up early on a particular day, he ensured that something unfavourable about the government came in print, in his newspaper, on that day.
“And then I need not use alarm to get up as the Chief Minister is sure to call me up early morning,” he would say in a lighter vein.
It is however to the credit of the Chief Minister that he never took such reports to the heart. His annoyance would be short-lived like bubbles in the soda water. By next day he would forget the news report and the reporter would be free to write yet another one against the government.
The government had come out with a scheme for the journalists, in which they were eligible to get either a laptop or a camera with grants for the same provided through the department of information and publicity. I applied for a camera, and the department mentioned that the provision of camera under the scheme was restricted to photographers, while the laptop was for reporters. Subsequently, I wrote a letter to the Chief Minister accompanied by various photographs clicked by me, from time to time and published in the newspaper. The application then moved from the Chief Minister’s Office to the department of information and publicity, back and forth. Eventually the government folded the scheme on December 31, 2017.
The Chief Minister was sadly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and had to be shifted to the US, for advanced treatment. One early morning, I received a call from him. He was speaking from the New York-based health facility, where he was admitted.
“It would be difficult to clear your application for camera this time,” he said, adding “The government will re-launch the scheme soon, and I will consider your application at that time.”
I just could not believe my ears. This man is undergoing treatment for a life-threatening illness, thousands of miles away from Goa, and he is thinking about my application! How many chief ministers could have done this, under testing circumstances? He was really made up of unbelievable stuff.
When the Bharatiya Janata Party lost the race for power in 2007 and Digambar Kamat of Congress party became the Chief Minister, the post of Leader of the Opposition naturally came to Manohar Parrikar. In that capacity he was allotted an office on the ground floor of the state legislative assembly building. Soon, every Monday noon, he started addressing press conferences at this place. Many-a-times, Parrikar would reach late for the press conference and his interaction with media would end at around 2 pm.
One day, Parrikar felt that the media persons were missing their lunch because of the press conference and he announced that these interactions would be followed by lunch. “But I don’t want to give you oily and fatty stuff so that you feel dozy after the press conference,” he said, quipping, “After all you have to go and report my press conference.”
And, that was not all. Parrikar asked the reporters to suggest a good menu for the Monday lunch. As no consensus was reached on the issue, as is the general case with media persons, Parrikar himself chalked out ‘healthy’ menu. Slices of fresh fruits and fruit juices dominated it. The meals were strictly vegetarian as many of the scribes turned vegetarian on Monday. Subsequently, Parrikar, who liked fried food very much, got bored of the blend meals and soon pakodas/ bhajia made backdoor entry into the menu.
It was September 2013 and I had gone to a starred hotel in the city to cover some evening event, where chief minister Manohar Parrikar was the chief guest. After the function, as I was leaving the place, I heard him calling my name. I went to him as he said, “You people (journalists) have a habit of filing reports on garbage management, without actually knowing what garbage management means.” I turned completely blank as neither the event I had just attended was about garbage management, not I had written on the subject for a long time.
The Chief Minister then said, “I have decided to send a delegation to European cities to see how they dispose of the garbage and you ought to see how it is done. So keep your passport ready.”
In October 2013, I was in Europe with the delegation. He keenly followed my reports as I filed them from various European cities and send them to my newspaper. When I came back, he told me that a photograph I had clicked of a garbage management plant in the German city of Dusseldorf spoke more than words, as the plant was situated along the Alps, in a highly environmental-sensitive area, yet did not cause any damage to the ecology.
When Manohar Parrikar was the defence minister, he invited a delegation of reporters to New Delhi and took them around the military installation in the national capital as well as its suburbs. He also hosted a dinner for this group at the Kota House, Naval Officers Mess. When the waiters in impeccable uniform came to serve the choicest food in pure silverware, the defence minister reacted, “have your dinner comfortably; but I tell you, this food cannot be compared to our delicious rice and fish curry.” He just never let Goan fish curry-rice go out of his mind.

Source:: The Navhind Times

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