Mourning two gentle giants of India…

February 20/21 were tragic days for India as we lost two of our iconic citizens, who we grew up worshipping as heroes. Both were tall figures, one was the brilliant legal luminary Fali Nariman, who never hesitated to speak the truth and was fearless. As mentioned in the tribute written by senior advocate Sriram Panchu, “he was the public intellectual par excellence, who kept standards of probity at a premium. Above all was his attitude to power. He cared a hoot for the power of power, and for those who wielded it wrongly.” Immediately after the Emergency was proclaimed, he resigned as Additional Solicitor General and later, returned the briefs of the Gujarat government after an attack on Christians. “He was the tallest lawyer in the country, but he never became the Attorney General, no prizes for guessing why.”

The other person we lost was the much-loved Ameen Sayani, who kept us enchanted and entertained through his smooth-as-silk voice with adorable diction and use of the simple Hindustani language that could be understood by people across India, through his record radio show Binaca Geetmala on Radio Ceylon. Every Wednesday evening, lakhs of Indians crowded around their radios to hear his delightful commentary about the best and most popular Hindi film songs of the week. We simply lapped up his brief comments about the song and were transported to another world as the most melodious music created by the best of our musicians and rendered by Lata, Rafi, Mukesh, Kishore, Asha, Manna Dey, Hemant and others filled our homes and hearts. A generation that has grown up with millions of melodies at their command at a mere touch on their mobile phones can never even imagine how eagerly we used to wait for Wednesdays in an era sans television, mobiles, and other music systems. Only the wealthy could afford the gramophone in the early 1950s when the show began.

It’s worth reflecting why these two gentlemen have left such an indelible mark on those of us who had the privilege of knowing them through their work and their presence in the public domain. Not only were both thorough gentlemen in their dealing with others, there was a gentleness and softness in their manner and speech, as well as an old-world charm in their very personality. They wore their fame and influence over such large number of Indians so lightly. These are indeed rare qualities today, when we see around us so much of boorishness and flaunting of power, loudness and arrogance and a near-total absence of the gumption and the courage to stand up and speak up for what is right… to speak up for the downtrodden, fight against discrimination, and refrain from singing hosannas to those in power… be it in politics, business and industry or various professions.

Just one example is enough; these days inadequate, unjustified, irrelevant and out of context references are being made on a prominent Bollywood actress by one of our mainstream politicians from whom we expected better. Compare this to Ameen Sayani who always opened his Geetmala show with ‘Behno aur bhaiyo’. It was always the woman first; how many of our politicians do that in their speeches? And mind you, those weren’t even days when the gender equity discourse, forget the DEI mantra, was on the horizon!


Rasheeda Bhagat

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