A sincere friend, a selfless mentor, a principled fighter, a true blue liberal, an effortless romantic, a passionate foodie, a patriot to the core, and above all, a kind soul. Yet, that is not all.
Words alone cannot describe the emotions Neelabhji evoked in those around him. For his near ones, Neelabh ji's passing away has left an indelible mark that won't go away anytime soon, if not ever. As for his acquaintances, they would realise that men like Neelabhji are not born often anymore.
One of his most admirable traits was that he gave his ear to everyone who wanted to talk. With him, one could open up about one’s problems, without the fear of being judged. Perhaps, his persona inspired frankness in people. His advice, when he spoke, was treasured.
When Neelabh talked, he spoke his mind. When he argued, he was relentless. His company was cherished, both by the young and old.
Neelabh’s knowledge about topics seemed boundless. Like an ideal journalist, he had an opinion on almost everything. And his opinion did count. When he talked, people listened. Whenever one went to him with a problem, he came up with a solution.
A perspicacious editor, Neelabh could easily be ranked among the best of his times. His nose for news, or what would make for news, was just peerless. His eyes glittered when he shared knowledge. His thirst for knowledge just seemed unquenchable. Such was his confidence and charisma that he never hid what he knew. He wasn’t fussed about competition.
Filled with humanity to the core, Neelabh believed in a life free of animosity and discrimination. And he practised what he preached. He was a secular and pro-people intellectual who had strongly opposed the politics of violence and enmity all his life. He was ever ready to pay the price for standing by what he believed in.
He was uncompromising on honesty. Perhaps that was the reason why dodgy journalists were wary of him. He inherited the simplicity in his lifestyle, clothing and food habits from his father, who was a staunch Gandhian.
Whenever he talked about the role of his father and grandfather in the Champaran movement of Bihar, he never forgot to mention that his mother hailed from western Uttar Pradesh. “She had an impressive personality,” he used to recall fondly.
He was one of the very few editors who had a very strong command over both Hindi and English. Apart from this he also spoke Bhojpuri and Maithili fluently. He knew how to use each language succinctly. If he was speaking or writing English, he applied the rules of English and made every effort to almost perfectly translate every word into Hindi. During the days when I was working with him in Outlook Hindi, I once had to write a story based on Justice Verma’s recommendations post the Nirbhaya case. The word ‘rape survivor’ came up. Neelabh ji emphasised that this word should be translated into Hindi. His argument in this regard is one thing that I will remember always. He said, Hindi language has become so impoverished only because the sociologists have stopped thinking and creating new words in Hindi. In that context he had mentioned how hard he had worked with his friend for translating the term ‘globalisation’ into Hindi during the initial phase of economic liberalisation.
Filled with humanity to the core, Neelabh believed in a life free of animosity and discrimination. And he practised what he preached. He was a secular and pro-people intellectual who had strongly opposed the politics of violence and enmity all his life. He was ever ready to pay the price for standing by what he believed in
I had the opportunity to work with him since 2004 and since then I never saw him faltering at any step, in any situation. He was a journalist and editor who trained several journalists and told them the key mantras of the profession which are not taught in any journalism school. Usually, these things are not taught or even told by any editor. He emphasised on correcting each and every word and sentence. He used to spend hours on headings and made all of us work hard. I used to be surprised at how he used to look at every single page keenly, give it a shape and colour and then also emphasise on having a look at the corrected copy. It’s very rare to find an editor who works so hard on each and every copy, and even story and poem too. Neelabh ji believed that whatever gets printed, it establishes a relation of faith with the reader. And this faith should never be hurt. He kept this thread of faith intact till the end.
Another quality of Neelabh ji makes him unique and unparalleled is that he never hankered after designation, influence and power. In this sense, he was a saint of an editor. He never made an attempt to grab the limelight nor hankered become a Rajya Sabha member.
He was a common man’s editor despite having a direct reach into power establishments and intellectual elites. No one was small or big for him. Everyone was equal, and he gave equal attention to everyone’s views.
In his thoughts, Neelabh ji was a global citizen. He was also fond of food from all over the world and had a great taste for tea too.
A tribute to Neelabhji would be incomplete without mentioning in it his friend and companion, Kavita Srivastava. They shared a unique bond of ideology and commitment, which is rare among couple these days. Kavita brought out the best of romantic in Neelabhji.
It is as if Neelabhji and Kavita were made for each other. Both rared to join any movement, an struggle, that was ongoing. Both together always stood for morals, for the truth. Neelabhji will always be part of Kavita, much like Kavita was his.
Losing Neelabhji is like losing a teacher. My promise to him was that I would always follow on his footsteps.
While talking of Neelabh ji, it is not possible to forget Kabir: ‘Bin Guru Nar Rahat Bhulana, Khojat-firat raah nahi jaana’ (without a teacher, a being keeps wandering without knowing the right path).
बिन सतगुरु नर रहत भुलाना, खोजत-फ़िरत राह नहीं जाना
I know wherever Neelabh ji is, he would be smiling in his typical style, engrossed in listening to Kabir in Kumar Gandharv’s voice.
सुनता है गुरु ज्ञानी
गगन में आवाज हो रही झीनी झीनी
(the knowledgeable teacher listens, the light voice echoing the skies lightly).