Neelabh Mishra: A tribute on his first death anniversary

On this day last year, Feb 23, National Herald family lost Editor-in-Chief Neelabh Mishra. But many more felt bereaved. This tribute sums up what he meant to those who were fortunate to know him

NH Photo
NH Photo

Pushkar Raj

In the dead of night, as I read news of Neelabh’s death, I drooped a little more on my chair as I was tired and about to retire for the night. Perhaps part of me oxidised as my nerves felt something flashing past and left me a little shaken.

I had met Neelabh last year before I left Delhi for Melbourne on 28 January. It was the first time since I had heard that he was keeping unwell due to non-alcoholic liver disease. I had not met him for about four years. It was a cold, hazy evening and I had a flight to catch in the morning. He was sitting, more like a detached poet, on a cot in the drawing room of his upmarket Munirka flat. He had grown weak in body, but his smile betrayed his torch like spirit flashing around the room as he spoke.

He explained to me about the history of the disease in his family, the state of liver transplant in the country and how he had been in queue for a long time. He had no complaints though. He talked about his plans to go to Chennai filling me with emotions as if I wanted that to happen instantly, and I snapped, “why are you not there, what are you doing here?” He smiled calmly as was his wont and said, ‘’we are organising.’’

Suddenly there was a knock on the door. An adolescent boy of about seventeen entered. He was the son of his driver whom he had called to organise finances for his post -secondary education before he left for Chennai for medical treatment. The young boy wanted to be an actor. Neelabh was rooted in present with abundance of goodness unmindful of his future.

I met Neelabh during my association with the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) when he would often come to meetings at Gandhi Peace Foundation. Afterwards, we would go to Bengali market to have a cup of tea and some speciality of food that he would recommend. I liked his composure anointed with soft, broad smile lending it simplicity and grace.

We shared common interests- politics and literature. Furthermore, he was the one with whom I could discuss, protest and complain about my colleague Kavita Srivastava’s s ideological stands on some issues on which we differed. With a compassionate smile he would listen. He spoke little and when he did it was knowledgeable. The journalist in him was always alive and curious.

I remember our last discussion about the age controversy of a former Army General that reached the Supreme Court and he predicted accurately the motivations of the gentleman and the direction he was headed politically.

As I prepared to leave after meeting him, he insisted that I eat something- you could not go from his and Kavita’s house without it. I had bites of kabab. He did not eat, and I extracted a promise from him that post- treatment having recuperated, he would visit me in Melbourne and we would go to the city’s Lygon street, famous for food, unwrapping Australian politics and literature on the table. He smiled with a nod and seemed to agree.

But medical circumstances proved to be unfavourable at the end. The deceased organ donation stands in India at 0.34 per million (2014) as compared to 22.2 per million in a developed country such as Australia. The wait was longer than his body could afford. Most of us do not think we shall ever die and have little appreciation how much donating any one of our organs could mean for someone else in today’s advanced medical age. I myself had never pondered on this till I was struck by his death and acted subsequently.

As I parted with him on that night, I was very optimistic of his recovery. Therefore when I heard the news of his death, my confidence in my intuition, that I thought was my strength, was also jolted at the root.

As he is no more with us, I reflect on his stoic attitude about his illness on that evening. Perhaps it had to do with his understanding of life as a journey that he spoke about in his parting article in Outlook in December 2015, Yug-Yug Dhavit Yatri , a journey of spirit leaving the body behind and moving to eternal peace. I am sure, wherever he is; he is flowering in goodness and resting in peace which was his second nature.

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