Remembering Sujata Anandan, journalist and humanist

The sudden passing of our consulting editor Sujata Anandan left us in utter shock. From among the tributes still pouring in, we chose three special ones

Sujata Anandan at a Herald event
Sujata Anandan at a Herald event

NH Digital

On Thursday, 29 February, we lost our consulting editor in Mumbai, Sujata Anandan. One of the finest political commentators in Maharashtra as veteran journalist Vir Sanghvi described her, Sujata's sudden passing left us all in complete shock, particularly as some of us had interacted with her hours before her fatal cardiac arrest, when she filed her final copy for National Herald.

As we struggled to come to terms with her absence, tributes poured in from the journalism community, too numerous to cram into a single article. Of these, we have chosen three, from those who knew Sujata well, worked with her closely, and will miss her as much as we do.

Neeta Kolhatkar

Honestly, I never could have imagined writing a tribute for Sujata Anandan. She was my senior by a few years, and already an established journalist with the Indian Express when I began as a broadcast journalist. We were two women back in the 1990s, reporting for television.

Among the absolute handful who supported me, the first was always Pratap Asbe and the other, Sujata. While many whispered that journalists from English media were snobs, it was not the case with her. Sujata had her inner circle of women journalists, which was a relief because we only hear how women are their own worst enemies.

The one tip I picked up from her was not to share everything. She would smartly turn the conversation away from news/articles she was covering and be tight-lipped about her sources. Over the years, as we went beyond exchanging pleasantries and actually speaking, we often realised that we had similar views, and on the occasions we differed, she never rubbished mine. She would merely ask why I felt a certain way and asked about my experiences, and noted them.

We would most often laugh over comments made by politicians. Sujata would use them in her columns and I remember her picking up replies to my questions on a few occasions, giving me credit. This is something she was particular about, giving credit where it was due. Even on social media platforms when senior journalists made mistakes or failed to credit an incident, Sujata never held back.

She had no other persona, she was what she was, online and off. Among many incidents, I remember one. After many years, Nikhil Wagle said something about Anna Hazare (he had been a supporter), and Sujata stuck her neck out, commenting on that post and giving me credit for asking an uncomfortable question that busted Anna’s fast while Wagle had supported him.

Now, that is not something many journalists would do. Time and again, she stood by me without me asking her to do so. But then, Sujata was not like the rest.

She was encouraging of many of us who have been out of work, and would find ways to get us to write. She knew I took photographs, and would encourage me to submit them along with my articles. She, too, was fond of Mumbai, though she was from Nagpur. She appreciated my love for the city and both of us would lament at the policies that were ruining it.

Speaking to Sujata was always interesting because our conversations would begin with the issue to be discussed and then meander from state politics to India’s situation, and then somehow she would recollect some funny incident and we would laugh. In fact, our conversations were never hi, bye, they would go on for well over 30 minutes.

Sujata and I both had strong likes and dislikes, and would tell each other honestly if we didn’t agree. I remember joking about the way she would describe Sharad Pawar as a ‘Maratha warrior’, and I would say she made him sound like a sword-wielding Maratha soldier.

Come on Sujata, he moves around in air-conditioned cars, I would say. She would roll her eyes and break into her dimpled smile, telling me that it was his fighting spirit that had kept him going.  If you knew Sujata, this would be said in an animated manner and at the speed of the Rajdhani Express. I can visualise her as I recollect these incidents. 

Similarly, her undying support for Congress and Rahul Gandhi often got me thinking she believed in them more than they believe in themselves. Whenever we spoke of a change of government, I cannot think of anyone else who had such immense hope and belief that the Congress was the one that could bring the change.

Sometimes, I did express my counterpoints, and she would then rattle off dates, names and important elections where important decisions were taken. She was often trolled on social media for this support, and took on the trolls despite us telling her to be careful, calling out the journalists who had turned over as ‘Godi media’.

Though Sujata was a private person and did not initially share news of her ill-health, by the time I visited her in hospital or called on her later, she had begun sharing her concerns. She had not been well, but was one heck of a fighter. She had the support of her siblings and was appreciative of that. Journalism kept her going, always her passion.

Every time I called on her cellphone, I would end up humming the Kishore Kumar song, Aap ki ankhon mein kuchh... Except, this time round, there was a lump in my throat. I wasn’t going to hear, "Hi Neeta, what do you have for me?"

Neeta Kolhatkar is a senior independent journalist based in Mumbai


Ranjona Banerji

Sujata and I were the same vintage of journalists, we both lived in the same working women’s hostels at around the same time in Mumbai, but we never worked together, or had more than a nodding acquaintance.

But life is rarely a set of parallel lines, especially when you live in the same city, work in the same profession, and have friends, acquaintances, colleagues in common. I followed her journalism but did not always agree with her focus. We worked in rival newspapers, and that can create both challenges and camaraderie.

It wasn’t any of those that got Sujata and me properly in touch, though. It was a random meeting at an airport security check years and years after we first met. We sat together and discussed the state of the nation, which was already on its way to being miserable. And the state of journalism, already deep into its downward descent to spineless sycophancy.

Here, Sujata and I found ourselves on the same page. Against bigotry, against growing fascism, searching for signs of surviving democracy. From that airport chat onwards, we forged a new path. Social media helped, as it has in as many ways as it disappoints.

We also found ourselves in similar situations — single women in the same profession, too old for many newsrooms and too tired to jump through other people’s hoops. What did we have to prove to anyone? I left big city life first, Sujata wanted to know what it entailed. She knew the advantages, but could I shed light on the difficulties?

Right until her sudden death, Sujata remained brave and outspoken, ready to take on religious and social bigotry and hatred. Maharashtra politics was her domain and her insights were always significant. The loss to her family, friends and the larger world of honest journalism is incalculable. We have lost a rare strong voice of courage and honesty.

Ranjona Banerji is a journalist and columnist based in Mumbai


Syed Khurram Raza

I had the privilege of working alongside the exemplary Sujata Anandan, whose absence will be deeply felt; she was truly one of the finest journalists today, particularly excelling in her coverage of Maharashtra. Reflecting on our brief but impactful time together, memories flood my mind.

As we prepared to journey to Mumbai for the relaunch of National Herald's Mumbai edition, I found myself contemplating potential interviews with local politicians. Making a spontaneous decision, I reached out to Sujata to see if she could arrange a few. Without hesitation, she secured meetings with Sanjay Raut and Nawab Malik. When my colleague and I met them, their admiration for Sujata was evident. It became clear that she commanded immense respect among Maharashtra politicians.

In moments of uncertainty, or when news from Maharashtra came up, Sujata was always my first call. Her insights were invaluable, and our discussions were always thorough. Her passing leaves a significant void. Beyond her prowess as a journalist and writer, she embodied remarkable humanity. To me, she was a guiding light, always standing on the side of truth and justice. Her absence leaves me wondering who I will turn to now. Sujata will be dearly missed.

Syed Khurram Raza is Editor (Digital) of Qaumi Awaz

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