A media activist passes away

BY Vinita Deshmukh| IN Media Practice | 21/07/2007
Tributes to Prakash Kardaley, a Right to Information campaigner who taught many journalists in Pune and elsewhere, to use the Act.

Pioneer of civic journalism

Vinita Deshmukh

Journalism for him was not a jungle or words, in which he got aimlessly lost. Each word that went into `cold print¿ as he called it was an explosive part of ammunition, to be struck with military precision. For him, the editor¿s cabin was not an ivory tower but a strategic field post from where he could map out his `war¿ strategies. He called his reporters the `infantry brigade¿ while the features section was the `artillery department¿. Every campaign he undertook through the news columns was a well-planned `assault¿ to either maim the opposition or completely demolish it----his enemy no.1 being injustice to the common, faceless man. Here too, he did not jump into  an impulsive attack. He used to say, ``when you are gunning one finger at someone, you should have enough reserves in the three fingers pointing at you.¿¿

That¿s the unbeatable Prakash Kardaley who breathed the fire of journalism for 40 years, day and night, till the last breath of his life, last Sunday. He used to say that every centimeter of the news column is too precious to be frittered away for `irrelevant¿ issues. His incessant mantra was: ?Relevance---that¿s the prime thing you should know as a journalist. When you broach a story idea, ask yourself,  would the reader have missed it if he had not read it??

Dare you throw a pompous or a frivolous idea and he would be ruthlessly rude: ?Are you touching the pulse of the reader or going on an ego/fancy trip just because you have the power of the pen in your hand?¿¿ You felt so useless and worthless at such times!

In the last seven years, Prakash had adorned another robe, that of the Right to Information activist, but he believed it was the extension of relevant journalism. ?Times have changed and now journalists better know that they have a competitor in the common man.Even without being a part of the fourth estate or flaunting the pompous `press¿ card, the ordinary man from all corners of the country is accessing information from government offices and shocking you with the details that was otherwise the prerogative of the so-called `investigative journalist.? He used to be distressed and saddened that journalists did not use this weapon despite having the  platform of amplifying the details - many of which he said had the potential of shaking the government or showing it in bad light--through the powerful mode of the print and electronic media.

Prakash was so wedded to his work that eating any fancy food or attending a celebrity party was an insult to his mission. His well-known weakness was the beer bottle but here too it was not wayward indulgence. Beer sessions at the charming Grand Hotel in Pune were extensions of ideas/strategies planned during the day, perhaps to be crystallised while gulping beer in the late evening. His favourite words were, ``Arre, I must have beer with him, I want to discuss that point which cannot be done in the office where phone calls and visitors get really irritating. ¿¿

Ever since he passionately took up the RTI crusade though, beer sessions were replaced by his date with the computer till the wee hours of the night. He had  become an ardent netizen and explored the cyber space with an enthusiastic but missionary zeal. Even at the age of 65 years, he would devote his entire day to the new local weekly he had launched about four months ago and after work, become an ardent netizen activist. He was the founder of the `Hum Janenge¿ yahoo discussion group and today it is one of the most formidable netizen crusade groups in the country (perhaps in the world). For any news /views / ciritcism / appreciation about the RTI movement in India, all you have to do is become its member.

Hum Janenge comprises about 600 members and everyday someone or the other is enrolling anew. His short moment of happiness was when in one single day 58 new members enrolled, a couple of months back. The  enthusiasm being triggered by a national RTI convention that he held in Pune and relevant news reports appearing all across the country, arousing the curiosity of many. Till the wee hours of the morning, he used to be posting devastating messages that used to make even RTI information commissioners squirm. When morning broke, he was back to being a journalist - always had a story idea for the weekly and he could not wait to reach office to tell me excitedly of an idea which I should immediately get cracking on.

For journalists he was known as the `Master¿. For RTI activists, he was `Masterji.¿ I used to be amazed - how anyone can be so correct and commanding. His disposition was serious, in fact, unfriendly and rude. He could not suffer `fools¿ --he would have liked the world to think and act as scientifically and logically and as fast as he could.

To those who were close to him, he  showed no mercy if they did wrong. He shot stinging arrows from which you either learned or ran away. To those who did good work, even if it was a fresh trainee, he would present with  an`AVSM, PVSM¿ medal as he would term it. He would call that `colleague¿ (he hated to call anyone junior¿) and then dig out a paper from his wastepaper basket to offer as the `medal.¿ When he laughed, he laughed so heartily that he used to go red on his face, with tears of joy rolling down his cheeks! You wondered how a man who used to otherwise snap at people can exude such warmth! I once told him that he was a honey bee that would sting but also produce honey. He smiled.

Warmth was a quality of his not many knew of. He was known more as a hardcore, investigative journalist and one who had pioneered civic journalism in the country. However, soft stories that touched the heart of the readers inspired him. He brought these out through the ?artillery tribe.? A month ago, local newspapers  splashed page one photographs of tribal girls from Maharashtra being trained as air hostesses. My foot! He said, ?did you read that? Arggh, these newspapers have carried it so blandly. Let us give justice. Go and meet that lady who is training these girls. Doesn¿t it remind you of Professor Henry Higgins who taught the flower girl Elisa Doolittle in `My Fair Lady.¿ Treat the story that way---it must go as a cover story.¿¿ The same day he handed me the 'My Fair Lady¿ movie cassette.

?See it first, otherwise you cannot do justice to this silent social revolution that is happening in your very own city.¿¿ After I wrote the story, ?May I have a look at what these girls looked like before they wore these mini-skirts and stockings? Use both pictures for that formidable effect!¿¿ The cover story is still receiving rave reviews. No one knows of  the man behind it.

Twenty minutes  before he died, he gave me instructions on an Impact story to be carried. Then he called up 20 minutes later. ``I can see all black in front of my eyes.¿¿ I said, ``Remove the pillow below your head and sleep straight.¿¿

The phone went silent. He had the habit of banging the phone down tersely. I thought he had agreed to my suggestion - he quite relied on me for health tips. I didn¿t know he had stopped talking forever. Next I saw him sleeping on the stretcher without a pillow under his head.

I can¿t believe he has gone forever! I am sure he has loved that moment he always desired to 'instantly¿ switch off. Without a fuss!

Reprinted from the Indian Express, July 17, 2007

Pune bids adieu to Prakash Kardaley

Express News Service

Pune, July 16: Prakash Kardaley, who, as resident editor of the Pune edition of The Indian Express and later senior editor (Express Initiatives), became the voice of Pune, was paid rich tributes by prominent citizens from various walks of life even as they bid a final adieu to him at a solemn ceremony on Monday.

Social activist Anna Hazare said the passing away of Kardaley had left a huge void in the nation-wide Right to Information (RTI) campaign.

?I do not think this void will ever be filled. Kardaley was our friend, philosopher and guide. We two would often be awake well past midnight discussing ways to overcome the numerous obstacles that came in our way,? recalled Hazare.

?The RTI is still new and much needs to be done to spread awareness. Kardaley has left us in the middle of it all,? a visibly emotional Hazare said.

Mayor Rajlaxmi Bhosale said: ?Pune has lost a journalist who truly loved the city. It was because of his initiative as co-ordinator of the Express Citizens' Forum that several developments took shape in this city?.

It was a solemn occasion as journalists, social activists, politicians, and academicians, gathered at the Vaikunth Crematorium for the final rites on Monday afternoon.

Earlier, Kardaley's body was kept at his residence in Patrakar Nagar, where friends and well-wishers made a beeline to pay their final respects to the departed soul. The dignitaries present on the occasion included Air Chief Marshal Hrushikesh Moolgavkar and chairman and managing director, Kinetic Engineering Ltd, Arun Firodia. Also present were founder president of Pune Union of Working Journalist (PUWJ) Gopalrao Patwardhan, Southern Command spokesperson and Press Information Bureau's director Prashant Pathrabe, military historian Shashikant Mehendale and Indian Maritime Organisation president Captain Rajan Vir, RTI Commissioner for Western Maharashtra Vijay Kuvalekar and a number of civic and RTI activists.

But perhaps the most touching moment was when Naik Sandeep Indalkar from Queen Mary's Technical Institute (QMTI) arrived to salute Kardaley. ?I salute him for being the forerunner in installing the War Memorial in Pune,? said Indalkar, who had lost his legs in an attempt to stop a robbery in a moving train some years ago. QMTI Chief Executive Officer Col (Retd) S R Yeri termed Kardaley's sudden demise as shocking.

In a press release, Yeri said, ?On behalf of the QMTI, we wish to place on record the unstinted support of the media through the tireless efforts of late Shri Prakash Kardaley for the noble cause of the QMTI. It is due to his efforts that the QMTI received assistance from National Defence Fund to carry out its much-needed renovation. The disabled soldiers who received mobility equipment through Kargil funds bow their heads with reverence to the departed soul.?

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