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I had never met Kamal Khan of NDTV India, yet I mourn his sudden passing as a deep personal loss.
In these unscrupulously fallen times when news reporting has come to be a coloured, raucous and expedient nuisance, Khan clearly saw his vocation as a sacred trust bestowed upon him by the fundamental values of truth and decency in public life.
The reassuring poise and weight of his renditions of public events and political trends derived from his exceptional erudition, his deep sense of history, and his ennobling commitment to the highest order of democratic and humanist values.
An icon of India’s composite culture, few news people of his generation have an as extensive and on-hand knowledge of Hindu scriptures as he did – equipment that often drew from him quietly but tellingly expressed ripostes to right-wing ignorance of the substance of their own trumpeted religious archive.
Only the night before of his passing, one heard him make observations on misogyny and patriarchy that would have bested the most cocky seminarist on these subjects.
Every word Khan chose for his reporting bespoke the fineness and subtlety of his learning, and his deep concern for the preservation of values that have through the centuries made of India an exemplar of cultural plurality rooted in the valorisation of diversity.
Khan’s very presence on the television screen seemed to bring with it an assurance of sanity and enriching tolerance in the middle of so much noisy, illiterate and sectarian propagation.
His going seems to bring the same sort of impoverishment to television-speak as Walter Cronkite’s loss once did to American audiences.
At a time when the embattled state of Uttar Pradesh is all set to go to polls in what has come to be an unprecedentedly degrading contest, in which the least shred of decency and ethics is victim to power-lust, it is good to remember Khan as having been a representative of a Gangetic-belt culture that for centuries provided food for the efflorescence of literary and cultural traditions of outstanding beauty and humanism. Khan was as deeply steeped in the history and traditions of Hindi and Sanskrit cultural output as he was in those of the Urdu-Persian languages.
I have heard him observe more than once how some of the finest Hindi writing was done there by Muslims, and some of the finest Urdu writing by Hindus.
Khan takes with him an anchor of reliability and knowledge that this benighted region desperately needs.
It is heartening to see that the news channel he worked for has been giving us detailed reminiscences of Kamal Khan’s life and work, fully cognisant of the fact that he leaves behind a big hole.
Badri Raina taught at Delhi University.