So another close friend has passed away. HY Sharada Prasad?Shourie to all his friends, and he had many?was 84 and was bed-ridden for some eight moths, as he was suffering from Parkinson'sdisease which is very debilitating. The end came on September 2. He had suffered a great deal and death must have come as a relief. High tributes have since been paid to him, as could only be expected. Former Chief Justice MN Venkatchalliah was all praise for Shourie whom he described as one who represented ?a kind of civilisational culture, a culture of sobriety, dignity, humility and enormous amount of learning? who led ?an extraordinary life in our times?. And no truer words would have described him.
It was heartening to see that the Indian media gave adequate coverage to his service to the nation and did not dismiss him in a paragraph or two. He was not a media man in the accepted sense of the term. Though at the beginning of his career he served as news editor of the then Bombay based The Indian Express and later moved on to Delhi to become the editor of the Planning Commission'sjournal, Yojana, his real talent came to be appreciated and used to advantage when Indira Gandhi took him as her press adviser and speech writer. It was at a time when a distinguished filmmaker from abroad came to India to do a film on Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi was scouting for someone to do the necessary research. The choice fell on Shourie. By all accounts he seemed to be just the right man for the right job. He had all the right qualifications. From that moment onwards he and Smt Gandhi got along well.
Shourie, always a man of few words, was discreet, respectful, to totally trustworthy and knew his place under the sun. Such was the enormous respect that he commanded that Indira Gandhi, eight years his senior, would address him as Sharada Prasadji. Discretion was his forte and humility his hallmark. He never kept a diary, as some of his colleagues did. When I remonstrated with him that he was depriving history of some valuable material on Indira Gandhi'spersonality, her peeves and prowess, he would merely smile, no doubt wondering what fools his friends are. Though we were good friends from the time I joined the profession in 1945-46, it never occurred to me ever to probe into his mind or try to get inside information on Indira Gandhi, knowing only too well that I would only embarrass him. When I met him at international conferences, I never tried to get ?inside? information from him; we talked about books literature and everything else under the sun except politics and Indira Gandhi. In any event I had my own sources of information.
In one of the addresses to the United Nations Generals Assembly, she was to read out a speech written for her by Shourie in which a reference was made to vasudhaiva kutumbakam. Poor Indira Gandhi could not pronounce the words as they should be pronounced and fumbled, much to the amusement of those listening to her. I had to tease Shourie, but took it in the right spirit. His discretion was not limited to Indira Gandhi or to Rajiv Gandhi. He was just as close-mouthed about his service under Morarji Desai who offered Shourie the directorship of the Delhi-based Indian Institute of Mass Communication. During his term there he did me the courtesy to invite me to give a talk to the IIMC students which was generous of him. Low key, he was and not one to get offended or to raise his voice. Or to speak ill of anyone. He was a professional man. I had to tell him that he was overdoing his sense of bureaucratic rectitude, especially in not recording his daily conversations etc with the Prime Minster, but it fell on deaf ears.
He was a friend of Shivarama Karanth, the great Karnataka novelist who was frequently his guest and had translated one of the latter's novels into English. He was kind enough to send me a copy. One of his closed friends was Satyam, the photographer from his native Mysore, and the two worked together on a book on Karnataka. He was joint editor of the Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru and surely one who was most qualified for the job. He could have easily written a score of books on current affairs, but always his argument was that he be indirectly leaking out secrets. His sense of propriety and professional ethics was proverbial and if we remained friends it was because he knew that I respected his reticence and knew where to draw the line, especially in matters concerning Indira Gandhi'sinteractions with various politicians. There was no way one could invite him for a drink. At parties whether political or social, he never pushed himself and was content to go unnoticed. But his presence was duly felt, whether by journalists or ministers.
He was awarded the Nieman Fellowship in Journalism at Harvard way back in 1955-56, which is a rare honour but he hardly talked about his experience abroad, especially among scholars. During the few occasions we met by accident rather than by design, there was always something to talk about concerning the latest developments in Kannada literature with which he was familiar. Since Shri Shivarama Karanth was a common friend?when in Delhi, Karanth invariably was Shourie'shouse guest?we had much to share about the former'sgreat novels, but never about the man himself! Such was his reticence that he would not even speak about his college days, when he led a procession in Mysore during the 1942 Quit India movement and promptly got arrested. It was as if he was embarrassed to speak about his patriotism. That he was allowed to appear for his final BA (Hons) examination in jail and came out of it with flying colours is another story. He was honoured with Padma Bhushan in 2000 and was also a recipient of the Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration in 2001. Awards came to him unasked and unsought.
In a sense he did not belong to the media culture for all his contacts with the media. He fitted into the Prime Minster'sOffice as Adviser to Prime Ministers as to the manner born. Indira Gandhi was fortunate in discovering him and being able to use his talents. Non-smoking, non-drinking a man who believed if speech is silver, silence is golden, he chose the right medal. One may regret that he never put down his reminiscences in the PM'sOffice; had he done so, it would have been a gift to history. I miss a good friend who was happy to help Indira Gandhi make history but was unwilling to tell how history was being made in the Prime Minster'sOffice. But to each man his own sense of values. Shourie pursued values which he thought were right and who are we to question him?