His eyes would light up brighter than the cigarette between his fingers as he would sink back in his chair, preparing us for a great story that was coming our way. Chandan Mitra was a great storyteller, apart from being a good editor.
Unlike how many journalists remember him today, Mr Mitra was not my first editor. But he remains one of the most impressive ones that I have worked within my career. Mr Mitra or CM or Chandan da, as most of us knew him as, passed away early morning today at the age of 65. He was ailing.
While his political and editorial accomplishments tower over everything else, I remember this editor of mine to be a great orator. He loved to tell tales and he had many, coming from his love for travel, food and films. And history. There was always some experience that he had to share from his recent travels, in turn encouraging one to share theirs with equal interest. It was always a dialogue and never a monologue.
A two-term Rajya Sabha MP, he used the break between the two terms to explore India in depth. Travel was his escape. One time, he drove from Kashmir in the north to Rameshwaram down south and at another from Gangtok in the northeast to Gujarat in the west. The north-south travel was inspired by Chennai Express! He’d stop by at the dhabas, speak to the locals and take some crazy pictures – sometimes of just the skies, “Look how blue are the skies!” he’d say with glee, handing out his selection to go with the travelogues he’d write. His favourite holiday for long was around new years’ with his wife. They always chose a forest, stayed at the forest guest house and cooked their own food, cut off from the rest of the world. Many times at places with no power.
An old school journalist, he was one of the finest writers, orators and a passionate politician, who trusted people easily, and blindly at that. He also made for a great gambler – on people and their abilities – put the most unlikely people in positions and gave them a free hand to run. All one had to do was to deliver. Needless to say, a few let him down. “I can’t offer you big money,” he’d said when he reached out to me to join as the editor of the group’s travel lifestyle magazine in 2010, “but I promise to give you a free hand with the product. I can assure you that you will enjoy working with the group.” A promise he did best to keep.
As an editor, he read each and every word that was published by the group. He would carefully mark out his impressions (mostly appreciation) in red pen on yellow post-its and send it back to the department. Despite his busy schedule, he’d make it a point to tell the writer personally about the part he liked the best. He had many questions and observations that would help them in their future writings. Edit meetings with him were something to look forward to.
He enjoyed writing his political edits as much as he did his celebrity interviews for the magazine. He enjoyed his films a lot, and old Bollywood numbers. He was also very thoughtful towards his colleagues and a complete “bhadralok” at that. At times, when my Bengali speaking colleagues would break into their mother tongue, he’d bring them back to English with a gentle reminder.
Today, as I bid adieu to a good man, I am reminded of the lines with which he had concluded his farewell speech in Rajya Sabha on May 13, 2016. It is actually a song.
“Tum ko bhi hai khabar, Mujhko bhi hai pata;
Ho raha hai judaa, Dono ka raasta;
Dur jaake bhi mujhse, tum meri yaadon main rehna;
Kabhi alvida na kehna, Kabhi alvida na kehna…”
(Navneet Mendiratta edits Agenda, the Sunday section of The Pioneer. Views expressed are personal.)