New Delhi, Dec 28: They inspired with their brilliance, humbled with their talent. Sometimes controversial but always effective, they held us in thrall and left an indelible mark on the lives of thousands. As 2012 winds down, time to once again remember the magic of some of those we said goodbye to:
Homai Vyarawalla: Chronicler, archivist and the grand old dame of Indian photojournalism, Vyarawalla took her first photograph in 1926 when she was just 13. India’s lone woman photographer in the heady days of the freedom struggle was at the Red Fort on Aug 15, 1947, when the first bells of freedom tolled, when Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated, when Jawaharlal Nehru died and also when Lal Bahadur Shastri passed away. That tryst with history ended Jan 15 this year when Vyarawalla died at the age of 98.
Sailendra Nath Manna: In a country where cricket is the reigning game, this soccer legend, who passed away Feb 27 at the age of 87 in Kolkata, will be long remembered. He led India to the gold in the inaugural Asian Games in New Delhi. In 1953, he was named by England’s Football Association (FA) as one of the 10 best captains of the world. Indian footballers then played barefoot. Queried by Princess Margaret, Manna said his team felt more comfortable. “We could not say that there were no funds for buying boots,” Manna said later.
Dara Singh: The man of steel with a heart of gold, Dara Singh wrestled his way from the ring to the big screen and the small one to enormous success. The wrestler who became hero and then uncle, father and friend in numerous character roles died July 12 at the age of 84. He was last seen in “Jab We Met” as the stern ‘Daarji’ who ruled over a noisy, close-knit Sikh family. Quite like the real life man, who intimidated people with his 6′ 2″ frame but soon won them over with outgoing nature and warmth.
Rajesh Khanna: He was India’s first and biggest superstar. From dizzying fame to quiet shadows behind the arclights, it was a life with a theatrical sweep. He was only 69 when he died July 18, leaving behind memories cast in celluloid of that famous crooked smile and head tilt. In an era long before this age of instant connect of mobile phones and internet, he was the man who sparked a frenzy never seen before and never since. Ever the urbane, suave romantic, he was not an actor with great versatility but was oh so charming in films like “Safar”, “Kati Patang” and “Anand”.
Lakshmi Sehgal: A feminist icon, an enduring profile in courage and a staunch patriot. Sehgal was all of this and more. The close associate of Subhas Chandra Bose and the first captain of the women’s wing of the Indian National Army died July 23. Sehgal was also fielded by the Left Front as its presidential candidate against A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in 2002 but lost. A founder member of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, she was an outspoken advocate of women’s rights till the very end.
Varghese Kurien: The man behind India’s white revolution who empowered millions of rural poor in Gujarat through a cooperative movement died Sep 9 at the age of 81. It was his initiative that catapulted India to be the world’s largest milk producer in the 1970s. He was the founder-chairman of the National Dairy Development Board (1965-98) and also chairman of the Gujarat Co-Operative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd (GCMMF)(1973-2006). The Kerala born ‘Amul man’ who arrived in Anand in 1949 launched Operation Flood in 1971.
Brajesh Mishra: India’s first national security advisor was a career diplomat who played a key role in events as they unfolded during 1998-2004 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was prime minister and Mishra his trusted aide. Mishra helped shape the Vajpayee government’s nuclear policy following the May 1998 tests, as also its foreign affairs initiatives, particularly with Pakistan. His BJP leanings did not stop him from backing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s India-US civil nuclear deal. Singh wrote after his death Sep 28 at the age of 84 that he often consulted him “and found his counsel to be insightful and free from bias”.
Yash Chopra: Where would romance Bollywood style be if it were not for Yash Chopra, cineastes wondered after his death Oct 21 from dengue. He gave us love on the Swiss Alps with dreamy heroines in wispy chiffons and soft heroes with heart. But this filmmaker, who gave timeless films like “Waqt” and “Silsila”, also made actioners like “Deewaar” and “Kaala Patthar”. The 80-year-old evolved with the times as his last film showed to great effect – pre-marital sex and kissing on screen too. The film was “Jab Tak Hai Jaan”. Chopra could not have wished for a better epitaph.
Sunil Gangopadhyay: He called poetry his first love but delved successfully into all literary genres. Much loved in India and Bangladesh, Gangopadhyay wrote over 200 books and was considered amongst the popular poets in post-Tagore Bengal. The doyen of Bengali literature, who died Oct 23 at the age of 78, was more than that though. The Sahitya Akademi president was known for his liberal, secular and open-minded views and believed that “Indian literature is one, written in many languages”.
I.K. Gujral: India’s prime minister for a brief 11 months in 1997-98, Gujral was a gentleman politician. He will be rememberd for his Gujral Doctrine – his mantra for India’s neighbourhood policy that helped change mindsets and improved India’s ties with its neighbours through the years. The quintessential Congress member later left the party to join the Janata Dal after differences with former prime minister Indira Gandhi over her autocratic ways, He died Nov 30 at the age of 93, as quietly and gracefully as he had exited the political stage two decades ago.
Bal Thackeray: The fierce proponent of Marathi chauvinism and Hindu supremacist ruled over the politics of India’s financial and entertainment capital for five decades till death at the age of 86 on Nov 17. The Shiv Sena that he founded in 1966 became the vehicle for his divisive politics, attracting opprobrium but also millions of Marathi followers. Thackeray never contested an election himself but made sure that his acidic, volatile views on everything, from films to cricket, were known to all.
Ravi Shankar: The strains of his sitar wove together the disparate worlds of the east and the west. The classical musician, one of India’s best known, was also dubbed the “godfather of world music” by his Beatles friend George Harrison. From the chaotic epic stage of Woodstock to all night soirees in India, India’s most effective cultural ambassador wooed them all. When he died on Dec 12 near his home in the US, the world could only say, “Thank you for the music, for giving it to us”.
(Minu Jain can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)