Yesterday, at a ceremony that I would like to describe as most civilised, two veteran journalists were honoured by the Indian Express group for proficiency in their work. The honour comprised an outsized and opulent trophy made out of five metals and designed in the form at one of L.K. Advani's Ram raths, a citation and a bank draft of Rs. 1 lakh each.
The awardees were two journalists Mr. Harindra Dave and Mr. Nikhil Chakravarthy, about whose abilities, talents and standing in the profession, nobody can have any doubts. To use an old but appropriate cliché, in honouring them, the gathering and the profession was honouring itself. It was like giving the Bharat Ratna to Jayaprakash Naraya, not that I recall anybody has given it to him.
But the Bharat Ratna is a government award and, like most government things, has lost much of its lustre. (Consider the government's national film awards, the Filmfare awards have more value in the film industry than them.) The point is, recognition by your own professional colleagues is much more difficult to achieve than recognition by 100 Lions Clubs and Rotarians and Junior Jaycees.
As was the case with yesterday's Goenka Awards. The judges included Mr. B.G. Verghese, who is one of our most distinguished and sober journalists. I remember during his period with the Times Of India, he toured the entire country and did a detailed state-by-state reportage of the industrial and economic development in the public and private sector. Nobody has done an update on that, because that sort of work takes months of time and effort and it is easier to sit down on an afternoon and write a political commentary.
The other judge included Mr. Achyut Patwardhan, one of the few men not to cash in on the fruits of independence and Mr. Nani Palkhivala, a most impartial and outspoken gentleman.
But the evening's biggest discovery, for me at least, was Justice Hidayatullah. I had always thought of him as one of those symbolic gestures of the government - make a Muslim the vice president and let the world know how secular we are. But as he spoke yesterday evening, through the heart, he revealed his true secular self. My people have been unnecessarily harassed of late, he said, or words to that effect. And he went on to quote in Persian and Arabic to show that to the outside world we are all Hindus from Hindustan, whatever our religion may be. Then why all this ballyhoo. Why, indeed.
The ceremony was followed by a vegetarian dinner, the Taj, as usual, unexcelling itself in its vegetable menu. But that is perfectly understandable, it is not a vegetarian hotel. And, as I was leaving, I met Mr. Dave, somewhat worried about where to put the large and heavy ornamental award in her one-bedroom house.