Sometime during 2000/01 in Indore, Dainik Bhaskar, the Bhopal based newspaper (which also had an Indore edition) held a series of media events that were open to the public. During that week, many prominent media personalities visited Indore. Suddenly the otherwise quiet town was in focus (or it was made to look like that to us, anyway).
In my late teens then, I had never seen anything like it. One like minded friend, Girish Sekhar (who was already disillusioned with our netas then and later joined the Army – always ahead of his times, Girish Sekhar) and I decided to make the most of the opportunity. We wildly hunted for passes that were freely available but required traveling to another part of the city, trying to get into as many events we possibly could. Indore’s public transport was pathetic then so commuting was a major problem. We did manage to get a pass to the event at the infamous Sayaji Hotel, one of the town’s few five star hotels. It was the stuff we could only dream about — hearing top media people speak at the best hotel in town, for free.
Loitering in the hotel after the event as if we had always belonged there, Girish pointed me out to a man walking in the lobby, who seemed to be returning from the rest room. “I’ve seen him somewhere – I just have”, exclaimed Girish. I had the same gut feel and of the two of us, I turned out to be the assertive kind. I walked to the man, all confident and ready to speak the clichéd line: jee, aapko kahin dekha hai (Sir, I have surely seen you somewhere). The man looked at us, broke into a smile and said: aapne mujhko Zee TV ke kaaryakram, Ru Ba Ru pe dekha hoga (You must have seen me in Zee tv’s program, Ru Ba Ru).
That man was Rajeev Shukla. Down to earth, introducing himself to a bunch of nobodies in a Five-star hotel lobby. Of course, he was much thinner then though his moustache, almost gone now, loomed thick when you looked at his face. he broke into a smile often and when he spoke his pure hindi, you could swear that you had never met a more modest man than him (I also realize now that he may have been a MP then).
In the late 90s, Rajeev Shukla, someone who started his career as a journalist went around seeking answers from people in power, on national television. In his usual head wobblling style while stating things matter-of-factly, he would ask uncomfortable questions in chaste hindi that made way for more uncomfortable answers. His website claims that “he interviewed eminent personalities ranging from political leaders like Congress Chairperson Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, former Prime Ministers Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Mr I.K Gujral, the then President Mr K R Narayanan, Benazeer Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, Dalai Lama to film celebrities and sport stars like Amitabh Bachchan, Anil Kapoor, Shahrukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Kapil Dev, Imran Khan”.
Come to think of it, maybe that is why Girish recognized him and was happy to meet him. Because here was a man that made it very uncomfortable for the same people that we had grown to get disillusioned from, and in a way we could all admire not just from a distance. We could bump into him in an expensive place and he talked to us in a way that we could understand. He was one among us.
That is also why I am now disillusioned by the same Rajeev Shukla who now, among holding other powerful positions, is also incharge of The Indian Premier League. And who, despite everything that has happened, has mostly been mum about the latest scandal that has rocked BCCI’s premier tournament. Wouldn’t the Rajeev Shukla I met in 2000, the man who looked for accountability from the most powerful people of his times, be outraged with this silence by now?
Maybe this is how life comes a full circle. Maybe this how it is on the other side.