Katyal a peace harbinger is no more

Kumar Krishan Katyal who passed away last week at a Delhi hospital after a brief ailment was a gentleman journalist. He had the knack of asking tough questions without raising his voice and being rude to an interviewee unlike most of the television journalists these days. Perhaps it was because he believed that a journalist is not supposed to be a showman but has to be an objective researcher in search of the right information.

He used to be upset with the growing commercialisation of media in general and the electronic media in particular which is becoming more and more histrionic in the race for ratings. Once at during our luncheon meeting at the India International Centre (IIC) I asked him about the television jingoism — whether it really represents the feelings of the people? His view was that it does not represent the people’s aspirations for the peace between India and Pakistan.

He was an ardent supporter of peace between India and Pakistan. And was of the view that the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation should be developed into a more meaningful alliance. The countries of the region, he believed have much in common and their destiny to progress is together and not working against each other.

In his book Journey to Amity: India and Musharraf’s Pakistan, he traced closely the ups and downs of the relations between the two countries. Particularly, he dealt with the two sides of Musharraf: one when he launched the Kargil adventure which brought the two countries at the brink of a full-scale war; and the other when he presented unexpectedly an out-of-the-box solution for the long standing bitter issue of Kashmir.

Although Katyal’s family had to migrate from West Punjab after the bloodied partition of the sub-continent, he was never bitter. On the contrary he always talked about the people of Pakistan with love and affection. He used to get nostalgic about Jhang, the town he was born in and received his school education.

He used to proudly tell us that he went to the same school in Jhang as Dr. Abdul Salam, the Nobel laureate. He also fondly remembered his early college days in Lahore, the city which cannot be taken out from the hearts of all the Punjabis from both sides of the divide in spite of its bloodied past.

It was with strong conviction, he led the South Asia Free Media Association SAFMA as a president, in building a bridge between the journalists of this region. SAFMA did great service in increasing interaction between the journalists of the region in general and Pakistan and India in particular. In my experience I have seen that the journalists who participated in the India-Pakistan SAFMA meetings understand each other better and do not indulge in jingoism. At least this is true regarding most of the journalists who visited each other’s country frequently.

I first met Katyal courtesy the meeting of my wife Najma Babar and Anita Katyal, Mr. Katyal’s daughter. Both had gone as journalists to Manila to attend a workshop on women rights issues in 1984. They had something in common, Najma’s parents originally belonged to Delhi and migrated to Karachi after the partition, Anita’s parents belonged to West Punjab and settled in Delhi. Officially they came from countries which have hostile relations and where poisonous propaganda against each other is trumpeted everyday but at a people to people level there is no animosity. Both the girls decided to share the room to the surprise of some other Asian delegates and became good friends. So when Mr. Katyal who was working for The Hindu was coming to Pakistan for an official assignment in 1985 he met us and thereafter became a very close friend of the family. I was working for Dawn in those days and was glad to help him in fixing a few appointments with the politicians. He later appointed me as the stringer for The Hindu and Frontline magazine. He worked for The Hindu for 28 years and retired as its Consulting Editor in 2004.

As a family man I found him a very understanding father to his daughters and a loving husband. The fact that his daughters Anita and Sugita lovingly called Bala, both adopted their father’s profession of journalism speaks of their admiration of him. Otherwise many journalist’s children stay away from this profession which demands total commitment and low remuneration. His wife Darshan whose family had migrated from Lahore at the time of partition is a strict vegetarian. Mr. Katyal respected her belief at home but had a meat dish with me at IIC while I indulged in vegetarian thali to enjoy Indian vegetable cuisine.

My first phone call on reaching India used to be to Mr. Katyal and would meet him many times during my stay in Delhi. Now I will miss that, I may call Anita and meet the family. I’m not the only one in Pakistan who was grieved by his death, there are many among the journalists and even the politicians he met who share the same feeling. In our last meeting in August 2015 he said while parting ‘jaldi jaldi aya karien’, sorry Sir I couldn’t do that!

The writer can be reached at ayazbabar@gmail.com


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