"Malhotra is chaalu! People say that to me so easily, but did anybody ever care who is responsible for that?" he asked me that evening. "It is the very people who say that," he answered himself.
This conversation happened six years back in a Jalandhar pub, but the sounds still echoes like it was yesterday. That evening he told me how an innocent child turned into a 'chaallu' young man, and a fridge mechanic into a fine journalist.
Malhotra-that is how everybody called my colleague at Hindustan Times, Jasdeep Malhotra, who died in a freak road accident last Sunday. Malhotra was so full of life.
He said he had yet to understand what life was, when life ruthlessly snatched his father from him. His father died in an accident while trying to board an overloaded bus. "Who was responsible for his death? The bus driver, the conductor, the owner of the bus, the traffic police or this very system which allows people to violate all rules for greed?" he asked.
"When my father left, we had nothing," he told. He along with his mother and brother then started visiting government offices to fight for compensation. The fight was nothing more than humiliation for a 12-year-old at the hands of peons and top officials.
"That is how our system works," he laughed.
Those were rough lessons of life for Malhotra. Those lessons always reflected in his work too.
"A Child of a domestic help from Jalandhar suffering from rheumatic heart disease, who is entitled for treatment at Chandigarh's PGIMER under Punjab School Health Programme, is denied treatment. Why is the PGIMER refusing him treatment?" he would question the institute as well as your journalistic credentials. That what the hell are you doing? Malhotra was ruthless!
It was that natural connect with the people that turned a fridge mechanic into a fine journalist. "I would often go to villages to repair fridges. There, I would notice the problems of the people and would inform the journalists. I believed they can help," he said. All this while, he was a 'source' of a journalist working for an English daily. One day he offered Malhotra the job of a stringer.
Yes, it was not Barkha Dutt's stardom, neither Rajdeep Sardesai's yellings, nor Arnab Goswami's bullying that inspired him to become a journalist. It was the urge to tell the tale of the masses, the eternal hell they are living in that inspired Malhotra.
I still remember a former colleague at HT once said, "Journalists raise issues with stories. But after a few bylines they forget everything including people, their problems and their issues. Malhotra is one of the few journalists who raises sleeping issues."
He loved good journalism too. You do a good story and he would be the first one to call and congratulate. "If you do a good story, don't keep your phone so busy. People have to wait to congratulate you," he said.
If he was ruthless, he was merciless too.
In his death too, Malhotra once again challenged the hollow paradigms of the so-called contemporary journalism which believes one needs to go to New York's Columbia School of Journalism, Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia to become a fine journalist. Malhotra's story holds testimony to the fact that it is streets that produce the finest of journalists. That is what Malhotra was. His story of journalism started with people and ended with people. The Goonda Raj must come to an end.