Dileep Padgaonkar believed in human creativity and wanted to change the world
Dileep Padgaonkar went very much the way he lived his life, quietly and without any fuss.editorials Updated: Nov 25, 2016 23:27 IST
Even at 72, Dileep lived like a young Bohemian enthusiast with art, culture, films, music, literature and books. Of course, politics was his passion and commitment and journalism was his main medium of his profoundly liberal message. He was truly a global citizen in the Republican sense of the term. I have spent a few days with him in New York and in Paris as well as in Delhi and Mumbai and we were in regular contact after he chose to settle down in Pune. Despite many years in Lutyen’s Delhi, with a position, euphemistically and rather jocularly described as second most important job, it did not lure him to live in the Capital. Neither proximity to power nor the elitist environment of the prestigious and privileged could seduce him. His mindset was global and his politico-cultural roots were in Nehruvian mould, and because of that perhaps he could adapt to rather slow and quieter life in Pune. Within a few months he became part of the cultural landscape of the self-styled erudite city and a scholarly media reference. He used to attend frequently literature workshops, socio-political seminars, book release events and music concerts. On some occasions he would be a main speaker or chairperson. Otherwise, just an intent listener. He never projected himself as a person of special importance. He would quietly occupy a seat in the audience, and not necessarily in the front row.
He was as conversant with Bal Gandharva’ legacy in music as Beethoven’s. Indeed he wanted to write a “musical” biography of Bal Gandharva, by capturing the whole ethos of Marathi theatre and “Natya-sangeet” in the last century. He was looking at the era from the perspective of multiple cultural and political influences. He knew by heart quite a few lyrics and with all grandeur of the classical music of those days. The indian classical music became popular in Maharashtra and later Bollywood, thanks to the influence of the likes of Bal Gandharva. In Europe he would be equally at home with classical Western music. In his house, which was full of books, records and video films, from the world over, he could converse with anyone on almost any subject. He was fluent in French, German and even Spanish. French was like his second language.
He was in France in the most crucial and turbulent period-in the mid sixties. He was not only a journalist-witness to the huge youth movement led by Cohen-Bendit, which finally brought down the DevGaulle rule, he was spiritually a participant in the anti-war movement of the sixties. Ideologically, he was not with Cohen-Bendit. He was more in tune with Jean Paul Sartre, who in those days, was an international intellectual-rebel icon. But what influenced Dileep’s thinking, behaviour and writing was progressive and radical republicanism. He used to always say that his Republican beliefs come Karl Marx and political culture comes from Nehru. ( Oh, not current American Republican values ).
Gentle and warm in nature, generally he would not hurt anyone. Even his sarcasm was not brutal. His criticism was never offensive, though it was unambiguous. His faith in secular-democratic-socialist India was shaped by well known Marxist thinker Prof D D Kosambi. Though comrade Dange and Prof Kosambi were not on the same ideological page, Dileep was immensely influenced by the politics of the Communist Party of India, then led by comrade S A Dange. But in no sense he could have been the party follower or activist or fellow traveller aparatchik. His passionate liberalism would not let him become a strait-jacket person. Therefore, he was not exactly appreciated by various shades of communists. And yet he enjoyed and they too enjoyed each other’s company.
I once asked him, what he would have liked to become, if he was not the Editor-in -Chief of The Times of India, he promptly said he would have edited an international quality cuisine magazine! He was a connoisseur of world’s cuisines. He could describe and enjoy various types of crocodile or octopus soup and would elaborately explain the Palak soup and “solkadhi”. He considered himself a master of Saraswat art of food and would intensely argue on its variety. He would be ready to fight for his view on such preparations even more passionately than his stand on politics.
In politics, he was strident critic of communal parties, be they Hindutva type or ISIS. He was sharp in his criticism of sectarian communist policies. He was no less forceful, when Congress deviated from Gandhi-Nehru ethos. He never endorsed regional parties but understood their role and significance in evolution of Indian polity. Most important, he could relate arts and culture, poetry and paintings on a larger political canvas. He was hurt personally when M F Hussein had to leave the country and upset when Salman Rushdie was hounded. All that politics too!
For him, life was a genuinely many splendoured expression of human creativity. He was in that magnificent world caravan which was marching to change the world, not only understand or comprehend it.