If you want to understand Vinod Dua, sample the last two social media posts from his daughter Mallika Dua. Seemingly unfazed while informing the world of her father’s declining health, she spoke of her father’s glorious life and the worthy end he would meet. With this tribute, she also mentioned that it was her father who gave her such a spirit.
Those who know Dua well know that Mallika told the truth. Whatever else he may be, he was, more importantly, an absolutely brave and courageous individual and journalist. A warrior has been lost when the need for intrepid journalists in Indian journalism is desperate. This is the real loss.
Courage was Dua’s hallmark from the start. His program in the 1980s, called Janvani, was known for the same fearlessness and cemented his image in a similar mold. It was nearly impossible to ask tough questions of politicians and ministers in a fully government-controlled Doordarshan, but Dua did it at the time. And he did it in a way that politicians had to pay for it. The incumbent Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot was a young minister when he appeared on Dua’s program, and it is said that because of what happened on a show he was sidelined by Rajiv Gandhi in such a way that it took him years to make his comeback.
But Dua didn’t see himself as a reporter in private conversations. He used to say he’s a broadcaster. Maybe he was just passing it on, but behind it was always the feeling that his heart was different, closer to literature, art and culture. Years later, he illustrated it through the program Parakh.
His next big break came from the election-related talks he had with Prannoy Roy in Doordarshan. They have left young people like us captivated with their effortless conversations in Hindi and English. A phrase he coined during these televised discussions remains etched in the lexicon of Hindi journalism to this day.
But more than politics, he loved music, theater and culture. He sang extremely well; his mehfil unprecedented. There was a time when he was also associated with the theater and many directors were close to him. This is how he got to know many movie celebrities with theatrical training.
My affection for him grew because of those interests too. Despite a decades-long engagement with news cycles, I still enjoy wandering around the worlds of literature and culture. This led to frequent conversations and disagreements between us, but we kept sharing.
At a time when television journalism tends towards illiteracy, where words lose their meaning, Dua’s hold on language could have been a treasure for any journalist; his choice of words, his pronunciation distinguished his show.
We also talked about the shapes of words. We agreed, and disagreed. We were on the same wavelength when it came to identifying communitarianism as a danger, but I disagreed with him on his views on Pakistan and China. He did not agree with my position on the army; he was clearly a bigger patriot than me.
However, it is interesting to note that the words of the same patriotic journalist were distasteful to the so-called “nationalists”, who try to mix communitarianism and nationalism in a concoction of power to win the elections. Dua also faced legal action for his fearless comments against them. When I called him at the time his morale was at its highest and he said he would not bow but rather fight in court. He led the fight and won.
Despite his fame, he never seemed too ambitious. He loved life, never considered too busy, even when others expected him to be. He burst out laughing when I recited a verse from Ghalib as a joke (which I heard from the late poet Pankaj Singh): Dia hai khalq ko bhi kuch ki waan nazar na lage, bana hai aish Tajammul Husain Khan ke liye (God bestowed riches on the world to protect it from envy. Otherwise, all the wealth was destined for Tajammul Husain Khan). Dua was a carefree man.
After he left NDTV, our meetings were fewer, but our conversations continued. âYou are my dictionary,â he would joke when he called to check the context of a word or line in a poem or composition.
His death is a personal loss; a man who trusted my words is no more. But this is a huge public loss at a time when the media is increasingly dependent on power, wary of asking the tough questions.