I was never a fan of watching the news on TV. On some days, it felt like a dramatic daily soap or a loud gibberish in the name of debates. But like many Indian households, the news is played on our television screens each night. One sound and one face that I remember amidst chaos was Kamal Khan on streets familiar to me(as a resident of the city) saying "Lucknow se main Kamal Khan, NDTV India ke liye."
It was around 2 in the afternoon when my family WhatsApp groups started buzzing with messages of deep shock and remorse, as though it was not a TV personality who had passed away, but a prominent person of their lives. Their reactions made me realise that Kamal Khan in a career of three decades had touched the lives of a generation of citizens in Lucknow and beyond.
"He was very soft-spoken, '' says my father. "His tone remained unchanged regardless of the news that he was reporting. That was his distinct quality."
A resident of Lucknow's Butler House, Khan was proud of Lucknow's culture and history. So much so that any adulteration in its previous heritage perturbed him and he brought that up in his ending statements in news reports.
Damini Yadav, a writer and journalist points out that Kamal Khan was a superior symbol of the city in many ways. "Every positive virtue that Lucknow is known for was not just limited to his personality but was seen in his journalism too."
"He was the reflection of Lucknow's Tehzeeb", says Adil Ali, an IT professional from the city. "In the milieu of loud and TRP driven electronic media, he held fort by being polite and sober, but not failing to call a spade a spade in his own way."
Khan was also remembered for his personal creative take on news stories. The final P2C was often built of famous lines from different languages, dohas, shayari, dohas and idioms.
कमाल वाकई कमाल के सहाफी थे, अंदाज़े बयाँ ऐसा कि न्यूज़ जैसी नीरस चीज़ को दोबारा सुनने का मन कर जाय
"Kamal truly was worthy of his name, his way of presentation was such that you would want to hear something as dry as news once again." said my uncle.
Damini while recalling her first meeting with Kamal Khan says, "It was the time when Maywati's name was being proposed for Prime Minister and Kamal Khan said..ये मेरे पीछे जो घर है वो दरअसल मुख्य मंत्री निवास है, लेकिन मायावती को यह घर अब छोटा लगने लगा है और उनकी नजर दिल्ली से 7 रेस कोर्स पे है। I was so engrossed in the news that I had to listen to the complete report. There was a sense of beauty in his use of words, the tonality and literary texture that made his reporting so interesting."
Ravish Kumar in Prime time on January 14 mentions that the mastery was not in the fact of use of words and phrases but the way they were chosen to uplift the appeal of a news story.
"His language was that of old journalism, by that I do not mean a bygone era but truth, that TV has left behind bowing down to the power of authority," said Ravish Kumar.
Kumar mentioned on Prime Time that to write a 40-50 min script, he used to read books running hundreds of pages and confirm everything twice before saying or writing anything. A typical report written by Kamal Khan would include not just his lines, but cameraman's name, editing desk's information, placement of Voice Overs and every technical detail that we learn in colleges but seldom implement.
"Despite being such a senior journalist who simply did not just write good scripts but knew the news-making process and its impact, he was a very grounded person.", remembers Damini.
In a world now regulated with electronic media, and travel logs made on selfie sticks, Khan's style of journalism was intimate and old school. In a memoir written for NDTV, his colleague and news editor 24X7 Alok Pandey recalls what Khan said to him in a news report on UP elections.
"Hum Imambare se live karenge toh Lucknow ka flavour acha aayega."
Khan's brand of journalism also came from a deep knowledge of sociology, history and culture. He often spoke on how Ram in the bygone days, was not a figure of Hindu mythology but a cultural force reflecting a past that was harmonious.
In a particular report on NDTV, he narrated that when Wajid Ali shah was ousted from the city and was leaving for Calcutta, the local rumour said that the British are taking him to London. So the women of Lucknow gathered at Qaiserbagh and prayed-
"Hazrat jate hain London, kripa karo raghunandan. Ram yha Wajid Ali Shah ke bhi kripa nidhan hain."
He often spoke of Ram as Maryada-Purushottam, an ideal brother, husband and selfless king, who knew no worry while going to a forest and no pride while regaining the kingdom. He brought it back to the lines of Kabir and Kaifi Azmi who had written about his figure. This style brought him close to the hearts of people for whom India has always been a haven of harmonious cultural diversity.
Akhilesh Pandey, a journalist says "He was a writer, his views on Ram, on Ganga-Yamuna Sanskriti and society at large make him an inspiration for all."
Damini concludes, "He was not just a journalist but an institution in himself, one who would be alive until there is a semblance of fearless and true journalism that is built of hard work."
I feel proud that my home city had a journalist like Kamal Khan who will inspire hundreds of us to believe in the ideals of this city and this country and finally, pursue a journalism that is honest, relatable and powerful.