Death often wrong-foots us, forcing us to quickly turn into posterity’s representatives, planting a burden on the shoulders of those left behind, especially the next generation. I was not ready to write about Dr Ved Pratap Vaidik. For me, Vaidik uncle. Vaidik uncle was the first to congratulate me when I wrote my first article, the first who I interviewed for Naya India’s YouTube channel. And now the first who made me write this obit.
Hale and hearty, laughing and joking with the family over gujiya and tea just over a week ago, Vaidik uncle’s death feels unreal.
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I have known him all my life, but only understood the man he was in these last few years, when I started writing myself. A happy soul. Aging with humor and his childlike jest toward life intact. For he savored life with a smile. Vaidik uncle had the most beatific smile — warm and angelic. The twinkle in his eyes could lift your mood and his experiences gave you gems of wisdom.
And when he recalled his experiences, you would hear with fondness, all about his time. A time where his work made noise, when the impossible could be possible, when respect earned lasted.
I won’t tell you how great he was, or how charmingly wise, or what a revolutionary he was. Rather I will tell you how he never felt he was in life’s departure lounge. At 78, he was a globetrotter, spending his afternoons and evenings in meeting, socialising and giggling in the lawns of IIC. A voracious reader, he would begin his day with 15 newspapers (national and international) and several news websites. He would indulge in regular writing and yet had the fervor to make noise.
Vaidik was a journalist, a scholar, a political analyst but most of all was a pioneer in promoting Hindi as a language of power and expression. His revolution for this began early at age of 13 and continued till his last breath.
But I will not tell you about his activism days or his marathon journey in Hindi journalism. Rather how rooted and humble he was even in the company of prime ministers. I will tell you about his love for Thai Green Curry, his daily one-hour morning walks in his own backyard, his delightful phone calls to my mother asking her to bring Bhilwara ki namkeen. The optimism he oozed even during tough times of pandemic was inspiring to say the least.
Vaidik uncle savored on good life, good food, good company and he cared about the way he looked — immaculately dressed in his staple kurta payjama and jacket. I remember how at one of Naya India’s impromptu interviews, he told me ‘Bolne ke liye toh mere pass bahut hai, par aaj jacket nahi hai, kal karte hai (I have a lot to say but not without my jacket)’.
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Vaidik uncle had the zeal to live and laugh. On one of his visits home, he insisted the young men of the house to use onion oil to arrest hair fall. ‘Agar mere budhe ke baal as sakte hei toh tum toh jawan ho’, he said. Then he looked at my father (his younger brother) and with a glee added, ‘ Vyasji aap bhi abhi jawan hai, use kariye’. Yeah, Vaidik uncle was a hoot. You would never get tired listening to him or laughing with him. For him, everyone was equal and important. Big or small, rich or poor, editor or trainee journalist, the Prime Minister or just a Shruti Vyas — you would leave his presence feeling important, serenaded head to toe. That was Vaidik uncle for you. If he prided about himself and his experiences, he would in the same breath make you feel like the most important person.
I have lost an encouraging voice who would always urge me to write more. It breaks me to think that this year when our newspaper Naya India would enter 14th year, we would not have our biggest and loudest cheerleader, our patron. In our last meeting, last week, he asked me with earnest seriousness, ‘what grand things will you do now’? I couldn’t quite understand his question but replied saying I will continue to read and write — ‘aapna karm yahi hai, toh yahi karenge.’ Pleased with my reply, his eyes lit up. That last twinkle.
It is difficult to get to terms with the fact that from now on, I will have to refer him in past sense. His work will be read backwards, for now it’s an oeuvre. His last photo — from a shoot where he asked Ashish (my husband who is also a photojournalist) to make him look young — will be re-used, re-published and looked with fondness.
Fare well, Vaidik uncle.
Shruti Vyas is a journalist based in New Delhi. She writes on politics, international relations and current affairs. Views are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)