HT’s mascot of the seventies
The Hindustan Times has produced many top journalists and a lot of top journalists have been associated with the capital’s number one newspaper. But there has been no one like Chand Joshi whose name had become synonymous with this newspaper. He had more talent in him than many of his contemporaries. His wit, repartee and writing style were his assets though heavy drinking and trade union activities perhaps prevented him from achieving his full potential.Overall, he was a very good human being and the most exciting prospect in journalism in the seventies. Chand died nine years ago but anecdotes involving him are a part of a folklore.
I was a student leader in the mid seventies when I got to know him. He was a regular at the Embassy restaurant in Connaught Place where all local Delhi leaders met every Sunday. Chand had already had his share of student politics while he was in the DU but he was always wanting to know how things were in his alma mater. We soon became friends and Chand started sitting at our table to discuss politics or have a dig or two at some of the local Delhi leaders.
He was already a celebrity of sorts and every politician knew him as a HT correspondent or the son of two illustrious parents — late PC Joshi, former general secretary of the undivided Communist Party and Kalpana Dutt, who shot into fame for her role in the Chittagong uprising during the British regime.
He had a fixed pattern. After Coffee at Embassy, he would head for the Claridges hotel bar where he would also entertain some of us with a couple of beers. He was very protocol conscious and belonged to the old school because of which he would never let any of us ever pay. “I am senior to you and this is the tradition of our university”, he would often remind us.
He had some top stories to his credit by then. These included on how police stations were auctioned in Delhi and one on the “Cadillac Pimp” who would move around in the Delhi University campus.
Chand was a reporter with the HT but had somehow got involved with the launching of India Today. Chottu Karadia who subsequently played a major role in bringing out India Today and Chand perhaps had an egoclash. Some other reasons also forced him out of this project and he in sheer retaliation launched another fortnightly, This Fortnight for the Mehta offset along with some of his friends. They would operate out of a house in Golf Links but the publication could not sustain itself.
Chand had also in the meantime made a name for himself in Trade Unionism and he was the undisputed leader of the HT employees union at one time. But politics and heavy drinking had begun taking its toll and Chand started drifting away from editorial responsibilities. When I started as a reporter in January 1980, he encouraged me to do more and more stories. He was frustrated as he thought that he had been overlooked for Chief Reporter ship but had still not lost his wit and humour. He would make fun of his colleagues but in a good-natured way.
He had a very dim view about one of his colleagues and he would constantly have fun at his expense. “Ask him to tell you the spellings of dictionary even after handing him the Dictionary. He will waste his time looking inside without realizing that Dictionary is also spelt on the cover”, Chand would remark about this gentleman.
One day, while covering a communal riot in the Jama Masjid area in August 1980, a police officer very friendly with Chand teased him about the authenticity of his stories. He said that every story written by Chand usually gets contradicted and is without facts. Not to be beaten by this, Chand shot back that where was the need to put facts in the story when they came out in the contradiction leading to laughter all around.
The classic Chand one-liner was when a senior Editor of HT who had interviewed Margaret Thatcher asked him for his opinion about the story. Chand kept quiet for sometime and than told him that he had managed to make even Maggie Thatcher speak wrong English.
Chand’s drinking was already causing great health problems and doctors had advised him not to drink anymore. He was admitted to AIIMS and I can recall that there would be at anytime a good number of journalists from every newspaper, particularly the HT who would hang around till late night to give their blood if it was needed. He recovered and would than only drink nimbu pani.
Chand’s entry had been banned in the Press Club and when I was elected as its secretary general in 1990, his application came to me for review. The matter was taken up at the managing committee and he was re-admitted. Looking back, I think it was a mistake since Chand started going to the Club regularly and in no time started drinking again. He subsequently became the secretary general of the PCI and his love for Bacchus finally claimed his life, a day before the Republic Day in 2000.
Looking back one can only recall that how a man who was hugely talented had been done in by circumstances and his own weaknesses. It is arguable but he had the potential of being a very good Editor. He was an ideal for many young journalists in the seventies and eighties but it is only sweet memories one has of him. May God bless his soul.