Goodbye Sharad Saxena and Vidya Rattan
Last week two former colleagues suddenly passed away. Vidya Rattan, a top crime reporter of the seventies who worked for the now extinct Patriot newspaper and Sharad Saxena, ace photographer associated with the Times of India and India Today died of cardiac arrest. I will miss them both.
Vidya Rattan was an icon for many Crime Reporters though he covered the city beat much before I arrived on the scene. A disciple of legendary Pandit Milkhi Ram Bhardwaj, who taught crime reporting to a whole generation of reporters including A R Wig, my predecessor in the Hindustan Times, Vidya Rattan had excellent contacts not only in the police but knew many key figures of the underworld.
From what I heard from a large number of former Crime reporters, he played a major role in breaking the Nagarwala case story in the early seventies (remember the Parsi gentleman who was accused of imitating Indira Gandhi’s voice to withdraw Rs 60 lakhs from the State Bank of India’s Parliament street branch after talking to head cashier VP Malhotra).
Since Vidya Rattan did his apprenticeship in crime reporting under Pandit Milkhi Ram, he, like his boss could also advise a lot of police officers on how to write an FIR or what sections to use. His knowledge about the IPC, CrPC and Evidence Act etc was exemplary and when he applied himself, he could outdo any of his contemporaries.
Vidya Rattan took to heavy drinking and thus faded away gradually from the local crime scene. He also left Patriot to start his own newspaper, “The Needle’s Eye”. Though I never worked with him, he used to often pat me on the back for a good crime story I had done during my crime reporting days. He was also a source of inspiration so far as making contacts in the police force and elsewhere was concerned. But his methods were different and he made no secret for his penchant for whisky. He would ask the Police PRO office to prepare the bulletin early so that “he could go and drink in peace’’. This was in sharp contrast to many others who would make a similar request but cited different reasons like “attending a wedding etc’’.
Always dressed in white shirt and trousers, Vidya Rattan would converse in Punjabi and to make himself heard would often use four letter words. He had a short temper but most of the time he conducted himself with dignity. He will be missed for the anecdotes he had to share and also as someone who was exceptionally talented but perhaps did not get the recognition he deserved. Good Bye Sir.
Sharad Saxena and I covered many incidents together for the Times of India in the early eighties. Sharad was temperamental but a superb photographer. He had the knack of doing things in an unusual manner and this perhaps also enabled him to take some outstanding photographs. My first big assignment with him was on October 12, 1982 when angry Sikhs set vehicles on fire and went on a rampage near Gurdwara Rakabganj leading to police firing.
Sharad was to meet me at the Patel Chowk but instead landed at Gurdwara Rakabganj. The entire media had gathered at Patel Chowk hoping that the action would begin from there. But clashes started outside the Gurdwara and angry mob of Sikh youths clashed with the police on the Pandit Pant Marg and areas surrounding the Central Secretariat bus stand. Being the only photographer there Sharad had the best shots, which showed the clashes from a vantage position on his wide lens. We had the best coverage that day, and Sharad’s pictures contributed largely to this achievement.
A year later I returned from an outstation assignment on a Sunday to find out that Gas cylinders had exploded in Shakurbasti near the General Store and Rohtak Road and surrounding areas.
Shree Sondhi (later Venkataraman) was on day duty and was waiting for me to cover the event with her. It so happened that Sharad who used to stay in Paschim Vihar or some place near that reached the spot and entered the precincts of an under construction Gurdwara on Rohtak Road next to Shivaji Park. While cylinders burst in the sky, he took pictures from his chosen position putting his life at a grave risk.
No other photographer could reach the spot while the explosions were on and therefore the end result was that Sharad’s pictures did every other rival in. From what he told me and the accounts gathered by Shree and the police, I did the story. But it was the victory of his pictures, which put everyone else down.
Though Sharad and I covered the Coomar Narain case trial, the transistor bomb incidents and several other important events, my last big assignment with him was the coverage of the stampede at the Kumbh Mela on April 14, 1986.
After walking around in Hardwar at the peak of the Mela to cover the stampede and visiting various spots like Bheem Goda and Har Milap hospital, both Sharad and me trekked to Kankhal where our car was parked and Jagdamba, our experienced driver of world war–II vintage was waiting for us. Though we were in Hardwar for four days, we had no way to send the reports and pictures from there as the UP administration had hardly made adequate arrangement by setting up additional Teleprinter stations.
We decided to drive down to Delhi and after reaching the TOI, I informed our news editor Mr Chagotra of the coverage we had with us. Mr Chagotra came to the office in the evening and ensured that we got a very good display.
I did about six stories and Sharad had excellent pictures. Next day we had the best coverage because we had come back to file while others had hoped to send their stuff from Hardwar. On the morning of April 15th, we went back to the Holy city for the follow up coverage.
I used to often run into Sharad at various places after that and I and him shared a very good chemistry. We talked about our days in TOI and the last time I met him was during the run up to the Commonwealth Games at the CWG headquarters near Jantar Mantar. He was an immensely talented photographer and I will always miss you Saras (That is what I called him). Goodbye my friend.