There are many tributes to Nirmal Shekar out there. I just want to talk about what it meant for a kid interested in words, in language, in writing, in self-expression to read someone like him.
There’s the general tendency, today, to look down on writerly writing. It’s considered masturbatory. Write simply, in a way everyone understands. That’s the mantra. And this has led to writing being considered some kind of social service. You are meant to write for others, not to express yourself, your voice.
It’s good the Internet did not exist while I was growing up, because no one told me these things. And when I read someone like Nirmal, it was a revelation. Because he was saying that you could be yourself even in a general-interest newspaper, that you did not have to write keeping in mind the reader, that those who enjoyed your writing would read you and those who did not have the patience or the inclination wouldn’t, and that was okay. When you reach for writerly effects, some columns will work, some won’t, and that’s okay. Some people will read your effusive prose like a religious experience, some will mock and laugh, and that’s okay.
I’ve never been to journalism school, but this was one of my earliest lessons. It’s not necessary that everyone reads you, likes you. As long as your writing resonates with someone, anyone, that’s enough. He hammered this message home week after week. And for that, thank you.
PS: We used to say hello whenever we met at The Hindu, but I can’t say I really knew him.
PPS: He predicted Federer’s 18th. What a way to go.