Skies, receive an honoured guest. Praful Bidwai rises to rest. mourns Praful Bidwai’s mourns the sudden and shocking demise of Praful Bidwai, one of our founding members and an outstanding journalist, thinker and activist from South Asia. He relentlessly pursued the dream of a world free of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy. As a fine and fearless journalist, he wrote on wide ranging issues pertaining to democracy and people’s struggles in India.

The cremation is being organised tomorrow, Saturday 27th June 2015, in New Delhi’s Lodhi Crematorium. We invite all our friends who share Praful ji’s dream to join us in this moment of sorrow to pay last tributes to him.

Nikhil Desai

He wasn’t a poet, nor am I, but yesterday I remembered Auden’s eulogy of Yeats: “The day of his death was a dark cold day.”

Yes, it was a dark but not-so-cold day in Ahmedabad when Praful’s picture showed up on Facebook. It was pouring hard. The heart clouded up fast and became dark.

The day of your death, friend, was a darkest bluest day. How, just how, could you do this? No notice, and so far from us all? What am I going to do, what is everybody going to do? Your old friends aside, what about the young ones you inspired to form a purpose?

Somehow he and I could talk about the personal and political in a way nobody else I know. It wasn’t merely arguments when we disagreed – on the dreaminess (until now at least) of small, local energy to macroeconomics of trade and welfare policies – because it felt he was a thinker with a heart and his heart spoke to mine. Similar angst, but he had answers and hope.

Except when he didn’t. I remember clearly how in 1998, soon after the election results, he looked deeply morose and disturbed. He had the sense that BJP this time around would test more nuclear bombs. I was surprised why he was so convinced, and left for the US. Within a few weeks his fears materialized.

He and I had this atomic connection to begin with. I first met him in January 1985 at TOI Bombay. He had done some stories on nuclear plants and heavy water, and I was piecing together an essay. A couple of years later he and I compared notes on the goings on when he was visiting Washington, when we met at a common friend’s apartment. Gary Mulhollin of the Wisconsin Project had written some sensational story about heavy water trade between India and China, citing some related stories of Praful once or twice. The Indian Government never revealed any numbers on heavy water production or inventory but some guesswork and circumstantial evidence made Mulhollin story not so credible. Warren Donnelly of the Congressional Research Service also agreed with Praful’s inferences. Indian heavy water is still shrouded in mysterious calandria, unless it has leaked away.

I don’t remember just when he had that horrible accident in Delhi, when he nearly lost his life in a late night accident. He came to the US a year or two after recovering. I remember a dinner and drinks at the Exchange, near the White House, late evening early December 1992. I don’t remember if this was the time he spent a semester or so at a college or university, perhaps in Massachusetts; Williams?

Strange how pictures emerge from the vault of memory. There was this other time Achin Vanaik and he came, had a lecture one weekend afternoon at the University of Maryland. Or in 2003, with Cedric Prakash. There was another dinner – this time on K Street, Legal Sea Foods, with a couple of women from IPS. He nearly missed the flight that evening. Might indeed have missed it.

His “sources” are now orphaned. There were and are people in this country who could not only trust him but needed to speak to him. Yes, there are and will be other journalists, but some “stories” keep a strain, a flow of river that can change ways. Some such rivers have to go dry now.

This was just the time for him to do something with a single-minded devotion – to fight the nuclear demons that have possessed our elite. It’s pure madness.

That is, while he was unhappy and angry about many things, fighting nuclear power was something he could do wholeheartedly. (His physics and engineering background helped him navigate through materials.)

He and I did differ on even the basics, but then I was less than a bystander, just someone who enjoyed banter. To me, safety issues couldn’t be seen in isolation from the legal, institutional and labor market (utility industry) environment, while he had a purist, moral objection to technologies that can and do lead to WMDs. For me, credibility within the nuclear industry was also important; I found morality too difficult a burden to bear intellectually. Now I am suddenly aware that he too must have found morality difficult but had the courage to sustain it. He was never a moral philosopher in writing; I wish he had written something on practical morality.

Climate change was another such subject. I think he wrote two books on climate policy – one is sitting right in front of me, “The Politics of Climate Change and the Global Crisis”. Covered everything, advocated a faster transition for India to solar and efficiency – both of which I did agree with, just that I held that climate protection was a chimera, a grander political battle of environmental neo-imperialism. He did see emissions trading scheme as the scam it was and is, but probably didn’t know how for the Clintons and the Nobel Laureates of a certain variety, climate policy was just a way of enriching themselves. All in the name of the poor, of course; poverty pays handsomely if you parrot the right words instead of walking the streets like Praful did. I guess my last memory of him in public is gathering in front of Lalit Kala Akademi, perhaps 2012, then starting off for a rally. After that, it was IIC or home.

Another memory – he and two other friends, at one of his old apartments, talking till 4 am or something, with quite a bit to drink. He had a seminar at ICRIER the next morning at 8 am. I could barely wake up and was hung over, but went with him. First went the then-current or former Chief Election Commissioner, then Praful. I had had enough coffees by then and was absolutely stunned at his speech, a most coherent, comprehensive articulation of issues and options ahead.

I suppose alcohol doused the fires; I can’t imagine knowing and thinking what he did and avoiding being hooked on addictions. He did give up cigarettes after that head/face injury that kept him in the hospital for long, and pressed me and another common friend to quit when he visited. I did. Made drinks taste better.

Old Monk, man, Old Monk. I was looking forward to two of us retiring somewhere, fighting the atomic and other demons, becoming old monks and drinking Old Monks.

Or your gin and tonic with Angostura, man. I didn’t even know of Angostura until I got it for you. You left some for me, I am sure. I will bring them with gin when I see you; tonic is only for the living ones.

To paraphrase Auden on Yeats, “Skies, receive an honoured guest. Praful Bidwai rises to rest.”

From creation to emission. For me, the climate changed yesterday.



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