His mother gave him a nickname which was rather common across Bengal. In the industrial town of Asansol, where he was schooled and spent the initial years of his life, there must have been a thousand and one mothers who affectionately called their son “shona”, meaning gold. Gold became Goldie and remained with him for the rest of the 56 years of his life. On a salubrious Saturday, the 5th of November 2011, Goldie aka Amitava Guha left us. But his soul, like his name, will shine on forever – for he brought to each one of us who came into contact with him (even if for a short while) so much affection, fun, joy and laughter which can never die.
Goldie loved life. Music obsessed him. As did his work. He would describe himself as a humble space-seller, as a hawker of the potential of a media “product” to advertisers, as a gentle persuader who would convince you why it was worth your while to part with your money, but not your life. But Goldie was much, much more than that. He was a thinker among his compatriots. He could traverse journeys way above crass commerce and cruise across the universe of information and beyond – into the deep, sometimes dark and nether, world of knowledge and wisdom. He was wise beyond his years, yet playful and unpredictable like a child – spoilt, silly, lovable, unreasonable, opinionated, intelligent, and brilliant.
As a journalist who met him when he was on the “other side” of the fence in the Ananda Bazar Patrika group in Kolkata, one wondered why he sought the company of scribes for reasons that had little to do with professional relationships. That realisation dawned many years later when we had lost some of our youthful idealism and corruption in the media had become rampant, more the norm than the exception. By then, the difference between “news” and “advertising” had been all but obliterated, when media personnel counted their competencies using different yardsticks: the length of their car and the number of holidays abroad. Goldie stood out in the crowd, and not merely because he was lanky.
He believed in the sanctity of fact, information that was incontrovertible separated from comment. He sincerely argued that the most important thing that newspapers had to sell was the credibility of the information that was purveyed. As he wrote in an article in exchange4media:
“The ongoing debate on the state of the media seems to be one where the conclusion is staring at our face. Do we ever debate the fact that a healthy body leads to a healthy mind -- or that robbery is a crime? No -- simply because we know the answer and there cannot be a debate on it. Similarly, there can be no debate on whether news space should be sold or not -- no matter what the compulsions are. Why? Simply because the whole edifice of print is erected on a single premise - that of providing credible news. There can be no two views on it.
“Why do newspapers need to provide credible news? Once again the answer is simple. Because readers trust us… we (often) hear remarks like… “(It has) got to be true -- I read it in the morning’s newspaper “... Can we betray this trust? Never -- and surely not for a few rupees!
“At this point I must admit that I belong to a band of professionals who eke out their existence by ‘enticing’ advertisers to place their ads in our brand of newspaper. Therefore, I felt ‘the other side’ should also be heard…”
Goldie did not stop there. He had the temerity to suggest that if newspapers were going to put out “paid news”, there might as well be transparent rate cards for such pernicious practices. He added that what space sellers were selling was the credibility of the publication and ended his article with a hard-hitting, punch-line: “…credibility can get you money -- but money cannot get you credibility”.
Long after he has walked into the haze of the horizon, more than a bit of him will live inside many of us – who had the privilege of interacting with him in the ABP group, in Ulka, in Tara Sinha’s agency, in The Times of India and the Hindustan Times groups -- and not just in his wife Jyoti and beautiful young daughter Angarika, who feel the pain the most.
The world of the media is murky and mean. The nice guys are difficult to detect. Still, out of the smoky confines of dingy dens and noisy drinking holes called press clubs would emerge, once in a while, the madcap with a difference, who laughs loud and clear – to use Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters’ memorable lines in dedication to his former mentor Syd Barrett: “Shine on, you crazy diamond!”
(Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an independent educator and journalist.)