Last of a Vanishing Tribe

Last of a Vanishing Tribe

Remembering Girish Nikam, journalist, friend, co-worker                                                                         


Girish Nikam, 59, a stalwart who worked with the Star of Mysore, The Indian Express, India Today, Deccan Chronicle and News Today before joining Rajya Sabha TV, died of a major heart attack on November 7. His contemporaries Chidanand Rajghatta and Inderjit Badhwar pay tributes to him

Life is fleeting, fragile—and unfair. Journalists know it well because we see this all the time. It’s the nature of our business. News of Girish’s death popped up on my screen as I wrapped up my story on a deadline. But I shut it out of my eye line till I hit the send button. I wanted to grieve without interruption and distraction—for an immense friend.

We knew it was coming, but I had no idea it would be so soon after the episode in the US last year, because he looked as good as new when I met him earlier this year. American plumbing, I joked to him.

He had just landed in NYC to cover Prime Minister Modi’s visit late September last year when he had a heart attack the same evening, soon after he checked into the hotel. I knew he was coming to NYC that evening and expected him to phone me. Instead, I got a call from his colleague telling me of his heart attack.

The immediate attention, the so-called “golden hour” saved him, he told me later, when I went up to see him. Morbid hacks that we are, we talked about whether he would have survived in Bangalore or Delhi, with the ambulance possibly stuck in traffic or breaking down on way to hospital.

He was full of praise for the American system, full of gratitude that they had not asked any question about money or insurance and instead saved his life first. Wouldn’t have happened in India, he insisted, telling me how cynical everyone and everything in India had become. We argued, as usual, with me raging against the US healthcare system and how lousy it was, and how easy it still was in India to just drop into the home of a neighborhood physician. As usual, he ribbed me about having been away from India too long.

Our arguments, over 30 years of friendship, ranged across life’s experience, and life and death itself. Dhyan was about to be born when Girish had his heart attack in NYC, and once the initial danger had passed and all the plumbing of his blood vessels was done, he insisted that I should first take care of my home front. “Magnay, don’t die on me,” I warned him, using the colloquial in Kannada (our mother tongue) for the Hindi equivalent of saaley. “Illa guru, I still have plenty of life in me and plenty of work to do,” he said somberly.

A few days later, he phoned, saying he was bored stiff and tired of American hospital food. He thought he had recovered, but the doctors would not let him go before some more lab tests came in, and he was worried about mounting bills. We discussed the US healthcare system, insurance etc, but his immediate need was food—spicy food. He wanted to eat some hot Indian chicken curry.

So the next day I tootled up to NYC, carrying the aroma of home-made chicken curry and red rice all along the Amtrak corridor. We spend a few precious hours discussing everything under the sun, as he scarfed down the meal. We walked around the hospital corridors for an hour, marveling at the number of Indian-origin physicians there (some of whom handled his case). I took the night train back. It was an only-for-Girish trip. Dhyan stayed in his mummy’s tummy in deference to our meeting, arriving a few days later.

In February this year, we were in Bangalore, and of course he had to come and meet us, having missed seeing Dhyan soon after he was born. He was enormously fond of Diya, and they nattered nonstop like old friends. Friends, including Nirupama and Sudhakar, dropped in, and we all had a jolly good time that afternoon talking politics and history. He looked good, and I was pleased that he had dropped some weight although I kept a sharp eye on his eating and drinking, and gave him a small lecture, sounding insufferable even to my own ears. He said he was working out a bit, and generally felt better. We talked of second innings and third innings (in another context; it was an insider joke between us).

There was seldom a week we wouldn’t chat, thanks to FB, both directly and on the back channel. I rarely declined his invitation – often demand – to be on his TV show, largely because (I joked to him more than once), he at least allowed people to complete their sentences, unlike a certain anchor friend of ours he was not very fond of. In our last exchange on FB msgr few weeks back, I asked him to be done with his questions to me in the top half of his show because I had another appointment and he would end up hearing the sound of the metro train I was going to take if he kept me on air. He obliged. We should have kept each other waiting.

Rest in peace, my friend. ~ Chidanand Rajghatta


Girish Nikam suffered a heart attack. Passed away at 7 pm at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital. He did a program on media freedom on RS TV before he collapsed. This is a huge loss to the nation’s media, and to me personally. Along with Farzand he was among the last of a vanishing tribe of incorruptible. We were always in touch after leaving India Today. He was my co-author on my book on Niira Radia. He wrote extensively for India Legal magazine and he featured me often on RSTV. I am heartbroken. I learned of this tragedy from Parsa Venkateswara Rao who, along with Dilip Bobb, Ramesh Menon and Ajith Pillai, works with me at India Legal magazine. We are all in grief this evening and want to share it with all those who knew and loved him. ~ Inder


OK, it was one year back, around this time(New York time), that I was admitted to the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in an unconscious state, going through a heart failure. This is probably the first pics taken in the ICU. The prompt and professional care that I received after being rushed in an ambulance, from my Hotel room, is supposed to have saved my life. I need to thank many, many people who came to look me up and kept in touch on FB and wished and prayed for me from all over the world. Special thanks, of course to Gurdeep Singh Sappal, who was there with me and handled the crisis with great aplomb and sensitivity. Some people asked, did you see the gates to Hell or Heaven, during that period you were almost gone? I am sorry to disappoint them, Heaven certainly not, even Hell was not visible!! And certainly not the 72 virgins or angels, or even for matter our good old Yama! I am sure he is waiting, but i guess he will have to wait for some time now!