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A doting mother, friend and journalist

In memory of a sparkling young life cut brutally short.


Amrita Chaudhary

e were just like them when we were young," I thought when I first met Amrita Chaudhary and Jaypee, their house Spartan and messy, their schedule dictated by a whimsicality, their spirit generous and giving. And when one says that of another, it is perhaps the ultimate compliment, because it comes from a sense of self which, of necessity, must think very well of itself. But Amrita was much more than just that and more than what most of us ever were or are. She was a trapeze artist because she balanced so much in her life. I am writing about her not because she was a friend but because she deserves to be written about and, if justice was to be served, she also deserves to be alive.

Amrita died needlessly, not that death is ever a welcome intervention. But she also died young. An intrepid reporter who had travelled all over Punjab at all hours of the day and night, it is a sad irony that she died in a road accident as she journeyed back to Ludhiana from Chandigarh. She had travelled to the city to attend the launch of The Sunday Guardian on 21 October, fitting the event into a schedule that usually featured things both big and small.

The account of her balancing act would have to begin with her rickety scooter. "I can pick you up, but would you be alright on a scooter," she had said, in deference to my white hair. The scooter ride through the winding lanes of Ludhiana was heady and undeterred by the wilfulness of cycles, carts, rickshaws, cars, pedestrians and other scooters. (In later years she drove her car with the same spiritedness.) Amrita stopped every now and then to pick up vegetables, homeopathic medicine, have a document Xeroxed, and have a brief chat with someone. Many balls in the air, but she kept them all going.

That too was the way her life was. She nurtured her son, Siddharth, a special child, talked about the Punjab Agricultural University and its Vice Chancellors, about what they did or did not do, analysed agriculture policy, gossiped about the ways of the rich in Ludhiana, talked about the polity, cooked a delicious meal from a small kitchen where too she had to juggle pots and pans to make it all fit. The meal was enough for all of us present, for any unannounced comers as also for the taxi driver outside. There was even fresh salad for all and hot chapatis for Jaypee and anyone else who might want them.

Her beautiful child is marginally autistic but she neither moaned nor deluded herself. She just dealt with it all in the most natural way possible. She talked, she scolded, she praised, plied him with food, watched television with him, helped him with his homework, and could have taught a thing or two to psychologists and feminists. She brought work back home with her and took Siddharth to work. And neither suffered. That is just what the feminists in India were recommending in the early 1980s, a crèche at the workplace. I remember Siddharth going for a police press conference with her and coming back with sweets from doting policemen. After I came back from Ludhiana I remember sending her a copy of Dibs in Search of Self by Virginia Axline, a psychologist who conducted a series of play therapy sessions over one year with Dibs, an emotionally crippled child who had been misdiagnosed as autistic and who had an IQ of 168. Dibs was finally rehabilitated. However, Amrita did not really need any books. She did not need a theory to put into practice. Someone could, however, have made a theory from her practice.

I had gone to Ludhiana to know the city better for something I was writing and I could not have found a better teacher. She was the inveterate journalist. She knew it all, the ridiculous as well as the sublime. She had taken me to eat alu puri in a little place tucked away in the bylanes of Chaura Bazaar, she had taken me to a hosiery factory that puts out high fashion garments, she had even taken me to the house of a retired terrorist with whom she had got into an argument about the senselessness of the idea of Khalistan.

The city was her landscape into which she had woven the intricacies of her life. "Why would I move to Chandigarh," she had said when she was offered a promotion. "Here I can buy the essentials even as I am driving back. Just have to take down my window. In Chandigarh I would have to find a parking and then walk to the vendor." But she was only being facetious. She had worked out her son's life in Ludhiana, in terms of what he could do and what he would need. She was not going to leave the city and now the city is that much lesser by her absence.

Amrita Chaudhary (26 June 1972-22 October 2012), among contemporary Punjab's best known and well-regarded journalists, died in a road accident outside Ludhiana. She was on her way home after attending the launch of The Sunday Guardian in Chandigarh.

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