In my three and a half decades in journalism, I cannot remember one occasion when the death of a reporter of a TV channel has become the subject of wall-to-wall coverage, to the exclusion of all other news of the day, for ALL news channels for several hours together.
But then, Arindam Das was not just another reporter. If all local channels, bitter rivals at the best of times, sunk their differences to mourn the death of a reporter of another channel, the reason lies in the kind of journalist - and man – he was; kind of heart, always willing to help others and above all, a daredevil journalist. Everyone obviously realized that his untimely death was a loss not just for the channel he worked for (OTV), but for the world of journalism in Odisha as a whole. It is hard to think of another journalist who loved flirting with danger so much to provide the most authentic live coverage from the ground.
Its easy to get wise in hindsight, after the tragedy, and say he should not have got on to the ODRAF boat to get closer to the scene of action. But Arindam has come out with flying colours after flirting with much greater danger on numerous occasions in the past. He has withstood windspeeds of 200+ km per hour to provide us live coverage from Ground Zero during cyclones, waded through waist deep waters in remote, inaccessible areas during floods and braved grave physical danger while covering street violence. He had the mindset of an army man. The word ‘fear’ simply did not exist in his dictionary. And the whole of the media – and indeed the whole of Odisha – is mourning his death precisely because of this. The word is ‘irreplaceable’ is used rather loosely when someone dies. But in Arindam’s case, the word fits perfectly. I cannot think of another journalist who would put his life in danger – and repeatedly at that – to get an authentic report for the viewers; certainly not after the fate he met today.
While the rest of the world knew Arindam for his daredevil reporting, there was an endearing human side to him that only those who came in close contact with him knew about. And I am proud to say I was among the fortunate few who knew and saw him from close quarters for well over a decade. Two incidents from the past come rushing back as I think of the wonderful times I spent with Arindam.
The first of these was in March 2012 when I was in Daringbadi as part of a small media delegation invited by top Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda to hand over Claudio Colangelo, one of the two Italian tourists abducted by Maoists deep inside the forested hills on the Kandhamal- Ganjam border. As I, along with the others in the media team, got on to the car and was about to drive off to the place from where we would begin our trek into the forests, I saw Arindam running towards us and waving at us. I asked the driver to stop. Arindam came running and handed over a polythene bag containing some snacks and cigarettes. “You will need it on the way,” he said with a smiling face. And I remembered his words as our trek stretched for 16 hours and we ran out of the eatables – and the fags - we were carrying.
As we returned with Colangelo, Arindam was there to receive us and provide live coverage. On our way back, we had to cross a small stream with high embankments on both sides. Our driver tried thrice, but failed to cross the rivulet each time. Arindam then took the wheel, crossed the stream and parked the vehicle on the other side – in one go! That was Arindam for you, an adventurer at all times.
The second incident took place some two years ago. My niece, who had come to Bhubaneswar from Berhampur on train in the morning and then hired an autorickshaw to go to the airport to catch a flight to Delhi, had mistakenly left her laptop bag behind in the auto. When her father called me for help, I could not think beyond Arindam. Barely half an hour after I called him, he called back and told me; “I have sent some CCTV footage of the auto entering the toll gate on WhatsApp. Please check and let me know if that’s the vehicle. If it is, you will get the bag.” I forwarded the pictures to my niece, who had reached Delhi by then, and she confirmed that it was indeed the vehicle she travelled in. I rang Arindam and conveyed it to him. He called back after a few minutes later and asked me to collect the laptop from the autorickshaw stand near the railway station. When I reached the stand, the secretary of the autorickshaw association was waiting for me with the bag. He told me Arindam had personally gone there and asked him to collect the bag and hand it over to me. It was nothing short of a miracle in a city where getting something back after losing it is next to impossible. But for me, the more important thing was the lengths to which Arindam had gone to retrieve a laptop belonging to someone he did not even know! And that too when he was on duty !!
But that’s the kind of person Arindam was. I am sure many people must have been touched, like I was, by the way senior BJD leader Pravat Tripathy recalled, while paying his tributes to Arindam, the incident when he (Arindam), on election duty, found that the former Banki MLA and four of his associates had met with an accident near Umerkote and immediately made arrangements to shift them to the hospital before going to complete his assignment for the day. That was Arindam Das for you !
And to think that he was only 39! He had so much left to do. While his death is a deep, personal loss for me, I have no doubt whatsoever that Odisha – the world of journalism, in particular - will miss him badly!!
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)