Tributes to Nirmal Shekar

The former Sports Editor of The Hindu and former Editor of Sportstar passed away on February 1, 2017. Sports personalities, fellow journalists, friends and people from different walks of life pay rich tributes to the departed soul.

I will miss a friend

It is difficult to write about a friend in the past tense.

Nirmal and I began our careers together (he was a few years my senior). We spent days and weeks and months at the Nehru Stadium reporting on senior division football. Soon he made his mark as a tennis writer, while I moved to my first love, cricket. He was a Hindu man through and through, retiring from the organisation he began with, while I moved around working in India and abroad. But we kept in touch, and he thought my joining The Hindu as Contributing Editor was a homecoming. In the early years, he fancied himself as a tearaway fast bowler, and bowled at the nets from 18 yards as he tried to knock my head off at the crease. We were in our twenties then, and everything was forgiven.

There was a calmness about Nirmal, and an ability to look at life sideways that kept him cheerful and those around him entertained. He was always there for you. Others will miss Nirmal the popular reporter and columnist; I will miss a friend who refused to take life too seriously and lived it on his terms.

Suresh Menon, Contributing Editor, The Hindu

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Unusual, unconventional talent

Nirmal Shekar was an unusual talent. That was obvious even as he joined The Hindu in 1980, six years after me. Those days we would collate reports on different cricket league matches in the city and my colleague would complain that the two paragraphs that Nirmal wrote were totally different from the other more conventional reporting. My point was he had to be encouraged even if he was different, which is much the same argument we would have over Krish Srikkanth’s unusual batting methods against the new ball.

As our friendship developed over the years in office, we also got to party abroad in England and Australia whenever the cricket tours coincided with Wimbledon or the Aussie Open. His writing style may have changed later to a more rounded, ‘sport as metaphor for life’ way of projecting the thinking of sports writers who, perhaps, have a more enjoyable career as they are generally given the literary licence as it were.

My only regret is when Nirmal was past 60 and seemed stressed out that I did not get to spend more time with him to try and help him. Such was the nature of my demanding job that I couldn't do much. He leaves with me many pleasant experiences of long chats about life and career.

R. Mohan, Resident Editor, Deccan Chronicle, Chennai

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Fate has dealt a ruthless blow

David Frost, the versatile British media personality, made the words, “Hello, good evening and welcome” his signature while hosting his shows on television. Similarly, the late Nirmal Shekar made the phrase “Sport, as in life” his signature. It was not that he was limited in his vocabulary. Instead, he brought in various elements to add colour to every sporting event he covered. You have to acknowledge that adding colour to Grand Slam tennis events in the print medium takes special talent. The reason I say that is because sports lovers get to see major events on television and as a result, the writers have to contend with the leftover crumbs to hold the interest of their readers the following day.

It is in this respect that Nirmal excelled in that he would convey the nuances or the “why” of a tennis match in a spellbinding manner. He veered away from the general trend by being flowery in terms of prose, but effortlessly concocted a cocktail of philosophy, literature and sport in his inimitable way to enthral his readers. There are writers who start writing after they make up their mind about the content. Then, there are those who start and let their talent flow. Nirmal obviously belonged to the second category and perhaps his biggest problem, if any, might have been in stemming the flow.

I first met Nirmal in the early 1980s when he arrived around lunch to report an Under-22 game I was playing. He was sent to that game apparently as the originally nominated person fell ill. I somehow got the impression that his heart was not in cricket, and he was going through the motions. The time spent in the USA might have drawn him to sports that did not consume as much time as cricket does. He quickly realised that his ever active mind and a tendency to get bored quickly was more suited to tennis than cricket. He decided to be an exclusive tennis reporter, a decision that was rightly backed by his management as well. The romance between Nirmal and the tennis followers started, and remained right till his last day.

Over a period of time, we became good friends and he was a very helpful person. He had his views on sports and sportspeople but then he never allowed his personal feelings to tamper with his professional obligations. Socially, he was very active in the Madras Cricket Club where he was, in his own words, “a part of the furniture”. He would tend the bar on special bar nights and ignore people who were impolite on occasions during such nights. The remarkable quality of Nirmal was that he was a loyal and faithful friend even though he reserved the right to choose his friends, and rightly too.

As a journalist, he could not be influenced, a quality that is becoming extremely rare these days. He also treated his students at the Asian College of Journalism like his younger brothers, always kind and supportive. Unlike some others in his profession, he did not make it a point to cultivate relationships with key administrators to be ahead in the race. He was content and waited to see how things panned out before his fingers hit the keyboard. That was because he needed his space and he respected the fact that others needed their space too.

Now that the rare talent has moved on to a better world, readers will have to wait for a long time for that huge void to be filled. Fate has dealt a ruthless blow far too soon, as if to convey to Nirmal that “life, as in sport, is unpredictable and cruel”. Farewell, my friend. You will continue to live in the hearts of many.

W. V. Raman, former India opening batsman

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It is a big loss to the media world

I had known Nirmal for a long time, right from the time when he covered some of our matches.

He was a great supporter of sports. I had always enjoyed reading him, especially when he wrote from Wimbledon.

It was a shock to hear about him going so early in life. It is a big loss to the media world. Over the years, I didn’t have much interaction with him. Vijay (Amritraj) knew him well.

I had not seen him for a while.

Ramesh Krishnan mentioned to me that Nirmal was not looking good, in terms of his health, about a month ago.

My condolences to the family.

Anand Amritraj, former Indian tennis player

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He took sports writing to a different level

When I came on tour, Nirmal was the first journalist I noticed travelling and covering Davis Cup, Grand Slams and other events.

His passion for the sport was unparalleled.

He will be missed by not only the tennis fraternity but by the sports fraternity as well.

He had a unique style of writing, which made for compelling reading, whether you agreed with him or not.

He took sports writing to a different level. Many tried to copy him, but could not pull it off as well as he did.

He put things in perspective. He rose above the mundane and painted tennis on a larger canvas of life.

Mahesh Bhupathi, Indian tennis star

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He has been an integral part of my career

Nirmal was the first journalist to follow me even before I became a teenager. He used to come and cover the Bertram Cup at the Loyola College. My scrap book has the first article with my action photo that appeared in The Hindu. In that, Nirmal wrote that he saw a champion in me who would play for India. There were numerous articles in The Sportstar as well. I have been able to live up to that promise. Nirmal supported me right through my budding career. He was there at the Australian Open when I was runner-up in the juniors. He was there in Chandigarh when I made my Davis Cup debut. He was in Wimbledon when I won the junior title.

He tracked my career very closely and we often got to interact at the BAT Centre, where I trained. From that time, he has been an integral part of my career over the years and the bond of friendship grew stronger.

For many, Nirmal was a man of few words. But, we spoke a lot. He was particularly close to my dad, Dr. Vece Paes, and helped us a lot with the right media support which is so essential when one is taking the baby steps into the international arena. In fact, we sought Nirmal’s help to get some of the precious photos from The Hindu’s archives for my book which is getting ready.

I deeply miss him, and wish strength to his family.

Leander Paes, Indian tennis star

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There ought to be more like him

Journalism is poorer for the loss of Nirmal Shekar, my friend and workmate for the last 25 years since we were introduced at Lord’s by R. Mohan. He will be missed by all those reporters who brought us news from Wimbledon where — using the same phone number throughout his many years in the old place — he was the most popular member of the tennis corps.

Promotion to Sports Editor did not change this warm-hearted man; instead he used his old qualities in his new role and was as kind and helpful to his staff as any head of a newspaper department can expect to be. There ought to be more like him.

Ted Corbett, Cricket columnist