Ajit, Aretha and Atal

Aug 19, 2018, 06:44 IST | Rahul da Cunha

So it's been one of those tragic weeks, sepia-toned with many 'greats' passing on

Ajit, Aretha and Atal
Illustration/Uday Mohite

Rahul Da CunhaSo it's been one of those tragic weeks, sepia-toned with many 'greats' passing on — actually, I may exclude VS Naipaul from that list. He was an amazing writer, Booker Prize winner and all, but apparently 'hated' India, so his death wasn't mourned with so much feeling. More an intellectual grief than anything else.

But Ajit Wadekar, oh boy, that's one for the ages, followed by Aretha Franklin, and finally Atal Bihari Vajpayee… made it a significantly sombre last seven days.

Take 'Jitya' Wadekar first. His victory over the Brits in 1971 — to beat them in their own backyard, all the more memorable considering that Virat's 11 are floundering in Old Blighty at the moment. Through his grit and grace he found a way to outfox England via Bhagwat Chandrasekar, and then beat them here in India a year later. And then to vanquish the Windies in the Windies, via a rampaging Sunil Gavaskar, made these just incredible achievements.

To have bound such diverse personalities as Sunny Gavaskar, Farokh Engineer, Bishen Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna, Abid Ali, Dilip Sardesai and Chandra into a fighting unit was no easy task. But he managed it with fab results.

From skipper extraordinaire, let's move to the 'soul' queen, Aretha Franklin's death. Rolling Stone magazine, in a landmark '100 Greatest Singers of All Time' voted her 'Number 1' across eras and genres.

Soul music isn't my thing, but when a poll pushes Chris Cornell, John Lennon, Elvis Presley, and Bono to later slots, and places someone above them, you listen, right? And I did.

The power, the pitch perfectness and the effortlessness of music's first diva was unparalleled. This was a Voice from God, probably explained by her Gospel roots. May her 'soul' truly rest in peace.

And finally there was Atal Bihari Vajpayeeji's demise ('Atal', fascinatingly meaning, firm). There was genuine mourning for this man, which brings me to my theory — do you have be an autocratic piece of work to be effective? Can a seriously flawed character be justified if it contains true genius? Can you be a nice guy and still be ruthless? Can you be firm without ruling with an iron hand?

Mr Vajpayee was a poet and politician, with a statesman-like demeanour, charming to friends and foes alike.

In these times of negativity that masquerades as good governance, Atalji provided a breath of fresh air. He was a rightist who believed that others could be right. His oration was about putting India's best foot forward, not putting others down. He believed in ideological opponents not enemies. No viciousness, only vision.

So yeah, Atalji's death was a reminder that Gulliver's greatness was possible, in a land that's increasingly been fronted by Lilliputians. Go well, sir, we will remember you for your sense and your sense of humour.

Rahul da Cunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at rahuldacunha62@gmail.com

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