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    Obituary: KP Narayana Kumar — gifted journalist, extraordinary storyteller

    Obituary: KP Narayana Kumar — gifted journalist, extraordinary storyteller

    Obituary: KP Narayana Kumar — gifted journalist, extraordinary storyteller
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    By Binoy Prabhakar   IST (Updated)


    Narayana Kumar, whose journalism was rooted in public and human interest, was 39.

    KP Narayana Kumar, who died much too young on Thursday, was an extraordinary journalist who told important stories by settling on topics often missed in the cacophony of today’s media and enriching them with astounding details.
    Take, for example, his story about the Jarawas of the Andamans, in which he underscored the widespread ignorance about the aboriginal tribals and lamented their omission in culture and history. His story about a murder in a Delhi parking lot accentuated the consequences of the unbridled automobile explosion in India’s capital. At CNBCTV18.com, he inferred that the Kerala floods were due to the transformation of a state with abundant natural reserves into one giant city.
    Narayana Kumar’s journalism was rooted in the idea of public and human interest. His stories bequeathed in publications such as The Times of India, The Economic Times Magazine, The Week, Business Standard, Forbes and The Mint a distinct character.
    Raju Narisetti, the founding editor of Mint, tweeted that Narayana Kumar’s story in the first edition of the newspaper, “became a memorable one, often cited by people, more than a decade later, for what it came to symbolise — a different newspaper for India”. Brian Carvalho, the former editor of The Economic Times Magazine, never tires of telling me that few journalists could even attempt the stories KP, as he was fondly called, produced.
    KP the reporter was an editor’s dream. The copies he produced were clean, sharp and held the reader in thrall. The writing skills apart, he had the high-water mark of an excellent journalist — an abundant sense of wonder, endless curiosity and fascination for topics, a sharp eye for detail, and reservoirs of respect for interviewees. He affected a demeanour and candour that would make people part with tales that they would not with confidants.
    KP’s stories were as rich as they were diverse. He could write on infrastructure with the same élan as he would on politics.
    I first met Narayan, as I called him, in Thiruvananthapuram at the entrance test for The Asian College of Journalism (ACJ). We cleared it, became friends in the first week, foodies-in-arms the next and brothers soon after.
    At ACJ, Narayan provided the first glimpses of the stories he would tell in his distinguished career. Among the many memorable ones was an enquiry into what happened to bodies at a morgue that struggled for electricity supply.
    At The Times of India, his first job, he blazed a trail on the crime beat. For most crime reporters, the beat was synonymous with reproduction of statistics — of fraud and gore and deaths.
    Narayan was different. He told vital stories, of the protagonists, the unfortunate circumstances and terrible events. He breathed life into stories of death.
    Narayan is fondly remembered by many for the passion he brought to work and his interest in a raft of diverse topics, which would spawn endless debates. Besides the unanimous acknowledgement of his journalistic skills, the common thread in all the tributes that poured in after his demise was that he was a great human being.
    As our lives intersected for nearly two decades, I knew this side close up. He was lavishly generous.
    At Delhi’s ITO, there were two homeless men that Narayan bought meals at least once every day during the nearly three years he worked at ET Magazine. This ritual would be complete only after he fed stray dogs in that street and near his house.
    He once caught red-handed a pickpocket who had snatched his wallet. The man told him a sob story about why he took to crime. Without missing a beat, Narayan presented him a Rs 500 note.
    Every friend or colleague has at least one tale to recount of Narayan’s generosity. How he would scamper around securing blood for a friend’s parent. How he would accompany a colleague’s relative to hospital. How he would accompany someone to the police station to register a complaint.
    At his funeral on Saturday, his mother told me he always placed friends above his family. “That’s who he was. That’s what made him happy,” she said.
    You need not have known Narayan to benefit from his big heart. I often saw him stop our commute to help a person hurt in an accident, or vanish to help another who approached him with a tale of agony.
    I repeatedly scolded him about parting with money so easily. I did that when his salary would become a frequent source of disquiet because he believed he deserved better due to his fantastic journalism. It played a critical role in his temporary departure from journalism; he resigned from ET Magazine to pursue a career in documentary filmmaking in Kochi two years ago. In his last years, he was the son who stayed and looked after his aged parents.
    Thirty-nine is a cruel age to pass away. As a friend noted, journalists write obituaries of subjects they watch from a distance. To write one about a brother is a gut punch. To write about Narayan is heart-wrenching.
    I never imagined I would. We were to travel to more places together, discover new foods, become colleagues again, and share new gossip. We were to grow old together.
    As his body was taken to the crematorium, a splendid aroma of fish fry filled the air. It was only 10.30 am. The gods decided to give him a fitting farewell.
    Farewell, Narayan.
    Binoy Prabhakar is editor, CNBCTV18.com.
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