Prannoy Roy
Prannoy Roy, considered a doyen of English journalism in India, has remained a sane voice of reason over the years Image Credit: Bloomberg

I walked into the room nervously, wondering if they would remember. But they don’t forget. It had been more than a decade, I was 13 when I first met them, a gangly nervous tomboy on her first day in a boarding school in the hills of Himachal Pradesh. They had come to drop their daughter and both sets of parents were trying hard to smile through the goodbyes.

Then on a cold winter day back from the holidays there was only one conversation on the hilltop usually isolated from everything real and unreal, ‘The World This Week.’

I got the job. I was a day away from packing my bags in Delhi — there was a deadline to make it in the big city or reassess — and going back home to Jalandhar in Punjab when the NDTV interview letter came.

The top news agency I was working in was a cesspool where the office main door was locked behind the employee so that manual labour was counted by the seconds. NDTV opened all doors with a promise, one that allowed years and decades to merge seamlessly.

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The rest as they say was history or an intense learning curve in independent journalism where the bar was sacrosanct, it’s very absence corroding the essence of media as we see it today. The young starting out in the profession will no longer know the difference and there could not be a bigger misfortune.

It was the golden moment of Indian journalism, a newsroom buzzing with not just breaking news but also high on talent, Prannoy and Radhika Roy’s biggest legacy is selflessly encouraging a generation to thrive while taking the back seat, on occasion even at their expense.

Years later in frustration I asked doc (as Prannoy is also referred to in office) to say just a line refuting false allegations by a former high profile employer, he smiled, cracked a joke and that was the difference between us. Gautam Adani must not be aware of this class act because if he was, he wouldn’t have asked Prannoy to stay in the chair.

Image Credit: Jyotsna Mohan

Radhika and Prannoy allowed us to fly but they can never be empty nesters. During one annual NDTV party I had to return to the studio to anchor a breaking news bulletin. The Roys promised to wait. By the time I got back, it was late, the party was over, the lights were almost out but they were both sitting on a table with food kept aside for me.

For so many of us, NDTV became more than just a place where we worked, it transcended into family. As a stalker harassed me on the phone they took it personally as they did the threatening calls while I was covering the Jessica Lal murder case.

It is easy to be a boss, respect is always earned. A reporter friend’s ex-husband- a well- known sports anchor was dismissed less than 24 hours after being hired once they learnt of how he had been physically abusing their employee. The NDTV family can each share a story or more.

We moved on, but we have never checked out.

Prannoy Roy-Radhika Roy
Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy, founders and promoters of NDTV, have resigned as directors

My debut book released during Covid-19 lockdown, as a newly minted author it was the most imperfect of times. One message and in stepped the Roys, Prannoy released the book online but it was Radhika who made sure that it was the closest we could come to a grand physical release.

Behind the scenes Radhika has been chipping away, pushing the women and NDTV always had them in an overwhelming majority to dismantle barriers.

Goodness remains non-negotiable

Doc did it in his own way by knocking down the walls of formal authority — Prannoy was the photographer of my fangirl photo with Shah Rukh Khan — and his office door was always open, a permanent memo of how much we still had to learn from him.

Even the teaser — a measly one line — that I wrote for him to read on air for the 9pm bulletin never went unchanged. Ask him about it and it is quintessential doc, a witty response that could never make anyone feel worthless. In today’s race to the bottom, he is a reminder that it may be challenging to be the good one, but goodness remains non-negotiable.

As a believer of not bypassing hierarchy at work, after pontificating for months there I was one afternoon timidly at their door asking them to give me the prime time chance that was unfairly in my opinion, skipping me.

I got it the very next day and with the remonstration that I should have come to them much earlier. They taught me and countless others to believe in ourselves, that not much fazes me in the professional ride anymore is a tribute only to them.

Elections will come and elections will go but walking in Prannoy Roy’s footsteps is not for the caged pretenders, precisely why they eventually got to him.

He was a man who plucked Indian television news from numbing monotony and gave it a pioneering twist, a journalist whose vision met ruthlessness as advertisers in no coincidence jumped ship and agencies through their master’s voice harassed him as though winning brownies more than points.

In the midst there were personal tragedies and yet unassuming he stood against a tide that crawls when asked to bend. His poise and graciousness could not be more relevant as he himself is today.

You saw the man bringing you prime time news, we at NDTV witnessed the gentleman behind the headlines.

An era ends, the privilege was all ours.