Jyotirmaya Sharma: An unauthorised biography page


“How does one kill a cockroach?” Jyotirmaya Sharma asked. This was during one of the morning meetings we used to have with him as Resident Editor of The Times of India, Hyderabad. This meeting with heads of departments would not be just about work. Philosophy would always take centre-stage.

So, how does one kill a cockroach? Everyone sitting in his chamber for the meeting knew how they killed a cockroach. Jyotirmaya Sharma himself knew how people killed a cockroach. If he had a question, he also had an answer. “If a cockroach has to be killed, just use the little amount of force one would need to,” he said. Beyond that ‘little amount of force’ would mean ‘excessive violence’, is what I understand. That is because some stamp on it. Some stomp on it. Some crush it to death as if with vengeance.

More about Jyotirmaya Sharma’s philosophy. He called me aside one day. “Just stand by him. Be his comfort,” he advised me. It was supposed to be the colleague’s last day in office. Jyotirmaya Sharma understood the emotional upheaval that the colleague was going through and suggested that I sort of be a balm at that moment.

Why have I cited these two incidents? It is to bring to the fore the man’s principles of not seeing someone or something hurt. His latest book ‘Elusive non-violence – the making and unmaking of Gandhi’s religion of ahimsa’ is something that only someone of his stature in thinking could have written. Every page by Jyotirmaya Sharma who is a professor of political science at the University of Hyderabad, is rich and goes to show how much of research went into it for more than a decade.

If one has a perception of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, also commonly referred to as the ‘Mahatma’ or described as ‘the father of the nation’, the book which throws a lot of insight into the personality and philosophy of Gandhi, is bound to alter some of the perceptions one has of him. Jyotirmaya Sharma produces evidence in the form of people who questioned Gandhi on some matters and the responses they got from him.

One wonders if Gandhi had come under attack from Jyotirmaya Sharma. It does not happen blatantly. If that is the impression one tends to get, it is only based on the arguments put forward by several people and how Gandhi chooses to project himself through his various writings. By opening up some windows, Jyotirmaya Sharma facilitates us take a peek into Gandhi’s thinking and form an opinion.

On a personal front, let me vouch for the fact that Jyotirmaya Sharma encouraged one to develop an opinion. Not just develop it and express it. In the right way, in the proper format. “It is simple child,” he once said to me. “One should not assume that writing an editorial is a difficult task,” he said to me. During the period that he was Resident Editor of The Times of India, Hyderabad in the early 2000s, I wrote a few editorials. He explained a few simple steps and made writing editorials look like child’s play. Of course, one had to have a concrete subject, concrete thoughts and valid points to base an opinion on. He guided me to write all those editorials, most of the times, making little intervention. There would always be a pat on the back.

Appreciative as he always was, he made sure my name appeared in the imprint line as Editorial Coordinator when we launched the ‘Entertainment’ supplement which was a weekly. Lunch at some of the star hotels with him was frequent. There was no need for an ‘occasion’ as such to go out for lunch. He would never allow me to pay.

In one of his earlier books, he also mentioned my name, along with the names of a few other colleagues – which only goes to show his large-heart.  I also remember the lunch he used to host at his house. An art aficionado, he would display the art that he bought in his drawing room, and also other rooms. So, it was not just about lunch but about admiring the art and the philosophy of the artist, if we chose to understand the art, and the man who bought it.

With the kind of philosophy, he was dictated by and the approach he had, Jyotirmaya Sharma can be credited with managing to do a coup of sorts. At a get together organised by the newspaper for the top brass of the political leadership, bureaucrats and society, he got Y S Rajasekhar Reddy and N Chandrababu Naidu to share the same dinner table.

They were supposed to be political rivals but Jyotirmaya Sharma wanted that both attend the dinner. It was tricky. Chandrababu Naidu would have preferred to put in an appearance and leave before Y S Rajasekhara Reddy came.  Such was his persuasive power, logic and goodwill that both Naidu and YSR agreed to not only share the dinner table but spent more than an hour chatting, joking and just being like how they were when they were friends several decades ago when they both began their political career. If political differences existed they did, but for Jyotirmaya Sharma, life was all about being human first.  

Let me come back to the book. What is also striking about his latest book ‘Elusive non-violence’ is that he leaves us at a place where we would have wanted to continue to read. He makes no conclusion. He keeps his subject open-ended. Which means, he does not want to force his philosophy down the throat of his reader. Much respect. Allow me one more say here. Jyotirmaya Sharma also gave me the opportunity to compile the ‘Sacred Space’ column which appears in the editorial page of TOI. During the period that I did this for several months, I was exposed to the thinking of various philosophers. It widened the horizon of my thinking. Significantly, he also came up with another addition. It used to be called ‘Raja dharma’. It would be a quote from anyone famous, from among the sages of the yore, or even modern and respected thinkers. But that had to be something relevant to that particular day’s happenings – mainly political. That too was a learning experience.

The last time I met Jyotirmaya Sharma was in 2004 for a small farewell lunch a few of us had for him. This year, that is in 2021, I watched his interview in The Times Literary Fest online talk about his latest book. I promptly placed an order for the book. The book has been so engrossing that I would pick it up as soon as I finished the day’s work. So, if my son who is in London would call to speak to me, my wife’s first response would be: He’s engrossed in reading ‘Elusive non-violence’.



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