TN Gopakumar: The man who was Gopan to me

Sashi Kumar reflects on a friendship over 3 decades long
TN Gopakumar: The man who was Gopan to me
TN Gopakumar: The man who was Gopan to me
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By Sashi Kumar

It was in the late 1980s in Delhi, where I then lived and worked, that I came to know Gopan. In the constant company we kept then were the late OV Vijayan, VK Madhavan Kutty and TV Kunhikrishnan, and Paul Zachariah. We spent long, very heady and very argumentative hours at the Press Club. It was around this time that I was thinking up the Asianet project and Gopan was often in the close circle where we discussed the exciting possibilities of the new venture. He, like Zachariah, took a leap of faith in returning to Kerala to be associated with the project. I was in fact a bit burdened by and apprehensive about that decision, because Gopan was well settled as an established journalist with the English press in the capital, and leaving that to come to Kerala on the promise of a startup whose prospects were at the same time bright and uncertain seemed a more than calculated risk. But he was confident, as he told me, that he could write his way through and out of any difficulties that faced him. He was initially associated in an advisory capacity with the news part of Asianet, but played a crucial role in determining the tenor and content of newscasts and programming on the channel.

Among the very first series of programmes that emerged in our brainstorming sessions to evolve the Fixed Point Chart (the programmes for each half hour slot of the day and for the week, and repeated thereafter for the month and so on) was Kannadi. We entrusted it to Gopan and he took to it with passion and vigour. The programme soon became synonymous with the man. It was meant to hold a mirror to what we do to ourselves. Gopan made it an investigative, humane and a transformative exercise, often forcing policy changes and remedial interventions by the authorities and lending succour and relief, both moral and financial, to those in trouble or need. The programme epitomised the journalistic credo I tried to make our watchword for the channel: comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.

TNG outside Gauri Amma's residence in 1994 as she was ousted from CPI(M)

There was soon, entirely due to his efforts, a Kannadi fund to which numerous viewers of the programme in the country and abroad donated liberally and from which the requirements of those in dire need were met. There are very few slots in a TV channel of which one can conscientiously say that just that one programme makes the whole channel worthwhile, more than in the narrow commercial sense. Kannadi, like Chinta Ravi’s Ente Keralam, was, for me, among this select few.

Now that Ravi’s name has come up, I must mention the ‘flat’ as a byproduct of the strong friendship between Gopan and him. Ravi was, at one time, looking for a place to stay in Trivandrum since he had to spend long stretches of time there in the postproduction of his travel series Ente Keralam. Gopan immediately offered a small apartment he owned near the medical college to Ravi on lease, which, I suspect, was more a matter of form because the rents were never really paid. But ‘the flat’, as it came to be ubiquitously called, soon became an open house where a wide variety of characters, ranging from the conventional to the radical to the outright crazy, assembled to interact, clash and split hairs. The flat must, I think, have contributed substantially, even if anonymously and in its own peculiar way, to the intellectual and artistic ferment in Kerala at the time.

Ravi left us some five years back. And now, Gopan. There is a sense of repeating a parting. And of another blank spot that can’t be filled in the mental scape.

Celebrating 100 episodes of Kannadi. (VK Madhavan and Sashi Kumar can be seen in the picture. (published by Asianet News).

It is more difficult, emotionally, to remember the many wonderful evenings I and close mutual friends have spent together at Gopan’s home where his ever hospitable and cheerful wife, Heather, would make us feel most welcome irrespective of the late hour and muster up the most delicious meals. He was very proud of his two beautiful and talented daughters, and they of him. It was such a bonded family. And when we finally left, invariably well past midnight, Gopan would be psyching himself up to write his column for a periodical or a commissioned article which had to be turned in the next morning.

His physical and mental energy, and journalistic output, were phenomenal. His working hours were long and thoroughly unconventional. His insouciance reminded me often of Emerson’s challenge: “Give me health and a day and I will make the pomp of emperors ridiculous”. But he was not given a fair chance at that challenge. He bore the sudden setback and reverses in his health with fortitude. On the occasions we spoke about it over the last few months he would refer to his medical condition in scientific terms rather than as an affliction, and with a touch of stoic humor. I suspect he had a premonition of the worst but would not let on, or indulge it in any manner.  

He really had no business to leave so early. But then it was not his doing.

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