It is so strange that this morning I was discussing the kindness of well-established individuals towards newcomers with Kartik Aaryan, and then I read that Mrs Fatima Zakaria is no more.

She is part of my memory of life-making kindness when I was starting out. when legendary mediapersons like K N Subramaniam, Pritish Nandy , Pradeep Guha and Kanchan Gupta(Kolkata The Statesman) encouraged a young stubborn journalist from Patna who wanted to break into entertainment journalism in Mumbai(then,Bombay).

One of my editors was so discouraging I almost gave up. “How can you interview people on the phone?How can you communicate with anyone without looking into his or her eyes?” She laughed so hard I cried.Now of course everyone conducts interviews in their pyjamas from home(a jacket on top and pyjama down below if it is Zoom). But the naysayers had a field day at my expense.

Then there was Fatma Zakaria, Mrs Zakaria to me. So regal in her bearing, so elegant in her sarees, she reminded me of a kindly queen from the an empire run from BoriBunder where commoners like me from Bihar were prohibited from entering until Mrs Zakaria opened the doors to heaven. I was suddenly writing for the Sunday edition of the most famous newspaper in India.

She encouraged me to read a lot and to review books for the Sunday supplement. It was my second passion after cinema back then(now I don’t read at all). I was constantly seeking reassurances from her and she was always patient kind and supportive. Quite a contrast to Mrs Nandini Mehta her Delhi-based counterpart in Indian Express who would snap at me every time I would call her on a personal landline number. Later she would answer the phone(who else would answer her direct line?) and say, “Nandini Mehta is not here right now.”

Okay then.

I think the harsh experiences in the beginning are as vital to one’s growth as the kindness. How would I have fully appreciated Mrs Zakaria’s kindness if Mrs Mehta had not shown me the other side of the coin? So thank to both of you imposing intimidating ladies. I am sure Mrs Zakaria is now investing her considerable beauty and invaluable charms in Heaven. She has good company on her erudite husband.