George Fernandes was an enigma to his adversaries and followers alike. In his (Marathi) book ‘Susat George’ (which may be loosely translated as ‘George the Tornado’), noted journalist and author Nilu Damle clarifies, in his introduction, that the difference between a biography and a ‘profile.’ ‘Profile is a kind of a sketch’, he says, ‘and it highlights the prominent facets of the subject’s personality; that too like a sketch done with a few brush strokes’. It obviously does not have the deeper treatment which a biography would give, yet it is a good enough picture for a reader. Nilu Damle presents is with a profile of George Fernandes.
Profiling a person covers his career’s or life’s vicissitudes, his moments of glory and conflicts, which provides a reader with insights about the personality of the protagonist, and a short story of his life.
Nilu Damle had worked with George Fernandes for a while so he knew him well, and that was a reason why he opted to write about George who passed away in January 2019. The other reason for writing a profile of George could be, and admittedly this is my guess, the familiarity of Marathi readers with George. A generation of Mumbaikars had witnessed George’s work. They were affected, positively or otherwise, by his decisions. He impacted the lives of Mumbaikars in many ways – as the man who could bring the Mumbai City to a grinding halt, as the leader of taximen’s union, as the leader of BEST workers’ union which often fought for better pay and bonus. And yes, not to forget his thrashing of the seemingly invincible Mr. SK Patil, ‘the uncrowned King of Bombay’ as he was often referred to, in the 1967 Lok Sabha elections.
Usually studiousness and dynamism, or high action orientation, do not go together. But George was gifted with both. I guess that is why there was an aura around George’s personality. His sudden demonstrations at the Yellow Gate Police Station stopped the police atrocities against the dock workers, his leading railway workmen’s strike in 1974 (nobody could have imagined such a nationwide event), his working during the day in Delhi and meeting workers in Mumbai at night and returning to Delhi by late night flight – all this was possible thanks to his never depleting energy, zeal and dynamism. They say there is a certain ‘romance of disruption’ and George knew how to handle it.
The author has captured accurately his subject’s sense of duty in visiting the armed forces personnel at Kargil (he was the Defense Minister then) against the Doctor’s advice. And George’s courage and integrity in asking Janata Party Government not to drop the criminal case against him – the Dynamite case – as it is known.
Peter Block, the leadership Guru says, “The most difficult struggle is between serving our personal ambition to get ahead and, at the same time, doing work that has personal meaning in a way that maintains our integrity and optimism.” George did not focus on personal achievements. He remained committed to bringing about transformation. That perhaps was the reason why masses remained firmly behind him even in Bihar which was his adopted state.
Nilu Damle has sketched George’s profile in a lucid language which has a speed of its own. He takes a dispassionate view of the developments yet with a touch of appreciation of the person George was.
It’s a surprising coincidence, call it synchronicity if you wish, that the book on George, the man who could bring Bombay to standstill, was published during the lockdown!
(‘Susat George’ (Marathi), Nilu Damle, Rajhans Prakashan, Rs 250.)
Vivek S Patwardhan
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”
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