My eldest brother, late Balraj Puri, who died in 2014 at the age of 86, was a social and political activist all his life. In his activism he was a journalist, contributing writer to various newspapers and magazines and author of several books. He was a human rights crusader, organizer of many peace rallies and actively involved in politics.
His scholarly and progressive rationales evinced in his writings and lectures which influenced and impacted contemporary India’s intellectual, academic, and journalistic community.
His debut in writing started, surprisingly, at the very tender age of 12, when he launched his own Urdu-language newspaper in Jammu, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. As the rest of India was fighting for freedom from the British rule, my brother aligned himself with the independence movement in the state from the autocratic rule of the Maharaja.
He was an independent thinker, and that is perhaps was his biggest asset in writing. I seldom saw him reading books. His studies were daily newspapers. He was an avid reader of newspapers, from page to page. That was his daily cognitive diet, which kept him informed and a stimulating source of his thinking.
In this daily regime, he often used to mark several stories of interest to him and saving them for references. The latter part was assigned to younger siblings in the family, including me. Those newspaper cuttings with their headlines in straight columns or T-shaped were scotch-taped on papers and cataloged subject-wise. These selected clips turned into a little source library of information and data.
They say words are the tools of writing. To be more precise words are bricks to build a writing structure. The selection of words in this assembly depends on the guidance aroused through honest, compassionate, moral, and prudent thinking. And this is where my brother excelled in applying those principles to architect his writing integrity, which might be dense occasionally, but truthfully and conscientiously expressed.
He was a compassionate writer ingrained in originality and sanity in judgment. His writings were opinionated as well as analytical. Prestigious newspapers, weeklies, and magazines were the media which often carried his articles. His style was authoritative and stimulating, which could confront and clash with the stereotyped mindset.
Many times, I wonder how he could write extensive, informed, and discerning essays, articles, and books in the age when there was no google, and the internet was not part of his writing aids.
In the later part of his life when computers just appeared on the horizon, he was still comfortable writing by hand. His writing tools were a pen and sheets of paper on a clipboard. A typist used to come to our house-cum-office a few times a week and type out his writings while struggling to make out his extensive cuts and rewrites.
His fearless and progressive writing style was inspired by his deep values in humanism and rationalism rather than by religious disciplines and scriptural edicts.
He was not a religious person in the ritualistic and traditional sense. He developed his own practical spirituality or ethical guidelines which were reflected in his sincere, virtuous, and simple lifestyle.
He was an Ambedkarite as part of his human rights commitments.
For his lifelong services to the society, he was honored with Padma Bhushan, one of India’s highest civilian awards, and Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration.
Balraj Puri, my brother and the cause of my humanistic views, was born on August 5, 1928.
-By Promod Puri