Remembering Rakhi: The fighter with a smile

Report by: 
Sabyasachi Bandopadhyay
Kolkata
6 Jun 2017

It was evening of December 31, 2002 at the Barick Bhavan office of Indian Express where I worked at that time. I was preparing to pack up and was all set to join the New Year's eve party at Kolkata Press Club. Before leaving, as was my habit, I was checking with my friends in other Houses to know whether I was missing on anything. When I called Rakhi at Times of India she said there was nothing that could merit space in Indian Express (those days the newspaper had no edition here), except for a small incident, that a Kolkata Police sergeant was bashed up by some drunken miscreants. It was cool. 

I shut my computer and was about to leave when the phone rang. It was Rakhi again. ``Sabyada, the sergeant was actually beaten up by some of his drunken colleagues and he is serious. So, you know what to do,'' she said.
I knew and later I realised also that had not Rakhi alerted me, Indian Express would have missed the story of Sergeant Bapi Sen on the first day. Such was Rakhi Chakrabarty, the Times of India reporter who died last Sunday at the age of 45 after a prolonged battle with lung cancer. I believe she was one of the few good human beings in our profession, who was always ready to help a colleague with a smile. I watched her during so many assignments and found she was such an aggressive reporter who had true grit and absolute swagger. In fact she was one of the reporters in Kolkata, who loathed doing stories by just browsing through internet, making a few phone calls or listening to TV news. She believed that good, investigative stories came from sheer leg work. You walk miles and interact with men and then you get a good story, was what she believed in.

On so many occasions I saw these qualities, her dogged tenacity and hard work. When Qutubuddin, the face of Gujrat riots, came to Kolkata seeking shelter I went to Howrah station along with some other reporters who tried hard to get a quote from the nervous young man. The man hardly spoke. But Rakhi was indomitable, she ran along with the family escorted by police and clung on to Qutub's wife and finally got quotes from her. On another occasion  when then Pakistan President Pervez Musharaf's elder brother came to kolkata on a private visit and went to several places including Nirmal Hridaya at Kalighat, Rakhi and I were there covering the visits. And the day the senior Musharaf left Kolkata by train to reach Delhi, I went to Howrah station, hoping nobody else got to know the time of departure of the train. But when I entered the compartment of the guest from Pakistan I saw Rakhi was already there talking to the man. I conceded defeat, without harbouring any malice.

I lost contact of her after she moved to Delhi and it was about seven/eight months ago (or is it earlier?) that I bumped into her at a press conference at Press Club Kolkata. She was her usual self, smiling, talking about stories only. A few days later I heard she was suffering from that deadly disease. There too I heard the feisty girl braved all sufferings with a smile.  And then the news of the end came on Monday morning. Journalism is all about seeking truth. From among the journalists I knew, nobody else knew this better than Rakhi.