A Conversation with Mr. Nirmal Shekar

  • SumoMe

Often in sports writing, you don’t find anything like this-

“LONDON, July 10 (2000)-At three minutes to nine on Sunday evening, as night was licking its lips in anticipation before eating up what was left of the day for a sumptuous supper in silver grey rather than golden twilight, one of the truly extraordinary sportsmen of this or any era raised his arms skyward in a familiar gesture on the centre court at Wimbledon.

Mark that moment — 8.57 p.m. to be exact, three minutes before 1-30 a.m. on Monday morning in India — for you’d find few like it in the entire history of organized sport. And, those of us privileged enough to have been a part of it on tennis’ greatest stage, will perhaps find nothing to match it the rest of our lives. It was a historic moment when all arguments ceased, a moment that answered one big question and many small questions, a moment that put an end to all comparisons. Step forward, Mr. Pete Sampras, wet eyes notwithstanding … the greatest of `em all! Argue if it pleases you, but the moment Pat Rafter failed to direct a Sampras serve back into the court in the men’s singles final of the millennium championship in gathering gloom, arguments and comparisons became meaningless.”

In a conversation with Mr.Nirmal Shekar, Sports Editor of The Hinduandauthor of this delectable piece of writing, we interact with him on a on a one-to-one level about journalism, sports and more! For very rarely in sports writing does one see words woven in such delicate beauty albeit describing adrenaline-rushing brawn-powered sport!

Before we begin, let us give you a brief introduction of him. Mr. Nirmal Shekar was adjudged the Indian Sports Writer of the Year 2007 at the third Sports Journalists Federation of India (SJFI)’s Indian Sports Journalism Awards for Excellence in Reporting, Writing, Photography and Broadcasting, last week. He stole the limelight from the others in his field, and also walked away with the Sports Columnist of the Year (for his column ‘Comment’ in The Hindu), Feature Writer of the Year and News Story Writer of the Year awards.

Words that come so easily at his disposal, to fall into that perfect position in description, miserably fail to come to my command, when we attempt to pen his prowess. And when a tête-à-tête with the Master of Words begins at his office, everything else lies forgotten, new visions are seen and a conversation, so memorable, happens. A few excerpts…

VP: It is remarkable to see someone employ a ‘poetry in prose’ style in today’s hardcore journalism. But you have used that very tool in describing sports. How did this happen?

Nirmal Shekar: The style you are talking about was only what came naturally to me. It is not worked on. This style has come about, because I don’t allow myself to restrict to sports, but try and bring in a life’s perspective; try understanding the psychology of sports and fit sports into the wider context, rather than stick to the backhands and the cover drives alone!

VP: We see that a specialization in Sports Journalism is something we lack in India. What are your opinions about it? Any plans of reversing this state?

Nirmal Shekar: That’s true. In England they have a year’s diploma course; in the US, there is a longer one. But we at India don’t have any specialized course for Sports Journalism. Sports journalists are needed everywhere-in print, 24 X 7 news channels and even online, and there is a large scope for development, too.

We need more courses here rather than just a term or paper of study. For now, I am teaching sports journalism in Asian College of Journalism, Chennai. I enjoy being with the young people and get a view of life and sports from their perspective. Also it is nice to pass on the experience, by at least a small extent. So, although not right now, I might get involved in doing something about Sports Journalism as a course, in the future.

VP: For a person considered an inspiration for every aspiring sports journalist, who has been the inspiration for you to take this up?

Nirmal Shekar: I did not want to be a journalist in the first place. I took a year off after graduation and travelled, spoke to people. I did my Masters in Journalism from the Madras University. I was not even a sports buff. I enjoyed sports and played it, but I was not a fan. I just love writing, and sports gives me the freedom to express myself better than, say, politics or economics.

Maybe the distance I had from sports helped me look at it from a new perspective. The best weapon, as I always tell my students today, is to not to go into the profession as a fan!

I used to admire American boxing writers. They have a gut level writing; no frills.

VP: Commercialization is lifting its nasty head in the field of sports. This is more so a case of concern in India, in recent times, considering the IPL. What do you feel about this?

Nirmal Shekar: There are both good and bad sides to this phenomena.

The good side of the story is that women and men have begun to look at sports as a full-time profession, as it now pays enough for people to take it as a career. In Europe and America, it has helped improve facilities and this is bound to happen in India too.

On the flip side, sport has become a business and somewhere the charm that it held seems to be lost. Money in sports is good but a sport for money is not!

VP: What helps you to write?

Nirmal Shekar: Writing is thinking. It is not about putting fancy words together, but more to do with the clarity of thought. I have been, by nature, a truth-seeker. And this helps. My passion has always been to scratch the surface, dig deep and see sport (and people who play sport) for what it is.

VP: A typical day in the office of Mr.Nirmal Shekar would be…

Nirmal Shekar: The life of a journalist depends on the kind of news that comes in that day. The day starts late for me. I walk in at around 11:30 am and the first editorial meeting takes place. After that the work continues for long hours. It’s almost 8 hours of work per day for me and 97 per cent of it is administrative! Only 3 per cent of my work is writing!

VP: Life as a sports journalist would have taken you to the corners of the world. How has it helped you become what you are today?

Nirmal Shekar: This is my 29th year in the field, after starting out in 1980. Truly, the best part of being a journalist is the travel and the fact that I get to meet so many people. I’ve visited around 40-50 countries and seen some of the best games and encountered some of the best sportspersons too. The travel and meeting people of great character, talent has been a great inspiration.

VP: What do you think can, and should be done to revive the dying traditional sports in India?

Nirmal Shekar: The Government and private organizations need to fund these sports and make the people familiar with them. Some measures to popularize and sustain them as a tradition should be taken. Every sport’s entertainment value is what makes it popular. Take for instance, football, tennis and cricket- they have high entertainment value and hence are followed the most. So this aspect of these dying traditional sports should be worked on.

VP: Your words of wisdom to the aspiring sports journalists out there…

Nirmal Shekar: My only advice is ‘Read extensively!’ Sports writing is not just about sports, so don’t limit yourself to it. Dig deep and bring out every thing’s relevance in a larger perspective.


And listening to the man himself was like watching the best in sport, take stage. With a confidence in manner, modesty in character and flair in the field, Mr.Nirmal Shekar can be best described in his own words, as a matchless writer of the world of sports, with the words he used in an old article of his…

“The matchless athlete has something we can’t see, can’t measure in a gym, can’t calculate in a laboratory. He is fascinating but impenetrable, captivating but unfathomable, and this is part of his appeal. How can he summon the magical shot as if on command; why does he not blink when adversity confronts him?”

Compiled by

Sandhya Ramachandran

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