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An uncommon man
Consumer activist, editor, photographer, and more, H D Shourie remains resolute at 92, writes Vatsala Kaul

Everything I see, hear and read inspires me to do something for others," says 92-year-old Hari Dev Shourie, one of India's foremost consumer activists. After all, "Aur bhi ghum hain zamarney mein mohabbat ke siwa (there are other concerns in the world besides love)," he says, quoting Faiz.

His living room, which doubles as a home office, teems with papers, files and books. Piles and stacks and heaps of them. "There's a book on everything here," he says. Great Religious and The Complete Stories of Flannery O' Connor rub shoulders with Kundalini and The World of Flowers. The walls and dominated by masterful copies of Claude Monet, his favourite artist an unfurling yellow rose, a stunning red tulip. And a youthful pink rose. "See, it's saying, 'Look at me! Look at me!'" says Shourie.

H D Shourie is a determined man, a crusader for the rights of everyman through Common Cause, his over two-decades-old organization. A man who has made the PIL a potent weapon in the struggle for justice. Who has gained significant decisions for pensioners and widows, fought against corruption and lawyers' strikes, campaigned for proper blood banks and consumer courts. "He deserves the Bharat Ratna," insists veteran author-columnist Khushwant Singh. "He had done more for this country than all the politicians and leaders put together." But Shourie wears his achievements lightly. "I just learnt how to say 'My Lord' and went ahead with it," he says with a smile.

Not surprisingly, he has been named on of the 'People of the Year', selected by the Limca Book of Records for the dedication to a cause. "Common Cause has helped not just one section of people, but lakhs and lakhs of people across the board," says Vijaya Ghose, editor of the Limca Book of Records. "And the driving spirit behind it all has been the fearless H D Shourie."

No problem is too big or too small for them. Whether it is the spread of AIDS, road accidents, landlord-tenant disputes or a child turned spastic with wrong medication, Shourie saab, as the hundreds of troubled people who seek his help call him, is involved. "India Shining has black spots, and we must remove them," he says.

Once he has identified a sore, he sets about collecting information to build his case. "Sometimes, when there is a problem, I call up Arun's office (his son, Arun Shourie, was a minister in the former NDA government). He doesn't know about it, though!" he says with a wink. Usha Rai, deputy director of the Press Institute of India, says, "He is a truly remarkable man fighting for issues which a lot of younger people have not even bothered to think about."

It has been a rich innings. And 92 years of history make for memories. Sad ones of feeling Lahore, where he was City Magistrate; unforgettable ones of working in Japan and Turkey; cheerful ones of his wife and three children Arun Shourie, former Minister for Communications, IT and Disinvestment; Deepak Shourie, managing director, Discovery Communications India; and Nalini Singh, TV journalist-anchor and managing director, TV Live India Pvt Ltd.

There are photographs, too over 10,000 of them of his travels to Holland, the US and Africa, but Shourie is a man who lives firmly in the present. And keeps the faith. "In my personal interactions, I have never found honesty and respect for others devalued. Because I uphold these values, I get the same in return," he says. Delays, red tape and circumlocution never derail his determination or sap his energy. "I have no time for losing my temper," he declared.

Indeed, there is only room for laughter in Shourie's room. And conversation, punctuated with gems of Urdu shairi from his 30-year-old pocket diary, stories about the flowers featured in his book on flower, and joke upon hilarious joke, many to be found in Penguin's The Funniest Jokes in the World, which he edited.

"A private asked his senior for 24 hours' leave," Shourie begins with a chuckle, "but he returned after 48 hours. The senior officers asked him, 'Why are you 24 hours late?' This private replied, 'Sir, when I reached home my wife was in the bathtub.' 'So?' the officer asked sarcastically, 'It took so long for her to take a bath?' 'No sir,' the private replied. 'It took that long for my uniform to dry!'"

Just as the joke is winding down, his son walks in to say goodbye; he is on his way to Mumbai. He is hugged by both parents and has his forehead kissed. As he turns to leave, the father looks at me, eyes bright with pride, and says, "You know, that's Arun." Another special moment in a very special life.

Featured in Harmony Celebrate Age Magazine
June 2004

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