Yoginder Bali was a well known name in journalism for more than five decades. He was the chief reporter of Times of India when I joined the esteemed newspaper for the first time in September 1982, though it was his predecessor and close friend Mohammad Shamim who had invited me to come on board. Both Bali and Shamim helped in shaping my career and gave me opportunities that would not have been given to a young reporter in a big organisation. Bali passed away on Thursday, leaving behind memories as well as anecdotes we in his erstwhile team in TOI continue to share whenever we meet. Shamim had left the world several years ago and he invariably comes up in many of my thoughts and conversations as he was instrumental in educating me regarding nuances of political reporting.
It is with admiration and gratitude that I remember both these luminaries as also my other chief reporters in various newspapers, who assisted in my evolution as a journalist. Bali was perhaps the most versatile newsman I have known. He could write on anything under the sun. Be it culture, films, politics, government, personalities, civic matters or defence and external affairs.
He was a reservoir of patience and would always have a word of encouragement for his colleagues. He had his likes and dislikes as well but that is something which is very natural in every human being.
Bali was also grateful to those who had helped him and never forgot to mention how Inder Malhotra, the then resident editor of the TOI and a very eminent journalist had played a vital role in his return to the newspaper from which he resigned in the late 1970s after being posted to Bhopal as a special correspondent, since his family circumstances never allowed him to go there.
I got to know him and Shamim much before I joined mainstream journalism and both of them encouraged me to write and get into the profession. My interest in political reporting was generated after I was asked to cover the all important political beat in the TOI’s reporting team in January 1983, despite being the junior most correspondent. Elections to the Delhi Municipal Corporation and Metropolitan Council were being held and I got the big break of being in the thick of action. The Congress had lost in both Andhra and Karnataka and the slogan was “Karnataka, Andhra Haari hai, ab Dilli ki bari hai”.
My initial assignment, besides covering the important wards and constituencies was to trail Indira Gandhi and Atal Behari Vajpayee, the two principal campaigners. This was something which I enjoyed thoroughly, as in the process I got to know a large number of field workers in the two parties.
The Congress won both these bodies in a triangular fight, which also featured the Janata Party and I was asked to cover the municipal corporation for a while before being put back on the crime beat along with my old friend and colleague, late Ravi Bhatia.
Bali was great fun to work with, though Ravi Bhatia would mimic him and regale all of us in his absence. A prolific writer, he led by example. He had extensive knowledge of Delhi and all the important players of that time. He had served in the information department of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and had worked closely with Delhi’s first Chief Minister, Chaudhury Brehm Parkash during his younger days. He brought a treasure of experience to the job and did not hesitate in sharing his contacts with some of us. Bali and Shamim had a very close friendship and would often tease each other.
Commenting on Bali’s ability to fill in stories with minute details and write a long copy, Shamim once jokingly told some of us that Bali could even produce a five-page report if he was sent to interview a dead man.
His network of contacts was unbelievable and I vividly recall when singing legend Noor Jahan was visiting India from Pakistan after eons, he produced one of her finest interviews for the paper when everybody else failed to get the melody queen on board for their respective publications. The crowning glory was that a rival daily carried a five-column piece by an eminent journalist on how she could not interview Noor Jahan, while the TOI carried her full interview on the same day as well in five columns with identical placement. Bali had scored for the paper and for all of us.
He had profound knowledge of defence affairs and would encourage all of us to go on media visits with the armed forces to various locations. His friendship with Colonel P.N. Khera, the then Army PRO, played a pivotal role in getting the reporters to understand how our soldiers brave it out in extreme conditions.
Bali had a soft corner for some of his political friends who were mostly from the Congress and used their information to make his colleagues comprehend the political situation prevalent at that time. He also commanded immense respect from politicians from the BJP, many of whom he knew from his reporting days.
Bali is no more. However, like many of my former bosses and colleagues, he was a source of immense inspiration. You will be missed, Sir. Rest in Peace. Between us.