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B G Verghese, former Express editor and civil rights advocate, dies at 87

A Ramon Magsaysay award winner and former editor of Indian Express, died on Tuesday at the age of 87.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi | Updated: December 31, 2014 2:51:33 am
Verghese at the launch of First Draft: Witness to the Making of Modern India.(Express archive) Verghese at the launch of First Draft: Witness to the Making of Modern India. (Express archive)

“Journalism for him is zestful,” wrote the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation in its citation for the 1975 award to B G Verghese. “Yet his sense of public duty is strong.”

One of the most widely respected editors and an inspirational figure to several generations of journalists, Boobli George Verghese died at his Gurgaon house Tuesday. He was 87. He is survived by his wife Jamila and sons Rahul and Vijay.

Distinguished journalist, prolific author, unwavering activist, Verghese donned many hats during his illustrious career that began in 1949, even serving as the Information Advisor to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi between 1966 and 1969. He was the editor of Hindustan Times from 1969 to 1975 and that of The Indian Express from 1982 to 1986. After that, he had been associated with the Centre for Policy Research and writing books and articles for several publications.

“In Shri B G Verghese, we lost an accomplished writer and an insightful thinker. May his soul rest in peace,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Twitter.

Verghese was recovering from a bout of dengue but had been severely weakened, according to his son Rahul. He was not active in the last few days and breathed his last around 5.30 pm Tuesday. His burial has been planned for Thursday afternoon, Rahul said.

Verghese was admired for his work as well as conduct. His journalist colleagues recall how he would walk in with a copy of the newspaper marked red all over. Done with the morning post-mortem examination of the paper, he would dictate “Notes” on the day’s edition listing errors for an internal circulation later.

His several books included India’s North-East Resurgent, a scholarly account of the situation in the Northeast states; Waters of Hope on the untapped water resources in the Ganga and Brahmaputra basin; and Reorienting India: Rage, Reconciliation and Security on managing India’s diversities.

He also wrote a biography of Ramnath Goenka, the founder of The Indian Express. His last major work was First Draft: Witness to the Making of Modern India that came out in 2010. He kept working till the very last and even travelled to Guwahati in the first week of November to attend a conference, according to his son Rahul. Till very recently, he used to be seen driving his own small car to conferences and seminars.

“A meticulous researcher, a prince among human beings and a prolific writer gifted with extraordinary fluency, B G Verghese was also an abiding friend of the Northeast who tried tirelessly to change Delhi’s mindset toward that deeply divided region,” said Sanjoy Hazarika, director of the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research at Jamia Milia Islamia University.

Born in 1927 in Burma (now Myanmar) where his father was serving in the Army, Verghese was educated at the Doon School, St Stephen’s College and Trinity College, London, before he took up a job with The Times of India in Mumbai.

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