People who make life worth living: Prem Panicker

This is a third post in my series of people who make life interesting or worth living. If you are wondering whether Prem Panicker belongs in the same league as Manohar Shyam Joshi and Gulzar, well, this is purely written from my perspective and Prem has had as big an influence on me as those two other personalities.  Again, I have never met Prem in real life but I am so immersed by his work, his views, his thoughts that sometimes I feel as if I know him like a close relative.

When did I first discover Prem Panicker? The answer is when I first seriously discovered internet or rather when internet became a part of my life as was television or radio before that. That was around 2000 after I moved to US. It appears very short period, isn’t it? But that also tells you how fast the world has changed and internet has changed it in last 10-15 years. 10 years back, when I was working in India for Infosys, getting high speed internet was a luxury, even in the office. The page would take forever to download, and this was the case in the world headquarters of the most admired tech company in India. So what changed in 2000. I moved to US and with that a lot of things changed. My life style changed. I could afford a computer, in fact multiple computers at home, all of a sudden. It was another year before high speed internet would become common place, but at least I had a dedicated dial up now which means 24 hours internet connection.

Another thing that changes was my need to stay connected to India, by every means I could and that’s where I discovered Rediff as a handy tool. But if I discovered Rediff by chance or through friends, what made it sticky for me and many others was their cricket writer with a name with 2 P’s in it. Soon I realized that I was spending 80% of my time on Rediff reading Prem and it was the same for many people in my demographic. I started looking forward to Prem’s match reports with as much curiosity as  people used to for the release of a new film back when cinema was the only form of entertainment.

To assess the real impact of Prem on my generation, we would have to take into account the prevailing conditions in the cricket world in and around 2000. We as fans had pretty much lost the faith in the cricket teams and the cricket world, after the match fixing scandal. All of sudden, everything looked fake and fixed. Couple that with my own situation of moving to a new country where cricket was known as just another insect, threatened the religious belief I had grown up with.

Enter Prem and he pulled us back into the cricket world. He made the cricket reports cool with his lucid and interesting style of reporting, almost playing the role that the good commentators did, back in the radio days. We couldn’t watch matches on TV, no problem, we would get to enjoy them even more in the next day’s reports on Rediff. In a single role, Prem revived the game for cricket for millions of lost fans like me, energized Rediff and made it the most popular internet destination for desis to hangout at and set the standards for cricket match reports. Cricinfo followed and soon took over the cricket market on internet due to their superior technology and ball by ball commentary, but even today their match reports seem to follow a pattern that Prem set, whether they acknowledge it or not.

Prem was applying good, old school writing skills to write describe the happenings on the field of a sport. He was telling us a story, with live believable characters in it. However, the problem was, here was a writer par excellence, who was soon discovering for himself and millions of his fans that he is probably doing injustice to himself by limiting to just cricket. He soon delved into writing about Movies. Those pieces were good, but nowhere as good as his take on cricket. Besides, Rediff had better writers on the cinema page, people like Dinesh Raheja who would write tribute pieces and Raja Sen who joined later for reviews. We were losing Prem as he appeared less and less on Rediff’s cricket pages. For a while, he managed a blog page for rediff about cricket but it was all confusing for the readers, we weren’t sure who was writing those pieces.

Then I discovered his blog, aptly titled Smoke Signals. That’s when we discovered the real Prem, the multi-dimensional one. He was writing on Politics, general current affairs, cinema, cricket and mythology and what was common all along was the sharp writing skills and his command over words. His re-writing (Prem likes to call it translation of M. Vijay’s work) of Mahabharata story from Bhim’s point of view was addictive, to understate it. I have the full Bhimsen in PDF format sitting on my latptop and every now and then I open it and start reading it from anywhere. I soon realized that I was commenting on Prem’s blog, very few blogs where I every commented, being the lazy reader, even though I read a lot of them.

Through his blog, Prem covered some of the details about his personal life. He reposted what he had written on Rediff about his dad when he passed away, an extremely sentimental and brave piece, brave because he was pouring out his heart, without losing his objectivity. If any of my kids wrote an obituary like that, I would be proud and willing to die multiple times just for that. Through his postings on his personal life, he shared information with us about his childhood, the lessons he learned while growing up, the influence of his parents on him, the dos and don’ts of parenting even though he himself doesn’t have kids.

I am not sure if Prem is aware of his impact he had on people like me and thousands of others in my generation. He seems to have a lot of fans on his blog and his posts are full of comments, some of them very insightful and Prem also actively participates in the debate. To me, Prem is one of those people who make life interesting by creating newer stuff every day through their God given skill that inspires ordinary mortals like me. Long live Prem Panicker!

You can read Prem at his blog here http://prempanicker.wordpress.com/.

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6 comments so far

  1. kanthesh on

    Good one mate. I could almost see it as my piece. The way you stumbled upon him on the internet sometime around 2000 and then have been following him for the past 10 years rigorously. In fact not seeing a post from him either on the blog or on twitter yesterday 😦 sent panic waves. Wishing him many more years of entertaining and enlightening us and several more people like us. Keep it going.

    • Wise Desi on

      Thanks for the comment! I was sure there are thousands around like me, didn’t know how to reach them. Thanks for letting me know it’s reaching some of Prem’s fans.

  2. prempanicker on

    Thank you very much for this — cliched though it may sound, I feel both honored, and humbled.

    A malaise of the professional journalist is the word “professional”, and all that it implies. Over a period of time, it all becomes “work” — something you do not because of the sheer delight of using words to capture thoughts and ideas, to provoke thinking and debate, but because that is what you get paid to do.

    Over time, as a consequence, the writing becomes practiced, facile — but in the process, the heart, the passion, is somehow leeched out of it. And then something happens: a chance acquaintance talks to you about what you had written and what he felt; or you come across a blog post like this one — and you are reminded, anew, that what you do as “work” impacts inordinately on the lives of people around you.

    That realization is like a fresh lease of life — a reminder of why you cannot, even at your most tired and/or cynical, afford to take this “work” lightly; a reminder of what you owe those who take time out of their own lives to read you, interact with you.

    Thank you for the reminder. And for the kind words.

    • Wise Desi on

      Prem,
      (I won’t add Sir or Ji, because you reprimanded me once for it),
      I am honored that you took time to read my post and comment on it. The post served its purpose to remind you of the other side, the huge impact you have had and continue to have and what you mean for your readers.

      May God give you long life and health so that our life keeps getting enriched.

  3. Girish on

    Hey nice write up. Can you pls post the link to his beautiful article on his dad ? I can’t seem to locate it on his blog or archives. Thanks.

    • Wise Desi on

      Thanks, Girish. I will try to dig it up. It was on Smoke Signals sometime back when Prem had written an added commentary on top of it. If i find the link, i’ll definitely post.


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