Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Just Satish, my fair friend ...

One of Goa's and India's finest human beings and a world citizen, Satish Sonak passed away of a heart attack on Friday, 7 April 2017. He died at the age of 59, while arguing a case in a Panaji court.

By Joseph M. Pinto


I first met Satish Sonak and Harshada Kerkar, when I joined Gomantak Times (GT), Panaji, Goa, as editor in July 2003.

My first impression of Satish was of a fearless citizen.

I left GT within twelve months, but kept constantly in touch with them. Now that he is no more and I have lost my close & dear friend, my last impression of Satish is of a good human being, compassionate and caring.

But always his over-powering character is that of a free, frank and fearless, but fair citizen.

FREE: As a lawyer, he was his own master. 

I recall telling him that some of our earliest freedom-fighters and patriots were lawyers and, therefore, their own masters. He added, “So we are free to be servants of the people.”

In the tradition of Gandhi’s guru, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, who set up the Servants of India Society in 1905, Satish always kept himself “free” to serve the people of Goa and of India.

FRANK: If U knew him, you could walk up and ask him a question.

If you wanted an opinion, he could be trusted to be frank. If he did not know the subject, he would say, “Sorry, Joe. I do not know. I can’t say.”

If he felt that you were likely to disagree with his view, he would be careful not to hurt your feelings, while he asserted his own. He wanted to keep your friendship, while he disagreed with you -- frankly.

FEARLESS: This trait is critical, because Goa is such a small state. 

Everyone knows some-one in Goa. So it is easy to be afraid of hurting the interests of some-one you know, when you take a position in the public interest.  

Every activist in Goa can cite examples of how fearless Satish was. How he struggled hand-in-hand and shoulder-to-shoulder with the poor and needy -- on paper, in court and on the streets of Goa!

FAIR: His deep sense of justice did not make him self-righteous. 

Despite being fearless, Satish could be counted upon to be fair. He was careful not get carried away and become an arrogant "know-all" or a gullible "do-gooder".

“Fearless … but Fair” is a rare combination, especially in Goa, where everyone thinks he or she is more sincere & honest than his or her neighbour or even friend.

As a working journalist and editor, I could trust Satish Sonak one hundred percent.

As citizens and patriots, how can we pay tribute to Satish?

First, ask hard questions to those in power. Do not be afraid. For example, use RTI to pursue the powerful, ruthlessly to the very end. 

Speak up! Stand up!

Second, understand and respect the first three words of the Preamble to our Constitution: “We, the People …” 

The people of India, ie, you and me, are sovereign, not Parliament. Do not ever get over-awed by parliamentary democracy. Satish was a Gandhian to the core and practised civil disobedience, since he knew the law.

Third, and above all, be compassionate and hold Gandhi’s Talisman close to your heart:

“I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]. Will he [she] gain anything by it? Will it restore him [her] to a control over his [her] own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?”

Satish loved our people, the poor and the needy. He looked deep into their eyes. And listened to the voices of the voiceless. He felt their hearts, beating with his own.

That brave heart is still.

Farewell, my fair friend, just Satish!

(A version of this tribute appeared in two local newspapers, Gomantak Times and the Goan, on Saturday, 8 April 2017.)

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