A pall of gloom descended on India as she prepared herself to witness one of her favourite sons for the last time on TV. The country may have seen several crippling bandhs and shutdowns, enforced or voluntary, but the shudown that night was out of sheer love, respect, awe, affection and admiration. India came to a halt by 8 pm. Roads were deserted, restaurants were empty, offices were closed, all late night meetings were cancelled. Wedding anniversary dinners weren’t celebrated. Children’s birthday parties were called off. Pizza outlets doubled their prices, owing to the severe delivery demands. BPO units operating at night set up giant screens in their cafeterias, as all the night-shift employees locked their workstations and gathered themselves in front of the screens. All to watch one legend for the very last time.
Twitter was inundated with trends relating to the great man – #ThankYouArnab, #AGLastEpisode, #TheNation, #TheGodOfNews, #Respect, #SaluteTheLegend trended worldwide. The Newshour had even been dispensing personalized autographs on Twitter, to whoever tweeted to it using the #ThankYouArnab hashtag.
Thousands of appreciative and commemorative quotes poured in:
“There are 2 kinds of news reporters in the world. Arnab and all the others,” – Shiv Aroor.
“We did not lose to a team called Times Now. We lost to a man called Arnab.” – Prannoy Roy.
“The anger he brings to the millions of his countrymen, the grace without which he handles all the cacophony and the expectations and his innate bombast – all make for a one-in-a-billion individual” – Barkha Dutt
“When you are a panelist with Arnab, you almost want to dodge a few questions of his just to hear him shout,” – Mani Shankar Aiyar
“Tujhe pata hai tune kiska question chhoda hai?” – Zafar Hilaly to General Qureshi.
“There is no shame in losing to such a great anchor” – Sanjay Jha
“I’ve seen God. He anchors news at 9 pm for India on Times Now” – Ravi Shankar Prasad
“Behind the spectacles, under that neatly gelled hair, inside the cranium, there is something we don’t know, something beyond scientific measure. Something that allows him to soar, to roam a territory of news that, forget us, even those who are gifted enough to work under him cannot even fathom. When he goes out to anchor, people switch on their television sets and switch off their lives” – BBC
“The thing I like the most about Arnab is his intensity. After being in the business for so long, he still has the same desire to decimate everyone everyday. I tell you what, the man is a legend” – Navika Kumar
“On a train from Shimla to Delhi, there was a halt at one of the stations. The train stopped by for few minutes as usual. Arnab had asked Sanjay Jha a question. The passengers, railway officials, everyone on the train waited for Sanjay Jha to complete his answer. This genius can stop time in India!” – Ramachandra Guha
One gentleman’s tweet stuck out like a sore thumb.
Needless to say, he ended up bringing upon himself a tsunami of abuses from Tweeters.
There had always been talks and speculation about his retirement, but he hadn’t decided on retirement, until recently. He had always said that nothing kept him going more than the pride, honour and joy of representing the nation every night and harassing his panelists on her behalf. When the announcement was finally made, the nation froze.
“Dinner would never be the same again,” said former Miss World and actress Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. “Every night, Aradhya would have dinner only if The Newshour played while she was being fed. I’m gonna have the hardest time feeding her now,” Aishwarya was quoted lamenting.
Stands were set up in The Newshour’s newsroom at the Times Now studio. Celebrities made their presence felt among the studio audience, with actor Aamir Khan arriving in his lucky suit, and declaring that he would wear the same suit throughout the episode. Ace commentator and fellow Mumbaikar Ravi Shastri was there too, interviewing various celebrities, fans and former associates of the legend, like Prannoy Roy, Boria Majumdar among others. Arnab’s pet peeve, Abhijit Mukherjee too, was invited as a special guest.
“Well, uh, Abhijit, the atmosphere is electric, the dented and painted crowd on the edge of their seats here. Are you expecting a cracker of a contest?” Ravi asks.
“Certainly, Ravi. I’m very thankful that I’m not a panelist. I’ve not even withdrawn more money from ATMs all my life than I have withdrawn my statement that night and applosized,” replied Mukherjee junior. “Every night when I try to sleep, that episode still haunts me. I don’t think I can ever recover from the trauma,” he added.
When the clock struck 8.55 pm, a restless studio audience couldn’t tolerate Navika anymore, despite her going hammer and tongs at Congress spokespersons. And then she said, “Well, that’s a wrap. Coming up next, the last ever episode of The Newshour with Arnab Goswami,” and the audience erupted, as did the nation. Chants of “ARNABBBBBBBBBB! ARNAB” began to reverberate all across the nation, that climbed to a crescendo when the clock struck 9. India had last screamed together like this only when Sachin Tendulkar walked in at the Wankhede for the last time.
All eyes were on the doors of The Newshour’s newsroom. His panelists for the last episode – Zafar Hilaly, Sanjay Jha, Maroof Raza, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Subramanian Swamy, Chandan Mitra, Meenakshi Lekhi and Renuka Chowdary lined up on either side of the door for a guard of honour. Rose petals were showered from the roof, the noise and cacophony from the studio audience drowning even the firecrackers that were burst outside the Times Now office, as the studio audience as well as the crowd gathered outside the Times Now building staring up at the giant screens clapped in unison. And then the legend walked in for the last time, dapper in a neat suit, hair gelled and neatly combed, sparkling clean spectacles. He thanked the panelists on either side, by raising his hands in the air, with one hand holding papers presumably containing important facts and figures, the sight of which caused a lump in Zafar Hilaly’s throat.
“ARNABBBBB ARNAB” continued the chants, accompanied by the blowing of conch shells, as he went to take his place at the customary anchoring chair followed by his panelists. Ravi Shastri announced the winner of the “Arnab’s greatest fan” contest, a small boy who took after him in the Flipkart ad. The boy was photographed standing next to Arnab, leading to a rousing applause.
The applause and chants, still loud, were soon drowned by the voice of the highest amplitude known to humankind, as Arnab hollered, for one last time, albeit with a tear running down his cheek, “GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO THE NEWSHOUR, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! YOUR CHANNEL BRINGS YOU THE TOP STORIES TONIGHT!”
(Continued in Part II)