Blazing a Trail
The multifaceted Vaju Kotak showed potential for journalism even in his early days. While studying in college, besides his college magazine, he would write political sketches of leaders of Europe for Surat's Lokvani. Once he became a regular writer, he translated in Gujarati the biography of international danseuse Isadora Duncan. Vajubhai became a journalist with a film weekly named Chitrapat. He left Chitrapat over differences and started writing for Chhaya and finally, started Chitralekha on the advice of his brother-in-law Vrajlal Radia.
After becoming the editor, he shared with his friends, 'I was determined never to betray my readers. I went to Chhaya only to complete my Juvan Haiya. This underscores his loyalty towards his readers. Rather than treading on beaten tracks, he always insisted on being original. It was his dream to make Chitralekha part of the commoner's life.
Vajubhai's colleagues have confirmed that when all three publications were there (Chitralekha, jee, Beej), he kept writing incessantly. Talking about Chitralekha only, he would take care of the first page (Prabhatna Pushpo) to the last page and each section unmistakably reflected his distinct stamp. Even for writing a photo caption, he would spend hours. The columns-Shaherma Farata Farata (Strolling in the city) that we see in most newspapers was initially started by him. The column had a fictional character Karsankaka who would comment on contemporary events and happenings. This character had so deeply influenced the average Gujarati households that when the TV came in 1972, one of the initial shows-Avo Mari Sathe-had Karsankaka as one of many characters.
This shows Vajubhai's range and versatility. He could write with ease, thanks to the voracious reading habit he had cultivated earlier, his observant eye and his knack to write simple and establish a connect with the common readers.
One of his publications Beej was a Gujarati Digest, one of the experiments that he carried out those days. It would carry the best of reading materials published in other publications. This publication carried no advertisement and it was basically started to develop and cater to the highbrow taste so that the readers did not take recourse to any low-brow reading.
Thereafter, he started an English publication Light, which was folded down and replaced by Jee, a film magazine, which was a kind of challenge that he had thrown at himself. Despite being a film magazine, it had no typical film gossip or senseless masala. Credibility was its hallmark. Yet, Jee became successful those days.
He overworked so as to care for the readers' taste and their demands and it took a heavy toll on his health. As a result, his life was cut short prematurely. He never wrote anything negative or slanderous nor did he ever seek to titillate the readers.
His successor-and his wife Madhubahen Kotak-says that he was so concerned about all his publications that even after his death, none of the publications faced dearth of editorial matter for four months. This gives a fair indication of devotion and his prolific output.
Not only as a writer or a photographer, he was also quite innovative when it came to sketches and cartoons. He would give new ideas to cartoonist everyday to breathe life into his cartoons.
Vajubhai Kotak has immortalized his name and image in the hearts of his countless readers who loved and admired him for his body of work, his disarming style and the range of subjects he could handle, with effortless ease and simplicity.