What you need to know:
- That aside, let me celebrate the remarkable life of Bushan Vidyarthi, the former head of Colouprint who left us a week ago.
The widespread harassment of media and journalists is well known but it was a printer, Colourprint, which was the most repeatedly harassed and persecuted for two decades.
On January 13, 1994, some 200 security agents descended on Colourprint, one of Kenya’s renowned printing houses. It was renowned not only for the quality of its productions but because its owners, the Vidyarthis, frequently risked their business and even their freedom for a cause they believed in deeply; a free, independent press.
The police raid was to seize copies of opposition leader Kenneth Matiba’s new book “Kenya: Return to Reason,” which detailed massive corruption in President Daniel arap Moi’s inner circle and called on the people to rise and reject the government.
Colourprint workers alerted Mr Matiba even before police entered the premises, and within no time, Mr Matiba was on the scene berating the policemen for doing the regime’s dirty work while his security people whisked away Colourprint director Sudhir Vidyarthi from a side door to his country home in Banana Hill.
That aside, let me celebrate the remarkable life of Bushan Vidyarthi, the former head of Colouprint who left us a week ago. His was a life devoted to service to community and country. He was the most decent, the most caring and the most generous person I ever knew, and if ever I had to choose another persona, it would be Bhushan’s. When I broke the news of Bhushan’s death to Raila Odinga with these brief words above, he wrote back immediately to say that “he was all that you have stated, plus more. I have never known a more generous and forgiving person in his community. He died a patriot.”
5,000 free posters
My friend Gacheke Gachihi of the Mathare Social Justice Centre responded by referring to the Vidyarthis “as the Mwigwithania family. It was Colourprint’s printing for free 5,000 posters for my candidacy of the Sarina Party in Mathare, and Bhushan’s personal encouragement, that gave me the inspiration to get the Centre going."
Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe, who was Viva’s marketing director in the late 1970s, spent hours with the family on Sunday. “No one who met Bhushan could ever forget the man. He was that rare gentleman entrepreneur."
In 1974, I had just been forced out as editor of the Sunday Post because of my criticism of the government, and no other newspaper was willing to employ me in that very tense and repressive year before the pivotal October 1974 election which would be the ailing Mzee Kenyatta’s last.
But Bhushan still hired me to start a new publication, which became “Viva” magazine, and was Colourprint’s first openly political involvement. In the 1979 election, President Moi’s first, Colourprint became a major force in printing campaign posters and materials, including of progressives and independents like Waruru Kanja, George Anyona, Koigi wa Wamwere and Chelagat Mutai.
Colourprint essentially became the principal printers for the Second Liberation, which ultimately led to a restoration of democracy in 2002. From the 1980s on, Colourprint’s woes grew with the severely increased repression that President Moi’s regime unleashed. Despite such tribulations, it is a tribute to Bhushan’s extreme humanity that he rose to be a pillar of his community and its philanthropy, and of Rotary. Dr Rajindar Saini, past chairman of Arya Samaj, spelled out in his beautiful funeral tribute Bhushan’s stalwart role in the Samaj, including as chairman of both its Nairobi and Eastern Africa bodies.
But if others felt Bhushan’s warmth and generosity, the affection and deep commitment his family enjoyed him was truly something to behold. His grandchildren were showered with affection and attention of gargantuan proportions, as were his daughters in law, and they all returned the love multifold. Seema, his son Sandeep’s wife, was totally devoted to Bhushan especially after the terrible loss of wife Kamlesh in 2009. Bhushan and she had been inseparable childhood sweethearts from ages 12 and 9. His youngest granddaughter, Samit and Gauri’s Sayana, shared a love for art and horse riding with her grandfather, and she intends to finish all his unfinished paintings, a new love Bhushan developed which helped him stay on top of his Parkinson’s.
Crucial to understanding Bhushan and his siblings’ commitment to service and courage is the storied legacy of their father, the pioneer journalist freedom fighter Girdharilal Vidyarthi, twice jailed by the British for his “seditious” writings, and of his wife Shanti Devi. In “Mau Mau and Nationhood”, John Lonsdale details Girdharilal challenging stringent colonial restraints to become a champion of the freedom of the press in the service of political freedom with his with the Colonial Press and Colonial Times, through publishing the writings of nationalist leaders, and printing indigenous political advocacy publications like Ramogi, Sauti ya Mwafrika, Mumenyereri and Jicho.
With such provenance, the three Colourprint brothers naturally rose to the challenge and excelled. Anil was a pioneer news photographer with the Nation, and his media savvy and technical skills became invaluable for Colourprint. Sudhir at a very early age got the chance of a lifetime when he became an advising partner to the Milton Obote Foundation in Kampala, helping to start The People daily newspaper. That early direct immersion in politics made him the most public and politically connected figure Vidyarthi brother.
I want to close with the words of Kisumu Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o and his wife Dorothy, which helped lift me out of the deep melancholy over Bhushan’s parting. “Ya Mungu truly ni mengi” Nyong’ o wrote to me, referring to Dorothy’s having seen Bhushan just two weeks earlier “fit and healthy, beaming with life and as joyful as ever.” That is how Bhushan always was, and how I will always remember him.