Allow Me To Pass Away!

The most revered and veteran Hyderabadi journalist, the late Mr D Sitaram, always used to say, “Allow me to pass away”. This barb was directed at some of us junior editors who used to give the headline: ‘So and so “passes away”,’ instead of saying the person dies/died.

So he used to say, “I am passing away” while returning home. Mr Sitaram retired ages ago, but this indefatigable soul was never tired. In his days, he saw history being made; he was part of history. Edited a Hyderbadi newspaper, but was mostly with UNI (United News of India), a news agency which was destroyed more by egos within, rather than by media barons or politicians. (In my cub reporter days, some of my best journo friends and well-wishers were from UNI.)

In many professions, it so happens that you first work with the father and then with the son.

In my case, I first worked, in 1982-84, with the son, a genial D Balaji, the guy with a sharp wit and an equally sharp tongue, in Russy Karanjia’s bulldog of a tabloid, The Daily, in that wonderful city that was then known as Bombay.

From 1992, I worked with Balaji’s father in Deccan Chronicle, Hyderabad. Jaisa beta, uska baap! In other words, beta to beta, bhaap re baap… The baap took a liking for me and was a great professional guide, and also regaling me with his past, naughty tidbits. If he would have been alive, he would have been a rock star on Twitter for his short, sharp witty sarcasm.

Coming back to Mr Sitaram’s saying, “allow me to pass away”: There were occasions when I almost “passed away”, most notably when doctors in a corporate super-speciality hospital gave their ‘judgement’ in July 2014.

Yet I survived—and now no doctor believes me I am indeed that patient even after seeing all the medical reports.

Recently, one doctor even refused to recognise that it was me who he treated once—even after showing a snap taken by my dear senior photographer colleague Leonard Aarons at that hospital, some weeks after recovery.

But then, every time I expected to meet my Maker, She disappointed me. First in 1994, then 1998, in 2014…

But now, I think the time has come to go back into Her loving bosom. Maybe She has other ideas… I have been receiving some indications.

My life, in general, was a mixed bag, a massive roller-coaster ride all the time, with more downs than ups.

Yet, I gained much more than I ever expected. Financially, I have remained a pauper, yet rich in many other ways.

In the closing days of 2015, I had a chance to meet several wonderful people, almost all in just a couple of hours, and on just one day! One couple, Ms Sucheta Dalal and Mr Debashis Basu, chanced upon me on Twitter in December 2014 when I was recovering. I had a credit card-related issue with a multinational bank. The editors encouraged me to write about my experiences. One thing led to another; now I am fortunate to be working for them.

I felt honoured to meet them in person for the first time on December 20th last year at a function organized by Moneylife Foundation to felicitate Mr Shailesh Gandhi, the former Chief Information Commissioner of India (CIC), known for his path-breaking decisions. Besides, a lot of Right to Information (RTI) activists were also present, who spoke out their minds without any hesitation. It was a surreal atmosphere and I thank the wonderful couple, who have unassumingly dedicated their lives for the common man.

Mr Sitaram took loving care of his wife who was disabled and bed-ridden for years together. As a typical Hyderabadi, he used to mutter the choicest abuses, yet I could see in his eyes unbridled love for her. His kids were married and away. For a time, he went to live in a village, far from the hustle-bustle of Hyderabad. Of course, she deserted him after succumbing to her illnesses.

A few years ago, I went to Hyderabad for a snap function organized for his 86th birthday. Mostly retired activists, writers, artists, lesser journos, small-time politicians (no big names, for he was no longer ‘useful’) were present. In his ‘useful’ days all these categories of people and others used to seek him out.

He “passed away” uncelebrated: I can see his mischievous eyes are glaring at me for using this terminology!

So now, it is my turn to tell him: “The time has come for me to pass away…”

Hope to meet you soon sir, in that particularly ‘hot’ corner of the other world. Wink, wink!

Will eternally enjoy your garrulous company for eternity; and neither of us will say: “Allow me to pass away”.

I can hear him say: “Arre saala…” and things unprintable in this world…

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