You are not around to respond to that greeting with enthusiasm, as you did some three decades ago, on my first day at the tabloid where you were already a reporter.
When I joined as a hopeful writer pretending to be a firebrand reporter, the publication was in turmoil. The Chief Reporter had a quiet word with me: “Son, you are making a big mistake. You don’t leave a bank job to take up journalism. Not this paper. Find another job.”
Almost the entire old team walked out over some dispute and the management put a new team in place. I was not sure what I was doing or what I was supposed to do.
In those turbulent days, it was always reassuring to see you walk in. You were short on unsolicited advice, long on encouragement. Your occasional words were as neatly shaped as your beard.
You tried to nudge me now and then. When the subs praised what I wrote, you annoyingly reminded me that I was a journalist whose job was to put forth facts in a way the average reader could understand.
The gallery applauded the misplaced zeal in my yellow-tinted reports, but you whispered a simple, “Be careful.”
When I visited the corridors of the big city municipal corporation as your apprentice, you protected me from the wolves, who could smell an easy kill in a cub. They made generous offers of free liquor and unlimited household furniture within my earshot; you advised me to be blind and deaf to everything except my job. “Don’t cower, don’t bully, stay polite,” went your simple advice.
The only time I found you agitated was when you had to step between two senior colleagues, who almost came to blows over, of all things, a new girl in the office. All you said was “This is not done. Not here. Not this way.” Then there was silence, if not resolution.
You refused to join any camp but had no qualms walking into any situation, however volatile, if your job required that.
You must have realized long before I did that I was not cut out for journalism. That explained your relief when I moved to the “other side”, the corporate world.
Then I lost touch. I was vaguely aware of your career path as you made steady progress as a journalist, switching publications, but always climbing the ladder. I had one opportunity to join you again at a new newspaper, but by then 9-to-5 corporate comfort had spoilt me.
You went on to become an identifiable star in corporate communications. I would occasionally find your rejoinders in magazines and newspapers, stoutly defending your employer’s position. Did you finally run into something that broke your defenses?
Wish I had stayed in touch, for another malai-laden Moti lassi or a cutting chai. I can always use another gentle pat on my shoulder, a whispered caution in my ears and an encouraging smile.
They have promised to find the truth. Come on Charu, don’t give me your skeptical smile with that naughty twinkle in your eyes.
Just rest, Charu, hopefully, in peace.