Friday, November 25, 2016

I hope they serve wine in Heaven

When I started working with Dr. Dileep Padgaonkar about two years ago, I remember being awestruck. His persona was towering. For the first few interactions, I could barely manage more than vehement shakes of my head to his questions and his expectations, coupled with a smile that I hoped camouflaged how overwhelmed I felt.

And soon, as it happens with all interactions, I got used to everything. His impeccable manners (he would always offer me water or tea at his beautiful home), his immaculate diction, his love for all things French, the language and the wine, and even his forgetfulness, and anger. 

He was on the board of several initiatives, and the more I sat in meetings with him, the more I learned. He was a gifted orator, much of what he spoke on stage was extempore, and his sense of humour was as wicked as it could get (especially when he was taking digs at politicians). 

I also got used to his vulnerability. 

He was an extremely busy man and would often expect that I undertake a responsibility wholly. But he would never be elusive about it, accepting that I would be doing him a ‘favour’ by taking on the task.

When I think vulnerability, one evening in particular comes to mind, when he asked me how I had managed to compile sixty documents into one. I said, “It is very simple, really. We just select all, and copy, paste. Control A, C and V.” He said, “No, no. Just wait. I need to note this down”, which he did. Soon after, he went to his laptop and took another tutorial from me. The moment he mastered it, he beamed but recovered quickly and very seriously said(in his archetype baritone), “Well, you see, I don’t understand technology.” 

He was an exceptional editor, who could spot a minuscule mistake in a document. But he was also someone who’d forget to read emails, or see text messages and call agitatedly demanding an explanation. 

Sometimes I would, in frustration, wonder about the man behind the persona - the real Dr. P so to speak. I remember that I’d complain to my colleagues about him and say, “I only need one perpetually irritated old man in my life and I already have my dad.” 

Looking back I realise that I had indeed turned him into a father figure. I made concessions for him, taught him tricks with technology, and always responded to his irritation with calmness. 

In September last year I began helping him clean up his old interviews, stories and profiles for a book, and discovered that what my generation knew of him was just the tip of the iceberg. I read through and edited more than sixty transcriptions of his work from 1967 onwards. The men he’d met, the leaders he had interviewed, the things he had seen and reported about - and I was even more awed by him. 

But by this time, I also knew him as someone who would be quick to render an apology for calling at an inappropriate time and who would empathise with my domestic conundrum...someone who I thought hardly smiled, but who’d crack an innocuous joke and defuse a situation. 

By the time our collaboration had ended, he had been humanised completely. 

I don’t know where he is right now, but I sure hope they serve wine in Heaven. That, I know, will make him smile.

Dr. Dileep Padgaonkar, 72-year-old former consulting editor of the Times of India died in a hospital in Pune this morning. He had been unwell for some time.

Born in Pune and educated at St Vincent High School and Fergusson College in Pune, he went to France and studied for a doctorate at the University of Paris-Sorbonne.

In 1978, he served with the UNESCO at Bangkok and later in Paris in different capacities with its Information Section. Earlier, he was the Paris correspondent of the Times of India and later, after coming to India, became its editor. (Source:

Friday, November 18, 2016

Thank You God for the Air We Breathe

Hundreds of photos of smog covered Delhi have flooded my Facebook timeline. It is obviously getting worse as winter sets in.

But can we really, honestly and truly blame the current government for it? Isn't this degradation a result of years of neglect and oversight? Aren't we all to be blamed for it - I lived in Delhi collectively for 9 years - when we used our personal vehicles instead of public transport to get to college or when we ignored and overlooked a worker burning a heap of garbage right outside our housing complex?

Newspapers say - Its Delhi today, Tomorrow your city. Despite the legislative interventions Delhi has had over the past few decades, (CNG vehicles, moving of industries outside city limits, garbage segregation etc.) the city has spiralled downwards. Other Indian cities and towns will follow suit and will reach Delhi’s level of despair faster than they can blink.

And yet, all of us know, that we will do sweet nothing about it.

We will blame the government, but when they bring in legislation (such as banning plastic bags) we will use every opportunity to squirm out of it ("bhaiya, aaj panni de do, kal se yaad rakhungi.")

We won't segregate our garbage. We won't stop buying cars (3,4,5 in a 4 member family). We won't stop using plastic bags or non degradable, throwaway plastic/thermocol plates, cups, spoons, mineral water bottles etc. at weddings and parties. We won't recycle goods because its too 'cheap'. We won't upcycle for the same reason. We won't save water or electricity (we can afford it). We won't adopt rainwater harvesting or vermiculture (who will look after the systems/we can afford not to have them). We won't switch to solar panels (what is the need?). 

We will take pride in consumerism because heck, thats what we earn for! We will complain complain complain and blame blame blame. 

We will want industries to move out of residential areas but won't think before we buy a house in an area where industries mushroomed long before builders decided to construct apartments there. 

We will want the government to clean up our rivers, but will nonchalantly throw 'pooja samagri' and the like into an already polluted water body.

We won't plant trees - thats for school kids and civic bodies to take care of. 

We want clean air, but we want to do nothing for it. 

And so, we deserve it. Delhi deserves it as much as the rest of us. 

Because like charity, this also should have begun in our homes.