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:

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