Tuesday, Dec 06, 2022

'Master' Up In The Sky

'Master' Up In The Sky

A tribute to senior journalist Diptosh Majumdar, who died recently.

Gosh! Diptosh. I had never imagined I would ever have to write a tribute for you. This isn't fair.
Not fair, not just because you didn't give any one of us any time to say good bye but also because, if it is for you, this better be a very well written piece. You could never stand bad writing. You wouldn't allow it. And how do I write well today when, I know you're gone. It's hard to believe. Even after attending your cremation. It feels like a bad dream.

Feels like you're around and will call suddenly, as suddenly as you always did and ask for a hotel booking to be made someplace, a cab to be fixed, details of a song or the name of a singer you couldn't place. Feels like you'll call and hang up right after you had said what you wanted to, without saying goodbye, like you always did. It irritated all of us back then when you didn't say bye before disconnecting a call. Today, it is heart breaking. You've hung up, without saying a formal goodbye.

You said you'd survive this cancer. I believed you. We all did. What happened to that promise? You were supposed to fight on. Live on to be a nagging old man of 100 or more with a thousand stories and anecdotes to tell. What happened to that? I feel cheated. Like all the others who knew you and loved you. This isn't fair. 

Diptosh Majumdar walked into the Indian Express office at C-6, Qutub Institutional Area one day, to take charge of the city team called the Newsline team. Little did we know that Diptosh, that day, was not just taking over as our Editor but taking over our hearts for good, never to leave any one of our lives ever after. None of us knew him back then. Not sure, who he was, we believed some very senior journalist called Diptosh Ghosh was taking charge. When we told him later, he cackled the Diptosh way and said, "Ghosh is my wife, Rinku. I am proud you guys thought, I was Diptosh Ghosh."

Initially, everyone was puzzled over how we would address him. So we called him, sir. Diptosh wasn't happy. He hated being called sir. So one morning he announced, "call me Uncle if you like but please don't call me sir." The Newsline girls, never called him 'sir' after that day. On most occasions, he was 'Dippy' for all of us. (On my phone, his number still reads Dippy.) Dippy Boy, on happier occasions and 'Boss and Bossman' on a daily basis. Boss, is what I think he liked being called. That one word made him a Godfather like figure for all of us.

And he looked after all of us like one. He was the Don. And we his gang, he led. Like ducklings we followed Diptosh, Daddy Duck, everywhere. In fact, on one occasion, I remember, exasperated with someone or the other following him all the time, he told one reporter chasing him down the room, "Please stop following me. I am going to the washroom." At Express, no one spoke about Diptosh as an individual. It was always Diptosh and his brats. He took pride in that. And so did we. 

Diptosh would stand by people he knew and loved, like a rock. He was always available. Always watching over. Always ready with help and always, always smiling. No one ever had a bad word to say about Diptosh. No one ever had a Diptosh story to tell which could be unhappy. Anything to do with Diptosh was always fun, happy and positive. Despite his troubles. When he cleared copies, he would sit quiet, lost in thought, turning his tongue to the right and chewing on it like gum! When he finished clearing a copy, he needed a smoke break.

On the C-6 balcony, during the smoke breaks, Diptosh would recite Bangla poetry, introducing many of us to Tagore. He would work hard to explain every word to us and then recite some of his own poems. I still remember, a line from one of his poems he recited back then… Brishti porey tupoor tapore… Some of us, interested in Hindustani poetry would recite couplets… Ghalib, Faiz, Zafar, Mir… Diptosh would listen attentively, twinkle in his eye, stop us mid-way for a meaning or two and then say, "beautiful yaar." 

For Diptosh, everyone was a "master." He believed everyone had talent, must be respected and therefore called each one of his junior reporters, trainees, interns, "master". It didn't matter then, if you were a girl! So, there was Master Sandeep, Master Sunetra, Master Esha, Master Toufiq, Master Amba, Master Sangeet, Master Atir, Master Pradip, Master Tushar, Master Kavita, Master Megha, Master Puja, Master Gunjan and Master Pratty. Call him, and he would answer the phone with, "yes, master." Even on a long distance call, you could tell from Diptosh's voice, he was smiling his infectious smile at the other end. 

Years later, at CNN-IBN, Diptosh was still calling all his reporters, Master. His tribe of followers just kept growing. All the time. It was difficult to find him alone ever. Sometimes, it was tiring to chase a private moment with Diptosh for a confidential chat. He was never alone! His room in the CNN-IBN office, just like his room in IE, was always full. Someone or the other always had something to share with Diptosh. 

If you needed career counselling, you went to Diptosh. You wanted to impress the boyfriend with your cooking, you asked Diptosh for a reciepe (non-veg preferably). You didn't know what gift to buy for your girlfriend, Diptosh would suggest the right thing, even help you source it. You didn't know what say in your story, Diptosh would write it for you. You wanted to discuss a family problem, Diptosh would not just guide you through it, he would even speak to your father, father-in-law, husband, wife to help you sort it out.

You wanted to discuss poetry, films, music, literature, politics, cricket, football, history, medical science, God, faith, religion, beliefs or simply just life and its upheavals, Diptosh would be right there all through. He was an encyclopaedia. A genius with the great desire to share what he knew. A successful professional who loved to see his juniors shine and take centre stage. Diptosh was a gem of a human being, a rarity in a world infested with ambition and backstabbing. He was rare, more so, because, despite the ever cynical world of journalism, Diptosh, till the last moment of his life, managed to remain an amazing soul, full of love and empathy.

Diptosh was a people's man. You couldn't ever have a brief meeting with Diptosh. If you didn't have hours on end to spend with him, listening to his numerous stories on any particular day, it was best to plan for another time. You couldn't meet him for 10 minutes and think that would work. You thought you would meet him for an hour and push off for another appointment, but a meeting with Diptosh always ended up being the only appointment you kept that day.

Diptosh loved telling stories. Often one had to hear the same story he had told you many moons ago, but Diptosh would insist on telling you that story all over again with the same level of excitement as the first time. And he had all sorts of stories. Stories from his childhood, when he wrote his first love letter at the age of 7 and how his Uncle carried it to his ladylove for him, from his travels, his Calcutta days where bartenders came looking for him in the morning to return his umbrella he had left in their bars the night before, stories from his workplace and then the stories he was writing, fiction that he was turning into books. 

The last time I spoke to Diptosh, a few days back, he was sitting up on another hospital bed, waiting to be shifted to an ICU. He was at the Apollo hospital, not doing very well with his breathing. With an oxygen mask on, he told me, "I am not feeling too well today. I am sorry I can't speak for too long. I am going to be shifted to an ICU." Polite in pain! That was Diptosh. I came away thinking, he'll get well. After all, for me, Diptosh was the original Badger. He could survive anything. Just anything.

I regret now, not seeing him enough after shifting to Bombay two years back. I regret now, not chasing drinks with him and listening to his anecdotes yet again. I regret not catching him for a meal in the three months I spent in Delhi last year covering the general elections. If only I knew Diptosh would go so soon, I would have tried to meet him every single day of my life. If only, I didn't allow the little things in life to take up my entire time, I'd be free of this guilt today. Very often in life, we are so caught up with the immediate that we forget, people pass away, they all do and we need to make time to see them now when they are with us. For, ever after, they become 'was'. Diptosh, now on, will always be, Diptosh was. 

Diptosh was all heart. No one does things that Diptosh did for people. Who wishes anyone Happy Birthday from a hospital bed after sessions of chemotherapy? Diptosh, did that. He sent me a birthday wish just eight days back despite the pain and trouble he was going through. Who sends a text message to anyone else saying, "How's life?" when you have been diagnosed with cancer yourself? Diptosh did that. He sent me those two words after they announced cancer.

Diptosh chokes me up. From the day we met, Diptosh looked after me like I was his own daughter. He would call me adopted daughter. I would call him adopted Daddy. Diptosh was not just a generous guide in my professional life, he was there to lean on every time something happened in my personal life. Diptosh was there for me when my father fell sick and needed months of hospitalisation first in Dehradun and then in Delhi. Diptosh was there for me when my father suddenly passed away on a family holiday in Amsterdam… He quietly arranged for my friends from CNN-IBN to receive us at the airport when we came back with my father's remains. Diptosh stood quietly at my father's cremation, watching over. Diptosh and Rinku travelled up the hills to attend my wedding, staying up an entire night to participate in the wedding rituals. 

And after all that, suddenly today, Diptosh is no more. Suddenly today, both my fathers are up there, together. Six years after I lost my own father, yesterday Diptosh followed him to heaven. The two had never met. I guess they must be catching up now. Tell my Pa good things, Diptosh. Tell him about my stories you liked, my poems you thought were nice, my wedding that you attended and he didn't. Talk to him about politics, travel, literature and history. He loved it too. 

And till I see you both again, write some more poems, Diptosh. I shall come with mine and then there shall be more addas. Over here, one of these days, some of us will get together to drink Old Monk and Coke and light Classic Milds in your memory. Forever and ever Daddy, keep smiling.