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'In death, Arthur's own story was the most life affirming'

January 14, 2016 15:16 IST

Arthur J Pais charmed her and exasperated her.

But, says Vaihayasi Pande Daniel as she bids him goodbye, it is the 'irrevocability' of death that 'stingingly puts into focus what you never realised you would miss terribly.'

Arthur J Pais illustrationWhen I opened my e-mail box each morning, it would be an extremely strange, upside-down day if there were not at least 12 mails from Arthur J Pais.

But my days became increasingly strange lately, as his mails dwindled.

As of Friday last week, I knew I would never receive another mail like that again. Mails that were as vivid as Arthur.

Through a series of communication, daily, Arthur would laboriously put across the details of the four, five, eight or 18 stories he was working on, for the next edition, how many words they would exactly be and precisely when we could expect them, down to the half hour.

As he worked through the night, his time -- we were based in Mumbai and he in New York -- he would update us periodically when he momentarily left his desk for a cup of tea, a stroll and when he was taking a snooze, after 345 words had been written of the feature I was expecting. He did that, day in and day out, for the 14 years I worked with him.

No one knew when Arthur slept -- aside from the wink or two he caught between filing 233 words of this sidebar or 1,674 words of that main story for different features because he seemed, like a bearded, saucer-eyed owl, to be awake through every time zone.

In his office, that he rarely left, there -- among the dangerously towering stacks and stacks of fiction/non-fiction/cookbooks/novels/picture books, unwashed cups, forgotten gifts (that I had given him the previous year) -- was a piece of cardboard on the floor where he would often curl up and rest.

When you peeped in, it was difficult to know if Arthur was lurking, sometimes gloomily or pensively, sometimes beamingly, in tropical shorts, behind the piles, writing. Or if he had dropped off to sleep.

He was perpetually skulking too in his e-mail box, looking for stories that needed to be done and bagging them before anyone else could.

Arthur always promised to file life-affirming stories.

In death, I now vividly remember his obsession for making sure those stories were indeed life affirming. They always glowed with extraordinary little vignettes about the person's family or some quirky detail/cornucopia of history or Bollywood. Arthur would invariably sketch in the emotions with which an interviewee spoke, sometimes extravagantly. So his copy was vigorously peppered with *laughs* *sighs* and *chuckles*, needlessly many, that had to be trimmed.

In death, I realise Arthur's own story was the most life affirming. Arthur, I tip my hat.

There was so much about Arthur that exasperated you. His legendary moods. When he was sunny the world was an adorable place, his beard bobbed with happiness like Santa Claus and his eyes twinkled like a baby's. When he was angry -- on the rampage -- his face looked worse than that of Thor and Ravan together and his beard quaked.

If I snipped off 322 words too many, from a feature I could expect -- *sigh* -- not to get a single feature for the next week, or longer.

Then there were the barrage of mails, daily, right through odd, inconvenient parts of the weekend, seeking acknowledgment for the multiple parts of each and every story sent. If you didn't respond in less than five minutes to the 'Help, help, help! Haysi are you there? Sumit, is Haysi around?' subjectline mails, there would be another barrage of plaintive mails asking sadly: 'Can I go to sleep now?' If there was still no response, he would begin to repeatedly call my then colleague Sumit Bhattacharya, or the boss.

In person, Arthur loved to talk a scary blue streak; all 17,321 words that he wrote a week could come out in conversations in just one stretch. Never-ending masala anecdotes and tales -- most absolutely hilarious.

But when they petered out -- woe betide you -- they would be followed by blistering many-thousand-word complaints about the treacherous treatment meted out by those heartless, nameless copy editor bastards who sneakily chopped off improper, indecent lengths from his story. Or god-forbid 'pickled them.'

Your head ached from bobbing in patently false sympathy, knowing full well you were the criminal responsible for the murder of 611 words, plus two *sigh*.

There was so much about Arthur that was utterly lovable too.

Death, and the irrevocability of that departure, often quickly and stingingly puts into focus what you never realised you would miss terribly. The innings in a long association that were taken for granted. Or the aspects of a beautiful mind and a professional relationship that were unsung.

Arthur, please forgive me.

As a younger reporter I didn't have the patience to deal with the eccentricities of an older, experienced madcap journalist. Not enough fortitude.

One was too brash, too obsessed with the practicalities of getting on with work, to appreciate the legend one had the privilege to work with. Nor could one appreciate the subtle, civilised greys while judging the whole package of a person; the rude blacks and whites absorbed all your energy and clouded your mind.

Arthur J Pais illustration

I will miss his 12 mails a day.

More, I will miss a whole school of journalism that Arthur singlehandedly invented. The endless time and patience with which he devotedly approached a story and came back to even years later.

It was quite obvious to the interviewee that Arthur had time to hear their entire life story over many days, if need be. That was why his Q&As with everyone, from writers to criminals, sparkled with both joy and pathos, the tiny details that supplied his favourite 'life-affirming Arthur' colour.

Celebrities spoke to Arthur like they had not spoken to anyone else. And he spoke to a whole legion of them.

The passion and focus with which Arthur, 25-7, tirelessly approached his work is a hard, nay impossible, act to follow. As a journalist, one loves to report and write, but ennui and laziness handicaps one from being as proficient or dedicated a reporter as one ought to be.

Not Arthur. He devotedly rolled out story after story, piece after piece, interview after interview, ferociously, vigorously, cheerfully, tirelessly, spiritedly.

There was very little of his life that happened between stories, such was his dedication. Maybe he knew time was running out, that's why he worked at such a staggering pace. He had to meet his lifetime of 'colourful' people in just a few short decades.

He kept track of a thousand of life stories and was hugely curious about anyone. I would not really be exaggerating if I said Arthur probably knew every Indian American on the planet. If there were a few he had missed, he was raring to go out there and meet them, forever sociable and chatty, ready to share his life story with the next human being.

He had not met my elderly parents; my mother was handicapped, in the later stages of Parkinson's, and my father, a retired psychiatrist, looked after her. Arthur told me he was going to Baltimore and wanted to look them up; not sure why. And he did. He spent many hours with them.

That afternoon turned out to be a mutual fan club session -- Arthur came away having enjoyed himself, between naps on their sofa, and they were quite pleased to meet him. He sent me a lovely, touching mail updating me, in length, on the highlights of the afternoon.

That was the thoughtful, sweet, Arthur, who remembered what pastries you liked to eat, popped you special vegetarian cookbooks or offered theatre tickets or lunch at a Sri Lankan restaurant. Who, with child-like glee, wrote you mails cc-ed to imaginary addresses or to Sylvester Stallone and Jhumpa Lahiri. Or told you the bawdiest of stories.

The Arthur who sent you dear mails, after terrible rows, that you preserved.

Yes Arthur, I will miss your mails. Even the 'urgent, urgent, urgent' ones. I have all 3,451 of them *pickling* in my current e-mail box.

And I know you are out there, *chuckling.*

Illustrations: Dominic Xavier

Vaihayasi Pande Daniel /