of a static ring, concentric,
luminous, it's magical,
the half-shy moon tonight.
But bold enough her show
the truth through her smile.
Behold this lovely circle,
of music, wine and
a small band of friends.
In a roof-top huddle,
the kicks, smiles and sighs,
till morning's reality show...
Ah, the Good times; the beach, terrace; the moon and of course - Sid and our gang...
I saw his face in the mirror. The features clear enough though slightly distorted from the drops of condensed water rolling down.
He was standing on my right side, holding my shoulder and assuring me everything’s fine. But he wanted me to trust him and walk out with him. I was reluctant. “Why should I? I asked myself. “I feel safe here”, in front of the wash inside the men’s rest room of Park Sheraton Hotel, Chennai.
If I walk out, I was afraid I would pass out or worse, I may make a mess on the dance floor and thrash the party, which was, by the way, the celebration of the launch of The Times of India, Chennai edition.
It was the summer of 2008 and there I was; one too many Patiala pegs later, in a big mess, and that too in front of all the big shots of the organization I would be working for God knows how many years.
And the man holding my shoulder, trying to drag me out of my ‘toilet nest’ - Mr Siddharth Saxena; my then new boss!
Well Siddharth is a ‘strong’ man, but he would have to be stronger than ‘strong’ to make me release the grip I had on the wash basin. Being a former wrestler, I do have my strengths and in my stubborn mode it is worse. But he did coerce me out, his assurances moving me to the lobby and a sofa there. Now, I’m not sure whether it was a sofa or the floor but I was sitting and he was wiping my face with a tissue and asking me to drink a glass of water and I was constantly blabbering the ‘S’ word.
“Sorry boss,” I kept saying, to which he replied, perhaps his first so-called Gyan (read: advice) to me. “Arrey, why are you saying sorry? You drink to get drunk. Good fun man!”
One and a half years and a couple of months later, yesterday, I felt an even firmer hug across my shoulder from Sid. Oh yeah, “boss” and “Siddharth” slowly but surely transformed to “Sid” and Sid was leaving for Delhi and yesterday, the 8th of December, was his last in Chennai office and in between handshakes and parting pleasantries, he hugged me.
He hugged me with the same strength with which he rescued me when I was down for the count in a hotel toilet half way between consciousness and sleep, the kind of alcohol-induced sleepwalk that we all have experienced a couple of time at least in our lives.
Then I saw his face on the glass once again or rather through the glass this time. He had swiped out one final time from Chennai office and looked back and waved through the glass door. His face, like in the Park Sheraton mirror, was visible through the semi-opaque grated lines on the glass.
Then he disappeared down the steps. I know I would meet him again but I wanted reassurance and so I messaged him. Asking him to take care and telling him, “I’ll see you around boss”. To which he replied: “Sure, keep your chins up guys.”
Keeping our chins up!
How can we not be proud and be without keeping our chins up boss? I wanted to ask. That’s how he moulded this team.
I was the second member of his team here, the first being Hari, my Indian Express boss. And I got on board with a mental handicap. I was not that confident about my reporting skills as in Express I was a desk guy and was good with pages, very good. But in reporting, though I had good writing skills, I was kind of unsure whether I would be able to deliver.
During my job-interview, I put up my best persona, fighting the good-reporter case as Sid measured me. Knowing Sid, I’m sure he would have seen through the facade, but from his later words, I figured he had felt I was a good guy.
With the same strength, not with arms like in the Sheraton wash-room, but with words, he gave me opportunity after opportunity and in no time, I was writing with flair and the only problem I faced now is that I can’t write “small copies”. That’s how confident I became in a few months' time.
What about the rest of the team? Well, Dwaipayan, cricket writer of Chennai, shifted from his hometown Kolkata to be here and the reason was only Sid. I can bet my lost ‘Target Variable Pay’ that there was no other reason. And he is very upset Sid is leaving, but “Dwai Da will be fine, we all will be fine”, Sid had smiled during our farewell beer-lunch.
The man believed a team lunch is never complete without beer. “A proper adult lunch,” he used to say.
Sarath, Krishnakant, Pavitra, Hardy, designer Kannan, Hari, me, the team was made to believe it was the best and we became the best. We were asked not to compromise with quality or ethics and that’s what we did. Of course, arrogance came with it too, a tinge. And at times we did screw up, as Sid puts it “the shit-nesses”. But it’s all in the game and luckily no big mess-ups happened and he was the kind of guy who would watch our back. So nothing could bring us down.
We will have our chins up I guess, there is no other choice.
The day before yesterday, I was riding with Kannan after work, taking an all-so-familiar route, a little down the East Coast Road to Palavakkam and Siddharth’s home. We were having our last team party there. When I turned to the entrance of his colony, right at the beach, I said to Kannan: “Man, we’ll sure miss this place.”
Kannan’s answer was a philosophical affirmative and so began the final terrace party at Sid’s beach house.
Our Skipper brought the “best rum in the world” - Captain Morgan - as we settled down at familiar positions on the terrace. The moon was half bright or there about, the night was chilly and then Kannan pointed out something.
“Look, there is a ring around the moon.” Indeed there was. A circle, just like this circle of friends - Sid’s band of brothers with a ‘sister concern’ (Pavitra), bonded by common spirits and a common vision on how to have a good time.
Now Sid had to get his camera out for this. And as usual he got busy clicking slow-shutter snaps of us, the moon, the night and the beach. He has done this umpteen times before and I have to say, each time a different colour comes out, a different perspective of the place and its ambience.
Be it the picture of the only non-drinker in the group - James Hardy - standing near an half-empty bottle of booze or be it Sid’s friend Mr Anshuman Roy, glowing in the dark. The pictures told the story, of fun, and of the long talks which would end when the dark rum in our glasses begin to glow crimson red with the sun's rays from the east.
Yesterday night was no different. The clicks continued while I stretched myself after a couple of pegs and was listening to the rather animated talk between Siddharth, Sarath, Hardy Kannan, Krishnakant and the occasional high-pitched contribution of Pavitra. The topic varied from Chennai to movies to music and back to movies and...
Well, I dozed off only to wake up five minutes later. I sat up, took few more sips and again faded, Siddharth's take on some movie being my lullaby. I repeated this routine three more times I think before I heard Sid's voice call out.
No, not wake up Sid, but: “Wake up Leslie. We will go down and eat.”
To which, I jumped up saying: “I'm here”, as if to tell him I never slept off during his farewell party. But doze off I did and peacefully too. It is a luxury I enjoyed only at his place. I even had my own bedroom there where I used to crash after a night of gulps, music and football.
Time for the “Last Supper”, Said our host. The gang had their fill while I decided to take it easy with just occasional bites of chicken. That's when Sid asked me, “You holding with me right.” That was his way of asking whether I was good for a couple more drinks.
“Yes,” I said. And the drinks were poured, our talks given a musical backdrop by Dwai Da's high-pitched snoring. He was taking his morning nap on the floor next to the dining table you see.
Time was around six in the morning when the guys decided to call it a night or rather a day. Ah, time for the cliché... Good things never...yes, they never last!
The saturated morning air with an overwhelming scent of dew made us, for a brief period; forget the fact that this is the end of a lovely chapter in our lives.
“Get lost and let me sleep,” was Sid's answer to the question whether he will miss us.
“End of a chapter in our lives,” I told my squash-reporting partner Hardy as I walked down the gravel lane towards the main road, looking back once and there he was, clicking with his camera...
I shall not introspect as to what it meant working with Sid. We all know what we gained from it and he knows what it meant being with us. Some things are better left out of blogs.
As friends, me and Sid went for swimming lessons, almost went to the gym together, went for a cycling trip, for movies, drank and philosophized on life, went shopping to buy Diwali crackers and woke up his neighbours at three in the morning bursting them. And in between all that hard work, found enough time to make a few hundred pages.
Not bad for one and a half years, I guess!