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They’ll never return, those together times of shaping papers and life

All the horror, anger, anguish, the kindness of strangers, all the tales of doctors who never stopped trying and families who never stopped hoping — all of it coalesced in that one call last Sunday late afternoon.  ‘Gone,’ said her daughter, unable to personify the finality, unable to` bring herself to say ‘Amma’.  Covid’s heartless grab came closest to me than it had ever done in all these terrifying months.

Shashi always said, ‘Your best columns are those about your friends who died.’ It’s a compliment I’d happily forgo. She was one of my dearest, having spent over 30 years together for work and fun.  Special colleagues come to occupy spaces where we fear to tread with family.  This sometimes causes resentment. Unjustified. For, such relationships aren’t substitute, but safety valve. And mostlyust a warm place in which to chill.

There were more of us in that team which brought out The Sunday Review, The Metropolis on Sunday, The Independent and Bombay Times which replaced it. But it was in the special supplements of the TOI proper, that Shashi and I supplemented each other. Mine was the equity, hers was the sweat. After I’d corralled the marquee-name contributors, she tamed their copy and took over the nitty gritty of production. We were impresario and organizer in equal partnership.

She was self-effacing, in the early years, literally so. We teased  her about the way she’d raise the edge of her dupatta like a veil at some embarrassing comment. Yet, she gave no quarter to the egos of our celeb writers. And brooked no slight to self-respect. To mine either, convincing me not to shrug off a patently biased put-down by our management boss.

Shashi rose to become Editor of Filmfare, but left too a little later. We met oftener, first chuffed at our saner new jobs, but soon enough moaning over how boring that was compared to the rollercoaster ride of the TOI group.  When I moved into my singleton flat, our evenings became longer. Just this February, disgusted by her area being destroyed by unending construction, she began persuading her husband, Anand, to move to my housing complex;  i had thrilled at the prospect of sharing meal-times and part-times. But the second wave began; i took it as merely a lull in plans, never dreaming it would take her in its swell.

As with neighbours, good fences make good friendships. Shashi was executive director of Anil Dharker’s Tata LitLive; I handled the MumbaiTimes Litfest. While the two of us reveled in bitching about our different and common lit-pests, we would stop meeting during the month before her event, which came earlier. Her getting too busy apart, it was to avoid information being unwittingly divulged/ extracted. Shashi tested positive the day Anil, as shockingly, never made it alive out of hospital.

My balcony links me to my friend. The fecund pink Aglaonema spilling out of its pot; the hanging fern that finicky Shashi palmed off, ‘fed up’ of sweeping up its carpet of little leaves. Now, I will treasure this profligate scatter. And hope that the five ‘babies’ of my pink plant adorning Shashi’s ledge will remind Anand of all that I shared with his anchor, his wife.

***

Alec Smart said: “Didi, don’t let victory defeat you.”



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Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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