Op-Ed: You Left Too Early, Buddy!

I feared the worst when the phone rang at 1.38 am. It was good friend and senior journalist Ashok Mohapatra. Late night calls, as all of us know, have a habit of bringing dreadful news. And what could have been more dreadful news than the death of dear friend Dilip Satpathy, widely and justifiably acknowledged as a sane, knowledgeable, wise and authoritative voice in the media fraternity not just in the area of business and economy, his chosen domain, but in practically every aspect of journalism. Politics, sports, the arts … you name it. [In fact, we used to pull his legs for his frequent forays into domains other than his own and his proclivity to be on practically every TV channel pontificating on virtually everything under the sun!].

I could barely sleep for the rest of the night after receiving the news about his cruelly untimely death. Fifty-six, after all, is no age to die for anyone, least of someone like Dilip, who had so much left to do: as a journalist and, more importantly, as a mentor to a host of people from myriad fields. But it was not thoughts on his journalism that kept me awake through the night. Like an entire movie in flashback, scenes and memories of the wonderful times we have spent together over the last three decades and half kept came rushing in like a torrent. The seemingly endless gossip – sometimes over cups of tea and at other times over other beverages – that more often than not stretched into the wee hours; jokes at each other’s expense; sharing of notes and tidbits on friends and colleagues – all came flashing into the mind.

While working together in Sun Times, then the only English daily in the state, there was a time when three of us – Ashok, me and the late Peetbas Panda – would accompany Dilip from the ‘Sambad’ office in Nayapalli to the old bus stand in Bhubaneswar to see him off at 3.30-4 am – after we completed our daily ritual of smelling the day’s newspaper fresh out of the printing machine – every day. He stayed in Cuttack those days and used to commute to Bhubaneswar for night shift on a daily basis. [All four of us are/were night birds]. Dilip would pillion ride on either my scooter or Peetabas’. We would spend the next hour or so gossiping over tea till the first bus to Cuttack departed at 5 am before returning home.

At the height of the Mandal agitation, Dilip and me were assigned to do a story on the massive unrest in Cuttack, his home town, that followed the death of a student leader named Alok Mohapatra in police firing. We spent the entire day visiting the spot, gathering information, talking to the agitating students, the police and other people relevant to the story and just did not have the time to have lunch. By the time we were through with the day’s work, it was already evening and both of us were mighty hungry. Since lunch time was long over, we went into a road side eatery selling bara, piaji. Just as we had begun to bite into our impromptu ‘lunch’, we heard loudspeakers mounted on a moving police van announcing the imposition of curfew in the city and and asking everyone to get home immediately. Realising that it would be difficult to get out of the city if we lingered any longer, we hopped on to my scooter with, Dilip, as usual, riding pillion. [For some reason, he hated driving. Even when he went somewhere in his car in later years, it would always be someone else at the wheels!]

Just as we approached the road by the side of Barabati Stadium, we heard an Odisha Military Police (OMP) jawan screaming at us asking us to stop. I stopped as ordered, confident that he would allow us to leave after coming to know we were journalists out on an assignment. But what happened took both of us by complete surprise. The gorkha jawan came running towards us and delivered, in one fell swoop, an all mighty blow with his lathi that made Dilip nearly jump out of the scooter and shriek out in pain. Sensing danger, I drove away at furious speed, only to stop at the ‘Sambad’ office in Bhubaneswar.

Once inside, I asked Dilip to take off his shirt to see how bad the lathi blow was. I was shocked to find that it had left a bluish, centimeter-thick mark across his back and realized how painful it must have been for Dilip. After arranging for some first aid, I got our photographer to click a picture of his dreadful looking back and got down to write the story; the main story on the day’s events and an accompanying one on the attack on Dilip. I was half way through when someone very important in the organization (but not from the editorial team) appeared on the scene from nowhere and requested me to play down the Dilip part, push it into the inner pages or, better still, kill it altogether. For once, I simply lost my temper and shouted at him (something I rarely do); “You should be ashamed of yourself. Your reporter has been beaten black and blue and you are asking me to kill the story. I will neither push it into the inside page nor drop a word from the copy. I am ready to be sacked for it, if required. But this story will go as it is and on the front page.” He did not utter a word and left quietly after that.

I have always been amazed by Dilip’s ability and patience to maintain a wide range of contacts with people from diverse fields. But the best thing about him was the fact that he was equally at ease with the high and mighty and the hoi polloi. And his capacity to remember names, people and things about them – even when he had met the person only once in life – was nearly superhuman. Lifelong bachelor that he was, his Satyanagar apartment was the adda for just about everyone in town. Sometimes, I would find strangers (to me, that is) comfortably ensconced at his home as if they owned it with Dilip conspicuous by his absence!

Though three years my junior, in terms of age, Dilip was, in many ways, my senior in journalism. Not only did he enter the profession before me, he always had a better grasp of events and issues than I ever had. Till the very end, I never failed to seek his help whenever I had to do a story on industry, business or economy. And no matter how busy he was, he would always be ready to help me out. He was a brilliant student and had a very scientific and clinical approach to all issues, not just business. No wonder he was a darling of the electronic media, sometimes (especially on budget days) appearing on five/six different channels on the same day! Though we joked about his ‘omnipresence’ on TV, we knew in our heart of hearts that he was knowledgeable and informed enough to talk on anything and everything. To cap it all, he was extremely articulate, especially in Odia, making his point clearly, lucidly and emphatically – without ever raising his voice like most panelists have a tendency to do.

Dilip had a heart of gold and was always ready to help out anyone who sought it, even when the person seeking help was merely an acquaintance. The outpouring of grief since Monday morning is testimony to the fact that he was loved by all, hated by none: a genuine Ajatashatru, if ever there was one. How I wish I left an imprint on a quarter of the people he did!

You left too early, buddy!

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)