Extraordinary Ordinary People: Roopesh Raj – the continuous metamorphosis of a gentle soul

It was 1.32 pm Thursday, February 17, 2022. My cellphone rang, I saw it was Roopesh and I picked up. “The column will be with you by 3, as usual.” I said as I picked up the call. “I had sent you a message in the morning.”

Then I heard the voice at the other end. It was his youngest daughter. My heart sank.

Roopesh had had a massive heart attack in the morning and was rushed to KEM hospital but they could not revive him.

He was 49.

I called his office and then his elder daughter. Just to confirm again. Meanwhile, a voice in my head told me to get the column to his colleagues on time. He would be worried for them and the next day’s paper if I didn’t send it in. The rest of the day went by in a daze. Many former colleagues called, sent messages and everyone was in shock.

Roopesh Raphael Raj 1973-2022; (photo Nasir Shaikh)

Last week he had called to check which obituaries I could do and which he would write – there were unsung stories to be written about ordinary people who mattered. Many had passed away the last couple of years. He was also worried about the knee surgery of a dear friend and former colleague. He hadn’t changed one bit in the 25 years since I first met him. And he had changed so much.

It was October 1996 and I found myself at Maharashtra Herald newspaper in Pune. Accompanying me were classmates Rohan Pandit and Sudhakar. It was my first day as an intern at the ‘desk’. The Desk used to be the altar of creation, the confession box that led to the revelation of the true nature of a story, the litmus test of a reporter and a subeditor’s collaboration, the essence of a newspaper’s journalism. You could pick up a morning newspaper and judge if a newspaper was news reporter driven, subeditor driven, Desk guided or left to individual devices. There’s no good or bad in any of these avatars of a news organisation, just a difference in personality.

In a typical newspaper at that time, there were reporters, writers, proof readers, sub-editors (subs), layout artists, graphic designers, photographers, photo editors … designations were just hierarchy and tenure, competence at the job was the only ask. At Maharashtra Herald, you could see all of these people interacting with each other, discussing and trying to evolve an understanding of what the paper was doing. It was usual for Sanjay Joshi ( layout designer) to grab an image from a video of a football match on their computer because he knew the sports writer may look for an action moment for next day’s photo on the international or sports page.

I met many subs that first day itself – several of them stalwarts in print newspaper editing, all of them old-school professionals adept at knocking news sense and competence into interns. The wise, witty and legendary mentor, Joe Pinto. The calm chief sub Sudheer Gaikwad. The iconic Roger Dragonette. The fierce and focused Shashi Haji. The talented Shantanu Borah. The multi-faceted Assistant Editor Mohan Sinha. The MH desk was massive by any standards, and there was a buffet of talent and proficiency and styles for anyone desiring to learn the traditional ropes.

Editing at one of the desks was a giant young sub, a jovial bear with eyes that always smiled. He was a comparative rookie since he had joined a few months earlier in July that year (he was subbing sports stories). We met in the corridor outside the office, during a break. He had a direct gaze, a searching unwavering look that no one could avoid. I liked people who met my eyes. In later years, I realised it was how he engaged after he had already decided the person may be worth his time. When he didn’t want to engage, the first direct gaze would be followed by a tiny roll of the eyes, his tongue darting sideways, flicking the corner of his lips as he looked away with both eyebrows raised for a second – like a complex sigh.

“You don’t look local boss.” He asked.

“Bombay.”

“Then I don’t need to tell you not to take anything the seniors say to heart,” and he smiled, although his eyes were already smiling.

That was my first meeting with Roopesh Raj. We met every day, though we never worked on a story together. I learned from Rohan (who always called him ‘Big Man’) that Roopesh was also a musician, used to sing and play keyboards with a local band. I asked him and he played it down. “I used to tinker man. There are real musicians in that room inside – Roger, Sudheer.”

And I learned that was him, not short of confidence or wrapped in self-doubt, just good at self-assessment. One day in the very first week, he said, “You know how I improve my writing? Sitting behind Sudheer or Roger and watching them sub, especially the columns or news features.”

Roopesh used to write occasionally at that point. He had many interests and a drive to express his opinions, and there was ample opportunities to learn since everyone read the paper the next day and feedback was swift.

I was at MH for a short four months. One fine day, my Ranade classmate and friend, Sanjay Pendse took me to meet Sherna Gandhy at the Times of India (TOI) office in Deccan area (Pendse had been a stringer with TOI since 1996). A very senior and well known editor, she had been brought in by the newspaper from their Mumbai headquarters to launch the next Pune avatar. She had a clear vision and was super at setting expectations. I joined TOI in March 1997, as a young sub in her startup Pune Times team so to say.

That’s when I met Cornelius (Conny) Mascarenhas. Conny was a sub that journalists spoke of in hushed tones. Reporters and subs alike used to stand quietly at a distance when Conny was looking at your work. Watching him work was an education. If he had a question, he would turn his head in your direction and you would then learn or be able to answer his query. Conny had learned the ropes at MH since 1984, and then joined Pune Plus (the city supplement of TOI) in January 1994 under the Resident Editorship of legendary TOI journalist Vitthal Mavinkurve. When Pune Plus was upgraded to the 8-page daily Pune Times in 1997, all of us arrived under the tutelage of Conny who was Chief Sub then.

I continued to meet former MH colleagues at music jams or events, and that meant I also bumped into Roopesh from time to time and we had our cryptic 5-minutes. In July 1998, Roopesh shifted from MH to Mid-Day as Sub Editor cum Feature Writer. At Mid-Day he met Rahul Chandawarkar, who had already built a formidable reputation as a feature writer.

At that point, Roopesh was by default on the path of continuous improvement as a good sub and he was still writing occasionally. Most subs decide early on if they will go the news or the features way, the decision being easy if the inclination or the career ambition was clear. Roopesh’s path was difficult. He was a good news sub but he was also a good features sub. If that wasn’t enough of a dilemma, he was a gifted writer.

Most people, even most journalists, do not really realise how much a sub grasps of a writer’s personality, getting under the skin, searching for the core message, the value system inside the person. So much so that they lose themselves while improving the work of scores of reporters and writers. Many subeditors are very good writers, but eventually they stop, the daily fatigue of giving ideas, defining stories, enhancing the writing of others, leaves them with little energy to express themselves. The absence of expression combined with expressing for others is compounded by the lack of understanding from those around and it eventually affects one’s personality and engagement with the world.

Roopesh was starting to approach such a place when we met again at the Pune Times of India in July 1999. I had passed that crossroad since I was determined to keep writing as often as I could.

Sherna Gandhy brought him on and recalls her reasons clearly. “In what was a bit of a desert as far as journalism was concerned in Pune in the early 2000s, Roopesh came as an answer to a prayer. Recruiting desk and reporting staff for the Pune Times, a standalone paper that set some kind of standard in the profession, required cosmopolitan and outward looking journalists and Roopesh fitted the bill. He was also a very nice person, great fun on the one or two picnics we all went on. I was truly saddened to hear of his untimely passing. My sincere condolences to his wife Avita and their children,” Sherna said upon hearing of his sudden demise.

His first opinion on Sherna was a classic. We met in the corridor during a break, and he had just come out after her review of the page layout of his edited ‘final’ page for print. The page was still in his hand, with red edits on each story and, on many headlines.

“She’s from a different planet man. She’s taken me right back to primary school. Now I am wondering what I am going to do on Page 1. That’s an editor.” His respect for Sherna never stopped him from arguing his perspective and in later years, he commented that if it wasn’t for her, his worldview probably would not have expanded.

At Pune Times, Roopesh also came under the direct tutelage of Conny. In 2000 under the leadership of Pune branch head Jaisurya Das, TOI launched the full-fledged Pune edition. Conny was moved to the main edition as News Editor having groomed Roopesh to take over Page 1 and news editing for Pune Times. Like many others of the era, Conny was not particularly enamoured with titles (he is Associate Resident Editor of the Pune edition at the moment), his focus was on bringing out a well edited newspaper, and his work ethic was exemplary, setting a concrete example for young news subs like Roopesh.

“As a journalist, Roopesh was pretty versatile. He had fine editing and writing skills, excellent man-management and could think on his feet. He displayed qualities of a natural leader and was willing to battle for the underdog if need be,” recalls Conny. “He devoted time to his reading, both fiction and non-fiction, while keeping himself abreast of the bread-and-butter news that every journalist must necessarily be in the know of. His reading included offbeat material too; he would quote adequately even from ‘Says Tuka’, a compilation of the translated poems of Sant Tukaram. But the clinching factors about Roopesh were his joviality, kind-heartedness and a strong disinclination to ever make enemies,” writes Conny.

Roopesh spoke volumes with very little and I had often wondered if his education had something to do with that ability. An alumni of St Vincent’s High School Pune, Roopesh earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Nowrosjee Wadia College. He later secured a Post Graduate Certificate Diploma in Theology from Jnana Deep Vidyapeeth. Roopesh also studied piano and vocal music at St Cecilia School of Music, under the tutelage of Ms E Roberts, the founder of the school.

At that point, Roopesh and I were good professional colleagues. We never spoke of our personal lives. There was no curiosity in either party beyond what you see is what you get. And that also meant there was no judgment. There was humour between us of the kind that can only be appreciated if you have been across the tracks and back. We didn’t hang out together but we spent time each day, for a few minutes, that was quiet and peaceful. It’s a rare thing to find – communication in silence. The wavelength and contrast made a curious bond and it made sense for us to co-write Good Morning Pune, a daily column the newspaper started in 2001.

The raw emotional soul-searching honesty in his writing was an instant hit. It also gave him an outlet to express what he really wanted to say. One of his columns in 2001 was dedicated to Ms E Roberts of St Cecilia, and it brought out his struggles as a musician, self-assessed shortcomings, endeavour to overcome them and his acknowledgment and gratitude for the hand that held his at every step of the journey – Ms Roberts’ belief that helped Roopesh attain the stage. It’s an extraordinary piece because it could be about any dedicated teacher and any struggling student and the universal journey of learning. We wrote 500-600 words every day (alternating between us) for over a year and never had to discuss any piece. He edited my columns and I edited his. And that’s how we became friends. Without any emotional bond, shared history or common cultural background.

I was just one of many who considered him a friend and great colleague. Roopesh was a charismatic person and he made others feel important and special by the very manner in which he conducted himself. He was honest about his shortcomings, transparent about his struggles, sincere in his penance and dismissive of his triumphs since he instinctively knew that fame and glory was a trap.

Sanjay Pendse, who worked closely with Roopesh at Pune Times, took his time to put his thoughts together in inimitable style.

“As his earthly ‘avatar’ rests in a random hospital refrigerator, awaiting funeral, I remember Roopesh Raj as the cool one – no black humor intended. His demise is still so hard to believe, it feels as if he commissioned this piece and will whet it soon. Do I need to see a shrink soon or what? A great listener and friend, Roopesh to the rest of the world, was a fab editor. A conjurer of as tantalising and nippy leads as any you can find in the copy-editing trade. And a jedi knight of clever and racy opinion and atmosphere pieces. A master of quicksilver turns of phrase and delectable dabs of proverbs and phrases. But in the business, Roopesh was smooth and easy. Someone who wore his genius and accomplishments so lightly, he never spoke of ’em.”

“As a person, he was like that cousin who you intuitively trusted could do no wrong. Had he not told me he had had his excesses and flaws, I’d hail Roopesh as a perfect hero. Having watched him jive ever so deftly with Avita, his wife (and teenagehood sweetheart), and brood so much over bringing up their children, to me Roopesh was the quintessential family man. Also a religious one – a khandaani volunteer at many of the Church’s activities. I vaguely remember he had once contemplated career as a priest, like my other illustrious colleague Camil. Readers be reminded that they owe God a big one for shepherding the duo to the news desk,” feels Pendse.

“Religiosity again was probably something he wore very lightly, as the permanent sponsor of modaks for the entire editorial floor at Times House, Pune, during Ganesh celebrations. And all this was not incongruous with his living it up as editor of good times for many years in maximum city Dubai. To this man I once had the temerity to ask if there was not a typo in the words ‘ Thy will be done’. I can now imagine the restraint he must have required to point out that the words are from the Bible. And that the syntax made perfect sense, when read in the intended voice and person. I occasionally emptied my trash can of woes before him, including my struggles with writing and editing. To which he said, your writing bears your unique signature. Roopesh, you so-and-so, I take it you meant that as a compliment (LOL). One that I shall always cherish. In your passing, I am once again reminded that the meek shall inherit the Earth. Like many of my emails to you, it would be befitting to end my tribute to you with the following words in my best Bandra Goan Catholic accent: Thenx, men!”

As is evident in Pendse’s tribute, Roopesh evoked tremendous sentiment in others and that was natural since he was a super emotional person himself, nice to people which meant he chose his words endeavouring not to hurt even when his opinion was difficult to digest. He was a natural mentor, sincerely and patiently helping, coaching, grooming others. Among the many that Roopesh took under his wing during his Pune Times days, was Sean Davidson, a spirited, outspoken teenager with immense raw talent. Roopesh was not just a professional mentor but had genuine interest in people and he used to worry about Sean endlessly. Sean who flew in from Toronto, Canada, for the funeral, is now the Founder and CEO of Davis Index. “Roopesh was a guide, mentor, partner-in-crime and brother. His wit was quickest to the draw and his dark humour was one to relish. He shaped my early writing and editing years, for which I will eternally be grateful. He always pushed for excellence; no compromise. And that’s something that has stuck with me till date. Pune has never had a better editor and I doubt it ever will. But more than his enviable journalism arsenal, it’s his gonzo spirit and brotherly love that I will miss the most about him,” Sean wrote via text message sent on the day he was boarding his flight.

Another youngster from the Pune Times days to benefit from his professional care was Geetanjali Katyayan (then Geetanjali Patole). “Winter of 2000 is when I first met Roopesh Raj. A rookie reporter to this super competent senior sub-editor of Pune Times, who’d obviously been around long enough to know that my mawkishly written copies would be taking up a major chunk of his precious time. I was afraid my secret would be out. And that the whole office would know that I had shammed my way into the world of newspaper writing. But that wasn’t him. My secret was safe with him. Because he was a complete gentleman.”

“Pune Times or PT as we liked to call it, was going through a major facelift and a bunch of us novices had been hired to give the newspaper a chic and trendy outlook. We were the go-between for the generation that was ready to discard the print world for the voguish MTV and Channel V. Farida Master, our Editor and Roopesh were at the helm of project revival. The next few years that we worked under him, we learnt how the reporting world worked. I needed to unlearn my habit of writing elaborate copies that I’d picked up from my magazine days. His patience and good humour saw us through the several blunders and some serious lapse of judgement. His was the voice of reason in the midst of some seriously cocky and emancipated Gen Xers. A gifted writer himself, he had a knack for spotting the essence of the story, sometimes hidden under a pile of jargon, and changing the entire course of the article. Sometimes his frustration was real when we couldn’t spot the plot, even when it was staring at us right in the face or when we’d put off our copies until the last minute. We all relied on him, if a bit unfairly. He was rock solid that way. How can one forget his legendary one-liners? Never hurtful, but always outrageously funny. He was probably at his wittiest best if you went to him with an impossible problem. That’s what he probably did best, point out the absurdity of the situation and leave us laughing at our silliness. Roopesh did all that with an underlying charm and modesty,” recalls Geetanjali.

“I left PT in 2004. Roopesh had already moved onto Sakal Herald. Later I heard that he’d shifted base to UAE and was getting all the success he so well deserved. In between these milestones, I found out, from old colleagues, of his battle with diabetes and a cardiac problem. What little I knew of him, I know he must have taken it all in his stride. But nothing prepared us for the sudden news of his passing away. At the age 49, I’m sure Roopesh had so much to look forward to. I know, I did. The core team of PT had moved in all directions. Roopesh was the only one who had believed in the power of print media and held on. He had thrived and was already a renowned name with an illustrious career in the field of journalism. If he’s disappointed us in any way, it’s by leaving too soon. And for the void in our hearts that will never be filled. Farewell my dear Boss, my teacher, my friend!”

As a professional, he was dedicated to his work to a fault. He turned up and did a fabulous job every single day – when he was happy, joyous, sad, down, out, in the zone … in all seasons, in sickness and in health.

Senior reporter Manjiri Damle (who retired as Coordinating Editor of TOI Pune) remembers Roopesh as a very happy and simple person who doted on his children. City journalist and musician Roger Dragonette paid rich tribute. “Roopesh was a beautiful writer and a team man at work. A gem of a human being who was so appreciative of me as a musician. Will miss him terribly. RIP Roopesh you were such a gentle soul just what the world needs in these divisive hateful times.”

Accomplished veteran journalist Rahul Chandawarkar who collaborated with Roopesh regularly at Mid-Day and PT considers Roopesh Raj as one of the finest writers and journalists he ever worked with. “As colleagues on two newspapers and until recently, we have collaborated on many a story. He was always cutting-edge. He followed each of my YouTube stories closely and was possibly the only person who re-tweeted every story link that I posted on Twitter. His words, his laughter and his enthusiasm for journalism will be missed.”

In 2003, I moved out of the mainstream media industry and into technology-enabled training, so the regular conversations stopped. Roopesh grew in stature as a writer and sub and in 2004 he joined Sakal Herald (the new avatar of Maharashtra Herald) as Deputy News Editor. The same year he made a move that changed his career graph and eventually established him as one of the most successful journalists to emerge out of Pune city. That move was to Dubai, where he launched Emirates Evening Post, Dubai’s first evening daily. As Editor, Roopesh defined the publication’s content and business strategy, steering a staff of 100.

We kept in touch occasionally, mainly to talk football and discuss the fortunes of Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United.

In 2005 he moved to Emirates Today as Assistant Editor, a role which saw him plan strategic development apart from overseeing news, business, political coverage among other editorial verticals. During his tenure he launched and managed several new supplements and special issues.

Roopesh spent 2007 to 2011 at Emirates Business 24/7 a 48-page daily print newspaper, as its Night Editor, providing thought leadership, training and day-to-day guidance to the editorial team and also coaching managers of others teams. Those years were also the initial years of the global financial crisis that hit economies across the world. Emirates 24/7 was a media asset of Dubai Media Inc, a wholly owned Dubai government entity. As part of the corporation’s plans, Roopesh moved Emirates Business 24/7 from print to online (emirates247.com). And from 2011 to 2016, he served as Deputy Managing Editor of emirates247.com taking it from startup to one of the top three media websites in the Middle East. He worked closely with media houses, government agencies and legal entities, as online legislation was developed and fine-tuned across the globe.

In 2013 Roopesh representing Emirates247, served on the international judges panel for Best in Biz Awards’ 2013 EMEA awards program.

Throughout his UAE stints, Roopesh continued writing, building a stellar reputation as an international columnist (he interviewed Sir Alex Fergusson and the ruler of Dubai) among other high profile personalities). He was also a regular guest on Dubai One TV channel, invited to offer his insights on current affairs, business and sports. Between 2006 and 2016 I travelled to Dubai several times on business but we never got around to meeting there though we spoke on calls or through messages. But mainly I stayed in touch by reading his personal blog.

In 2017, I got a text, a LinkedIn message and finally a call from him. “I will be joining the Pune edition of Hindustan Times as News Editor.”

“When are you coming to Pune?”

“I will be going to Delhi for induction and training and then to Pune – after a few months I think.” We were both looking forward to catching up, it had been more than a decade since we had last met.

We didn’t meet that year nor in 2018 though we spoke on the phone a few times. I learnt that he had a sudden heart attack in 2016 that led to a partial paralysis cutting short his international career abruptly. One of his blog posts from 2017 starkly underlined his struggle at that point: “Can I truly stare at the blank page of my being within and begin to create again from scratch? I must. I have no choice,” he had written.

I eventually met him at the Hindustan Times office on 2 February 2020, just before the lockdown began. He had lost a lot of weight and was very introspective. He spoke a lot about his wife Avita and his daughters Alokha and Angelica. He said he was taking better care and had more or less recovered from the physical aspects of the paralysis.

We kept in touch regularly throughout the lockdown, talking health, future planning for family, and about meeting their son, Omar. In fact, that plan we spoke about every month. He figured that my hotel management and gaming background may be of some use to Omar, who is a sharp and intelligent youngster. He was also proud of how his daughters were shaping up and the independent thought process they exhibited. He attributed the children’s maturity to the good upbringing and values his wife had instilled in them.

In March 2021, he asked if I would consider writing a column and since April we were back to weekly some times twice or three times a week calls. About current affairs, technology, AI, Pune, health, the team he was grooming, their strengths, and a lot about family. After two decades of knowing each other, we were finally talking family, children’s future. And that was natural. In the 20s and 30s our personalities, preoccupations and priorities were different.

He was also preoccupied with the challenges of finding and retaining editorial talent. He was constantly talking to the industry and very aware of trends and future requirements. He had a small but good team and he knew that they were doing very well under the pressure that COVID-19 had created for media in general, for print in particular.

James Mathew, one of his young colleagues at Hindustan Times, is still coming to terms with Roopesh’s passing. “‘I’m logging off’. I was used to this customary message from Roopesh after the print edition goes to sleep, six days a week, except on my off-day, Sunday. Never thought it would be his last. He used to work online from a friend’s place as he said that it was a quieter place than home, and he needed silence at the workplace. A stickler for accuracy, deadline and punctuality, it always rubbed on us,” writes James.

“Spending eight-plus hours daily with him since the last five years, I was used to his witty remarks, anglicised Marathi, occasional exclamatory ‘Jesus Christ’, his innumerable thank yous, and more…in his deep baritone. He was a team member, always reaching a place before time. He admired the British for punctuality and his favourite football team was, of course, England. Always a man of few words, he loved to organise farewell parties for colleagues and yearly get-togethers. Always ready to adjust our leaves and off-days. Since our first training day in Delhi, to the last working hours, Roopesh remained his unique self, inspiring all, on and off desk. He left an imprint on those who were associated with him even for a brief while. I will not miss him as a part of him grows in me,” says James.

Roopesh and I last met on 20 December in Aundh and spent a good bit of time. Over the past few months, he had started enjoying his writing again and he had a very positive outlook. While his sports, business and current affairs columns and interviews in Dubai were insightful pieces, his recent articles at Hindustan Times were back to his soulful roots. The personalised look at the contribution of Jesuit priests to education, the walk routine around the neighbourhood were vintage. His opinion piece on the need for BJP to redraw its Pune pre-poll strategy was insightful and made me realise how much he had matured as an editorial writer. I mention that one particularly since the subject was the forthcoming Pune municipal corporation elections in March or April. All of his recent work and much of his earlier articles are available online. If one were to study the vast body of his journalistic writing across the 26-year career span, the diversity in his writing is incredible as is the productivity. And his journalistic work wasn’t even his best writing. That was reserved for his blog written under the pen name svengali- unadulterated, raw Roopesh at his very best. His tribute to former colleague, Niranjan Prakash, is pure gold. As Pendse might say, if you want to experience the real Roopesh behind the real Roopesh, read his blog Ninety9words.

If he had looked at the first draft of this article, he would have said: “Print articles have to be kept under 800 words, 1000 max.”

He would have then thought about it and said: “This headline is crap.”

“What do we do?”

“I will see if I can improve it before publishing. But give me a better default man.”

Everybody who knew him, will remember a different Roopesh. I will remember the young boy who bared his soul again and again and again in his search for himself, in full view of the world.

But more than his words, wisdom, and magic, he leaves behind four wonderful people who defined his world, grounded him, gave him roots and provided him with purpose to go through life: his wife Avita, daughter Alokha, son Omar, and daughter Angelica.

Following is the eulogy written and presented by his children at Roopesh’s funeral service at St Xavier’s Church, Camp, Pune on Sunday, February 20, 2022.

Thank you, all, for being here, to celebrate my dad’s life. I’m Omar, the middle child, here to share a few words that my elder sister Alokha, my younger sister Anjelica, and I put together.

Most of you know have known our dad as either a rock’n’roller, a man of God, a brilliant writer, or a captivating orator. Or some of you had the privilege of knowing him as a true friend and a rock’n’roller. As his three children, we knew him as dada, or, all of the above. One thing’s for certain, with a dad as diverse and enigmatic as ours, there was never a dull moment.

From his love for music, we learned to love music. He introduced us to all forms of music and when he realized that a lot of the music he loved had curse words, that we loved, he switched the house to Gospel music. For four years. Which we didn’t really love.

He taught us that we could rely on music to sort through any mood, and if music didn’t work there was always the ocean. When he needed to clear his mind, he would drive us all down to Goa, show us how to love the ocean, and how to take comfort in nature.

He made Goa such a magical place for us. We learned to swim there. We enjoyed music together. We loved watching our parents dance with all that electric chemistry they had. He loved coaxing mom to get up on a mic to sing Fever, just so he could say to her: You give me Fever! And he not-so-secretly spent hours chilling with our dog, Mia, even though back home in Pune he would tell us he didn’t want the dog.

But he did want the dog and I think it’s because Mia was the only child who would actually listen to him!

Dada wore many hats, chased several pursuits, and worked hard to provide for us. And yet he found the time to always do just enough to spend one-on-one quality time with each of us. He is the reason that the three of us and mom are so tight.

I think his ability to deliver momentous results from seemingly casual moments came from his insistence on viewing things from all angles. In a chat with us, quite recently, in what would be the last thing he taught us, he said: It’s not my job to love the choices a person makes, but to love the person.

I mean I just loved that. All of us at home did. Because it absolutely summarized how he viewed the world. And why all of you are here.

He was always bringing people together, and even if he wasn’t the one making the most noise at the party, he was still its biggest influence.

I think Alokha gets that from him. Angelica gets his ability to start conversing on one topic and then moving on to 1,800 other topics. And then go on for hours, just like he used to. It is Angelica who most wants to grow into the speaker he was. Have his vocabulary. And have his command of the room. He made an impact every time he spoke, even if it was on the spot.

Well may be not always.

I once asked him, if I asked you to rap on the spot, would you be able to, and he said of course. So I said: Go on. And he did. I thought it was quite terrible, but he said it was the best rap ever. You be the judge. So this was Christmas day, and we challenged him to rap on the spot, and he said: It’s Merry Christmas Yo, White As Snow, Two black bitches, and one white hoe.

I mean, if that isn’t a terrible rap I don’t know what is. But he was beaming from ear to ear. Like he had genuinely just delivered a rap of legendary genius. Such was his confidence. And his charisma.

You’d never think of him as some one to give high-fives, and yet he always gave me a fist bump when I left the house. No matter what the circumstance.

He would take Angelica on drives just to chat about anything she wanted to, and then make sure to slip in a little pearl of wisdom to shape her world view.

And he had a silly side too. He had weird names for us, like Ebbuddies for Angelica and Tony Omar for me. And he would call them out like he was a boxing ring MC. It was so much fun. And we’re going to miss those moments of madness and love.

Angelica said this lovely thing yesterday. She said he’s left parts of him in each of us. When she talks to Alokha, when she talks to me, she sees parts of our dad. So we know he’s always going to be with us, because he’s in us. And that gives us comfort for the future.

At home, we would do this thing where we would connect as a family, to share what was on our mind. We would go around the room and say: Please, Sorry, and Thank You to each other, based on specific things we wanted to address. So for one last time, dada, here goes:

Please: be your rock’n’roll self in heaven.

Sorry: you had to leave so soon.

Thank you: for being you.

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11 comments

  1. Preeti

    I just learnt of Roopesh’s passing. Good Morning Pune by both of you was an important part of my life. I have been able to tell you about how it influenced me. I looked for him, but Roopesh was never on Facebook so could not connect with him. He wrote about Poona Camp and his growing up years there – probably the only representation of Camp other than Farrukh Dhondy and it would make me feel seen. I had often wondered where he went to after PT and once I googled to see he was in Dubai. I did not know he returned to Pune and was at HT. Would have certainly reached out to him had I known. I had so many stories of Camp that I wanted to write about and he was the only reporter I knew who would have got it. Very sad to learn of his passing.

  2. Really enjoyed the tribute, left me feeling I got the meet Roopesh without having been the same room with him. Poona born guy here. Knew his uncles and aunts growing up in the 70s. A lot of his traits come down from his grandparents, the most wonderful Rex and Margaret Vase. RIP Roopesh. You will be missed but never forgotten

  3. Its just so heartbreaking to read this… I used to be an avid reader of you and Roopesh’s column Good morning Pune during college.. so much so that though I never met you two in person, I always felt that you two were people I actually knew through your stories.. and I always wished and hoped to be an impactful communicator / writer like you two. I wish and pray for Roopesh’s family … may His soul rest in eternal peace !

  4. Rahul Chandawarkar

    Top drawer stuff this. Extremely comprehensive tribute to a very special journalist, writer and friend to many. How would Roopesh have reacted after reading all this? He would have simply said, “Bas Kya!” followed by his inimitable guffaw.
    Roopesh Nigel Raj is going to be badly missed.

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