CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY writes from Bangalore: Allen Mendonca slunk away in sleep, gently tip-toeing into the darkness never to return.
This time, his flamboyance was missing.
The swagger was not there.
There were none of the histrionics either.
49 is no age to exit out. Yet, he chose to do it his way. He never did believe in giving tortuous explanations to people.
The inexplicable emotions of the heart ruled over his mind most of the time. The unmistakable lilt in his voice and freewheeling gait was proof.
Anyway, he probably had his reasons to leave early.
For me, Allen was a friend and a supporter. For a million others, perhaps a hundred million, Allen was a friend and a supporter. His friends, like the stories he sourced, were diverse.
They included a broad swath of shallow socialites, dodgy journalists and plain beer-swilling louts. He bear-hugged them all unmindful of their forked-tongues and crooked agenda.
Allen chose not to differentiate, not to be judgemental of people and that was his true strength, and perhaps his failing too. He practiced his vocation with the same sense of ‘openness’ – writing on every conceivable subject with a freshness in perspective and prose.
On a good day, Allen’s writing was a piece of poetry.
On an ‘exceptionally good day’ it was deliciously defamatory. Bureaucrats and businessmen got slammed on their pompous backsides.
While some called it whimsical writing others swore by it and religiously began their day with Allen’s byline.
Everybody read it. Everybody spoke about it. And Allen, like the true showman, loved the adulation, the applause.
On one occasion, he wrote a controversial piece on Vijay Mallya, and was forced to tender a written apology. I remember calling him that morning, expressing my disgust and railing against the world at large. Confronted by my shrill journalistic fervor, misplaced perhaps (?), early in the morning, he merely guffawed.
In 2002, as the visiting faculty of a journalism school, I had invited Allen, then Times of India’s metro chief, to share his experiences with the students. Despite a late night, he was there at the Times’ office at the crack of dawn to ride in my bumpy car to the school that was located on the outskirts.
Needless to say, he won the kids over with his disarming charm and simple home-truths.
No profundities, no lofty ideological bluster, the challenges a reporter confronts are real.
The fun-part was after the interaction, when I drove the affectionate father to meet his son Aditya at the BGS International School nearby.
Much earlier, when I began my career with the Frontline magazine, Allen’s Christmas party was a turning-point for me. M.D. Riti, who had just quit The Week magazine, suggested that I apply for the position and pursue the opportunity. Allen and his wife Sandhya prodded me on to embark on this new adventure.
There are innumerable memories associated with Allen and recounting them all would be impossible. More recently, during his recent stint as editor of a city-based magazine, I would often run into him at Koshy’s.
The friendly wink and handshake remained unchanged, thankfully.
The last time I met him was on September 16 at friend Jessie Paul’s book-launch. Sandhya did the author’s introduction.
Even as Sujit John of the Times, Darlington Jose Hector of Financial Chronicle, Benedict Parmanand of Rishabh Media Network and I bantered around in a group, Allen accompanied by a lanky Aditya made a quick entry, shook hands with us and vamoosed.
He seemed in an obvious hurry that evening and we couldn’t spend much time.
A few days later, on the night of September 27, I called Madras-based journalist and friend Daniel P. George on his cell phone for a general catch-up session. Danny yelled over the din of a rambunctious party and told me that he was at the Leela Palace in Bangalore with Allen and his family.
I said, “have fun” and disconnected.
That night Allen, the friend, the supporter, went to sleep.
Photograph: courtesy Chandana Vasistha Aiyar via Facebook
Also read: Allen J. Mendonca, rest in peace