Dileep Padgaonkar — the true Bon Vivant of Indian Journalism
My first glimpse of Dileep Padgaonkar was at the famous seafood restaurant Trishna in Kala Ghoda, South Mumbai. I was visiting from Nepal and had gone to Trishna for a mandatory Crab and Daal Hyderabadi meal all by myself, as I would often do. At the other corner of the restaurant was Dileep enjoying his Pomfret with a glass of white and a book in hand. In my manual of life, the ultimate definition of refinement is being able to savour a gourmet meal in solitude. A distinction which, no doubt, Dileep possessed. I think this is a picture that pretty much defines Dileep and will stay with me always.
Coincidentally, I came to know Dileep personally also in Nepal — when he, Badshah (Anikendranath) Sen and their young colleague, Nikesh Sinha landed in Kathmandu to launch, The Himalayan Times that went on to become the No 1 English Daily there. We spent many a jolly evening together at The (Taj) Annapurna, that used to be the APCA gangs basecamp or in the homes of common friends over smoky single-malts. Though many an arriviste try to appropriate the epithet — Dileep was the original “Bon-Vivant” media personality I met. Among the few senior Indian Editors that I have known — Dileep was one who could easily blend erudition with fine taste, a quality that is becoming rare these days.
Later I had the privilege of occasionally gate-crashing into their Saturday afternoon “repair” session at the IIC Bar — presided over by the venerable Subhash Chakravarty (aka ‘Dada’ to all), Badshah and the late Brajesh Mishra. It was a delight to partake of their very reasoned conversation over GNT — very different from the polarised political chatter and gossip one hears there the evenings. On one such opportunity — I managed to get Dileep sign my IIC Membership Application as the proposer.
Thanks to APCA Dileep had developed a deep understanding and links with Kashmir — that was of a very different order than the other political brokers who masquerade as “Kashmir Experts” in Delhi. Therefore, one was very happy when he was appointed as an interlocutor — though one knew much not much would come out of the forays. Prior to that Dileep was a Member of the Minorities Commission — when, if I recall right, Hamid Ansari (present Vice President of India) was its Chairman.
Later — when I was with The Telegraph we invited Dileep to anchor a “Talk Show” with Salman Rushdie in Calcutta. Could not have thought of a better person who could hold onto his own with the irascible Rushdie for over an hour in one of the most enthralling dialogues I have heard. Impressed — we called Dileep more than once to moderate The Telegraph Annual National Debate at the Calcutta Club. Politicians of all hues from Pramod Mahajan to Jairam Ramesh were equally respectful to him as the Chair.
After I joined a French MNC -Dada bestowed me with the sobriquet of the “2nd Frenchman”. No prize for guessing who was the first in his reckoning. But, what touched me about Dileep was his abiding love for Pune — a city I too have a soft corner for. It was surprising that a global citizen of his liberal and cosmopolitan disposition — who was so much a part of Delhi’s power circuit — would settle for a quiet life in the Maharashtrian Brahmin bastion of Ganeshkhind and Deccan Gymkhana.
Pity his dream venture to bring out a National English edition of the iconic Marathi newspaper Sakaal had an aborted take-off.
To end — an anecdote I had heard Lolly (Lalita Panicker — Badsha’s wife). As young journalists, she and Sagarika Ghose had accompanied Dileep for an assignment to Agra. Dileep excused himself from a morning walk on the plea of having to catch up on some writing. But, while pacing the walking track of the hotel — Lolly and Sagarika suddenly spotted Dileep sitting with a hearty plate of breakfast pouring over the morning papers. It seems Sagarika screamed — much to the embarrassment of Dilip : “That’s not writing Mr Padgaonkar”!!
That, I believe, was the quintessential Dileep — who could have easily outdone some of his younger contemporaries writing about good life and fine dining in a genteel, as opposed to “rude”. way.