I began my working life by gathering information about potential freelance assignments during the year that I intended to be in Delhi before going to graduate school. I decided that I would make lists of publications, hunt down phone numbers, and pay my way through the year by writing.
Having these worthy intentions left me free to in fact spend my time painting grotesque self-portraits in watercolours, writing very bad short poems and short stories and staring at the phone with open fear. I did do a few assignments and projects, but essentially two years of my life and the idea of grad school ended up in the same toilet as the world’s hopes for Copenhagen.
Then one day a friend called, saying that somebody at Business Standard was looking for an article on Southeast Asia. I called the number and spoke to one Kishore Singh. I didn’t have an article on KL specifically, but perhaps I could write something else? He told me to bring whatever I had to his office.
He turned out to be a tall fellow in a long kurta with a head of greying curls, warm and polite, but with an undeniable beadiness of eye. He read through a couple of my published articles in heart-stopping silence, commented on the extreme thinness of what I was pleased to call my resumé, and then, quite seamlessly, asked if I wanted a job. All the career counselling sessions I had not attended in college swarmed into my head and I said something devastatingly sharp like, “Uh, okay, sure.” The beadiness kicked up a notch and he named a tiny little figure, which from my perspective looked good since it was a tiny little figure more than I had.
So I started working for Kishore’s Special Projects team, which turned out to have a lot to do with knowing about brands and stores and celebrities and the odd trade fair. It quickly became apparent to both him and me that I was all wrong for it, but he was unfailingly tolerant. (‘Let’s do an issue on UFOs!” I said. “Get me the advertising and you’re on,” he said.)
For my part I worked diligently if not enthusiastically, and in return he encouraged me to do book reviews and other stories I enjoyed on the side; encouraged me to go home at a civilized hour; encouraged me to not be a wimp; and taught me a huge amount without ever seeming to, including that it’s best not to open your cocky mouth too much or too loud. (I didn’t say I always followed his advice). He was funny, generous, sophisticated, smart as a whip, and the best, gentlest manager and editor you could hope to have. When I finally left he threw me a party to which I was two hours late (because I’d suddenly decided to write farewell limericks for the team) and he still smiled at me, possibly because he was so relieved that I was leaving.
Kishore commissioned Stet, and has uncomplainingly printed every word of it week after week for nearly three and a half years now. I can think of few other people who would have given me such free rein, or who wouldn’t at least have complained a little. For that, and for everything else he has ever done for me, he has my everlasting appreciation and affection.
This week was Kishore’s last week at Business Standard—for the third time. He has left twice before, but always been lured back; this time he claims it’s for real. He may be right, but it’s so hard to imagine the place without him that, even as I wish him the best, it seems appropriate to reprise one of his signature phrases: Whatever-whatever-whatever.