September 06, 2007

Remembering Bain

The journalist Naresh Fernandes, editor of Time Out Mumbai, is someone my father Bain had a lot of affection and respect for. At Bain's funeral on September 4, four of us said a few words each about him. Naresh was one of those four, and this is what he said.

Thank you, Naresh.

Remembering Bain

When I became a journalist 18 years ago, the world seemed to be in greater disarray than ever. The Mandal protests were still fresh and Advani was driving his rath through the country, leaving a trail of fire as he went. The Times of India newsroom was filled with sceptical journalists who were not given to handing out easy praise. But amidst the cynicism, among the few people who merited unstinting praise was Bain, who, even to us jaded hacks, was the embodiment of all the qualities we admired in those who had devoted themselves to public life.

Over the years, evidence of the deep impression Bain has left on our city -- decades after he retired from government -- is still remarkably visible. Only recently, a colleague reporting a story on the public transport system came back from an interview at the BEST offices marvelling at how the undertaking's employees were still talking about the fine work Bain had done when he headed the organisation.

As I grew to know the D'Souzas after they returned from the US, I was struck by how Bain's commitment to public life placed as much emphasis on the second part of the phrase as on the first. He didn't treat the public as a large, faceless entity but also recognised the humanity and individuality of life -- and he never failed to acknowledge the frailty and quirkiness of what it is to be human.

A few months ago, when the Bandra police were arresting courting couples at Bandstand, Bain sent me a note pointing out that the police were merely indulging in blackmail. "Which one of us hasn't had a slightly embarrassing relationship we'd rather have kept hidden?" he wrote, making me chuckle at the very unlikely image of Bain's lanky frame being hauled away by the police and led into a Black Maria.

Among the stories about Bain I like to tell my younger colleagues is how he took the Maharashtra government to court about liquor permits. The state technically allows you to drink only if you declare that you are an alcoholic and need liquor for the maintenance of your health. But Bain wouldn't stand for the hypocrisy and told his employer, the state government, that he simply enjoyed a good drink occasionally. In fact, years later, he took his taste for wine so seriously, Indage made him a director, and you'd sometimes find large cases of wine in the D'Souza living room, one of the benefits of being associated with a wine manufacturer.

Along with his recognition of what it is to be human was his suspicion of pomposity. Bain is the only person I know who so abhorred formality that even his children and grandchildren called him by his first name. In his memoir, No Trumpets and Bugles, he tells of an official dinner at Murli Deora's home in 1977 when Jonas Salk came to Bombay. Because the seating arrangements weren't strictly according to protocol, a state minister got stuck at the end of the table, away from the guest of honour. He threw a tantrum and barely touched the food, blaming Bain for the mix-up. But Bain bore the minister's complaints in his usual, sanguine way and recalled how Churchill had dealt with a similar situation. "Arrange them as you think proper," Churchill had said. "Those who matter won't mind, and those who mind won't matter."

As we recall Bain's remarkable, joyous life today, that's the message I'll remember with a smile: that we should keep our sights on what's important, but acknowledge human complexity -- and laugh it off.

1 comment:

Vikrum said...

Beautifully said. Thanks for sharing this with us, Dilip.