The last time I saw Siddhartha Mishra he looked as if he had finally found peace. A smile was curling up through a beard that had begun to grow in a thick way. It was quiet in there now, the sounds of his children playing around where he lay had receded; they had taken their laughter downstairs. In the next room, his wife sat still. Outside the room where he lay with his eyes closed, a cyclone had sent advance clouds that were beginning to weep.
When I met him for the first time about five years ago, I didn’t know it would come to this, although sooner or later everything does. When we hired him as sports editor, it was done on the basis of his reputation. I’d heard he liked his drinks and when I called up to check, a common friend informed me, “Yes, he drinks like a fish, but he also works like a dog.” I can now vouch for that, the working like a dog part. I have never seen anyone so completely committed to work. He was destined for bigger things in this profession but cancer, damn it, does not respond to reason.
The last time Siddhartha came to office, pain stabbing through him 10 days after the doctors had stopped medication, he entered my room, smiled wanly and said, “I think I am done here.” I could see he was fighting back tears. I didn’t know how to respond. I offered him a lift home, dropping the article I’d been writing on the American elections and Indian foreign policy; it seemed so unimportant—I wouldn’t be getting any opportunity to drop Siddhartha home after this. The last time I’d driven him home I’d played him Joey Defrancesco’s excellent tribute to Michael Jackson Never Can Say Goodbye without meaning to be ironical. He made me play the song again. Then I listened to him talk, thinking, how little I knew him and now I’ll never know.
When he’d come into the office for the last time, he’d opened his drawers, rummaged through them, taken out a large sheaf of newspapers that had his articles which he had been storing and had gone over them, explaining to Elumalai, my secretary, “My children are too young. They don’t know what their father does. I am going to take these articles home so when they grow up they can read these and know what their father did.” He was talking about himself as if he’d already ceased to exist.
Siddhartha spent far too much time in the office, and by the time he got home after three in the morning or sometimes even later, his son, in Class I, and his daughter going to Class IV, would be sleeping, and I guess, when they woke up and went to school, he’d be sleeping. Towards the end, he spent all the time he could, he told me, with the little energy he had left, with his children, playing ludo and cards, or simply talking to them.
After they’d taken Siddhartha away to be embalmed for his final journey to Puri, the children came in laughing and not finding their father sleeping in the glass box, began to look for him, calling “Papa, papa?” Nobody left in the room was willing to tell them where their papa had gone without saying goodbye. In the heavy silence, the little girl brightly told her brother, “Papa must have gone again to the hospital.” Both of them then ran out again to play.