I first met Anil Datta sahib in the winter of 2012 after I joined The News. It didn’t take much to understand that he was someone who preferred to live within his thoughts more than in the world around him.
Judging by the knowledge he possessed on a variety of subjects, especially the arts, it was quite possible that his inner world was much larger and more vibrant than the external world. His general aura gave one the sense that he felt out of place in his physical surroundings.
When done with work or feeling like a break, he often reclined in his chair and sang to himself, with his eyes closed and the people around him rendered non-existent for as long as he wished to stay within.
I believe ‘Que Sera, Sera’ — sung first by Doris Day in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 film ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’ — was one of his favourites, because he apparently sang that song more than any other.
I remember that when we talked about Doris Day’s death on May 13 last year, he appeared sad. Little did anyone know that only a month and a half later, on June 28, we’d be discussing how he suddenly left this world.
Among the things everyone remembers about him the most is his conscientiousness when it came to his work. His reports were nothing if not honest — sometimes a little too honest. He never shied away from his assignments. None of the younger journalists could ever keep up with him.
Whenever he filed a report, none of us knew what to expect. It could either be an easy editing — mostly proofreading — job because of his impeccable English, or it could be a daunting challenge because of the subject matter, something that might have seemed a piece of cake to him because of his years and years of experience.
Even though every single one of us has learned something from him — I don’t think he ever knew — no one has dared to take on the mantle after his death. He has left behind very big shoes to fill. It just can’t be done. Datta sahib is irreplaceable.
That he was lonely was an open secret. In fact, he had at least on one occasion admitted, in no uncertain terms, that he regretted not getting married when he was younger, giving much pause to those of us who were single.
The sense of him not being able to belong was strong when you talked to him or were even just in his presence. He was drifting in the void between two opposing worlds: the world that was, that had given him as much as it could and then pushed him forward, and the world that wouldn’t accept him until he embraced it without resistance.
He always felt like he belonged more to yesterday than today. So yesterday is where we’ll have to find him. And there’s nothing we can do about it. To borrow from the song of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, immortalised by the mellifluous — one of Datta sahib’s oft-used adjectives — voice of Doris Day, “whatever will be, will be”.
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