A tribute to Allen J. Mendonca

September 30, 2009

Allen Joseph Mendonca has gone to be with his maker. Well before his allotted three score and ten, a man whom I met in 1982 and who became one of my few close friends has departed before me, at the untimely age of 49.

He died peacefully in his sleep overnight on September 28, a way in which many of us would like to leave the shores of this earth. But when a good man dies this early, those left behind have an awful load to bear, His youth is accentuated by the fact that last year his parents, second to me only behind my own father and mother, celebrated 50 years of marriage.

Yet that is what one has to face up to. A loving son, a loyal and affectionate friend, a fine journalist has left the earth - one can only contemplate the loss and weep silently.

I first met him in 1982, after having read a number of articles he had written for the Indian Express magazine in the late 70s; fine, cynical pieces full of idealism and intent. I was curious to meet the writer; a relative of mine located him at an advertising agency in Bangalore and we agreed to meet. Little did I know how much he would come to mean to me and how deeply I would get involved with him and his family.

We met in June 1982 at the India Coffee House on Mahatma Gandhi Road; this would be the place for many more meetings as our friendship grew. I was then a journalist at the Deccan Herald; he, three years younger, was slowly growing disillusioned with his billet at the ad agency where he felt he was being accommodated out of pity. He had no definite role to play there.

After some time, I managed to get him a billet at a small evening paper. He made headlines there the very first day for all the wrong reasons - someone beat him up and his picture appeared on the front page.

But as he matured, it became apparent that here was a genuine talent, someone who would one day be a very fine journalist.

When the evening paper shut shop, he set out to ask me what to do; midway through the trip, he changed his mind, went to a weekly paper and asked the proprietor for a job. He was given one right away as he had, even by then, a good reputation as a reporter. He then turned up at my home to tell me that he had got a new job.

He was a fine writer, widely read, and with a deft touch for words. He was also a meticulous reporter, who did the hard yards and earned every byline that appeared on the front pages of the dailies for which he worked.

In the five years that we spent together in Bangalore, we grew inseparable. He was there whenever I needed a friend and vice versa. His house became a second home for me; on my wedding day, I stopped over there en route to the reception.

Everything that happened to either of us during that period was a shared experience; there were trials, tribulations and fun. There were fights, drunken evenings and the occasional love affair. He had a past that he revealed to me but that is something he would wish to be kept private.

Our ways parted when I went off to Dubai but even there I was constantly kept in touch with the family through his brother Glenn who worked in Abu Dhabi. Every time I returned to Bangalore, we would renew our friendship, picking up where we had left off.

The degree of attachment he had to me and my family was evident in 1989; when he decided to marry Sandhya, he took her to meet my mother first. Touched by his gesture, she, a godly woman, embraced the pair and prayed for both of them.

The last time I saw Allen was when he came to drop me at the airport in 2004, on my way back to Melbourne, after a month in Bangalore. I lived with his parents and saw quite a good deal of him; he was busy with various projects and had quit journalism to start his own little firm. Journalism had made a cynic out of him and had become a trade where people were more interested in currying favour with the rich and famous, and he was quick to realise that, in that form, it was no way to spend the rest of his working days.

Recently, he joined Explocity, a web outfit specialising in city guides, in a senior role

To many people, Allen appeared to be a boisterous and jovial soul who was full of joie de vivre. But for those who knew him well that was just a cover; he was a deep thinker, an introspective person, given to much melancholy, and one of those who often wondered what the hell life was all about and why it had dealt various people the cards it had.

He was closest to me among his male friends, which is why I grieve for the many years that our friendship had to live on crumbs.

There are some things which one never expects in life, even though all our lives are but as grass; the wind passes over it and it is gone. So it is with Allen's death. I have still not come to terms with it as I write this and probably never will.

May the good Lord give his troubled soul eternal peace.