A tribute to Dudley Pereira

May 1, 2007

I thank you for the music
And your stories of the road
I thank you for the freedom
When it came my time to go -
I thank you for the kindness
And the times when you got tough
And, uncle, I dont think I
Said I love you near enough

- adapted from Leader of the Band by Dan Fogelberg

Leo Dudley Pereira is dead.

With him goes a gentle part of the world of sports journalism, a part that looked at unbiased reporting as a professional necessity, a part that did not consider the reporter part of the story.

Pereira brought no qualifications to the craft - he was a high-school graduate who learnt the art at the stone as the page-making table was known in the days of lead type - but he became a master of the trade.

It's difficult to contain the emotion while paying tribute to a man like him, one who is probably looking down right now and, in his mildly cynical way, gently chiding me for being sentimental.

But I loved Dudley Pereira and his death will leave a void that cannot be filled, one of those holes in the fabric that leave one wondering whom one should approach for counsel. When good people leave this earth, we are all the worse for it.

I worked with him for four years, learning a host of things, chief among them the fact that the work was often its own best reward. Depending on others for praise and a validation of one's own prowess was a waste of time; one had to cultivate a sense of value for one's own self. It's a lonely path and it takes courage to set out on that course.

I guess that in many ways this reflected Pereira's life as well. He never married but helped the others in his family generously; he never had much regard for money, giving it away freely - and to many scoundrels as well. He never let people in need go without if he could help it. I remember the half-cynical smile which he often gave me just after he had given money to someone who had told him a patently false tale.

On one occasion I had to ask him for a big amount to repay a loan - I had been guarantor for a man in a village where I had worked before joining Deccan Herald and he had not repaid the loan. Leo gave me the money without a second thought, adding. "don't be a bloody fool and stand guarantor again." He didn't ask when I would be able to repay him; when I gave the money back after we got our bonuses for the year, he asked whether I was sure I could pay it back at one go. This was typical Pereira - he cared.

His honesty stood out in a profession that boasts more than its fair share of cheats and scam artists. Most newspapers at that time - the early 1980s - paid their corrrespondents meagre allowances when they were sent out of town to report but Deccan Herald was the exception. Nobody who went out of town from the Herald ever returned a cent to the organisation, claiming everything they could, even if the expenditure had not been incurred. The Herald was also known for sending correspondents abroad regularly, something that the more parsimonious Indian Express or Times of India rarely did.

Pereira was a reluctant traveller - he had to literally be put on the plane to Malaysia in 1982 to cover the Merdeka cup football tournament. The quality of his copy surprised me - I had had just brief glimpses of this thin chap, who came into the office in a quiet, almost furtive way, with his sleeves rolled down and always dressed in sober fashion. No jeans or short-sleeves for him, he always looked like he had stepped out of a bandbox.

When he came back from Malaysia, Pereira returned a sizeable sum of money to the office though he could well have claimed it. His reasoning was simple - he hadn't spent it and he had not scrimped in any way. He was the lone journalist I knew who treated the company's money better than his own.

Once I left the Deccan Herald where he was then the sports department chief, we were in regular touch until I left India. After that I saw him every time I returned to India for a visit.

He taught me a lot of the journalism I know after I made friends with him; he was a kind, at times strict, and willing tutor. He commanded respect because he not only demanded hard work but put in more than many others, even though he was the man in charge. He was a sub-editor par excellence and a reporter who could weave a web with words.

We worked the night shift together during the 1982 Asian Games and developed an understanding over that fortnight. He respected people who worked hard and used their heads, and wasn't loath to help others understand the ropes provided the person who asked the questions was willing to learn. Our age difference - something in the range of 27 years - didn't seem to matter at all.

Journalism is a lonely profession and it took its toll. Work over for the day, Leo would walk down to Markham Road and join his mates there for a few pegs. I ventured thither with him on some occasions and enjoyed the raw taste of the grog there - government supply arrack, in plastic packets, what we called babies. Consuming two of those kids would put one in a very pleasant haze.

The deaths of some of his drinking partners hit him hard, especially a couple who were relatively young. The drinking and his cigarette consumption led to problems later on in life, with his health suffering badly. But more than anything, what caused him to go downhill in later life was the fact that hardly anyone, who had apparently been friends with him while he was working, bothered to turn up and say hello. He helped more people than one can count yet there were few who could spare him a few minutes when he was in his retirement. I doubt whether he could ever escape the conclusion that they had used him and then gone their own way when they found no more benefit in associating with him.

It was sad to see but then he had no choice but to accept it. I went and saw him every time I visited India, after I left the country in 1987. He was happy that at least one of his charges bothered to visit him. As time went on, and his money slowly ran out, he began to worry. I was able to help him to some extent but he was still fiercely proud and only reluctantly accepted anything which I offered.

His health deteriorated and the last time I saw him - almost three years ago - his voice had changed. But the handshake was still firm and he looked thin but very much as he had during his working days. His nieces kept me in touch with his condition; a few weeks ago, I spoke to him after one of them told me that he was getting suicidal. He listened to me and spoke little; in halting tones, he said he would try to put up with the hand life had dealt him.

Mercifully it would seem, the good Lord called him home a week after this conversation. His last hours were at home and he died peacefully.

You won't see his name up there in neon lights; there won't be paeans of praise sung for this man. Society has become too patently false to acknowledge the death of a good man. But a number of people who knew him well will silently weep and ask: "What do we do now that Leo has gone?"

May his soul rest in peace