Geeta Seshamani sent a text message on October 31st announcing Gautam Barat’s transition from this plane to the other. I did not go for the cremation. Today, the Times of India announces his Shradh in its obituary section. I will not attend that either. My presence /absence make no difference whatsoever; do not count. Gautam was not a man to fuss about ceremony and I have more than abnormal quirks. Reason enough to write this instead. I shall retain him as I last met him : vibrant, gruff, well-read, aesthetic, affectionate, fast talking, very active, multi-tasking and being the ‘lucky dog’ I teased him for (he had shared eye for sins of the flesh). I shall not let sombriety or full-stops of death cloud the sunshine under which I see him in my mind’s eye.
On just another day in 1979, a boy walked with his dog from Moti Bagh to Defense Colony flyover. He had walked with his best friend to Moti Bagh after bunking school, and unhappy with the municipal veterinary hospital in Moti Bagh, had decided to trek along the railway line to Defense Colony. All the boy remembers after time and space have extracted their toll, is the memory of the walk with his Old English Sheepdog, Tinku. Yes, there is a sketchy memory of a lanky young man barking orders at everyone and asking the boy what he wanted. The boy (significantly sweeter, less angry and less brash than the man today) mumbled something ; the lanky young man scribbled something on a piece of paper and sent the boy away. You’ve guessed the nondescript boy. The lanky young man was Gautam Barat. ‘Borat Babu’ to me, years later, as we became friendly towards one another.
There were my irregular visits to FRIENDICOES SECA. And there was Gautam. We cracked our dirty jokes, pulled punches with the army of Bahadurs from Nepal who are the backbone at FRIENDICOES, discussed women and our common ambivalence towards them : he married at 52 and I have never ventured down that minefield. There was chai from Bhatt ji, anecdotes of days gone past, abuses for many who called themselves animal lovers, plots against corpulent officials, and his acid test for the eager and willing, (mostly unwilling) : “You love animals ? Come and clean shit for a week first.” And then there were the gems Gautam specialized in. His recollections of a childhood spent in government bungalows, of foxes and jackals and porcupines and hares in Delhi, the railway line as city limits, our rock solid agreement that India was decidedly better (even if dismissively bitter) under the British Raj…….our trips with noble intent, but ignoble derailment en-route, as we scouted land in Haryana and tried unsuccessfully to entice hot Jat / Gujjar women. The saga of Ganeshas in his room. And his collection of ancient calendar art of gods and goddesses which I envied. Gautam was a class act. A man much more and far beyond what most people know him for. Intricate, complex and rich (the difference between ‘rich’ and ‘wealthy’). The verve and the zest and the cocky humour were the last to be switched off. We exchanged ribald jokes until just days before he dropped his body. I had once told him I wanted his inputs on a folk history of Delhi I wanted to do. It shall now be a dedication to my dear Borat Babu. And I can almost hear him say “As if that matters” And it will be in celebration (I refuse to commemorate) of the shared trait of loving animals while tolerating people.
And not just the period from 1979 to 2011. For longer dimensions. For spiritual bondage. Rest in peace Borat Babu. Shine on and spread the joy. Exist as you do, in your signature style. Peace and Love.
The Boy & The Dog from 1979