I first met Dileep Padgaonkar in Paris when he was contributing pieces on the students’ protests in France and Europe to some papers, and was keen to write more. I was already at the Times of India, and recommended him to the then editor, Sham Lal. We got him to contribute a few pieces and he wrote for us on an ad-hoc basis. At that time, Europe was important due to the students’ protests, so Dileep’s contribution was significant. Later, Sham Lal asked him to join the Times of India in Bombay, where he worked on the opinion pages and tried his hand at edit writing. A few years later, he shifted to the Delhi office at his own request.
In 1988, he was appointed editor after Girilal Jain left. This is after Dilip had served at UNESCO and was looking to return to journalism. Dileep had a wide range of interests — from politics to the arts — and as editor encouraged people to write on varied subjects. In the newsroom, he was accommodating and always polite, and possessed a good sense of humour. He was easy to approach, and his door was always open. Dileep came to the Times of India as an outsider and grew into the job. He got along very well with his colleagues and that’s how he got people to contribute to the paper. In those years, I was diplomatic editor and chief of bureau in Delhi, and there was never an occasion when Dileep interfered with my work. He gave his reporters space.
While it’s a well-known fact that Dileep was fluent in French, he also knew Sanskrit really well. He was well-versed in the Vedas and he was very secular in his views. I remember when the Babri Masjid demolition happened, he was very upset. He said it was a scar on India’s secular fabric. He took a strong stand on it. While his sympathies lay with the Congress, he didn’t always agree with their policies. For instance, when he was appointed as one of the Jammu and Kashmir interlocutors by the Manmohan Singh government, he was disappointed. He felt let down by the fact that the committee’s suggestions were not acted upon.
Dileep and I have been friends for decades now and would discuss everything — from politics to books to people. Dileep was an excellent Hindustani classical singer, with a deep knowledge on the subject. I remember, when I would throw parties at my house on Parliament Street, he would occasionally sing. When he was in Pune, he would always attend early morning concerts too. We had common interests, such as reading. We often enjoyed the same books, and every time I would order a new book, I would place an order for one for him too from Bahrisons.
Dileep was considered a good cook of continental food, and although I didn’t know much about it, I did buy him a famous French cookbook at the Taipei airport once. He wrote extensively on European affairs but he also had an abiding love of cinema. (He wrote a book on Roberto Rossellini called Under Her Spell in 2008.) We talked a great deal about art, and would visit exhibitions together. In fact, we both have works by Jamini Roy and I helped Dileep pick his first two.
The last time I met him was two months ago at the India International Centre in the capital, where we used to meet often. He mentioned that he wasn’t keeping well but promised to come the next day. But that didn’t happen.
Over the years, Dileep and I were in the habit of speaking on the phone almost every day. The last time I spoke to him was a week ago when he said he was still unwell.