When he last came to our college, a little less than a year back, I couldn’t help but notice how much weight he had lost.
He was speaking softly and gasping for a breath as I offered him a seat.
He didn’t accept his customary cup of tea.
He declared that he wouldn’t be able to take classes at our institution for “a long time to come”.
“Today was the last lecture with my Journalism students. I am going in for a kidney transplant in a month’s time. It will take some time before I am fit again to come for regular classes…”
Before I could react to the statement, he continued…
“…But I have completed my part of the syllabus and I will send you the marks before I take admission in the hospital.”
As I kept insisting that he doesn’t need to bother himself with either marks or completing the syllabus, he kept repeating that he was just keeping his date with the deadline.
“A deadline is a deadline and one must respect it. I have a deadline to complete my course and I haven’t missed it, you see. All along I have respected deadlines and there’s no way that I am not doing it now.”
That was Mani D’Mello. My senior for many years who never missed a page deadline in his lifetime (It is the deadline when a newspaper page is sent to the printing press. Maintaining this deadline is usually the section editor’s responsibility).
As he went in for the complicated operation and later on, after the successful surgery, I kept on communicating with Mani Sir (as I always called him) over Whatsapp and occasionally, over the phone.
Sometimes we would discuss the news website that he was building. He always used to lament that he doesn’t have good desk hands to curate news effectively.
“Most of the youngsters don’t have news sense, you know. Lot of them don’t even have the concept of a news desk. I have to guide them at every step and rewrite their copies. Looking at them, one understands how online media will become in a few years. Online media is going towards chaos from chaos.”
Though he was unsure about where online news outlets were ultimately heading towards, there was one thing he was absolutely sure of.
It was years of acute work stress that affected his health.
“A journalist’s job comes with such stress that it might kill you. You cannot go on working under duress for such a long time. One day the work pressure will get to you. It was because of years of work-related stress that I developed high blood sugar. Everything else was just an after-effect. If one worries about retaining the job all the time, how can one work? Tell me, which senior journalist is healthy today. Everybody has one complication or the other.”
Later, when I called him to find out how his operation went, he told me that he has set a deadline to “make a comeback.”
He also told me that he had a successful implant and he was having immunity suppressants to let the new organ settle inside the body.
“I have to be a little careful and not go out of the house and into public places. The doctor told me that I am susceptible to infection and that is the only thing I should be worried about. Give me a few more months and I will return to your college to teach. In the next academic year, I will be back. That’s the deadline I have set for myself.”
I clearly heard him chuckling.
Accordingly, we prepared a fresh new Journalism course for him to teach.
Only this time, Mani D’Mello missed the deadline.