RIP, Arthur Pais

I remember the time Arthur Pais was caught without his trousers.

India Abroad, the Rediff-owned community paper based in New York, had its office on 24th Street, between Broadway and Sixth. It shared a floor with a travel agency staffed by pretty young girls who, late into the nights, would sneak out into the corridor for a forbidden smoke. The building also housed the New York office of Larry Flynt and Hustler magazine – more girls, of the pin-up class.

Arthur needed periodic insulin shots, which he administered himself. So late this one night, he crossed the corridor to the washroom, gave himself the shot, came back out and realised the office door had slammed shut behind him.

He had his own set of keys – along with his cell phone (which he could otherwise have used to call his long-suffering wife Betty), it was in the pocket of the trousers he had taken off and left behind in the office.

But why would anyone take off his trousers in the office before going to the loo? The best answer to that is: Arthur Pais. He was like that. He did these things.

The story of that night spent cowering in the shadows, dodging random girls while clad in just a shirt and briefs, has regaled the successive generations of young journalists he mentored and bullied in equal measure – and his laugh was always the first to ring out, and invariably the loudest.

Everyone has an Arthur Pais story. And Arthur had a story about everyone – always original, mostly salacious, often borderline libellous. He loved to gossip. He told his stories in a spirit of impish delight and with a total absence of malice. It was his way of relieving the tedium of endless nights writing and producing India in New York, the free weekly paper, and India Abroad, the flagship community paper.

His was the first name on an editor’s speed dial, and not just because his name began with an ‘A’. Two hours to print deadline, a hole the size of a page to fill, you called him and wailed, “Arthur… HELP!” The inevitable response was, how much do you need and how soon do you need it?

You gave him an impossible ask: a 1,600-word feature for the entertainment page in under two hours. He delivered. Unfailingly, uncomplainingly.

Okay, maybe not ‘uncomplainingly’. There was the time my wife came over to the office one morning to pick up a book she wanted to read. Spotting Arthur in his cabin, she wandered by for a chat, then picked up her book and left. Minutes later, Arthur banged into my office, slammed the latest copy of India Abroad down on my table and went “What the %%%@###@…”

I had cut about 120 words from one of his stories. “You asked for 1,000 words and I gave it to you,” he raged, “so why the @##@@@ did you cut my copy you @##$$$..”

He banged on for a long time, the gist of his tirade being that I wasn’t fit to be editor of a roll of toilet paper, even. And then he slammed out of the office, trailing abuse.

Hours later, he strolled into my room with coffee, doughnuts and a huge smile, and tossed an envelope on the table with “For Raji Plus One” inscribed on it. Inside, I found two tickets for Doubt, the award-winning Broadway play then being staged at the Walter Kerr theatre. “I was telling Raji about this play and she said she’d love to see it,” he said.

Turned out that after yelling at me, he had walked a little over 18 blocks to the TKTS booth in Times Square in blazing summer heat, joined the endless line, and snagged prime tickets at a discount.

What could I say? I knew better than to offer to pay – that would have triggered another rant. All I did say was, “Hey, you know I am Raji’s ‘plus-one’, right?” He gave me a look, said “That’s for Raji to decide”, and walked off, for all the world as if the morning fight had never happened.

That, in a nutshell, was Arthur – irascible, incorrigible, impossible, and impossibly generous, sometimes all in the same moment.

We worked together across many publications: the Singhania-owned Indian Post, the Mumbai-based Mid-Day, the Ambani-owned Sunday Observer, and its sister concern India Abroad. Through those long years — now that I think of it, I’ve known Arthur for almost as long as I have been a journalist — there were times when I thought he was my personal albatross, that I’d never be rid of him. But those times were rare. Most times, I was just glad he was around, that he had my back.

“Arthur, what would I do without you?” Every editor who has ever worked with him has had reason to say that. God knows I have thought that many, many times over the years.

Now, as news that he has met his final deadline comes over the wires, that oft-asked question reshapes itself: Arthur, what are we going to do, how are we going to manage, without you?

Arthur, what are we going to do, how are we going to manage, without you?

Be well wherever you are, friend. Be at peace.

And hey, Arthur? Keep your damn trousers on.

(Arthur J Pais, 66, passed away on Friday, January 8. His long-time editor (and mine), Nikhil Lakshman of and India Abroad, summed up the essence of the man here, as did Arthur’s friend and fellow journalist Aseem Chhabra here. My friend and former colleague Vaihayasi Daniel writes movingly of him here.

My valediction to my departed colleague and friend was first published on



The fan

A day after Sid Vaidhyanathan and I vented some angst about “doing” cricket for a living, comes this piece in the Hindu about an octogenarian fan of Sachin Tendulkar, that makes us see the other side of the coin.

Sceptical of the statistics available on the Internet this octogenarian keeps track of her favourite cricketer’s achievements in her own way. Tiny scraps of paper with all the scores painstakingly written in neat handwriting are tucked away along with other prized possessions that include a couple of books on the cricketing genius gifted by her grandson. She secretly pulls out a few bits and shows them to me ensuring I handle them with care. All of a sudden, she chuckles. Saraswathi’s face is bright with enthusiasm as she narrates another incident. “After the1998 Sharjah Cup, Shane Warne said he used to get nightmares about Sachin. Sachin ko ‘Man of the Series’ ke liye car mila.” Here, Saraswathi’s son interrupts, saying, “She is very sure some day Tendulkar will meet her. Once when she was asked if she wanted to meet her grandchildren in Australia, she said, “I don’t want to meet anyone, I only want to meet Sachin Tendulkar.” Saraswathi now looks coy, blushes and says, “If I ever meet him, I’ll tell him to keep playing with confidence and keep entertaining us.” And with that she goes back to telling me more anecdotes about the Little Genius and his numerous records.

Maybe the trick for Sid, for me, for many more like us who have over time lost that fine edge of enthusiasm, is to rediscover the delight that this game can provide — and to write from that delight, not from “duty”, “professionalism”, whatever.

Related, Harsha Bhogle in his latest column celebrates Sachin’s captaincy in the IPL:

In the first game he backed his youngsters, Saurabh Tiwary, Ambati Rayudu and R Sathish, and played only three overseas players. In every game thereafter he has given these young players the confidence they need by sending them out at crucial moments. Tiwary, for example, has retained his No. 4 slot ahead of Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard, Rayudu gets to bat at No. 5, and even Sathish, just returning from the ICL, has a clearly defined role: if he gets 15 or 20 in quick time at the end, and does little else, his captain seems quite happy with him.

Bravo and Pollard occasionally get the No. 3 slot to allow themselves to rediscover form, but I think the best move of all has been to put Ryan McLaren in the side and, in doing so, freeing Lasith Malinga to play the role Tendulkar likes him to: bowl after the new ball and at the death. It helps that McLaren can bat, and indeed the Mumbai Indians now have three allrounders in crucial areas and a floater in Sathish. McLaren doesn’t mind bowling up front and that allows Malinga to bowl no more than one over early on, leaving his captain with enough options at the end.

More than his use of personnel, I’d think the standout feature of Sachin’s leadership this IPL is that he has freed up his team to play without fear. Harsha makes the point that in the last game, against Kings XI, the team seemed to slip into a complacent mindset. Perhaps — but even in that game, the noticeable characteristic was that even as wickets fell, the collective belief that they cannot be beaten seemed unshaken.

Sometimes, that is all that separates the good sides from the great — as any member of the all-conquering Australian side of the 1990s will tell you.

Sense, sensibility, and Sania Mirza

A friend, Mehul Shah, sent me this note in mail just now:

Sania Mirza is probably the saddest story in Indian sports these days. What seemed to be the start to a very promising career in 2005 has turned out to be a forgettable journey so far. I have been following her on Twitter for 3 months but hardly any tweet on her tennis or her insights into the world of tennis. I know she is recovering from an injury but sure she has better things to tweet about than the parties she attends and the personal travel she undertakes. The most shocking was a few weeks back: “Tennis is not my hobby, only my profession. Relaxing at home and watching movies is!” Not sure who was last forced to take up sports as a profession, that too in a country like India. Thousands of sports enthusiasts [count me in] would die to have the life/opportunity she got and she is just wasting it. A very good coach I know here in the US simply loves her simple yet powerful groundstokes and even told me once if her serve was as good as her groundies, she could be a top 10 player. I used to admire her for her ability to rise above the barriers that our society poses over minority / women especially for sports, not any more!

Sania Mirza’s Twitter stream.

India’s got talent

Like, so.

Patel rap

There are over a quarter million people named Patel in Britain. More than half of them are married to people named Patel [which among other things removes the stress of changing names, after marriage, on a hundred different official documents]. And someone named Patel is seven times likelier to be a millionaire than someone named Smith.

Read on.