I remember the time Arthur J Pais got caught with his pants down.
India Abroad, the Rediff-owned community paper, had its office on 24th Street, between Broadway and Sixth. It shared a floor with a travel agency staffed with an assortment of pretty young girls who, late into the night, would sneak out into the corridor for a forbidden smoke. The building also housed the New York office of Larry Flynt and his Hustler magazine – so, more girls, of the pin-up class.
Arthur needed periodic insulin shots, which he administered himself. So late one night, he crossed the corridor to the washroom, gave himself his shot, came back out and realised the office door had slammed shut behind him. He had his own set of keys – in the pocket of the trousers he had taken off and left behind in the office.
The flaw is immediately apparent: why remove his trousers in the office before going to the loo? The answer, in two words: 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 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 producing India in New York, the free weekly paper, and India Abroad, the flagship community paper that came out on Sundays.
His was the first name on any editor’s speed dial – two hours to print deadline, faced with 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 full page feature for the entertainment page, two hours. He delivered. Unfailingly, uncomplainingly.
Okay, maybe not uncomplainingly. There was the time my wife came to the office one morning to pick up a book she wanted to read. Seeing Arthur in his cabin, she stopped 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 %%%@###@...”
Turned out 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 raged on for a long time, going into great detail about why in his opinion I was not fit to be the editor of a roll of toilet paper even, and he slammed out of the office, trailing abuse.
Later that afternoon, 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 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 over to the TKTS booth in Times Square, joined the endless line in blazing summer heat, and bought prime tickets at a discount. What could I say? I knew better than to offer to pay – that would have triggered another fight. All I did say was, “Hey, you know I am Raji’s ‘plus-one’, right?” He gave me a lingering 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, Rediff.com, and its sister concern India Abroad Publications. Through those long years 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 in my mind: 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 Arthur? Keep your damn pants on.
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