I am deeply saddened by the untimely death of my beloved friend, colleague and journalist, Saurav Datta, whom I lovingly referred to as a Saurav Pa Ji. He was an avid contributor to Scroll and this is where I first discovered him.
We later became friends through social media. I do not remember which platform exactly. This was back in 2014 and I was going through a rough patch. Much to my surprise, despite being erudite and accomplished, Saurav was not only humble but also open. He was willing to share any knowledge he had about an issue and connect me with his friends in the journalistic fraternity. I was virtually unknown and he would send out an email introducing me to editors across India. This often led to writing gigs, including at Scroll and DNA in Mumbai.
He later joined me on Whatsapp and more frank conversations followed. I started confiding in him about the drudgery of my daily life and he often came up with hilarious responses. At any given point, he was more like a pirate than a therapist. This is when he adopted me as his sister.
Mostly he was in a rickshaw, commuting from one workplace to another; sometimes on a noisy balcony chasing a deadline; and once, even babysitting children of another “sister” of his. I later learnt that he had a large extended family of sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews on Facebook. He often wrote in-depth pieces about the legal and human rights issues in Pakistan. He would call me to discuss some of them. Invariably, his calls would make me realise I either knew nothing about a problem or needed to change my opinion about something. This included the issue of the death penalty, which he opposed vehemently.
There are so many moments when he offered support, including when my grandfather died some years ago and more recently, when my grandmother passed away some months ago. He called to offer me support and scold me for not telling him earlier. He was always warm, quirky and larger than life. Occasionally, I got a glimmer of his difficult and lonely life before he quickly covered it up with his wit. As much as he liked being heard and issuing advice, he never listened to anyone.
His life was adventurous as well as erratic. I always knew this bad news would arrive. He was so intense and obsessive that I knew he would exhaust himself before his time. A car crash or some neglected health condition would whisk him away. But as usual, he was in a hurry for this too. I feel betrayed.
We have lost a wonderful journalist, a brave independent voice and a tireless activist. He was the friend of everyone he considered marginalised.
There was something distinctly Sauravesque about everything he did and said. I can hear his smoke-laden voice with a heavy Bengali accent giving a profound suggestion about what can be improved about the world or my life. I wish he had given his own life such a fair chance. Had I said this to him on the phone, he would have said: “Theek hai, aap behen hu. Aap kuch bhi bol sakte hu.” That’s ok, you’re my sister. You can say anything.
He instinctively knew which arguments to avoid. I wish I could have travelled to Delhi to meet him. Hopefully, in another world, there will be no border and a Pakistani will be able to meet her Indian brother without any hassle. Though of course, maudlin statements like this one and even the minutest trace of dogma often drew Saurav’s wrath. My life is duller today than ever before. I will miss him very much.
Ammara Ahmad is a writer who lives in Lahore.