I am beyond questioning. I gave up trying to ask my God the big `Why?’ way back when I was 24, when my world collapsed after a bad break-up. It was a relief to let go and know that these things were beyond my understanding or ranting, part of a bigger plan. And so I do not question why we lost my friend Dhaval Dhairyawan two nights ago. He was young, just 33, so I could not have put him on my must-visit list as I do most of my elderly relatives and family friends. He was nonchalant about life and past illness; so I had no inkling that I should have considered the times I saw him more precious than any other meeting. The last time I saw him, I received no sign that I would not see him again.
I had often wondered how people receive the intimation of sudden death; I now know. It feels like someone has punched out your heart; you want to be told the name again to find that somehow you heard it wrong, knowing all the while that this was one time your ears, sadly, had not failed you.
Dhaval and I, we argued all the time. I knew him forever, it seems. He came to Worldwide Media as an intern with The Times Journal of Photography, joined the magazine, moved on to Top Gear, and, two and a half years ago, when we got ready to launch Lonely Planet Magazine India, came on as consultant photographer with us. And so I got to travel our first-ever feature with him – a story on Hong Kong for families. We argued throughout, he drove me mad by standing directly under the swing carousel to get a shot even as the Chinese lady clucked and scolded from the sidelines. We shared our horror at discovering a whole deep-fried pigeon on our table (his side of it, because I had arranged it so) that our friend and tour guide Fred Cheung had ordered as a `delicacy’ for us. We almost missed the flight back together. Then, after a while, he got ill, we were not allowed to see him, though his sister would sweetly reply to my SMSes to him. After almost a year, we had a very frail Dhaval among us again – hassled because he was raring to go, but the cameras were too heavy for him. And he hated the idea of someone else carrying them. Still, Top Gear was privileged to have him shoot regularly. Speed and light – they kept him going. We finally convinced him to shoot the Pune food trail for LPMI in August last year. We drove down together, his friend Mahesh Shetty with us on the way into Pune, listening to a distinctive Dhaval playlist that he alternately apologised for and defended, and ate our way through a series of meals – on some evenings at three different restaurants to get the information and photographs we needed. I remember that trip was coloured by the memories he shared of his mother who had passed away a month or two earlier. He talked of all the dreams he had had of doing things with her, where he had wanted to take her, how it was too late... I reminded him that she would have known he had those plans with her, he agreed, but we were both weighed down by a gentle grief.
Today, I am weighed down by that grief, surprised at the intensity with which it comes and goes. In the same way he showed me a photograph of his mom as a young girl when I condoled with him, I find myself going back to his passport scans in my Gmail. My only consolation is the belief that you are united with your loved ones when you die. It is a very Catholic belief, but it works so well. That must be some mother-and-child reunion.
Dhaval, rest in peace. God speed and good light – and yes, I mean that in the punniest way possible.