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A man of texture

Malavika SangghviFor those of you who didn’t know him we will try and explain why Gautam Berry, who died of a massive heart attack in the early hours of Friday morning, meant so much to us.

The man had texture: the dark bitter hue of the fine home brewed espressos or the half cups of tea that he would drink incessantly; the sooty notes of a JJ Cale riff and the three cigarettes he would set aside to smoke rationed and cut precisely with a scissor daily; the sandals worn with socks, and paired with khaki bermudas and hawaiian shirts. The unmatched humour accompanied with the acerbic wit that could hurt like a sharp object, and often did.

The great battles he would take on over matters of principle and the sweet craziness of the true eccentric. With Gautam there were the golfing stories and the Dosco stories; stories that marveled at the mysteries of human nature and the inexplicable madnesses that lurk in the human psyche; there were film stories: of a time when today’s superstars were ordinary people with quotidian concerns and shy dreams of stardom; there was the peerless respect for knowledge, for reading and for an elegant turn of phase (a dipstick into his well-serviced library came up with The multi orgasmic man, The rise n fall of diamonds and Teach yourself geometry).

Gautam Berry
Gautam Berry

With Gautam there was the excitement of fresh ideas and brave new experiments in living; of someone who had opted out of the rat race, invested his money wisely and lived the life of a country squire, walking, golfing, reading and watching movies. With Gautam there was the pernickety obsession of someone who yearned for an ordered world of servicemen with work ethics, businessman with moral fiber, dog owners who ought to know better and governments that never would.

There was the ascetic’s zeal for unfussy living and the hard won wisdom of an only child haunted by childhood’s long shadow; above all of course with Gautam there was a generosity of spirit that made itself available for any one who needed help, a reassuring word or critical advice.

The same generosity that made him donate an underused office of his at Nariman Point as the headquarters for ‘Citizens for peace’ during the ‘92 riots; the same generosity that required him to open up his home to young people; the same generosity that ensured that he never patronized them or made them feel silly or inconsequential. As his body lay in his airy tastefully decorated apartment at Cumballa Hill before its final journey, friends showed up from all corners of the city, faces known and unknown, those from his inner circle and those who nobody even knew he had befriended.

A friend recalled how he had made her come with him to choose three sets of formal wear, made her lay them out on a bed, photograph each ensemble and then itemise which jacket went with which shirt and socks. Another recalled the folder he’d kept on errant taxi drivers; a third of his unfathomable knowledge on the most random of subjects; a fourth of his attempts to start an NGO on his last evening alive.

Perhaps those of you who have the misfortune of growing up in a Mumbai choked with malls and high-rises and ever shrinking time will never have the privilege of meeting someone who embodied the rugged individuality of an earlier age, when friends dropped in at one another’s home unannounced, played board games, argued about books and films, ate home cooked meals and respected each other’s private lives and personal choices. Gautam Berry was like that. He meant the world to his friends. He was a very young 66 and we believed he’d outlive us all. But he didn’t. And that of us who knew and loved him all we now have is the texture.

Of human values
Readers of this column will recall the item we’d carried on the golfers who’d carried on with their game after putting their dying friend into an ambulance in which he’d died en route to hospital. The news had created shock and outrage. Now news comes in that the club where it transpired is examining ways in which they can be brought to book. Posh clubs call for posh values too.

Dog days
Perhaps all the sweetness and community spirit of this city has migrated to social networking sites. Our attention was brought to this post by publisher and cultural impresario Padmini Mirchandani.

Padmini Mirchandani
Padmini Mirchandani

“Desperate call for help: Our lab Sunday has just been through a major surgery and is in need of blood. Can you please get in touch with me if you have or know of a Bombay-based healthy dog (7yrs old or younger) generous enough to donate us blood? Please pass this on.” What was even more edifying is the fact that some time later we found a picture of another dog with this post on Padmini’s wall. “The gorgeous Max, our hero, blood donor for Sunday – isn’t he a beauty?” We like!

Celebrating with Zee
According to our source, Queenie Dhody and Rishi Sethia hung out together at the Zee 20th anniversary celebrations on Saturday. Also spotted were Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Nita Ambani, Arjun Rampal, Fardeen Khan, Mithun Chakraborty, and a galaxy of media and business people.

Queenie Dhody

Arjun Rampal

Shah Rukh Khan

Fast cars
The grapevine has it that there is an attempt to placate the owner of the Rs 1.8 crore car which was reduced to an ashen heap at a car rally recently with two new vehicles from the same manufacturer. The new ones are not from the top end of the stable rumours say.

Audi
The Audi that burst into flames on the sea link. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi

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