Remembering Riyad

Roy Wadia talks about his filmmaker brother who succumbed to HIV, medical advances in treating the disease and why it still causes significant stigma

Yesterday, the city marked December 1, World AIDS Day, also known as Red Ribbon Day with slew of events. Celebrities, sparking a frenzy of flashbulbs spoke about HIV/AIDS and the Internet was flooded with ‘latest AIDS’ figures and facts.

Some memories still bring a smile to Roy Wadia
Some memories still bring a smile to Roy Wadia

Riyad Wadia, late filmmaker and Worli Sea Face resident who succumbed to AIDS on November 30, 2003 at 36, is obviously not just another statistic for his brother. Today, Riyad’s memory is more poignant than ever, for Riyad’s brother Roy Wadia.

The late Riyad Wadia ponders life’s mysteries in this photograph
The late Riyad Wadia ponders life’s mysteries in this photograph

Roy, who is now based in Bangkok as Regional Communications Advisor for the United Nations Population Fund, (UNFPA) Asia-Pacific Regional Office, feels the briny Worli Sea Face waves, mingling with the salt of his tears, as he says, “Riyad used to say he could feel the waves calling out to him, especially towards the end.”

Excerpts from An interview:

Q. On World AIDS Day, memories of Riyad must be particularly sharp...
A. I remember Riyad all the time, every day. For a long time after he passed away (on November 30, a day before World AIDS Day), he would be the first person I thought of in the morning and the last person I thought of at night. In recent years, the pain has become somewhat less acute on a daily basis, but it is still there, lodged in my heart.

Q. What do you remember about Riyad?
A. His honesty and integrity; affection and warmth; his ability to forgive (I was a horrible brother to him when growing up); and his wonderful laugh. And the way he called me “Bhailoo!” I remember a magical day we spent together in New York (his second home, and just a couple of years before he left us), walking down Soho, wearing a pair of cheap sunglasses we’d bought from a street hawker, and him saying to me, “Isn’t this one of the most beautiful cities in the world?”

Q. Is World AIDS Day a day for regret or introspection?
A. Regret that I wasn’t able to “save him” of course. We can’t lead other people’s lives, not even (or especially not even) those we love the most. I regret that I wasn’t able to convince him to begin antiretroviral medication. I am convinced that had he done so, he’d still be with us, healthy and enjoying a long, normal life as people living with HIV do. I regret that I wasn’t able to transcend the label of, “brother” and become a “friend” and hence, possibly communicated more easily with him, as friends do with each other.

Q. You had earlier written in a blog that you had warned Riyad to be careful with homosexual partners. But Riyad was young and he did not care...
A. Most, if not all, of us think that “this” (whatever it is) can’t happen to me. When you’re young, the sense of invincibility is even stronger. I had seen friends in the US, where I moved to in 1986, get infected, fall ill and die at a time when there was no medication, or little access to fledgling drugs. I was in my early 20s when HIV began to spread globally, (he is 53 now) there was a real sense of fear at that time. When he was diagnosed, something I had long dreaded, my worst fears came true, and with them a sense of strong guilt that I could have perhaps done even more to “protect” him. He was my baby brother, after all.

Q. How has the scenario changed?
A. HIV, these days, with the medication available, is a chronic illness, much like diabetes in medical terms, something that can be managed. The medical advances are amazing. The HIV stigma though remains huge. People still are terrified of having HIV, and petrified of anyone finding out, in their families, at their workplace, anywhere. They feel their lives are “over”. It takes them a long time to come to terms with the situation, and very few feel they have the support systems necessary.

Q. For a while, after Riyad came back to Mumbai from abroad, one had seen him at events and page 3 dos. Was he struggling through his illness then?
A. I was not in Bombay then, but I suppose he tried to maintain a normal life, and of course, his amazing personality drew so many to him. I attended a Gay Bombay party with him in May 2003 and he had already started to slow down a bit. He just sat there, perched on the stairs above the dancing crowd at Liquid Lounge, and looked quite philosophical as he watched a new generation of young, gay men mingle in an open, unapologetic way, almost as though thinking that he and others of his generation had helped pave the way for a more open society.

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