I was introduced to Joy Dey the way one usually gets introduced to journalists: through his byline.
Gangster Ashwin Naik’s wife Neeta, also a corporator then, had been shot in her house in 2000. Dey, who was with Indian Express, told the story of Ashwin and Neeta’s tragic love affair and marriage in the backdrop of Mumbai’s ruthless underworld and the violent politics of the city’s vanishing mills. It was not what we journalists call a ‘hard crime report’, but I remember thinking that this should be story for a movie.
Dey did stories of far greater importance, many of them planned with me as editor, but for some reason, that story of doomed love from the bloodwashed Mumbai underworld of the ’90s has stuck on most vividly.
Dey was killed today exactly the way he described dozens of gangland killings. Stalked, overtaken, shot again and again despite him being an agile six-feet something man, a trained and skilled boxer, with alertness that comes from years of reporting about and interacting with people who kill for a living.
I wish I had not worked so closely with him on his investigative stories, spent hours talking about the underworld, rode pillion on his bike and gone to meet cops, bookies, men who run crime empires in Mumbai, shared Chicken Sanju Baba (a dish inspired by Sanjay Dutt) at the cubby Noor Mohammed Hotel at Bhendi Bazaar, exchanged SMS jokes almost every day.
I wish I had not known his wife Shubha, also a remarkably upright and competent journalist, from our days as copy editors, or chatted endlessly with her in the night-drop car.
The grief would still have been as profound, but surely less raw.
Joy and Shubha show up the strange world of Mumbai, where pluck and integrity of ordinary people do not give up easily to the wildest temptations or the most chilling threats. The couple went about life normally and with fierce honesty, heedless and happy in a city which is closing in upon them because they come in the way of somebody’s illegitimate fortune.
Dey has had a very long relationship with threats. And just as old relationships can shock you when you take them for granted, his daring in the face of years of threats perhaps proved to be his undoing.
At the peak of Mumbai’s underworld days of the ’90s, Dawood’s key man, Chhota Shakeel, had called him while he was riding his bike. Shakeel calmly told him in Bambaiya Hindi: “Tu abhi Vikhroli se ja raha hain, raincoat fold kar ke bike ke saamne rakha hain… udaa doon kya tereko? (You are at Vikhroli now, on your bike, and you’ve kept your raincoat folded and tucked near the bike’s visor. Should I ask my men to bump you off right now?”
Dey later told me that although he got cold sweat, something went “off” in his head. It was for him a rare moment of fear and anger. He told Shakeel: “Tu mera permission maang raha hain kya? Udaana hain toh udaa na, m********d. (Are you asking my permission to kill me? Why don’t you go ahead and do it).”
A very well-known former encounter specialist told me today that the way Dey was killed — stalked and shot in and around the head from very close — bears strong resemblance to Shakeel’s signature.
For a man who could look death in the eye and be so fascinated by its twisted handiwork, Dey had a surprisingly soft side. He was a bird lover. He would even go in Navy or Coast Guard boats to watch migratory birds who made abandoned ships off the city’s coast their home in the winter. He loved long drives. He and I have planned them forever, but could never make it.
Dey was the kind of investigative reporter an editor walks up to and says, “I need a big story this week,” and he delivers. He broke big-ticket stories on the underworld, match-fixing, Radia tapes, the sand, real estate, timber and the oil mafia.
People who killed him surely wanted to drive the fear of death into journalists. They also want to guide youngsters aspiring to be journalists to a different career choice. But inadvertently, they have released the biggest advertisement of fearless, uncompromising journalism across the nation. Editors can hope to get far more job applications than usual now, and from the right candidates.
Jyotirmoy Dey makes every journalist proud. But it hurts beyond words can explain to know that Joy had gone out, and will never return.