I cannot now recall exactly how and when I first met Tejeshwar Singh. He was already a familiar face during my school years as one of the most imposing, articulate and authoritative presences on DD News. But one of the earliest memory that jumps to mind is also one of the most characteristic of the man.
It was 1980 and I had just passed out of St Stephen’s College. It was the College Centenary year and among a host of celebrations was a production of ‘The Winter’s Tale’ for which the director cast both current and old students. I was cast as the clown. Tejeshwar Singh was playing my father.
He was already ‘Bunny’ to me, as he was to all friends and family. In one scene, he had to carry a bag of gold to pay off somebody. He forgot to carry his prop onto stage and realised it only at the crucial moment at which the transaction was to be effected.
As he fumbled in his pockets, his face suddenly lit up and, with a broad smile, he turned to me and shamelessly added a line to the sacred text: “Son, where did you leave that bag of gold I gave you?”
I was aghast! His fault, and he’s making ‘me’ look like a fool in front of the audience! I had to do some very rapid thinking. “But you left it behind under yon tree, father!” I said and exited rapidly into the wings.
Frantic searching for anything that might resemble a bag of gold revealed nothing, until… I dashed back on stage and said, “Here it is, father. You must not be so forgetful. We would all have been in trouble.” And I handed him one of those large sandbags that are used in Shri Ram Centre to weigh down the black cloth of the wings.
The moment we got off stage, he turned to me, slapped me on the back and said, “Well done! Quick thinking.” And he grinned broadly.
What I remember with so much fondness is that wonderful good humour, charm and generosity. He, who had been one of my news anchor icons, became a colleague from whom I learnt much when I eventually became a news anchor myself. He had the knack of playing humour to the hilt. The last occasion was just over two weeks ago, when we both read excerpts from Maxwell Pereira’s latest book at its launch. He said to me then that since he was now retired from the publishing world, he was raring to get back on stage. I asked him to look out for a script that we could do together. And we laughed together at the prospect.
The shock of his sudden and cruelly early passing has still not subsided. How much worse must it be for his parents, his wonderful wife Brinda and the twins Amna and Shonali and the hundreds of friends and colleagues to whom he endeared himself and who admired him. It was a farewell far too soon.
Sunit Tandon is Executive Director, Lok Sabha Television. He is also a news anchor and theatreperson.