The last time I spoke to Dada — as J Dey was called by crime reporters in Mumbai — was in the third week of May, when I was away from Mumbai on vacation. We discussed the happenings on the crime beat in general. Towards the end of our talk, he sounded worried about a defamation suit against him. I assured him everything would be fine and told him he should stop worrying.
So, the call I received on Saturday afternoon, informing me that he was no more, came as a shock. After all, I had a more-than-a-decade-long association with Dey. Many of his friends, too, were unaware that his real name was Jyoti Narayan Dey. He used this name when he contributed photographs to The Afternoon Despatch and Courier, where he freelanced in the early 1990s.
This work he did soon after he quit his job at Hindustan Lever, where comedian Johny Lever was his pal. He was tired of the 10am-to-5pm schedule there as it did not allow him to pursue his passion: photography.
Gradually, he began contributing reports, along with photographs, to newspapers — he even did art reviews — and, at the height of underworld activity in the ’90s, joined the league of crime reporters in Mumbai.
His weekly column in The Indian Express — Notes From the Underworld — was a must-read not only for crime reporters but also for policemen, because it chronicled the inter- and intra-gang happenings.
Crime reporters from rival publications were always worried about his newsbreaks, and when other reporters would be busy following up a story he had broken, he would sit in a corner of the police canteen near the Azad Maidan police station, sipping his favourite “cutting chai”.
Whenever a rival newspaper had scored a point over him, Dey, a trained boxer, would practise for an extra hour at the municipal boxing ground at Parel. That was his way of de-stressing, he told me.
Though outwardly tough, Dey was one of the kindest persons one could come across and extended a helping hand to all. Many crime reporters of the new generation learnt a great deal from him.