Shireesh Kanekar, left, Mayank Chhaya, right (Pic: Palashranjan Bhaumick)
Four years before John Keating (a superb Robin Williams) stood on top of his desk in ‘Dead Poets Society’ (1989) to tell his students not to conform and develop a different vantage point on life, there were us, Shireesh Kanekar and I.
On a whim one afternoon in 1985 I told Shireesh, “Why don’t we stand on this desk just for the heck of it?” Shireesh agreed instantly. I, of course, had a history of standing on my desk and chair for no identifiable reason well before this picture was taken by dear friend and terrific photographer Palashranjan Bhaumick.
To balance the sheer oddity of two adults (Shireesh was 42 and I was 24) standing on their desk in their office in the middle of a busy day at work, we had decided that we would make our pose look as purposeful as possible. From what I remember of the conversation prior to this particular shot we decided that while we would make it look as if standing on one’s desk was all in a day’s work for us, we would not make it look as if we were mocking the world. I think the picture does a fairly effective job of capturing that sentiment, thanks to Palash’s outstanding framing. The idea was not to say, “Look we are so cool that we stand on our desk” because we were, in fact, that cool.
There were others in the office of the Gujarat Samachar newspaper on Nagindas Master Road in Fort area of Bombay but I suppose they were used to our ways. We had set up a specialized English news service called Syndicated Press for the newspaper group with the eventual aim of starting a full-fledged wire service but that never happened. In retrospect, one could say that an aspiring wire service where the staffers stood on their desk rather than work at it did not have much future. It folded up in less than two years despite the fact that we had enlisted about 20 leading newspapers as our subscribers. Most of them just would not pay on time, if they paid at all.
If memory serves me right, just as we finished taking the picture and were about to dismount, the owner and editor of the newspaper, Shreyans Shah entered. Accustomed as he was to our quirks, he still looked rather stunned. So much so that he did not say a word then or ever after that.
See below the clip from ‘Dead Poets Society’ where Williams does what we did. When I saw the movie and came upon the scene, my response was, “This is so outdated.”