Yesterday, at his grandson's navjote, I met once again Bombay only surviving police court reporter. Mr. Adi Dhondy, 57 years in the press, 57 years covering the police courts, Esplanade, Girgaum and Mazagon.
It took me back a few year.
I also used to cover the police courts. In those days, all reporters begain their careers with police courts. You first did the Girgaum and Mazagon courts, then were promoted to Esplanade court, then moved on to other assignments. Only Adi Dhondy never did, he was born a police court reporter and he retired as one.
They used to all meet in the remands court at the Esplanade, sitting just below the magistrate's sitting just below the magistrate's table. There were five of them ad they operated a sort of a syndicate, between them supplying news to all the papers.
They used to give us cub reporters news also. And we dared not report anything more than what they gave us.
There was Mr. Desai, the senior most among them, sober, in a coat and trousers. Lawyers had to first seek his permission, before passing on their stories. And Chottubhai, also in a jacket, but with a black cap and a dhoti. A gentleman called Ambabal wore a three piece suit, waistcoat with pearl buttons and two toned suits.
Mr. Nimkar covered the Marathi and Urdu press, though he could not read or write Urdu. He used to ring in his reports to both the Urdu and Marathi editors. He would begin his dispatch on the phone by announcing "Mein Nimkar bolta hun." Latter, he wrote a book on his experiences with that as title.
They were all tough men and treated police court reporting as their domain. We were the trespassers.
Adi Dhondy was the mildest of them all. A tall, lean, continuously nervous man. They had made him into their leg man, chasing stories from one court to another , going to the coroner's morgue. He would return to Esplanade panting, then share his stories with the others.
In the nights, they would meet at the Kyani Restaurant at Dhobi Talao. Dhondy and Nimakr would come with the stories from the police stations, then all five of them would get on the restaurant's phone to ring up their various newspapers.
Times have moved on. Reporters do not cover the police courts any more, not even cub reporters, except when some bit industrialist is produced. And of the original court reporters, four of the five have passed away, probably covering courts in some nether world.
Mr. Adi Dhondy is still there, now retired after 57 years.
I was having dinner at the navjote last night, sitting in long rows and eating from plantain leaves as Parsis do, when Adi Dhondy passed by. And all the years sped back, it was like Mr. Dhondy rushing back from the Girgaum court looking as nervous as ever.