Dubai: Santhosh lived up to his name. Always. He was happy. Always.
A wide grin would light up his face whenever he met anybody — a friend, an acquaintance or a stranger. It was a smile that forged friendships, many of which lasted to this day. The strength of those bonds manifested in the messages that poured into my phone from our mutual friends.
At 55, that smile was erased by a fatal lung infection following a bout of COVID-19. He survived the coronavirus (he tested negative two weeks back), but his lungs did not. The smile was no longer on Santhosh’s face as he lay motionless in Aster Hospital in Al Ghusais, Dubai, on Wednesday.
I first saw that broad smile in the early nineties, when Santhosh Kumar Sundereswaran was a trainee journalist at the Deccan Herald in Bangalore, a southern Indian city. I had walked over to the news desk to meet the recruits.
Keralites have a unique ability to seek out their countrymen, so Santhosh was the first of the trainees I met. We soon lapsed into Malayalam, and embarked on a voyage of discovery. The coincidences were far too many. We hailed from the same city (our houses are 6km apart), we went to the same journalism school (three years apart), and we had several mutual friends. Later he romanced and married my friend Maya Mary Thomas, a fellow journalist. That meant lunches and dinners at each other’s houses and long chat sessions at the Press Club of Bangalore.
Journalism took us and our families to Doha and Dubai. His friends became my friends, and mine his too. Our friendship endured the storms in the newsroom and the pressures of living abroad. After every vacation, our conversations centred on news from our hometown Thiruvananthanapuram, which was dear to us.
In the newsroom, Santhosh was Mr Dependable. He was my wingman when I ran the production in the UAE Desk. I always felt secure when he was around. When the UAE’s Founding Father Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan died on November 2, 2004, Santhosh was out with his family, spending the evening in one of the northern emirates. I needed my trusted lieutenant, and I called him in. In an hour or so, he rushed in, and I could breathe easy.
As a sub-editor and pages editor, and assistant editor, Santhosh was always meticulous in his editing and had a strong sense of design that earned the respect and appreciation of his peers and bosses. That intensity gave way to an infectious enthusiasm as soon as he stepped out of the office. He was full of fun, and he was game for any sport. So we played together and against each other: on the badminton court, at the cricket nets, at the table tennis table, the pool table and the cards table. And he would never cede an inch. A fighter, he was. He loved to win. His guffaw after claiming a wicket still rings in my ears.
A devoted father to two wonderful daughters, Shruti and Pallavi, Santhosh was immensely proud of their singing talents. Four of us (including Stephen and Nagarjuna Rao), who worked together in Doha, and our families continued to be close-knit in Dubai. We called our gatherings the Doha Dialogues: Our families met for dinner often enough at each other’s houses, and the dialogues would go on till early morning. We rejoiced in the success of each other’s children, and followed their careers avidly.
Santhosh was the star of the Doha Dialogues with his impish humour and effervescent smile. Maya had plenty of stories of Santhosh’s huge appetite. He loved rice. Loved the mota rice like a true Keralite. A good meal brings a huge smile to his face.
That’s a smile I will miss. His enthusiasm too. The Doha Dialogues will never be the same again. The Gulf News newsroom too.
Rest well, my dear friend. RIP Santhosh.