April 29, 2009


It’s very hard writing about someone in the past tense. Especially when you can’t believe he’s gone. Especially when you want to believe he's still around. Which I do. In a different form, in a different realm, in a different way… Smitu Kothari is not with us but he is still with us.

What’s really hard is getting used to the physical absence of someone – the thought that you won’t meet him again, hear him laugh again, give him a hug again, talk to him again, learn from him again. And that’s what makes us all grieve. Because it’s an incredible loss. And the void that Smitu’s absence has created can’t ever be filled. His presence was too great, his spirit too magnanimous. Especially for his family, the grief is intense and inestimable.

At the same time, we’re all trying to celebrate Smitu – the warm, wise, affectionate, gentle, energetic, humorous, committed, dynamic person that he was. The visionary with praxis. The intellectual with action. The one who touched lives – innumerable lives – around the world, in ways too special, too significant, too deep, too profound to recount.

I’m not good at writing obituaries. I don’t want to write an obituary. I just want to pay my tribute to an exceptional human being.

My connection with Smitu goes back to 2000 when we met at a human rights conference in Panchgani. Since then, I grew to know, respect, love and work with Smitu in various capacities. We had several interactions, each one was marked with a warmth that only Smitu was capable of emitting. He had a unique gift of making everyone he was with, feel special. No matter how busy, how preoccupied, how stressed he was, he always had something affectionate to say to you. Something that touched you. Something that made you feel blessed for knowing him.

Yes, that’s true. I feel truly blessed to have known Smitu, to have had the opportunity of being in his world, of having him in mine.

I had a beautiful dream of Smitu recently…. He calls me. Shocked to see his name flashing on my cell phone, I answer, my voice quivering in joyous relief. “Smitu, you’re back?” And he replies in his usual affectionate way, “I haven’t gone anywhere.”

That’s the thought I try to hold in my heart. Smitu hasn’t gone anywhere. He’s still with us.