In the history of Indian journalism, there will never be another humorist like Busybee; he was the Art Buchwald of India, the P.G. Wodehouse of our times and more, a writer with a brilliant sense of timing for satire and humour, but with a soft and sensitive pen. And with a flow of words that could have readers rolling in their living rooms, offices and suburban trains on their way home; or moisteyed with emotion and sepia-tinged nostalgia. That was Busybee.
And he conveyed all this through a cast of fictionary characters with himself in the lead, and ably supported by a spouse he simply named “the wife”, two sons who never grew up, Darryl and Derrek, a unimaginably rich but generous friend who lived in the 21st floor penthouse of one of Bombay’s highrises, and talking dog Bolshoi the Boxer. Busybee drew them all into his column ‘Round and About’, though which he told his reader that it was perfectly fine to be the Common Man. And that if they thought bad things happened to good people only, they were probably right! He wrote in this delightful, free-flowing fashion for 36 uninterrupted years every morning, beginning and latter onn Pentium III PC that he claimed did most of his thinking and half work. His writing did not reflect the tools, of him trade, they brought out his Bombay, and he was the champion of the city and its citizen, nobody could describe Bombay’s people, its places, markets, maidans, institutions transport systems, politicians, socialities, food and eating habits, sports, business, underworld, fashion and life as Busybee did. Terse and laconic, but with a rhythm that created the impression of deadpan comedy.
There will never be another humorist like Busybee also because, through his writings, lives forever.
For 36 years after he created Busybee, India’s most widely-read nom de plume, majority of his readers did not know that the distinguished editor and journalist Behram Contractor was also the quirky Busybee. That’s because the name Behram Contractor was a recognised as Busybee’s. Here, was a journalist who rose to great heights of distinction in the media, first as a brilliant reporter, then an editor with a vision far ahead of his times.
He began his career in the Free Press Journal in 1955, then went on to join the Times of India where he introduced Busybee to Bombay in 1985 through the Evening News of India. Behram Contractor continued to be a reporter with the Time until 1979, when he started Mid-Day as Chief Reporter. In 1985, when he quit Mid-Day as executive editor, to start his own newspaper, thhe Afternoon Despatch & Courier, Behram Contractor was already Bombay’s most popular editor.
As Busybee, he wrote the hugely successful Round and About. And also a very tasteful column on restaurant called Busybbe’s Guide To Eating Out.
As Behram Contractor, he continued to report on whatever called for his unmatched skill of observance and description. He also did a series of celebbrity interviews that brought out sides to personalities like Amitabh Bachchan and Balasaheb Thackeray, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Godman Chadraswami, that nobody had read of before. And Behram Contractor did evocative edit page articles and colourful travelogues. For all of which he was honoured with numerous awards, including the B.D. Goenka Award for Excellence in Journalism and the Indian government’s Padma Shri. Secretly, unknown to any reader, Behram Contractor and Busybee hid behind the pseudonym Edward H. Phipson to write theatre, art and film reviews. When readers demanded to know who was this stylish writer, Behram Contractor would say, “Our occasional critic.”
Busybee had once written, ” Some of my best friends are people.” And it was true, he was the people’s champion, the common man’s hero. When he passed away, Afternoon Despatch & Courier, the newspaper he edited, had to discontinue its regular Letter page for upto six months just to accommodate the tributes that flowed in from his legion of readers around the world. And who was not a Busybee fan! Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was. And so was Sachin Tendulkar. Everybody had something, some special memory of him, to narrate in the form of a tribute.