From Roots to Wings

October 8, 2009

My brother, Riyad

Filed under: Fezana, Fall 2009,In the Spotlight — LM Alphonse @ 10:42 am

Note: This is an expanded version of the article that appeared in the Fall 2009 issue of FEZANA. It is available online for a limited time only. 

By Roy Wadia 

Riyad_at_deskI clearly remember the day my brother Riyad, barely a week old, came home from Breach Candy Hospital on a hot and wet September day in Bombay.  The monsoon had lingered late in 1967, and the Arabian Sea waves still washed over the parapet on the Worli Sea Face promenade across from the bungalow that my grandfather the filmmaker Jamshed “JBH” Wadia had built in the 1940s. I had anticipated Riyad’s arrival for many months, from the time he protruded steadily from our mother Nargis’ once razor-thin waist to the tiny creature swaddled in white at the hospital nursery, wailing noiselessly behind the thick glass I stuck my face against in an attempt to fathom how it was that I had a new baby brother.  The miracle of birth made an impact even then on a five-year-old, and I viewed the new arrival at first with awe, and then, upon closer inspection, with a surge of protective love tinged with the realization that I no longer had the roost to myself, that a new chick had hatched, breaking the shell that I had constructed around my hitherto unchallenged dominion.

Riyad was beautiful from the outset. No ugly duckling phase for him whether he was one week old, or ten years or 20.  As he lay in his wicker cradle, mosquito netting draped around, I gazed into his big, wide open eyes and had an urge to read him a bedtime story.  I picked up my then favourite book, “The Red Balloon”, and narrated the tale of a hapless balloon that escapes from its child owner and meanders around the city only to find itself back home in the hands of a grateful little boy at the very end.  As I read out aloud to my baby brother, he broke into a wide, luminous smile and gurgled contentedly, a latter-day infant Zoroaster.  In my excitement I thought he had mastered the art of speech and rushed off to announce that wonder to our parents.  Even though they assured me that couldn’t possibly be the case, I knew that Riyad understood me perfectly even then

Given that our mother was a high-flying advertising executive who travelled extensively for work, and our father was no less busy an entrepreneur who spent long hours at his factory, we were raised in large part by adoring grandparents.  My mother’s parents Kaikushroo and Perin Khambata lived in the Dadar Parsi Colony.  Grandpa was a strict and Spartan man, who mellowed somewhat with his grandchildren.  Granny was warm and loving, and a fantastic cook whose rava laced with badaam and daraak remains my favourite gastronomic memory to this day. 

But it was our paternal grandparents Jamshed and Hilla Wadia who were our “spiritual parents”. Jamshed, or JBH as everyone called him, was the ultimate Renaissance man.  Scion of the Wadia shipbuilders who built the Wadiaji Atash Behram at Princess Street in Bombay (and several others besides), JBH himself was the founder of Wadia Movietone, one of Bollywood’s legendary pioneering studios. JBH not only produced the famous “Hunterwali” films with the blonde and blue-eyed stunt queen Fearless Nadia, he spotted many a talented actor and gave him or her their cinematic break (Dilip Kumar, Nargis, Meena Kumari, Feroz Khan, Mumtaz, Helen and Rekha to name just a few).  His studio treated all its actors and crew equally, without regard to name or rank, earning him the affection of those who worked for him.  Fluent in Farsi, Urdu, Hindustani and Gujarati, JBH wrote poetry, fiction and non-fiction, combining his linguistic ability with his immersion in literature from all corners of the world.  Moreover, he was a freedom fighter, using his film work to convey messages of independence, courage, ethnic harmony and women’s rights, whether through Fearless Nadia’s “Diamond Queen” or historic dramas such as “Veer Rajputani.”  And when it came to our ancestral history, JBH taught Riyad and me all about our illustrious forebears, with tales stretching back to the times of the East India Company.  Our glamorous grandmother Hilla was a wonderful complement to JBH, impressing upon us the need to incorporate the arts and beauty into one’s life through music, dance and other cultural pursuits.  Her eye for vivid colour both at home and on the film set, combined with an Art Deco penchant, informed her sensibility.  Blessed with a fine figure, Hilla wasn’t shy about sharing it with the world via low-cut blouses and thin blouse straps, one of which always fell off her shoulder at odd moments, especially when men were present. 

Raised in this amazing, eccentric world of film and media, it was no surprise that both Riyad and I expressed a flair for the arts and humanities rather than the sciences and mathematics (despite our father being an organic chemist by training). I was an early reader and writer, devouring books at an absurdly young age, a solid student with good school grades.  But Riyad by contrast was a slow learner and some experts suggested he was dyslexic.  But then, around the age of ten a transformation occurred. 

Without having gone through the usual diet of Grimm’s Fairy Tales or Enid Blyton, Riyad suddenly began reading avidly – books by Harold Robbins, Robert Ludlum, Sidney Sheldon, works meant for a considerably older audience.  His sensibility too was one that belied his years.  Having been constantly compared to me by everyone from relatives to school teachers, and initially found wanting in academic and extra-curricular skills, Riyad had lived in my shadow for years.  At first he tried desperately to be more like me, the younger sibling striving to reach the standards set by the older brother.  But the more he did that, the more I would put him down – scornful of his attempts.  Just as my classmates taunted and targeted me for being a bookworm and a “sissy”, I in turn took out my schoolboy angst on my adoring, doting brother.  Not only would I verbally berate his attempts to imitate me, I would often hit him as well.  Children are cruel, and I was no exception.  To this day, I cannot forgive myself for the way in which I allowed myself to vent my own feelings of inadequacy by using my brother as a literal punching bag.

1986 proved to be a key year for us.  Our beloved grandfather JBH died after a long battle with cancer.  Through the illness, Riyad was constantly by his side, pressing our grandfather’s head and shoulders in an attempt to ease his considerable pain.  While I was affected by JBH’s death, Riyad was devastated.  Later that year, I left for the United States to study journalism – and to carve out for myself an existence free of my family’s influence, wanting to make my own name without feeling that it was my family who had opened doors for me.  Perhaps more importantly, I had long realized that I was gay, and sought an environment where I could eventually find a partner and enjoy companionship in a way I could never hope to back in India, at least not at that time. Leaving Bombay was liberating.  Not only did I embark on a successful journalism career at CNN in Atlanta, I was lucky enough to meet and fall in love with Alan, a wonderful man from Taiwan who I met at college, and with whom I’ve been for the past 20 years.

Riyad_Camera_posterWith me out of the picture, Riyad finally came into his own. Not only did he flourish in school and then college, attracting a huge circle of devoted friends, he ventured into the realm of theatre and the arts, acting in plays and musicals, writing poetry and short stories, making a name for himself in the Bombay scene.  All of this gave Riyad the courage to do what he had long wanted to – become a filmmaker just like our grandfather.  The true heir of JBH in so many ways, Riyad went to a prestigious film school in Australia, winning awards for his student work and returning to India ready to revive Wadia Movietone.  With my father’s assistance, Riyad set about restoring the Wadia Movietone archives – the handful of films that still existed, the considerable number of posters, stills and lobby cards that were packed away in trunks and boxes.  From this treasure trove that had long been gathering dust, Riyad realized perhaps the most precious gems were the films of Fearless Nadia a.k.a. Hunterwali – the Lady with the Whip.  Nadia (whose real name was Mary Evans) had married Jamshed’s younger brother Homi who had joined JBH in making numerous movies under the Wadia Brothers banner.  Mary Aunty was still alive in the early 1990s when Riyad decided to make a documentary about her amazing life and times.  “Fearless – The Hunterwali Story” would become Riyad’s calling card, a beautifully made film that received a rave review in Time magazine and which was screened at every prestigious film festival around the world, including Berlin, Toronto and London.  It not only brought Nadia back into the public eye in her final years, delighting an old lady who thought the world had forgotten her, but it put Riyad firmly on the cinematic map.  It also changed my brother’s personal life in ways that one could never have imagined.

Just like me, Riyad had been harbouring a secret for years.  Devastatingly handsome in his teens and early 20s, Riyad had many girls pining for him.  He even dated some of them in college.  But the truth was that Riyad, like me, was gay.  Unlike me, however, he was torn about his sexuality.  In school, Riyad actually displayed an overt homophobia towards classmates who were teased for their effeminacy.  But in Australia, Riyad finally came to terms with who he was.  Being away from home gave him the chance to be himself, to not only accept himself but decide to be open and truthful about it even when he returned to conservative, homophobic and hypocritical Bombay and India.

In countries like India, and indeed even in the so-called “open” West, a majority of gay men grow up as self-hating individuals, absorbing the corrosive stigma and discrimination that exists towards homosexuality.  Many gay men end up getting married, having children and leading “normal” lives because that is what they are expected to do, pressured to do. On the side, of course, they lead a double life, having sex with men in secret.  This in no small part has helped fuel the HIV/AIDS epidemic in India and around the world; there are far more men who have sex with men than one would imagine, an issue that is seldom acknowledged and discussed, with devastating consequences for individuals, families and ultimately societies at large.

BOMgAY_posterWhen Riyad returned to India, he was determined to shatter that mould at least as far as he went.  Not only did he come out swinging, his openness was all the more vocal and dramatic after years of suppression. Riyad truly became one of the most prominent gay rights activists in Bombay, indeed in India.  There had been others before him, such as the illustrious Ashok Row Kavi who was fearlessly out even when I was in college.  But Riyad took his advocacy to a new level.  By being part of Bombay’s social upper crust, from a well-known family, he made sure he was seen and heard in circles that were not used to such an in-your-face approach.  His dashing good looks and attractive, larger than life personality made him the life of the party.  His candour was disarming – it was hard for homophobes to taunt him because he pre-empted their barbs by declaring himself out and proud in no uncertain terms.  He wore the pink triangle and rainbow insignias of the Western gay rights movement at a time when even many gay people in Bombay didn’t know what they signified.  And Riyad was not shy about dating men.  It was a time when the Voodoo Pub at Colaba became gay on Friday nights, and Riyad was there in full force, with an increasing number of men who were inspired and emboldened by his attitude.  I recall going there with him one night and being amazed at not only the number of men who were there, dancing with abandon, but by the number of people I actually knew from my school and college days who I would never have imagined to be gay.  Bombay, and India, were changing and Riyad was at the vanguard of that change.

With “Fearless” a smash hit on the festival circuit Riyad’s international travel was in full swing – from city to city he hopped, and with all this travel came the opportunity to explore the gay scene in city after city as well.  This was in the early 1990s, barely a decade after a dreaded virus had emerged across the globe.  Being the older brother and the more “conservative” one, I kept nagging Riyad time and again about the need to be careful.  Riyad was in his 20s, fabulous and successful, single and gorgeous.  The “invincibility of youth” is such a cliché, but it embodied Riyad to a T. He would barely tolerate my lecturing, calling me a “boring, married, ‘heteronormative’ gay man.”  

After years of suppressing his true self, Riyad was in no rush to settle down even though he had been given the opportunity to do so when he met a Canadian-Chinese filmmaker, Paul Lee, five years his senior and very much in love with Riyad.  Riyad was very tempted; he was truly attracted to Paul who was handsome (a former Armani model), talented and emotionally mature.  Alan and I spent a memorable weekend with Paul and Riyad in San Francisco, where “Fearless” was being screened at the gorgeous Castro Theater. Both the latter-day Wadia brothers walking in the Castro district with their Chinese partners – sometimes life really is stranger than fiction.  I liked Paul immediately, and urged Riyad to hold on to him.  Paul wanted a commitment from Riyad; even if Riyad didn’t move to Toronto, Paul insisted on long-distance fidelity.  Paul was my age, and had sown his wild oats.  He craved stability, home and hearth.  Riyad had only recently come out, and wanted to taste the fruit of every tree.  Much as he loved Paul, the timing wasn’t right.  They agreed to remain friends, although Paul never quite forgave Riyad for having, from Paul’s perspective, squandered a rare opportunity for companionship and love.

Even as Riyad globetrotted with “Fearless”, he was preparing his next project.  He wanted to explore an overtly gay theme on film, a first for India.  The fiction and poetry of Poona-based R. Raj Rao came to his notice.  Rao’s work spoke of the gay subculture that existed at the time, one imbued with suffering and self-loathing, where stigma and discrimination by society make it impossible to live a normal life, a world where family support is usually non-existent, forcing one to build a new family among one’s gay friends.  Birds of a feather flock together, shielding one another from the harsh realities of the real world, and it is this message that resounded with Riyad as he embarked upon what was to be a seminal work, a 13-minute film based on six hard-hitting poems, “BOMgAY.” Starring Rahul Bose and with cameos by many of Riyad’s close friends and Riyad himself, “BOMgAY” perhaps even more than “Fearless” is the film which Riyad is remembered for today. It perfectly encapsulates what it was like to be gay in urban Bombay.  And, for a film that was never screened to a mass audience (the Indian Censor Board would not issue a certificate for a film like this), it has acquired near-mythical status – I still get requests from people all over India for a DVD copy, and “BOMgAY” is still in high demand at gay film festivals across the world, 13 years after it was made.

Just as Riyad was about to embark on “BOMgAY” however, a spell of ill health led to a round of medical tests the results of which were life-altering.  When he received the diagnosis through our family doctor in Bombay, Riyad collapsed in our mother’s arms and wept.  She was the first person he told.  When I received the call from my mother, I knew what she was going to say even before she uttered the words.  Even though I had been living with this fear for so long it still seemed so unreal.  In years past, I’d known several other young men who had been felled by the disease in the prime of their lives.  And more recently, I knew several others who were living with the virus, and doing perfectly well thanks to a regimen of sound nutrition, healthy living and a positive outlook.  When my tears stopped, I told Riyad that he too could live on for many, many years and that the choice was entirely his.  Medication at that time, in 1995, was prohibitively expensive especially in India, but that too wasn’t beyond our reach should the need arise.  Those were the early days of Riyad’s diagnosis, and there was still the hope that this could be successfully fought.


Riyad was tiring of life in Bombay.  The hectic social scene, the expectations that he would be endlessly fabulous party after party, the professional need to make one unique film after another.  And then there was the diagnosis, the knowledge of which haunted every waking moment.  Riyad had told very few people beyond the immediate family and a couple of very close friends. He did not want sympathy or pity in any form, especially not from those he loved – he dreaded that more than any health challenges that may have lain in store for him.  He decided a change of scene was needed, a move to a place where no one knew him, where he could start from scratch on his own terms in a way he couldn’t any more in a city that he knew too well.  And so it was that he moved to New York in 1997, arriving with a few clothes and a lot of hope.  Hope that his considerable talent would shine in a vibrant although very different environment. 


Unknown in New York, bereft of the support system he had in Bombay, and struggling to make ends meet by taking up temporary jobs and writing an occasional column for the Indian Express, Riyad nonetheless was at his happiest in New York.  Just being there filled him with joy.  I visited him once in Manhattan and as we walked through the art gallery district of Soho he exclaimed, “Isn’t this the most beautiful city in the world?”  He found a studio apartment ensconced in a priory run by gay Catholic priests at the corner of Chelsea and Greenwich Village, and in his spare time worked at a new screenplay for what he hoped would be his first feature film, a gay love story set in Bombay and based once again on the work of R. Raj Rao.  “Naked Rain” time and again came very close to finding a backer, including the producers of the hit movie “Boys Don’t Cry.”  But Riyad insisted on being the director, something would-be producers balked at.  As a documentary and short film maker Riyad had proven his talent, but in seeking to graduate to a feature film maker he constantly hit a wall.  Even as his social life in New York bloomed, replicating and often surpassing the glitzy scene he’d left behind in Bombay, his filmmaking career all but ground to a halt.  A brief stint with Mira Nair in the pre-production phase of “Monsoon Wedding” was almost humiliating for my proud, oh-so-talented brother. 


And then came 9/11.  Riyad was at the Toronto Film Festival at the time, helping promote a film made by a friend, and when he returned to New York he found that his temp jobs in the World Trade Center area had vanished along with the twin towers themselves.  His beloved New York was devastated, and the world would never be the same again.  Disillusioned, dejected and burned out, Riyad decided to return to Bombay.  The decision, while understandable perhaps, was not a happy one.  Back home with our parents, in a city that he had sought to escape, Riyad found himself a stranger in a place he had once loved.  On the surface, the trappings of glamour were still there – the parties, social events, the articles he continued to write for newspapers and magazines.  He even made a few ad films and public service announcements, including one on HIV/AIDS which was to be his last cinematic work.  But his heart was no longer in filmmaking, and nor was it in anything else.  His once robust frame had begun to thin down, and while he joked that he loved his new, slender figure, he was secretly scared but refused to share his fears with our parents or with me.  He did confide in his best friend, the filmmaker and actor Ashish Sawhney, but even then refused to give in to self-pity. Riyad however manifested his inner grief and turmoil from time to time.  Our family doctor recalled that once, during a particularly heavy monsoon downpour, he drove past Worli Sea Face where we lived, and saw Riyad alone on the promenade, whirling around and around in the blinding rain, his face turned heavenward.  It was as though Riyad were calling to the elements to claim him, to carry him away. 


The irony was that Riyad refused to take any medication, despite the fact that he could have easily accessed the best health services through our family’s considerable contacts in the pharmaceutical and medical world.  One part of Riyad would not believe that he actually had been diagnosed.  He read websites that discounted such a diagnosis, denying that such a condition existed.  On the other hand, Riyad from time to time would undergo blood tests to determine his latest counts, the results of which were truly discouraging.  In early 2003, I happened to meet a woman in Delhi who had an amazing gift of being able to diagnose people’s illnesses and then send them spiritual healing if they so chose to accept it.  While this may sound absurd to some, I sensed that Riyad could benefit from this if he was open to the idea.  Like my father, Riyad was a self-professed agnostic, who had over the years mocked my belief in reincarnation and the spirit world.  To circumvent this, I pretended that I was taking him to Delhi for a holiday.  We went there in May of 2003, and met the healer.  Riyad looked at me in some amusement, but being the good sport that he was engaged in an animated conversation with the lady who explained to him how she could see that his immune system was shot to pieces but how, even at that stage, he could heal himself if he really wanted to.  I hadn’t told the healer about Riyad’s condition and he looked rather amazed at this accurate diagnosis.  Then, the healer became very quiet and shut her eyes.  She said, “Your beloved grandfather, who is your true father, is standing behind you, Riyad, and he is pressing your shoulders and stroking your head, in the same way that you comforted him when he was ill.  He wants you to know that you are not alone, and that he and many others in spirit are there with you.”  Riyad’s eyes were wet with unshed tears.  As we left the healer’s place, he turned to me and very quietly said, “Thank you for this, thank you.”

After our Delhi visit, I returned to my home in Atlanta.  Shortly thereafter Riyad was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the stomach.  He was in great pain, and began losing weight fast.  The tuberculosis had spread rapidly, ravaging his once beautiful body.  In November, as he became weaker and weaker, he was rushed to the hospital, where his situation slowly stabilized.  Even then, he refused to tell most of his many devoted friends what was going on.  One of them who had heard the news called him, fearing the worst, and when Riyad confirmed the diagnosis asked Riyad why he hadn’t told him all those years.  To which Riyad replied, “I didn’t want you to see me as my disease, but as myself.  You believed in me for the person I was, not out of pity but out of love.  Why would I risk losing that love and replacing it with your pity?  That, more than any disease, would have truly killed me.” 

Riyad returned home from the hospital in just a few days, and was doing relatively well.  His appetite had returned with a vengeance and our excellent cook Anil would make Riyad a range of choice dishes.  I was about to rush from Atlanta to Bombay to be with Riyad, but he dissuaded me from that, saying I should stabilize my job situation first and visit him only if I were on my way to China where I had received a tentative communications consultancy offer from the World Health Organization.  “You’ve got to save some money for a while, my jaan,” he said, “you don’t have work right now.”  Then, just before Thanksgiving towards the end of November Riyad called me. “Don’t worry, darling, I’m well on my way to recovery.  I promise you and Alan that I’ll be around for the next 20 years.” 

On November 30, Riyad had eaten a full lunch of saas ni machchi and yellow rice.  His feet had been hurting a lot in recent days, and he still walked with a stick.  Our mother took him to the terrace for some fresh air, and then tucked him in bed for his afternoon nap, as he was still easily exhausted.  He had a candid conversation with Mum that day.  “You know this is the end, Ma, don’t you?”  My Mum pleaded with him not to talk like that. “But it’s true, Ma, you know it’s true.  I really have done all I want to do and said all I want to say.  And Ma, I can hear the sea calling me now.  It’s time to go.”  As Mum was about to leave his room, Riyad called her back.  “Press my feet for a while, Ma, it feels so good when you do that.”  Mum sat at the foot of Riyad’s bed and began gently pressing his legs and feet.  She sang his favourite lullaby “Summertime”, which she would sing to us when we were children.  Suddenly Riyad clutched our mother, gasping for breath.  “Ma,” he said, “Ma.” And just like that, Riyad was gone.  Frantic efforts to revive him were in vain. He had suffered a sudden heart seizure, a blood clot that had traveled from his leg to his heart.  After months of suffering, the end was swift and painless.

It is hard to describe the outpouring of grief that followed Riyad’s passing.  His friends, who numbered in the hundreds, crowded our Bombay home that very afternoon, attending his funeral that same evening and then coming over to our home for days and weeks afterward.  From all around the world the condolences and tributes flowed – Europe, America, Australia, Asia, Africa.  The messages were heart-rending.  People who we knew and even those we had never met would call my parents and just cry over the phone, no words, just tears.

For all his cinematic and artistic talents, and for all that he did to further the cause of gay rights and equality in India, it was Riyad’s ability to make and keep friends, to make each of his friends feel so special, his genuine love and caring for those be befriended, that was perhaps his greatest gift to the world.  For years, many of his friends could not bring themselves to accept his death.  In fact, for several people life came to a virtual standstill in many ways.  Many told me that Riyad’s death robbed them of a significant aspect of their lives, and that nothing was really ever the same again. In perhaps the most supreme of ironies, at a memorial for Riyad in Bombay just days after he passed away, a young Gujarati man approached me and broke down.  In between sobs, he told me how Riyad had not only helped him after his own diagnosis by ensuring he had access to medication, but that Riyad had also met this man’s parents and helped him tell his family that not only was he gay but that he had been diagnosed positive as well.  I was to learn that this was not an isolated story.  Riyad was instrumental in counseling many gay men in Bombay after their diagnoses, helping introduce them to doctors and health providers and, in many cases, supporting their families as well.

For my father, Riyad’s death was the beginning of the end – his health took a toll from which he would never recover.  For my mother, an amazingly strong person who nursed Riyad through his illness and despair, who brought him into this world and who eased the transition from this life to the next, Riyad’s passing has only intensified her belief in the after-life and spirit world. As for me, Riyad’s death taught me the meaning of the phrase “to die of a broken heart.” In the year after his death, I felt I was drowning in my sorrow, suffocating with grief.  In yet another irony, just three weeks after his passing, I found myself at the World Health Organization in China, assuming a new career in public health communications.  Among my tasks, to help WHO in creating HIV/AIDS awareness and messaging for a country where the disease had only just been acknowledged by the government as a crisis in the making.  After years of denial and neglect, China was waking up to its AIDS challenge, and I was privileged enough to play a small role in helping the government and NGOs there reach out to marginalized and vulnerable populations, including men who have sex with men.  And yet, even as I carried out this important mission, I kept telling myself “Here I am trying to help save people I don’t even know, and I couldn’t even help save my own little brother.”

All through that year in China, I felt I was going mad.  “Can’t anyone see that I’m slowly dying,” I would ask myself.  “Can’t the world see that I need help?”  But no one could, of course, because on the surface I seemed as calm and normal as before.  I couldn’t talk to my parents – they were immersed in their own grief.  I couldn’t talk to friends – no one I knew had suffered such a loss, and no one could really understand.  By day I would work and at night I would cry myself to sleep.  “Riyad, take me with you,” I would say, “Don’t leave me here like this.” 

Ultimately, however, Riyad saved my life, strange as it sounds.  When I was at my very lowest point, on the verge of doing myself irreparable harm, I was guided by what I can only call the spirit of Riyad to a wondrous healer, a Chinese woman who spoke no English, but who took one look at me and accurately diagnosed my grief and the harm it was causing me physically and mentally.  Over the next several months, this amazing healer worked on me and brought me back from the brink.  Just as I had taken Riyad to a healer in Delhi once, he in turn led me under divine grace to my lifesaver in Beijing.

It took a long while but I was able to cast off my grief bit by bit until I found myself in Bombay on November 30, 2004, for the prayers on Riyad’s first death anniversary.  I arose early that morning, before the rest of the household.  It was a beautiful day, with rare blue skies.  From the window I could see the water sparkling, Riyad’s beloved Arabian Sea that had called to him just a year ago.  I sat at the table where my mother usually recited her prayers and talked to my baby brother as though he were there.  “My darling Riyad,” I said, “Forgive me for holding you back with my grief.  I will always miss you.  But you lived and died on your own terms, and I must respect that. I must respect the choices you made, just as you respected the choices I made.  Please forgive me for all the weaknesses I showed as your older brother, but please know that I loved you, and love you, with all my heart and soul.  Let me carry that knowledge in my heart, and let that be my source of joy from this moment onwards. You will always be the first thing I think of in the morning, and the last thing I think of before I close my eyes at night.” 

At the table where I sat and prayed was a portrait of Riyad taken when he was about five years old.  Shot by our Dad, an excellent photographer, the picture shows Riyad, who was such a beautiful child, in soft focus standing behind a gorgeous red rose.  As I finished my prayer, and before I opened my eyes, an amazing aroma of roses wafted across the room, delicate yet powerful, lingering in the air for several seconds before fading away.  Whenever the pangs of loss are especially sharp, when the urge to hug and hold him is stronger than ever, all I have to do is think back to that moment to know that my brother Riyad is here with me, always and forever.

Riyad Vinci Wadia

Born in Bombay on September 19, 1967 – Died in Bombay on November 30, 2003


Filmmaker: “Fearless: The Hunterwali Story” (1993)

                   “BOMgAY” (1996)

                   “A Mermaid Called Aida” (1996)


Selected writings:

“Long Life of a Short Film: The Making of BOMgAY”:


What do you know? : Indian Express columns




Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: