Sumeet Desai: From Reuters colleague to firm friend
Friday 4 August 2023
If you had stepped into the Reuters London bureau in 2005, you might not have assumed that the small, urbane Indian chap running the economics desk and the restless Scot recently parked in the politics team would become firm friends.
Sumeet Desai was the privately educated son of one of India’s most distinguished diplomats. He had spent his career in London building up a deep knowledge of markets and economics.
I was a product of the Scottish state education system who had spent a decade going from one foreign posting to another, largely to avoid covering numbers of any kind.
But we quickly hit it off, I think for one reason above al: He was very, very funny.
He had many other qualities too, of course. He was extremely bright and coped effortlessly under pressure with a constant slew of economic news and data.
Yet he almost always still had time for lunch - often as Casela, the upmarket Italian snack bar off Fleet Street or at an old Indian restaurant on The Strand.
During those lunches, his humour really came to the fore. He had a fondness for nicknames and a love of a comedy accent. I recall a Scottish one à la Gordon Brown that was the funnier for being extremely bad.
He loved to talk politics. He loved the people and the stories, even if he also saw the absurdity in them. He enjoyed skewering the absurdity of Reuters internal machinations too.
But his breezy charm belied a more thoughtful and reflective side. I remember him describing how some in the UK lobby pack would try to rally others to take a particular line. He made clear he didn’t this was the way things should be done.
He co-wrote a book on economics. But, he once told me, he had also written a sitcom script with a friend. I’d love to read that now.
We only worked in the same office for about a year and a half but the friendship remained. He and Tamawa, a fellow Reuters journalist, invited me to their wedding in Delhi in 2008 - a great festival of Indian and Japanese culture.
The lunches and the chats continued over the years - at his club, over dim sum in west London, at a pizza place south of the river, and on one particularly happy occasion with Tamawa and their young twins.
I picture him now in a V-neck sweater, slip-on shoes and beaming smile, waiting for me somewhere for another one of those lunches. ■