Farewell, Shyamgaru

In 1972, I reached the famous Xavier Labour Relations Institute (XLRI), Jamshedpur having been selected for their Post Graduate Honors Diploma in Personnel Management & Industrial Relations. On the first day in campus, a well-built, handsome, bearded guy walked up to me and asked after the preliminaries in Bengali, “Are you related to Shobir Sengupta?” I replied that I hadn’t even heard of Shobir Sengupta. He said I looked so much like him that he thought I might be his brother. Once it was established that I clearly was not and that my smattering of Bengali ended with “hello”, “good bye” and “I love you”, we switched to English. We chatted for a long time. This guy, as it turned out, was to be my classmate but he wasn’t staying in the hostel like most of us. He was a local Jamshedpur boy and his name was M. Shyamsundar Rau.

Our close friendship of over 48 years sadly came to an end on August 19, 2020. Shyam or ” Shotgun” as we called him (because of his resemblance to the star of those days another Bihari Babu, Shatrughan Sinha) passed away aged 70 in Vizag due to the Covid 19.

The large number of condolence messages that poured in to his family bear testimony to his character. If ever there was a true friend- it was Shyam. He was always caring about his friends, always enquiring about their families and circumstances. Whenever it was required he was there to help. I am not at all surprised to see that he is missed by ever so many professional colleagues, friends, and well-wishers. Before networking as we now know the term became an essential social skill, Shyamgaru was good at it. He had the knack of reaching across to a wide spectrum of society. The many languages he knew came in handy for this facet of his personality.

For most of us Jamshedpur was a new place. We had a large number of fellows from the South, many venturing to these parts for the first time. There were many from Delhi and the North too. We soon realized that the student culture in Jamshedpur had several nuances. Under the veneer of cosmopolitan existence, there was an under current of local Bihari versus the outsider. Our Institute culture, at least in those days, encouraged us to be within the campus most of the time and not get involved with the local students. Despite this, there were the inevitable fights. Shyam armed with his handy hockey stick rescued some of our more adventurous but foolish guys from getting badly beaten up on several occasions.

Shyam helped many to settle down amidst these alien surroundings. He was the last word on what was available where. In the first few days he took us out to what became our frequent haunts. He also became the de facto local guide/ security consultant for the girls in our class.

He was full of life, and always laughing. We used to kid him about his craze for the Hindi movies in the old days. He was one of those ” First Day First Show” types. If it was a Dev Anand movie he simply had to be there on the first day for the first show! We remember him kitted out for the movie ( and a brawl, if required) in his jeans, t shirt and keds.

Not surprisingly as he came from a family that had served Tata Steel (or TISCO as it was then called) for generations, he joined the company when we graduated from XLRI in 1974. He was initially assigned to their Coal Mines in Naomandi. Over the decades he had professional stints in Warner Hindustan, Smith Kline Beecham, and DCM. He was a popular figure in the HRM/PM circuit- always active in professional bodies such as NIPM, NHRDN, and ISTD.

I was happy to know that at a fairly advanced age, he did his Ph.D earning the right to be called Dr M S Rau. His last assignment was in the capacity of Executive Director of the Indian Society for Training & Development ( ISTD).

We were happy that he decided to stay with his son, who is employed in an IT company here in Bengaluru. We used to meet once in a few months and talk nostalgically of the good old days. When we hosted our XLRI Class of ’74 gathering in our house in September 2019, my wife and I never imagined that it would be our last time seeing him.

He went to Vizag to visit his daughter and then the Covid pandemic set in confining him there for the last few months. We heard he was hospitalized for a week and was in the ICU. He seemed to be recovering but perhaps had a relapse and the end came on August 19, 2020.

Shyamgaru, we your old friends over the decades will miss you a lot. As you may have preferred, I end this tribute with a few lines sung by Kishore Kumar : ” Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna” !

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