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” !

Vanakkam, Ms Harris

The United States of America, the world’s most powerful nation, goes to the polls in November 2020. Naturally speculations run high- despite the Covid 19 or Wuhan Virus pandemic that is raging around the world- whether the Democrats can wrest power from the sitting President. In 2016, Donald Trump had beaten Hillary Clinton to win the Presidency for the Republicans. Going by his recent speeches, he seems confident of being re-elected later this year. Continue reading “Vanakkam, Ms Harris”

French Biriyani

If you want to see parts of Bengaluru which you don’t ordinarily see in the movies, you must watch the recently released Kannada movie, ” French Biriyani.” The lockdown has had the side effect of us seeing more movies than we have seen in long! So, while fishing around for an interesting movie, I chanced upon this absorbing title. I wondered what on earth could have made the French and Biriyani come together in a Kannada movie! Continue reading “French Biriyani”

Churchill: A Reassessment!

In 1970, I was 19 and had many heroes. Over twenty years had passed since the end of the Second World War and the Independence of  India but the legacy of 89 years under the British Crown was strong in my country.

Being an avid reader of military history from my childhood, naturally many of my heroes were of the victorious British forces during the Second World War. Group Captain Sir Douglas Bader, Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC, Field Marshal Lord Slim, Group Captain Sir Leonard Cheshire VC, Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding are some names that come readily to mind.  One also admired the simplicity and dedication to duty shown by King George VI during the war years. But all these names, the King Emperor included, were overshadowed in published literature by one man: Sir Winston Churchill, (1974-1965)  the war time Prime Minister of Britain from 1940-45 and again from 1951-55. Continue reading “Churchill: A Reassessment!”

What’s In A Name- Part II

In my last post, I had written about a few amusing incidents that came to my mind involving names of people. Here, are a few more!

In some organisations, people are called, not by their names but by their initials! In one such organization, in those days, addressing people as AHP, DAP, PSP, DKR etc was the norm. For many years, people knew me as BPR. They  knew my surname was Rao but I am sure most didn’t have a clue what P stood for in my name, leave alone the B. We once interviewed a candidate called B.R. Acharya. He wasn’t selected, which perhaps was a good thing for him as you know what he would have been called had he joined!!

My Dad’s name was abbreviated to B A Rao when he joined Burmah Shell in the old days.    His friends called him “Bar” which was quite appropriate considering he was fond of a drink. This reminds me of his saying often that amongst his friends were a Daruwala, a Batliwala and – you may not believe this- a Sodabottleopenerwala!! These gentlemen, as you would have guessed, were from the Parsi community. It was common, amongst the Parsis, to have names that reflected the business or profession they traditionally were in.

Sometimes, even abbreviated names are further abbreviated. A case in point was a Tata Steel executive who was a guest faculty at XLRI, Jamshedpur when we were students there. His name was AVLRN Murthy, so naturally he was called, “A to Z Murthy”. Later I came to know that even this paled in front of another such name : AVSRKN Murty.

I have noticed that people spell “Rao” in various ways. In previous generations, relatives in the prestigious Indian Civil Service (ICS) chose “Rau.” An opening batsmen for England with Indian origins during my childhood was Raman Subba Row. This, I felt was misleading as “Row” could be pronounced as in ” row” a boat. It could also be -as in an argument ended in a ” row.”!

While abroad, I have found the rhyming method generally works well. People are prone to pronounce Prem to rhyme with “gem” . I have learnt to say, “Prem rhymes with “game” which makes it more easily understandable. Likewise , rhyming Rao with ” Wow!” also does the trick!! So ” Prem Rao” is like ” Game Wow” !!

My name almost made me miss an important flight while traveling in the US. At Chicago airport while waiting for a connecting flight, the lady called out, “Mr Ray-o” several times. I ignored the announcement because I never imagined she was calling me! It was only when she said, ” This is the last call for Mr Prem Ray-o and Mrs Sho-ban-a Ray-o” that I told my wife, ” That’s us! Let’s go!!”. We ran to her boarding pass in hand. The name was new to me but I was told that Rayo was a common enough Spanish name! 

So as you can see, when Shakespeare asked , ” What’s in a name?” there really is so much  behind a name.

 

 

 

 

What’s In A Name?

To jog your memory, ” What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet! ” wrote William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, in his Romeo and Juliet. Parents while naming their children seldom think of the effect the name may have on him/her as they grow up. Some hate their names so much they wish they had been called by some other name!  A young lady called Savithri once told me how at first she  found it difficult to be part of the crowd in her college hostel. Everyone assumed she would sneak to the authorities about their wayward ways because of her traditional name! 

There are exceptions to this rule, however. One that comes to mind is this story for which you need to listen to the song yourself. In the 70’s and beyond, there was a popular country song, by Johnny Cash called “A Boy Named Sue” (1969) . The lyrics explain why the father did what he did with telling effect!

In a lighter vein, the next story dates back to the years before “political correctness” became fashionable. In the late 80s, one of our engineers Thomas Baby from Kerala went on assignment to the United States. When he reached the office and said his name was Thomas Baby, the girl at the desk gave him a hard stare. When he spoke to her on the phone and said, ” This is Thomas Baby” he heard her draw in her breath sharply. That afternoon, she caught up with him in the cafeteria. She said, ” You are new here. I am okay with this, Thomas, but not every lady would appreciate being called ” baby”!”

A month later in his first review meeting, his boss asked Thomas Baby whether he felt he could improve in some areas. Baby told him, ” I am on top of the technical aspects of my job, Mr H_____ but I some times feel a little hesitant in talking to colleagues at work.’ ” I would hardly say that,” said Mr H. ” You may think it is part of American culture but I am told you are addressing all the women, irrespective of age or position as, “baby”. The young man was shocked but realizing what was happening, recovered fast and said, ” On the contrary, they should be calling me Baby. It happens to be my name!” . They had a good laugh about this, but I am told that later he initiated steps to formally change his name!

Closer to the day, in 2007 in a BPO organisation for which I did some consulting, a British executive called Malcolm Swift visited the Bangalore office.  The staff, who prided themselves on being on an informal first name basis, were told his name was Malcolm. In the first meeting, with team leaders he said, ” I am Swift. Tell me about yourselves. ” The first team leader gushed, ” I love working with people who work fast. My team’s average time to resolve issues is the best in this location”. Another said, ” I am happy to say that our team is swift too! We are well-trained and perform excellently on the job.!”” Ok, I get it,” said Mr Swift, ” I was telling you my name is Swift. Malcolm Swift!”

A loud’ Ahhhhhhh” broke out in the crowd! Who would have thought his name was Swift? ” Oh, Swift, as in Maruti Swift?” asked a young lady from the back, referring to a popular car of that time. For the rest of his stay, his colleagues called him Malcolm but the troops called him, ” Maruti” which never ceased to mystify him! 

So as the old saying goes, ” What’s in a name?” but if you want to know what’s in a name, you should meet someone who has been through a lot- only because of his/her name!

 

 

 

 

Is The Left Getting Left Out?

When I was in school, we would frequently ask , ” Did you make the football team?” and the reply used to be, “I was left out”! from all those who didn’t. They of course punned  on the common usage those days for the outside-left position amongst the attackers.

In those days, in the ’60s, and for the next few decades the Cold War raged.  The entire world was pretty much split into two blocs : the West  (primarily the US, UK, France) and those who supported their versions of democracy,  and the Communist bloc ( principally the erstwhile USSR with its satellite countries, North Viet Nam, and China). Continue reading “Is The Left Getting Left Out?”

Credibility Is The Name Of The Game

What credibility does Mr Rahul Gandhi, a leading light of the Indian National Congress (INC) and scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family have? At 50, the “youth icon” has never been a Minister in a State or Union Cabinet. But he is a law unto himself! All his power stems from who he is by virtue of his birth. That he ( born in 1970) publicly tore up an ordinance, in 2013 shaming the Congress-led Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ( born in 1932) speaks for itself. Continue reading “Credibility Is The Name Of The Game”

Two Lovedale Stalwarts: Mr Prince & Mr Matthai.

I am so happy and proud that I was involved in the writing of an informal history  of my Alma Mater, The Lawrence School, Lovedale. It was Wing Commander Joseph Thomas, VM, IAF retired, 10 years my senior at School, who first spoke to me about this endeavor. He introduced me to Nitya Cherian Matthai and  Thomas George, both then on the School Staff who had access to the rich treasures of the School archives.

Nitya Cherian Matthai ( Class of 1977) flanked by Wg Cdr Joseph Thomas VM IAF (Retd ) Class of 1957) and Prem Rao ( Class of 1967). Picture by Beena Belliappa (Class of 1970).

Nitya, JT and Prem cropped Continue reading “Two Lovedale Stalwarts: Mr Prince & Mr Matthai.”

Memory: Then and Now !

Here’s a question for you! Have you experienced your memory, so to speak, playing tricks on you? Do you remember something that happened 50 years ago in great detail but can’t for the life of you remember where you left your spectacles a mere 5 minutes ago? To prove my point, here’s a quick example. As I write this blog post, my brain flashes to me an appropriate line: “Yes, I’m certain that it happens all the time!”. It is from the distant past being from the popular song, ” With A Little Help From My Friends”  by The Beatles released in 1967!!  Continue reading “Memory: Then and Now !”