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” !

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.

 

 

 

 

Blog Or Coffee Table Book?

“Time and tide,” as the ancient saying goes, “wait for no man.” Actually, they don’t wait for a woman too but as this saying dates back to 13 th century England, I guess they were far less “politically correct”  than we are today. That all of 45 years have flown past since we graduated from XLRI, the well-known business school, was brought home when friends began talking about a reunion of The Class of ’74.  Where should this be held? All other options discussed were shot down when someone suggested that we meet at the good old campus at Jamshedpur itself. Sure, the campus would not be the one that we experienced in our times but this idea had a strong appeal for the majority of our class. Nostalgia, Walk Along Memory Lane et al came readily to mind.  In any case, our Alma Mater has a wonderful concept of “Homecoming” an annual event to welcome alumni batches from the past. It is common for batches to head there for their 25 th anniversary. We plan to be there (body and mind permitting) for our 45th. Continue reading “Blog Or Coffee Table Book?”

“Born Smiling: A Father’s Tribute” by K Ravi

How would you react if, God forbid, you were to be pre deceased by your child? Just the very thought would shock and send you into a frenzy, right? My friend, K Ravi who went through this sad experience took the courageous decision to write a book, as a tribute to his daughter.  I am delighted that he has recently joined our ranks as a published author. My sincere congratulations to him. His book, ” Born Smiling: A Father’s Tribute” was published earlier this month. I am so happy for him as I know how much the writing of this book means to him.

I had the pleasure of being invited to be the Guest of Honour at the book launch. We had an interesting conversation on what motivated him to write the book, what he hoped to gain from the experience and how it could be of help to others whose children may be facing depression and other difficulties.

A roar of applause greeted Ravi’s announcement at the book launch that all sale proceeds from this book would be donated to two NGOs carrying on laudable service, namely Sa Mudra Foundation, and Youth Empowerment Foundation. This is indeed a moving gesture on his part.

In the foreword to this book, I wrote, ” Perhaps the saddest thing that can happen to any parent is to have their child pre-decease them. A mortal blow from which many never fully recover. Sushmitha, the author’s beloved daughter passed away in April 2016 when she was just 34. It is to the author’s credit that he found it in himself to write in considerable detail about his daughter and the life she led. ”

 

I went on to say, ” In his introduction, the author expresses the hope that this book will help others in similar circumstances as his daughter as she suffered from time to time with acute depression. An article in ” Medical News Today” says, ‘The causes of depression are not fully understood but are likely to be a complex combination of genetic,  biological, environmental, and psychosocial factors.’  Reading this book will tell you how apt this definition is. The author needs to be commended for his honesty in sharing his life story and his grief.”

The book is currently available with Sa Mudra Foundation but will soon, I am informed by Ravi, be available on online portals like Amazon and the like.

By the way, I have known Ravi for 45 years as he was my classmate in XLRI, Jamshedpur. He can be contacted at : ravikris4@gmail.com.

 


Of Malini & Melanie and Memories of Tiffin

Recently, I completed my second serialized short story, called “Malini Vs. Melanie” covered in four installments. Where do we writers get story ideas from? The answer is from the world around us. “Malini Vs. Melanie” in which, of course, the names and situations are disguised is based on a true story I came across during my days as a Management Consultant. In an organisation in which I did some work a young lady was living a Malini/Melanie kind of life but in somewhat greater degree than in my story. She was living with a colleague at work during the work week as Character A in Location A ( somewhat like Melanie) and would return to her parents home every weekend as Character B in Location B, ( somewhat like Malini) if you get what I mean!!  Continue reading “Of Malini & Melanie and Memories of Tiffin”

Death, Be Not Proud!

When we were in school, I remember studying the famous sonnet, “Death Be Not Proud” by the English poet, John Donne (1572-1631) . I must have been around 13 or 14 then and this poem made a big impact at an impressionable age. The first lines remain etched in my mind though over 50 years have flown by since I first came across them. “Death, be not proud though some have called you Mighty and Dreadful, for thou art not so…” Donne mocks death and says it is not something to be feared as it happens to everyone. He concludes by personifying Death, predicting that one day Death too shall die! ” Death shall be no more. Death, thou shall die.” Continue reading “Death, Be Not Proud!”