I still remember him mixing his gin and water with the index finger. Most would look down upon this. I found it profound.
He was the first Indian chairman of Hindustan Level Limited, chairman Punjab National Bank and State Trading Corporation, was a close aide of Nehru, was on a first name basis with JRD Tata, and was recognised among the top economists in India during his prime.
“So, how have you been?”, he would ask to get us started with our free-wheeling evening conversations which over the next two hours would cover the rot in Indian politics epitomised by Lalu Prasad Yadav and his antics, the health of my software business, JRD, my new initiatives for community building in the neighbourhood, and ofcourse philosophy. I must confess, other than the words of wisdom that I wanted to listen to with peeled attention, I looked forward to sipping tea with freshly baked tea cake, which was promptly served to me as I pulled a cane chair and sat next to him.
I still remember him pouting, slowly sipping from his glass as he gathered words to respond to my questions. Validation of my ideas meant the world to me, coming from the 60 years he had spent as a business leader, being an author of several books and a thinker.
He often recalled an incident from his early induction days into HLL, then called Unilever. He had been invited to meet the then British chairman on the day of completion of his training programme. “How much could I grow in this company?”, he asked the then chairman. “I see no reason why you could not be sitting in my chair in a few years” was the response.
Often I joined him for a walk in the lush green park in our Vasant Kunj neighbourhood. He would be amazed by the propensity of Punjabi women to be huffing and puffing their way to health. “They would go home and eat more than they have exhausted here”, he would remark. “Walk slowly, listen to the brids, feel the breeze, look at the trees”, he advised was the right way of finding health while walking. To date I do the same, apart from having quoted this to a few million people I get a chance to boast about my association with him.
At 93, a broken hip during a fall in the bathroom is what finally stopped him from driving across the city to India Cultural Centre (ICC) at Lodhi Road. A repeat fall coming down his first floor apartment steps a few months later, was what got him completely bed-ridden. His son was coming to take him back with him to Pune, ending his ‘sanyaas’ staying alone, even as it was with the missionary care of his 60-something care taker, Mohan, who had been with him for nearly 40 years now.
I had a rumble in stomach as I climbed up the steps to see him for the last time, a day-before his son arrived. Bed ridden, old, and very weak is how I recall him. I sat there for a few minutes sharing developments at my work, which he was interested to know about. As I left, I said that I would see him in Pune soon, hoping that my work would bring me there. “With my health, you never know”, came a reply. I never did!
I fondly remember you Mr. Prakash Lal Tandon, or ‘Tandon uncle’ as I referred to you.