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Rahul Bajaj’s candour was a breath of fresh air

He would express opinions without mincing words, but gave the same freedom to his friends to differ from him

Rahul Bajaj was a fun-loving person with a great sense of humour. He would express opinions without mincing words, but gave the same freedom to his friends to differ from him, and sometimes he conceded defeat. (Express File Photo)

Rahul Bajaj passed away on February 12, 2022, after being unwell for some time. He was known the world over and, of course, in India for being a very successful, ethical, and philanthropic businessman.

Bajaj came from an illustrious business family that took part in our freedom struggle. He pursued his MBA from the prestigious Harvard University, married a lovely woman, Rupa, and had three wonderful children. He was the only member of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) who served as an extremely effective president for two terms; he will be remembered for being vocal and making each meeting interesting and fun. He was also a regular visitor to Davos and enjoyed participating in the forum. He was elected to the Rajya Sabha, and always went to the Central Hall to visit his friends whenever he was in Delhi.

I am not going to elaborate on his various achievements, but I will tell you how I saw him as a friend. I knew him for over 22 years, and I will miss his openness and frankness, his generosity, kindness, warmth and care, his zest for life and his loud, argumentative nature.

Living in Pune, I had heard about Rahul and had met him on a few social occasions, but did not know him personally. It was when I became active in CII that I came to know him well. In 2002, when the Gujarat riots took place and I openly condemned the atrocities, Rahul took me aside at a party and said that I had done my bit and, for the sake of my company and family, I should not say any more and that he would write and speak about this cause. And he did keep his promise. This was one of the many occasions when I experienced his warmth and care.

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Anyone who knew Rahul would know about his candour, how he was not afraid to speak his mind. Tact was not his strong point, but in the corporate world, where very few have the courage to go against the establishment, his frankness was a breath of fresh air.

Rahul invited me to be a member of the council of advisors of Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation that gives annual awards to outstanding individuals who follow Gandhian values. It was then that I realised the enormous philanthropic work done by this illustrious family. He took a very active interest in matters of the foundation and attended every meeting to select the awardees. He would meticulously plan the main award function in Mumbai each year. Being Rahul Bajaj, he could ask any dignitary to be the chief guest, whether it be a senior politician or a religious guru. I am not aware of anyone refusing his invitation.

I have in the past asked for his support for the NGOs I am involved with, and he has always been very generous. He found it difficult to show his soft side, but behind his loud talk and demeanour, there was a caring, warm heart. He was the founding trustee of the Ananta Aspen Centre and, along with Tarun Das, helped it to flourish as a great institution that encourages leadership. At Ananta Aspen, again, I was touched by his generosity in supporting the Young Leader’s Programme and the Kamalnayan Bajaj Fellowship.

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Rahul was a fun-loving person with a great sense of humour. He would express opinions without mincing words, but gave the same freedom to his friends to differ from him, and sometimes he conceded defeat. If Rahul was in a meeting, you could be assured it would not be boring.

I recall an incident that is typical of my friend. I had invited him for a small sit-down lunch at my house. He was the first guest to arrive (he was never late for any event), and he asked me who all had been invited. When I mentioned a particular name, he said, “Don’t you know we are no longer friends?” I told him that I was not aware of this and now that I had invited both of them, he should behave himself and not make any rude comments. Rahul was civil as requested, but totally ignored him.

Rahul’s birthday falls on June 10 and I have fond memories of his birthday celebrations and the annual winter party at his house at Akurdi. Like me, he enjoyed dancing and we had a lot of fun.

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I miss my friend. I will cherish these memories and pray that he is happy wherever he may be.

The writer is former chairperson of Thermax

First published on: 14-02-2022 at 03:33:31 am
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