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Saturday, January 5, 2013


Prasad died.

He left on his final journey on Vruschikam1, just when the Shabarimala pilgrims had started on their annual trek. Not that the time of the year would have  really mattered to him. .Prasad was not a very religious person; at least he was not an ostentatiously, demonstratively  religious person. He may not have particularly cared whether the sun had started on its northern travel or not. But certainly he would have been happy to spend some more time here on familiar terra firma.

Death has been  stalking him for some years. It finaly got close enough to reach forward and tap him on the shoulder. The ultimate cause of death as pronounced by the doctors was complications from  pulmonary fibrosis. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis to give it's full name.. Idiopathic means 'arising spontaneously or from an obscure or unknown cause". Or it could mean that   the' allopath' has no idea what could be the reason for it.

For all one knows, it could have been an iatrogenic disease  He had undergone kidney transplantation just over a year ago and was on 'immuno -suppressants' besides other drugs. Now a days doctors are not that confidant what butterfly effect any powerful drug might produce. Nevertheless, they go on prescribing all kinds of 'wonder' drugs. Anyway , when it comes to saying finis and goodbye, you do not really need a reason , do you. Any old reason will suffice. The ancient reaper with the scythe or that fat, mustachioed guy on the back of a buffalo is as good a reason as any.

' poorva janma krutham paapam
 vyadhi roopena jayathe'.
Merely a matter of detail

The stark reality is that he is no longer around. It would have been nice to have him around for some more time. He was a good man. And a good friend too. I did not want to write about him anytime soon, lest it might sound like an obituary. I thought I should wait and perhaps write nothing at all. But the urge to reminisce about the good times we had together and all the little, considerate, helpful gestures of his was ever present in the back of the mind. 

I knew him slightly when he was Branch Manager of Ottapalam Branch; a little more closely when he was mending the damage his predecessor had caused at Aleppey branch, without fuss and very efficiently. We had closer contacts when he was the Development Manager (Personal Banking ) at Chennai. But I would not have counted him as a close friend even at that time. To me he was just an amiable, efficient officer I knew.

A few years later, I was on mobile duty and staying in Sea Palace hotel. That was in 1995, towards the fag end of the year. That was when I contracted Plasmodium falsiparum. I did not want to go back home to recuperate and expose my wife and children to the infection. I stayed on in the hotel and continued to attend office. British Planters in India, I am told, used to drink quinine dissolved in water to ward off malaria. As the concoction was quite bitter, they used to lace it with gin to make it palatable. And thus was born the famous cocktail , gin and tonic. Gin and tonic with chloroquine became my comrades at arms in my fight with plasmodium coursing through my veins. It was also some sort of  an antidote for the loneliness of the  evenings. Luckily for me, gin and tonic water with chloroquine prevailed. Who took the vanguard in the epic battle, I am not able to say with certainity.There were none but the room boys to witness the struggle. I had a visitor though. That was Prasad. 

He dropped in  casually one evening. Didn't ask too many questions about my illness; just sat around and talked. Took me to his flat for dinner. (He was staying alone at that time and a maid servant was cooking for him.). The visits continued for the next few days until the malaria subsided. No fuss, no over solicitousness, no irritating  intrusion into your privacy but quietly being  helpful to the extent possible. 

A couple of year's later we again met, this time  at Staff College, Hyderabad for an orientation programme for India Based Officers. He was going to Nigeria as Managing Director of the joint venture Indo- Nigerian Merchant Bank and I was going to Chicago as CEO. He was coming after a successful stint at SBICAPS, piloting such successful issues like Konkan Railway, BOB. BOI etc. That was when the promotion list to the General Manager cadre was announced and one of the faculty read out the names. from a faxed message. Prasad's name was not there. That was quite unexpected and every one was surprised except perhaps Prasad. Again the monumental calmness.and quiet  confidence. Five minutes later an attender rushed in with the second page of the Fax which contained only a single name. His. 

I learned while at the training center that he belonged to the first batch of students of NSS Engineering College, Palakkad. I was in Victoria more or less at that time but we never met. He had a successful stint at Nigeria too. INMB opened many branches and increased its profits significantly. My branch also profited in some small measure through discounting of Foreign Currency bills routed to me from his Bank. He visited Chicago and stayed with us a couple of days. On his return from Nigeria he took over as Managing Director of SBI Asset Management Co. Predictably that Company too prospered. He used to stay at Kinellan in Malabar Hills, most of the time alone. He was on restricted food because of gout. Either failing kidneys brought about the gout or the gout damaged the kidneys. 

He never really retired. He was in the Board of Trustees of Morgan Trust, was CEO of a software co in Bangalore, moved over as CEO of a Wind energy Co, became the Chairman of the Board of Directors of V-Guard, Advisor to Mini Muthoot, the list goes on. And he contributed handsomely in which ever role he found himself in. In between, he brought up two daughters, an Engineer and a Doctor, and ensured that they are well  settled in life.

Even when he had become dependent on dialysis for survival, he travelled from one meeting to another alone, undergoing dialysis wherever he was when the need arose, staying in hotels overnight. And yet he did not talk about his illness. Many did not know he had a health problem. . He needed a transplant urgently and was looking out for a donor. Even then he was reticent about his illness. I got an email from him .  'A friend of  ours need to have a kidney transplant urgently. Can you get me the telephone number of Kidney Foundation at Trichur'. The 'friend' did not exixt ; he needed the kidney.He recovered completely after the transplant. A few months after that we had  lunch together at Aleppey. I say lunch because it was a midday meal consisting mainly of vegetable salads.. He said with a wry smile; 'these days I do not know what I can eat and what I cannot.'. 

When he was in the hospital for the transplant, V-Guard board passed a resolution to pay an amount not exceeding 1% of the net profit of the Company to their Chairman P,G.R.Prasad for the next five years for his valuable services. I came to know about it from the Annual report of the Company. Such was the regard and admiration he could invoke from his colleagues and friends.

I knew he was seriously ill a few months ago. I spoke with him on telephone. I did not ask about his health. He didn't say anything about it either. From his voice you could not make out any sign of the distress which certainly he must have been experiencing. As usual he was reticent about his personal troubles.. He didn't allow anyone to pity him nor intrude into his privacy. A frequent internet surfer, he must have known that he was close to the end. It needed a special kind of courage to maintain such composure . The end came when he was in Appollo Hospital, Chennai .

He was cremated at Trivandrum. I thought for a long time whether I should go and pay my last respects to him or keep away and cherish his memory. I did not go. Looking back I think that was wise. I can still picture him ambling in with a slight stoop and a half humorous smile;like a person who has seen a lot of the foibles of men and women, big and small and learned to accept them with amused tolerance. 

A really great guy.

One of the best.