Purushottam Waman Khandekar…. popular as PWK to one and all whose lives he touched…is no more. With a person like PWK मृत आत्मा को शांति मिले need not be said at all!!!! Here was a soul so much in peace with himself and so wonderfully in sync with all his surroundings, people and environment, that he would certainly be in peace and joy!! This is my eulogy to the most unforgettable character I ever met in my life.
I was selected for a job in Siemens by him, when he was the Personnel Director in Siemens. Even in that selection, there was a Khandekar touch!!! All Section Heads in Personnel were internal promotees & career Siemensites. Some of them had picked up formal HR qualifications, while in the job, doing part-time studies. PWK wanted to bring about a radical change, in the way Personnel department thought and behaved !! And his approach was to recruit high caliber, young professionals from the best schools and introduce them as catalysts or petards under the chairs of the traditionalist Section heads. That was my entry into Siemens India, along with 2 other young turks from TISS and 2 from XLRI.
Coming from IIMCal, of course, I had a chip on my shoulder; but soon I realised, whatever I had learnt outside, had to be foregone & I must sit at the feet of a practical master (PWK was actually called “मास्टर” in Siemens, in Marathi, which meant school teacher) and get qualified in the Khandekar Practical School of Management. And after 36 years, I proclaim proudly that am a proud graduate of that school!!!
PWK began his life as a unionist: he was an office bearer of the Bombay Dock Workers’ Union. A major strike was called when he was a junior office bearer. Suddenly the authorities swooped down and arrested the labour leaders. Since he was inconsequential and too young, he was not arrested. And abruptly PWK found himself thrust into the leadership of a major strike. Never one to baulk down at challenges, PWK played the role thrust on him with elan, & skillfully led the tough nosed dock workers to a successful reconciliation. When the senior leaders came out of jail, they knew that a new star leader was born!!!
Restless to the core, PWK soon found new pastures for his intellectual desires. He leveraged his language proficiency and his communication skills, to land a job in British Council as a Labour analyst. Seeing his potential, BC sent him to England to meet unionists there. Besides the international exposure, PWK picked up a British life partner!!! He got married and had 2 daughters there. But his true-blood Indian roots brought him back to India. And he joined Siemens as an Editor for Siemens Sansar which was Siemens India’s internal magazine.
PWK was a good artist and loved to paint nature. His was not the casual flirtation with the canvas. His oil paintings could easily have adorned the most rich and famous walls. Had he pursued this as a career, he could have given the likes of Padekar, Souza & Gaitonde some real tough competition. No formal meeting in Siemens was complete without PWK sitting and sketching in the Board Room. Seemingly totally absorbed in his sketching, head down, his ears were tuned to the proceedings. And whenever he was ready, he would interject with his most pithy and hard hitting comments; proving beyond doubt, that the sketching was only helping him concentrate and his sharp brain was absorbing all that went on, and could incisively enter in the discussions at his will.
Siemens in India has a huge debt to PWK. While an internal magazine Editor, Siemens factory saw an eruption of a violent strike and the management was at a loss to understand how to handle this. Comes a suggestion: here is PWK who has led a strike in the past, so he would certainly know what workers want and can talk to them in a different manner. This was how PWK got inducted into HR. Being an out and out people’s man, PWK took to this assignment like a fish to water and created a new history of congenial human relations for Siemens. Much later in late 70s, when Datta Samant made a violent bid for the leadership of the internal union, PWK again handled it in his characteristic decisive style. There was widespread violence: in the plant, at the bus pickup points and at workers’ houses. Most managers were given police protection and were afraid for their life and limbs. And here was PWK moving around without fear. There were times when there was police protecting his house entrance door at Bandra, while the people who were supposed to be the perpetrators of violence (& Police was supposed to keep out of harm’s length) were inside PWK’s house, being served tea and biscuits in PWK’s living room and chatting up with PWK himself, rather than hurting him as Police feared!!! Such was the charisma of this वामन मूर्ति !!!
During the Emergency declared by Indira Gandhi in 1975, PWK openly came out in protest. He was close to SM Joshi, George Fernandes and the likes. Mrunal Gore was actually arrested while hiding in PWK’s house. PWK was also arrested and put in jail for his anti-Establishment leanings. Those were the days when neighbors feigned ignorance and refused to recognise you as there was fear of being tarnished by the same brush, & be considered anti-Emergency. And here was PWK, a senior management executive, of a German MNC, in jail for harboring “public enemies” of the State. PWK felt he had no right to put Siemens India in jeopardy, for his personal political leanings. So our man penned his resignation from Siemens and sent it to the-then MD Mr Salge. At a time when relatives and neighbors crossed the road on seeing an anti-Emergency protestor, Salge actually went to meet PWK… in the jail!!! He tore up PWK’s resignation and said his job was waiting for him when he came out of the jail!!! Siemens actually promoted PWK to a Director position on his return!! For this one act, Siemens deserves तहे दिल से सलाम !!!!!
PWK was the one who taught me to carry a pen and a pad whenever I attended a meeting. He would say: See, every engineer carries his calculator to the meeting. HR is the only guy who puts his hands in his pocket and enters any meeting. Be a professional, he guided us. PWK was the one who encouraged us to have an opinion about everything: and express it fearlessly. Remaining silent is the worst thing you can do in a meeting, he taught. PWK told us all: always keep your resignation in your pocket. And take positions in important matters, in a manner you can pull out the resignation and walk off anytime. Never, but never compromise your conscience was his teaching. PWK encouraged everyone to keep an updated CV in his top right hand drawer of the office table. And once in a while float your CV around and attend interviews outside, he averred. This helps in 2 ways, he taught: either you get a better paying job, you can leave and be happy OR you realise you can not get a better paying job, so better be happy where you are, put your head down and contribute!!!! Either way you are happy!!! Great advice which I have myself told many others later!!! PWK once told me : we managers have a future, but a worker only has a past. Learn to respect his past and work hard to create a new future for him!!!! A gyan I have tried my level best to live up to, and benefited greatly from. It was often said PWK comes to office to play chess. Yes all lunch breaks, all evenings, all Saturdays were spent playing chess. But along with playing chess, he gave decisions, discussed hard issues, debated politics, and mentored and monitored the workings of his department and his company!!!
The office corridors of Siemens reverberated with many legends re PWK’s brilliance and solution orientation. My personal favorite was from a Finance person who complained to me one day: “You know the problem with PWK? if you go to his room, he will ask you to take out a 50 paise coin from your pocket. He will then take it in his hand. And then in the next few minutes he will convince you it is one Rupee. You go out of his room, happily holding the new Rupee in your palm. Only when you reach home and try to tell your wife about the 1 Rupee, she sees the coin and and tells you, what PWK convinced you was wrong and it is indeed just 50 paise. Only then you remember PWK had taken the 50 p coin from your pocket, to begin with!!!”
Now that the शेंडी मास्टर has reached his final destination, I wish him as many friends, and as much joy out there, as he has left admirers and fan-boys back here. I for one look forward to moving on, and being in his benign presence again, enjoying his loud laugh and recounting his आख्यायिका.
Thanks PWK for teaching us the way to live: vikas