Hey Ram !

Ram, Ramu, Ramchandra Rao is no more.

My partner in Basil HR Advisory left for his heavenly abode on 17th Feb night. I was away at Surat in an L&T program, a client we had worked on together since 2015. One of our first clients, after starting BasilHR in 2014 Oct. It is a testimony to Ramu’s contributions and commitment that since 2015 we have been regularly working for L&T Hazira!! In the process there have been multiple line leaders of L&T who co-ordinated & directed our cultural transformation initiatives. Yet the succeeding generation of leaders kept us engaged…the biggest certificate for Ram sir’s strategic orientation on how BasilHR can add value. The ultimate proof of this : L&T team actually observed 2 mins silence, to pay respects to the departed soul on 18th itself. I can’t think of another example where a large corporate does this for a mere external consultant.

But then, Ramu was never a mere consultant. He got involved intricately with whoever he came in touch with & left an indelible mark. Having studied in Darbhanga, Bihar, Ramu’s chaste Hindi diction & his wide ranging vocabulary, would automatically put any Bombaiyya hindi-wallah on the back foot. His repertoire of curse words and off-colour anecdotes would put many a sailor to shame. But that was a put on persona.

Other times he was a true “ladies man” immaculately dressed with total, upmarket branded clothes, properly polished shoes with laces!!! so well groomed that one could easily take him to meet the Queen & he would be totally at home there!!! Or to any client, or prospective client. With his most prim & proper board room behavior he could charm any client. And when he spoke, people listened. His ability to work through objections & suggestions others made, blending their ideas with his agenda, made us a very successful team. All our present clients have been giving us repeat business for years & years. Because of Ramu’s demeanor, BasilHR became the first port of call for many clients who required HR support.

This meant we were on the road, together, for 20 plus days of a month. we travelled and worked together so very much that we were like a married couple, still in love!! And a more classic Odd Couple you would not find after Walter Matthau & Jack Lemmon. Every which way we were perfectly mis-matched. To his broad picture, world view I was the nuts and bolts guy. To his sartorial elegance, were my crumpled shirts and mis-matched trousers. When I met him I was shocked to hear he had 800 Rs haircuts and regularly indulged in grooming makeovers, while my criteria to select a barber was just close distance from home & cap of 80 Rs haircut!! His love for food, against my “”Lunch/Dinner is just a time to get through”. I think the only thing we both agreed upon was our passionate love for our drink: but here also he was a sophisticate Whiskey guy; while I am a committed sadak chaap Old Monk drinker. But still, after all the hurly burly is done, we both loved drinking.

Possibly that is not fair. Another thing we both thought important was family. His eyes would light up everytime he talked of his grand children. His affection for his 2 daughters continued unabated till the end. Family is my priority, too

What always surprised me was his outgoing nature & ability to have a truly mixed caboodle of friends, belonging to all strata & factions of society. Builders, Professors, Contractors, Doctors, Businessmen, Politicos, Academics, Corporate Professionals all considered him as one of their own!! Despite such a wide spectrum of friends, he was always hungry for more contacts. He was a pied piper let loose: he could get along & befriend anybody, from a canteen worker to a CEO. Always ready to help, taking on other people’s battles endeared him to many! I have often see him work his charm on all & sundry and come out of every interaction with more friends, more people wanting to go out of their way to help him.

For an introvert like me, forever wary of speaking to the other sex, Ramu gave me an insight how Krishna must have been with the Gopis. From the first glance, Ramu had made a connect. And could always find things to talk. His light banter always charmed, and I have not seen a single lady who could resist his charm. Well dressed, soft spoken, neatly coiffured, he had the entire audience hanging on his words. And he could get away with any comment, any innuendo because of his charming smile & engagement with all.

He openly admitted being an XLRI graduate by accident. His brother, an IIT-ian, was the brain in his family. Ramu was often at the receiving end from his parents, due to the odious comparison. But he remained true to his core. Living in a small town, (where everyone knew his father), meant when Ram had to use the town’s Christian Cemetery as his smoking lounge! Advantage: no one came there! So he & his merry band from school sat on the grave stones & smoked. Before going home they ate raw mango leaves to mask the smell. Post marriage he used chewing gum to mask the smell of cigarette & liquor on his breath. Yet he was honest to admit: ghar walon ko sab pata hota hai, they just pretend they do not know, to protect your image.

With such a rich & varied people orientation, it was no surprise he was very successful HR professional. In Indal, VIP, Wockhardt, Hinduja Group, and GVK, he led his team to great heights. He was happy with the fact that many of his chelas became HR heads with much larger roles than what he had ever played. He felt beholden that he could recount 20/25 names of people who worked in his team & then rose to be Heads of HR in different companies. In the course of our travel, I had the opportunity to meet many of them & they all treated him with the deference & respect due to a true Guru, who led by example & groomed his team to go to greater heights by his challenges.

For me personally it is a great loss. I can never meet another partner who could challenge & jell with me at the same time. I feel super proud of what we achieved together. The value add we jointly created will live on beyond him. And will keep reminding me & our clients that we had a Giant walking amidst us. A Giant with a heart. A Giant with a gentle step. Suffused with love for all. If I miss him so much, I can well what his family must be going through. He loved his daughters and his grandchildren and often talked of the support his wife gave him through his journey. Ramu would want them to be happy. So I hope they find their solace soon.

To them and to his many many professional fans i will only say झालेत बहू होतील बहू परंतु ह्या समा हाच!! ( There were many before, there will be many later; But no one will be quite like this one!)

Let us be happy that we met & enjoyed with Ramu for the years we did.

Ramu keep loving & blessing us as you always did: in grief, vikas

PS: My wife who is my QC for every blog told me that writing about his smoking & drinking, is it ok? I told her that was the Ramu I loved & so would not like to edit it out. I hope you, my readers, agree

2 Hollywood biopics

In the last week I saw 2 charmingly told stories from the Hollywood stables.

One was The Greatest Showman starring Hugh Jackman enacting the lives and challenges of P T Barnum of the Barnum Circus. And the second was a tour de force performance of the hoary Christopher Plummer playing J P Getty, THE richest man in the world, the original oil billionaire. Both the stories are presented grippingly in the real Hollywood style and grandeur, transporting us into the magical world of the past and immersing us into the trials and tribulations,  and mindsets of the 2  great personalities who lived very very different lives. And yet they reach out from the past and hold us enthralled today with insights into what they went through in their lives!!!

showman

The Greatest Showman is an original musical and it traces the life story of Mr Barnum. When a poor tailor’s son falls in love with a rich man’s daughter Charity and she follows him despite objections from her father to lead their lives, tragedy strikes with Barnum losing his job as a shipping clerk. His sadness that his wife and daughters are at abject poverty level propels him to create a Museum of Curios. When that fails to attract audience in the 1820s his daughters inspire him to “put something live” in the midst of all the dead and old stuff. This innocent suggestion takes the shape of his searching and assembling an ensemble of “human living curious” to form the Barnum Circus and conduct song & dance and trapeze shows to galvanize ticket sales.

At a sublime level bringing out Tom Thumb, the Dog Boy, Tattoo Man and the singing Bearded Lady from their hiding and putting them on stage gives a truly fundamental message of celebrating humanity in all it’s glorious diversity. So what if Barnum is not above lying and presenting a 450-pound man as a padded 750-pound Irish Giant (when he is actually Russian)? The message is beautifully captured in the song ” Look at me/Here I come/ I’m not scared/To be seen/This is me” speaks beautifully to all of us who have tried to hide our foibles and stay away from the public eye: it is a celebration of oddity which is amongst all of us; and making this centrestage with spunk and elan!! The “freak show” becomes an aspirational display and  encourages all of us to confront our fears and things we hide as ” “you cant go back again/ to the world you were living in/cause you’re dreaming with your eyes open”.

The energy of Hugh Jackman; the songs and the lyrics; the impressario dances and trapeze plays; the backdrop of the charming love story of the rich girl Charity who lives under a leaking roof still consumed by love and avers “I have everything I need”; Zac Efron’s brilliantly underplayed spoilt, rich brat who finds his true calling and love in the eyes of a black trapeze artist and tries to tell his old-school father that “the world has changed”; the entire interlude with Barnum’s pursuit of fame and legitimacy by pursuing the Swedish Opera singer Jenny; the moment he realizes the truth of her song and message “Never enough”; and then his return to the “freak circus” and accepting their reality rather than running away from them: all of the messages are a true reflection of open acceptance of all as they are and not being judgmental about differences. The Greatest Showman leaves us with one basic learning: ” You do not become famous by being like everyone else” Viva la Difference!! Celebrate humaneness and celebrate diversity!!!

money

The second movie All the Money in the World is sombre and even dark in comparison. It has Christopher Plummer playing an aging J P Getty, the original oil billionaire. He says it with arrogance in reply to a journo: if you can count your money; you are not a billionaire. The story revolves around the kidnapping of his grandson Paul by the Italian gangsters and the refusal of Getty to negotiate anything on the ransom. “I have 17 grandchildren and if I pay a ransom I will have 17 kidnapped grandchildren” A tough hardnosed money making machine, bereft of any emotions, save and except for his prized arts de object and his wild desire to be collector.

Christopher Plummer brilliantly plays the tough old man to a perfection. His zealous guarding of his privacy is known to us from folklore. All this is brought to life in the movie. But for us Indians, focused as we are on family, it does become a bit of a challenge to understand Getty’s refusal to part with any money for his most favorite grandson’s ransom and still put his Security head ( played by Mark Whalberg) on the job of helping the dispossessed daughter in law, during the hostage crisis. The tribulations and pain of the fiercely independent mother of Paul and daughter in law of Getty is enacted beautifully my Michelle Williams ( a role very different from the Charity she plays in The Greatest Showman).

The frustration of being the richest man in the world and still being at the mercy of fate is shown very well. Getty’s angst when he cannot control the happenings are captured in a manner which makes us feel happy that we all are far far away from all the money in the world. The transient nature of relationships and the impermanence of pecuniary power are contrasted well. The movie is held together by a brilliant Chistopher Plummer. Though so much is happening around Paul, the mother and the chase to rescue him at the end the movie is scathing comment on personal relations and how they get vitiated when you have too much: Too much ego, too much money, too much assumed control on other’s lives. The movie is long ( 2 hours 16 mins) but engaging. Ridley Scott as director and Mike Scampa as sript writer have come up with a tour de force. But see it only if you are ready to question your values : what is important: Material possessions? or the people in your life that you try to possess??

Love Hollywood for challenging you and me: vikas