Book Excerpt: How Deepak Parekh Remembers Nani PalkhivalaBloombergQuintOpinion
Excerpted from Essays & Reminiscences, A Festschrift in Honour of Nani A Palkhivala, with permission from LexisNexis.
I was first introduced to Mr. Nani Palkhivala through my uncle, Mr. H. T. Parekh and over the years, I had the privilege of meeting him off and on. He was an iconic figure, yet every time I met with him, never was there a hint of his towering stature. He was always gracious and courteous with all who called on him.
It was in 1997 when I saw a very different side of Nani’s personality. One day, he called me rather anxiously, requesting to meet, which I readily did. I was taken aback to see him rather distraught. He was upset with his wife’s deteriorating health. He told me that he needed someone he could trust which was why he had reached out to me. That was indeed a great honour for me.
I clearly recall him saying that he had thought long and hard and had finally come to the conclusion that Sankara Nethralaya, the not-for-profit eye hospital in Chennai was to quote his words, “one of the best institutions in India.” He said that he wanted my help to sell all of his shares so he could donate the funds to this institution during his wife’s and his lifetime.
In those days, transfer of shares was a tedious and time-consuming job. I knew I had to muster my best resources to complete this task. Fortunately, I had the right person to help me. Mr. Neville Gyara, my colleague at HDFC, was a chartered accountant and was extremely meticulous in his work. As for Neville, he truy believed it was an opportunity of a lifetime to be able to interact with Nani.
So began the task of going to the Central Bank of India locker to get the shares, estimating the value and reaching out to companies, especially since some signatures did not tally and some shares were still in the maiden name of Mrs. Palkhivala. Unsurprisingly, the minute the companies heard that we were helping Nani, they all expedited the process. Finally, we managed to sell all the shares. Yet, what stays so clearly etched in my mind is that each time we did a small task, that evening or the very next morning, we would receive a personalised thank you note from Nani.
One Sunday afternoon, Nani called Dr. Barwale of Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Private Limited, Dr. S. S. Badrinath and his wife, my colleague and myself to his house. While we were sitting in the living room, Nani quietly called Dr Badrinath to his study room and handed over the proceeds to him. That was Nani’s signature mark—humble and humane.
Rarely does one come across a human being that leaves such a long-lasting impression in the minds of others. The life and works of Nani Palkiwala are well chronicled, yet for those who had the privilege of personally interacting with him, the indelible memory will always be that of an unassuming man who always put other people’s needs before his own.
Deepak Parekh is Chairman of HDFC.
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