The time since his passing till today has been a bit of haze, but as messages of condolence and support - via phone, emails and visits at home - have come in, I've been able to reminisce about and celebrate the incredible life that my father lived, even as we come to terms with ours being emptier without him.
What I remember most is the incredible spirit and passion for life my father had. Everything was exciting and something he wanted to tackle. No problem was ever insurmountable and no challenge ever daunting.
Success, and indeed any reason for to be happy, was relished, shared and quickly celebrated with everyone around him. Failures and adversity was shrugged off with a smile and an unshakeable belief that things would be better tomorrow. The frequent professional and personal challenges I saw my dad overcome with always with a smile on his face and a comment to the effect "These things happen. Don't worry." amazes me.
Born one of seven children to the principal of a village school in the small village of Sadashivgad, my father left for Mumbai after finishing school. He studied and worked in Mumbai getting a Bachelor of Commerce and then a Bachelor of Law degree, while qualifying as a Chartered Accountant. I asked him why he got a law degree since I never realized he had one until I was much older. He told me it was for the hostel that came with being enrolled. It was the only way to continue to stay in Bombay as he worked on becoming a Chartered Accountant. He completed his education and started his career as an accountant at A.F Ferguson and Company and then Esso.
It was his profession as an accountant that would take him to Tanzania where he was recruited to set up the Audit Corporation of Tanzania. After five years, he would take a job in the private sector in Tanzania, a country where he would spend the bulk of his professional career - transitioning from roles in Finance to Management . He'd spend 23 years in Tanzania in total with another 11 in Nigeria in the middle of those. Africa would be home for us - it was where I was born and grew up, and where he built most of his professional career. He was CEO of ALAF Limited, one Tanzania's most prominent companies and a Regional Group CEO serving on boards and as executive chairman for a number of other companies in East, Central and South Africa. He also served eight years as the Vice Chairman for the Confederation of Tanzanian Industries.
His ability to quickly connect with all sorts of people was stunning - I knew that every taxi ride we took would involve my father engaging in long conversation with the driver about where he was from and what brought him to that city, and similarly I watched fascinated once as he once spotted a Minister at an airport (that he hadn't met before but could help his company with something), walked up to him and his security detail, and then engaged him in a conversation that went on until just before our flight was about to take off.
His incredible willingness to help people was part of my life growing up - but even I've been surprised by the sheer number of people that have reached out and shared how he's made their lives better - by simply going out of his way to help as a young man, or being a mentor and guide as he grew older.
My dad was intensely loyal and proud - of and to his work and colleagues and of where he came from. He always found a way to contribute to the communities he was part of; serving on countless cultural, sports, professional and social committees, helping any causes that came his way or later as a leader in the business community in Tanzania. He learned to expected nothing in return, but was always truly delighted when he did get thanked or recognized.
His zest for life meant an eagerness to try new things and an ability to adapt with the times. Eleven years ago, every email I sent him was printed by his secretary so that he could write out a reply (which would then duly be typed by his secretary and emailed back to me.) So six years ago, imagine by surprise when in the middle of a conversation my father pulled out a Blackberry, and replied to an email as I watched with a incredulous grin on my face.
His years of National Cadet Core training and an early (unfulfilled) ambition to join the Air Force contributed to an extraordinary discipline in professional and personal life. He was able to tell me things like "if you open the drawer you'll find a folder there with the paper you are looking for - I put it there two months ago". His attention to detail often put me to shame. Once, over an incredibly grainy Skype video connection, he asked me if I'd noticed that my watch strap was coming a little loose. He would notice that I'd opened his drawer because his handkerchief had moved an inch or two.
It gave him great joy that he'd been able to provide a much better life for his family and those he cared about, than he ever had himself when he was younger. He was incredibly proud of me. Almost everyone he met felt like they knew me simply because he told them about me - repeatedly. :-) He never missed a chance to wear any of the school or office T-shirts/jackets I brought home for him. He wore Google shirts almost as much as I do.
We'll miss him, but we're so, so grateful for all the years he was in our lives.
The world was a better, more joyful place for so many people because of him.
Rest In Peace Baba.
A few other links about my dad's passing:
- Obituary announcement in the Times of India
- A blog post about my dad in Marathi from my uncle (also in English)
- An article in The Guardian newspaper in Tanzania