Mr. Nilakanta Subramanian (PGP 1972) shares with us a beautiful tribute and journey of friendship developed on the IIMA campus with Mr Prakash M Telang (PGP 1972). Mr Telang had been a force at Tata Motors for over 4 decades, known to be towering in his achievements, but humble in the demeanour. He passed away on 08 December 2021. He was suffering from cancer since November 2019, yet the end was very sudden.
One Saturday, in the middle of 1973, Prakash called me at my home in Bombay and asked me to come on Sunday afternoon to Santa Cruz to meet his fiancé. Prakash was working in Pune and was to go back to Pune on Sunday evening. Since I was staying with my father at Hyderabad Estate, Nepean Sea Road, I took my father’s car and drove down. Later, I dropped Prakash at VT railway station and then Anjali at Churchgate local station so as to take a Local train to Santacruz before heading back to my home. Prakash and Anjali got married on 04 November 1973. One day, about 15 years later, Anjali asked me “Do you remember what you told me after we dropped Prakash and before dropping me at Churchgate?” I had to confess that I just did not remember. With her characteristic smile, she told me that I had said, “You are lucky. Prakash is a Nice Guy”. Almost five decades later, I have been proved to have made an accurate assessment of Prakash.
A very simple description of Prakash – ‘Nice Guy’ is sufficient to describe all of him.
It was a lucky day for me when I was allotted room number D 0204 at IIMA in July 1970. In the next room, D 0203 was a tall and lanky guy. Prakash and I hit it off very well and became very good friends. In the second year, we could choose our rooms and Prakash chose D 0123, while I chose the adjacent room D 0124. The first thing I noticed about him was that he was a left hander. Our friendship blossomed despite our different tastes. Prakash was very fond of non-veg, while I was a strict vegetarian and yet both of us sat together for meals at the mess most of the time. He loved fish and would be very happy on the days when fish was served in the mess. Prakash went to Japan in 1987 for discussions with Honda on a collaboration for manufacturing cars in India. He said that the hosts had taken him to a very expensive restaurant and asked him what he would like. He was about to say Chinese dishes, when he realized that you cannot ask Japanese for Chinese dishes and settled for Japanese sushi even though it was not to his taste.
During the first term vacation in 1970, I decided not to go home as my father was at that time posted at Cochin and the journey to and fro would take almost a week. Four of us decided to go on a holiday to Mount Abu. Niranjan Mohanty, who was in room D 0205 (other adjacent room), Prakash, Tarinish Bhandari and myself went on the trip. Prakash and Tarinish loved to drink, while Niranjan and I did not drink throughout the trip. Yet all of us enjoyed the trip.
Prakash and Murali had gone off to Kabul for their summer placement and I had a summer job with Akay Industries in Bombay. They were the leading manufacturers of Ball Valves and wanted me to do a market survey for the potential for butterfly valves. I was asked to cover the entire Thane Belapur Kalyan as well as Pune and Baroda. I enjoyed the travel at their expense. Luckily, Prakash had already told me that his eldest brother was the works Manager of Garware Wall Ropes (as it was known then). When I landed in Pune, I first went to Garware Wall Ropes and met Mr. Ramesh Telang, and he gave me a very warm welcome. He then asked his Maintenance Manager to give whatever details I asked for and it was very useful for preparing my report. Mr. Ramesh’s wife also hails from Nagpur and was a Professor at a College in Pune.
Prakash is the youngest of three brothers. His father passed away when he was a child and his mother took up employment to support the family. This happened during the 50s and 60s when the social situation in India was very different. After completing Engineering at Nagpur, Prakash had worked at L&T for 3 years before joining IIMA. He had taken a loan and was funding himself, while I was being funded by my father – another difference between us.
During Prachi’s wedding, in March 2000 at Pune, his older brother Avinash asked me where I was living. When I told him “Chennai”, he asked me “Since when?” I told him since 1980 and he then said “But I have seen you here so often”. That is how often I had been to Pune to meet Prakash, even though I had never been to Pune on business. If my memory is correct, in March 2000, Avinash was a Rear Admiral in the technical wing of the Indian Navy. His wife was a doctor.
On 26 December 2007, Mr. Ramesh’s wife suddenly passed away. Mr. Ramesh and his children vehemently insisted with Prakash and Anjali not to postpone the wedding of second daughter Aditi which was fixed for 27 December 2007. Aditi was marrying a French citizen Thomas who had migrated to USA and guests had come from France also. In fact, after the cremation, Mr. Ramesh and his children attended Aditi’s wedding. Telang family could be cited to explain the concept of empathy.
Prakash’s mother used to stay with him from 1974, till she passed away in 2008. I have met her several times.
Prakash was seriously ill in July/August 2004. He had several complications and doctors in Pune were wondering what to do when it was decided to shift him to Bombay. They were trying to get an Air ambulance on a Sunday and were having difficulty getting one. When Ratan Tata was informed of the same, he immediately offered to fly the plane for Prakash (Ratan Tata holds a Pilot’s license). Luckily, they were able to organize one and Prakash was shifted to Breach Candy Hospital in Bombay where they were able to treat him successfully. I had been to Pune in December 2004 to meet Prakash after his recovery. He said that it was a miracle that he survived. I was hoping for the same in 2021 also.
Prakash has lived in three different houses in Pune and I have been to all three of them. First was in Model Colony Main Road, next in Kothrud and around 2003, finally, in Baner where Anjali continues.
Prakash was never religious but he followed the teachings from Bhagwat Gita. He would always work very hard but he never aspired for any position or status. He was committed to his work and was rewarded because of his performance. In 2004, when I asked him whether he was likely to become the top man at TaMo, he said I want to retire when I am 60 in 2007. While the retirement age in TaMo is 60, Directors retire only at 65 and he was not keen on becoming one. In fact, one day, a news item appeared in Economic Times that Prakash has been elevated as Executive Director, and he was in California with Aditi, he answered that even he did not know till he saw the news!! He progressed from Assistant Manager – Growth in 1973 to Managing Director in 2009, but his modesty and humility only increased just as his position kept increasing. Throughout we would keep making fun and teasing each other, just as we did during the life on the campus.
In 2009, he reluctantly accepted the post of Managing Director. He was not keen on moving over to Bombay as Anjali was teaching Mathematics in the college at Pune. However, Anjali quit her job and both shifted to Bombay. After a while Anjali got a teaching job in Bombay. He waited till the age of 65 and retired in 2012. In Jan 2013, when Sundari and I visited him at Pune, he was very relaxed and said that he was happy to have hung up his boots.
On 18 Feb 2019, Prakash had a Board meeting at Venu Srinivasan’s company in Chennai. Anjali and Prakash came to Chennai on Sunday 17 Feb 2019 and we went to Dasa for a Dosa dinner. Both of them enjoyed it. On Monday night, I had organized a dinner at home with our batchmates. We had the highest turnout on that night – 17 in all including spouses. Generally, we have around 10 to 15 only. On Tuesday, 19 Feb 2019, Anjali, Prakash, Sundari and myself drove down to Pondicherry after a sightseeing halt at Mahabalipuram. We returned the next day evening and they took an evening flight to Pune.
In June 2019, Anjali and Prakash had been on a holiday to Switzerland. After returning Prakash was complaining of pain. On 10 Sep 2019, he called me to say that doctors at Pune have done a scan on him and found that there is a growth in his liver. The best surgeon for this was Dr. Mohammad Rela based in Chennai. Prakash asked me to find out about him. I asked my Urologist (whom I know for more than 30 years and who is a Kidney Transplant Surgeon) about Dr. Rela. He told me that Dr. Rela is not only the best Liver Transplant Surgeon in India, but also does surgery abroad and we should have no hesitation. Dr. Rela has his own hospital at Chrompet in Chennai and I told Prakash to come over and that I would take care of all the logistics. However, because of his influence in Pune, Prakash was able to get the hospital to convince Dr. Rela to do the surgery on the VIP patient at Pune. The post-surgery histopathology disclosed adenocarcinoma. That was the beginning of all his problems.
He was first put on a regimen of chemo around Nov 2019. It was once in two weeks and he was hopeful of being able to make it to Jaipur RU on 20 Feb 2020. However, at the last minute, he decided not to come. Since he did not come to the RU, I was planning to visit him in Pune in April 2020. However, the pandemic prevented me from going to Pune in April 2020 and for a long time thereafter.
The first round of chemo medicine was not improving his situation and hence the doctors stopped it, and after a few weeks started him on another chemo medicine sometime towards the end of 2020. On 20 Feb 2021, he told me that he had a minor surgery to install a chemo port as he was finding it very difficult with the frequent poking. However, a scan on 11 March 2021 revealed that the changed chemo also was not working and that the cancer had spread. Hence, the doctors changed the chemo medicine once again. Even this was found to be not working. He then decided to call off chemo and shifted to Ayurveda sometime in June 2021.
During the first wave lockdown, adding to their problems was that Anjali slipped and fell in the bathroom and fractured her wrist.
The final countdown began on 02 Aug 2021. Prakash was admitted to the hospital as he was having low-grade fever for about a week. He came home on 09 Aug 2021. I talked to him over the phone on 15 Aug 2021, and he said that he was better. However, it turned out to be a mirage and Prakash was admitted again on 16 Aug 2021. On 22 Aug 2021, Anjali did not take my call in the morning but sent me a text late in the evening – sorry I am very stressed – Prakash is in the ICU – Aditi, her husband and two children have come.
On 29 Aug 2021, Sundari and I went to Pune. I spent about an hour each day with Prakash for 3 days before returning to Chennai. He was quite cheerful and joked about as usual. The doctors now imported another medicine from the USA for Prakash and administered the chemo – fourth attempt at chemo. He was in the hospital from 16 Aug till 20 October. I spoke to him then. He went in again for chemo on 29 Oct and returned home on 03 Nov. When I called him on 04 Nov to wish him a happy anniversary, he said that he was feeling much better and that there was all round improvement. This was the last time I spoke to him. However, this too proved to be a mirage. Prakash was admitted again on 06 November and given chemo on 09 November. His condition took a turn for the worse and he was admitted to the ICU on 16th November for a week.
Anjali decided that it was best to bring him home after arranging for a hospital bed with an air bed and other such items to make him comfortable at home. He came home on 07 December, but sadly passed away around 9:30 pm on 08 December 2021. I had been talking to him at least once a week, sometimes more often, from 10 Sep 2019 till 15 Aug 2021. He was always cheerful and never gave up hope. I never expected that he would not see the year 2022.