Udai Pareek – the most powerful thing I learnt from him was to give without asking for a return. And I have followed that principle all my life. Who else in this world writes a book full of tried and tested psychometric tests and gives it away?
I first met Udai in 1983 when I attended my first ISABS (what used to be called then) PGL (Personal Growth Lab) and he was my mentor until he died. He was the director of the course and had the most warm and friendly smile I have ever known. It was a two week program and we were secluded in the Clarkes Amer hotel and didn’t know what was happening in the world outside. So I was very surprised when I saw Udai in the dining room one morning looking distinctly disturbed without his smile for once. I sat beside him and asked, ‘Kya hua Sir. Aap itnay pareshan kyon lag rahay hain?’(What happened Sir. Why are you looking so worried?) I always called him ‘Sir’ out of respect and he always objected and would say, ‘Udai, not Sir.’ But that was his only command I didn’t obey. Respect for elders and teachers is too hard wired in my system to break.
He said to me, ‘For the first time a Hindu-Muslim communal conflict has broken out in Jaipur and my mother is caught in it. She lives at the edge of the old city on the border of a Muslim dominated area and I am very concerned for her. Can’t get her on the phone either. I am trying to see if I can get a curfew pass to go and get her out.’ These were the days before we had cell phones and a curfew had been clamped down with shoot-at-sight orders. So one couldn’t go into that area without a special pass from the police and only with a police escort. I was at a loss to say anything, so just sat with him for a while and then had to go to class.
When I came down in the mid-morning break, I went looking for Udai and found him again the dining room with a cup of tea and his smile was back. I was relieved but wanted to know the reason. ‘Good to see you looking like your normal self Udai, ‘I said. ‘Did you manage to get your mother out of there?’
‘No’, he said. ‘But I got a call from her to say, ‘Don’t worry about me. I am safe. Our neighbor (he told me a Muslim name) came here just now with his two sons and stationed them in my hallway and said, ‘Maaji, yeh donon marnay kay baad hi app tak koi pahunch sakta hai. Aap chinta na karen.’ (My Mother, only after these two are dead will anyone be able to reach you. So don’t worry.) So you need not come for me. I am safe here and don’t want to leave my home.
It was a measure of Udai as a man and of the happier times that we lived in that he didn’t say, ‘All that is very well but let’s not take any chances. I am coming to get you.’ He told me, ‘Abhi Dunya mein achchay log hain.’ (There are still good people in the world)
I hope there will never be a time when we have to say, ‘Udai Pareek was wrong.’
At the end of that session of the ISABS Event Udai invited us all to his home for a Chaat Party where he got a Pani Puri Wala to come and make pani puris with bottled water. That was a heaven sent for me as I love pani puris but don’t eat them from the vendors because I am paranoid about the source of their pani (water). But in Udai’s place all my paranoia could be laid to rest and I gorged on pani puris.
I was in constant touch with Udai on the phone mostly and by letter. I would talk to him about career issues. Moral and ethical dilemmas. And sometimes just to hear his voice. Then in 1985 I went to the IIM-A and was able to spend a lot of time with him as he was on the staff as a professor in the OB area. It is a rare privilege to say that you knew personally the man whose book you were studying in a post graduate program. I had that privilege with Udai. We would sometimes walk in the IIM-A gardens and he would talk and I would listen. His thoughts especially about what he called (did he coin this term also?) Extension Motivation have helped shape my own attitudes and beliefs about my role in life and society. To extend oneself for others and to recognize this to be the most powerful motivator in one’s life. Once again, Udai was right.
The next time I met Udai was when I was in Jaipur for a travel conference (In 1992 I was heading DHL’s travel division in Delhi) and my wife and I went to visit him. He took us to Chowki Dani, the Rajanthani village restaurant – one of my favorite eating places in Jaipur which incidentally is my favorite Indian city. After we had eaten the three of us sat on a jhoola and swung gently mostly in silence – happy for the companionship. Udai was very supportive of my writing and asked what I was writing then. It was a book of short stories and I told him some of them and he enjoyed both the stories and their teaching potential.
My final meeting with Udai was in Hyderabad where to my great surprise I was told that he had come to attend a session by a well-known so-called motivational speaker and Indian aping Americans. I went not only to meet Udai but to ask him what he had come to learn from this showman. To my not great surprise I saw him sitting outside the hall with a cup of tea and a look of disgust on his face. He was very happy to see me and asked me, ‘Tum bhi is kay liye aaye ho?’ (Have you also come for this) I said, ‘Main aap kay liye aya hoon aur yeh poochnay kay liye aaya hoon ki aap kis liye aye ho?’ (I have come for you and to ask you what you came for?) He laughed and said, ‘I wanted to see what he does and it is disgusting. Log iskay liye paisa bhi detay hain?’ (People pay money for this?) And we both had a good laugh.
Naturally for a man dealing in reality based on research and self-discovery, fantasy, showmanship, gimmickry and hyperbole in the name of teaching doesn’t sit too well. I agreed with him and we sat together for a long time talking about old times, old friends and the changing world. I must say that it was not all nostalgia and ‘how bad things have become’. It was a very hopeful and encouraging session and that is my final takeaway from Udai for I never saw him again – that it is not the cloud but the silver lining which is real. The cloud only tries to hide it. But it always shows.
It was a privilege to be Udai’s student and like all true teachers, his teaching continues in my life and through me in the lives of countless others, long after he has gone. I salute my mentor – Prof. Udai Pareek.