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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 49, November 27, 2010

We will Miss your Presence, Jain Sir

Wednesday 1 December 2010, by Sandeep Shastri



L.C. Jain Sir is no more…. a fact impossible to digest and believe. I was numbed into silence when I was first informed by a friend about his passing away… it appeared as if I had just spoken to him… his persuasive voice complimenting me for a very tentative article that I wrote and knew had serious limitations... he would have none of it and put a smile on my face with his genuine appreciation. When I informed friends about him no longer being with us, the response from all was similar …. shock beyond belief... a sadness that we have lost what was part of ourselves.

I first met him around twelve years ago soon after he returned from his stint in South Africa as India’s High Commissioner. His wife and he had decided to settle down in Bengaluru (as Bangalore is now called) much to the delight of us, Bangaloreans. This first meeting was at a seminar where I was making a presentation on the result of a major survey. We were meeting for the first time. He came up to me and shook my hand as if he were meeting a long lost friend. The firmness of that handshake, the smile that brightened his face and the warmth of his presence made my day! In an intellectual gathering, the presence of a person of his eminence, stature, knowledge and experience could unnerve anyone. He had the inexplicable charm and grace to put everyone at ease and make them feel honoured and special. His simplicity, honesty and straight-forward nature made him a true inheritor of the Mahatma’s legacy. Those of my generation who never got to see the Father of the Nation, saw in Jain Sir what the Mahatma stood for, worked for and lived for.

Spending time with him was like speaking to a living legend, a virtual encyclopedia of knowledge. The experiences and anecdotes would just flow and be narrated with such great enthusiasm and fervour that you felt that the historic moment that was being narrated had virtually come alive. On one occasion, he was describing the screening process for the selection of Congress candidates for the 1952 Lok Sabha elections. He was one of those young party workers entrusted with the responsibility to be part of the screening team. A prominent stalwart of the Congress walked into the room where the team met, looked at Jain Sir and asked him where the Screening Committee members were sitting. When Jain Sir hesitatingly told him that they were the Screening Committee, the veteran quickly recovered and was game to face the Committee saying: ‘You have a task to do …. go ahead, I have a case to present and I will.’ Jain Sir went on to reminiscence that he learnt an important lesson that day …. When one was given a responsibility, the stature and position of the one you were dealing with was immaterial … the job on hand was all important.

His anecdotes of his time in South Africa where he experienced a nation of diverse people being brought together under the inspiring leadership of Mandela were a treasure of information and insights.

WHAT was special about Jain Sir was the ease with which he narrated these episodes and made it appear so matter of fact. Speaking about the Asian Relations Conference held in New Delhi (where he was a volunteer), he remembered how China’s objection to a map showing Tibet in a particular way was dealt with by Pandit Nehru; Jain Sir went on to add that his first lessons in diplomacy were learnt at this Conference.

Whenever we invited Jain Sir to inaugurate a conference or deliver a keynote address, he willingly agreed without a moment’s hesitation. He would add: ‘Wherever there is a dialogue involving peoples issues, I am there.’ He would sit through the presentations and make those few comments which provided proof his vast experience and knowledge. Two years ago, when a colleague approached me to speak to him to inaugurate a conference being held in another city in Karnataka, I hesitated for a moment. The journey involved a three-hour car drive. When I finally spoke to him, he immediately agreed saying that it was a great chance to meet young people in a different city. His mere presence was electrifying, his passion and zeal were truly contagious and influenced each one who had the good fortune of knowing him. His message to young people always was: ‘educate me on what is happening, I am out of date‘. Whenever I spoke to him, he asked me: ‘Sandeep, what have you last written, why haven’t you sent it to me, don’t you want to educate this old man?‘ It was a truly humbling experience.

Close to a decade ago, I had invited him for a family function. When he heard of the function he said he would be there. I was shocked when he asked me whether he could be of any help… I stood speechless and just told him his presence was in itself the greatest blessing. He came, he looked around and he won everyone’s heart with his simplicity. My family always cherishes the time he spent with all of us, remembering each one’s name and having the appropriate word for everyone.

The last time I met Jain Sir was a year ago. I had gone to invite him to inaugurate a conference. It was a conference on the Role of Political Parties in the Federal System. When I called on him at home to invite him, with a twinkle in his eyes, he smilingly said: ‘I will be there, I hope you will not regret having called me.‘ I smiled and he hugged me to bid goodbye. Ever the gentleman, he was there for the inauguration, moving around, greeting old acquaintances and making new friends. The room acquired a new energy the moment he entered. He began his speech by looking at me and said: ‘Dr Sandeep, we have had many discussions on plans for action…. I want action and I want it now. No more conferences to discuss action plans.‘ It was a chastisement done so gently and with such conviction that not even one person in the room felt bad. Given his ill-health in recent months, he was based in Delhi. When I spoke to him and told him of the work being done, he responded with child-like enthusiasm and promised to join us… Alas, that is not to be … though his spirit and presence will always be with us guiding us on. We will miss your encouraging words and support …. Your winning smile will be etched forever in our hearts … Good bye, Sir… you meant the world to all those who had the good fortune of knowing you.

Dr Shastri is a Bangalore-based political scientist who is the Pro Vice Chancellor, Jain University, and Director, Centre for Research in Social Sciences and Education (CERSSE), Ramanagaram district (Karnataka).

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