Washington, DC – With the weather in transition on the American East Coast, I was woken up by a long distance phone call from India – Goa Chief Minister and former Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar was no more. It took me a few minutes to digest the news: Parrikar, the soft-spoken IITian with a bemused smile died at his home in Panaji at the age of 63. Parrikar did his B.Tech. in Metallurgical Engineering from IIT Bombay in 1978.
Although Parrikar had been battling cancer for more than a year, still his death came as a shock and took me down memory lane. Since my arrival in the US in 2009 from Europe, I had got reconnected with IITians on a wider spectrum and met Parrikar during the PanIIT Event in Kolkata, but more memorable meetings were during his visits to the US.
It was his face expression, just before he smiled, that always intrigued my fellow journalists when he started answering my questions during interaction with the media. Instead of writing all my experiences, I decided to request fellow IITians, who knew him more closely, to send in their memories of Parrikar.
In Manu’s Words
Let me start with an anecdote in Parrikar’s own words, provided by Ram Kelkar, a fellow IITian.
When asked to recollect any memorable incident from his political life, Parrikar had laughed before sharing this incident.
In his own words in the IIT Bombay’s alumni magazine Fundamatics: “(Laughing) There are several incidents, but this one is easily the most memorable. In 2002, I was to board a flight from Mumbai airport and my Protocol Officer had gone in advance to check me in and collect my boarding pass. When I reached the airport, a police constable refused to let me in without my ticket. In 2002, the police used to guard the airport. Had I used my IIT street-smartness, maybe, I would have managed to get in.”
Laughing again, Parrikar added, “But I honestly told him that I was the Chief Minister of Goa, and that my Protocol Officer was waiting inside with my boarding pass. The constable did not relent and my flight was to depart soon. Fortunately, my Protocol Officer saw me and came rushing out and managed to get me inside in the nick of time. When the constable was reprimanded for refusing me entry, he mentioned sheepishly that he had seen me alighting from an auto-rickshaw. How could we fault him for disbelieving an auto-rickshaw passenger who claims to be a CM?”
Ram Kelkar Remembers
From his memorable moments with Parrikar, Ram Kelkar added, “What stands out from my interactions with Manohar, or Manu as he was universally known amongst IITBians, was his simplicity. In his trademark half-shirt, he never sounded like a VIP, and didn’t expect us to treat him like one. And he was always willing to go out of his way to help out with IIT Bombay alumni events and activities, in spite of his busy schedule, while handling many other issues of national importance.”
Suresh Shenoy Reminisces
Suresh Shenoy, a fellow Bombay IITian is full of episodes which highlight the cheerful disposition and down-to-earth attitude of Manohar.
in 2006, there was a PanIIT event in Bombay and some friends including Parrikar were sitting around a table and chitchatting when Parrikar quipped that he expected a difficult election and was wondering if he would be the Chief Minister of Goa again. Suresh, immediately called for a fellow IITian from IIT Kanpur, a famous palmist, now based in New York. The palmist guy looks at Parrikar’s palm and said, “You are the Chief Minister of Goa.” Parrikar said, “Wow, you are great but read about my future.” The palmist said, “Yes I haven’t started reading the palm, I read the nameplate of yours,” and all burst out laughing.
Another year, Parrikar was in DC and it happened to be his birthday. Parrikar called Suresh and said let’s have only IITians get together tonight – far from the formalities and decorum of official parties and just chill. So as the IITian crowd started gathering at a nondescript hangout private place, Suresh got a phone call from the then Indian Ambassador in the US, Arun Kumar Singh, asking what is happening as Parrikar had canceled his participation in a grand gala dinner from the Embassy of India. Suresh let the cat out of the bag and then Ambassador Singh requested to join them. With much persuading, Suresh let him know the address and the ambassador arrived. Parrikar, by then had announced get some thandi beer and lets party.
Non-IITian Ambassador Singh Speechless
Ambassador Singh arrived as the only person in the room in a formal suit and was taken aback with the camaraderie and informal atmosphere in the room. Parrikar said I give bhashan all the time so today no speeches.
In the meantime, the conversation, as usual went down memory lane. Suresh said he is from Hostel 3 while Parrikar is from Hostel 4 and Hostel 3 always won the competition in gaalis (abusive words) against Hostel 4 but Parrikar refuted that claim and said Hostel 4 always won and he can prove it right then and there.
Ambassador Singh just didn’t understand such free and frank exchanges and later told Suresh: “I have never seen a defense minister or for that matter any minister in such a free mood with his friends.” And he wondered what does it make IITians to click so cool and close with each other.
Sanjay Das Gupta, on the onset declared he doesn’t claim to have known Manohar very closely, but narrated a few occasions on which he was at arm’s length from him, like the food line at the IIT Alumni Day celebrations where the Goa Chief Minister was in the queue, awaiting his turn.
Once in Panjim, Goa – after a trip around the city, time being short, he drove his car from point to point as other cars followed. With time running out for departure of the train, DasGupta shared: “He ran up the steps of stairs in the Vegetable Market, with all of us running behind him! Can you ever imagine a CM without guards in the market place! Unmatched demeanor, unmatched simplicity,” adding, “Manohar. We will remember you. As a community of IITians, we will be proud of you. You will live in our hearts.”
Mentee Vinay Gets Emotional
Vinay Karle, a close friend and associate in many activities was very emotional in expressing his sorrow over the loss of a friend, mentor and fellow alumnus from IIT Bombay.
I will let Karle speak in his own words his thoughts about Parrikar: I have had the good fortune of meeting and working with Manuji (as he was fondly called) for a little over decade. He was twenty years my senior from IITB but in my very first interaction with him via email during IITB’s Golden Jubilee in 2008, he put the age and stature gap to rest. Every person who came in contact with him noticed his simplicity and I was no different.
During his life in public service, I’ve seen him as a member of opposition, as a Chief Minister and as a Raksha Mantri (he insisted on not being called DM or Defense Minister).
When we worked together for Global Business Forum (GBF), Goa in 2015, while Manuji was Raksha Mantri, he rolled up his sleeves as usual and worked like every other volunteer when his contribution was needed. At the conference, he made sure that he spent time with his fellow alumni/alumnae and not in the VIP rooms. He walked in through common entrance meant for all the delegates and brought no security with him. It was true of most events/functions he attended. I have worked with many volunteer-run organizations and he truly epitomized the spirit of volunteerism.
Parrikar was a technocrat at heart and knew his Metallurgy and Material Sciences and knew it at the back of his hand. His speech during the GBF could have been easily mistaken in parts as a material sciences lecture.
During a dinner at Washington DC in 2015 where a few of his IIT friends celebrated his 60th, he gave me his gurumantra – कोशिश करने वालों की हार नहीं होती | He deeply cared about IITs and made himself available for many events and at times volunteering himself to make them successful.
As luck would have it, I’ve met him in many different cities and circumstances but he was always cheerful and hopeful. When I last met him in New York during the course of his treatment – he spent most of his time talking about Goa. He deeply cared about his state and country. He knew the inevitability of the situation but he wanted to continue his public service which he did in spades until his last breath.
My thoughts and prayers are with his family in these hours of bereavement. A salute and tribute to a life truly well lived in public service – we will sorely miss him. I will miss a senior, mentor, confidant and a friend.”
On behalf of PanIIT USA, Kiran Thota, President of the organization told IAT, “We are deeply saddened by the loss of great leader, Chief Minister of Goa and former Defense Minister of India, Shri Manohar Parrikar. Our condolences to his bereaved family. He had spearheaded the speedy reforms at Indian defense ministry. A man of integrity, an IITian, and known for his wit, he has inspired the current generation to serve India through clean politics as a role model. He was a shining example of the nation building leader that IITs were expected to produce and is a source of inspiration and pride for the entire IIT alumnus body.”
Ron Mehta, President, IIT Bombay Heritage Foundation remembered Parrikar as a “tremendously friendly guy and always involved in alumni movement.” Mehta said that when Parrikar happened to be in Bombay, he always visited the campus of his alma mater and mixed with all, without the fanfare of a chief minister or a defense minister or any political position he was holding. “Very humble individual and very supportive of IIT Bombay,” is how Mehta summed up Parrikar’s memory.
There are not enough words to sum up the life of a man who lived with such humility and grace, as he never forgot his humble beginnings, born in a nondescript town called Mapusa, Goa to a Gaud Saraswat Brahmin family of grocers.