Ashwin Choksi Practised What Dalai Lama Preached
The news came of his demise came as a shock for me. I was not aware that Mr Ashwin Choksi, Chairman of Asian Paints was ailing and hospitalised. That ended my long association with him, and also many in Asian Paints who have had a long stint with the Company.
Till I took over as Head of HR, my association with Ashwinbhai was very occasional. We usually met on the occasion of Satyanarayan Pooja at the Bhandup Factory. Things changed in my new role.
I am not going to mention anything about the business decisions. I saw the humane side of him rather closely, thanks to my HR job.
Asian Paints declared a VRS [Voluntary Retirement Scheme] at Bhandup factory in 1976. One of the workers who opted for early retirement was Manohar Todankar. Todankar worked in the Stores Department and Ashwinbhai knew him well. Todankar stood out among all workers – he was a poet. He was the first editor of Tutari. He had no choice but to quit the job as he had run up sizeable debt.
Todankar later published about two hundred poems in various Marathi newspapers and magazines. He also published a few collections of his poems, among them a collection of ‘Haiku’. But he never saw good days again. He stayed at Thane and occasionally called me up. Then there was a long silence. Todankar had shifted to his village in Konkan. He wrote to me mentioning that he had nothing to eat, no means to survive, it was a distress call. That was in 2007; thirty-one years after he had retired.
I casually mentioned this to Ashwinbhai and told him that I was sending a person to meet him and handover five thousand rupees. Ashwinbhai remembered Todankar, and suggested that I should send a person with enough cash. He should pay off the outstanding bills of the grocer, make sure that Todankar’s six months’ requirement for groceries is stocked at his home and then handover the five thousand rupees.
Todankar did not survive long, but before he died he expressed his gratitude in his beautiful poetic way.
Where did this streak of compassion come from? I guess it was from his father, ‘Chimanseth’ as workers at Bhandup factory referred to him. I have published, in the Company Magazine, another very touching story, so well captured by Tangirala Subrahmaniam, the then HR Executive at Patancheru Plant [now Dr Tangirala Subrahmaniam, Professor at University of Maryland, USA]. That story should support my view.
Kathilappa was employed at Matunga Factory, this factory was the forerunner of Bhandup Factory. He was injured in a freak accident and left the job much against the advice of Chimanseth [CNC]. Later, when he realised his mistake, he met CNC outside his residence. CNC asked him to be taken as contract worker and we put him to work in the canteen. Kathilappa was aged, well past sixty, but strong enough to do cleaning work in canteen. This job also provided his food. He slept on the culvert at the entrance of the factory. And Kathilappa kept four hundred rupees with the watchmen with the instructions that it should be used for his funeral. Eventually Kathilappa who used to meet Ashwinbhai on the occasion of Satyanarayan Pooja, died in a road accident near the Factory. The security staff informed Ashwinbhai who paid for his funeral expenses.
The words perhaps do not capture the kind of relationship between these two persons and Ashwinbhai. Once you came in contact with Ashwinbhai, he built lifelong relationship. [Ask any ex-employee!]. Todankar and Kathilappa had nothing to offer to Ashwinbhai except their respect and gratitude. And Ashwinbhai was under no obligation to favour two ex-employees who had left the company and gone three decades ago. Nor did Ashwinbhai ever mention these incidents to anybody. Ashwinbhai did what he did because it was his nature.
Ashwinbhai read Bhagawadgita every day, that provided him the guidance in his work. We will remember him for the relationships he built quietly, it came to him naturally. In the Corporate world building relationships is talked about and yet a neglected aspect. Ashwinbhai’s assiduously maintaining low profile might result in outsiders ignoring his contribution to the Company’s culture. But those who worked with him know better!
Dalai Lama said ‘If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.’ If you worked with Ashwinbhai, you saw it in practice.
Vivek S Patwardhan
Very well articulated about such a fine human being. I have had several interactions during my stint at Ahmedabad Branch and again years later when Asian Paints where in the process of setting up a plant in Muscat.
A thorough gentleman very humane to the core …May His Soul Rest in Peace
Its sad to know …that Ashwin Choksi Sir is no more ….. RIP Ashwin Choksi Sir…
Very well captured. A noble human being!!
Shri Ashwinbhai Choksi was a great human being. He was epitome of humility, simplicity and kindness.
It is sad to know that he is no more.
The world has become poorer due to sad departure.
May his soul rest in peace.
Very sorry to hear that.. I recall my days in the company and those annual rituals of our visits to dealers during Diwali- new year’s day for Saal Mubarak..it used to be an occasion when our directors used to accompany us on the morning of New Year Day. I was assigned a job of going to Ashwin Bhai’s home and accompanying him to dealers. During our interactions I had found him to be down to earth, simple and one who could speak like a street smart salesman. His these attributes had always awed me with the sense of respect for this simple man. May he attain eternal peace?
Concisely expressed and aptly articulated.
Almost brings the personality alive in front..
Nicely written. May his soul rest in peace.
Obituary in a different form away from the usual. A touching tribute to Ashwin bhai. During my Bangladesh stint, Ashwin bhai had come on a visit to Bangladesh to visit the factory and a few key dealers. I invited him to my house for dinner. He readily accepted the invite. Rao, ashutosh and IKJ was also present. We had a great time. He had come to Dubai too on a visit to factory and key dealers but could not come home as he was tied up with other engagements.a very soft spoken person. may God bless his soul to rest in peace
Thank you for sharing these experiences…has added to my understanding of Ashwinbhai…did interact frequently with him at Goregaon. Remember him as a person of few words yet very down to earth and accessible.
Very very sad to know about the demise of Mr ashwinbhai.
Very well captured and I fully agree that Ashwinbhai was a very simple man but a great human being. May god rest his soul in peace.
Obituary to such a wonderful person, never come across such a humble person in my entire life. During my plant stint at Ankleshwar I still remember his kindness on several occasions. Still I recollect that he always used to preach usage of Tablets to school going children at govt school at small villages the reason was the poor kids should not be deprived of Technology and it’s productive
He always used to treat everyone equally. Whenever he used to visit Plant he used to treat driver, contract workmen with the same respect the way it is given to factory manager
He will remaIn in the heart for ever who so ever had an opportunity to interact with him
May his soul rest in peace
He was a kind gentle soul, Patwardhan Seth. Well written.
Beautifully articulated! I had never interacted with him or had nothing to do with Asian Paints but now, after reading this piece, feel I know the person now. What a life and what a legacy!
My Father Bharat Vanjara/Malaviya, worked several years with Asian Paints, I still remembered the day my father took me to see Mr. Ashwin Choksi at is office, that time I just passed out my Chemical Engineering, my father left Asian Paints long back before that day still He was kind enough & give time to meet him without any prior appointment.