The Good that men do

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One of the first Public Relations professionals I knew has just died. More, I suspect, of a broken heart than any medical reason. But Nishit Kumar was a true PR man – he always promoted the good parts and played down the bad. The fact that he was a good guy allowed people to take advantage of him. And he would always let them. He liked people. He trusted people – very often, he trusted them too much. He lost money, went to the brink of bankruptcy, clawed his way back. But did he dwell on all this? No.

Outwardly always the happy-go-lucky guy, his immediate response to a ‘Thanx!’ message was always ‘So now you owe me three barrels!’ That meant beer – draught beer, which he always said tastes so much better than the bottled or canned stuff. Now he’s gone, and I don’t even remember how many barrels I still owe him for things he’s done for me.

We used to be fairly regular at Diamond Beer Bar & Restaurant on Mahatma Gandhi Road in Pune – which we old Puneites still refer to, decades after it was renamed, as Main Street or just Mains. One day, it rolled down the shutters. The owner decided that the licence fee, and the overheads including bribes to inspectors of various types, was not worth it – so now there’s a multinational apparel brand showroom there instead.

When I messaged Nishit to say, “Tragedy! Diamond has closed down,” his immediate response was total disbelief, then: “That’s not just a tragedy. It’s a catastrophe! Now where will we go for beer?” We tried other restaurants that offered draught, but none was quite the same as good old Diamond. There, the owner and his son, the manager, the waiters, all knew him – and, by extension, they knew me too. It was also a convenient, centrally located place where other friends could drop in to say hi. In the other places, we were just customers who drank two, or three, pitchers full and spent a lot of time talking to each other.

Actually, with Nishit it was more of him talking and me listening. That was a fault: he was visiting faculty at a large number of management institutions in Pune and many other parts of the country, so – he talked! Another friend of mine, who’d come to Diamond when we were having one of our sessions, asked me later: “Interesting guy. What does he do?” My reply was, “He talks.” That, my friend said, was obvious – but what did he do for a living? My reply to that was the same. And the things he spoke about were all interesting. He was very knowledgeable, and so well connected that he knew everybody.

Once, when I accompanied him to Jabalpur, his nephew took us to meet an entrepreneur on whom I planned to write an article. During the conversation, it emerged that among his various other business activities he also had a business school. Nishit, being Nishit, immediately said, “Please don’t ask me address the students.” And so, naturally, they said he must. He was hustled off to the auditorium where they had summoned all the students, leaving his nephew and me alone in the CEO’s office. “Where is your uncle?” I asked the young man after some time. “You know my uncle!” he replied. So I messaged him: “Stop talking!” When he came back eventually, he abused me and justified himself: “I had thrown the floor open for questions. Is it my fault if there were so many interested students asking me things?”

Nishit was a man of great ideas. One day, he telephoned me out of the blue to tell me that there was a tobacco business in Sangamner in Maharashtra, who had implemented SAP in his organisation. This was many years ago, before enterprise resource planning (ERP) became a buzzword; even big manufacturing companies didn’t have it yet. “Sure,”I said. “When do go?” We never did: follow-through was very often not his strong point. But there were many such interesting companies that were not his clients at Notre Communications which he had founded and run, which we did visit, thanks to his original idea that it would be a good story for me to check out and write. There are, in fact, a couple more that I still have to write. But Nishit won’t follow up on those any more to ask when I plan to write them, or come up with any more ideas.

As he said in his profile on LinkedIn, his experience and activities were truly varied:

he was a trainer/ board member at some of India’s best Mass Communications and B-schools; a consultant in managerial and communication areas at strategic levels; he was involved in manufacturing and marketing extremely innovative and cost-effective effluent water treatment solutions; offered strategic media advisory services, to countries and corporate; he was handling large real estate – land, for corporates interested in India; and he provided design and marketing solutions for tribal and lower economic group rural/semi urban societal segments, through his completely self-funded NGO. His specialties were strategy formulation, brand and identity development, media relations, internal corporate communications, sourcing, real estate identification, due diligence and acquisition facilitation, water treatment analysis, customised system design and execution, managerial consulting services.

But above all, he was a good friend to so many people, and a mentor for life to his hundreds of shagirds – with whom he kept in touch, and who came to meet him wherever he travelled. And he offered his unstinted support to all of us, putting himself out and spending his money and time freely to help. His last big effort was to organise a medical expedition to Kashmir when it was getting out the mess brought on by the disastrous floods there: he raised resources in money and medicines, and took a team of volunteer doctors to go and camp out for a week in difficult circumstances to provide succour to the affected people.

When I was writing a book about entrepreneurship, Nishit volunteered detailed information about how he had started Notre, the troubles he went through, how various people took him for a ride… The book came out, and he was not very happy with the way he had been portrayed: ‘panned’, as another friend put it. That did not stop him from doing his best to push my book, persuading B-schools he visited to buy copies for their libraries, introducing me to the heads of institutions and generally going out of his way for me and my co-author.

Unlike Julius Caesar, the good that Nishit did lives after him. Maybe Caesar should have had a better PR man than Mark Anthony: he should have had Nishit Kumar!

Sekhar Seshan

Author & Journalist at LARGE
Consulting Editor, BUSINESS INDIA
Consulting Editor, CORPORATE TYCOONS
Member, Editorial Board, BUSINESS FOR ALL

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