Leadership for me is a peak, like Mt. Everest. A person has to climb the daunting mountain facing countless challenges and obstacles. Given these challenges, not many are willing to take risks required, even though they may desire it to scale. The mountaineers are scare and rare are the ones who prepare themselves to scale the peak. Thus only handfuls reach the top. Late T. Ramesh U. Pai, who was among the late founding fathers of Manipal, is one such person; I had opportunity in my life to work with. At a very tender age of sixteen years he began his profession as an informal PA to ‘founder’ of Manipal Late Dr. TMA Pai. As many know Dr. Pai was a great dreamer. From envisioning a vast and internationally acclaimed center for education until founding dozens of academic institutions – his achievement, even to this day is largely unparalleled. Rightfully he was awarded by Government of India the fourth most civil honor – Padmashri.
But the achievement by itself was not a job of one man. It was a team effort, beyond doubt, and the man who assembled and organized this team was this statesman – Ramesh Pai. Any elderly person, who had his association with the Pais of Manipal, would express the unassuming colossus of this charismatic genius.
While Dr. Pai dreamed, Ramesh would chase it. This was how they built Manipal and its prestigious institutions of excellence. It was exclusively because of his caliber that he became the rightful Chairman of the Group and not simply for his seniority by age.
I met him for the first time in his office at Syndicate House in Manipal. I was introduced to him by his elder son, who is even to this day one of my best friends – T Sudhakar Pai. Sudhakar had been a great pillar of strength to me during my formative years in profession. He was certainly my first Boss, but at the same time was also my mentor. With all his strong views he was, and is, adorable person to me.
Of those countless meetings, I had with Rameshmam (as he was affectionately known) each time I was educated as well as inspired by him. For those who don’t know: In 1994 there was attempt by his brothers and cousins to oust him from the Chairmanship of the Group under lame excuse that he was trying to promote his son Sudhakar as his successor.
For a man of his caliber it was certainly not difficult to play vile games to turn the tables. Yet in the larger interest of his institutions, for which he had worked so hard for countless days and sleepless nights without any remuneration, he stepped down. But the dirty linen was being continued to wash in the public by the members of the other clan. But undeterred by them, he continued to forge ahead with the institutions which he could retain which included: Maha Rastra Apex Ltd and Karnataka Consumer Products Ltd (now Kurlon). He answered to those allegations only when he considered necessary.
I asked him once as to why didn’t he fight for control of the educational institutions which included Kasturba Medical College, TA Pai Management Institute and Manipal Institute of Technology, which he himself had built. His answer would be ‘Education is Saraswati and not Lakshmi.’
For him, as well as Dr Pai, education was sacred. It was not something for them to mint money. They built it with passion in the greater interest of the country. When starting even kindergarten was a dream for millions, they took the brave step of starting the country’s first private Medical College at a place which was little more than a barren hill.
I remember one of mentor, who is also among the India’s most celebrated journalist, M V Kamath saying ‘When I used to come to Manipal then Dr. Pai would show us huge mass of barren land pointing which he would say what he planned to build there.’ Such was their passion.
The second disaster of his life, according to me, came when his brain child Maha Rastra Apex Corp Ltd had to seek extra time from its depositor for repayment. Two meeting for amicable settlement with the depositor which he had called was boycotted miserably. The people who had been enriched by him, it seemed, were no more interested to believe in him. His persistent promises fell on deaf ears. Many of his friends condemned him, but the people who truly believed in him stayed along. The man who had touched the pinnacle of glory was now seeing right in front of his eyes a misery, at age which gives so minimal energy. What would have he felt at that point of time? I am unable to realize.
I have been never a judge of a person when he is at the glory. Every body is fine and happy when at the peak of their life. But it’s very difficult to hold the line – under fire. Rameshmam became my deity during this time. I have watched him going to office and work hard for the same number of hours, fourteen to be precise, until 26th January 2005, the day when departed for his heavenly abode.