A Man for All Seasons — Rajiv Vaishnav #JeenaIsiKaNaamHain

Avinash Raghava
#JeenaIsiKaNaamHain

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What exactly is natural ability, I have often wondered?

Is it something we are “born with”, a quality that we inherit or is it acquired at a very early age, and with frequent repetition, the quality becomes a habit and transforms into an ability? It becomes so pronounced in the individual that one gets the impression he was born with it.

I have known Rajiv Vaishnav for more than 22 years and in various capacities. During this time there was a direct power relationship as well for many years (when he was my boss at NASSCOM) and at other times we were colleagues/friends, and he was even a mentor to me.

A boss-colleague relationship can be fraught with friction. That is the nature of the relationship because there are deliverables at stake and in organizations like NASSCOM, the quality is always very high with deep impact that affects a diverse set of people. Interestingly with Rajiv, that was never the case, i.e., the professional relationship was never under strain, and on the contrary, it blossomed. Nothing changed between us even when deadlines were incredibly tight with diverse expectations from all and sundry. He continued to treat me with great respect and appreciation. In turn, I also got a free rein to lead the Northern Region for NASSCOM which helped me hone my leadership skills tremendously.

So, what is about Rajiv Vaishnav?

He isn’t just another “friendly boss”!

He is a much-evolved human being who has figured out what life is all about and that gives him an incredible understanding of human nature.

It’s a superpower! And he is so good at it, that I often wonder if he was “born” with this ability.

He understands presidents just as well as he understands the humble office boy. Only, in his books, he does not look upon the blue-collared or the underprivileged with condescension but accords the same kind of bandwidth when he speaks to people in power. His is not a put-on act, but a quality that’s his second nature.

Was he always like this? Or did he experience a life-altering incident or a series of incidents which made him the person he is — someone with deep empathy and always with his trademark smile.

Smile, empathy and thirdly, his prodigious memory for couplets. He has a couplet for every occasion and his sense of timing would even make Sachin Tendulkar proud. He knows exactly when to deliver these lines with great impact.

The result — it warms the cockles of the heart like no other. You may be seeing him for the first time but at that moment a kind of magic happens — I have seen it so many times — and you are instantly drawn to him. He always gives you the picture of largeness. Something beyond power, beyond business relationships and very basic that we often forget — the human touch.

In other words, he is a people person, and the stage is where he belongs which he uses to help others and make life more joyful.

I have seen him interact with very senior folks from the IT industry (and NASSCOM senior leadership), the President of India and many luminaries. You will never see any awkwardness or diffidence in these interactions and it’s almost as if he has known them for many years.

The same man on the other hand, never shirks away from rolling up his sleeves and doing the heavy lifting when needed. Once, many years back — by then he had already positioned himself as a part of NASSCOM leadership — he carried brochures and standees from one continent to another because the moment demanded it of him, and he embraced the opportunity with great joy.

There was another time when we were roommates in Australia, perhaps 15 or 16 years ago, and I got to know the simple human being in him. As a part of NASSCOM, we were doing an event in Australia and back then, it wasn’t easy to find Indian food so we carried packaged food with us that could be easily eaten. And that’s precisely what we did in our rooms for more than a week. The laughter, the joy, and the bonhomie made it feel so natural. It was almost like an obvious trajectory — moving on from a high-end event with world-class amenities to the confines of our modest hotel rooms and ending the day with a shared bonhomie.

The “stage” had changed but the flow did not.

The same man also goes up on stage (literally) at a NASSCOM event in the presence of the President of India and other dignitaries and plays the emcee role with great aplomb. In more than two decades of my association with him, I have always seen him joyful and ready to help if he can. Naturally, with his ability to make instant connections, he has made great friends with senior folks in the industry, and they are all very fond of him.

After NASSCOM, we didn’t meet as often as I would have liked but I am taking this opportunity to thank Rajiv Vaishnav for all those wonderful memories. They are safely tucked away, and I revisit them often, to draw solace. With increased digitization and a perceptible drop in face-time, one treasures the early days when machines weren’t intrusive.

Generative AI or AGI for that matter, in the long run, might be able to mimic humans but I remain certain they will never mimic shared bonhomie. Time and again, a Rajiv Vaishnav will come along and make us experience the soft power of shared laughter in a tense situation.

That only reinforces — we are human!

Rajiv, here’s wishing you great health and many more sparkling years ahead. And your prodigious memory — may the couplets flow like your gentle laughter.

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Avinash Raghava
#JeenaIsiKaNaamHain

Building Community at @SaaSBoomi | Past: Community @ScaleTogether @Accel_India. Co-Founded@iSPIRT(@Product_Nation), @NASSCOM