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The people’s person

The Chamiers Hall at the Crowne Plaza Hotel was full. A cross section of the glitterati of Chennai business turned out in large numbers to reminisce on T T Vasu. The book, The man who could never say no, written by the doyen chronicler, S Muthiah, was released. Vasu’s wife Stina and sons Arvind and Arun helped present a honest account of the colourful leader.

The people’s person

THE BOOK IS DIFFERENT from the usual suspects of undiluted and profuse praise of the subject that biographies have come to be. Apparently, the family gave the author the freedom to be true to the effervescent character of Vasu. In fact, I got the feeling that Muthiah went overboard in highlighting the mess created by Vasu through his lack of financial prudence! The book describes the evolution of Vasu, his early life, his meeting with Stina, the Swede who suffered, moulded and helped him through the vicissitudes of this dominant personality. 

I  also share nuggets of my precious moments with Vasu. 

Passionate on family planning. 

Soon after launching IE in 1968, I met Vasu who was then in the thick of managing London Rubber Company that produced quality condoms to advance family planning. Vasu was passionate and extremely knowledgeable on the mission. IE produced an editorially rich eight-page supplement that was the start of the 100 odd such special supplements IE turned out on a number of companies/subjects. 

A couple of years later Max Mueller Bhavan organised a meeting on corporate social responsibility. The consumer activist R Desikan presented corporate doyen S Narayanaswamy (SN) to talk on the business side, Vasu on industrial relations and myself on the consumer angle. In my talk, just returned after visiting housing for plantation workers at Ooty, I was critical on industry not providing essential housing for workers despite the generous funding by the Centre and the state. Of course, Narayanaswamy was not amused and said that I would become the blue-eyed boy of the government. Vasu began calling me Ralph Nader. 

Vasu had a fun-loving disposition and was popular with the diplomatic corps. Dietrich Andreas, the German Consul, used to organise parties in one of which the guests were asked to come in fancy dresses. Vasu dressed like MGR with white cap, dark glasses, et al and was driving to the venue at Venus Colony. He described how policemen stopped the pilot car landing him in an awkward situation and how MGR was not amused! For a city not quite attuned to humour, this was intolerable.

Yeomen service at PHC

Vasu was deeply involved with the Public Health Centre, West Mambalam. As Trustee and President, he ensured the association of several top physicians with PHC. The annual lectures by international experts, under the aegis of PHC, were unique at that time.  He employed the builder of PHC, M C Subrahmanyam, at TTK & Co. Vasu helped PHC expand its services manifold. 

I felt Vasu reached the pinnacle of his life when he was elected President of the Music Academy ending the reign of gerentocracy. I sent him a congratulatory note in which I mentioned his reducing the average age of the Presidents from around 96 to 89.  A beaming Vasu read it out to several of his friends. 

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