A great man who was greater than other men has passed tonight. His name, Russi Mody, a Parsi from India.
The Parsi’s are from modern day Iran. Many years ago they fled persecution in the then-Persia . They sought refuge in India. Known for their clanship, their worship and their endeavours, the Indians felt threatened and it was agreed that in return for the Parsi’s peaceful existence in India they would not threaten Indian rule. They have never broken their promise and thrived in India ever since. Some of the most successful men in India are Parsi’s.
Russi was one of them. I would kneel before him as I would so few others, and in my last vist to Calcutta earlier this year I did just that.
I first met Russi many years ago when I was a young and very hard-up businessman. I met this amazing man who straddled the world. Picture the globe on its axis, and imagine a man astride it; this was Russi. His Parsi partner, Aditya Kashyap, was probably the first truly glamorous man of an age I had met. Together they formed a steel company, travelling the world in a style which I have only recently found able to myself. My Englishness and their sense of Englishness merged. They had an adorable residence in Eaton Square and they had a red Bentley Arnage. But they looked at the world differently, unafraid of finding steel in places where few were comfortable, but dividing their time between Calcutta and London. Russi was educated at Harrow in 1923. He was the first Indian member of Brooks in St James’s. He was Chairman of Tata Iron & Steel Company, Chairman of Air India. And Indian Airlines too.. At 19 he quelled workers riots in India’s poorest state, Bihar. Not by force but by his inordinate strength of character. His compassion for them. He was as happy with illiterate Indians as he was comfortable in the House of Lords when in London. People speak in awe of his name in India. I doubt that will change.
Russi believed India’s greatest pity was its Partition. He believed re-unification its only salvation. 1947 runs deep in India. At the time and in a few short hugely tragic months, a million died as Moslems and Hindus moved across the new borders to and from India to East and West Pakistan. A nation incomplete without its religious diversity, tore itself apart because of it. A gruesome, possessed, suffocating death hung across this great and wondrous land. Russi believed it an irrecoverable damage and having had the wonderful opportunity to cross the Indian sub-continent as I have, I know it to be true. Even today those born in India and who moved to Pakistan and vica versa carry the spirit of the displaced. It seems to me that what they have not found is the reconciliation to their new homelands which the Parsi’s did in theirs. For what is home really unless it is one’s sense of peace and self. Home can be wherever that is able to be found. And a proud Indian Russi surely was.
Russi taught me the most extraordinary lesson. Integrity. In my early travels I had been in danger of losing it. Without my Wife I think I might have done.
At the time I understood little of business and we were raising a family relying on what but my military past. We never knew if we could pay the mortgage from 1 month to the next. All I knew was that beyond my Wife and Family, my very Englishness was what I was, and that itself seemed something more inate than lived. Something deep but which struggled at home in England. But when I travelled in India I found such peace, such colour. My Englishness is at peace in India, and Pakistan too. I miss it when I am away. I miss it now. An environment I understand from within. I still find it today. In the simplest things. Walking from the Taj Bengal, along the road and around the corner to Russi’s home in leafy tropical Belvedere Road in Calcutta. Listening to the screeches of the birds, their long lonely haunting cries, like the dust on the warm sidewalks of the city; a warmth that hugs and embraces, that seeps inside of one. A breath in India, worth two in Europe. Smells so deep they intoxicate, the dust containing all that those who walked in it and grew upon it, become. The eyes and the stares of the Indians, the simple smiles as they look in puzzlement at ones dress and the purpose of ones strides, their utter timeliness, the darkness of the poor compared to the light skins of the rich. Their illiteracy and their grinding crippling poverty set against some higher wisdom, so inter-twined and so pitifully exciting to sense wisdom hand in hand alongside ignorance. Walking past the barracks. A huge Sikh soldier marching with his small lithe Gurkha colleague.Both from the peripheries of the Sub-Continent. Some sense that they understood who I was, what I had been. If you want to see the British Army on the move do spend time in India or Pakistan. And walking in Calcutta my Englishness feels right.
Russi loved the British, knew more of our history than I may ever, but what he taught me was that the value of my own Englishness sprung from a depth of integrity peculiar to this nation, which I had found increasingly challenged as I found my way, and often moreso when I was at home in it. It now colours my every thought. I thank India and I live the bridge that is in my being between England and India. Russi knew that bridge. I think he knew me better than I knew myself. He shone a light for me and I saw it was there. I still see it now.
God Bless you, you extraordinary man, and thank you for all that you have done for me, and all that you still do.