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Sunday, 12 April 2015

Sampat Singhvi remembers his childhood friend....

I write this with a heavy heart since Labdhi and I were childhood friends and classmates throughout our school years from elementary through high school (Higher Secondary as it was called during those years). He was one of a few school friends that I kept in touch with on a regular basis after I graduated. While he was an Arts student and I majored in Science, this only separated us from being in the same class from grades 9 to 11. Otherwise, we used to sit in the same class from primary school to 8th grade.

We had a lot in common as we both came from a middle class family, from a small town (Sojat City with a population of 25,000 during our growing years), where education was given some importance but family guidance, support, and encouragement for studying hard and career building was lacking. So we had to build our own educational and professional careers.

During primary and middle school, either he or I would be the top student, but the recognition and rewards for being on top, from family, society, or school were simply missing. Consequently, we did not make much of being the top student in those schooling years. After High School graduation, Labdhi went to Jodhpur to do his BA, while I went to Pilani for my Pharmacy degree. During those years we probably did not see each other very much, although if were both back in Sojat in the summers, we would meet and spend time together.

My social meetings with him re-started and became more frequent after my graduation from Pilani in 1967, while I was living with my family in Mumbai for one year, before leaving for the US for graduate studies. During this year, Labdhi was working at Hindustan Lever after his graduation from IIM-A, and lived with Mr. HR Bhandari (another Sojat native) in Worli. So I would go see him and HR occasionally. Sometimes he would come to my house in Vile Parle and we would spend some time together, or meet for lunch near Churchgate close to his work place. I would consult with him about my career goals and what I should do in future. His clarity of thought and encouragement for higher education was instrumental in me applying for admission in US colleges for my graduate studies.

For a few years while I was studying in the US, we did not have close contact until 1971 when I returned to India for a summer break and to getting married. LRB was able to come to my wedding in Pune in the of summer of 1971; he was the only schoolmate from Sojat that attended my wedding, partly because I had lost touch with others during the five years that I was in Pilani and also because my wedding date was fixed in a hurry. I missed Labdhi’s wedding as I was still studying in the US towards my Ph.D.

The next time we saw each other was when I was working in New Jersey and he came to NY for his Ph.D. program at Columbia University. We met frequently - mostly in NY, but also occasionally in NJ. Later he would be joined by his lovely wife, Santosh. Following his Ph.D. and return to India to take up a faculty position at IIM-A, we were only able to meet whenever I would visit India during my social visits. We remained in touch one way or the other. Then one day I heard about the tragic event that took his life and it was just unbelievably sad; I got all the details about how this happened from my family and our common friends. What a tragic loss to his family, close friends, society in general, and importantly to the whole country. As we all know, he was a great asset to the academic and industrial arena in the marketing field. His intellect, sharpness, and wit were just superb. He was simply an extraordinary man with a great potential to make immeasurable contribution to society and the country. What was amazing about him is that he chose to make his career in academia although he could have done much better in industry from a financial perspective. It was a choice he made to go into academia and he was proud of that decision without any hesitation or after thought.

For me personally, it was just as big a shock as I lost a very close friend that I had grown up with, a person who was so similar to me in many ways, and somebody who I could relate with in many different ways. My family liked to see him all the time and likewise, I also enjoyed seeing ‘Baiji’ and Labdhi’s brothers whenever I saw them. His older brother, Dr. B.S. Bhandari (Lalasa, as we called him, who is a great physicist), also stayed in US for a few years. My wife and I would visit him and his wife whenever we had an opportunity. For a while they were the source of getting information about Labdhi and his family.


LRB came from a small town, and a family with limited means, but made a name for himself by his superb accomplishments in business arena and his legacy will last forever.

*Dr. Sampat Singhvi was LRB's childhood friend. He recently retired after a long career in the pharmaceutical industry in the United States and now lives in Princeton, NJ. 

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