Last updated : September 25, 2014 04:04 PM
I first met Chander Rai around 1980. I had just begun my career as a journalist and was with India Today when Chander joined to head the marketing function. It was a small company in those days and we all knew one another, even across departments. Our interaction was fleeting, though, because seniority and interest separated us.
In 1997, Chander returned to the India Today Group but this time to head the magazine's international operations out of New York. Apart from helping launch the US, UK and Middle East editions of the magazine, he forged international licensing partnerships with international publishers such as the Reader's Digest, CondeNast, Rodale and Scientific American. He was with the group till 2007.
In the same year he set up Cross Border Media from New York which aimed to connect Western publishers with markets in the East that were opening up. I bumped into Chander at a business conference. We were looking at taking afaqs! to Dubai and Chander seemed the obvious person to help us scope that market.
This was just before the Lehman Brothers disaster in 2008 and before we could act on his report, the business world had come crashing down and expanding to Dubai was no longer attractive. During those meetings I got to know Chander as energetic, curious, and a gentleman in the old style who was unfailingly courteous.
Chander and I met a last time in December 2011 when he was visiting Delhi. He had already been battling acute myeloid leukemia in the US for some months but could travel because the disease was in remission (a phase when the symptoms of leukemia had abated). He was weak and susceptible to catching all kinds of viruses; both of us wore surgical masks when we met.
Chander was as cheerful as ever, keener to know what I had been up to rather than to discuss what he was undergoing. He already knew that he might not recover but barring the masks we wore, it was just another meeting between friends.
We were in touch every now and then on mail even as doctors in Houston, where he shifted from New York for treatment, tried drugs that were still under trial in a last ditch attempt to save him. It is a measure of his fortitude and sense of irony that when I mailed him in December 2012 asking how he was, his response began: 'I am grateful at not being dead.'
I got my last mail from Chander a month ago where he said that he'd been treated for 20 months; that he'd been through six clinical trials all of which had failed to deliver. 'I have only a few days to live,' it read. He went on to praise me for my 'enterprise and integrity' and sent his last wishes for my wife and son.
I am sure he wrote similar personalised letters to many of his friends and acquaintances in those last days, undoubtedly finding something nice to say to each one of us in parting.
Last week I received a one-line message from his wife Lekha, who had looked after him through these long months, to say that Chander had passed away.
I was reminded of a quote attributed to the writer Ernest Hemingway. When asked what he meant by 'guts', Hemingway replied, "I mean, grace under pressure" - meaning, the ability to keep one's composure and give of oneself even in the worst of times, even when defeat is inevitable.
My friend Chander Rai had guts.