Vishal Gondal

"Samir's solace was biking; it was like meditation for him"

Vishal Gondal and Samir Bangara were colleagues at IndiaGames, a game publishing company founded by Gondal back in 1999. Bangara, the co-founder and managing director of Qyuki Digital Media passed away recently in a road accident at the age of 45.

Most of you reading this would know Samir Bangara as a thorough professional, who had an exemplary career across investment and consulting firms, like Indiagames, Disney and, more recently, Qyuki, his successful media start-up. I considered him as the ‘Picasso’ of making business plans. His hands could fly over a keyboard, and in just a few keystrokes, he would have a three and five-year business plan, which investors would look at and salivate.

He was a visionary when it came to telecom, and mobile gaming and VAS. Samir was also the ‘Godfather’ of the Indian gaming industry. He was the first one to implement a number of business models, like pay per play, subscription, and pay per download, which are now widely adapted in app stores.

But, most of you wouldn’t know the real Samir. My friendship with Samir goes a long way. We were friends of over two decades. Samir was smart, ‘Mr Perfect’, a thorough gentleman, a loving father and husband, with a great sense of style. He had an ‘OCD’ of organising things, and kept his office clean. He kept cleaning his laptop, phones, etc., with sanitisers. He used to ‘fast’ from sunrise to sunset every Thursday. He used to time his meals, even on intercontinental flights, and never let go of this ritual.

Vishal Gondal (L) and Samir Bangara in Finland for a business meeting with Nokia in January , 2010.
Vishal Gondal (L) and Samir Bangara in Finland for a business meeting with Nokia in January , 2010.

He was not all about business, but also had a passion for ‘speed’. He loved fast cars and bikes, and could rattle every detail of every car, or bike, including the engine, tyres, and even special screws and oils. The cars he drove were designed to race. During his foreign trips, he would rent supercars and bikes, and thoroughly enjoyed these rides. He loved racing so much that he had even named his golden retriever ‘Enzo’, and when he passed away, his second dog is called ‘Rossy’, both racing references.

Samir and I had an eventful journey, and a great partnership. Thanks to his banking skills, we were able to do multiple primary and secondary transactions (where investors made millions of dollars in cash). It was he who structured the sale to Walt Disney. We had our differences and fights but that was all water under the bridge.

He was quite patient, and since we used to make many pitches to investors and customers, which were turned down, he used to say, “Don’t take it personally when someone turns you down. Assume they are like you: Busy, occupied, and distracted. Try again later.” It’s amazing how often a second attempt works, and he believed in not congratulating, or celebrating a deal, until the money was credited in the bank account.

During the course of our friendship, we both worked closely with Ronnie Screwvala, who later became our shareholder and board member. If there was anyone who could tackle Ronnie in a board meeting, it was Samir, with his answers to every ‘googly’ thrown at us by Ronnie, with details that went several levels deep. You could not bullshit to Ronnie with superficial data. While I was the face and heart of Indiagames, Samir was the brain and soul. I was very poor at HR, and learned all my skills in people management from Samir.

Samir is what you’d call a true 'yaaro ka yaar'. He would go to any extent to help a friend in need. I can recall several selfless acts of support Samir was involved in with many of our colleagues and his friends. People who worked with him worshipped him as a guru, mentor, and friend. He loved playing the role of HR. I used to call him our ‘Resident Agony Aunt’, as he could spend hours with anybody, just listening to their problems, and going out of his way to help them out. He was truly compassionate, and always did more than what was normally expected of him.

Throughout our Indiagames journey, we went through several ups and downs. Samir's solace was biking. It was like meditation for him, and helped him clear his mind. He described how the air brushing his face, and the adrenaline pumping through his veins at high speeds made him calm like a Zen monk. Of course, I and everyone close to him kept counselling Samir to find other means than biking, given the risks involved. But, Samir being Samir used to convince us on how safe he was. He had invested in every possible safety biking gear and used only top-end helmets. He was as safe and careful as anyone can be while biking.

His untimely death has caused deep sorrow to me and several others who were connected to him. I feel for his lovely family, and pray that God will grant them the serenity, strength and peace they will need to get through this.

When (Greek philosopher) Socrates was drinking the poison, an aged person named Crito said, “Socrates, how shall we bury you?” This question was greeted with a smile, and then Socrates said, “Crito, you must first catch me, the real me, before you ask this question,” adding, “be of good cheer Crito. You refer to this body. As to the body, do with it what you would do with other people.”

People, like Samir, are so great, so amazing, and so blessed that you can't catch the real them.

Every time I will experience a woosh of air across my face (from now on), I will smile, thinking it is Samir on his bike on the expressway to heaven.

Rest in peace, my friend.

(The author is an entrepreneur and angel investor. He is currently the founder and CEO of GOQii, a preventive healthcare platform.)