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t is on sad occasions, as on joyous ones, that one becomes aware of how close-knit the Godrej family is. The entire family gathered on 18 December, 2003 at the Shivaji Park Crematorium, to pay their last respects to one of their seniormost and finest members, Kekoo Naoroji, who passed away after a long illness borne with his characteristic fortitude. Rishad, his only offspring, received the many mourners with quiet dignity, his eyes red and swollen with held-back tears, for he dearly loved his father and the love was amply reciprocated.
Graduating from the London School of Economics, Kekoo joined Imperial Chemical Industries, which he left after a distinguished career to join Godrej for the promotion of exports, which were then faring poorly. With his usual frankness, Kekoo pointed out the two drawbacks of these products. One, that they were priced too high and, two, their quality wasn’t up to world standards. The point was well taken. Quality was to become the buzzword in all future Godrej manufactures.
When Kekoo chose former Chairman Sohrab’s sister Dosa for wife, it was for the fond brother “the most joyous day in my life”. Kekoo’s brother Kerse said, “These two had a great deal in common and were (despite the cliché) made for each other”. Certainly, Dosa couldn’t have asked for a better husband, particularly after she, such a sprightly girl in her youth, fell victim to Alzheimer’s disease. But this brought out the finest in Kekoo. He showered all the care and love he could on his wife who, alas, survives him, unaware, lost in her own world. Kekoo never asked for sympathy and was above indulging in self-pity. It was his cross and he bore it like a man as long as he lived.
Kekoo, however, was no ascetic. He took his pleasures seriously. His passion was mountaineering; his relaxation, listening to Western classical music. A pipe was his constant companion till, under medical advice several years ago, he had to part company. He, however, continued to enjoy his evening chhota. Set in his ways, Kekoo was perhaps too rigid, wanting everything to be done at its proper time, and nobody and nothing allowed to deter him from his set schedule.
Kekoo leaves behind his personal testament to beauty — a gorgeous coffee table book, complied by Rishad, entitled Himalayan Vignettes on the Garhwal and Sikkim Treks of which the book is both a written and pictorial record. The spectacular black and white photographs taken by Kekoo on, believe it or not, a Kodak Retina, no bigger than your hand (200 x 80 x 37 mm). As Rishad records in his Preface to the book, “no exposure meter was used, Kekoo had honed his skills through experience”. There is a fund of information in these photographs of the fascinating mountains, valleys, villages and of the people who lived there.
Kekoo’s contribution to the Himalayan Club, of which he was a member since its inception, was indeed unique. It was a contribution born of love. Himalayan Vignettes inspires respect for Nature and wonder at its continuing miracles — values that will abide with us, always.