Most of us at the TOI Group first met her after she took over as Chairman after the passing of her husband. She changed the nameplate on the solid teak office door to ‘Chair Prasanna’. In a couple of months, the designation reverted to the conventional. The occupant remained anything but.
Indu Jain had arrived from the polar opposite of the empire suddenly at her command. She had evolved through satsangs promoting peace and universal humanhood; media thrived on clashes – political and economic, social, civic and celeb. She had walked with believers; cynicism was a professional imperative for journalists. She was the boss, so open revolt wasn’t possible; but you couldn’t miss the clatter of collectively dropped jaws that met her diktats.
The new Chairman wanted a kinder, gentler, happier newspaper. How is it possible, we grumbled, when doom and gloom are the raison d’etre of media, when the age-old mantra was ‘good news is no news’? But you know what? From this conflicted churning emerged an antidote to troubled times: the positive stories of human goodness which lit the way out of the catastrophic events that hit the nation –droughts, floods, cyclones, major accidents, terror attacks. This has continued in the latest, arguable worst scourge of all. During the the pandemic, the Times of India has given prime space to the series, ‘Shot of Hope’ and ‘Beacons of Hope’.
It wasn’t only staffers who were disconcerted by Indu-ji’s unorthodox style. Wanting to celebrate Shakti, she invited a score of Mumbai’s top corporate women to a ‘summit’. They fidgeted uncomfortably in their power suits/ saris as she asked them to join her in a sonorous ‘Aummm’.
‘Mataji’ – as she was deferred to on account of her spiritual persona — was also touchingly ‘Mummy’. In the midst of a top-level company meeting, she walked across the length of that imperious Bombay boardroom with a plate of toast for ‘VC’, her elder son, Samir Jain, presiding at the other end. On another occasion, when her younger son, ‘MD’, Vineet Jain came straight from Delhi to the Directors Lunch Room filled with senior managers and editors, Mummy stopped mid-bite to go plant a kiss on his cheek. It must surely be unique in the annals of corporate history.
Indu-ji had a voracious appetite for new information, concepts and, yes, food too. Her slender frame belied this, but this was the secret. When she said she was sampling a dish ‘just for taste’, it was just that, not a spoonful, but the tip of a spoon. That, and small meals at frequent intervals. Along with a steady serving of just-squeezed juices. That willowy frame was always swathed in her own designed whites, making her own sartorial statement.
I really got the measure of Mataji when I rejoined the TOI as resident editor, Delhi, in 2003. I was generously offered accommodation at ‘Chhey Number’, the Chairman’s residence at 6 SP Marg. Invited for breakfast in her suite of rooms, we would chat till an almost imperceptible shift in key indicated that I should leave her to get on with her massages and messages. I realized how lightly she wore the wisdom she had absorbed over the years. How, for all that other-worldliness, she was totally in control. It was evident in in the eagle-eye she kept on the retinue that staffed the cavernous kitchen, on every item of the bungalow’s inventory, right down to the number of flower pots lining the manicured lawn. More spectacularly, her doubled Marwari and Jain DNA helped her bring her very own baby, Times Foundation, to global attention with its agenda of peace, ecology and spiritualism.
Speaking of which, in my two years at that marbled Jain House, I also saw the attention Mataji personally paid to the comforts of her visiting spiritual soul-mates: Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev and of course Sri Sri
Ravi Shankar, who had a long and abiding relationship with the whole family. Sri Sri was the chief guest, as much loved as honoured, when Mataji’s Times Foundation acolytes celebrated her 70th at Jain House. The birthday girl was as effervescent as a 17- year-old.
In Jain tradition, her passing is not to be mourned; instead the liberation of the soul is to be celebrated. But there’s no bar on my deeply missing a woman who walked with seers, but had her feet decidedly on the ground.