There are people, though not very often, who come to the world with divine blessings and make their own destiny, overcoming the challenges of humble beginnings and life’s hurdles. In the process they create history. Such a person is known as a Yug Purush, or a person of an era. And when they depart they leave an indelible mark on posterity to remember.
Brijmohan Lall Munjal, Chairman Emiretus of Hero MotoCorp, was one such person born in 1923 in Kamalia, now in Pakistan. When he passed away on November 1 at the age of 92, an era passed with him. The era that saw the Partition of the country with immense human tragedies, but also the emergence of a new India with hope, freedom and opportunities.
In this new era, achievements in science radically changed lives and opened new vistas for better quality of life. In this period, mobility patterns changed, and bicycles and later motorised two wheelers, became popular and remain even today the most commonly used vehicles. Brijmohanji became a part of this upswing. After Partition he settled in Ludhiana, Punjab, first selling bicycle parts door-to-door and then manufacturing them. The whole family became a part of the business and soon Hero was born, manufacturing bicycles, competing with even world-class brands.
Under his leadership Hero Cycles became the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer. But he had a larger vision and simultaneously went into manufacturing motorcycles and scooters. Today the group is the biggest in the two-wheeler segment.
But I don’t want to talk about how great Brijmohanji was as entrepreneur extraordinaire, which he indeed was, but to share my thoughts about him as a man. Each one of us faces a choice as we move on in life. This journey challenges us to find a vision and then to make that vision a reality. But only very few can convert that vision into action. There are no limits on how you envision life. Most have limitations but he was one who extended his limits further and further. This made him different from all others. He was not only beyond self- consciousness but also capable of shaping his own life and lives of those who came in touch with him. This he did through his inner potential of spirituality blended with compassion and action.
It was my privilege to know Brijmohanji as we walked along the Rotary path. This co-travel converted first into close friendship and then a family-like relationship. I got to know him around 1969–70 and then saw him in action in Rotary during the District Conference in Ludhiana, of which he was the chairman. I recollect well how the enormous pandal built to accommodate over 600–700 people got blown away in a thunderstorm the previous day and Brijmohanji led the team to make alternate arrangements to organise one of the most memorable conferences I’ve ever attended. That showed the capacity of the man.
As we worked together in Rotary, we came close. In 1973, he became a candidate for governorship of the Rotary district encompassing the whole of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, J?&?K, Delhi and a substantial part of Uttar Pradesh. That year Rtn R?K Beri got elected. However, Brijmohanji’s love and work for Rotary never ceased or diminished. Ultimately he became the Governor of the bifurcated District 3090 for 1977–78. It was my privilege to handover the governorship to him after completion of my term. I could not have found a better successor to lift Rotary in the District and the country to a higher echelon.
An example in service
Though busy in his business and profession, he became an example of how if you have the will to extend yourself in Service above Self, you can find time both for your profession and service. He contributed his time and energies generously to Rotary, was involved in his Club and District affairs and participated in Zone Institutes. His humility and belief in social service became his trademark in human interactions. How can I forget his readiness to donate blood at the blood donation camp I had organised at the Chandigarh Conference? Whenever a project needed monetary support, he’d do his utmost for its success.
When I was nominated as RI President in 1989, I was asked who I’d like to formally propose my name at the Portland Convention in 1990, a tradition then. Usha and I spontaneously thought of Brijmohanji. He immediately agreed and with his wife travelled to Portland to propose my name amidst thunderous applause. As I embraced him after my acceptance speech, he whispered in my ear: “Raja, from now on, I will devote more time in serving humanity and will be at your disposal all the time.” He then gradually retired from active business, handing it over to his sons and devoted more time to spiritual and service pursuits.
And, along with my family members, he too attended in 1991 the Mexico City Convention. But tragedy struck him soon after, when he lost his eldest son Raman. He confided to me that his utmost concern was to look after his daughter-in-law Renu, and he plunged back into day-to-day business, and encouraged Renu to attend office, so she did not feel helpless without her husband. That was Brijmohanji.
Man of values
An impregnable set of values were his life’s philosophy. In Ludhiana, I’d always stay with him, and once asked him about his rather small bedroom, and wondered why he didn’t shift to a bigger house. He replied: “Raja, only when all my brothers and other family members will be able to live in separate houses with the same standards, only then I will think of making a change.” This was a great statement from a man who did not think of himself alone, but his entire family.
When I asked him the secret of his overtaking so many of his competitors, he said he and his family had a personal relationship with each dealer or distributor, and one of the family members would always attend an occasion of joy or sorrow in any of their homes. He knew most of the dealers and distributors by name. This was his way of dealing with people.
At no time his office was out of bounds for any Rotarian. He or she would have to just ask for an appointment and would get it. He would go out of his way to accommodate any request of help from me. We may have started together but he rose to Himalayan heights in business and industry and yet his affection for me was unfettered. He would call me sometimes “Sabooji” or “Raja” but his and Bhabiji’s thoughtfulness and kindness to Usha and I were boundless. I cannot forget how he came by a chartered flight to attend my granddaughter Satvika’s wedding, and most unusually, stayed overnight in Chandigarh to attend the wedding and the reception. We will miss him.
He was an uncommon man with the common touch. All of us have to go some day; this is the eternal truth. Brijmohanji lived a full and complete life. American poet Wallace Stevens has said, “Death is the mother of beauty;” it is our mortality, our acceptance of departure as the final goal of life that exists with all its richness of meaning, the creation of art and the unfolding of the soaring wings of spiritual transcendence. Learning to live well is essential to all those who believe in values and morals. But to live well, we have to learn to depart well, finding a quiet exit from a feast at which we’ve shared the enjoyment of staying full time.
In the thoughts of the great Noble Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, Brijmohanji would have said:
“I have had my invitation to this world’s festival, and thus my life has been blessed.
My eyes have seen and my ears have heard.
It was my part at this feast to play upon my instrument, and I have done all I could.
Now, I ask, has the time come at last when I may go in and see thy face and offer thee my silent salutation?”
The time had indeed come for my dear friend. Physically he may not be with us now but his indomitable spirit continues to prevail. His departure from this world is truly a celebration of life.