Shantilal Karamshi Somaiya ( 1927 - 2010 )

Shantilal Karamshi Somaiya used to visit the Arya Vaidya Pharmacy at Coimbatore regularly. He used to be ensconced in the facility near the Dhanvantri temple for a few weeks. His car, driver and cook used to travel from Mumbai by road in order to set up the kitchen and allied facilities. I met him at Oxford Book Store on Trichy Road. He was introduced by the store owner Rajiv Khamineni. Somaiyaji and I became very good friends instantly. I learnt that he had served as the Vice President of VHP ( Vishwa Hindu Parishad ) for about 15 years. His father was the well-known sugar baron and philanthropist Karamshi Jethabhai Somaiya ( 1902 - 1999 ). K.J.Somaiya was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in the year 2000.

I used to meet Shantilalji every day in his cottage at the AVP ( Arya Vaidya Pharmacy ). His cook used to serve some dhokla and a number of other items every day. They used spread some incense smoke in the cottage every evening. Since I was asthmatic, Shantilalji stopped it instantly. He would call me over every day, and I would spend a couple of hours each evening in his company. Our discussions would centre around the preservation of our culture and heritage. He was really concerned about the canards being spread about our culture in the western universities. Shantilalji gifted me the book ' Invading the Sacred ' in order to increase my level of awareness with regard to this subject.

' Invading the Sacred - An analysis of Hinduism Studies in America ' was published in 2007 by Rupa & Co. This book argues that there are factual inaccuracies in Hindu studies by universities in the west. A number of contributors, including Arvind Sharma, S.N.Balagangadhara etc., have contributed towards this book. Rajiv Malhotra had toiled much for creating the content and the narrative. The intention was to provide a counterargument to the prevalent Freudian psychoanalytical critiques of Hinduism in the USA. The controversial book ' The Hindus: An Alternative History ' by Wendy Doniger created a number of issues. The authors of the book ' Invading the Sacred ' decided to make the book freely online.

Shantlilalji made me read the book and sediment its content within myself. He wanted the right-minded Hindus to establish Chairs for Hinduism in a few universities in the USA. I learnt that such chairs could be created by endowments. These initiatives required about $ 5 million per university. Shantilalji stated that he had to work towards this goal pretty fast. He did not to be found queried by God with regard to the same whenever the time came for such a meeting. I was greatly motivated by him and his ideology. He wanted me to accompany him to Australia. Shantilalji was to speak at the Parliament of Religions. His lecture was titled ' Sharing Wisdom in Search of Inner and Outer Peace '. He passed away in Australia itself. His passing away became a big loss to the cause that he had undertaken. I resolved that a Chair should be established in a premium university in the USA and that it should be named ' Dr Shantilal Karamshi Somaiya Chair on Hindu Studies '. Years have passed, and I am yet to move forward, and I hope to work towards it in the near future. Our venture http://www.theverandahclub.com may be the platform for launching this or an equivalent initiative. Shantlilalji led the Somaiya Trusts from 1999 to 2010.

Karamshi Somaiya, the father of Shantilalji, was hailed as the sugar king during his heydays. He had founded the Somaiya Vidya Vihar in those days. Both Karamshi and his son Shantilal Somaiya were keen to serve society by creating numerous institutions. They did establish many over half a centuries. These institutions covered every facet of life. The only one who was left out was a senior citizen's home. When queried, Shantilalji stated that the place for elders was within their own homes and not elsewhere. Shantilalji meanwhile visited a number of people and places along with me. We visited the famous Lakshmi Narasimha temple at Ukkadam in Coimbatore. It was raining heavily that day, but he braved the adverse weather.

Shantilalji paid a visit to the residence of the well iconic industrialist Vijay Mohan the Founder of PRICOL, and his wife, Vanitha Mohan, the Founder of the much-regarded green NGO Siruthuli. He had a very good interaction with them. Thereafter, he visited Dejavu and interacted with Naren Rajan of the PSG family. The Coimbatore Cosmopolitan Club and my residence were among the other destinations for him. I recorded his presence at the club by mentioning all this in the in-house journal ' The Wisdom Tree '. Shantilalji met my parents, Govindarajulu, Aravindakumari and also my son Madhav Balaji, wife Sujatha. He took a number of pictures and also made a note of his visits in his notebook. His approach was amazing.

Godavari Sugars was founded by K.J.Somaiya, and now it is known as Godavari Biorefineries. It was and continues to be a leading company. It is now being headed by his son Samir Somaiya. I learnt that Shantilalji was a pioneer with regard to the manufacture of ethanol from sugar and the use of ethanol ( renewable feedstock ) as a feedstock to make biochemicals. This was done in the 1960s. Now, the concept of manufacturing chemicals based on renewable feedstock as a basis of sustainable development is finding a place today in order to address climate change. Shantilalji stated that good capitalism meant that entrepreneurs should become agents who usher in social change.

Shantilalji was ahead of his time with regard to CSR ( Corporate Social Responsibility ). He stated that the private sector should work towards building a strong but just and inclusive society. Shantilalji believed in dialogue. He wanted people with different opinions to be part of discussions and debates. Shantilaji stated that we should respect people and ideas if they contradict one's own ideology. He stated that it was possible to become lazy mentally by retiring into his or her own shell. This would lead to making assumptions while also criticizing people based on one's own convenience. Shantilalji found dialogues to be a mean bridge difference in a calm manner.

The wonderful visionary was a contributor towards inter-faith dialogue. He wanted religions to be positive towards the well-being of the world. His vision was thus noble, and we should try to inculcate it within ourselves. He wanted the strengthen Hinduism from within. Shantilalji was to work against the inequities created by the caste system. He wanted to spread the full message found in Hinduism all over the world. Shantilalji told me that he would meet people from all religions and discuss them with him. According to him, religion bound one another and also the divine. The job of people belonging to various faiths was to build a world where there was peace and harmony. This had to be built based on tolerance, mutual respect and the building of ever-lasting relationships. Shantilal Somaiya was a legend, and he had met several great souls and leaders during his long sojourn on Earth. I was lucky to meet him.

Shantilalji wanted me to take him in the company of his sisters to the fabulous temples located in the Thanjavur Delta. I get reminded of him whenever I visit these lovely temples, which have given Tamilnadu the epithet - Tamilnadu: Temple State of the World. I learnt that one of his sisters was married to C.H. Mirani of Khimji Visram & Sons ( founded in 1870 by Khimji Dayal Mirani ). C.H. Mirani had been the President of the East India Cotton Association. His nephew Manish Mirani is my good friend, and we developed a good relationship during his years at Coimbatore.

I learnt that Samir Somaiya heads the Somaiya Vidya Vihar University, and his wife Amrita Somaiya has co-founded the famous book store "Kitab Khana" along with her husband. My interactions with Shantilal Somaiya have made me share his goal. Swami Dayananda Saraswathi used to state that our karma would bring interesting and unique things into our lives. He stated that it was very complex. Perhaps it was in the interest of our culture and tradition that I got to meet the visionary Dr Shantilal Karamshi Somaiya. Let us all try to strengthen Sanatana Dharma by taking it across the world. The time to lead the world as the ' Vishwa Guru ' has arrived. Let us GROW FOR INDIA - GROW IN INDIA - GROW WITH INDIA.

Mr. Rajesh Govindarajulu is one of the founding members of The Verandah Club Pvt. Ltd. He is a leading columnist, historian, jeweler, entrepreneur, and a heritage enthusiast who is earnestly working to revive the past in the light of the present. Experiential learning about the history of Coimbatore is his main course of interest and he is also a panel member of many colleges in the city.


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