PG Took Indian Marcom Global: Sarmad Ali

Pradeep Guha was among the Indian leaders who created opportunities for better co-operation with neighbouring countries, pens Sarmad Ali, Managing Director, Jang Group

Saturday morning I woke up to a Facebook post by Annurag Batra (Chairman & Editor-in-Chief, BW Businessworld) that said miracles do happen. Annurag was talking about Pradeep Guha fighting for his life at an ICU in Mumbai. But the prayed-for-miracle did not happen. Half an hour later, while his friends and well-wishers were praying for his recovery, he passed away to his heavenly abode. His sudden illness and his death came as a shock. I just couldn't believe that the ever-smiling, helpful Pradeep Guha was gone.

More than anyone else, Pradeep is singlehandedly credited for transforming the media business in India and introducing the Indian over the years marcom industry to the world. He was a mentor to many in and around India. He built brands but perhaps became bigger than the brands themselves. As we mourn his death and celebrate his life, I am reminded of my various interactions with him. It’s like a film playing in my mind. Rewind. Play.

I met Pradeep for the first time in Manila in 1997 at AdAsia. I had heard about the momentous changes he had brought in at the Times of India Group and was eager to meet him. We briefly chatted about TOI and then talked about the possibility of Response representing Jang Group in India. A few months later we met again in Mumbai when Jang and TOI (unsuccessfully) tried to bring out a collaborative report on 50 years of India and Pakistan.

Since then, we have met almost every year at AdAsia and IAA World Congresses as well as AFAA and IAA board meetings. AdAsia Jaipur 2003 was his show. As Chairman of the organising committee of the 23rd AdAsia, he spearheaded the team that delivered one of the most talked-about AdAsia congresses, raising the bar so high that it became an impossible act to follow for the subsequent congresses. For us from Pakistan, he went out of his way to roll out the red carpet. The Pakistan delegation was issued what is called a Police Reporting Visa. Pradeep was himself there to receive us at the hotel and to facilitate us by getting the police team to come to the hotel for visa reporting formalities. Despite his engagements, he got me a cherished photograph with Amitabh Bachchan.

He had visited Pakistan twice. The first time was in 2005. He had just left TOI but was still the President of the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) and in that capacity had organised the 500th meeting of the Society's executive committee at Lahore. The APNS (Pakistan Newspapers Society) hosted a dinner for the INS team at Islamabad where Abida Parveen performed. Pradeep loved Abida. The next day in Lahore, I hosted a lunch for the INS team. We talked about music, cricket and all the things that bind our two nations.

The next time Pradeep was in Lahore was in 2013 for the South Asia Conclave, where Imran Khan was the keynote speaker.

In 2015, in Taipei, when Pakistan was bidding for 2019 AdAsia there were concerns amongst AFAA members. But it was primarily due to Pradeep’s support that Pakistan won the bid. In fact, Pradeep went as far as to say that India would host the Congress if for any reason Pakistan would not be able to do so. This clinched the bid for Pakistan.

Two years later at AdAsia in Bali, we hosted the Pakistan Night with Arif Lohar. He told me that

Arif Lohar was one of his favourite singers, so I asked Arif Lohar to come down from the stage to Pradeep's table and dedicate his Jugni to Pradeep. I still remember Pradeep smiling and dancing into the wee hours of the morning to his favourite number.

We did not meet again as he was not able to come to Lahore for AdAsia 2019. And I wasn't able to go to Kochi for the IAA World Congress. But the day AdAsia Lahore ended, I received a text from him congratulating us for hosting a successful congress. The last WhatsApp message that I got from him was Eid Mubarak in May this year. He is gone but his smiling face will always be there.

Farewell, my friend. Rest in peace.

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