Tall In Stature: Raj Nayak Recalls PG

Serial entrepreneur and former Viacom-18 boss Raj Nayak recalls PG as ‘Short in height, but tall in stature, the original trendsetter and a stalwart of the industry. A man ahead of his times.’

Tu kaisa hai dost! Kya chal raha hai? These were his opening lines whenever we met. PG (Pradeep Guha) was a man who loved to know what was going on in the industry and was always updated with the latest gossip. Every time I visualise him now, his always-smiling face haunts me.

I don’t know where to start. I am still in denial and find it hard to believe that PG is no more. It is so surreal; the phrase ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ hits you hard. When a person close to you dies, it is yet another reminder of how vulnerable and unpredictable life can be.

I first met Pradeep Guha in 1987-88. I was working for a newspaper called The Indian Post that was owned by The Singhania’s of Raymonds. It was perhaps among the most respected and loved newspapers among the Mumbai elites. The newspaper was edited by the late Vinod Mehta and had some of the finest journalists and columnists on its payroll. However, it was shutting down and the entire editorial team was moving to the ‘Old Lady of Boribundber’, as The Times Of India (TOI) was then referred to, to launch a similar paper called The Independent.

Vinod Mehta, as part of his deal, had spoken to the management at the TOI and recommended my name, probably the only non-editorial staff to be part of The Independent. I was asked to meet a gentleman called Arun Arora, whom I met and was offered a job with the TOI group. This was when I had to meet ‘Mr Guha’, who was even by then a well-known name in the industry.

Our first encounter wasn’t too pleasant. Maybe I even misread it at that time but my impression of him was someone projecting to be a ‘big daddy’ who wanted me to work on a magazine called Dharmayug instead. At that time, I was only keen on working for The Independent or The Illustrated Weekly, which was one of my favourite magazines headed by Pritish Nandy. I was too small to argue and hence, I did the next best thing -- not join at all.

A year or two later, I met him at the West End Hotel in Bangalore at an ad conference called, if I remember correctly, REACH III. As an upcoming ad sales executive, I wanted to be noticed. I walked up to him and apologised for not joining. Surprisingly, he remembered me, called me by name and asked me why I didn’t join. I told him I was happy to be a big fish in a small pond rather than being a small fish in a big pond. He smiled and told me if ever I needed a job I could call him.

Years later, I had interviewed at STAR TV and was even flown to Hong Kong for the final interview. I didn’t end up getting the job. That’s when I called Pradeep Guha and told him I was seeking work, reminding him of our encounter. Those days I worked for a newspaper called The Sunday Mail, based in Bangalore. His answer was 'I have been seeing the paper and have noticed that you haven’t lost a single ad campaign from the South. I will get someone to get in touch with you'. The call promptly came but by that time, I had accepted another offer and didn’t want to backtrack on that commitment.

Later, when I was with STAR TV, was when I would bump into him occasionally at industry events and similar gatherings, where we exchanged pleasantries and kept in touch.

I think it was in 2006, on a Sunday morning, when I received a call from PG (Mr Guha had become PG to me by then) asking me how things were and that he had a request. He was taking over as the President of the IAA-IC (India Chapter of the International Advertising Association) and would like to appoint me as his Vice President. If I agreed, he would get someone to nominate my name and we would follow the formality of the elections. That’s when my honeymoon, of working alongside the person whom I admired and respected on an equal footing, began.

In 2008, I took over as the President of the IAA. I asked PG if he had any thoughts on the composition of the committee members or the board. He said to me, ‘you are the President now, do what you think is best to take your legacy forward'.

I kept thinking all along how well I would be able to strengthen the strong foundation that PG and the Presidents before him built. In one of the meetings, PG had an idea, which was to travel across the world and study new age media, as we called it then. With help from friends in the industry at that time, as the President of IAA, I was able to organise and lead a delegation of around 25 CEOs to Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Disney and Sony Pictures. He was keen that we also visited Korea and Japan as our second leg, but it couldn’t materialise for various reasons. In 2015, he asked me to lead the IAA India delegation to Malaysia.

Our friendship grew over the years, meeting not only on the several trips to Cannes, Ad Asia & IAA World Conferences in different parts of the world, but also his annual Diwali parties and the likes.

When I quit Viacom18, he called to advise me that life as an entrepreneur was very tough. Many people who we took as friends and had gone above and beyond to help in the past will vanish, and those who will come forward with a helping hand would be the unexpected few. He told me that he could not give me any other advice except to reach out if he could be of any help to me.

In May this year, I called him and informed him that apart from the several other things I was engaged with, I was also doing some consulting work for a company in the US. I told him that I wanted his channel to come onboard. Before I could even complete what it was about, he told me that if it’s something I am involved with, he would gladly agree. The next day, he had already set up an hour-long video call with him and his colleagues. That was PG.

Short in height, but tall in stature, PG was the original trendsetter and a stalwart of our industry. A man ahead of his times. There is enough written of his contribution to the TOI group. He was the man who made Cannes Lions and Ad Asia a household name within the fraternity. His Bombay Times parties became legendry. He championed Femina Miss India and Miss World that created many big Bollywood names like Sushmita Sen, Aishwarya Rai, Priyanka Chopra, Lara Dutta, Dia Mirza, Diana Hyden and several more. He played an instrumental role in shaping up the careers of many industry professionals. He had a unique knack for speaking with the biggest industrialists, superstars and junior colleagues with the same demeanour.

The last communication I had with him was on June 6, 2021. I sent him an audio message wishing and singing ‘Happy Birthday’, to which he promptly responded by saying “Thanks Raj. Much appreciated. In these grim times, a bit of love and affection will go a long way”.

He did not even once mention that he was unwell.

I feel miserable, as many of his other friends would, that we didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye. I feel doubly impacted cause this is exactly how I lost my brother three years ago and it all seems unfair.

RIP my friend, till we meet again

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