Updated: Oct 21
This article was originally written in 2009.
I first met Shashank Shekhar in June of 2005, when he was to interview me for a position in his team. To put it mildly, he saw right through me. And to say what really happened, well I was grilled, and I came out from the interview thinking I was never going to make it in his team. The interview went well over the time it was scheduled, and Shashank profusely apologized for the delay.
I joined Shashank’s team on July 4th. He was my boss for the next 4 months. Suffice to say, I learnt more in those 4 months than I would have done in 4 years. Shanx had a leadership style that ensured your growth; he liked to see his team members go from strength to strength.
Shanx and I lived nearby, and often drove each other to work and back home. The discussions we had were enlightening, not to mention often humorous. An alumni of Modern School and St Stephens, Shashank had a way with words, and even his criticism was interlaced with an objectivity that drove you to perform better, to make sure that you never gave him a chance to criticize again on the same subject.
Of all the qualities I remembered of him, I will recall his steadfastness in standing up for his teammates, no matter what. Within the team, he would be critical, at times even letting off a bit of steam, but outside he would be the first person to stand up for you. It was a quality that endeared him to most of us, and encouraged us to go that extra mile. With Shanx, you could be open about everything, with the assurance that you would get a fair hearing.
The lung cancer was detected sometime in December 2005, and Shanx was to undergo treatment. It was a distressing time for me, particularly as those were the days when my mother was also in the hospital, undergoing treatment for Obstructive Sleep Aponea. And yet, when I made the call to Shashank to enquire of his illness, his first question to me was how my mother was. That was vintage Shashank Shekhar.
Shanx put up a brave fight against lung cancer, and almost won the battle. He came back strong and for a time we were working together again. Those months were among the best professional times of my life. Every morning we would meet, and he would start with his trademark question: “Where are we?” Then there would be a discussion for about an hour, which was easily the most informative hour of my day.
But, all good things must come to an end. And so it did for me when Shanx left InfoPro. We kept in touch, though it was mostly me who was doing the calling. Nevertheless, Shashank was a person who would always call back if he missed your call.
I vividly remember my last call with him. I was going to join Ameriprise, Anirudh had made it to Wipro, Pradeep had got through in Sun Microsystems, and Pooja was in her second or third year with IBM. Shashank was happy for all of us. Each of us had been touched by his leadership at one point or the other, and he was glad that our lives seemed to be on track. We promised to be in touch, had I known this was going to be my last call with him, I would have talked longer.
April 8, 2009. I saw a missed call from Pooja and called her back. We reminisced about our days at InfoPro when we both worked with Shashank, and Pooja read the recommendation I wrote for Shashank on linkedin.com and said that she too would have written exactly the same.
On April 9, 2009, Pooja gave me the news that Shashank passed away the day before, possibly about the same time when we were talking about him. He had succumbed to pneumonia and multiple organ failure. For a moment I refused to believe it. Then I called people who knew him, and I knew that one of the finest managers I had, was no more.
Shashank is no more. But he has left behind him a legacy. Truly, we can only aspire to be the kind of person he was. I for one, know my limitations, and if I can be even 10% of the person Shashank was, I will consider it a life well-lived. Knowing Shashank, I know that he would have found flaws in this note also, and sent me a “Track Changes” reviewed document, mostly in red. Also, knowing Shashank, I am sure he gave a hard time to Almighty up there, and I would not want to be in Almighty’s shoes, having to answer that dreaded question – “Where are we?”
In July 2008, I mourned the death of Randy Pausch, he of the historical The Last Lecture fame, after a protracted battle with pancreatic cancer. In Shashank Shekhar, I believe we lost our little world’s Randy Pausch. I would not want to die the way Randy and Shanx did, but I wish to be remembered like them, after my death. Sadly, wishes are not horses…
Shashank Shekhar, a fighter to the core, one of the best managers I ever had, and above all a wonderful friend and a human being – died of pneumonia and multiple organ failure, April 8th, 2009, just 10 days before his birthday.
Rest in peace, Shanx. You leave behind a void that will be impossible to fill.