Nani A.Palkhivala was a living legend of his times, he strode the world of economics, law and finance like a Titan, he was an erudite scholar, powerful orator and legal luminary, his authority over tax laws and the constitutional law are legendary. He was an outspoken and uncompromising civil liberties activist and served with distinction as India’s Ambassador to the USA. While his professional excellence and brilliance are well known, there is a lesser known facet to this great persona; Nani Palkhivala was a compassionate humanitarian and a socially conscious person with a strong urge to contribute to society. He held Dr. SS.Badrinath and Sankara Nethralaya the institution he founded in the highest esteem, after a visit to the eye care facility’s main centre at Chennai and observation of the quality of service offered and the highly professional financial/administrative management of the institution he lauded Sankara Nethralaya as “The Best Managed Charitable Organization in India”.
Sankara Nethralaya considers this high compliment from an economics genius and financial wizard of our times as the greatest tribute to its self sustaining financial model. So impressed was Shri Nani Palkhivala with the quality of eye care dispensed, especially the cost free care to indigent patients that he bequeathed a considerable portion of his property to support the cost free community services of Sankara Nethralaya; an entire building at the Sankara Nethralaya Main centre is named as Srimathi Nargesh and Sri Nani A.Palkhivala block as a sign of the institution’s gratitude and respect to the noble and philanthropic couple.
Sankara Nethralaya’s association with the man who complimented it as a place which reinforced his waning faith in the goodness of mankind, the philanthropist who bequeathed a considerable portion of his property to support its cost free community services, continued long after his demise. Members of the Nani.A. Palkhivala Memorial Trust producing a documentary on the life of the great man for the benefit of posterity, visited many places and met people near and dear to him, people who had closely interacted with him to compile their first hand experience and their impressions on him, to give viewers a broader picture of the man. The team made a trip to Chennai earlier in the year to visit Sankara Nethralaya and spoke to its Founder and Chief Architect Dr SS.Badrinath. The Trust members recently gifted an archival quality print of the life like portrait of late Nani A.Palkhivala by renowned artist Shri Suhas Bahulkar to Sankara Nethralaya.
It was a most memorable day for Sankara Nethralaya family when the Nani Palkhivala Trust chose Sankara Nethralaya’s, main centre at Chennai to hold the highly prestigious ‘Nani A.Palkhivala Memorial Lecture’ the annual event commemorating his memory and greatness. The event held on the 9th of July 2015 at the Sri V.D Swami Auditorium, Sankara Nethralaya main campus and witnessed the gathering of a large number of participants from the legal fraternity, the Nani Palkhivala Trust, Consultants, senior management members of Sankara Nethralaya and the general public who held him in great esteem. The proceedings got off to a great start with Shri S.Mahalingam, Member ‘Nani Palkhivala Arbitration Centre’ and former CFO of TCS describing the man being remembered and honoured as a scholar, economist, industrialist, author, philanthropist, visionary and extraordinary speaker and shared some memorable moments he was privileged to have with him.
Speaking on the occasion a visibly moved Dr SS.Badrinath, Founder and Chairman Emeritus, Sankara Nethralaya recalled that Shri Nani Palkhivala was particularly impressed by the cleanliness in the institution when he had visited Sankara Nethralaya in the early 90’s. The following moments witnessed the most touching exchange of thoughts in the form of letters between a kind and generous benefactor and a noble, service minded doctor and his institution, a golden, closely guarded communication which was privy to the two until it was made public on the momentous occasion; the audience were moved by the generosity of a man who in phases gave away his stocks and savings of a life time and how in his characteristic humility refused to be felicitated in public for what he called was a private act. Dr. SS.Badrinath recalled the fondness that the Kanchi Mahaperiyava had for Shri Nani Palkhivala and how he formed the ‘Veda Samprokshana Nidhi’ with the help of a generous donation made by him to the Mutt.
Welcoming the distinguished Chief Guest of the day Honourable Chief Justice of the Madras High Court Shri Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Shri N.Venkatesan, member of the Palkhivala Trust hailed him as a member of a distinguished family and a most accomplished legal professional who rose up the ladder through his excellence. Delivering the Chief Guest’s address Honourable Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul lauded late Shri Nani Palkhivala as a man who had left an indelible mark in the sands of time, he recalled that while Shri Nani Palkhivala had a deep respect for the Constitution of the country, framed by the founding fathers of the nation, he was also conscious of the role of change and dynamism in this instrument to ensure that it helped in the better empowerment of the common man. The Chief Guest praised Madras as the centre of Medicine, Music and Culture, he emphasised the need of good educational institutions in the legal and medical field to produce quality professionals from both disciplines and observed that medical field was relatively more fortunate, thanks to the contribution of private enterprise to its growth. This was followed by the most awaited event of the day, the unveiling of the portrait of late Shri Nani Palkhivala by the eminent Chief Guest, to the thunderous, standing applause of the large gathering. It is interesting to note that the portrait of the eminent Jurist was unveiled at the Supreme Court considered the ‘Temple of Justice’ by Chief Justice of India honourable Shri HL. Dattu and the same was unveiled at Sankara Nethralaya, fondly referred to as the ‘Temple of the Eye’ by Honourable Chief Justice of the Madras High Court Shri Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Dr.Jyotirmay Biswas, Head of the Uvea Department at Sankara Nethralaya gave a most interesting introduction of the star speaker of the day Dr. V.K Raju, Department of ophthalmology, West Virginia University and thanked him for his presence and participation. What followed was an enthralling speech on the topic ‘From Nani Palkhivala to V.S Naipaul’ the world famous ophthalmologist and long time friend of Dr SS.Badrinath and Sankara Nethralaya kept the audience in spell binding attention with a wonderful comparison, contrast and interesting portrayal of two great contemporary personalities, who were different in their approach and temperament but had a common passion for their motherland. The star speaker made interesting deviations with his observation on the need for learning for the sake of learning, the need to revive the fine art of reading, the advancement of the Indian cinema industry even way back in the early 60’s, he fervently appealed to the 1.2 million physicians of Indian origin practising all over the world to pool their talent and eradicate all ailment including blindness, he underlined that childhood blindness was mankind’s most cruel curse and lauded Sankara Nethralaya’s endeavours towards eliminating the same. He ended his speech with a surprise gesture, a donation to be used as a corpus to create what he termed as the ‘Danavantri Lecture’ to his old friend and Chief of Sankara Nethralaya Dr.SS.Badrinath.
The momentous day came to an end with a Vote of Thanks by Shri R.Anand, Trustee, Nani Palkhivala Foundation, recalling the old and most touching association between Shi Nani. Palkhivala and Sankara Nethralaya the institution he held close to his heart and the most powerful speech he delivered impromptu when he had visited the institution in the early 90’s.