Parmeshwar Godrej, wife of Godrej Group CEO Adi Godrej, passed away on Monday night at Breach Candy hospital after lung-related illness. She was 70. The cremation took place the same night.
A recipient of many awards for her outstanding work in the field of health, Godrej has been listed in India Today’s 50 Most Powerful People. A prolific philanthropist, she had been consulted by Harvard School of Public Health on philanthropy projects.
Godrej was one of the earliest champions of AIDS and HIV awareness in India. In 2004, with Hollywood actor Richard Gere, Godrej launched the Heroes Project to spread awareness of HIV/AIDS in India. She was supported by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest charity, and the Clinton Global Initiative. Godrej roped in well-known personalities like Pakistani politician and former cricketer Imran Khan and many Bollywood film personalities like Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan to highlight the cause. She also served on the boards of The Gates Foundation and The Gere Foundation.
Milind Deora, former Union Minister in the UPA government and MP, recalls Godrej's passion about HIV/AIDS awareness. "Parmeshwar Aunty was very passionate about any cause she took up. Her one quality that I remember is that she never left anything undone, once she made up her mind. I remember I met her at a dinner after becoming an MP. She sat me down and took me through the many challenges that India will face if we ignore HIV/AIDS," says Deora. Godrej was instrumental in getting him to work closely with National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO).
In her book, She Walks, She Leads: Women Who Inspire India, author Gunjan Jain describes how Godrej was able to get Nobel laureate Amartya Sen to ‘drop everything’ he was doing to write an introduction for the AIDS Sutra, a collection of writings by well-known names on the disease. Jain says that Godrej's body of work led her to be featured in India Today's 50 Most Powerful People list for 10 years in a row.
The Deoras (late Murli Deora -- a senior Congress leader and close Gandhi family confidante) and the Godrejs were family friends. Milind Deora, and Adi and Parmeshwar Godrej's children went to the same school. "I remember when I was studying in Boston, Parmeshwar Aunty would come to visit her son - who also studied near Boston, and her nephew. She would take all of us out for dinner and ensure we had good food and wore warm clothes. She was very caring," reminisces Deora.
Though Deora could not meet up with Parmeshwar often, whenever he did, it was easy to catch up. "She was my father's friend but she was my friend too. We could talk on any topic. I called her Aunty, but she was a friend who could cut across age groups and generations," says Deora.
Though the world at large may describe her as a `socialite', she was far removed from that description, says Deora. She was focused, and forthright about her likes and dislikes. "Everyone knew where they stood with Parmeshwar Aunty. She was not the kind who would shoot the breeze. Her parties were all about getting people from across the spectrum -- politicians, celebrities, Hollywood and Hindi film industry people, journalists -- to connect to a cause that she believed in. When the party was over, or after having met with people and discussed something, she would follow up the next day with mails and messages," he says.
Known for hobnobbing with the world's most powerful, it comes across as surprising to hear Deora describe her reluctance to talk about herself. "Before a television interview, Parmeshwar Aunty said to me, 'I don't like to talk about myself', and instead wished that her causes would get the attention it deserves."
"I will remember her for her candour, energy, kindness and courage. She bore her ailment strongly," he says.
Godrej is survived by her husband Adi, and three children Tanya Dubash, Pirojsha and Nisaba, and four grandchildren -- Aryan and Azaar Dubash, sons of elder daughter Tanya; Sasha, daughter of son Pirojsha and youngest grandson, Zoran, son of Nisaba.
Not surprisingly, Twitter is paying tributes to the strong woman that Godrej was.
Imran Khan from Pakistan was one of the earliest to tweet out his condolences:
Devastated by death of close friend, Parmeshwar Godrej, last night: she was always there for me in my most difficult times. 1/2
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) October 11, 2016
Few friends would go to the ends of the earth for you in times of need #ParmeshwarGodrej was one of them. RIP. Cherished friendships
— Shekhar Kapur (@shekharkapur) October 11, 2016
RiP #ParmeshwarGodrej. Ur spirit ur style ur generosity will be sorely missed
— Suchitra (@suchitrak) October 11, 2016