A few weeks back, a colleague visiting his family in Chandigarh called with an unusual request. “The next time you visit Sandeep Goyal, please take me along,” he said.
Why did that request not wait till he came back to Mumbai? That’s because a few weeks back, Chandigarh was abuzz with the news that St Johns School, the alma mater of both, my colleague and advertising veteran Sandeep Goyal, was the beneficiary of a largesse. Goyal had set up an endowment worth INR one crore for his school, with the commitment to add to the endowment and supplement it if the need arises.
Even in Chandigarh, which is considered among the wealthiest of towns in India, this news caught on like fire. The local media went to town about the gesture. That’s because St John’s is a landmark institution in Chandigarh spread across 33 acres of land. While it has produced many a star, including Silicon Valley VCs, leading judges, politicians, diplomats and even sportspersons, Goyal felt that not many people knew about this great institution, beyond the 6000-odd children who had graduated from the school over the years and the citizens of Chandigarh.
Hence, Goyal chose to create a corpus which would help St John’s build its own brand. The endowment is expected to fund an annual school oration that will get Chandigarhians who have attained national stature to come and speak at the annual school oration. The second initiative is to create an all India school debate and an all India school declamation. The creation of the endowment also resulted in another heart-warming story.
Goyal had a classmate named Kunwar Ranvijay Singh Raghuvanshi who was with him since day one at school. Ranvijay Singh was a champion athlete, but scored the lowest rank in studies on most occasions. Goyal, on the other end, was a class-topper in academics, but at the bottom rung in athletics. The school had every conceivable form of sports and there were some superlative athletes. “I was a third-grade athlete,” admits Goyal. For being the topper in academics, Goyal got a gold card in every month that he was in school. “That was my ticket to self esteem,” recalls Goyal.
After school, they all drifted away. One fine day, when Goyal returned from one of his long business travels, he got a phone call from another close school friend. “Ranvijay passed away and you did not even inform me,” he accusingly told Goyal.
Goyal was in for the biggest shocker of his life. He had no idea that his closest friend from school was no more. As luck would have it Ranvijay had a small family and Goyal tried in vain to track them down. “I felt really rotten,” says Goyal.
Goyal reflected on that development and finally decided to go back to school. He had not been to St John’s for years. He met the principal and expressed his interest to start an award. It would be in the memory of Ranvijay Singh. And the award would have nothing to do with excellence in academics or sports. It would be given to the nicest boy in school, for which no student is allowed to canvas. In the last 10 years since it was instituted, that award has become the most coveted award.
When the endowment happened, the name of the Ranvijay Singh award also came up in several news reports. Somebody read it and passed the link to Ranvijay Singh’s elder brother’s family in Gold Coast, Australia. The news finally reached Ranvijay Singh’s son.
“The boy hunted around, found my number and called me,” says Goyal. “This endowment is not about PR. It’s my belief that we in advertising do not give back enough. I might not be able to put down a billion dollars, but a crore is within my affordability.”
The colleague who asked for a meeting with Goyal is back in Mumbai. That pending meeting of two St John's Old Boys might create many more interesting connections and conversations. Stay tuned.