(A tribute to my first cousin John S Powath, whose birthday falls today)
By Shevlin Sebastian
Whenever John S Powath would meet me, he would immediately ask, "Are you getting the magazines?" These were his babies: 'Rubber Asia', 'Tyre Asia' and 'Auto Parts Asia'. I would nod quickly.
Then he would also ask me whether I liked them. And, of course, there was plenty to like: lots of interesting stories, good layouts, high-quality paper and printing. Then he would ask me about his columns. Again I liked them. He had a natural and engaging style. So, his columns were always interesting to read.
Here is an extract from a recent issue:
"In this globalised world, we have to admit the fact that the English language has become the lingua franca.
In spite of that cross-cultural (mis)communications happen.
In the initial years of Coca-Cola’s entry into China, its name was rendered as Ke-kou-ke-la. The phrase meant 'bite the wax tadpole' or 'female horse stuffed with wax', depending on the dialect!
When General Motors launched the Chevy Nova in South America, it was apparently unaware that 'no va' means 'it won’t go'. It renamed it Caribe.
Similarly in Brazil, Ford had to change the name Pinto as it realised that it meant 'tiny male genitals'. It renamed it Corcel, which means horse.
When I went to a restaurant and looked around for the washroom, I saw this intriguing sign: 'Toilet out of order…… please use floor below'. I could not help but laugh aloud.
However, as I begin to see such signs frequently, they leave only a chuckle.
At a hotel’s laundromat, customers who are unfamiliar with the subtle nuances of the language often get scared to see signs such as this: 'Automatic washing machines: please remove all your clothes when the light goes out'.
At a department store run by an immigrant in London, I was amused to read the following: 'Bargain basement upstairs'.
What I found hilarious while visiting an office were two signs that made me giggle: 'Would the person who took the step ladder yesterday please bring it back or further steps will be taken.'”
After I gave the thumbs up, John would smile happily. He valued my feedback, since I have been a journalist for many years now.
John is my first cousin. When I was growing up in Kolkata, John had come to stay with us, from Changanacherry, Kerala.
After a while, he got a job in Dunlop Tyres. And he would always be well-dressed, in a white shirt and freshly-ironed trousers, and shining black shoes, as he set out for work.
Later, after marriage, he settled down in Mumbai.
Looking back, he was one of the most unforgettable people I have met. For one, he always radiated positive vibes and smiled easily. He could tell a joke at a moment's notice. As a result, a conversation with him always ended in laughter. And a good feeling all around.
His constant advice to me was simple: stay in touch with everybody all the time. So, it was no surprise that whereever he went in the world, on my birthday and wedding anniversary, he would always give a call and wish me. And please be sure that I was not the only one. He called all his friends, business acquaintances and relatives. That was John for you. He had a natural gift for friendship and networking.
So, it did come as a huge shock when I heard that he was stricken with cancer. And, perhaps, in the only time that I have known him, two weeks before he passed away, (on March 28, at age 71) at his seventh floor room at Lakeshore Hospital, Kochi, he told me, frankly, “I cannot bear it any more. It is too difficult.”
However, a couple of minutes after John said this, the conversation veered to 'Rubber Asia', his several trips abroad, including his meeting with Nikki Haley (of Indian origin), now US Ambassador to the UN, and his eyes lit up.
Anybody who knows him will tell you that John left too soon.
He had a lot more to contribute.
But destiny and the Almighty have willed otherwise.
And we have to accept it.
But John will remain in our hearts forever!