A life-size picture of Pankaj Shah beckons at the entrance of the family’s fourth-floor, sea-facing flat at Worli. The smiling visage of the real estate developer, captured on camera just three months ago, tells its own story.
The story of a man who lost his father at 20, took on the family business and built an empire with it, married the woman he fell in love with, had two children with her, set up the famed Tao Art Gallery with her, and at an untimely 60, fell prey to terrorists on an unscheduled visit to the Oberoi's Kandahar restaurant on November 26.
But the finer hues of the grand tale, I find out, are precious memories, undocumented, but etched in the minds of the family Shah left behind —51-year-old Kalpana, his wife, and his teenage children Sarjan, 19, and Sanjana, 13.
“We have been married 28 years. He was an out-and-out romantic. A few days before his death, he called me from his car just to make me listen to one of his favourite songs: Abhi naa jao chod kar, ki dil abhi bhara nahi,” recalls Kalpana, her eyes moistening at the irony.
Daughter Sanjana, a student of The Cathedral & John Connon School, talks to the photograph at the entrance. “I want to fulfill two of my father's wishes. He was very particular about my hair, almost like a mother would be; he wanted me to take good care of it and keep it long and beautiful. He also monitored my height closely; I'm 5’ 2” but he wanted me to grow three inches taller, and I hope I get there,” she says, with a grin.
Her innocence is as endearing as her rationalisation when she says, “I believe God has been fair. This year, I got to spend an unusual amount of time with my father. We went to Turkey, London and Germany in summer and to Dubai during Diwali. I got a chance to share all the important stuff with him before he was taken away.”
Nineteen-year-old Sarjan now has to, just as his father did, shoulder responsibility for the business and family before he gets a chance to mature into adulthood. “I hadn't decided whether to join my dad's business or to go my own way. But now the choice has been made for me,” he says.
Far from bemoaning the hand Fate has dealt the family, Sarjan believes in looking forward. “I've been thrown into the deep end, but I’m learning to swim,” he says. The teenager is studying at the London School of Economics, and has two more years to get his degree.
He plans to manage the business from afar, with trips to Mumbai at three-week intervals. Every project must be completed according to Dad's commitment, he declares.
He, too, thinks he was given an intimation of tragedy last summer, when he opted to spend a month-and-a-half working with his father instead of taking up an eight-week internship with Credit Suisse.
“I only did two weeks of the internship, and whatever little experience I gained with my father is what’s helping me now,” he says. “I guess there was some cosmic force preparing us.”