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Traveller who saw many worlds

Those who knew Rabindra Seth call him the 'forever man', writes Namita Bhandare.

india Updated: Feb 01, 2007, 03:55 IST

Those who knew him — and that list includes anybody even tangentially associated with the travel trade — call him the 'forever man'. Rabindra Seth, who died on Tuesday at 81 had been there, done that. He was everywhere: writing stories for travel supplements, ploughing through research for trade documents and setting off to far-flung places.

"His energy was remarkable," said Habib Rehman, executive director, ITC Ltd. "He was willing to share responsibility and would not say no to anything."

That willingness to extend a helping hand stretched out almost universally — even to those much younger. "He was much senior to me, but he would encourage me by saying he was collecting all my articles," said Ravi Teja Sharma, a travel writer with Business Standard.

At Seth's funeral on Wednesday morning, the huge turnout reflected the goodwill he had generated. From senior editors to heavyweights in the travel and hospitality industry, they were all there, mourning the 'end of an era'.

Seth was born in Peshawar in 1926. He moved to Delhi shortly before Independence to take up a job with the All India Radio. It was an assignment that would prove to be fortuitous in more ways than one. Sent to Peshawar to cover the trauma of Partition, Seth used the opportunity to evacuate his family.

Not many people are aware that Seth also had a brief stint with the army, as a public relations officer during India's peace-keeping operations in Congo. He joined the state-run India Tourism Development Corporation later as vice-president (public relations). Following his retirement, the Taj group snapped him up as a consultant, and he eventually ended up with the ITC group in the late seventies.

His friendships were established early on. Habib Rehman recalls how in 1976, Seth had taken a delegation of tour operators to Aurangabad. The Emergency was on, and ITDC hotels had a strict 'no liquor' policy. Rehman, who was working then with a private hotel in Aurangabad, came to the rescue by hosting a dinner, with drinks, and the situation was saved.

"He would collect cards at parties he attended," said Salma Hussain, a food consultant and close friend for close to 40 years. "The next day, he would call the person with whom he had exchanged cards and strike a personal rapport."

Seth was able to straddle the conflicting worlds of PR and journalism with ease. That's because "there was no personal agenda to his writing," said Inder Sharma, chairman of Select Hotels.

One day after his death, another close friend, Shona Adhikari, a consultant with ITC Hotels, said she was taking a bunch of colourful flowers on a condolence visit to his daughter, Anuradha Kapoor. "He was such an animated person. These flowers reflect that aspect of his personality."

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